Today’s question comes
from Chuck, who writes…
“I am writing some spec
screenplays, and a pilot. But let’s face it – I will never move to LA.
Meetings – yes. Move – no. Am I wasting my time? I’ve
met managers who have said “Send me something when you have something
worth sending.” I could probably get a rep, but, Chad, I will NEVER
move there. Can a guy make any
money or sell anything without being there? (Maybe this is a good question for your blog, should it
continue under your stewardship.)
“Furthermore, if your
answer is essentially NO, would it be wise to get some sort of partner out
there (that I know and trust) that could play “pitchman” to my
“writer?” Ever heard of any partnerships like that?”
First of all, Chuck,
thanks for the questions. These
are interesting—and not uncommon—concerns. So let’s dive in…
1) DO YOU NEED TO MOVE TO L.A. TO MAKE IT
AS A SCREENWRITER?
The cold, hard, blunt
truth is: yes.
But let’s talk about
L.A. is, obviously,
the center of the American entertainment industry. Sure, TV and films are made in other cities—New York,
Chicago, Atlanta—but the heart and soul of the U.S. industry is one city… Los
Angeles. And in order to be part
of that, you need to be here. Not
because there’s something magical about the geography or location, but because
this is a BUSINESS, and—as a business—you need to be able to navigate it. You need to understand its rules, its
pathways, its processes… and, most importantly, you need to be able to meet and
network with other players in the industry. Like most industries, Hollywood is based as much on contacts
and relationships as it is on skill, talent, and ability… and if you can’t be
constantly meeting, forming, and maintaining relationships, it’s very difficult
to progress or excel.
Sure, you can read
books, take classes, come out for meetings, attend seminars and conferences…
and all of these things will help educate you. You’ll become smarter, your writing will improve, you’ll
gain a better understanding of the arts, crafts, and business of
Hollywood. But knowledge alone is
not enough to power a career; you need on-the-ground experience, contacts and
relationships, and the ability to actually participate in the industry.
An aspiring marine
biologist can go to school in Omaha or Kansas City or Las Vegas, where they may
be the best student in their class and a brilliant scientist. But unless they move to a coast,
they’ll probably never fulfill their true marine biologist potential, no matter
how brilliant they are. They can
certainly make a living as an amazing teacher. Or apply their knowledge to similar areas, like
environmental planning. But
they’ll probably never be a leading marine biologist, because marine biologists
can only work in one place: at the ocean.
Hollywood, for better
or worse, is the same way. Now,
fortunately, Hollywood may not ALWAYS be that way… and some of the old rules
are changing… but for now, L.A. remains the place to be. But more on that in a second…
it be wise to get some sort of partner out there (that I know and trust) that
could play “pitchman” to my “writer?”
What you’re basically
talking about is an agent or manager—someone who appreciates your writing,
understands your creative voice and vision, likes and “gets” you personally,
and represents you well in the phone or meetings. …Which, again, is basically an agent or manager.
So, I guess if you
want and find a respectable agent/manager with the ambition, ability, and
muscle to sell your stuff—sure, go for it. I DO know that many agents and managers are hesitant to
signing out-of-towners, for all the reasons discussed above. Someone may be an outstanding writer,
but if they don’t live here—if they’re not able to go on meetings, build their
own relationships, help pound the pavement—it’s VERY tough, even for the
world’s greatest agent, to sell their scripts and get them work.
(A friend of mine,
who’s a pretty successful screenwriter and director, always says he knows he
can never expect his agents to work harder are care more about his career than
he does… and this is good advice.
He also works pretty non-stop, and he once told me that he gets most of
his assignments and sales on his own… then his agent helps facilitate the
Now, if you’re NOT
talking about an agent or manager… if you’re talking about a more creative
partner… well—I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a creative/writing partner whose
sole job is pitching. Maybe it
could work, but it seems odd to me.
If you write a script
that starts getting meetings and attention, execs and producers will want to
meet with the writer who created the script. They’re not going to want to meet with your proxy; they want
to get a sense of the person behind the words. What’s he like?
Is he funny and personable?
Dark and quiet? Where did
he grow up? Who are his
influences? Is he a fun person to
work with? A total boor?
They’ll also want to
ask questions about your writing and this script itself. Where’d you get the idea? What’s your process like? What storytelling areas interest you?
A proxy can’t answer
these questions. Or rather, they
could—to a certain extent—but then they might as well be an agent or
manager. (Not to mention, you’ll
never find a proxy, a pitchman—including an agent or manager—who advocates or
talks about your material more passionately than you do. After all, that’s why you wrote
it! …You had a burning desire to
tell this story! A desire that
burned more eagerly in you than in anyone else… because you’re the one who
wrote it! So how could anyone talk
more expressively about it than you?!)
Lastly, and perhaps
3) AM I WASTING MY TIME?
You love writing,
right? It’s your release, your
passion, your pleasure?
Presumably, that’s why you started writing screenplays and pilots in the
first place. Because you were
BURNING to do it. You had stories
and characters trying to claw their way out of you. So why would you give that up?! Because you might not “sell” something? So what? Van Gogh NEVER sold anything… but he painted because he was
So… if it’s what you
love… and it brings you joy… then I don’t see how it could be a waste of
You may never become
Tom Kapinos or Greg Daniels, but so what?
At the VERY least, you’ll become a better writer, a better storyteller,
and gain a deeper appreciation for art… and you’ll have a blast doing it. How is that a waste of time?
(Now, if you DON’T have a blast doing it… if you hate writing or only want to make a sale… then you have to ask yourself some different questions. But since you took the time to write me, I’m assuming your fueled by a bottomless tank of passion, stories, and something exciting to say about the world!)
Having said that, I
understand the desire to sell something, to see your work come to fruition…
especially in the world of screenwriting, where scripts aren’t finished
products, they’re blueprints for something else—a finished movie or TV
show. And while I maintain that
it’s nearly impossible to succeed outside of L.A., the world IS changing… and
the “old rules” are being broken every day. It’s still tough to be an exception to those rules, to be an
anomaly, but it happens.
Like I mentioned
before, many cities are stepping up their film and TV productions. If you lived in Atlanta, for instance,
I’d suggest trying to get in with Turner or Tyler Perry, who’s not only a
writer and director, but a full-fledged mogul and producer. No matter where you live, you could
also write a low-budget indie film and find investors to finance it (most film
producers will even tell you it’s easier to find indie funding OUTSIDE of
Hollywood). Or find a way to pitch
your show to a local TV station or affiliate. Put up a play.
(FYI—I don’t think contests are usually a “traditional” road into
Hollywood; they rarely pay off. Then
again—they paid off hugely for screenwriter Michael Martin, a Pennsylvania toll
booth worker who won a screenwriting contest and recently had his movie,
“Brooklyn’s Finest,” premiere at Sundance with Ethan Hawke and Richard Gere.)
The Internet is also opening
doors. This doesn’t mean Hollywood
is simply offering three-picture deals and overalls to anyone who makes a
YouTube video, but people HAVE found success by making top-notch web videos
that manage to find an audience.
(Barats & Bereta, Secret Girlfriend, Pink, Lonelygirl15,
etc.) So get a video camera, some
friends, and MAKE SOMETHING. Shoot
a sketch or short. If it doesn’t
work, you’ll learn what went wrong and make it better the next time. And the next time. And the next time. And the next time.
Anyway, Chuck… I hope
this helps. Thanks again for your
question… keep reading… and more importantly—KEEP WRITING!
Oh, and lastly– here are some other posts I’ve written to similar questions… you may find some helpful info in here…