In other words, here’s another way of looking at all those nasty facts about establishing your TV or film writing career. Time now for The Answers Nobody Wants to Hear:
by Emily Guder
For those hoping to break in, the world of screenwriting can seem like a black box. Unless you know industry insiders or have an agent, your first screenplay’s journey from Final Draft to production will be an unparalleled challenge. That’s why screenwriting organization The Black List teamed up with Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York to answer your burning questions.
The panelists—Chris Sparling (Cannes 2015 entry “Sea of Trees,” directed by Gus Van Sant), Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “Ten Thousand Saints”), Michael Zam (“Best Actress”) and Lara Shapiro (“The Americans”)—joined moderator Franklin Leonard, creator of The Black List, to discuss everything from finding the right agent to when it’s time to quit your day job.
1. Do I have to live in L.A. to have a career as a working writer?
LA vs. NY: It’s a big quandary for those seeking a career in entertainment. While L.A. is inarguably the epicenter of the film industry, many writers prefer the creative, art-based community of New York. “I like being in the New York bubble,” said Shari Springer Berman. “It allows me to write and not think about the business end, which clogs your brain instead of thinking about whatever you’re writing.” Lara Shapiro concurred: “When I go to L.A. I’m in battle mode on the pitch circuit.”
Many of the panelists also remarked on the benefits of the New York indie film world’s supportive community. “We all know each other,” said Berman. “You edit in the same places. You come to each other’s screenings. It’s very supportive.” But just how feasible is it to sustain a career across the country from Hollywood? “It’s not as important to live in L.A. because of things like Skype,” said Chris Sparling. “That said, your presence puts you in mind if you’re just starting out.” Michael Zam interjected: “But producers don’t always want to do a Skype meeting. Push for it if you can.”
If you’re looking to get into the television sector, though, there’s a consensus that L.A. is the better option. “One thing that’s changed in the past couple years is that there are a lot more TV writing opportunities,” said Shapiro. “Those don’t exist as much in New York. For people who are trying to establish themselves as writers in any arena, being an assistant in a writers’ room is a great way to get in. You can’t do that here in New York.”
2. How do I find the right agent?
When you’re green and looking for an agent, “you don’t want the famous agent,” said Berman. Early in her career, Berman applied for representation at a big agency and was rejected. Months later, she received a call from the agent’s assistant; he had been promoted and was looking for promising new clients. “You want people looking to find clients,” continued Berman. “They’ll work hard for you and you’ll come up together. With a big agent, you’re not going to be their priority.”