Oh, look at that. I’ve been away for a while. I would like to profoundly apologize to my three committed readers for this grievous offense. To make it up to that almost-handful of you, here’s a great question from Patrick that deserves to be examined:
“I guess my question is this: I’ve been actively saving and am planning to move to LA in six months to give it a go as a writer (since continuing down my current path will most assuredly result in my suicide…and also because I love writing, of course). I was wondering if you have any insight to share on how many pieces I should have in my arsenal aka portfolio for when I arrive out there? I currently have two completed screenplays and one completed original TV Pilot. I know this is not enough, and I know the boiler plate answer is ‘you can never have enough samples’, but I was wondering if you had a magic number that you would recommend? I was sort of thinking I would strive for 3 completed, polished screenplays and 4 TV specs (2 original pilots and 2 spec scripts). But, as with many things in life, I’m pretty clueless and would certainly welcome and appreciate your advice here. And if I may be so bold/obnoxious to tag onto this question…with regard to TV, do you feel I should put more emphasis in the TV spec script or TV Pilot? Do you have an opinion on which is more important of a sample?”
Thanks, Patrick. Before I get into anything else on this topic, I want to hammer home the major point here, and I want to hammer it home with, like, a really big, heavy hammer that really hammers the Christ out of things:
Just get here.
That’s by FAR the most important part of your journey, whether you have fifty scripts ready to go or zero. Get. Thee. To Los Angeles. Being here is, in my opinion, literally half the battle. If you’re here, you are (figuratively, but importantly) light years ahead of everyone else who isn’t, and now the only question left is talent.
If you want to take a shot at writing screenplays for a living…first of all, God bless you, you lunatic comrade-in-arms. But second, you have to go where the industry is. It doesn’t make sense to do it any other way. Yes, there are anecdotal stories of writers working from outside Los Angeles. It has happened.
But it doesn’t happen often, and there are myriad reasons for that. And you already know all of them.
When I was first thinking about moving to LA, my mentor, Luke Ryan, asked me a couple of questions, and now I ask all aspiring writers/industry prospectives the same:
1. If you were to move to LA, would you likely be broke and feeling out of place?
2. If you stayed where you are, would you likely be broke and feeling out of place?
If the answer to both those questions are “Yes”, then the solution is simple. “Well, then you might as well move to LA. This is where all the jobs are. And we have beaches.”
So please: if you have the means and the flexibility and you want to be a working screenwriter, move to Los Angeles. If you don’t, the chances you will ever sell a script are as close to “Never” as you can get. The quicker you get here and the more you learn to network and build relationships, the more you’ll improve those chances.
Now, onto the second part of this ever-involved question: how many scripts do I need to have under my belt when I move to Los Angeles?
This is the fun part, because the answer is patently simple: None. In fact, this should be one of the last things you ever worry about.
First of all, any scripts you’ve written to this point are probably not that great anyway. That’s not a judgment – that’s the numbers. That is a fact. And part of the reason this is a fact is that, if you’re NOT around the film industry, you probably don’t know anyone who can help your writing get any better – or you don’t know anyone who can help enough, and that’s a best-case scenario. Second, aspiring screenwriters are a dime a dozen out here. You can’t sneeze without infecting forty of them. So even once you DO get here, you’re probably not going to need a sample of your work for a while. It’s sort of a common misconception amongst the uninitiated that you’ll show up in LA and someone will come walking up to you like, “Hey, are you a writer? AMAZING! I must read your work!” And that shit does NOT happen. If it does, someone is probably trying to separate you from your money, so you should run away quickly.
Here’s what you need to do, whether you have scripts written or just a bunch of ideas floating around your head: get here, make friends, make contacts, and start developing your work around people who can actually help you make it better. Eventually you’ll meet people who know their shit (and probably quicker than you’d think, if you have even the most basic social skills) and they’ll be in the position to help you. At THAT point, you’d better have a script or at least be able to pitch them one in detail. But until then? There is no magic number. There is no prerequisite. There is just you getting here, there is just you honing your craft, and there is just making yourself a better writer.
Now, onto the idea of screenplays and TV pilots: unless you are SPECIFICALLY working your way into the TV world – meaning you goal is to write for/produce TV – there’s really no reason to bother with TV pilots/specs. You won’t get read, and you won’t get meetings to pitch. The TV world is incredibly insular, and right now the only writers getting in the door are established feature writers and established TV writers. So the average writer has a substantially better chance of breaking in through film than they do TV; in fact, that’s the ONLY chance they stand, statistically. If you want to break into TV only, then get ready for the long haul. You have to start on the low end (PA, office assistant, whatever), work your way into the middle (writer’s assistant) and then hopefully get staffed on a show. And even once you do THAT it can be tough to get a pitch meeting for an original idea.
Thanks again to Patrick for the question. As always, I welcome your slings and arrows and questions of your own. And remember, the penis mightier than the swordis!