I got this email today:
You are one of the rare few to have both a successful television career and an accessible email address. I am an almost out of high school eighteen-year-old to pursue a career in TV.
Next year, I will enroll in the screenwriting program at either USC or NYU. I’ve gotten tons of advice from guidance counselors, family members — even a chatty, slightly overzealous cab driver. I wanted to ascertain whether you believe one school has a significant advantage over the other. I’m inclined to stay on the east coast for a few years before I make the move to LA, for what I assume will be the majority of my working life. And I tell myself that a solid spec and good people skills are what really matter. But then I read those oh-so-persuasive articles about the SoCal-educated Josh Schwartz wunderkinds of TV. The ones who sell scripts right out of college, and are helming their own shows before they can get rental cars. And it seems they always throw in a “thanks to those Trojans!” shout out. So, If you can offer any advice, I’d really appreciate it. That cabbie made a damn good U-turn, but I’m not sure he knew a ton about scripted television.
Here’s how I replied:
If you want to pursue a career in TV writing & producing, you should go to USC… but not because their screenwriting program is any better than the one at NYU. It’s about proximity. Even though lots of shows are filmed in NY, the TV business is in LA. If you want to be in this business, you’ve got to be here. Simple as that.
Here’s why: your diploma isn’t going to get you any work. A diploma, in the TV writing biz, means nothing. What counts? Talent, skill, personality and luck….but even that isn’t enough. You also need connections and
opportunities, both of which are more likely to come your way here…where the TV industry is based.
That’s why I went to UCLA rather than other schools. But most of what I learned wasn’t in the classroom. For one thing, I didn’t study screenwriting… I got an equally useless degree in Communications, so I could get a job in P.R. or advertising or reporting if I failed as a writer.
The real classroom, for me, was L.A. itself. Because the people who write, produce, and buy TV shows are here, you
have many more chances to hear from them and meet them and learn from
them. TV writers and producers are speaking at seminars all over town. So are network and studio execs. Not a week goes by where some experienced writer/producer isn’t sharing the secrets of his craft to the public somewhere in the city. There are regular seminars all the time at places like UCLA, WGA, ATAS, USC, The Museum of Broadcasting, AFI, even the local Barnes & Noble (where they often have Screenwriting groups that meet and invite guests… I know, becuase I’ve spoken to a few of them). These programs are either free or cheaper than a bargain matinee.
Equally important are the people you meet in the audience at these seminars…many of whom have the same aspirations as you. Odds are you’ll make some friends… some of whom are likely to become writer/producers or agents or industry execs some day…and will form your inner circle of connections in the biz. It happened to me that way. A lot of the people I work with today are people I sat with at Museum of Broadcasting seminars or in line for tapings of TAXI and SOAP (Oh God, I’m dating myself!)
The Industry, and valuable information about it, also permeate the media
here. There are weekly programs and regular commentaries about the Industry
on our local NPR stations. Industry news and interviews with writers also get much bigger play in
the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine and other local
media than anywhere else in the country. Why? Because, as I may
have mentioned six or seven times already, the TV industry is here…in L.A, not NY.
So my advice? Buy a copy of SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING at your local bookstore, get a subscription to DAILY VARIETY, and start looking for student housing at USC.