BALLS OF STEEL™: Being an Outsider

Have you ever been the new kid at school, standing alone on the sidelines of the playground, staring at children who have known each other for years? You’d give anything for someone to welcome you in. I am that new kid.
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Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the 10-hr limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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Have you ever been the new kid at school, standing alone on the sidelines of the playground, staring at children who have known each other for years? You’d give anything for someone to welcome you in.

I am that new kid.

I am the outsider, and the tight circle of friends is Hollywood. The top dogs. The bad asses. Time to put my big-girl panties on, roll up my sleeves, and go introduce myself.

The number one question people ask me is how do I accomplish all I have while living on 45 country acres in New York State, thousands of miles from the Hollywood sign.

outside-looking-in

My answer -- I hustle.

When you're distance-challenged, you have to be smarter, quicker, savvier, and more resourceful than a writer who can just walk into a Hollywood bar and serendipitously meet a producer.

In short, you have to want it more.

Despite there being an entire country between the Hollywood executives and me, I have found ways to narrow the divide.

1. Twitter: Yep, that fat bird a lot of writers use to procrastinate has become my #1 line of attack for breaking in. But new Twitter writers will have it easier than I did two years ago. Now there’s Scriptchat, a group of screenwriters who chat every week. I previously wrote about them for this column, but in short, it’s one hell of an incredible community of screenwriters. Check out my old post, “Get Your Community On,” for more details. Scriptchat is like a free film school … with tequila.

2. Get on a plane. I go to L.A. at least once or twice a year, plus attend industry events anytime I can in NYC. Luckily for me, the city is just a two-hour train ride away and offers plenty of networking opportunities with a strong film community. I make some sort of face-to-face connection with people in the industry at least every two months. Whatever city I’m traveling to, I set up meetings with as many people as I humanly can -- mostly with industry people I’ve either met on Twitter or at previous pitch meetings or festivals. And by "meetings," I don't mean all business. Many times I just meet people for a drink or coffee. You gotta have some fun, and what better way to do that than with friends who share your passion for writing.

3. Get a writing partner. Writing partners aren’t for everyone, but one reason to try working with one is it instantly doubles your networking circle. And don’t be afraid to pursue a partnership with someone who has more writing experience than you do. Douglas A. Blackmon, my writing partner for Slavery by Another Name(SBAN), may not have started off as a screenwriter, but he is one very connected and talented guy. Winning a Pulitzer Prize and being the senior national correspondent of The Wall Street Journal does that. While SBAN hadn’t won the Pulitzer when I first pursued Doug, he had already been a professional journalist for over 20 years.

We each had something to bring to the table the other needed: He needed a screenwriter, and I needed someone to believe in me and give me a shot. I may not have had as many writing years under my belt, but I knew screenwriting, and I was hungry. What writing with someone of his caliber did was raise my bar. But I’ll talk all about that in detail another day. For the purposes of this discussion, having two of us hoofing it in L.A., sometimes together, sometimes apart, doubles our odds of getting our script produced or at least read. But trust in a partnership is key. We are fortunate to have that.

4. Work every PR angle. I have forged wonderful friendships and connections with industry people I’ve met via Scriptchat. With those connections, came PR opportunities. I am becoming damn good at podcast and radio interviews. On this last trip to L.A., I lined up appearances on Film Courage L.A. Talk Radio show and also Pilar Alessandra’s On The Page podcast. The other day Julie Gray tweeted out asking if I’d be available for a quick phone interview, and I dropped everything to do it. There is no rest for the determined screenwriter ... and no guaranteed hot dinners for her children. Check my website for a full list of my appearances.

5. Stay in touch with your network. You can’t ignore people for a year and then e-mail saying, “Hey, I’m coming to town!” They’ll be scratching their head wondering who the hell you are. Networking is work. Don’t be lazy. Relationships take time to build, but let them build naturally. Be real. If you force it, you’ll scare people away. Just be normal. That’s all people really want.

6. Writers write. One important note about reconnecting: You’d better have a new project to talk about. If you go back to L.A. time and time again with that same old script and nothing new, you won’t be taken seriously as a writer.

7. Don’t just network with the established industry people. Sure, they appear to be the ones in the know, but the reality is, there are many of us who are on the rise and eager to reach back and take someone with us. Don’t discount the little guys. We’re ankle-biters and doers.

8. Pay it forward. I’ll do a whole post on this tip soon, because I feel that strongly about its power. When I meet someone at a networking event, I don’t spend time chatting his or her ear off about my projects. Instead, I listen. I listen to what they need, what they’re craving in their own careers, and any sign of what I could possibly do for them. That’s especially important when you’re pitching a producer or when you’re talking with an actor. Shut up and listen.

Recently, I met an amazing woman in L.A. We only spoke for five minutes at the Script Magazine Meetup, but when I got back East, I sent her an e-mail simply saying how wonderful it was to meet, and that I’d love to talk more about her work. Notice I didn’t shove my script in her e-mail inbox, instead I asked about her. By week’s end, we had a two-hour phone call, where we each found many ways we could help one another.

9. You are worthy. Don’t underestimate your ability to be of assistance, even if you perceive yourself as a “nobody.” Actually, that’s the first thing I want you to do -- stop thinking of yourself as a “nobody outsider." Be daring. Be brave. If you write well, then get your voice out there. Start a blog so people have some place to find your projects. Dig through any business cards you have collected over the years and reach out. It can’t hurt, even if they’re years old. It’s either that or toss them away without trying. Which do you think will help your odds more?

10. Work your ass off. You need to work 10 times harder than a writer who lives in L.A. You also need to be prepared to get on a plane for face-to-face meetings. But if you’ve got the balls, in today’s world, you can start your career from anywhere -- but it ain’t easy.

As for the all-important question, “Do you need to live in L.A. to be a screenwriter?” a lot of industry people who do live in L.A. would say “absolutely, yes!” But in my personal experience, you can live anywhere and write, unless it's TV, but that's even changing. Currently, I’m writing for a new TV series that’s in development in the UK and doing it right from my country home office. The showrunner and I have Skype meetings and bounce documents back and forth via the Internet. How did I get this gig not living in the either the UK or L.A.? I met the show creator on Twitter and commented on his blog every week, forging a true friendship and respect. It’s amazing what you can accomplish while in your jammies. I'm hoping the model we're using is one other shows will adopt to give writers around the world more opportunities.

My bumpersticker no longer says, “L.A. or bust.” I am busting this career wide open right from my country office. If I can do it, so can you.

As always, please comment on any strategies you’ve used to get noticed. The more input, the better. If you’re on Twitter, say hi to me. I’m @jeannevb. I’ll introduce you to all the cool kids at Scriptchat!

Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne's advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.

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