Our Reader Mark McC from Canyon Country (not too near Hollywood), CA writes:
Coming to L.A. has not at all been what I expected. I've tried to follow the experts' advice, like get a job in a production company, but that was impossible. My boring job in property management is not why I left St. Louis. How am I going to morph into a working screenwriter?
Richard Walter, Chairman of UCLA's Screenwriting Department, responds: First off, time is what makes up your life - your precious time is limited, so pick and choose wisely. First and foremost, you gotta write - find your time and just do it!
Secondly - lots of experts say read the trades.
Don't! They're a catalogue of publicists' lies designed to depress you. Let's say you write a sci-fi spec script, and a sci-fi deal is made that week, not with you but with another writer. Would it have made a real difference to you if you knew from the trades that a studio bought a script similar (or not similar) to yours? Absolutely not. The keeping-up-with-current-information obsession is a fool's game, and counterproductive to boot for a writer trying to break in.
Third - your day job is your friend - keeps you fresh - it's the unexpected that helps move you forward and upward. The real stream is the stream of life - you dream of being alone writing, but that's not a dream; it's your worst nightmare. Writer/director Colin Higgins was working at cleaning swimming pools. One of his clients happened to be a producer who ended up producing his HAROLD AND MAUDE, launching his career. It was the day job that made it happen for him as a writer. A well-known songwriter was supporting his music habit selling pianos at a music store when Stevie Wonder happened in and ended up recording several of the (former) salesman's tunes.
Lots of experts say also network in the industry with agents and producers but I say join a writers' group. It's of more value to a new writer than a networking brunch, given your limited time. Groups offer supportive, valuable information to screenwriters and their craf, plus are a helpful approach to the industry. Perhaps you'll get names of sellers you might contact when you and your writer-peers think your work is ready to show. For example, you may find out managers, not agents, are a screenwriter's first line of attack these days.
Take classes, meet other writers, model the film school experience, read all the books.
And keep writing - by far the best tip of all.
Next issue Richard Walter is determined to address this big writer's issue:
When your spec doesn't sell it's not the end - it's only the beginning!