Do you need to live in Hollywood to establish your screenwriting career?

March 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

hollywoodlandI’m often asked this question by screenwriters who live outside of Hollywood and my answer remains the same—it’s far easier to live in the center of the film business and build your network of relationships from the inside, than living somewhere else and only having that access via the internet or phone. Usually when screenwriters who don’t live in the Los Angeles area make some noise with their scripts, they set up a series of meetings, hopefully within the same week, and fly to Hollywood to plant their flag wherever they found victory on the field of battle. After their goodwill tour, they’ll return home to their lives and stay in contact, but unless they have an agent or manager helping navigate the choppy waters, they’ll be at a disadvantage because they can’t just walk out their front door and meet new film professionals in person.

The primary advantage of screenwriters living in the Los Angeles area is the daily access they have to screenings, parties, events, premieres, workshops, and classes where they can meet film professionals on every level of success—from the biggest producers and directors, to other screenwriting aspirants, to working actors and screenwriters, and even production executives, managers and agents.  On any given night in Los Angeles there are screenings or premieres where you can meet the filmmakers in person and see their latest films.

Another important opportunity the town affords is the variety of filmmaking panels, workshops, classes and writer’s groups where you can meet, network and learn from filmmaking professionals. Your interaction will strengthen your knowledge of your craft, but also opens the possibilities of finding a mentor who you can apprentice under. These networking opportunities can also build your relationships with the assistants and junior executives who can become your eyes and ears on the ground for valuable information about the business. You probably wouldn’t have this type of access in a small town or city where filmmaking is not an established industry.

I went out for drinks with friends and my attorney buddy struck up a conversation at the bar with a woman about the film industry because he also works in entertainment law. When he learned that she was the assistant for one of the biggest producer’s in Hollywood, he introduced us and we chatted about the industry, the films that I had written, and what projects I was working on. Ultimately, our conversation didn’t materialize with any traded contact information, but my point is that it could have. What if she had offered to read one of my projects?  What if I had a mutual relationship with someone who she knows or had worked with?  If you’re out meeting new people, you never know when you’ll have personal access to film industry professionals outside of their protected work environment.

It’s all about access. You probably wouldn’t get a chance to meet a big producer as a beginning screenwriter, but if you ran into his eager assistant who was looking to find his next great screenplay, you’d better offer a quality project that represents the best of your ability. Back in the day when I was first starting out, my ex-girlfriend’s friend was an assistant who gave my spec to another assistant who championed the project. Eventually he convinced his boss to option my script and later their company produced it into my second film. You never know where your film industry encounters will lead and the relationships you can build that will help on your journey to success.

Sure, it’s possible to live away from Hollywood and establish a screenwriting career, but it may take longer and you may miss opportunities to network and build the necessary relationships that you don’t have if you live in a small town or even a big city that has no film industry.  I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If you throw a rock in Hollywood, you’ll hit either a writer, director, producer or actor.” It’s true—walk into any Starbucks or Coffee Bean in Los Angeles and you’ll run into filmmakers of every level from aspirant to Ben Affleck.

Also when you live outside of Hollywood, you don’t see the tremendous level of competition around you daily because you’re sequestered away in a place where probably very few aspire to do what you do. Once you’re in Los Angeles, it will become painfully obvious when you walk into any coffee-house and find dozens of people writing screenplays on their laptops. Seeing the odds in front of you can help fuel your drive, focus and writing discipline. The only competition should really be with your own journey to become a unique and masterful screenwriter.  The reality is that you’re not competing with Quentin Tarantino or Aaron Sorkin for the same writing jobs.

If you live outside of Hollywood and you’re married with children and have a steady job, it’s going to be more difficult to throw caution to the wind and move everyone out to Hollywood while you try to build your career. This “do or die” mentality and added pressure to “make it” will affect everyone’s lives and create a poisonous anxiety. Better to stay put and throw your hat into Hollywood’s ring every time you believe that you have a viable project ready to compete on a professional level.

If you’re single with no attachments, this may be the time to take the leap and find out if you really have what it takes to achieve any level of success in screenwriting. It reminds me of when I went skydiving for the first time. When I stood in the airplane’s open doorway and gazed out at the empty sky, I knew it was the moment of truth. I could easily turn back and allow my fears to control me, but I knew that I had to jump. After a count of three, I leapt into the void and never felt so alive and present in the moment.

All artists have their own definition of success and what achievements will clearly define “making it” in the film business. You may find that your definition of success changes at some point on the long haul of your marathon.  I have friends who laid down the strict edict that if they didn’t achieve “A-level” success, it wasn’t worth the years of struggle and rejection only to end up with less than being at the top.

I’m at a place in my life where I’m perfectly happy making a living from my dreams and doing what I love to do.  I’m blessed because I wake up in the morning and get to create for a living.  I’ve had other jobs that facilitated my writing because we all have to pay the bills as we pursue our dreams, but when I finally reached a level of success where I could jump off the cliff and soar, I did it without fear and I never looked back.

If you’re blessed with a huge screenplay sale that launches your career and you become a busy working screenwriter, you can live anywhere in the world, fly to Hollywood when it’s necessary for meetings, and live your life outside of the madness. But if you’re a beginning screenwriter trying to establish new ground and plant your flag where you find success, eventually you’ll need to physically be around the film business to build the relationships necessary to stay in the game.

The reality is that regardless of where you live, a small Midwest town or in the heart of Hollywood, you’ll never launch your career if you don’t master the craft of screenwriting.  Don’t be seduced into the trap of pursuing your craft only for fame and riches, because you’ll waste so much precious time chasing that elusive ghost and end up either emotionally or financially broken or both. Hollywood is legendary for having an unforgiving dark side that has gutted and chewed up many a naïve dreamer. This is why you must always strive on making your screenplay a showcase of your talents because the only real chance at success isn’t based on where you live but what’s on the page.

Scriptcat out!

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Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making – and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay.” —Raymond Chandler

“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent.  You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period.  It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period.  But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury

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