by Julie Livingston
Or as LB calls it, “The Big Test.” Moving to LA. If you’re an aspiring TV writer, you’re probably already thinking about it. And, if you’re not, I promise you will. It’s not an easy choice to make (at least it wasn’t for me), so for anybody who might find a firsthand account of the experience useful (or just entertaining), I will blog as much of it as I can, as often as possible. Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone who comes to Los Angeles to try to make it in the TV business, but I will tell you honestly how it is for me.
I’m not gonna lie. This move is not for the faint of heart. As soon as I made the decision, I started looking for ways to hedge my bet. I created a caveat: I’m definitely going to go but, not until conditions are perfect. No way was I about to haul my cookies (and my incredibly supportive spouse’s cookies) into town without some kind of foundation. In the fantasy I created, I would work from where I was until I landed a manager, an agent, a job. In reality, on the day I left, I had none of those things, but still it was time to go.
When I first decided I wanted to become a TV writer it actually wasn’t that big a leap. I already made a living writing commercials, so it is was kind of like deciding I wanted to give up my day job writing for TV in order to get my dream job writing for TV.
So I started writing scripts. I entered contests, took classes, got notes – first from friends, then from professionals, joined social media groups and added my email to every TV writing blog, ‘zine and podcast with a subscribe button. It was exactly what I needed to do and I could do it all from the safety of my seat on the heater grate (yes, I write sitting on the floor) in my Pacific Northwest home — for about two years. Then I arrived at a crossroad. I had gone about as far as I could go from where I was. I could, of course, stay and keep writing pretty much indefinitely, but if I wanted to become part of a professional community, find management, get staffed on a show, I was going to need to get off the grate.
For months I believed LA and I were locked in psychological battle, each waiting stubbornly for the other to say, “I love you,” first. Then it hit me. LA wasn’t waiting for me to do anything. LA didn’t (and, to be honest, still doesn’t) give a shit about me. And, I realized, it never would if I didn’t show up in person and get in the game. My problem wasn’t that I had to stare down a city, it was that I needed to overcome my own natural tendency to dream small. So instead of focusing on what I didn’t yet have, I gathered up the things I did — a few solid scripts, some budding relationships, and a steadfast mate, combined them with a sincere desire to become a better writer and what sometimes seems like an unreasonable amount of faith that I’ll be able to create a place for myself at the table — and leapt.
I’ve been in LA three months now. I still don’t have an agent or a job, but I did get a manager – for about thirty-six hours. This manager and I had been trying to get together for a while. In fact, our meeting had been rescheduled so many times I’d started to wonder exactly how many times a person could cancel on me before I turned their picture permanently to wall. (I still don’t know the answer to that question, but, turns out, it’s more than four). So when we did finally get together, I was surprised to realize the meeting wasn’t just another hoop to jump through. He wanted to sign me. I liked him. I liked his vision for how to advance my career. He seemed to have great relationships and, most importantly, he wanted to start right away. There was one small wrinkle, which was that he’d recently moved from a job at a literary agency to one at a studio, but that really shouldn’t be a problem since the two positions were at least complimentary if not actually symbiotic. We shook hands, drank a toast, agreed to talk the next day.
And then, nothing.
I sent what I thought was an appropriately enthusiastic email reiterating how excited I was about all the fun trouble I expected he and I would be getting into very soon. No response. A day went by. I tried to convince myself the silence was no big deal, but I had a feeling. A second day. Then the email arrived. It said, very politely, that in the time between our meeting and now, a deal he really didn’t think was going to happen, happened. Over night, my new manager had become the executive in charge of production on a movie that was starting immediately, which, unfortunately, meant he would not be able to take me on as a client.
He went out of his way to say the decision was in no way a reflection of his opinion of my work, which I appreciated. Still, my heart sank. Clearly a victim of circumstance, I felt a little sorry for myself. But, I truly was and continue to be happy for him. Much as I might like it if it was, it’s not his (or any manager’s) job to make my dreams come true. He is busy pursuing his own. I honestly hope he is wildly successful and our paths will cross again some day. In the meantime, I am grateful to him for wanting me in the first place. It gives me confidence that someone else might also want me somewhere down the road. The fact that I feel this way is itself a sign of progress.
Normally, I am a person who can suss the smallest shred of criticism out of even the sincerest compliment, but instinct tells me now is a time to cling to encouragement rather than search for rejection as a matter of sheer survival. Leaning into a tiny glimmer of hope is not quite as hard as I imagined it would be, now that my life depends on it.
As I describe it, my experience with the Thirty Six Hour Manager feels more and more like a rite of passage. It was a little painful, but it gave me something valuable – my first real war story. It also helped me gain perspective. Seeing a person who is much more established in the business than I am reach for his next step reminded me, I am not the only person making The Big Leap. Everybody here is leaping in one way or another. And they do it every day.