For anyone serious about making it as screenwriter, there’s the inevitable question about whether you need to move to Los Angeles in order to really have a chance at any surmountable success. This life changing decision can be as terrifying as it can be thrilling, so I decided to get some advice on the subject from up and coming TV writer Keith Storrier, who lives in the UK but has recently returned from La La Land after a flurry of positive meetings with execs. Here, he talks about why writers need to move, what to expect in meetings, how he found an agent and more.
Lee Hamilton: In this digital age, does a writer really have the same need to move to LA?
Keith Storrier: I think if you have the opportunity to move there then you should. Purely for the fact it’ll put you in a geographical position where you can attend the many, many meetings you’re going to need to attend with an hour’s notice. If you don’t want to move there but are writing spec TV pilots aimed at an American market then you’re going to have to get over it. Even if your script is good enough to attract attention of producers and studios then the chances of it being bought and developed are still pretty slim. What’s slightly more likely (but still a long shot) is that they’ll like your writing rather than your script and you’ll be hired as a staff writer on some existing project. In this case it’ll have a writers room and you WILL have to be there. The chances of you writing something from your non-LA home and emailing in drafts are next to nil.
LH: So basically, if you want to write for an American market, you need to be living in America.
KS: I think so. Especially if you want to work in TV. If someone had bought my pilot script and wanted to develop the series then, as lead/sole writer, I MIGHT have been able to do that from the UK but I think even then it would have been expected of me to move to LA. Quite simply it makes the development process easier. People prefer a face-to-face meeting rather than a call or a Skype. Of course you’ll only get these meetings if you have an agent so I wouldn’t move there if I didn’t have one.
LH: You now have an American agent as well as one in the UK, but can you tell us how you first secured an agent?
KS: The Script Angel website had a list of agents which accepted spec submissions. It’s old and I’m not sure she updates it any more. So I went through the list checking all the company websites to see which ones were still accepting spec submissions. Of those, I whittled them down to which ones accepted email submission in the first instance (I’d approach the snail mail submissions if and when I needed to). That left me with six agencies to start with. I emailed them as per their submission guidelines. One got back immediately saying they weren’t looking, four never bothered to reply (which is annoying but pretty standard) and one got back to me having read and liked my sample and asking for more of my stuff. That’s my agent now.
LH: Is having two agents enough or are you considering also finding a manager as well?
KS: In America, agents really only deal with the paperwork. They’re not creatives. They’ll have some idea as to markets and trends but don’t send them a draft of a script and expect detailed notes. That’s what managers do. Overall, do you need a manager? No. Do they help? Probably.
LH: Regarding the meetings you recently had in LA, what can writers expect to be asked?
KS: “Tell me about yourself”, “How did you get into writing?”, “How did you come up with the idea for this script?”, “What kind of stuff are you watching at the moment?”, “What are you writing at the moment?” Sometimes the person will be feeling you out as a writer too. “Do you like westerns because we’ve bought the rights to such and such.”
LH: How was/is it possible to make a meeting memorable if they were all much of the same?
KS: Some meetings I felt I clicked with the person more than others. Actually there were three meetings where I left thinking “Shit. I’d really like to work with them”. The rest were pretty perfunctory. It’s difficult to gauge the Americans because they’re so damned polite and enthusiastic. But you learn pretty quickly when they’re just blowing smoke up your ass. Having a great script is one thing. Getting it into the hands of someone who also thinks it’s a great script – great enough that they want to champion it is another.
LH: You’ve written a few short films that have been produced, was this an advantage when talking to US execs and were they also looking for you to have UK TV credits too?
KS: Even if I had say a couple of episodes of Casualty under my belt that would have made NO difference to my meetings in the US. It’s all about your current script. I wouldn’t say the shorts I wrote have garnered any direct interest. They demonstrated to my agent that I had written stuff that someone else liked enough to fund and make. Agents like that. They like to know you’re making your own headway. Certainly at this stage in my “career” my shorts mean nothing. But I do think they’re an excellent way of testing the water with your writing.
LH: When are you planning to return to LA and what one thing would need to happen to instigate a permanent move there?
KS: I might go over to LA once a year but only if I have something new to hawk. I’m not going to pack up and move on spec. I’m too old to work in Starbucks while writing in my spare time. I’d only move to LA if I had something concrete to move to, either a staff job or my own script being developed. I mentioned this to a manager who’s interested in representing me and she agreed that this was the right idea.
The decision to up and move, whether it’s to the other side of the world, a new country or a new state, will always be a difficult one. Take Keith’s advice and wait until you’ve done all the groundwork you possibly can. Secure an agent first (if you haven’t already, check out our free Definitive Guide to Agents & Managers in the US & UK available to newsletter subscribers), build your portfolio, and make connections in the US before you go in order to place yourself in a position to step right into meetings and hopefully much more.
Keith is currently represented by Ed Hughes at Linda Seifert Management in the UK and Verve Talent and Literary Agency in the US. You can also find more information about Keith, read his blog, check out his portfolio and find contact details at http://www.keithstorrier.com or follow him on twitter @keithstorrier