Yeah, the world is shrinking, and yeah you can use Zoom or whatever, to communicate across the globe, but if you’re serious about screenwriting, you straight up need to move to Los Angeles.
I hate to say it. As it is, me and my wife sometimes can’t get to the beach, or over to a museum, or sometimes even just out to drinks with friends, because the traffic’s so bloody bad. There’s simply too many people here. And sadly, they’re all humans. To be fair, there are a lot of dogs as well.
But as a screenwriter, and if you’re serious about landing paid work, I’m gonna risk miffing my NY, Chicago, and Vancouver pals by stating flat-out:
Los Angeles is best place to be for a new screenwriter. With its larger film industry infrastructure and community, it offers the best chances for the new screenwriter to get a leg up in the industry, make some friends, hone her skills, and start up that nutty ladder.
And yes there are other film towns. New York, Vancouver, Chicago, Charlotte, Albuquerque, Miami … But Los Angeles still beats them by a mile.
Those other cities have great qualities that completely kill Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is larger, has far more cinema history soaked into its bones, and that infrastructure I mentioned? It can’t be beat.
Here are my reasons why you need to get to Los Angeles as a screenwriter, but keep in mind, these could be tweaked a bit to fit any city with a vibrant film community, should any of those come along any time soon. (I keed!)
Either way, here’s why you’re seriously handicapping yourself if you’re trying to make it as a screenwriter while living in the sleepy suburb of Nabahatchee, Iowa.
The Film Industry Education. Pure and simple.
You can’t learn the rhythms of a film town until you submerge yourself in that film town. “What’s selling?” “How do I sell it?” “Who’s buying?” “Wait, the script I just spent a year writing is already in development?” “I just read another guy’s script and finally realized I need to step up my game.”
You can’t learn those things in a “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” suburb. Well, you can, perhaps, but it’ll take you a Bed, Bath, and Beyond lifetime. People in those communities are nice folks, and yeah, there might be Ed who runs a viable indie film company out there, and Ed might be amazing. But it’s still just Ed. Not an industry. Or certainly not an industry on the scale of Los Angeles.
The people who are serious about filmmaking are in Los Angeles (and, yeah, the other film towns, but mostly Los Angeles.) And the people who are serious about filmmaking are the ones who make films, which means they’re the ones who hire people, buy scripts, and support the massive film infrastructure of vendors, studios, post houses, casting houses, copiers, caterers, prop houses, you name it.
By living here, you become part of the body and blood of Hollywood. The DNA. Yes, there’s a romantic appeal about being the outsider who remains “uncorrupted” by all the “Hollywood phonies” and sells his scripts to the machine for millions of dollars, all while staying put in his farm house on the border of Saskatchewan.
But the reality is: the Hollywood phonies may be the ones who get all the attention, but it’s us folks with integrity out here that are the ones that truly make it happen.
For writers, it’s all about who you know (Seriously!)
No screenwriter gets a screenwriting gig by walking into Paramount and filling out an application.
No screenwriter gets hired as a writer’s assistant on Family Guy by surprising the secretary at the production office with their resume and spec.
No screenwriter gets signed by an agent by joining a website, paying a monthly fee, and crossing their fingers.
How do you get that first sit-down with an agent, or a production house, or a show?
So who are your friends? Ed, out there in Nabahatchee, Iowa? I’m sure he’s an amazing human, and a stand-up guy. Have him call around LA one afternoon trying to put in a good word for you as a writer’s assistant, or trying to find you representation.
Yeah, that’ll work.
Without friends in the industry (read: not scumbag phonies, but actual friends), you’re not gonna go very far as a screenwriter, sadly.
And friendship doesn’t mean “Toodles, darling,” or “Have your people call my people,” and/or all that other bourgeois horsepucky us reg’lar townfolks don’t rightly take a shine to.
Friendship in Los Angeles means the same thing as it means in your hometown. Loyalty, honesty, laughs, bonding, coffee, talking about cinema, working on films together.. you get the idea.
Living here puts a face behind the scripts you’re asking them to read
Even if you don’t make any friends in Los Angeles, the very least you can do by being here is put a face behind your submissions.
That is, you have the ability to arrange to drop off your script in person, or your resume, or your reel. Many places accept physical walk-ins.
And when you put a face behind the script, you build a lot more affinity with that gatekeeper (secretary, assistant, etc.) who accepts that script, than you would had you just mailed it in.
It’s not a huge margin, but it could be that little leg up you need to give you the edge over the other guys, like Ed, who’s mailing in his script from Nabahatchee, Iowa.
Then, when you mosey in casually a few weeks later to “check up” on your submission, the face behind the desk (hopefully the same face as the last time) will have a slight chance of remembering you, and maybe even giving you a little inside dope on the process, since, after all, they kinda know you now. Sorta.
You can’t really pitch a script all that well on Zoom
Zoom works, and Facetime, and all the other tech. Sure. Whatever. But that’s not how pitches go. If you get the opportunity to pitch, it usually means: in person.
Assuming you somehow managed to land a pitch opportunity without having to move to Los Angeles, as happens a lot… Are you planning on flying out to Los Angeles for every future pitch?
What if they like your pitch and want you back in two weeks? You gonna buy another plane ticket, with just two weeks notice? (How much money you got stashed away there? And can I have some?)
If you’re doing it right, you’re getting pitch meetings every few weeks, or every few months at least, or job interviews, or meetings with agents and managers. And you can’t do that effectively, nor cost-effectively, from 1000 miles away.
(I had a member of my rock band that had trouble getting to LA every weekend, and he was only 75 miles away in Hesperia, California).
So get out here, or, if you must, get to New York, Chicago, Miami, Vancouver, or wherever will let you steep yourself in a vibrant film community and/or a large film industry infrastructure.
Anyone who’s seen an episode of Three’s Company knows flat-out how much better Los Angeles is as a place to live, so what are you waiting for? Come and knock on our door! Take a step that is new!
10 thoughts on “Why Screenwriters Need to Move to LA”
So how about Portland, Oregon as a vibrant film community or rather… not that far away from L.A.? I can be in L.A. In a little more than an hour by plane. Mike Rich who wrote Finding Forrester, The Rookie, and Secretariat lives just down the road. Is Portland close enough to establish a career, or at least break in?
Hi Stacy! Anything is possible, of course! But in my experience, I’ve found that the only thing that leads to success is total submersion.
I’m 28 and write feature animation scripts and television series. I’m based in Edinburgh, Scotland and there is nothing happening here at all. I have been short-listed in a UK and a global screenwriting competition and remain without a credit to my name lol. There is no industry here so I’m not getting stressed about it but I’m not losing sight of my end goal which is to win the Oscar for best screenplay which I know everybody in the world is trying to do. I’m currently at uni hoping to get a work permit for LA when I graduate.
Right on! Keep at it, Nicholas. It’s not impossible.
I’m in Edinburgh too and on almost the same page as you are – TV writer – though a bit older!
There are so few driven people here it would be great to meet up.
Let me know if you feel like meeting for coffee – firstname.lastname@example.org
Well done on your competition placings.
And thanks for the tips, Brian. Very timely – I found your pages as I’m starting to plan a trip to LA later this year.
Hello! I’ve been doing some research lately on screenwriting and it seems that LA would be the best choice for me. I’m 19 years old and live in California and I’ve always liked writing, and about a year ago I got hit with the question “why are you going to do when you get older?”, and although my first answer to that question was writing, it shifted slowly towards screenwriting. I just need some tips. When should I move out to LA? In currently in my second year of community college and I plan on transferring to a university as soon as I can. Should I wait until I graduate to move out? Should go out there while in in school? Thank you so much!
Hey Stephen! Great question! I would say finish what you started, but get out here as soon as possible. The amount of screenwriting knowledge you can learn while interning or working in the film industry will dwarf what you can learn in school, especially if you’re working directly with screenwriters, or in development. My advice is always: Get to LA ASAP! Or get steeped into ANY film community. What you don’t know you don’t know will astound you, and you won’t know what you don’t know until you steep yourself 100% into the craft. Good luck!
So, my plan now is to get a degree in journalism and take some screenwriting classes in the process, then to try to get an internship. Would you say that’s a good plan? Would being in school and interning he a good idea, or should i jyst focus on the internship? Also, I don’t know if anyone will want to hire a 19 year old intern. And I also don’t know how the intern process works. Do they hire super-students? Because if that’s the case I probably wouldn’t be the best candidate… (My grades aren’t the most impressive, to be honest.). And thank you so much for the reply by the way! I really appreciate it. Greatly.
I’m reading all of your blog today.
You don’t include Boston, MA, just wondering why since it seems to have a pretty good film industry.
Is Boston really that far down behind Vancouver, Miami etc?
Do you have any advice for someone who isn’t an American citizen who wants to move to LA for their screenwriting career? I’m from Canada and it’s not that far off physically, but the whole visa process is totally overwhelming to me.