Top Reps Advise: Do You Have to Live in Los Angeles?

We’ve heard it said a million times: Location, location, location. It’s true when it comes to real estate, to the best vacation spots, but… is it also true when it comes to building your screenwriting career?

In other words, is it Los Angeles or bust if you want to become a working scribe?

That question has been asked of me more times than I could count. And, in truth, over 95% of my writers who have found the sort of professional success that they were looking for did indeed either already live in, or relocated to, Los Angeles.

I even blogged about it not too long ago, listing the various benefits that making a home in Los Angeles will have for you in my blog post, EVERYONE LOVES AN L.A. SCREENWRITER.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, consider the words of my friends in representation, when I interviewed them for my book BREAKING IN: TALES FROM THE SCREENWRITING TRENCHES:

Super Manager Jewerl Ross, who reps Barry Jenkins (MOONLIGHT) and Matt Aldrich (COCO) told me:

“It’s hard to build relationships living somewhere else. Skype and phone aren’t as good as meeting in person. Skype and phone are poor tools in comparison. And yes, someone can fly here four times a year and meet people and whatever, but it’s just not as good. Now I’ve signed and worked with writers from all over the world but if you are in your 20s and 30s and childless, you should be moving to LA if you really want to have a career here. I understand if you have two kids and a dying grandmother and you live in Ohio and you don’t want to uproot your life. But I think one of the components of having and getting a successful career in Hollywood is ambition and putting yourself first and people in their 20s and 30s have the ability to put themselves first, get on a plane, and move to fucking LA. Some people who don’t have the life circumstances to do that or the ambition to do that or the will to do that won’t make it. It’s not just a function of being in LA, it’s a function of: do you have the will? And not everyone does. People can talk a lot about it—and I know this from my own experience in my own life growing up poor in Inglewood and creating this business for myself and going to Yale and all this shit—I know what kind of ambition that took. So I know it takes similar amounts of ambition to have success in this town. And everyone can TALK about having ambition and passion, but where the rubber meets the road is about DOING it.  Can you forsake all that you know and move to a town where you don’t know anyone and making it happen? Not everyone has the will.”

Top literary agent David Boxerbaum, who is quickly getting known as the last agent to consistently facilitate spec sales and a partner at Verve, had his own unique take:

“I think writing can be done anywhere in the country. It’s helpful for sure to live here — for on the spot meetings, opportunities to brand yourself and meet people here in Los Angeles, submerge yourself with people who are doing the same thing you’re doing—I think that’s helpful. But it’s not a necessity and I would never tell anybody to pick up—especially with a family, when they’re trying to make a living as well as writing—until they can get to that point where they’re making a living writing. I’d never tell them to pick up and move here without knowing that they have that backing already in place. That financial backing. Being here is helpful, but it’s not necessary. I have writers who are all over the country—and the world.”

Literary manager Lee Stobby, whose client’s script BUBBLES made it all the way to the top of The Black List in 2015, had this to offer: 

“Living in LA is really important. It’s super important. It’s not an absolute. I do represent people who don’t live here. Isaac Adamson doesn’t live here. But at the same time, if you wrote something like BUBBLES then you can live wherever you want. Right? You have to show Hollywood – ‘I’m serious about this.’ I don’t represent people who are casual writers. It’s not a hobby for me. It’s all consuming. I spend every moment of my life thinking about it. If you want to be a writer in Hollywood and you don’t spend every moment of your life thinking about it, you probably should try to do something else. It has to be the thing that you want to do all the time. You have to love writing. So if you don’t live here, it just sends a signal of – to me – how serious are you about this? Three days after graduating, I drove my car to LA because I am super serious about it. So, if there’s some reason that’s preventing you from being here then you have to over-compensate, you have to be that much better of a writer, you have to be that much more on social media, you have to be that much more aggressive in your query letters. And so you are going to be that much more limited and therefore at a disadvantage compared to the competition of the writers who do live here. And again, that feeds into my ability to help you.”

Infinity’s Jon Karas, who previously worked as a lawyer and a William Morris agent, provided his two cents:

“It’s really important to be around to network, to take a meeting at a moment’s notice, to hang out with your peer group – peer group meaning more executives from the studios, your team, etc – you can’t do that if you live some place else, you won’t succeed. Or let’s put it this way, you will have the odds go way against you. Is it because LA has nice weather? No, it’s because the industry is here.”

Circle of Confusion’s literary manager Josh Adler share his opinion:

“My advice would be to get here. I know it’s not feasible for everybody, it’s not an option for everybody, people have families, people have jobs, whatever—but, and it may not be fair to say, but for the most part, if you’re trying to break a new writer into the business, they need to be here. It makes it easier, and it shows that this isn’t a hobby to you. That you’re passionate about this, and this is your goal, and you’re sacrificing and risking everything to try and make it, and you’re not just a weekend warrior writer. It’s not playing second fiddle to some other passion that you have. So most of the time, I would say, if you can, be here. It’s the easiest way to start.”

Ryan Cunningham of Anonymous Content told me:

“Its not essential, but it certainly helps speed up the process because you’re in a place where everybody’s at least aware of the industry and has those connections and a lot of times, it is those weird connections that lead to finding a rep or finding a producer that likes your stuff. And if you’re not there, it’s gonna be harder to make those connections. And yeah, you can reach out over email to people and try your best to wave your hands and get their attention, but still a word of mouth referral from somebody you trust, whether that’s an industry colleague or a family member you just want to shut up and not have to answer their phone calls about their cousin’s friend’s brother’s script anymore, that’s a lot better than a unsolicited email or a phone call from somebody I’ve never met before when I’m extremely busy all day to begin with.”

Finally, Brillstein Entertainment Partners manager and founder of The Blood List  Kailey Marsh said:

“I don’t think it’s a hundred percent necessary to live in LA. But the face time value is invaluable. Really. You know I developed a book with one of my clients over the past year and we’re editing it right now and it’s beautiful and I can’t wait for people to read it but she lives in Florida and it’s been difficult because I know she has a great personality and is so sweet, and I just know if I were able to put her in rooms with people, people would respond to how great she is.  I feel like you don’t really get that over a Skype session. I can’t imagine not living in LA working in this industry and I feel like the same should go for writers.“