Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is There Life for a Screenwriter Outside of L.A.?

According to Lisa Walker England, a screenwriter living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there is.

“I have sold a short that is set to go into production this summer,” says England. “In addition, I have just been offered a job, developing and writing a full-length feature for an independent production company in Los Angeles. (I was offered the gig based on sample pages from my spec scripts.) It’s still early in the contract negotiation process, so I can’t say more about the project at this time. I am working on finishing several other specs and have a children’s book under official consideration at a respected publishing house.”

So why not just move to LA?

England lists the cost of living as one of the reasons she stays put in Milwaukee.

But there is another great thing about her unpaid internship at the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Huh, say that again?

“When I arrived on the first day, I found out that my new boss was a board member of Film Wisconsin, the equivalent of the state film commission. Cha-ching! Not long afterward, he ‘loaned’ me to an Emmy-winning writer/director, who, in turn, invited me to collaborate with him on several professional projects. I can’t describe for you the opportunities that are opening up because of that partnership – all because of an internship outside LA that people told me was a ‘waste of time.’ If I were a young writer in LA, I’m convinced my knuckles would be bloody by now from all the locked doors I’d be banging on, just trying to slide my resume or script sample inside."

Less competition outside of LA

England also cites less competition as one of the reasons she enjoys living outside of LA.

“Why live in a town where you’re just one of nine million other hungry people, all at the same skill level as you, all competing for the same tiny pool of gigs? Why not live in a town where the scarcity of your kind breeds some demand? The challenge is: you have to develop the creativity, innovation and foresight that can turn your small fish pond into that stepping-stone opportunity.”

Fresh, original content

Tired of only seeing movies and TV programs about LA? So is Lisa Walker England.

“I cannot believe how many movies are shot in L.A., about L.A.,” says England. “I mean, really? The world is full of fascinating places with fascinating stories! I’ve been told repeatedly by LA-based writers that LA is starved for fresh, different content set in unique locations. I’ve found that advice to be so true. If you’re not in LA, use your location to your advantage! Cultivate an artistic voice, characters and situations that will get noticed in LA precisely because they’re not about LA. I personally think it’s harder to maintain originality if you’re surrounded by the often-myopic Southern California culture. Even if you try, it’s just hard to maintain a really strong grip on other places in the world.

"This does not mean I won’t move to LA at some point; it just means that I’m actively discovering and leveraging the advantages of not currently being there. And that’s my whole message: don’t allow conventional wisdom about your circumstances to sabotage your career.

"There is life outside LA! If you, like me, live far outside the City of the Angels, get busy discovering the resources that are at your disposal – and figure out how you can leverage those resources as strengths to bolster your LA pursuits."

Finally, how does one stay connected with other screenwriters?

Says England: "I stay active in many different organizations – screenwriters’ associations in LA and in my home area, social networking via LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook, meeting other writers in the area face-to-face. In short, as everything else I’ve said, it takes WORK (and probably extra work). But especially with the social media platforms we have today, if you don’t stay connected and meet new writers, it’s your own fault. Honestly.

"You’ll also need to be willing and able to invest money in periodic trips to Los Angeles for conferences, networking, pitching, etc. And you must develop a strategic plan for keeping up those relationships via social media after you leave town. Time and time again, I find that these relationships – the one’s I’ve built successfully from afar after a single face-to-face encounter – are the ones that yield valuable opportunities and wisdom.

"I’ll admit that I’ve had an added advantage in that I’m an alum of the 2010 writing program at Act One: Hollywood Above the Line (http://www.actoneprogram.com/). It’s an intensive program that allows a select group of young writers to learn the craft from Hollywood insiders and then participate in an ongoing mentoring program with working Industry writers. The Act One community of faculty, alums and staff are a huge source of connections, opportunities and professional growth for me.

Get in touch!

Says England: "I’d love to get to know your readers! If you’re intrigued by this approach (or disturbed!) or want to share your own story, feel free! Shout out to me at JourneyCraft via social media: LinkedIn, Twitter @JourneyCraft or my website: Journeycraft.tv. In fact, as a thank-you for contacting me, I’ll send you a free brochure I’ve developed, packed with tips for maximizing your opportunities outside the LA market."

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