6 Ways Breaking into Hollywood Is A Total Nightmare

I moved to Los Angeles from Indiana roughly five years ago. I sold pretty much everything I owned, buckled my overalls, hopped on my tractor, popped a stalk of switchgrass in my mouth, and made my way out to the Big City, where organic grass-based smoothies flowed like water and the streets were paved with actual pavement. I had one goal: to become a staffed TV writer.

 And I’m still waiting, because while a lot of the things people believe about the film industry are untrue, the common belief of it being difficult to break in as a writer is shockingly, heartbreakingly, pants-shittingly accurate. So if you’ve ever wondered why so many writers are alcoholics, read on! 


There’s No Codified Way to Break In

Before we really get into this, allow me a quick caveat: everything I’m writing here is based on my personal experience. If you disagree, instead of contacting me to inform me of your Very Important Opinion, consider doing something more useful like eating a handful of toenail clippings or drinking the fluid from neighborhood hummingbird feeders to theoretically increase your speed. 

I’m glad we cleared that up. Anyway, a question I get asked a lot is “how do you become a professional screenwriter?”, the answer to which is “if you find out, please tell me — I am very hungry and cold also.” Unlike most industries, there’s no single codified path to breaking in. There’s not a clear ladder to climb. You don’t put together a resume, address it to Movies, and hope you get hired as a junior writer and get promoted over a period of several years. Like with pretty much every job ever, you get hired because of your connections. You don’t, as my grandmother once advised me, “ask Pat Sajak for help” because he “seems like a nice man.” 

He is not.

Breaking in to screenwriting is like playing Monopoly in that nobody actually knows how to do it and it destroys families and ruins friendships. There are thousands of ways people have broken in, but the “traditional” way of becoming a staffed TV writer is to become an office PA in a writer’s room, then be promoted to a writer’s assistant, and then eventually become a staff writer, give or take a few steps. The thing is, though, that even becoming an office PA for a writer’s room is extremely cutthroat, and even if you do get in, you’ll be making terrible money — which is a serious problem in LA, where rent is the GDP of most island nations.

So many of the people who can afford to go on this path are people who made connections by going to college in Southern California and have some way to subsidize living in LA for a few years until they’re making an actual salary — which usually means coming from wealth. But even if you meet all these criteria, there’s no guarantee you’ll become a staff writer. What if your show gets cancelled? Well, then there’s a good chance you’ll have to start all over again from the bottom. Hope you didn’t want to own property by the time you’re forty! This is why many writers try alternate methods to break in, such as querying managers hoping they’ll be able to get staffed or have their script sold that way.

This is also why people have done some crazy things to break in, like paying for a billboard to advertise their script: 

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