On Scriptnotes episode 432, a listener asked what could be done when a writers room assistant or script coordinator was doing actual writing but not getting writing credit. This morning, another listener wrote in with their own tales of uncredited work and how they pushed back.
As this listener makes clear, writing credit and low assistant pay are related issues. I believe there’s an ethical way to help assistants and script coordinators gain experience without having them do unpaid writing. This letter shows why it’s so important we address this issue.
I interviewed for a position as a script coordinator on a comedy. From the start, there were many red flags:
- The current script coordinator was leaving before production,
- There were severe miscommunication issues, and
- People were already telling me about their own mistreatment
But I was coming off a five-month hiatus and needed a job. So I took it.
Before I started, I was told that most of the episodes were already written. When I got there, only three episodes were done, all of which would end up being heavily re-written and there were only five writers to break and write the rest of the season.
I was encouraged to pitch, as was the writers’ assistant. I was happy for the opportunity, but as we began shooting, I stepped up even more. Our showrunner was busy, so I’d get sent to rehearsals with directors and would be trusted to implement the rehearsal rewrites with little to no supervision. When it was clear that I was capable of writing in the voice of the show, I found myself re-writing chunks of episodes and full scenes in different corners of the stage, or at 1am, as well as implementing new scenes throughout multiple scripts.
Not all of the episodes had been assigned, so I thought that my hard work would be noticed. It was not.
Eventually, I realized I’d have to ask for a credit. But before I could, we found out that the showrunner had given an episode to a writer that was not on the show, had never been on the show and was not in the room when we broke the episode. And, in the end, the episode had to be completely rewritten.
By this point, I was exhausted. I was doing the work of a script coordinator, a staff writer, and navigating the manipulative and abusive work environment that was designed to keep people in lesser positions of power from speaking out because of fear of retaliation.
When the job ended, a weight was lifted. I came home and got a new job. The showrunner asked me to go onto the next show with them as a script coordinator, but I declined.
When the WGA reached out to confirm what other writers had told them about the showrunner’s behavior and the writing credits, I gave them the information they were looking for but declined to take anything further. I regret this now. I should have asked for credit; I should have spoken up for myself afterward and I should have never let it get as bad as it did.
But this industry is a dumpster fire that feeds off the lowest on the totem pole and tricks you into thinking that you deserve nothing. It’s a lie. I deserved to get credit for my contributions.
The show I’m currently on is a better environment, yet the same thing almost happened. The only difference this time was that I was annoyingly persistent and several writers had my back. It took weeks of convincing the showrunner to give me credit for an episode that I pitched to a room full of writers who all agreed that it was mine.
What it really comes down to is if you, as a showrunner, don’t want to give someone credit for their work, don’t let them contribute and certainly don’t take their ideas.
Yes, we’re apprentices, but apprentices work with the intention of moving up. It’s so hard to go from script coordinator or writers’ assistant to writer because the system feeds off free labor.
A showrunner once said to me that an assistant’s need for credit is purely driven by their want of compensation. Yes, money is important. But we’re trying to be writers. To be staffed. To turn this into a career.
That’s not going to happen if our work is never credited and we’re never seen as anything more than free labor. And, clearly, if we’re good enough to have you use our jokes and our ideas, we’re good enough to be staff writers. The problem is that we’re cheaper and taught to keep our mouths shut for fear of losing our job.
Fuck that. Ask for the credit. And don’t delete your emails.