Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

What Does a Showrunner’s Assistant Do?

A showrunner’s assistant supports a showrunner on a television show. Their tasks include:

  • Scheduling and support for the showrunner

  • Managing phone calls, messages, and forwarding

  • Organizing and updating story grids

  • Writing show covers

  • Coordinating events

  • Research

  • Preparation

In this blog, you’ll learn more about what’s expected of a showrunner’s assistant in detail from someone who’s doing it right now; Ria Tobaccowala is the showrunner’s assistant to showrunner Soo Hugh on the Apple TV+ series “Pachinko.”

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Ria is also an accomplished filmmaker herself and now helms Soo’s Asian Pacific writers’ incubator program, called “The Thousand Miles Project.”

She detailed her day-to-day role for SoCreate to help others learn why so many writers vie for this entry-level position and what tasks writers will need to perform to succeed in the role.

What is a Showrunner’s Assistant?

A showrunner’s assistant works with a showrunner in a clerical role that ensures the show runs smoothly and efficiently.  

The showrunner is similar to a manager; they’re often the show creator and manage the process of bringing a television show to life from pre-production through post-production.

Most people with careers in the entertainment industry would agree that a showrunner’s assistant position is an entry-level job, but that doesn’t make it less competitive to snag this role.

People who want to be writers, casting directors, producers, and showrunners all vie for this position because they know that they’ll glean a ton of industry knowledge and meet many people who could help them accomplish their career goals down the line.

What Does a Showrunner’s Assistant Do?

A showrunner’s assistant’s overarching goal is to make life easier for the showrunner. This life is often insanely busy, and showrunners have much to accomplish throughout a television season.

While the job changes as production on the show progresses, the general duties remain the same.

Scheduling & Support for the Showrunner

The showrunner’s assistant will follow the showrunner from pre to post-production and everything in between. The showrunner’s assistant will wear many hats during this time, and their responsibilities will likely change daily. Plus, every TV show is different.

“So, from what I understand in the world of being a showrunner’s assistant is that our show was a little unique because we had a set writing period before production began,” Ria explained. “So, Soo wasn’t having to be in the writers’ room and then jumping to set or dealing with set issues while writing, and so I was able to be in the room, sit at the table with the writers and learn, and just be a fly on the wall, which was an incredible experience. In the writers’ room, my main goal was supporting Soo and the writers and making sure they had what they needed to get through the room.”

Some of those needs included:

  • Managing phone calls, messages, and forwarding

  • Organizing and maintaining story grids

  • Coordinating events

Learn

“I’m very grateful to have worked for a showrunner who respected me as an artist and wanted me to learn,” Ria said. “[Soo] really, really wanted me to learn. And there’s no other way to learn how to write for TV other than sitting in a writers’ room and watching the showrunner and the writers work day to day, breaking down beats, then going to outline, and then workshopping the script and stuff.”

A key reason to take on the challenging work of a showrunner’s assistant is to be able to learn about different aspects of what it takes to make a television show. From staffing to casting, writing to studio approvals, and production to post, showrunner’s assistants should make learning part of their job.

If possible, find a showrunner who wants you to learn, too. Either way, you’ll pick up a ton of knowledge through exposure to the process alone.

Research

“I ended up doing – since our show is a historical fiction and is an adaptation of real history – there was a lot of research, too, a lot of learning about Korean-Japanese history.”

But show research wasn’t the only research that prepared Ria for this role.

  • Ahead of the interview, she read the book that was to be adapted, “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

  • She read the pilot and the show bible, so she’d be a master of the story

  • She prepared herself through research, so the team was prepped when it was finally time for the writers’ room

Showrunner’s assistants should be prepared to work at all hours during a television season and spend plenty of their personal time preparing for the show through research. Self-starters excel here because they don’t wait to be told they need to know something; they prepare themselves by already knowing!

Preparation

“My first early task was finding a space for the writers’ room,” Ria continued. “So [Soo] and I would walk around different places in New York to find a short-term rental, something that was built and was part of the vision she had for how she wanted the style and tone of her writers’ room.”

Preparatory tasks can include just about anything, including real estate hunting. Showrunner’s assistants should have a can-do attitude and be prepared for all possible scenarios and tasks.

How Much Does a Showrunner’s Assistant Make?

An assistant to the showrunner earns approximately $64,700 per year, according to Glassdoor. That salary slightly climbs if you work specifically for a Netflix showrunner as a showrunners’ assistant, where just under 3,000 people report having earned a median salary of $68,757 per year.

Most showrunner’s assistants reside in New York or Los Angeles, where TV jobs are in demand. According to Payscale.com, keep in mind that the average cost of living is around 45 percent higher in LA than anywhere else in the nation, with median rent sitting at just below $2,500 per month.

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Summary

A showrunner’s assistant has a very demanding job and is responsible for keeping the flow of a show smooth and efficient. What this background role lacks in pay, it makes up for in the experience it offers; competition is stiff for showrunner’s assistant jobs because applicants know how much they’ll learn and how many connections they’ll make throughout a television season.

It’s a tough job, but somebody has got to do it – and why not you?

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