How to get a job as a TV (comedy) production assistant

There’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, and hey, if you don’t find anything there, remember YouTube and Apple stream shows now too. So many shows, so many production assistant jobs—right? Yes and…even so, they’re still hard to get. But not impossible!

I’m here to give you hope that, yes, there’s a possibility you could be locking up the set while Midge runs across the street with Lenny Bruce or while Number Five is jumping through time to stop the apocalypse. Over the course of summer 2018, I was a production assistant for a variety of gigs, which eventually led to an opportunity to work on Orange is the New Black, otherwise known as OITNB, or GGE (GREATEST GIG EVARRR). Here’s what I learned about how to get there:

So what does a PA job even look like?

You’re the grunt of the group, running here and there for whatever the show may need.  A good chunk of your time, especially as a first time PA, will involve set lock-up during taping. When a scene is rolling, it is the PA’s job to keep people from walking into the shot. This could include people working on set or pedestrians on the street.

I’m not going to lie, set lock-up will take up the majority of your time, but you may also be asked to run errands, help with crowd control, equipment setup, and craft services. Sometimes your responsibilities will depend on the level of production, whether it is a high- or low-budget project. On the lower budget sets, you tend to have more duties (a.k.a. take the small jobs too)!

It may not be the most glamorous role on the set, but it’s still an important one. If you hang in there long enough, opportunities will open up to move up as PA to more specific areas, like roles as Costume, Office, and First Team PA’s. At the bottom, you’re there to learn, work hard, make connections, and explore what interests you the most in production!

LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn

GOLDMINE! All the contacts you could ever need are on there! Did you find someone who is a production secretary for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Great! Message them. If you find someone who is a producer or a writer, definitely message them too! Keep in mind, though, people who are just a step or two ahead of you, like a production secretary, are probably looking to move up too and are more likely to check their messages and sympathize with your plight. Ask them to help a girl out! Introduce yourself, your experience, what you want to do, and ask them if they’d be willing to talk on the phone or over a cup of joe. Do not ask them for a job, but rather for advice. You’d be surprised how many people want to talk about what they do, especially if it’s something they love.

I messaged many, many people. A lot I did not hear from, but an occasional few took pity on my sorry self. One contact added me to social media groups where low- and high-budgeted projects post PA gigs. I applied to a super low-budget, unpaid PA gig and got it. Do not say no to those projects unless you have a good reason to (like food and/or shelter) because you just never know. A couple of the connections I made on that set worked for OITNB. They saw the good work I did and dragged me along with them on a few other projects until one day they asked me step into the holy ranks of OITNB.

Be “annoying” (sic)

We often confuse annoying with persistent. Do not be afraid to be persistent. Look, the people you’re messaging are busy. In fact, they probably did see your message and decided they’d answer later, but forgot. Can you message them again? Of course! I recommend waiting at least a week. Many times I’ve had people respond to me a week to a week and a half later. If you’ve messaged them again and still don’t hear back after a week, then you can probably drop it.  

This persistence applies to current contacts too. If you’ve built a solid relationship with past supervisors, reach out to them! Ask them if they want to catch up. Always, always, always touch base with connections every few months. If a job opens up at their company/show, light bulb! You’ll be fresh in their minds. A motto you will become very comfortable with this in this process: You just never know.

Keep your friends close, but your peers closer

Everyone starts out differently in the entertainment industry. Don’t fret if you don’t get that first PA job fresh out of college (not many get so lucky). And don’t get jealous when a former fellow intern or co-worker of yours does. Instead, be excited! Cheer and praise them and then slip in there and use that connection. I interned with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in spring 2018. It changed my life because I was suddenly surrounded by all these other interns who were interested in the same career path as me. And they have the drive to pursue it too. Their connections become yours and vice versa. You can be friends and value their industry connections.

I know it’s daunting. It’s still daunting to me! But keep in mind these aren’t the only things you can do. They just happen to be avenues I found helpful. I know people who were agent assistants who found the experience beneficial for work at production companies. People start as PA’s in news and broadcast and find connections in television through that. Don’t let the grind wear you down or make you doubt yourself. Don’t pass up opportunities that could lead to bigger things just because it’s not how you imagined beginning. Be fearless and proactive because, that’s right: you just never know. As Nicky says on OITNB, “You’re tougher than woodpecker lips. You’ll be okay.”

Photo via: Orange Is the New Black Wikia/Netflix

Erin Kinkley originates from the great state of Ohio and is an alumnus of The Ohio State University (hail Brutus!). Her interest in comedy and entertainment includes experiences in television as a former intern at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and as a set production assistant. Currently, Erin is attempting to unravel the inner workings of J.K. Rowling’s mind. What’s the formula for making the bestselling fantasy book series of all time? That’s what Erin plans to find out.

How to land your dream comedy internship (I did!)

Hi hello! I’m Emily Pasqua. I was an intern for the Spring 2018 semester at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and, before that, an intern at Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Now, I’m a 23-year-old graduate of SUNY Purchase who still can’t quite believe I was part of these amazing late-night teams.

Before we dive into the entree, here are some appetizer tips for landing your dream internship:

    • Don’t sell yourself short; internships help you gain experience and if you don’t have much experience under your belt already, use your passion for comedy/television to your advantage!
    • Seek out resources that’ll help you get a move on the application process. This includes LinkedIn, campus career centers and even your friends and family. You’ll be surprised to know that Aunt Jill knows a guy who knows a guy that can put in a good word for you.
    • Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out at first. Be like Ariana Grande and say “Thank u, next.” Keep being persistent.

Ok, now back to the main course. I grew up watching Lucille Ball, a comedy queen, in reruns on early-evening television. With this electronic tutelage, I knew exactly what I wanted to do at an early age. There was just one tiny problem: You can’t be a comedy queen if you can’t perform on a stage in front of many, many people. I had chutzpah for days — just not the kind that I needed to perform on stage in front of crowds.

I tried the improv club whilst at Purchase, but saying “yes, and” led me to nope so hard out of that club. I still wasn’t thrilled about performing every week in front of people, due to this this little thing called crippling anxiety. While it was telling me I wasn’t good enough to pursue my true passions, it also led me to study psychology in college. The problem with that was that studying the human brain’s reasons for anxiety gave me — you guessed it — more crippling anxiety.

The turning point for me was when I enrolled in a media studies course aptly named “A Critical Look at Television.” That class, and my professor in particular, rekindled my love of television and comedy. It was clear that while I would never manage to memorize the formula for serial dilutions in microbiology, I was perfectly able to internalize the (very real) formulas that make sitcoms work. You know, like:

funny characters+ situational happenstancechance of dramahilaritysaucy flair = your typical sitcom

What’s actually fun about this type of “science” is that the formulas are controlled by you, and whatever the outcome may be is your own diabolical, yet insanely beautiful creation!

Here’s a fun media-studies fact: Did you know that Lucille Ball was one of the first women in television to own her own production studios? She took over the Desilu name after ditching her tumultuous marriage to the skirt-chasing Desi Arnaz. She wasn’t only a performer, she was also a bona fide Boss-Ass Bitch. From this, I reasoned that if I wanted to excel in comedy and television, I didn’t have to perform.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: There are plenty of jobs in television other than acting. And landing a production internship is an amazing way to find out about all of them.

Oh. Did you just get a cold shiver going up your spine? That’s just your crippling anxiety telling you that you don’t have the experience, contacts, or chutzpah to land an internship. Nothing that a little wisdom from a complete stranger can’t fix! I’m going to tell you how I did it, and believe me — I’m just as cripplingly anxious as you are. Read on and learn.

Lesson 1: Don’t ignore your campus-wide emails.

There it was, amidst a flood of other emails I may or may not have been willing to look over: The three-time Emmy winning show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was seeking applicants for their production internship. I applied without a second thought and within a few weeks, I scheduled an interview.

This, of course, meant that our old friend crippling anxiety pretty much moved into my dorm room. I was anticipating the worst, and already thinking about my plan b. Nothing had even happened yet!

Let’s talk about interviews. I hadn’t been on any as important as this one before, and all my preconceived notions led me to expect something like Detective Benson from Law and Order: SVU drilling me with questions into the night. Turns out interviews are just … conversations. At least, this one was — a long and magnificent one that went more smoothly than I could have imagined. Which leads me to —

Lesson 2: If you’re passionate about the position you’re interviewing for, it’ll show.

That’s what interviewers are looking for. So walk into the room knowing that you’re the best woman for the job, and let your enthusiasm do the rest. Nerd out if you want to! I distinctly remember going into a rant and rave over my favorite TV shows like 30 Rock and I Love Lucy, but just when I thought I was going way in over my head, turns out my interviewer shared some of the exact same sentiments. It was so refreshing and exhilarating, in that moment I was as optimistic as I’d ever been.

Lesson 3: don’t be afraid to reach out to potential employers for an informational interview.

This means you want to meet them just to talk about their workplace or line of work, not for any specific job. You don’t have expectations other than information-gathering. They are a great way to meet face-to-face, build a connection, and ask a lot of questions. You’re not being annoying, I promise! Employers get to see your personality in action, something a resume can’t provide.

How does one ask for an informational? Simple. “I’m interested in XYZ; when you have a chance can we have a chat about XYZ?” BOOM! You did the thing! I had my informational with my supervisor at Last Week Tonight to thank her for a shot at another dream come true. We had talked about my career aspirations, my interests and what I’ve taken from this internship. When The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was seeking applicants for their internship, she told me about it. I jumped on that chance so fast.

I walked in with the same underlying anxieties that I did when I interviewed for LWT, but this time, I was beaming with a newfound confidence. I knew I had what it took to be a part of this late-night team. In the interview, I was asked, “Why late-night television?” I responded with, “I want to be a writer. I want to create content that’s fun and unique, and that may even resonate with people.” See? It’s not rocket science.

It’s also a completely subjective answer. If you are ever presented with the same question in an interview, it’s okay if you truly have no idea! More times than not, I’ve found that being honest with yourself in regards to your career aspirations is a totally valid answer. It’s okay to not be sure of yourself. That leads us right into –

Lesson 4: Have fortitude! Potential employers admire honesty.

I had spent weeks deliberating on what I was going to possibly do next if all didn’t work out. Anxiety truly is a funny little friend. I was at the wrap party for LWT when I got the call offering me a position as a writer’s intern with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. One dream internship was coming to a close, and the door to another one was opening up.

John Oliver and Jimmy Fallon are just some dudes on TV. Yes, applying for their internships can be daunting, but it all comes down to you. Who are you? Why do you stand out amongst the bazillion other applicants trying to snag the same seat as you? Make sure you remember what your true passions are. They may come to you in school, or they may come out of the clear blue sky. Most importantly, remember you will doubt yourself at every moment when applying to internships — or any job, for that matter. You’ll always feel this ounce of inadequacy, but I can for sure tell you that as a human being, there is nothing more admirable than honesty. A dream internship becomes a reality when you take those doubts and insecurities and turn them into creative content. Throw your ego out the window, because the more passionate and authentic you are, the more likely you will land that desired internship!

Read Emily’s bio here.