There are very few things that piss me off more than hearing terrible advice that might lead people astray, especially people trying to break into Hollywood. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, there is no one way to break into Hollywood. What works for you may not work for someone else.
That's why I don't usually openly challenge anyone's opinions. But then I was sent a video by a reader. It only has 98 views so far, so I hesitate even to bring it up, but I guess that's how mad I got when I watched it.
I found the "advice" in it to be dangerous, misguided, and antithetical to fostering new voices in Hollywood.
The video is by someone calling themselves Jayson X. You can check it out below. It's over 15 minutes long. And it's brutal.
We Watched a Video Full of Terrible Advice, So Now We Have to Correct It
In that video, he encourages people to come to Los Angeles, live as an unhoused person—which includes begging for food and staying on the streets and in hostels/shelters—and then do their best to perfect their craft while accepting that living on the streets in danger is a litmus test for if you can really make it here, or if you even really want it.
I am here to tell you, that is such bullshit I'm taking time out of my day to debunk it.
Everything about this is wrong and sounds so smug coming from a guy standing barefoot in his palatial living room. Bet he's not volunteering to let you stay with him for a week or shower at his place!
You absolutely do not need to come to Los Angeles as a homeless person and beg for your shot to make it. That's not the way these things work. Even if you're broke.
How to Break into Hollywood as a Broke Person
Let's formulate the scenario he gives us in the video. You're in your early 20s and you have no money. You're desperate to come to Los Angeles and pursue your dream. In his scenario, the person is bringing three screenplays with them, so I am assuming there are writing expectations there.
As someone who moved to Los Angeles when I was broke, right after school, with three screenplays in tow, I think I have a lot to say about this subject.
First, let's address money, which is the most important part of moving to Los Angeles, outside of talent.
'Breaking Bad'Credit: AMC
What If I Only Have $20 to My Name?
When I moved to Los Angeles I had, like, $200. Maybe less. But I knew people out here. I lived on a couch for a month, and during that time, I was able to get a job as a runner for Scott Free, eventually making enough to pay my rent. I moved up to assistant and did that until I sold my first screenplay.
Since that, I've been doing some form of writing to pay the bills ever since.
But I also know I did this with a lot of help. My buddy let me live on his couch for a very small amount of money, which I paid him using the cash I was gifted for graduating from school.
Los Angeles is a prohibitively expensive place. My two-bedroom apartment is $3,000 a month, and it doesn't have air conditioning. Cars, gas, parking, everything adds up. So if you only have $20 in your pocket, don't move to Los Angeles! Especially if you want to be a writer.
You don't have to live here! Especially not right away.
The best thing you can do is get a job in your hometown and save money. This will take the pressure off making it here, and take the danger away from living on the streets. Live with your parents and save on rent, or get a cheap place and keep your overhead low.
Save your money. Use your free time to write. Get a cheap laptop and inexpensive or free screenwriting software.
People write anywhere in the world. I have a buddy who lives on the tip of Long Island and sold a script for a million dollars last year. He just flies to Los Angeles to take meetings once in a while. COVID changed the rules for who has to be here. If you want to work in features, you probably don't have to live in Los Angeles right away, especially when you are starting out.
The benefit of living here is making connections. You get those connections by working your way up as an assistant or going to school here.
If you didn't do either of those things, get involved on social media or find a writing group of people you can meet online. Focus on what you can control, don't force yourself into a place where your back is against the wall and you're hunting for food or begging on the streets to survive.
If you want to be a TV writer on staff, you probably do have to move to Los Angeles. But you still shouldn't come without amazing samples or reps or a job offer. You cannot just be in LA and get staffed. It is a way harder and longer journey. You might work your way up as an assistant again.
Plus, many execs use Zoom now for general meetings, no one would be upset or think it is unprofessional to Zoom with you if you have great work being sent around. You could get staffed, have a secure paycheck coming, and then move. And a few rooms let people Zoom in remotely as well! You just never know.
'Minority Report'Credit: Dreamworks
If you want to be a writer in Hollywood, the most important thing you can do is write great screenplays. The best way to do that is to put aside time for yourself to write a little every day. I do agree you should have more than one screenplay done before you come to Los Angeles, preferably because you become a better writer and really learn how to write a screenplay with every new idea you finish.
Want feedback but don't know anyone impartial or equipped? There are websites like The Black List or Stage32 where you can get professional feedback on your work. Sure, they cost money. But you are theoretically saving a ton not being in Los Angeles and paying rent here. So you might be able to splurge.
The most important thing you can do is write. Try different genres and challenge yourself.
Eventually, when your stuff is amazing, when it scores high on websites, and when people cannot resist passing it around, reps will find you.
You need an agent, manager, or lawyer to get the kinds of meetings that can advance your career in Hollywood. So how do you get representation in this town?
We wrote A Complete Guide to Representation for Writers and Directors to help you navigate this part. It explains how to get found and also that it might take years.
Those are years you don't have to live like a homeless person. You could be in Los Angeles as an assistant or working another side gig that has a career track so you don't have to be poor, or not in Los Angeles doing whatever, and networking using the internet.
No rep will pass on you because they don't think you want it enough. They pass because they don't think they can make money off you. Or if you just aren't what they want. It can suck and feel like your career isn't moving without a rep. But it's a marathon, not a sprint. And you're not getting ahead by just living on the street here.
You have to think outside the box. A guy I know made a sandwich board and stood outside the agency giving his resume away. He got hired and now is a producer after spending years on different desks. I know more writers who just come out here, write great scripts while working day jobs, and eventually network enough to find your path to success.
Perhaps the most ridiculous part of this video is when this guy proposes that after a producer or agent finds out you're homeless, they'll get you a place to live.
This maybe has happened to someone out there. And there are lots of good, helpful people in Los Angeles, but this is not how to forge a career. It's like an anecdote you hear and repeat because it's an outlier, not a rule.
You Can Make It with Nothing
The one thing I don't want you to take away from this article is thinking that you cannot make it if you come from nothing.
Look, the scenario described in the video could happen. You could come here, still manage to write three screenplays while living on the street, get them into the right hands via begging or kismet, and then have a life out here.
That could totally happen. But choosing this as the way in just to prove something is asinine, and honestly, a little unhinged.
If I were in that situation myself, I would get a job in my hometown, even if it were flipping burgers, and try to lift myself out of that economic depression while also working on my writing. There are so many free resources out there. Keep choosing free. Then, when I have money saved, I would move to Los Angeles. We have plenty of those same burger places, so I could get a job out here doing that, or I could try to level up and impress people in interviews.
The point is, great writing is the key inside. If you have a great screenplay and work on your craft, and can take notes, people will know you want it. No one will ask if you've been through hell and back for it. They'll appreciate the truth and storytelling on the page.
Someone is always going to try to sell you advice or tell you a rule about how Hollywood works. I have never found them all to be 100% true. In fact, many are completely false. No one knows everything, especially not me.
But I know degrading yourself or providing things through strife are not steadfast ways to break in. They're just bullshit platitudes that snake oil salesmen tell you to keep you below them.
Just tell your story. The best is yet to come.
Got comments or concerns? Put them below and I'll try to answer them one by one.