Everyone Loves an L.A. Screenwriter
A quick disclaimer, right off the top: I work with some amazing screenwriters all over the world. Australia, Colorado, New York, Philly, Canada. All over. Talented, hard-working, consistent, determined screenwriters who keep at it day in and day out. So this blog post is NOT ABOUT THEM.
There is a truth that every writer must contend with, and it’s a simple one: Everyone loves an L.A.-based screenwriter. Hell, some agents and managers have gone on the record saying that they won’t sign a new writer unless he or she already packed up their bags and made the hard move to Los Angeles. I, too, have come to know certain truths about the writers that I work with who are in Los Angeles vs. most (though certainly not all) of the writers that I work with who live and work somewhere else: Nine times out of ten, my L.A. writers will be more consistent. They will also be more methodical about the pursuit of their career and screenwriting success. Nine times out of ten, it’s my L.A. writers who continue to fight for their screenwriting career without missing a beat on both good and bad days. And for my L.A. writers, their conversation with me will be one of many screenwriting conversations they have on a given week, while for non-L.A. screenwriters, I may be the only screenwriting conversation they have in a given month or week.
When I interviewed top-selling and good friend manager Jeff Portnoy for my book, BREAKING IN: TALES FROM THE SCREENWRITING TRENCHES he told me: “If you have the passion and love for the game and you’re able to move to Los Angeles, you should do that. It’s not easy for people of other nationalities to get here and do that. If you live in the States though, and you really love it, you should be here, that’s it. You have to get here.” Check out more of what Jeff had to say in the blog post Jeff Portnoy’s 5 Things New Screenwriters Should Know.
Let’s be clear: To write features, you don’t HAVE TO live in Los Angeles. It’s not as easy to break in when you’re not here, participating in the life of L.A. writers on a regular basis and available for both chance encounters and meetings that get set up from one day to the next. Reps often feel bad getting you to shell out significant dollars for single meetings that may (as often happens to be the case in this industry) ultimately get rescheduled, so they will hold off setting up meetings unless there is a particular project to share, no matter how much you protest. But you can make it as a feature screenwriter while living somewhere else. You just have to acknowledge that there is a geographical disadvantage that comes with the choice to build your home elsewhere.
Becoming a working television writer is a whole other issue. Writers rooms are here. Showrunners are here. Networks and studios and production companies – for the most part – are here, and hiring out of here. And speaking of hiring… Hardly anyone ever gets hired into the room without knowing the right people who can facilitate the right interview, without having advocates to call and vouch for him. So, if you want to be working in television, once you have learned your craft (and long before you can expect to land a paying gig), you should do what you can to get yourself out here.
But the importance of living in Los Angeles in not simply about the convenience of geography. The reason everyone loves an L.A. writer has a lot more to it:
An L.A. screenwriter has made a commitment to screenwriting
When it comes to screenwriters, making the choice to live in Los Angeles can easily be seen as making a commitment to the screenwriter’s career. Being in Los Angeles while in pursuit of his screenwriting dreams instantly makes screenwriting the screenwriter’s Plan A, rather than a hobby or Plan B. For most screenwriters living in Los Angeles, screenwriting is not something they occasionally dabble in; it’s something they’ve chosen to invest themselves in, visible first and foremost by their decision to live in close proximity to the entertainment industry, where movies, television and new media are all happening.
An L.A. screenwriter is available
… For last minute meetings, for random generals, for ongoing, year-round networking efforts. The commitment to live in Los Angeles indicates that he is that much less likely to just… turn his attention elsewhere one day, or get distracted by life, or the pursuit of another, more reasonable career choice. He has made the decision to be here, and therefore to be available for meetings and casual, unplanned opportunities at the drop of a hat, which means that, for lack of better words, he is “in it”.
An L.A. screenwriter “gets it”
Which is really just a nice way to say that MOST (though certainly not all) Los Angeles-based screenwriters who have been doing this for any length of time and have any understanding of the business are not freaking crazy. Over the years, I’ve heard a million statements running all shades of insanity: “Hollywood just wants to steal your screenplay.” “Everyone in the entertainment industry is a heathen.” “You can’t trust agents/managers/executives.” My first question to anyone who says this is: If this is what you believe about Hollywood, why in the world would you want to work here? A few weeks ago, I was talking to an industry friend about an IP-theft lawsuit I had just heard about. Her first response? “Let me guess: the writer is not from Los Angeles.” It goes without saying that OF COURSE not all writers living outside of Los Angeles are crazy. But because statements like those mentioned earlier in this section have been said and baseless lawsuits claiming IP-theft have been filed, the perception of crazy has dirtied many non-LA-based writers.
An L.A. Screenwriter has a community of other writers and industry folks around her
Community means not only support, but also knowledge. An L.A. Screenwriter who has been doing this for any length of time and taking on networking and community building efforts in addition to the writing should have people to turn to when things are tough, making her likelihood of getting through challenging times and tough it out that much higher. But that’s not where the benefits of community end. An L.A. screenwriter can turn to actual people that she knows and (hopefully) respects for insight and guidance, rather than having to resort to gathering information from online message boards. Now, I like online forums as much as the next girl and can find them incredibly useful, but the problem there is that often times you have no real knowledge of who it is that you are getting advice from. I personally find that a lot of online forums can often shepherd something of an “us-vs.-them” mentality, quickly designating an entire class of professionals (agents, managers, executives) into bad guys, and dolling out what is not always great, or even appropriate, advice. When I run into challenges, I carefully consider who of my mentors and friends to turn to; I do so based on respect for their business knowledge, character, position and general attitude. None of those things can be truly identified when assembling an online community. Therefore, when it comes to building careers, managing representation relationships, preparing for interviews and meetings, and responding to challenges, having a community of other writers with a depth of knowledge and strong common sense in your corner is key.
An L.A. Screenwriter immerses himself in the industry
For screenwriters living in Los Angeles, immersion in the world of screenwriting, and by extension the entertainment industry, is inevitable. They are not only writing their scripts in local coffee shops or the quiet of their four walls; they are taking classes, participating in writer’s groups and going to panels and screenwriter-centric events. Some – if not all – of their friends are writers, which means that they always have someone to talk screenwriting and industry with; they often know industry executives, whether casually, or counting them as their friends or friends-of-friends. Screenwriting conversations, too, are, everywhere: at the local coffee shop, at the next restaurant table, even waiting in line for a panel or a movie. For them, screenwriting is a living, breathing, constant thing that they – along with many others in the city – participate in, rather than a thing that comes to life only when they have the time, desire and mental bandwidth to put their attention to it.
An L.A. screenwriter is consistent
If a writer has made the choice to be in Los Angeles as part of his pursuit of a screenwriting career, he will likely keep his eye on the ball and aim to produce new content, forge new relationships, and move his screenwriting career forward with some (if varying) level of consistency. And geography does indeed affect this: If the writer is not writing himself, not getting himself out there, not pushing his craft, other writers are all too happy to beat him to it. For writers who live in Los Angeles, the very location often serves as a reminder and inspiration to keep going, always write, always move their screenwriting career forward.
This blog is not being written to encourage every writer seeking to break into the entertainment industry to make the big move or else throw in the towel. Not at all. But for those writers who are choosing to stay where they are while seeking success in the entertainment space (which is, for the record, possible), you should, in the very least, understand the reason for the perception, and therefore be able to address it more thoughtfully.