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4 Bad Reasons Screenwriters Give For Not Moving To LA (And Why You Should Ignore Them)



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July 28, 2014 8 comments
moving to LA

Are you thinking of moving to LA to pursue a screenwriting career, but wondering if you really need to? Many aspiring screenwriters say you don’t need to, but are they right? Is moving to Los Angeles really necessary in today’s age of Skype chats and Google Hangouts? 

We wrote a blog post a few weeks ago — Are You The Cliche Of An Aspiring Screenwriter? which, while receiving mostly praise, featured one piece of advice which seemed to rub some people up the wrong way.

The advice was this: “Moving to LA is probably the single best thing you could do to increase your  chances of making it as a screenwriter.”

Here’s the gist of our argument:

If you’re serious about screenwriting, and there’s nothing holding you back, move to LA because this is where everything’s happening. i.e. If you want to be a Country & Western musician, where are you better off living? Portland, or Nashville?

Exactly. And the same is true for screenwriting.

In case you missed it, you can read our reasons for moving to LA here. It’s something many, many script readers, professional and aspiring screenwriters alike say you should do.

Our “move to Hollywood” point, however, caused quite a bit of heat among some screenwriters, and here are the Top 4 common complaints, plus our answers to them below.

(The paragraphs in italics are amalgamations of real complaints we received).

1. Moving To LA Is Just Too Damn Expensive

“Looks like LA gives free apartments to people who want to start a screenwriting career I guess, even in US, many people work on daily jobs only for 1 purpose – survive. And their apartments costs are probably 60-70% percent of their salary per month. So if they don’t work for 3-4 days, they get into overdraft.”

As we stated in the previous article, when we’re suggesting aspiring screenwriters move to LA, we’re talking about the people who can move there if they put they in the effort, but choose not to. We’re not talking about the people who don’t have the means.

So, if you want to be a screenwriter and have the money, but are choosing to remain in say, Milwaukee, we’re saying you should make the commitment to becoming a screenwriter and move to LA.

We agree — a screenwriter salary doesn’t really exist (at least at first) and LA is an expensive city compared to many in the US. However, it’s not Tokyo. It is possible to find a reasonable apartment in a decent area of town for a reasonable price. It’s all about how much you really want it.

LA is the place to be if you want to break into the industry, and if all it means is effort, but there’s nothing really holding you back from moving here, then we say “Do it.”

2. You Can Break Into The Industry From Anywhere Now With The Internet

“You don’t need to move to LA to become a professional screenwriter. There are many avenues for building industry contacts. First and foremost write something that people want to see, you can do that anywhere.”

True, writing a great script is probably the most important thing you should be doing, but — we’ll say it again — once you have that great script (or three) where are you better off living?

In the center of the film industry, or in Milwaukee? We’re not saying that it’s impossible to break into the industry from outside LA.

We’re just saying it’s harder. So why make an already hard objective even harder by putting yourself at a disadvantage geographically?

Say you live in Milwaukee, or Boston, or wherever, you can certainly email agents, producers and companies from the comfort of your own home, but you’re not going to meet them face to face.

After moving to Los Angeles you’ll never know who you’re going to meet and make connections with. Literally anywhere — at a party, through a friend of a friend, in Starbucks etc.

And we all know people are much more likely to remember a face than an email address.

Okay, say you have written a smoking hot script and you live outside LA. And then, say one of your query emails grabs the attention of a Hollywood producer. (Despite the fact the whole notion query emails actually working is somewhat debatable).

The producer will want you to come in for a meeting. So, you pay the airfare and fly in for a meeting. Then, it turns out your script is so hot, a month later you get another email from a different producer asking for a meeting.

And then another, two weeks later. That’ll cost you so much in airfares it’ll be cheaper just to move to LA.

This is especially true if you want to write for TV, where you don’t really stand a chance in hell of breaking in if you live outside of LA.

The fact is, Hollywood is built around relationships and a big part of those relationships are formed not on Skype or in a Google Hangout, but through taking face-to-face meetings.

Which you can’t realistically do if you live on the other side of the country.

Now, some professional screenwriters are forced to remain outside of LA because of family or work reasons, but if moving to Los Angeles is an option you should definitely do it.

As Carl King, author of So, You’re A Creative Genius. Now What? writes “Moving to LA was the single best decision I made in my life.”

Just being here inspires you in a way you won’t find anywhere else.

moving to LA

3. I Can’t Afford To Quit My Day Job

“You guys are funny. “Quit your day job and move to LA”?! C’mon!”

This response again misses the point of our original statement about moving to Hollywood — i.e. if you have the means and could do if you wanted to, but are choosing not to because you haven’t made the commitment to making it as a screenwriter.

Granted, quitting your day job may not be a viable option for many, but if you’re young enough and have no real commitments, then quitting that boring office job you’re not interested in anyway, saving up a decent amount of money and moving to LA might just be the best decision you could make.

I’m sure Michael Arndt thinks so who quit his day job to focus full time on writing for one year and ended up with a screenplay called Little Miss Sunshine.

John August and Craig Mazin on their podcast have also reiterated the importance of moving to LA many times.

4. I Live On The Other Side Of The World

“I looked at flight tickets prices from Tel-Aviv to LA and return. Almost 2k$. That’s more than I earn per month.”

Okay, this is a legitimate claim. Trying to emigrate to the US is a whole different ball game to moving to LA from somewhere else in the US. The immigration system here, especially post-911, is an absolute nightmare.

But we didn’t say, “Hey, if you wanna move to LA from Scotland, just jump on a plane and come on over.” Obviously, it depends on your personal circumstances.

Ideally, no matter where you live, it’d be great if you could move to LA if you want to be a screenwriter, but it’s just not possible for many people.

There are options though:

  • Study In The US
    If you have the money and you’re in the right stage of life, you can maybe apply to study in the US. While studying you’ll be placed on internships which can then lead to an offer of work afterwards. You have about a year, I believe, to stay in the country and work after graduating, and in this time you can try to get a job and transition to a work permit. And from a work permit you can attempt to transition to a Green Card. Or maybe love will bloom and you’ll meet and fall in love with an American and can stay on by getting a K3 Visa.
  • Work As A Screenwriter In Your Home Country First
    If you can get some credits in your own country as a screenwriter, you might be able to then apply for an 01 Visa, aimed at people in the entertainment industries. You don’t have to be the next Christopher Nolan. It’s not as hard to get as the US Embassy would have you believe on their website. The visa last for only 2 years, but can be renewed indefinitely, as long as you show that you’re making solid tracks in the industry.
  • Buy A Green Card
    Not an option for most, but if you’re super well-off, you can buy a Green Card for $500,000 with an EB5 Visa. A real pain in the ass by all accounts, but an option. Another alternative is to buy a US business with an E2 Visa and work in the States on that business while screenwriting on the side. If you have enough money you can buy one and pay someone else to run it, so you can devote more time to writing.


So, in conclusion, yes, moving to LA is a big step, leaving your job, your friends and your family, and yes, there’s no guarantee you’re going to score a great screenwriter salary within a year of arriving, but, if you have the means, it all comes down to having the will — and that means making the commitment to becoming a professional screenwriter by moving to the one place it’s more likely to happen.

Have you made the leap and moved to LA to pursue a screenwriter career? Are you still glad you did? Let us know your stories in the comments section below.

  1. Xander R says:

    I’m in my 30’s out in Va. I work with a local production crew here. There focus is to bring more films out this way. This is in line with the Virginia Production alliance. I’m slated to write and direct at least 3 features and another short this year but I agree that the move to LA would be the most advantageous step for me to take. What would you recommend for someone like me trying to save up and move out west? Should I use these films to help my case? How can I use my work here to further my goals?

    Xander R

    1. Hey Xander — yes you should definitely use them if they’re good. Try to get some feedback and exposure on them first before setting up meetings and talking about them though. If you can say you’ve written and directed three great features/shorts it can only help.:)

  2. John says:

    I’m a manager & producer in Beverly Hills, CA. While living in LA is not imperative to be a writer, not living on LA makes it much more difficult when your script gets noticed. A great script gets meetings, meetings get writers jobs. If you’re not in LA, or frequently traveling to LA, the meetings will be difficult to arrange/manage. I have numerous writers that do not live in, or around LA, sometimes we can schedule meetings within a weeks time, but most of the times it’s a few meetings per week. The one thing I can’t manage is other peoples schedules. A smart writer will put themselves in the right position to thrive.

    1. SRP says:

      Thanks John – you summarize it perfectly.

  3. Seth says:

    This post has given me a kick up the ass. I’ve been putting off moving to LA for so long now but now I think I just need to go for it if I ever want to make a go of this screenwriting thang.

  4. Fran says:

    I would love to move to Los Angeles but am stuck in Glasgow with no money 🙁

  5. Undrea says:

    I’m currently in Hawaii. But in a few months I will be LA bound. I’m just wondering if I should give up my current career (aircraft mechanic) to focus on writing full-time, do it part time with a job like driving Uber, or keep doing like I have and work full-time while writing in my spare time? No spouse, no kids, just me. Guess I’ll have to figure it out.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      There are a whole host of questions to consider I guess: age, writing ability, ease of getting back into aircraft maintenance if you need to etc. In the end, if you really want to go for it and have no ties, you could give yourself a time limit to achieve xyz – like get a manager, sell a script and so on, and if it doesn’t work out at least you can say you tried.

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