“I’m fed up with London this week… It does nothing for me anymore.”
David Hemmings in Blow Up.
In America, there’s an on-going debate for screenwriters whether they should stay where they are (in US suburbia) or head for the sunnier climbs of Los Angeles, cinema’s epicentre. There’s certainly a lot of practical logic with the idea that if you want to be part of something then you should be there to participate, and moving to LA to duck and dive within the system is a must for those young, old, brave, lucky and desperate enough to succeed.
Fortunately, because screenwriters can make a living without ostensibly having to deal with another human being, there is an argument about whether you have to be in the physical locality of LA at all. However, while most execs, agents and production companies will be after a good script no matter where it’s written or where the writer hails from, there can be no denying that if you’re not part of the scene, it’s unlikely that you’ll be given the respect and credibility that you would prefer. In a world where the swift efficiency of a “meet and greet” is king, there’s little substitute for face-to-face networking and familiarity.
Here in the UK the question is: ‘do I need to move to London to establish and advance my career?’ The answer: preferably yes, not catastrophic if no. Why? Because the UK is a very small place compared to the grand expanse of America. If you live in the Scottish Highlands and manage to snag a producer’s interest in London, and he invites you for a meeting, the worst you’re looking at is a six hour train journey to England’s capital. Bosh, done. And of course, the advent of broadband and everyone’s over-reliance on email means that ongoing communication can be maintained at an agreeable level.
For television, it’s a completely different picture because various regions and broadcasters have plenty of exciting production and activity. In London itself, most of the film world is controlled in Soho and its immediate vicinity. It’s a small community, incestuous and parochial, and nepotism and favouritism flourishes with the ease of an email. If you live outside of this world, then you’re not part of it, and you’re not being spoken about, and you’re not being known, and you’re not being mentioned. Your script may land in their in-box but you’re just another wannabe or just another reject until they can put a face to the name.
This sounds like a harsh reality but it has different shades of truth to it. Yes, it’s better to schmooze in London and to be known within the industry than it is if you’re just a graduate from Leicester with no real contacts. But access to London is easy and fairly reliable so if you’ve really got a great script, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.
When I first arrived in the capital, it was a fun and exciting time, and within six months of media temping, I got my break at Channel 4. This could not and would not have happened in Dublin where I was previously residing. My work there had come to a standstill and I was barely making enough money to pay the rent, hence my move to London to give it a shot. And within a very short period of time, I had settled in nicely with an exciting job and equally interesting prospects down the line.
That’s what being and living in London gets you. Opportunity. It’s certainly granted me the chance to live and learn, and to apply that knowledge to advance my goals. Ironically, after eleven years of living in London, I’ve just moved to the south coast, near Bournemouth.
In my effort and focus to be a screenwriter over the last six/seven years, I inevitably didn’t have much reason or desire to be in the centre of town. Script reading helped to maintain contact with those in the know while the odd social occasion was also useful for showing my face. This line of socialising meant I was in London once or twice a week (unless you have lots of money, you’re probably living in Zone 4 or more, an hour’s commute each way).
But I grew weary of the tube and the trains, of the crowds, of the over-priced beer, of the dirt. So I’ve moved two hours away from the city as it provides me with easy access to continue my once/twice weekly jaunts whilst also enjoying the invigorating lifestyle of the coast. I’m far but not too far. I'm maintaining contact and shaking hands with the right people whilst also letting the growing strength of my work do most of the talking. But it’s important to continually make new contacts because you never know where opportunity will strike…