In Banging a chainsaw against a tree, I expressed my frustration at those who complain how unfair it is that screenwriters in, say, Duluth, aren’t taken seriously. It got a lot of responses.
Why can’t he complain if no one takes a screenwriter in Duluth seriously? If he wrote a damn good screenplay that someone (producer, agent) read and wanted to get involved, why would it matter? ‘Oh he lives in Duluth. Bin it.’…? No. It’d be a phone call and a plane flight away if his or her writing were good enough.
The film world does not revolve around Hollywood or L.A. anymore and less so in the future. I think you’re a great Hollywood writer John and I love your blog, but some of your practical advice is somewhat conflicting and unreal at times. It’s just as hard to get a film off in Hollywood/L.A. as it is anywhere else on this spinning globe of ours.
Kevin Arbouet disagrees.
The fact is, the film industry absolutely does revolve around Los Angeles. Los Angeles is the primary hub for film and television much like New York City is the primary hub for theatre.
And I think you’re misunderstanding the whole Duluth thing. With the exception of those great (and mostly fake) PR articles about some dude who worked in a factory in Maine, wrote a screenplay, mailed it to Alan Horn, and then got a movie deal, screenplays are not sold in that way.
Paula agrees with Kevin.
The point is that you have to be in L.A. to take the meetings that lead to work. The spec sale is a) rare and b) not a career. Most writers write on assignment a good deal of the time, including all those who make a living at it, and many who sell specs never work again.
Kevin and Paula are offering a variation on what I call the “Nashville Argument.” The country music industry is based in Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re a country music singer/songwriter, you could stubbornly refuse to move there. You could record your demos in Denver and put them on your MySpace page and play all the local clubs.
But while you’re doing that, a hundred other singer-songwriters are in Nashville, surrounded by an industry that is looking for the next great song, or the next great star. If you lived in Nashville, every third person you met would have a connection to the industry. You could learn from the best performers and technicians in the world.
Moving to Nashville is a smart, proactive move. But you could stay in Denver and just hope for the best. And if your career never takes off, at least you’ll have some heartbreak to write a song about.
On the other hand, LA is the root of all evil
From Duluth is not a fan of Los Angeles:
So you really take those a-holes who sit in Starbucks sipping on their mocha-cappa-frappe-crappie typing a screenplay seriously? It seems to me that quite a bit of the really interesting ideas that get turned into films come from outside LA (as in the rest of the world), while all the well worn, heavily remade, formulaic films come from LA. This is a major problem with the “industry” right now and it amounts to what can best be described as creative incest.
Nick argues against the stereotypes:
You’re trying to make your point by overgeneralizing — acting like every screenwriter in L.A. is a delusional doofus who sits in Starbucks all day, while the serious creative folks are nested away throughout America’s heartland.
That just isn’t the case. I’m not going to argue that there aren’t good writers outside of L.A., but I will argue (correctly) that there are plenty of jackasses from Oregon to South Carolina who think that they can write a totally awesome screenplay just because they saw The Matrix 40 times. (Pay a visit to the TriggerStreet site if you don’t believe me.)
You’re also conveniently ignoring another important fact when you trash the artistic landscape of Los Angeles. The reason it continues to be the world capital of film is that creative people from all over the world choose to come here to write, direct, act, design sets, and so forth. They don’t just sprout up fully formed in front of the Hollywood sign. They’re bringing their individual perspectives to L.A. because its where they believe they’ll have the best opportunity to express themselves. Most of the time, the output of that expression is deeply flawed. But, as Kevin points out, it’s no different anywhere else in the world. You’re just judging the L.A. film industry more harshly because you’re more familiar with the spectrum of films it produces.
Finally, The Other Side calls me out:
I had always believed that your first concern was with making art; now I see that your primary preoccupation has been with careerism.
Initially, I wanted to rant and rail against you and shake you from your ignorance. But then, you are completely right. If one wants to make a living as a screenwriter then a move to LA is of a huge advantage.
I’m sure you would agree that it was by living in LA that you secured the job of adapting Roald Dahl’s “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”?
Funnily enough though, Dahl — also a sometime screenwriter — found he did his best writing in a garden shed. In Wales. An entire ocean of solitude away from sushi-lunches and free diet cokes. You were later paid handsomely to rearranged his ideas, and probably far more than any advance paid to Dahl for his novel.
Considering TOS knew about garden shed, I’m surprised he didn’t get the title of Dahl’s book right. But he inadvertently makes my point: you can be a novelist anywhere, even a garden shed in Wales — or Duluth. A novelist can largely function as a hermit. A screenwriter can’t. A screenwriter’s career consists of meetings and pitches and endless social interactions, many of them aggravating, which may be one reason Dahl’s screenwriting career was so brief.