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It Is Possible! Tips for Breaking Into Screenwriting from Outside of L.A. from a Screenwriter Who Did It

Do you really have to live in L.A. to succeed as a screenwriter? One of Script's readers, who is now a WGA screenwriter, shares how he successfully navigates the industry from outside of L.A.

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Larry Postel and the movie poster for his upcoming film, High Holiday, starring Tom Arnold

Larry Postel and the movie poster for his upcoming film, High Holiday, starring Tom Arnold

After rebounding from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma eight years ago, Larry Postel became more determined than ever to achieve his dreams. Not only does he have multiple projects in pre- and post-production, he is a past and current panelist at the Austin Film Festival. You can imagine the joy he felt after being an AFF finalist 25 years ago and then not only being invited to the festival as a panelist, but also, being named on their list of “Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2020.” Not bad for a 64-year-old writer who first started writing over 40 years ago. 

The following is Larry's personal experience of breaking into screenwriting from outside of L.A. We'll let him tell the rest of the story...

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I’m a WGA Dallas-based, non-represented screenwriter with three original spec screenplays that were produced last year, one as a Netflix Original. With that in mind, Lee Jessup's article entitled "The Screenwriter’s Conundrum: But Do I REALLY Have to Live in Los Angeles?" in a recent Script newsletter really interested me. For the most part, I do agree with what she said, especially about TV writers having to live in L.A. due to the requirements of a series writing staff being together in one place. However, when it comes to screenwriting (for films), I have some different views based on my experience:

1. First of all, Lee’s article was written pre-pandemic—and the virus has obviously been a game-changer when it comes to the screenwriter’s conundrum about where to live. Again, TV writers aside—because I’m sure series will continue to be written out of L.A.—but for film writers, I believe the pandemic is all the more reason to live outside L.A. For one, I don’t think there are many young and new screenwriters who can afford to move to L.A. and write full-time. Just like aspiring actors, most newer writers must have a job that pays the bills—and that’s much harder to do today in L.A., especially with so many of the more flexible, part-time jobs, like those at restaurants, hotels, retailers, Uber/Lyft, etc. being severely reduced (or even eliminated) because of the pandemic. So, if your goal is to get a part-time job while you write—and one that pays the rent in L.A.—it may be very difficult to achieve.

[Script Extra: Making The Move To Los Angeles As A Writer]

2. Even pre-Covid, I was a believer that you could successfully write for the movies outside L.A.—and I’m living proof of that! When I first started writing many, many years ago, that was the era of snail-mail queries and before the Internet (wow, I’m really old!). As a result, it was helpful back then to live in L.A. due to the close proximity to producers. However, in the last decade or so, that’s no longer been a factor as you can reach an executive faster via Zoom or Facetime than in person (and queries and submissions are just as easy via something called email).

3. Another reason I like living outside L.A. as a writer is because I feel that many L.A.-based writers become so immersed in the business and what’s hot at the moment, that they lose sight of what those outside L.A. want to see. To me, writing relatable and meaningful stories stems from experiencing life like the majority of people in other parts of the country. In my humble opinion, living in the L.A. bubble of Hollywood can diminish that kind of fresh and authentic perspective. And in talking to several producers on the sets of my movies last year, they agree.

4. Finally, with regard to agents and managers, I do agree with Lee that most prefer to represent writers that do live in L.A. Like she said, the perception is that living in L.A. shows a greater commitment to one’s career. Again, however, I’ve done it from Dallas without an agent or manager (although I do use an entertainment attorney to negotiate my deals—and I always recommend that). The fact is that most agents and managers today aren’t interested in representing aspiring screenwriters no matter where they live. Sometimes, they’re not even interested in representing more established screenwriters—unless you’re at the very top tier and writing bigger-budget fare. Back to when I first started writing screenplays, it was the era of big, high-paying spec sales (i.e. Joe Eszterhas, William Goldman, Nora Ephron, Shane Black, etc.), which meant much bigger commissions for agents/managers. However, today, that’s all changed, and the bigger money is made in the TV writing world. Based on my experience, representatives would much prefer to represent TV writers who they can place on a writing staff and get on-going commissions, instead of having to spend the time to sell a spec script or even help a film writer land an assignment. Of course, there are many exceptions, but based on my own experience, it’s best to forgo even trying to find an agent or manager as a screenwriter until/unless you’re at a level where they might even pursue you. Otherwise, focus your efforts on going directly to producers via lots of research and persistence (in my case, I use IMDb Pro). Many producers—particularly the independent ones who are your best shot starting out—don’t really care where you live.

The bottom-line is that the world has changed due to COVID—and that includes screenwriting. Where it may have been more feasible to pick up and move to L.A. before—with more part-time jobs readily available to pay the bills—it’s no longer feasible for many. Mind you, I’m not saying this to discourage anyone. In fact, I hope this encourages and inspires young writers to carefully consider these points above—and to keep writing meaningful stories from wherever you live. Because the world needs that more than ever!

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