Friday, August 8, 2008

Move to LA? Maybe. Have a plan? Fo sho.

Well, I certainly never expected or intended to ignite such vitriol with my comment about the query letter from Indiana, especially since the point of that post was to advise a stay-at-home mom to be creative in her networking. Just to make everything clear:

I have no problem with the state of Indiana. I am not an LA snob; I grew up in Western New York and am actually pretty glad about it. My least favorite state in the union happens to be Kentucky, because of a long story involving getting crunk in New Orleans, snapping my phone, Wal Mart, Subway, steak knives, the Interstate and the insanity that occurs when you drive across the US by yourself. My point is, I'm sure there are plenty of talented writers in Indiana, Kentucky, Saskatchewan, etc.

I threw out the query letter because it was a poorly written query letter asking me to read a horrible-sounding screenplay. Still, I am an optimist. I do believe it is possible to write a great screenplay followed by a great query letter and then obtain representation. If I ever come across such a combo during my time at the agency, I'll let you know.

There are things you can do from any location to launch your career: you can read books and blogs. You can write. You can raise money and shoot your own stuff. You can try to get an online following. You can enter contests, festivals and fellowships. You can take classes. You can find other writers and start a critique group. You can write query letters. In New York and a couple other cities (Lucasfilm is in San Francisco, Montecito has an office in...Montecito, etc.), you might be able to find an industry office job. Shoots also happen everywhere thanks to tax breaks (and the fact that not everybody sets their script amidst palm trees) - so you might be able to work on a production outside of LA.

I just think you're giving yourself much better odds if you come to LA. Does everyone who succeeds in screenwriting or TV writing move there? No, definitely not. But if you plan to get an agent, you'll have to come here sometime. Even if you write a query letter and then email your script and get some interest, I don't think anybody's gonna sign you without meeting you. They'll want to see if you're "good in a room," that you'll impress people like producers and studio execs at meetings. And those rooms generally are all in LA also. Sure, conference calls happen every day, but you can't do everything with a phone call.

For TV specifically, I think it'd be even harder to succeed outside of LA. In film there is a huge independent community, much of it in New York but parts of it everywhere. But most TV happens within the traditional Hollywood system. Writer's rooms (save for 30 Rock, Monk and a few others) are in LA. The ABC/Disney fellowship provides money for you to relocate...but they require you to relocate. I think this is significant.

You may not have to stay in LA forever. Once you're established you can write from anywhere, especially in features. But if you have aspirations of being a showrunner or something, I think you'll probably want to stay in LA. Or at least plan to be here pretty often. Also keep in mind that there are gobs of aspiring writers who DO make the move to LA. I feel like they all have to have a bit of an advantage over writers trying to make it elsewhere.

So...what? Maybe because of the recent post, Marcie wrote in: I live in New York City, but since I want to write for television, should I move to Los Angeles? I know my chances of finding work are better in LA, but are they so much better that's it's worth me packing up my belongings and leaving a city I love?

Maybe, maybe not. Some east-coasters, especially New Yorkers, hate LA. (It kind of annoys me how many people decide they hate it way before they get here...but I guess that's another issue.) If you think you'll really be unhappy outside of NYC, the move may not be worth it. But if you know deep down that you must be a television writer, and that you will be supremely unhappy if you can't make that happen, maybe it is worth it.

I guess I would ask, what's your plan? Do you have an industry job? Are you trying to find one? Do you think your job is going to lead to TV writing? Do you already have enough scripts to start seeking representation? Do you have any industry connections? Are you applying to fellowships and contests? Are you using the internet at all? Since you're in New York, have you tried getting involved in theatre?

Like I said before, you can take steps from anywhere. I still maintain that LA is the place that will give you the best odds...and I would think New York is certainly second-best. But wherever you are, you need to be proactive. You've gotta have a plan. Remember that there are two steps to becoming a TV writer: 1. writing a great script, and 2. getting someone important to read it (and like it). Are you endeavoring to do both of those things?

As always, anybody with insight is welcome to comment. If you have been able to get an agent, sell a script, get staffed, etc., without coming to LA, I'm sure we're all interested in your story.

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K said...

I've lived in a lot of places. And I just moved to LA after finishing my masters. And let me tell you: I hate it. It is awful. It is ugly and filthy and there are shopping carts full of garbage and roaches. The nightlife is OK, but the food is nothing to write home about. LA is more or less God's way of punishing us for having dreams.

That said: what do you want more? A city you love, or a better chance at a career you love? If you're young and hungry and just getting started, it's all about that choice.

And I think you can listen to people hem and haw about how they can't move to LA and it it simply not possible because of whatever reason, but the truth is that TV is predominantly a young person (and slightly older person who seriously established in another medium)'s game. More specifically, it's a young, white, male person's game, because studios prefer young, hip, fresh, "edgy" (male) talent, and there are teeming masses of young, white, male people here who are capable of doing the job, and also willing to live here.

Maybe, for whatever reason, you can't move to LA. That's OK. But you're also probably making the choice not to write for TV, statistically speaking. Even if you happen to be young, white, and male, the odds are not good. Why make them worse by not finding a way to get out here?

In short, there's no need to backpedal, dude, because you were right. If you want the best chances at writing for TV, you need to be here. But sometimes it's a little difficult to digest the gravity of what you want, and what it might mean for your lifestyle.

Dan In LA said...

I had no idea there were writer's rooms outside of Los Angeles. My internet searches are not producing information. Where are the writers room for 30 Rock and Monk located?

Dan Williams said...

Actually, I understood your original post, and everybody says the same thing, "Move to LA if you want a job writing for TV." So you were right.

That said, I do believe in "doing your best, where you are, with what you've got." Tom Green started in Toronto. He wrote his stuff and shot it on digital video. He had, I think, about 300 hours of funny stuff. He took it to MTV and they gave him a show, so he "got a job writing for TV" without moving to LA. Every single person who wants to break into TV, therefore, can follow his example "right where they are." (Ben Stiller did the same thing when he was young, too.)

So if a writer writes a lot of stuff, shoots it, AND THEN hooks up with an agent in LA, the writer might have an advantage over "gobs of writers" in LA.

Then again, I personally feel I can be creative anywhere.

Ma Please said...

You've stated a much better case for yourself with this post. Lesson learned. Don't undercut the various ways people can get launched. Among your readers, could be the next generation of TV writers; to suggest that unproduced writers have little to contribute is not the route you want to take.

Simone... said...

I totally agree with this post. I think a problem a lot of people have with the statement, "You have to move to LA to work in TV/film," is that they refuse to believe that they're not so special that the entertainment industry won't come to them. I ran into this a bit in casting -- we'd get submissions from actors in the middle of Kansas, but let me tell you, unless you're already a star, we're not going to fly you out here for a role, much less an audition. I don't care how talented you are as a writer (or actor) -- the industry is not going to drop everything and rush to your doorstep in Wisconsin. You are not that special.

Following your dream requires sacrifice. Personally, I hate LA. But I moved down here because it will give me the best chance I will ever get at achieving it. It proves how serious you are, and culls out the people who aren't willing to put in the effort. If you are truly serious about "making it," you would do everything you could to better your odds -- and that includes moving to LA.

R said...

I just moved to LA two months ago, and I have to disagree about hating the city. I actually love it here. Of course, I live on the beach so it helps.

As for hedging your bets by living here. 95% of film distribution happens here. 95% of television happens here.

I don't think I go more than 2 days here without meeting someone who could potentially help my career. And isn't that what it's about?

Whether you have talent or not, what does it matter if no one knows about it? If you want to sell a film you gotta come to la to sign the contracts. If you want to work in television, you HAVE to be in the room.

Either way, the BEST CHANCE you have to SUCCEED is to move to LA, because people HIRE people they know. People MAKE DEALS with people they know. And, while it may not be fair, people TAKE YOU MORE SERIOUSLY if you live in LA.

R said...

Also, 30 Rock writer's room is in NYC, Monk is in Northern NJ. Writers rooms not in La are in NY mostly, with a couple in Vancouver and Burn Notice in Miami. The HCD (Hollywood Creative Directory) has a list of all the writer's rooms.

Just because a show is SHOT in another city doesn't mean the Writer's room is there. For instance, PSYCH is shot in Canada, but the writer's room is in LA.

Dan Williams said...

Massimo Volpe said:

"Lesson learned. Don't undercut the various ways people can get launched."

And the reason why you don't want to do that is that it takes HOPE away from people, and what you want to do is TO GIVE HOPE.

Your blog, for instance, which is really good, is read by people who have the hope that they will learn something from your experience.

Every story is about a person with a desire which, say, comes true, and the story serves to give the audience both hope and ideas on how to succeed.

So you were right to say that moving to LA is the way to get a job writing TV, but to say that it can't be done in other ways was taking hope away.

But not to worry! You corrected yourself beautifully.

Charles Jurries said...

Michigan has been giving tax breaks/cuts to filmmakers, to try to bring their stories up here. And over along the west lakeshore, in Holland, a LA filmmaker opened up a film studio and works with the community college to offer training on a film set. I was even a movie extra for a film they helped make this summer. In fact, I have now been shot in TWO movies, as an extra.

My point is, you absolutely do not know where opportunities may happen. I thought I would have to be in California or Manhattan to even see movie cameras, but they came to my hometown in West Michigan.

However, having lived through too many Michigan winters, moving to LA would be worth it for the warm weather!

Dan In LA said...

Sorry to get off-topic, but I am intrigued by this non-LA writers room idea.

Why would they have it outside of LA? Most of the talent and almost all of the experience is in Los Angeles... It seems that writers don't get paid enough to make the move to another city worth it - especially when a show can get canceled any second. So, are they finding most of the writers in their non-LA cities? And if so, does that mean most of them don't have TV writing experience? (Maybe theater writing instead?)

Is there something I'm missing?

odocoileus said...

NYC is a special case. There have always been major TV and radio outlets there - soap operas, talk shows, some sitcoms and hour longs too. Some major filmmakers are based there as well. It's the capital for American theater, publishing, journalism, and advertising. So there are tons of actors, playwrights, comedians, and journalists available to do creative work.

The SNL, Conan, and Letterman writers rooms are in NYC - well, they were last time I checked. These folks can and do move up to sitcoms, so 30 Rock may be drawing from this pool. Maybe standup comics and playwrights too.

As you note, the great majority of the work is in LA, along with the deepest talent pool, but New York is the one other place where you can make TV shows and movies with access to great facilities and talent.

Jon and Kate said...

There is very little work in NYC anymore. A few comedy shows, that's it.

You can write a great script from anywhere. But think of it like another company town, D.C.:

You can get elected anywhere, but you have to do the job in Washington.

Same with L.A.

David said...

My friend just got staffed on an NBC drama that is written and shot in New York. They interviewed and hired him in LA, and paid for his moving expenses. This is an increasing trend, since production in LA is becoming more expensive, and there are major benefits to having the writing staff near the production.

Unknown said...

Keep up the good posts Amanda!

aldentre said...

I don't see why there is so much discussion on this topic. LA = TV/Film. It really is that simple.

Don't try and slice it, you may hurt yourself.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the funniest things I've read in ages... THANKS!!