Which Way to Hollywood? Career Guidance

Without a clear vision, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost.  When you have one or two scripts, things are pretty clear – get someone to read them and hopefully get work or sell one.  But after you’ve been writing for a while and your portfolio fills up with features, pilots, comedies, dramas, procedurals, etc., you start to wonder which way to go.  Should you get a manager, agent, producer?  Maybe make your own low-budget film, web series, or short?  Apply for funding?  Submit to contests, festivals, writing programs?  The list of options becomes exhausting.

There is no right way to get into the business, although many people will try to tell you otherwise, but you have to figure out which is the right way for you and that can be a daunting task. Whether you have some success or you’ve spent too much time writing and not enough time marketing, you’ll need to figure out which project has the best shot at getting you in the door.  If you’re anything like me, you hate to abandon all your other projects simply to focus on one or two…or three.

There’s nothing wrong with pitching several projects at once, but it can leave you mentally scattered.  It’s difficult to keep track of who you sent what so you should keep records.  Ideally, you pitch your strongest projects that fit the current market.  If you have a vampire movie you wrote five years ago, you should be pitching that unless it’s identical to Twilight.  If you have a western, shelve it unless it’s to be used as a writing sample.  Sometimes the timing is off for a certain genre or subject.  When the economy crashed, there were a slew of pilots all about losing all your money.  Imagine how many more pilot scripts there were!  That’s just how fast people in Hollywood work.  If your work isn’t fresh and up-to-date, you could be left behind.  And yet, when you’re starting out, you can’t afford to be writing new stuff all the time, you have to spend some time marketing.  Where to start?

The Agent

Getting an agent seems like the grand solution to all our problems.  Once we’re signed, they’ll get us work, meetings, sell our stuff for us and suddenly we’re working or rich.  YAY!  Nope.  Doesn’t work like that.  If you’re a new writer with no credits and a solid project, expect to find your own work and have your agent manage the paperwork and negotiations.  Agents have a roster of working clients and the amount of time they spend developing a new writer in comparison to the money they’ll make is so much higher than an existing client who simply hops from job to job.  Sounds like getting an agent is pointless for new writers, doesn’t it?  It kind of is.  You have to find the right fit and an agent has to fit your career at the right time.  It’s almost best to get an agent when you have a deal on the table and need their help.  Then you’re in a bargaining position to pick and choose the one who’s right for you or decide to hire an entertainment lawyer instead.  Many Hollywood writers go for years without having an agent.

The Manager

I’ve never had a manager so I can’t really say too much about it, but similar to an agent, they’re supposed to find you work in exchange for a percentage of what you make.  Apparently a manager is best to get in the early stages of your career before you get an agent, but everyone is different.  Make sure your manager knows what you’re about and how to sell you, but also what your career goals are and be sure he can fulfill them.  A bad manager or agent is worse than none at all.  This person represents your career and this is the professional image you put out to the industry, make sure it’s a good one.  Even with a manager, as with an agent, you’ll probably have to make most of your connections yourself.  It’s certainly helpful to have their name attached to yours; it helps open doors, but you’ll still be doing the work to get meetings.

Industry Pros

So many industry professionals advise not to go to these so-called ‘career consultants’ because they charge the earth and cannot guarantee (or produce) any results.  But who are you supposed to go to when you need advice?  These same people even bash courses and books on screenwriting as an effective method of learning!  How the hell else are you supposed to learn about the craft?  You can learn by studying shows, yes, but when it comes to knowing specifically what to do to improve your own work, you need someone with more experience to tell you.

If you don’t live in L.A. or Toronto or London or New York, or you don’t know anyone else in film or TV, how are you supposed to ask someone for help?  Yes, there’s the Internet, but if you’re an unproduced writer looking for help, it’s very difficult to find a working writer willing to give you advice.  I know, I’ve tried.  Even the very same writers who told me to go to local working writers for help ignored my request.  They won’t read your work or give you feedback to tell you what needs improvement, not because they’re mean, but because they don’t have time.  If they read your work, they’ll have to read someone else’s and their biggest dread is that it sucks and they have to tell you that.

So WTF do you do?

You’re on your own, kid.  This is both true and not true.  There is a solution.  Check back tomorrow for more.