So lockdown changed a lot of things, and in the long run one of the most important will be our relationship to the places we work.
Tracking the news carefully, I was quick to respond to what was coming. I stopped booking upcoming meetings in LA, and as soon as I wasn’t allowed to go to work there, I released my London apartment too. I’ve since heard about family friends who had to wait 6 months in the UK to return to Sydney, and had to pay a high premium to be able to get there, only to spend another 2 weeks in quarantine, like all arrivals there. I had guessed that kind of thing was right round the corner, and got out just in time.
And you know what? Since meetings and workplaces have been so curtailed around the world, and everyone has had to find ways to make business viable – it’s worked out just fine so far. Which makes a question – what if we all started moving away from our industry clusters, to wherever we can do our jobs fully with the highest quality of life? Or even – to where we can add the most social value?
Because there might actually be important opportunities here, to build a hub for youth training into the industry – something we’ve always provided at WriteMovies through our internships and traineeships – and to do our part to solve the jobs crisis that has resulted from the economic slowdown under COVID-19.
One point before I start. It’s great for those who have secure jobs that enable them to work from home without fear of being cut out. And if your job or career are the kind of thing you have to do in person, using practical skills, then this can’t work for you. But for those who can, and choose to, the Work From Home (WFH) era can improve everybody’s issues with overcrowding, traffic, pollution, etc – freeing up space and resources for the people who really need to be in the busy places.
As Dallas-based screenwriter Larry Postel wrote for Script Magazine, a lot of screenwriters debate whether they should move to L.A. to pursue their career. That definitely used to be important in the past, but the digital landscape has changed all that. You don’t need to be close to the action when you can reach everyone you need through Zoom! Every producer can be contacted and talked to face-to-face without even needing to leave your own house.
But what about agents and managers? He notes that while many (although not all) do prefer to represent L.A. based writers, the internet has also made it easier to circumvent them and take scripts straight to producers. Using IMDb Pro, for example, it’s possible to find contact details for industry execs and approach them directly. The roles of agent and manager definitely aren’t redundant yet – they can open more doors than anyone else, especially at the very top of the industry – but again, technology has changed how our workplaces work.
And of course, it’s also arguable there are significant financial advantages to the Work From Home model. Rising rents and a lack of part-time jobs due to COVID-19 – which a lot of screenwriters (actors) take to help support themselves – mean that living in L.A. isn’t going to be financially viable for a lot of people.
What all this means is that there’s more potential than ever for a better work-life balance. Reduced commute times, lower rents, opportunities to work in other support jobs – the options start to open up more and more!
And it could also be of benefit to your writing as well. It’s easy to get sucked into group-thinking if you live in the same place as everyone else; everybody ends up thinking, speaking, and writing the same way. Being based elsewhere gives you a different outlook on life, a unique voice, and access to the kinds of stories they might never see. If you can harness that, you start to stand out from the crowd. Talking to the producers on his movies, Postel found that they tend to agree with this point and it can be a major advantage.
Another important point is that the writers room – the room where so many important decisions are made and TV shows are created – no longer needs to be a literal room. Speaking to the Guardian, the writer and executive producer of THE X-FILES, Frank Spotnitz, discusses how Zoom “has proved to be a priceless resource to anxious showrunners”, and how this shift to a virtual format is likely to be beneficial in the long term to writers who don’t live in industry hubs. They’re no longer locked out of the process – they can participate no matter where they’re from.
This is vitally important because not only are writers rooms a great space for working through problems quickly, rather than trying to figure them all out yourself, they serve another purpose. Tara Bennett, writer of the book “Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show“, states that: “When they work right… writers’ rooms are training writers to go up the writing/producing ladder.”
So ultimately, the shift to Work From Home could also be a positive one for writers in terms of career development. It makes it easier to be in the (virtual) room where it happens, giving you more chances to get paid and to take steps up the career ladder.
The negative impacts of the pandemic shouldn’t be overlooked, but there’s no doubt that there are new opportunities opening up for screenwriters as well. We’ve seen that business can still carry on even when people can’t meet in person – and that means, for writers who don’t live in L.A., London, or other major centers of the film industry, technology has made everything much more accessible.