Let me say up front, there are enormous advantages for a screenwriter to live in or near Los Angeles. Here are a few key ones:
* You are where the action is. There’s no better way to keep track of the ebb and flow, ins and outs of the movie business than by living in L.A. as the film industry is a ubiquitous presence.
* You are where the players are. Agents, managers, producers, studio execs, talent, L.A. is the center of the film business. Your presence in Los Angeles puts you in proximity to these people which enables you to do networking that much more effectively.
* You are where the deals are. Whether it’s general meetings, pitch meetings, open writing assignment meetings, script meetings, it all happens in L.A., much easier to be a presence if you get a call and have the capability of hopping in your car to drive across town to take a meeting.
Beyond that, L.A. offers writers opportunities to learn more about the craft, everything from presentations through the WGA or Writers Guild Foundation, and an endless stream of public screenings followed by Q&A’s with filmmakers, to meeting up with other writers or attending industry screenings of movies.
And there are the intangibles. When you’re in L.A., it’s virtually impossible not to become infused with the culture of the film business. That can inspire you, motivate you and fuel your drive.
On the other hand, depending on how things are shaking out with your career, the sheer omnipresence of the film industry can be intimidating, even overwhelming.
When things are going great with your career, there’s perhaps no better place to be. L.A. feels like your town, you’re an active part of the business, you belong here. But when the inevitable drought occurs, three… four… six months without a gig… you can’t escape. Huge movie billboards, film shoots on street corners, movie stars at Gelson’s, floodlights piercing the night sky as you walk your dog. Its presence is everywhere!
Also you have to understand that it seems like everyone in L.A. is working on a screenplay. Stop by any coffee bistro and there they are, a half-dozen slump-shouldered, pasty-faced writers tapping away on Final Draft.
Being surrounded by scribes can remind you of a basic fact: You should be writing. And that can be a good thing to get your ass in a chair to actually, you know, write. But there are times when all of those goddammed writers you see, and the thousands you don’t yet you know are out there pounding out pages, convey in a visceral way the harsh reality of life for a working screenwriter: the fierce competition we all face.
There’s also this: Assuming you’re not a native Californian or a long-time transplant to L.A., you developed your writing voice elsewhere. Iowa, New Jersey, England, Norway, wherever. The sum of your life experiences and the very place in which you live now has helped to make you the writer you are, giving you your distinctive take on the world.
If you move to Los Angeles, it will change you. Hopefully for the better. But you will feel the same 70 degree sunny days that every other writer in L.A. does. You will have the same conversations with your managers and agents other writers do. You will show up at the same screenings and restaurants. You will chase the same gigs. You will read the same scripts. And over time, the sum of what you go through in L.A. will alter you as a writer. As I say, maybe it will make you a better writer. On the other hand, it’s possible the unique voice you developed by living elsewhere will get subsumed into the generic attitude and tone of every USC, UCLA, Loyoyla Marymount or Chapman film school grad hawking their wares in studios from Burbank to Culver City.
There’s so much more to discuss with regard to this topic, things you would likely never consider like how the choice of your child’s private school can present work opportunities as you rub shoulders with execs and directors, producers and actors. Of course you’re paying $25-30K per year for the privilege.
Let me end with the question that is always on the mind of aspiring writers who live well outside Los Angeles: Do I have to move there to break into the business?
The answer is no. You can write a spec script anywhere. If it’s great, that will be your passport into the business. In fact, I have recently interviewed two 2012 Nicholl Fellow winners, one from Louisiana [Allan Durand], one from South Africa [Sean Robert Daniels]. They and many other writers I know live and work outside Los Angeles.
But if you do sell a spec, and even in anticipation of that chance, at least you should be envisioning the possibility of relocating. Because on the whole, the positives of living and writing in L.A. outweigh the negatives.
I’d love to hear from L.A.-based writers. What is your experience living and working in Los Angeles? What are some other aspects I didn’t hit on that are unique to the experience?
The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.