So you’ve decided to go out on a limb and move to Los Angeles to follow your Hollywood dreams of jumpstarting a writing career? After all, you’ve got a good reason. Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world and if you want to write feature films or television shows, Los Angeles is where you need to be. Below are a few tips I’ve compiled based on my 7 years of experience in the industry as well as a few curveballs I wish someone had told me! Without further ado…
The number one piece of advice I can’t stress enough is making sure you have enough money saved up before making the trek out to Los Angeles. I moved to LA with $1,500 in savings and if I could do it all over again, I would’ve come with at least $4,000. Los Angeles is an expensive city and unless you’re lucky enough to have a job in place before you move out, you’ll need enough money to hold you over until you land a job. If you’re fortunate enough to have collegiate/family/friend connections, don’t hesitate to utilize those relationships in helping you get settled in LA. If not, there are plenty of LA transplants in similar situations looking for roommates on websites like Craig’s List and the local favorite, Westside Rentals. Getting settled in a new city isn’t easy for anyone, the more help you have the better. But regardless of who you may know/don’t know, make sure you have a nice amount of money saved up, especially if you don’t have any job prospects. Having a nice cushion will give you one less thing to worry about as you learn to navigate the sprawling metropolis of LA.
I know…it’s such a cliche, college counselor term that sounds more trite than novel but if my 7 years in LA have taught me anything, it’s that networking is everything in the entertainment industry, especially when you’re trying to land your first job in the industry. Most of the jobs I’ve had were word-of-mouth opportunities that past employers, colleagues, and friends either told me about or put me up for. Connections are golden in this town and if you use them to your advantage properly, you’ll land a job in no time. If you’re a recent college graduate, tap into your school’s alumni resources/database for contacts and don’t be afraid to reach out for informational meetings. If you’re moving out at a later time in life, take advantage of the many entertainment industry mixers, panels & meet and greets open to the public. Because there are so many aspiring writers in this town, these kinds of events are not hard to find if you look hard enough.
3. Get an entry-level job in the business.
The best way to launch your career as a film or TV writer is by working as close to the process as possible. That means working support-staff-based gigs such as a production assistant (PA) or in the mailroom of an agency. Unfortunately, these jobs don’t pay that well but you will learn more in a day than you would in any classroom. You’ll see firsthand the realities of how the industry works as well as develop a more informed perspective than someone outside of LA whose industry expertise is limited to blogs and websites designed to sell you things. If you can’t afford to survive on these jobs alone, consider applying for an internship or PAing on weekend shoots. Don’t get worried if it takes you a little while to find a job. You’ll land the right job as long as you’re willing to work hard, stay open-minded and remain passionate, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Many professional writers got their start this way and while there’s no right path, don’t limit yourself. Whether you get a job working at ABC Studios or some D-list production company, landing the job is only half the battle. The relationships you make & the lasting impression you leave will impact you more than the pedigree of your respective first gig, which leads me to my next tip…
4. Be Kind
You’d be surprised how many people forget just how far a little bit of kindness can go. Given how menial most entry-level jobs are, people pay attention to the little things more than you know. And don’t limit your kindness to your superiors, be nice to your peers and subordinates as well. As the old saying goes, the people you meet on your way up are the same people you’ll meet on your way down. You never know who might be your boss one day so remember, be nice to everyone.
5. Create or find a writing community.
As glamorous as the life of a professional writer may seem, our work is usually done in seclusion and when you’re just starting out in LA, it can feel pretty lonely. However, it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to find a writing group that can help you create your very best work (http://thewritelife.com/join-writing-group/). Once you begin working and building your own personal network of friends and fellow writers, feel free to start your own and make sure to keep your group going. Even after you “break-in”, writers have to grapple with a great deal of pressure from everyone from their agents to network executives, not to mention the constant rejection they face at all levels. It’ll be in these circles that you’ll find the continued support, love and helpful critique you need to stay motivated and keep writing.
6. Never forget, the entertainment business is a business first.
It’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glam of creating a hit show or writing a spell-binding screenplay and reach the conclusion that to replicate that success, you just need to write something as good, if not better. Ah, if it were only that simple! It can’t be stressed enough that the business side of this industry is built on the shoulders of a great story positioned into a sellable product for the purpose of making a profit. The better you understand the business, the better your chances are of taking the right steps towards working as a professional writer whether it be on the small screen or the big. You may have a killer script that you just know will blow everyone away but without an agent or manager, no one is reading your script, no matter how good it is. Take the time to educate yourself about whatever facet of the writing industry you wish to enter by reading books, listening to industry-related podcasts and most importantly, reading scripts.
7. Network some more
I know, I already said this but it needs to be said twice! Something I’ve personally learned is that there’s a difference between networking to land your first gig and networking to land your fourth. It goes without saying that every relationship counts but in LA, that matters more than you may think – everyone from that A-list producer you met at a party to your boss’s nanny has connections that may be of use to you. Over time, your social network will expand and the tendency to focus only on nurturing the relationships of those that are in your current orbit could limit potential writing opportunities that may arise.
8. Be patient & practical
If you’re looking to get rich quickly or advance as a professional film or TV writer within a set period of time, this isn’t the career for you. The entertainment business is one of the toughest industries to break into, especially as a writer and almost all of the working writers I know will tell you that it never happened when they thought it would. And if you’re worried about the fiscal practicalities of this particular career path, please arm yourself with the facts before making any big life decisions. What I think’s difficult for most to grasp is how nebulous and gradual the process is. Even if you manage to get representation or sell a script, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the level of creative success that would ensure a comfortable level of financial security for, well, a while. If you want to pursue writing professionally, make sure you’re doing it because you’re passionate about storytelling and are so consumed with your love for writing that you can’t see yourself doing anything else. As long as it’s your passion that’s driving you, your hard work will pay off, it just may not happen as soon as you’d like.
9. Humble Yourself.
If you’re lucky enough to land an entry-level job on a hit TV show, don’t expect it to be glamorous as it’ll most likely consist of gathering lunch orders, buying groceries and delivering coffee. The hours are long and the pay is insanely low but it’s the nature of the beast. Everyone’s had to pay their dues in some way or another and while it may not feel like the college degree(s) you have is being put to use in this line of work, you should find solace in knowing that most working writers have been in your exact shoes and there is a light at the end of this apprenticeship-style ascension into the writers’ room. So don’t act, “above it all” so to speak. There a hundred people that will take your PA job in a heartbeat. So show up every day ready to work long and hard. Being a good assistant goes a long way in this industry. It could result in a high-level writing professional offering to read your script or even better, offering you a job.
10. No matter what, keep writing!
The most important tip I have to give is to keep that creative light inside you burning bright by writing, everyday if you can. There are many highs and lows on the path to becoming a working writer as with each career milestone you achieve, more is expected of you. Take it from me, if you’re lucky enough to find representation, the hard work lies ahead. The practical pressures of finding work, keeping it and then, God forbid your show gets cancelled or your script sale falls through, you have to start all over again. Remember when I said you should never forget that the entertainment business is a business first? Well that’s a reality that can eat away at even the most prolific writers’ creative inspiration. With that in mind, never lose sight of who you are as a writer & why you fell in love with writing in the first place. No matter what, write the things you love. Make art. Write what’s true and real. And never expect to get paid for it. Don’t prioritize the big script sale or the big dream TV writing gig tomorrow. Focus on the today. And as the great Brian Koppleman once said, “write what you know works, but it’s limiting. Write what you know fascinates you, what you can’t stop thinking about.”