Lele Park was a single mom in Chicago homeschooling her two small boys. She volunteered as a refugee advocate and worked a full-time day job. She could only write screenplays when her children slept; between 9:00pm - 4:00am. The idea of her getting an agent was far-fetched at best, but with COVID-19 forcing Hollywood to approach their talent acquisition pool differently and her persistent dedication to her craft, Lele beat the odds.
Through Coverfly, an online talent discovery platform, Lele signed with four agents at Verve after meeting them through Coverfly’s Career Lab. No more flights to New York and Los Angeles to meet with agents who told her the myriad of ways she couldn’t accomplish her screenwriting dreams that ended in tears, pillow-muffled screams, and Dorito binges. Lele was instead able to network and find the right team for her screenwriting career from the comfort of her laptop. While things certainly haven’t slowed down since, Lele’s life will never be the same.
While the typical advice to aspiring screenwriters is to make the move to LA, even if you only have an ‘88 civic and $20 to your name, there’s a new model shaking up Hollywood for talent discovery that’s shifting how and when screenwriters come to the city of angels.
The online shift
Like many emerging screenwriters, Lele spent copious amounts of hours shaking hands, sending emails, and participating in industry events like screenwriting and pitch competitions. The problem with these methods was the little rhyme or reason to how a screenwriter is chosen for representation, often because of how inundated managers and executives are with requests, referrals, scripts to read, and more, pulling them in different directions, demanding their attention. While one competition winner can sign with their top choice agent this year, the winner from the previous year may still be holding their trophy as the only proof that their work was even seen.
However, COVID-19 in 2020 got the industry to expand out of the traditional model of talent acquisition. Hollywood executives, agents, and managers became more comfortable working remotely, which allowed them to network in new ways, diving into more diverse talent pools they previously hadn’t tapped through online talent discovery platforms like The Blacklist, Coverfly, and Script Revolution.
This new mode of talent discovery is changing the way industry professionals are engaging new screenwriters. The hustle and bustle of planes, trains, and automobiles are no longer a stressor in bringing people together. Instead, industry professionals are finding the exact types of screenwriters and projects they’re searching for from the comfort of their laptops. That means instead of trying to stand out in a crowded room where it’s a struggle to hear your voice and you have to contend with a million distractions, including the count down to lunch, online talent discovery platforms give you a quiet, organized space to be focused on with a clear list of all the reasons an industry professional would be missing out if they chose not to work with you.
Here’s what you need to know to make sure you’re connecting with the right people in the online space.
What you need for online networking
There’s more than meets the eye with standing out online. Your craft still needs to be your top priority—honing your skills, increasing the quality of the projects you submit, and drafting scripts that are competition-worthy. If you’re not putting out quality work, it doesn’t matter how well branded you are or how well you market yourself, the final product won’t sell.
Once you’ve got your work polished and ready to go, you need to create a full, online profile that shows a unique, unified brand. Packaging yourself and your writing within the online space allows you to market yourself to the right industry professionals looking for writers just like you. The trick here is to make sure you fill everything out completely and (ideally) showcase three great projects that clearly represent your voice and your brand. Keep your profile brief so it’s easier for industry professionals to read through, but make sure you’re highlighting the unique perspective you bring to the table.
Industry professionals are looking for top talent, and they rely on competitions, lists, and coverage services to help filter the best from those still growing. If an industry professional is searching for a term related to you and your work, you want to appear in their search, so make sure you don’t hold back when filling out your profile. It’s not just a great script they’re after, these industry professionals are also interested in the writer behind the work.
As a reminder, keep getting your work out there to build up the accolades on your profile so you stand out. For example, Lele has 51 accolades on her Coverfly profile alone cited from 2018-2021, including placements and notable mentions, not just winning or finalist titles. Lele used all of these accomplishments together to create a complete package that agents would be interested in. There wasn’t one single achievement that created her “big break”. It was the compilation of wins on her profile and participation in multiple virtual pitch sessions that made her stand out.
Through your profile, you’re able to build relationships digitally, so if or when you move out to Los Angeles, you hit the ground running.
When to prep for the big move
Once upon a time, living in LA was the only way to get your foot in the door, but times have drastically changed. The idea of starting in the mailroom and earning the right for your stories to be read is one of the past. Today, you can build many of those relationships online so you have a reason to move and you can do so efficiently.
When considering moving to Hollywood, it’s important to know that being local is no longer the key piece to your success—it’s about access, not proximity. Yes, you could have access to information and relationships that others don't when you become a resident, but it’s not guaranteed and there are smarter ways to make it happen now. It also depends on the type of screenwriter you are.
For example, if you write for television, then living in LA is more helpful than if you’re writing features because the collaborative process for television writing had demanded their writers be in the physical room (though some of this is moving to the virtual landscape).
Before making the big move, make sure you have your portfolio in order, that you’ve networked digitally as much as possible, and that you’ve exhausted your current regional opportunities (especially in hubs like Vancouver, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, and New York). The best time to make the leap is when you have a project signed or you’ve secured representation. This gives you a solid footing to move forward from—La La Land is not “the land of the hopefuls.”
While moving to Los Angeles may be right for you, some screenwriters never have to make the move, writing from wherever they call home. Lele now considers herself bi-coastal, making time to go back and forth between LA and Chicago. Chicago is still her home base so she can take care of her two little boys and still find time to volunteer while shopping her pilot and optioning her children’s book—all without uprooting her family and moving 2,000 miles away to Los Angeles.
And who knows, as the industry changes and more writers are finding representation, selling projects, and getting staffed remotely, you may find that you never have to move to Los Angeles.