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Rising Through the Ranks: 'Better Call Saul' Showrunner's Assistant Valerie Chu

May 8, 2019
4 min read time

Imagine working for the showrunner of one of the most esteemed shows in Hollywood.

Valerie Chu doesn’t have to imagine, because it is her reality.

Chu is the showrunner’s assistant to Peter Gould, the co-creator and co-showrunner of the award-winning AMC series Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad. Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan serves as co-showrunner.

“This industry can be challenging and knock you down a couple pegs, but being on a show where people are fired up... it reinvigorates your own passion,” Chu says.

The 28-year-old from Houston, Texas, is Gould’s right-hand woman, helping him to manage his time effectively. “Peter is very careful and detail oriented,” Chu says. “Every tiny approval goes through him. His attention to detail is why the show is such a standout on TV.”

Production began for the fifth season of Better Call Saul on April 10, meaning Chu is currently busy fielding interview requests, reviews, and questions for her boss about every element of the show.

“When the writers’ room opens, it’s quiet. I’m basically scheduling. But when production begins, my day looks like me running around like a chicken with their head cut off," Chu says. “Everyone is asking for approval from Peter. As his assistant, I have to have insight to determine where he should be… does he need to be in the writers’ room? Does he need to be reviewing costume designs that just got sent over? Does he need to get on the phone with a producer because there’s a problem on set?”

Chu quickly learned time management after accepting the position ten months ago. Before working on Saul, Chu was hustling in Hollywood in her pursuit of being a television writer.

It all began after landing an internship while she was studying screenwriting at USC. “I hit the jackpot,” Chu reflects. “I got to intern in three different writers’ offices and, in addition to that, two different TV show productions. I got sort of an insider's look into what a writers’ room looks like and talked to a lot of people who came up in the business.”

During Chu’s senior year, she received an internship on the show Nashville, where she was eventually hired as a writer’s PA. “I graduated on a Saturday and started work on the Monday after,” Chu says. During her second year there, she was promoted to showrunner’s assistant.

“I got an episode in our last season of the show and I got to write and produce that,” Chu says. “It was so great.”

Following her time on Nashville, Chu bounced around from show to show. She worked for the showrunner on Sleepy Hollow, Designated Survivor, and eventually landed the showrunner’s assistant position on Queen Sugar.

“One of my friends from Nashville, who is a writer, called me to say, 'I’m running Queen Sugar,' which is an Oprah show.” Chu recalls. “And they said, 'I want to give you another writing opportunity.”

Her boss left at the end of the season, and Chu went on to work for six months under showrunner Michelle Ashford, who created and ran Masters of Sex on Showtime.

“I would have stayed with her forever, because I worked from home and got to work on my own writing,” Chu says. But that’s when the opportunity to work on Saul presented itself.

“I’ve been following these guys since Breaking Bad and I’m a huge fan of the show,” Chu admits. “It’s been a dream. I’m like, ‘Am I really working on this show?’”

After working for five different series, Chu says she’s seen the uniqueness of each showrunner and production. She also states she would never trade in her experience as a showrunner’s assistant—a position she says often receives a lot of flak from people in the industry.

“It’s never considered a promotion to be a showrunner’s assistant, but I’ve had a completely different experience,” Chu says.  “I love seeing how different showrunners operate. They all have unique styles, strengths and weaknesses. I love the job.”

"One of the most beneficial things, for me, is you get to understand relationships with the studio and network. You see the intimate writing process of when a writer turns in their draft.”  

Chu believes the process has helped her with her own writing as she gets to see how Gould re-writes certain characters and scripts; she says she’s learned from his style and writing. She also gets to be on set for each taping.

But to be a showrunner’s assistant, Chu says you need a certain demeanor and thick skin. You also need a certain level of understanding when it comes to every aspect of the production. “You need to protect your boss first and foremost,” Chu states. “By giving emotional support. Your boss is the most stressed out person on show. You have to carry weight and offer support.”

It’s easy to do for Chu, who says working on Saul is like working on ‘the unicorn': a good show with good people.

“I love how everyone is just so kind and it starts from the top,” Chu says. “Vince and Peter are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They are so generous and their passion after all these seasons is amazing.”

The fifth season of Better Call Saul will premiere in 2020 on AMC. Seasons one through four are available on Netflix.

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