Every screenwriter eventually asks themselves, “Should I live in L.A.?” If you’re a feature writer, it’s possible to have a career using phone calls, Skype, emails. And it’s easy to hop a flight to the Coast if you absolutely have to take a meeting.
But if you’re going to write for shorter formats, specifically television, then L.A. is where you have to be. You’re not just hawking spec scripts, you’re seeking out the people who can get you onto a set, perhaps as a PA or AD or script coordinator, anything to break in. Then it’s about building relationships, getting into the writers’ rooms, finding a way to get your work noticed because you got noticed. It’s hard work.
So, what does a screenwriter really need to consider before she decides to, “Go West, young woman!” (Apologies, Horace Greely)…
Kimberly Tompkins‘ Civil Rising, an original TV Pilot, has won four awards including a “Gold Winner” in the International Independent Film Awards, an “Official Finalist” in the American Movie Awards and Skyway Film Festival, and was a “Preliminary Finalist” in the Creative World Awards. Her award-winning short script, Our Dirty Laundry, is currently in production in L.A. We talked about how she handled making the decision to relocate.
Kimberly: “Moving to L.A. Many people talk about it. Most dare to dream about it. Few actually make it happen. Until you do, however, you’ll never know if you have what it takes. So, what does it take? A job waiting for you? $10,000 in the bank? A huge resume? All are helpful, but at the end of the day, all it takes is courage, hard work, and determination. Assuming you have that safely tucked away, here are some additional tips from a struggling writer to help you prepare for your move.
First, build up your resume as much as possible. (one line per project, a full page of films). Since my background is working in theatre production, mine was about half theatre/half film. The smart thing would be to wait until I had all film, probably. But, more people who work in film started in the theatre than you might expect. The week before I moved, I sent out 450 resumes applying for jobs, which landed me two $50 production assistant gigs. Competition is fierce. Before you move, get involved in film. Look on Craigslist, contact local film schools and ask to volunteer, join local film and theatre groups, or produce short films yourself. Anything to get experience and a credit. Credits on IMDb count, so get as many on there as possible. Buy the IMDb Pro account so that you can add pictures, track your starmeter. Hollywood LOVES to focus on IMDb and starmeters. In some ways, if it’s not on IMDb, it never happened.
As a writer, I think it’s important to have a body of work before you arrive. When I moved, I had two feature scripts, one original pilot, and one short that I had produced. Not enough. But, I have tried to keep up the pace, so in the last eight months, I wrote a spec of an existing TV series, another original TV pilot, have two of my new short scripts in production, and I’m researching for my next original TV pilot.
Los Angeles is a very expensive city to live in. I think more so than New York, now that I have lived in both. I only had about $3,500 when I came out, which is really not enough. Save up as much as you can, but don’t use that as the only excuse for waiting a few years. You can make money anywhere. It might as well be here.
As they say, it’s all about who you know. And it’s so true in Los Angeles. While you are trying to work to survive and write your heart out, you must continue to network and meet people. Luckily, there are a lot of free events you can go to. Join different mailing lists like the ISA, The Academy, WGA Foundation, Scriptwriter’s Network, the Blacklist, and so forth. Be ready to talk and meet other people! Don’t forget to bring a stack of business cards to pass out! Then, follow up and email the people whose cards you meet. This is how you meet people who are rising just like you. If you go to a lot of these, you’ll start to see the same people and this insane city won’t feel quite so large after all.
Looking for work in the film business is like striking the lottery every month. The odds are against you, but it’s a numbers game. If you send out 1,000 (and no, I’m not exaggerating), you may actually get five temporary gigs. The most you can send out, the better. Ask around for the popular sites. Craigslist, Production Beast, Mandy, Entertainmentjobs,com, are good places to start. Even emailing people from IMDb works wonders. It may take hundreds to get a response, but that’s how I got the two jobs I have now. If you want to be a writer for television, there are two paths to take. One, you can be an assistant at a management company or agency. Two, you can be a writer’s assistant. Both are hard to get and are all about who you know. So, keep meeting people and applying! It’s a great way to learn the business and meet more people who can help you later on. Even when I worked as Production Assistant on a few small film sets, I met people who hired me for other work from that gig. So, the more you work, the longer you are here, the easier it will be. But, you can never stop hustling. There is always someone hungry to take your place.”
- More articles by Dan Goforth
- Primteime: How Do I Find a Job in L.A. … Before Moving to L.A.?
- Balls of Steel: Being an Outsider
Get tips on how to navigate the industry from afar in Jeanne Veillette Bowerman’s webinar
Breaking in Outside of Hollywood