If you’re a working screenwriter, chances are you probably live in Hollywood or in the immediate vicinity of the hustle and bustle of the industry. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you probably think that you have to move to L.A. in order to have a lucrative career in the biz… and that’s kind of true. It’s doable, but with some caveats. For screenwriters Cindy McCreery, Anne Rapp, and Chris Sparling, they have managed to live outside of the confines of the La La Land bubble and have a successful life as a screenwriter.
The trio of writers spoke at a panel at the Austin Film Festival about their experiences working for Hollywood without actually being in Hollywood.
McCreery has sold feature projects to New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures. She also wrote Free Willy: Escape From Pirate’s Cove and for the Syfy adaptation of Stephen King’s Haven. TNT recently nabbed her one hour drama pilot Parker based on the Richard Stark/Donald Westlake Novels and most recently, she and her TV-writing partner, Scott Shepherd were hired to adapt his book, The Seventh Day — and she lives in Austin.
McCreery, who is a Southern California native, moved to Austin when the University of Texas offered her a position as a professor. But she still has a special place in her heart for the West Coast. “I miss the weather…but I love the tacos here,” she laughs.
But it’s not like McCreery didn’t spend time honing her skills in Los Angeles. She landed the Disney/ABC Feature Writing Fellowship and that was an entry point for her career, but then she began to question her presence in Hollywood and whether or not it was necessary to be there.
“When I was there, I was always hustling I wasn’t spending time writing,” she says. Everyone is always talking about the business — and I realized I didn’t have to be there all the time.
McCreery said that she liked being in a world outside of the industry and that the work comes better and easier if you’re not grappling all the time.
Like McCreery, Rapp loves L.A., but her story is different. She has 15 years of experience under her belt and has worked on over 60 films as a writer and/or script supervisor. From Tender Mercies<?em> to the most recent HBO adaptation of Westworld, she continues to work. She spent a good amount of time in L.A. and wrote Cookie’s Fortune and Dr. T and the Women, which were directed by the iconic Robert Altman — which proved to be a pivotal point in her life.
“The minute my contract with Altman was over, my soul did not want to be in L.A.,” says Rapp, who now works from Texas as well. “I needed to hear the voices from my home. I wanted to be in my universe — what made me want to be a writer. The kind of stories I want to tell are here.”
And then there’s Sparling who wrote Buried, whicn won the National Board of Review winner for best original screenplay in 2010. His script for ATM landed on the Black List and was released by IFC fIlms in 2012 and he made his directorial debut with the supernatural thriller The Atticus Institute. More recently he wrote and produced The Sea of Trees directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts. And he did most of this from Rhode Island.
He, like McCreery and Rapp, had an entry point. He moved from Providence to L.A. to pursue acting and arrived the day before 9/11. He came up empty handed and moved back to Rhode Island. His creative juices started to flow. Inspired by Good Will Hunting, he decided to write something for himself to act in. That was when An Uzi at the Alamo was born — a film he jokingly would like everyone to forget.
But all of this paid off for Sparling. He began to grow as a writer and it led to Buried and his other jobs including the upcoming adaptation of Down a Dark Hall.
It’s not to say that he doesn’t spend time or take Skype calls with industry folks in L.A. (he told a wonderful story of a video conference call that was interrupted by his cat vomiting in the corner). But like McCreery, Sparling finds it hard for him to write when in Hollywood. He says that when he’s there it’s “wall-to-wall meetings.”
He jokes, “I get more writing done on the plane then when I’m in L.A.”
Even though all three of them had an entry point into the industry before they went off to live elsewhere, they still encourage screenwriters to move to L.A. — if they can and if they want to. From there, they can make connections and build a foundation to be able to work in a place that best suits them.
“There are more opportunities in cities in L.A. and New York,” says Sparling. “Go to where your best writing is and where you should be. I can’t really tell you not move to L.A. It depends on the individual. Not being where the industry is doing yourself a disservice to yourself.”
“If you’re young and have the financial resources, go to L.A. and learn the landscape,” adds McCreery. “It’s good to learn about the business and understand the jobs. You don’t have to start out there, but it doesn’t hurt.”
Rapp chimes in, “You have to have L.A. connections — you aren’t going to get to the next step without any connections.”
But the best piece of advice Rapp has for people who want to move to L.A. to jump start your screenwriting is: “Don’t go there without any kind of job.”
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer