Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

What Does a Showrunner's Assistant Do During Production?

Assistant jobs are in high demand in Hollywood, New York, and other television production hubs, especially for people who want to pursue writing as a career.

Showrunner's assistant or writers' assistant jobs are entry-level but no less competitive because it puts a would-be writer right in the middle of the action. Here, they can learn how a television show comes to life, be in the room as writers break stories, and be responsible for tasks that follow the show through to its premiere.

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But the job changes a lot during a television show's lifecycle. While an aspiring writer might have access to the writers' room during pre-production, what happens over the next 60-70 percent of that show's lifecycle? During production, a showrunner's assistant might help with:

  • Casting

  • Coordinating with costume designers, line producers, production designers, and assistant directors

  • Taking and tracking notes

  • Tracking cast

  • Interacting with the studio and department heads

  • Setting meetings

  • Actor preparation

We asked filmmaker and showrunner's assistant Ria Tobaccowala to explain how it works. Ria's most recent stint as a showrunner's assistant was with Showrunner Soo Hugh on shows including Apple TV+'s hit series "Pachinko" and AMC's "The Terror." The shows differed in their paths from script to screen, with pre-production, production, and post-production occurring separately on "Pachinko." All writing was done ahead of time, so Ria's role changed as she left the pre-production part of the show behind.

"We had these distinct stages that I mentioned," Ria began.

These days, more television shows are run this way, especially for streamers; writing happens all at once rather than on a rolling basis as it would for a network television show. It changes the writers' jobs, yes, but it also changes the assistant's jobs.

Below, Ria delves into what a showrunner's assistant does during production on a television show in this whole new world of streaming.

What Does a Showrunner's Assistant Do During Production?

During production on a television show, a showrunner's assistant will still be responsible for scheduling and supporting the showrunner, managing phone calls, messages, forwarding, coordinating events, performing research, and ensuring everyone is prepared for what's to come.

Showrunner's assistants stand to learn a ton during this phase of a television show, and they'll be kept on their toes. But it's a chance to get a hands-on education that you can't get in many other entry-level positions in Hollywood. And the connections to be made? Priceless. 

Help Coordinate a Bigger Crew

During the production phase of a television show, the staff grows exponentially. The assistant must make headway and build relationships with an entirely new crew.

"It changes quite a bit. You go from one team, you know, we build this family with our writing staff. And then they all say, "Bye," at least on our show. And then we're welcomed to this whole new world with a different set of people that we're working with," Ria explained.

Help Transform the Script to the Screen

During production, the showrunner's assistant will learn more about how a script transforms into the visual medium of television.

"So, you're working with directors, production designers, costume designers, line producers, assistant directors, and so you're really focusing on helping to transition, and get these scripts that we spent a while writing and revising, and now getting everything to be visualized, take it on screen," Ria said.

Coordinate, Track, and Organize Cast

"So, I did a bunch of work in terms of casting, making sure Soo's notes and thoughts about casting were put into a system," Ria said. "We had a very large cast, so helping her keep track and organized with that."

By this point in production, the showrunner's assistant should understand how the showrunner and writers envisioned the cast and should have been keeping detailed notes. When it comes to casting, the showrunner's assistant will be expected to communicate those notes thoroughly to the casting department and ensure the showrunner's vision is applied.

Schedule Meetings with Department Heads and Studio

"Interacting with the studio and the different department heads, making sure meetings were set when they needed to be once the assistant directors came on before production" were all responsibilities that fell to Ria. "I'd often be interacting with them to make sure, you know, scheduling was all set."

A showrunner's assistant should be highly organized and be able to keep the showrunner and the rest of the team in the loop regarding important meetings. Ria's job included ensuring everyone knew where they were supposed to be and at what time and that any changes to the schedule were heard loud and clear.

Sit in On Actor Meetings

"I’d sit in on meetings with actors and take notes as we were going through that prep process,” Ria continued.

The showrunner is extremely busy, running the television show much like a corporation. With so many moving pieces, the showrunner’s assistant has to be the showrunner’s eyes and ears on the ground in many cases, even during actor prep.

In Conclusion

“So, it was really kind of being there for whatever was needed,” Ria concluded. “A lot of it was around communication, scheduling, creating that institutional memory, and recording all of the info that needed to be shared across departments as well.”

While the skillset needed to ace the showrunner’s assistant job might not change much from the writing phase to production (a can-do attitude, problem-solving, high level of organization, and communication), the nature of the tasks will change. The showrunner’s assistant job will become more fast-paced during production and will give the assistant a chance to shine.

Sink or swim,

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