After a tough day of classes, you’re sprawled out on the couch watching television. In a flash of inspiration, you suddenly realize that you hate your chemistry classes and would rather be a writer on a television show. You think to yourself, “Heck! I could totally write an episode of Heroes that is way better than this one.”
So you sit down at your laptop, fingers poised delicately over the keys, ready to become famous. But how can you actually make it happen?
“I think to be a writer, you have to write,” says Michael Baser, head of the writing for television and film program at the Vancouver Film School.
“To be a director or an actor, you have to be hired to give yourself validation. You can’t be up in your room doing Othello at night and say, ‘Ok, I’m an actor.’ But you can be in your room at night and writing a script, then having a script in hand – you are now a writer.”
Once that script is written, though, it needs to go somewhere. Ultimately – and perhaps unsurprisingly – that somewhere is Los Angeles, where who you know will make a big difference.
“The key thing in T.V. and film is that it’s a highly nepotistic business,” says Baser. He says his own career, in which he produced and wrote for shows including Three’s Company and Full House, started because he was talented but also because he knew the right people.
For someone sitting at home in Canada, making those connections might seem impossible. The key, according to Laura Doyle, screenwriting teacher at VFS and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, is getting your foot in the door.
“I started out in Television Production at BCIT learning to produce, shoot and edit. After I graduated, I got myself some jobs as a production assistant on set,” she says. This ultimately led to a job as a script coordinator and the opportunity to co-write an episode of Neon Rider.
From there, Doyle wrote for MTV and CBS, during which she lived – you guessed it – in Los Angeles. Her career blossomed to include music, some of which was featured on Dawson’s Creek.
What’s important for young writers to remember, say both Baser and Doyle, is the idea of being prolific – to keep writing, and if possible, producing lots of your own original content. The Internet can provide a perfect showcase for your blossoming genius.
“With digital technology young writers can actually toss on a producer’s hat and get their work made,” says Doyle. “YouTube is an awesome way to get a following and build some buzz about the projects you create.”
However, she says the real key to the business is honing your networking skills by working with others. “Both film and TV are highly collaborative work, so the best thing you can do is to start creating a network of people who work on projects together,” she adds.
Baser agrees. Having an agent will give you credibility upon which to build, but don’t expect them to do all the work for you. “It’s who you know, the relationships you build,” he says . “I would say that in the thirty-five years I’ve been in the business, my agent got me two jobs, and I got myself a hundred.”
The path from the Great White North to L.A. is daunting, but not impossible. For beginners looking to make it big, crafting skills with other writers is paramount to forging social connections that will have people calling down the road.
Before you get on the plane to stardom, you should be ready to work hard and be committed.
“The people I know who are doing what I’ve done gave themselves no other opportunities,” says Baser. “If we’d had something to fall back on, we would have. And we got lucky. But it never occurred to me that I wasn’t going to make it.”