Gabriel de Jesus is a screenwriter living in Puerto Rico who is trying to forge a Hollywood career from 3,000 miles away. A strong showing in the Nicholl Fellowship competition has helped.

On Twitter, he’s @gabedejesus.

first person

I live in Puerto Rico. It’s hard enough to make it in this business living in Los Angeles, but trying to make it from thousands and thousands of miles away is just asking for it.

So maybe you’d think it’d be best to move. Make it easier on myself. Yes, in fact, it would be. I would’ve moved to LA in a heartbeat if it weren’t for just one problem: I don’t know a single person in the whole state of California who I could bunk with.

Oh, and I am unemployed with zero savings. So no California for me. Not for now.

Being a screenwriter in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a hot destination for films and TV shows given that it has some of the most favorable tax credits in the world (40% tax credit for payments made to PR residents and 20% tax credit for payments to non-residents, including actors’ salaries), but in terms of a domestic film industry, Puerto Rico isn’t as developed as other Spanish speaking regions. Although it has a promising future, the Puerto Rico film industry is not the answer for what I want to achieve at the moment.

What’s great about being a writer in Puerto Rico? Inspiration. Even though it is a US territory, living in Puerto Rico feels like living in a whole other country. Be it a rainforest, a coastline, or mountainside, it’s all there to provide inspiration.

What’s not so great about living on a Caribbean island? The damn heat. It’s freaking killer. Seriously. But, alas, it is from this tiny island at the edge of the Greater Antilles that I will have to try and make it in a town where iron walls seem to rise hundreds of feet into heavens, and the gates seem to be guarded by Cerberus himself.

Thank God for the Internet

I took every book on screenwriting I could find and chewed it up. Every blog. Every article. Every screenwriting magazine. The trades. Everything. Read it all. Concerning blogs —get ready for some major ass kissing— John August’s is truly a lifesaver. When you have so little contact with the industry, blogs like John’s provide an insider’s look to a world that seems so alien to the rest of us Earth people.

Looking to expand my knowledge in screenwriting and the business, I flew a couple of times to LA for seminars, workshops, and pitch events. I did everything I could to learn my craft and get to know the town, and these events all proved invaluable in helping me get rid of the jitters of meeting high profile people.

There is no doubt that watching movies is essential to becoming a good screenwriter, but what ultimately helped me develop my own voice was reading as many screenplays as possible, and then, writing as many screenplays as possible. There are no shortcuts; I learned that the hard way. To become a good writer I had to write and write and write, and when I was done writing, rewrite and rewrite and rewrite some more. There is no way around it.

The Nicholl Fellowship

Although I had entered a few screenwriting competitions and placed, nothing much came of it. I knew about the Nicholl Fellowship but had never entered; it intimidated the heck out of me and I thought I wasn’t ready for it. But in May 2010,  I sent in my script. Knowing thousands of writers from all over the world would be entering, and knowing that since the ‘80s several screenwriters from Puerto Rico had entered the competition but none had placed, I didn’t really think much would come of it.

Two months later, I received an email from the Fellowship director congratulating me for becoming a quarterfinalist. A month after that, another congratulatory letter came my way for making the semifinal round of 114. I couldn’t believe it. Just getting this far was a great feeling, especially with what I heard about many past semifinalists having careers in Hollywood.

A month later I got my last letter. I hadn’t made it into the finals. I was a bit sad at first, but the pain was quickly lessened when I was informed that I had made it to the top 30 out of more than 6,300 writers, and I was the first writer from Puerto Rico to do so. I could live with that.

And then it happened.

The emails. Dozens and dozens of emails. Over fifty, actually. Agents, managers, and top development people. After so many years of querying and pitching and sending loglines, this was quite a different feeling for me. People actually querying me for my script. And that’s how I met my manager.

Based on my own experience, I could not recommend the Nicholls more. The competition is fierce, but the prestige and respect is unmatched.

Having a manager

I couldn’t agree more with Justin Marks’ First Person. A manager can be critical in having a career and staying afloat in the turbulent waters of Hollywood. It’s a collaborative relationship that helps you work better with others, and helps you learn how to deal with different points of view concerning your story.  With his help I went through several rewrites and was able to get my script into tiptop shape, strong enough to attract one of the town’s most legendary producers.

I have no idea what the future holds for me, but after slogging through it for so many years, it is a true joy to have some form of success. Having the delight of seeing my script and my hard work acknowledged is a dream come true in itself, and now, going through those first steps of seeing my script being made into a film is truly a gift.