An English Writer In Los Angeles!

Well, my trip is over, and it’s time to share the results of my experiences! What’s it really like to be a British writer on your first trip to LA? Here are a few thoughts…

LA is probably an easier town to live in than to visit. What I mean by that is: if you live here, then unless you suddenly produce the hottest spec in town, you’re probably only taking a couple of meetings a week. But if you’re visiting, you’re trying to pack in as many as possible, and that’s going to give you an inaccurate view of how hard it is to get around and how stressful the general atmosphere of the city is.

So bear in mind that what you’re experiencing isn’t necessarily how things are for everyone else. Don’t try to pack in too much unnecessary stuff like sightseeing – enjoy your trip, sure, but remember there’ll be plenty of time to see the sights when you’re a famous writer living in the Hollywood Hills!

LA does have public transport (though people will look shocked if you tell them you’re using it!) It’s even cheap – twenty dollars for a weekly pass on the basic bus network and the Metro (excluding some local or express services). What it will cost you is time. You can get anywhere, including the big studio lots in Burbank and elsewhere, by bus – the question is, will you have enough time between meetings? Basically, if you’re not driving, you’re going to need to use cabs to keep to your schedule, so carry several cab numbers and plenty of cash.

If you are driving, you have the advantage, but even so, time will be against you. Freeway congestion seems to spring up at random, and the speed limit on major routes through town can be as low as 25 mph. Plan meticulously!

The meeting culture is a little different to the UK. Over here, where the TV industry is scattered round the country and writers often live some distance from London, meetings are confirmed at least a week beforehand. In LA, where writers live in and around the city and execs’ schedules are constantly in flux, meetings are only arranged a few days in advance, confirmed the day before, and changes of time on the day are entirely possible. If you’re used to having everything set in stone a week beforehand, that’s disconcerting at first, but you’ll soon settle into it.

Everyone does everything. The traditional barriers between film and television are breaking down, and every company wants to generate all kinds of content. We’re seeing some of that in the UK, but as you’d expect, LA is way ahead of the curve on this. Be prepared to pitch any project at any meeting. And also have a few books, short stories etc that you’d be interested in adapting. Everyone loves pre-existing material!

Prepare for anything. You’ll need sun screen, decent sunglasses, lip balm and a good moisturiser, as well as a plentiful supply of bottled water. But LA is a desert city, and nights are chilly, especially this time of year. If your meeting is in Santa Monica or Venice, remember that ocean breeze and take an extra layer (especially if you don’t have a warm car to get back into).

If by some miracle you get to the vicinity of your meeting early, and decide to get out of the heat, you’re going to have to go further to find a coffee shop than you would in London. It’s not uncommon for several blocks of LA to be offices or housing, with no shops or cafes, especially off the main routes. It’s worth keeping an eye out for somewhere as you approach the building, so you have a place to circle back to. Again, it’s all about the planning!

And lastly – and mostly importantly to a British writer – yes, you really can get a decent cup of tea in LA!

Grown-Ups Don’t Play Little League

So, a well-known screenwriter blogger (you know who I mean) has announced his intention to parlay his access to unknown writers into a producing career. Despite admitting freely that he isn’t sure what a producer actually does. Well, I guess honesty is always good…

And so the online discussion begins. People criticise him, he critises them… Should you take on a job you don’t know how to do? Does someone who openly says that his role will be to take a script and get it to a more experienced Hollywood producer actually merit the label of ‘producer’?  (Sounds more like a manager to me. Okay, I agree, that’s not exactly what a manager does, but if you have to fix a label to this, ‘manager’ fits a little better than ‘producer’…)

Here’s what I think.

For all I know, this blogger will turn out to be the greatest producer of all time. Could happen. But –

A producer is the person has the expertise, the contacts, the skills, and the access to money that will get this particular project made. In and of themselves. They may decide to team up with other people who have access to something –  additional money, a director, an actor –  that they want, but if push came to shove they could pull together the money, get a different director and cast, and get the movie made, all by themselves.

Of course, that suggests there are different levels of producer for different levels of project. If you’ve written a ten-minute short, that girl you were at college with, or that guy who was a production runner on a TV show, may well have the money, skills and experience to get it made. So sure, go with them as your producer. However, if you’ve written a two-hour FX-laden sci-fi epic…?  Maybe not.

Because writing a screenplay is hard work. In a world where small children break rocks in the hot sun all day and don’t make enough money to eat, it seems kind of self-obsessed to say sitting at a desk is hard work, but – you poured your energy, time and creative energies into that script. You made it the very best you could – and you want it to actually get made, and be made to a decent standard. You don’t want it to turn out the equivalent of the local panto, or worse, vanish into contractual limbo and never be seen again. Because this isn’t just one script, this is your reputation, and mud sticks.

It’s hard to get your script made. And you know what? It should be hard. That’s what keeps out all the crap. (Well, most of it.) So when someone comes along and offers you an easy shortcut to fame and riches if you entrust them with your work, it’s tempting to take it. But think very carefully before you do, because not everyone who can talk the talk can walk the walk.