This is the second in a series of articles about relocating to Hollywood or New York to follow dreams in the entertainment business.
If it’s not obvious to you, let me just state this clearly up front—this is not a question a beginning writer should be asking. In my opinion, the only people who should really be asking themselves this question are writers who’ve had some success with their craft. By “success” I mean that you’ve won awards for your screenplays or teleplays, you’ve gotten some type of representation, you’ve been optioned, you’ve produced your own plays or movies and have built an audience or you’ve placed in a film festival or writing competition. At the very least you’ve finished some writing program somewhere, have gotten feedback indicating you’ve got great talent and have written, edited and rewritten multiple screenplays. If none of these have happened, you may want to consider a move to either Hollywood or New York a bit premature—unless you’re moving here to go to school.
This section should be called Screenwriters. I called it Writers because the mass of the publishing business is based in New York. There are book writers who dream of moving to New York in the same way that Screenwriters dream of moving to Hollywood. But unless your goal is to write for TV News or to be an editor at a publishing house, there isn’t much need for you to relocate to New York. Book writing and journalism isn’t really considered part of the entertainment world even though it most definitely is—evidenced by the lines blurring more and more every day. Nonetheless, book writing can be done from anywhere and emailed to editors and publishers around the world. If you need to take a meeting as a book writer, a teleconference or a day trip will usually suffice.
Screenwriting is a bit different.
Screenwriters’ options for if and when to move depend on whether they want to write for film or TV.
TV writers pretty much need to be local to where they work. TV writing is a collaborative effort. TV is run by writers (producers in TV are also the senior writers). The rigorous schedule of putting out weekly or daily shows requires teamwork. Teamwork requires the team be together. Different teams work different ways. Usually the writing staff meets and brainstorms the direction of the show. If the show has a strict bible (show plan or series arc) then the teams determines how far the show will move this season and may assign individual writers to write specific episodes based on the input/pitches from the whole staff. Writers may then get to work on their show for the most part, but still must participate in the rest of the show writing and development as necessary.
Most TV shows don’t have that strict a bible or are episodic. Shooting schedules demand quick writing and more minds equals more ideas faster. TV writers are salaried employees that generally work 60 hour weeks and more. On top of that, they must be there even after the scripts are written to make changes even during filming.
If a show is episodic, individual ideas for shows can be pitched and planned by the show runner. In the case of episodic shows, there is more of a chance the writer will not have to be in the room every week. The main writing staff must be present, but it is possible for episodic shows to produce a screenplay by a writer who does not live in the city. It is, however, unusual and unlikely.
Finally, if you’re writing a daily show—such as a news show or Tonight Show, etc. It would be impossible to be a regular writer without being in the room. In that case, you could live elsewhere only if you serve as a writer of a special segment.
Film writers have more options. If you chose to be a spec writer (one who writes original screenplays then offers them for sale to production companies), you can do that much the same way as novel writers. You are free to live anywhere you like and send your screenplays in to agents, managers, producers or whatever contacts you might have in the industry. No one cares if you send your script from a cabin in Vermont or from Sunset and Vine.
If, however, you desire to be hired as a screenwriter—the predominate form of film screenwriting employment—you benefit from being in Hollywood because you have to take meetings to get those jobs. Still, before Hollywood will consider you for employment as a screenwriter on a film, you will need to have an agent. To get an agent you need a spec screenplay. And spec screenplays, as I mentioned above, can be written anywhere. So unless you’ve garnered an agent from the quality of your screenplay, and your agent is ready to get you working in TV, you do not yet need to move to Hollywood. And if you have gotten an agent and he has meetings set up for you at Warner Bros tomorrow, you might still want to fly in for a week, take a bunch of meetings and see how they go before you take the plunge. It is actually easier, in many cases, to schedule meetings if you are known to only be available for a period of time.
Here’s a final thought on this. One thing I Wish I Knew (or WIK, as I call these ideas in the book) is this: WIK #20: It may well be that what inspires you to write is native to your hometown and not to Hollywood. Do you get that?
“I moved to Hollywood from Chicago. In Chicago, the change of season, the rain, the snow, the oppressive heat, the big urban jungle, the roar of the El Train—the essence of Chicago—inspired and informed the writing that landed me an agent in Hollywood. All those inspirations disappeared when I moved to L.A. The perpetual sunshine, beautiful weather, palm trees and flowers did nothing to help me conjure up the harsh images I’d penned before. That’s another thing to keep in mind before you move. If your family gatherings or your crazy neighbor helped your pen those great stories, what happens when you’re not there anymore?” –From What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood pg. 153
On the other hand, L.A. or New York can spawn new inspiration—at least that’s what the title of my book suggests. And as the photo at the top of this article confirms, there aren’t too many other places where you can watch Inglorious Basterds with Quentin Tarantino.
Next article will take a look at when an actor should move to Hollywood.
Update 3/7/2013: (The 2nd edition of What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood available now exclusively on Kindle for only $4.99. Get yours now. Click here. Kindle e-books can be read on I-phone, I-pod, I-pad, Android, Mac and PC with the free Kindle App.)