Someone emailed me recently asking if it really matters whether one is working in Los Angeles to help one break in as a screenwriter, or if that’s just a myth.
I was actually genuinely surprised by this question, because that’s like asking if you want a job on the moon, if it helps to be living on planet earth.
I would argue that it is important to be in LA – or if you’re not living there full time, to be spending time there and growing both a social and professional network.
In today’s world, it is entirely possible through technology to NOT be in LA but to give the impression that you are living in LA. You can get yourself an LA cell phone, or buy a Skype number with an LA area code (323, 310, 213).
It’s not just relevant work experience: in LA, you’ll have opportunities to work for entertainment professionals who will teach you about the business and help you grow your career. You will learn who the players are and what is considered a professional standard in dealing with both people and situations. These relationships will be valuable as you move forward.
It’s also the extended social network you get through simply living life. You never know who knows who – the whole six degrees thing. I might have a friend from high school who has a friend who has a friend – and that might get me a manager. Or, I might have a new acquaintance who’s really good friends with an agent or producer and offers to pass along a script. You can’t underestimate the impact of this extended network in your life. Oftentimes, it’s a friend who will tell you about a job opening, or help you get a job. Or, vice-versa.
It’s important to get relevant professional experience within your field. If you’re not in LA and are working in entertainment, then this is important, because you’re learning the professional standard in your location. However, if you’re not in LA and aren’t able to work in entertainment, then invest the time and energy to at least understand what the professional standard is.
For screenwriters, read as many scripts as you can get your hands on. This DOES NOT mean reading html-formatted scripts online. This means literally holding a properly formatted screenplay in your hands, getting a feel for it, seeing how the writing looks on the page, really understanding how these scripts look, feel and read – because that is what will be expected of your own writing. It also means getting familiar with the scripts that are being passed around town now – and not using Citizen Kane as your literary standard.
This also means to get familiar enough with the business side – what kinds of projects are selling, what projects have done well at the box office, which producers, agents and managers work with your genre – so that you can make informed decisions about how to market yourself and your work.
Be smart about how you’re representing yourself.