Rising Through the Ranks: Erin Conley
July 3, 2019
They say networking is invaluable in Hollywood, and for Erin Conley, that statement proves true.
“I think it’s important to get to know everyone you’re working with,” Conley says. “These shows are often short-lived. But when it’s canceled, people go on to other things. If you’ve developed a relationship with them, they’ll hopefully remember you later and take you along.”
Conley’s insight comes after eight years in the industry. The 30-year-old’s journey began after graduating from Boston University in 2011. She moved to Los Angeles just weeks after graduating with a degree in film and television and, three months into her move, landed her first job in the entertainment industry.
“I was fortunate,” Conley says. “I got a job as an agency assistant at a smaller boutique agency, Rebel Entertainment Partners.”
She looks back on her years there fondly and describes it as ‘assistant boot camp’ due to the volume of material that crossed her desk on any given day. But, at the end of the day, Conley wanted to work in scripted television.
So, just shy of two years at Rebel, she left for a role as a post-production PA on the CBS show Person of Interest. After two seasons there, in 2015, Conley landed the role she had been working toward: a writer’s PA on ABC’s short-lived show, Blood & Oil.
“I was so happy to be working in the writers’ office,” Conley said. “My goal was to make it in that space and I finally did it.”
Sadly, Blood & Oil lasted just a couple of months. But fortunately for Conley, soon after the show ended, she got her first showrunner assistant position on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. She worked there for half of season three and the entirety of season four, until that show, too, got canceled. But because of her networking and relationships she’d built while on the show, she was soon offered her next showrunner’s assistant gig.
“After Sleepy Hollow got canceled, another EP who had worked on the show became showrunner for Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix. Because of our relationship, I went to be his assistant and got a ton of access to every step of the process. He even brought me to New York with him for a month for the finale production.”
Once Iron Fist ended, Conley’s connections prevailed once again. The showrunner she had been working with recommended her to his friend, Eric Heisserer, showrunner on the new Netflix show Shadow and Bone. Conley moved on to become his assistant.
“There are more shows than ever now, but a lot of them only have around eight to 10 episodes,” Conley says. “It makes the length of time you’re on the show shorter, so you’re jumping from show to show a lot. Because of that, these connections are more important than ever.”
As Heisserer’s assistant on Shadow and Bone, Conley is his gatekeeper. “You’re in charge of prioritizing and making sure everyone feels heard by the showrunner,” Conley summarizes.
She says her role consists of many aspects, including some that are universal to the job; for instance, scheduling calls and meetings with the different departments, the network, and the studio, with her boss.
“I think the specificity of the job also varies depending on the show or showrunner,” Conley says. On her current show, Conley is also part of the writers’ office, which allows her to learn as she works her way up the ladder in hopes of one day becoming a showrunner herself.
“At this point, I can read a script and know it’s going to be way too expensive to make,” Conley says. “These experiences help me look at things with a different eye.”
And although she loves her job and is thankful for the experience, Conley believes the industry needs to do better in regard to assistant salaries.
“The pay doesn’t fit the level where you’re living comfortably,” Conley says. “I’ve noticed in my eight years living in L.A. that the cost of living has gone up, but the increase in wages hasn’t gone up proportionately.” And with fleeting shows and months of uncertainty in between, Conley says it’s often hard to make ends meet as an assistant.
There have been strides made. In 2018, Union 871 was created for writers’ assistants and script coordinators. Unfortunately, showrunner’s assistants are not included.
“The reason people deal with low wages and the hours, is you hope to build connections to become a writer,” Conley says. “But it’s challenging.”
Even with the challenge, Conley is proud of the work she’s done and continues to do with the goal accomplishing her dreams.
“I think you really have to want it and you have to be willing to go through the initial struggle,” Conley says. “The industry is not set up to make it easy. But, I have encountered enough people who saw something in me worthy of taking a chance on. Those people do exist.”
Written by: Allison Collins-SmithAllison Collins-Smith is a twice Emmy-nominated journalist who has worked as a television reporter and anchor in markets around the country. She has covered a variety of stories from the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to President Trump’s travel ban in the fourth circuit court of appeals. Allison has also won AP awards for her work and a Catalyst For Change award from the Arc of Virginia for her reporting on the disabled community. Allison just moved to Los Angeles with her screen writer husband and two cats and is excited for all LA has to offer!