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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 11 comments
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Are you thinking of moving to Los Angeles 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? This post may include affiliate links. 

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 Los Angeles is probably the single best thing you could do to increase your  chances of making it as a screenwriter.”

Here’s what we said about moving to LA in the article:

If you’re serious about screenwriting, and there’s nothing holding you back, move to Los Angeles 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 “moving to Los Angeles” 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 real complaints we received).

1. “Moving To Los Angeles Is Just Too Damn Expensive”

moving to Los Angeles

“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 Los Angeles, 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 consider moving to Los Angeles.

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 if there’s nothing really holding you back from moving to Los Angeles, then we say “do it.”

2. “Moving To Los Angeles Is Unnecessary 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 Scotland? 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 Madrid, 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, on the other hand, you’ll easily be able to. In fact, you’ll never know who you’re going to meet next and make connections with. Literally anywhere—at a party, a conference, in Starbucks etc.—can become the place the meet the person who kick-starts your career.

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

But let’s say you don’t want to consider moving to Los Angeles. You’ve written a smoking hot script but don’t fancy making the move west. And let’s 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).

moving to Los Angeles

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. You’ll spend so much in airfares you’d actually be better off just moving to Los Angeles.

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 face-to-face meetings. Which you can’t realistically do if you live on the other side of the country. Or not in the country at all.

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 Los Angeles was the single best decision I made in my life.”

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

3. “I Can’t Afford To Quit My Day Job And Just Move To Los Angeles”

moving to Los Angeles

“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 Los Angeles—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.

Michael Arndt did exactly that when he made the commitment to be a screenwriter, and quit his day job to focus full time on writing for one year. He 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 Los Angeles many times.

4. “Moving To LA Is Impossible. 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 Los Angeles from somewhere else in the US. The immigration system here, especially post-911, can be something of a minefield.

But we didn’t say, “Hey, if you wanna move to Los Angeles from Finland, 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.

Conclusion

Yes, moving to Los Angeles 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.

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Are you thinking of moving to Los Angeles? Or 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.

moving to Los Angeles

11 Comments
  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.

  6. Edward Asuquo says:

    Hello I’m Edward, from Lagos Nigeria, whose hoping to move to LA, but I feel like I’m least likely to succeed as a screenwriter due to my race.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi Edward, what matters most is your writing, not your ethnicity.

  7. Nattalie Gordon says:

    Hey Edward, I’m Nattalie from Jamaica. I sometimes think my race and extremely different background might make things hard for me. BUT… on the other hand it might be the opposite. I don’t know about Africans but I’ve been living in GA for 2.5 years and everybody loves my accent. I find that here in the south, a young black woman who doesn’t sound like she’s from the ‘hood’ works for me.
    I plan to move to LA with another 1.5 years. I have no kids, don’t necessarily want any and even though I just got married; my wife’s biggest dream is to be in show business! Lucky me, she won’t object to moving to LA.
    I believe I can do it, I believe you can too.

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