Do I need to live in L.A. to be a screenwriter?

Yes, we do, if our goal is to have a career as a Hollywood screenwriter. 

Hollywood signIn their book Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, uber-successful screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon discuss correctly the need to be in the heart of the industry. Studios, agents, and producers need you available at a moment’s notice for meetings, pitches, re-writes, etc. However, we don’t need to be in LA while we are writing a screenplay good enough to get us noticed. Remember, it may take us years to have something good enough and moving to LA now could be the most depressing move on Earth.

Once there we will realize that everyone is trying to be a screenwriter. Waiters, accountants, pool cleaners, they all have a script they are working on. To be one of that crowd can be very disheartening as we struggle by in our bill-paying job.

On the other hand, being around so many people who love movies and who are pushing each other to be better can be just the drive that some people need. It’s also very nice to be in a place where saying that you are working on a screenplay is not dismissed as total folly. Plus, everyone we meet has connections of some sort, and helps us build up our own connections, and those connections will be incredibly useful when the time comes to get our masterpiece read.

So in short answer, if we live in or near LA then stay there, or move even closer, if it doesn’t massively disrupt our life. If we don’t live near LA, then there is no urgent need to move there tomorrow. However, be under no illusion, when the time comes, we will need to move out there and we may need to do it quickly. As a new writer, starting out, we cannot conduct our work from anywhere else in the country. You will not be the exception to this rule, I promise.

Aaron Sorkin screenwriterStar writers, who command huge pay checks and respect, can move away at some point, safe in the knowledge that the phone will keep ringing and people will wait 24 hours for a meeting. I hope that is you one day, but for now, if we are ever lucky enough to get someone who genuinely wants to buy our script, or an agent who wants to sign us, then the answer to the question, “Do you live in LA? is “I’ve actually just rented an apartment there and am moving in at the end of the week.”

However, Hollywood is not the only place that makes movies. It is simply the most prolific by quite some way.

The indie movie scene has always existed in some form. For those of you who never made the connection, “indie” stands for “independent”; i.e., independent from the big Hollywood studios. If your movie is funded by anyone other than the major Hollywood studios, then you are making an indie movie of some sort.

Indie filmmaking can run the gamut from international film financiers (enjoying enormous tax breaks) to Kickstarter, to raising money from friends and family.

Indie movies can be made anywhere by anybody, especially in a modern world where the expense and hassle of film and film developing is no longer needed. Indie movies can cost as little as a $1000 or upwards of $100m.

Indie filmmaking also allows unrestricted choices in terms of subject matter, characters or potential audience.

What a wonderful world indie filmmaking sounds, right? Why don’t we all do that? Because most indie films lose money. And some lose a lot of money. If you have money to lose and you want to get your film made more than anything else then by all means, jump right in, but when it comes to indie films, making the movie is the easiest part. Finding an audience and therefore, any hope of making your money back is the real challenge. That’s why the mini majors won’t invest a penny without a clear route to distribution, most likely partnering with a major studio.

We can be involved in independent films anywhere. In fact, LA is arguably the worst place to be if we really want to work in indie films. LA is the establishment. Everywhere else is independent. Indie success is also a perfectly viable route to get noticed by the major studios as a writer of quality. Or, if smaller, more personal stories are your niche then find a group of filmmakers who share your vision and start shooting.

An amazing array of channels now exist for the distribution of indie features such as Vimeo, Amazon Instant Video or Netflix. Again, don’t expect to make much money from these channels, but until recently the only way to even get your movie seen by real people was festivals or a very expensive theatrical release. That’s not true anymore so why not take advantage of it?

Whatever type of films you want to make, or whatever world of filmmaking you see yourself working within, the principles of great storytelling don’t change. We still need to master the craft whether we expect our film to cost $1000, $1m or $100m, but being a “Hollywood” writer is not the be all and end all of screenwriting.

2 Comments on “Do I need to live in L.A. to be a screenwriter?”

  1. Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this.

    I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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