If you’re a writer in LA, you’ve got plenty to be excited about. After moving here with plans to sweep the acting scene by storm-I realized that perhaps it might take a while. What a writer has that’s special, and different from many other artists, is creative power. In acting you have to wait. You’re waiting on agents, on directors even on friends to make it to your place in time to put you on tape for that audition! Sheesh! As a writer, you wait on no one but yourself.
That brings me to my first tip on working in LA as a writer. Don’t wait; just write. Plenty of writers like to mull over ideas in their head for months. They think the moment they place pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, they’re locked into that idea. Often, the best answers come after you’ve begun writing. Let your imagination run with it! Don’t restrict yourself and you’ll discover you’re quite a better writer than you think. Keep a journal with you or make a sliver of time each day dedicated solely to writing.
GET IT DONE
Starting the habit of writing is hard. You set aside an hour in the afternoon to work on a short story…then Homeland is on. Oops. It’s not easy. Luckily, you can kill two birds with one stone by working for someone else. Being your own boss in the beginning is mighty difficult. There are a plethora of online publications like The Huffington Post that offer great opportunities for writers starting off. Don’t be surprised when most of these are non-paying gigs. Take it as an opportunity to build your portfolio and have someone else set the deadlines. Before you know it, you’ll have a published body of work to shop around.
If you’re looking into journalism, having a body of published work is crucial. It shows you know how to write for an audience larger than you and your roommate or mom. Start compiling a spreadsheet of publications you admire. Make sure you scope out the editors that pertain to your subject of interest. If you want to write about music and email the movie editor-it’s lost to cyberspace (aka trashed). Once you know who you want to work for, draw up a concise cover letter, resume, and have some articles you’re willing to showcase.
Want to sell that script you’ve slaved over? Yes, it can be crushing when you send someone a 147-page script and the response is, ‘Meh.’ But there’s no room for rejection! Write a short pitch, a treatment, and make a sizzle reel to offer as a whole package! This is when you compile a visual example, or trailer of what the movie might look like were it made. Producers love this. If you register the script with the WGA (Writers Guild of America) you can feel content about sharing it with everyone! With the emergence of indie filmmaking and the immense evolution of the larger studio system, it’s a great time to get your foot in the door. I interviewed Jason Blum once. He’s infamous for making movies like Paranormal Activity and Insidious for a cheap price and making an impressive profit. His biggest advice was that screenwriters should make something they can shoot themselves. Don’t feel like Ang Lee has to direct your debut script. Making it with a close-knit team is much more feasible. Look at Beasts of the Southern Wild or the indie darling Bellflower!
Television is on fire right now. When you have directors like Steven Soderbergh and actresses like Claire Danes on the small screen-you know things are changing. Have a bunch of ideas constantly churning in your head for a TV show. From reality to drama to sitcoms, anything can become a hit. Try to scope out the pilot episodes of some of the shows you’d like to write for. Study the format and the writing voice. Try writing an episode yourself! There are also plenty of books on how to pitch your own original show. A great one is Pop!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything by Sam Horn. It’s a great guide for molding your ideas into something that will sell. When you do write up a pitch, be aware of what network you’re aiming for and keep it specific. Like movies, sizzle reels are a great addition to your pitch.
While you’re waiting on that online job to pay, script to sell, or pilot to soar, you need other ways to make money! Craigslist is a great resource for finding gigs on the side. There are magazines looking for freelance editors, producers searching for scripts and opportunities for copywriting. Companies are constantly searching for a diligent, efficient copywriter. You may not be writing about the entertainment industry, but it’s a great way to make extra cash. I have a few friends who write grants, others copy for advertising firms and even one who tutors kids on essay writing. Check Craigslist and other job forums weekly to look for side work. Scripted.com and Contentblvd.com are two other writing resources that pay per article.
FACE TO FACE
Writing can be lonely. It’s a solitary act, and unless you’re working with a writing team, it can mean you spend a lot of time flying solo. This means getting out and networking is a must! Not only does it get you off your computer and out of your apartment, it means you’re making face-to-face connections. Doing the festival circuit for a few years has taught me the importance of a handshake and a cocktail. Find out where other writers hang out in LA, whether it is a coffee shop, a film screening or a bar. LACMA events are a great place to meet both aspiring and established artists. Be confident in your career as a writer when meeting someone in the field. Even if you have nothing on your resume, you have plenty of potential!
Like any career, being thrown in the lion’s den is the best way to learn. Jump in and don’t be afraid! Keep writing no matter what. Find ways to produce a portfolio of content and be open to sharing it with whoever is intrigued. Many people have ideas in Hollywood. Not many know how to write them. So guess what-you already have a leg up from the start!