Just curious to know if you think a screenwriter can only break in from LA (or the US at least)? I'm on the other side of the world even though I have been polishing my skills for years.
I get this question a lot, and usually I refer people to the archives, but I recognize that it's been a while since I covered this, so it makes sense to promote this FAQ again.
I think it gets significantly harder to break in the further you get from L.A. Is it impossible? No... but you're at a disadvantage if you're not in the same town as the industry you want to work in. Writers who argue that writing is a job that can be done anywhere and that meetings can be done over the phone are missing that there's an entire social aspect to the industry - as with any industry.
I'd never say "I want to work on Wall Street... but it should be no big deal to telecommute from Burbank. I can chat with my boss via Skype and handle my work over the internet, right?" And frankly, that presupposes that I've already got the job.
If you're in L.A., you'll meet other people in the business pretty quickly. These friends can be of help in guiding you. Maybe your neighbor is a writer on a TV show and offers to look at your samples. Heck, maybe you're lucky enough to impress him and he passes you on to his manager. Perhaps that girl you meet in the dog park is a Creative Exec for a production company that makes precisely the kinds of movies that you write.
But let's get back to talking about getting work - these days, it still seems that people like to actually meet the people they're hiring. Let's not forget it's easier to build a relationship with someone in person. If you meet someone and actually break bread with them, you're bound to be more "real" to them than someone on the other side of an email or a phone call. Face-to-face meetings are still very much the norm, particularly for the sorts of meet-and-greets that managers send their clients on in the hopes of getting work. If you're in the room, you're "real."
Case in point: during the instances where I have met someone through this blog, it's always been a bit surreal to have a conversation with that person and realize, "This is someone who's read my words." Even when it's someone who I've exchanged emails with, they're not particularly "real" to me until we've met face-to-face.
Related to this, check out these must-read posts from John August on the subject:
Like banging a chainsaw against a tree
The Duluth Dilemma
In the latter, John offers a variation of what he calls "The Nashville Argument."
The country music industry is based in Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re a country music singer/songwriter, you could stubbornly refuse to move there. You could record your demos in Denver and put them on your MySpace page and play all the local clubs.
But while you’re doing that, a hundred other singer-songwriters are in Nashville, surrounded by an industry that is looking for the next great song, or the next great star. If you lived in Nashville, every third person you met would have a connection to the industry. You could learn from the best performers and technicians in the world.
Moving to Nashville is a smart, proactive move. But you could stay in Denver and just hope for the best. And if your career never takes off, at least you’ll have some heartbreak to write a song about.
If you want to write for Hollywood, it really helps to be in Hollywood. But for contrast, you might also want to check out this post: Starting a career from Puerto Rico.
UPDATE: I almost never do this, but Joshua Caldwell left a great comment that deserves to be seen and I know there are plenty of readers who might not click on comments, so consider this my first-ever comments spotlight.
Is it possible? Yes. Is it harder? Yes. Ultimately, talent wins out. A great script is a great script, no matter where you live. But the bigger struggle is getting people to read it. Hollywood is a town built on relationships and the only way to start building those relationships is to be here, meeting people face to face.
The problem is that people in this town are always looking for a reason to say no and it is far easier to toss a query letter into the garbage than it is to tell a friend of yours that you threw away his buddy's script.
Whether it's writing, directing or even just getting a job as an assistant, referrals and personal recommendations are the name of the game. It is very, very difficult to find a job if you don't know anyone and I should know, because I spent three years sending out blind resumes and I was the recipient of an MTV Movie Award.
The way I finally broke in was a swallowed my pride and got an internship. I decided that if I was going to be spending 8 hours a day doing something for money, I wanted to to be something in the business. It was through my first internship that I met a guy who would eventually get one of my scripts to a big producer who signed on and took it out wide (didn't sell, but...). Because he read it, loved it, recommended it to a friend who a friend who worked at the producer's prod co, who read it and loved it, who then recommended it to the producer. Sure, it was a great script and a bad script wouldn't have gotten as far, but really, it was about me being here, meeting people, talking to them and saying, "Hey, take a look at this."
And it was this internship, that eventually led to me working for Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the CSI franchise, as his Director of Digital Media. It was this job that provided me with the money and resources to direct my current short film "Dig." And it was shooting "Dig" that allowed me to meet a guy who gave me a great idea for a feature, one I am now developing with Participant.
When you don't live in LA you have to be THAT much better of a writer, THAT much better of a filmmaker, because you're asking for execs to adjust their way of doing things to accommodate you. Whether it's a block of meetings the week that you're here (meetings are cancelled and rescheduled ALL the time) or being only available on certain dates, it's just not worth their time unless it's just a blow your mind amazing script. And few scripts are.
Can you build a career without moving to LA? Sure. But know that there are a ton of people who ARE here, waiting in line, willing to take your place for the chance to succeed.