Becoming a Working Screenwriter: Living in Los Angeles
While there is no question that one can break into screenwriting while not living in Los Angeles, it’s also irrefutable that living in Los Angeles does give you an advantage. Case in point: Most writers who break in do so while living in Los Angeles. Which goes to prove one single thing: While some writers have made a career for themselves working remotely, or started in Los Angeles and then moved away and built their lives elsewhere, there are clear benefits to being here. Let’s break some of them down:
- When living in Los Angeles, you are available for spontaneous opportunities. As Los Angeles offers the largest collection of filmmakers in the western world, it also offers more opportunities to run into other filmmakers and people associated with the film and television industries when one least expects it. Whether it’s at dinner parties, a local bar or when grabbing coffee at Starbucks, many writers living in Los Angeles are able to build those all important relationships in the most unlikely and spontaneous circumstances.
- Events, Events, Events. One of my clients lives in Canada 8 months of the year, and in Los Angeles the other 4. Every time she arrives back in Los Angeles, I am amazed by how quickly her calendar fills up with industry-related events and opportunities. Here, there is something film- or television-related going on every week, be it a special panel with the writers of your favorite television series at ATAS, a writer’s drinks night put on by Jen Greisanti or The Writing Pad, a full day of fascinating speakers gathered by WGA Foundation, or a special screening at the local Landmark or Arclight theaters in which the director and writer are present for a Q & A. All of these events offer the opportunity to not only connect with other writers, but also to connect with other people working in the industry who could be a bit further than you in their career.
- The Meeting Advantage. In a panel I sat on in 2013’s Screenwriters World the question came up whether a writer must live in Los Angeles to achieve successes. The unanimous answer was that no, one doesn’t. I myself work with a slew of successful writers who don’t live here. But, equally, the panel agreed that there are certain advantages to living in Los Angeles or the immediate Los Angeles area, the most obvious of which is one’s ability to respond to the scheduling and rescheduling of industry meetings. In order to illuminate this further, let me share with you some recent stories from my working clients: In November I had two separate LA-based writers meet with two separate agents at CAA. Both meetings were rescheduled based on the agents’ hectic and demanding schedules. One meeting was rescheduled once, while the second was rescheduled 3 times, moving back twice and forward once in the agent’s calendar once before the meeting took place. This spanned a number of weeks, and demanded the client’s patience and flexibility. Another client flew in for a meeting with an agent in another agency, only to have her meeting rescheduled to a month later on the morning of the meeting itself, costing the writer thousands of dollars in expenses, as she understood that if she did not come back for the rescheduled meeting, she would be sending the agent the message that she is not as flexible and able to facilitate meetings with executives anytime, anywhere, as competing writers trying to make it need to be. On the flip side, a manager recently read one of my writer’s scripts, and called me mid-day Friday insistent that we arrange a meeting with the writer that afternoon. Though the writer was working on set that day, I did manage to pull him off that afternoon and get him to the manager’s office in time for him to get signed, which obviously could not have happened to the new manager’s satisfaction had the writer did not lived in Los Angeles. Because meetings are often rescheduled on the fly (I once had a meeting rescheduled as I pulled into a studio’s parking garage), writers have to be available to come in the following week or the following month, and occasionally without much warning that very same day, for which living in Los Angeles offers a great benefit.
- Working your way to success. While not everyone is at a place in life where they can or even want to work their way up in the entertainment industry, if you are young and without too many financial commitments (such as children, mortgage, etc.) getting a job in the industry and building connections and a reputation from the ground up is a great way to get yourself out there. This is something that is right for only a small sector of writers in a specific age range, as working as an assistant or intern requires a lot of time and energy invested for not a lot of financial reward, but it is a great way to get yourself out there, get to know other working and aspiring professionals, and become part of the working industry space. The danger? Many assistants end up working so many hours, that they find themselves with little time to write and create new content. While some writers are able to balance working full time in the industry with writing, I’ve also worked with clients who got a job working for a management or production company but ultimately quit it in favor of more time for writing.
Whether you are living in Los Angeles or trying to break in remotely, it’s critical that you continue to do so methodically and deliberately. No matter which city, state, or even country you live in, it’s for those who put in the most consistent effort, those who continue to produce relevant, high quality work and get it out into the industry marketplace that success presents itself.