Hollywood or Bust: Why We All Need to Stop California Dreamin' | Script Revolution

Hollywood or Bust: Why We All Need to Stop California Dreamin'


It's a little bit of a rant from me today. I've gone through another week of watching hopeful new writers finding themselves shot down by the more jaded members of screenwriting communities. It's the usual spiel too. The claim these bright eyed and bushy tailed amateurs aren't tough enough for the business. I'm so tired of it. The thing is, it's all a distraction and I think we're all falling foul of being in an echo chamber. I say it's high time we break out before we lose our collective minds - CJ

We’ve all seen and heard it, within every screenwriting community, “You have to grow a thick skin to survive this industry!” “This industry is desperate for high quality scripts!” “It takes years to break into this industry?”

This industry.

What does your screenwriting dream look like? Is it red carpets and strobing flash bulbs outside the Dolby Theatre? Is it hustling through the studios of Burbank, script in one hand and coffee in the other as you pace your way onto set? Is it running into your heroes and talking the night away on Sunset strip? Is it shielding your eyes from the sun as you write on your balcony, taking a lingering moment to gaze up at the old Hollywoodland sign and draw a contented smile?

Nobody can deny it’s a romantic dream we can all associate with. In fact sadly for many of us, it’s all we have.

The industry is not Hollywood, it is not LA, nor is it California, the West Coast, or the United States. The industry is global and it seems crazy to point that out - but the real mania is within our current collective mentality.

I know a young female actor, very ambitious, talented and full of vigour. She has representation in LA and boasts an impressive career. She read one of my scripts, got very excited, and demanded her management company read it. She raved about how she was determined to play the lead and, if nobody was willing to take her up on it, she would travel to Toronto as a last resort.

Fair play to her courage, but this is the odd way we see things. We hold Hollywood in such high esteem that anything else just feels second-rate.

But here’s the thing; Hollywood isn’t working, and hasn’t been working for a long time. Gone are the days of the backlot rebels. That was the last of artsy-Hollywood and it worked because nowhere else could you get so much talent in a room so fast. Meetings would be called. Pagers would beep. An hour later, deals were made and the cogs within the backlots turning. Plus the returns could be massive, and keep on coming as they morphed from theatre tickets to DVDs. Not any more.

Today’s Hollywood is old industrialisation fused with modern incorporation. Agents have become managers. Producers have become executives. The friendly faced entrepreneurs now militant CEOs.

The roots of Hollywood, once encumbered by gridlocked roads, antique phone networks, and snail-mail have now advanced into every home with an internet connection, allowing that meeting to happen now, that script to be submitted now, that deal to happen right now.

Hollywood has become unwieldy and ineffective yet omnipresent. We cannot shake our obsession despite the way it churns ruthlessly through our peers. The tales of how screenwriting only gets worse once you break in do not thwart our efforts to do just that. The statistics of WGA West writers never making another dime after they join do not hinder our enthusiasm. The rampant inequality, misogyny, and ageism does not see us turning our backs in disgust - it instead sees us bending to their will.

Because we’re the ones who are going to make it, right? And Hollywood is our only chance to make it big? It's only endgame that can pay out what we’ve payed in? Well, maybe it’s about time we stopped falling for this bluff, for our own good?

You want to know the real reason it’s so hard to get traction in Hollywood right now? It’s because the part of Hollywood that’s working isn’t really looking. It doesn’t need to. For decade after decade, the best the world has to offer has been throwing everything it’s got at Tinseltown. First it was by letter and now by email. Submissions have rocketed up by the thousands while the number of successful movies has dwindled. The independent movie is dead. The Blockbuster dominates the screens and decimates the competition. The only people left actively looking are the ones failing.

Screenwriters are increasingly swindled out of backend profits, carelessly dropped from projects, and told to work on spec. The friction is so rasping that writers have had to strike to earn a living, their only security being the vigilance of their union.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world prospers in film. Maybe not with the same glitz and glamour as Hollywood, and certainly not with anywhere near the same press coverage, but things are moving fast. Morocco, New Zealand, South Africa, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and India top the charts but, thanks to affordable equipment, every country is seeing crews setting up on the streets. If you don’t believe that’s the case for your country, your city, or your town then, guess what, you ARE that film industry.

The problem at the moment? The viability of small films making profit. However, things are improving and streaming is set to change the landscape forever. There’s no denying the massive power of the domestic marketplace - just look at Bollywood. We’re sitting on a tinder box full of creative energy that’s going to explode anytime soon. It’s just a question of when not if.

So, why do we have this Hollywood or bust mentality? Well, it’s partly down to our culture. It’s hyper-normality. Stir thousands of screenwriters together and that’s the underlying narrative - that all that matters is breaking into Hollywood. Hell, that applies to anyone in the entertainment industry full stop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen screenwriters told to give up because they’ll “never make it in the Hollywood”. That’s like telling a friend to give up being a chef because they’ll never cook in Paris, or to stop making suits because they not the standard found on Saville Row. That’s madness.

The the majority of the blame though, the real blame, that lies squarely with the industry that trades off writer’s hopes and dreams. I hate to think how many times I’ve seen writers talk about giving up because they didn’t make the semi-finals of BlueCat or didn’t get an 8 on the Blacklist. Fuck that thinking. If Hollywood doesn’t want you then fuck Hollywood. What is the point of fighting through that creative cattle market? To get representation? An agent? Who’s buying? Where are the sales? Where’s the produced work? You got read - that’s your fucking claim to fame? You did so well, tried so hard, and spent so much money so someone could fucking hand your script to their intern? You have a manager now, who’s also a low-rent producer? So you’re just writing scripts for them for free in the hope they make a sale? That’s your fucking dream, to be a tiny part of someone else's dream? You got validated by someone one rung up the ladder from you? You’re just going to sit back and accept that shit? Or what? Give up? Just give up because, if you’re not making WGA minimums, then what’s the point? What the fuck? You’re brainwashed!

We aim for Hollywood because that’s where the salesmen are, and they are hedging their bets both ways. They indoctrinate us with the hope of making it in La La Land because their own dreams are tied up there, where they think the big easy money is. And fuck it, if they can’t make a dollar trying themselves then they sure as hell can make a dollar off you and me trying instead.

I like Hollywood just the way it is, actually. I don't think I'd change anything. I like that it's out here 3,000 miles from where I live - Joel Coen

Times are changing. Anyone keeping tabs on the writers selling scripts knows what’s going on. They are selling outside of Hollywood. The message is that the spec market is dead, but that’s nonsense. That’s news from the SoCal bubble. That’s Max Landis talking. You don’t think those out of Hollywood sales count? That’s where you’re being mislead. They’re life-changing for those writers. Stop burying your head in the Santa Monic Beach sand.

You know what doesn’t count? Writing your heart out for years and giving up. Giving up because one little town on the planet couldn’t find room for you. Giving up because, despite your brilliance, one group of people didn’t have the time to acknowledge your existence. Giving up because some piece of shit exposure service took your money and showed your work to a few disinterested acquaintances.

Things are going to change because we’re going to change it. All of us together. We’re going to continue to put our scripts out there with no financial burden, with no barriers to entry for filmmakers. No cost. No cliques. Many will join us and we will make this a revolution. We will empower the globe with great material while filmmakers find new profitable ways to stream film to audiences. We will unite to build studios in our own backyards that grow into creatively rich powerhouses. Fulfilment will flourish and one day we will look back and wonder just what we saw in that picture perfect land filled with robber barons and snake oil salesmen, and we will say to ourselves, I can’t believe that place made me think about giving up so easily.

About The Author

CJ Walley's picture
Real name: 

I’m here for the gritty movies, the rebellious movies, those films that pack a punch far harder than their budgets would suggest.

As a spec script writer, I love to create pulpy thrillers, mostly with female leads, that feature strong themes, brutal action, witty dialogue, and twisting scenes that have characters vying for power or falling for one another.

As a producer and writer-for-hire, I’m production savvy, budget conscious, and market orientated, able to write in a...Read more



John Staats's picture

CJ -

You rock! I'm right there with you. Fuck the establishment. I write features because I believe it's a story that needs telling and my shorts are the tales that just need to get out of my head.

Thanks for giving us a conduit to share our stories!

CJ Walley's picture

Yes, think a lot of us write to project our psyche outwards and that's important in the world. To see so many writers driven into compromising their values in an attempt to satisfy the fickle nature of tinsel town is painful.

CJ Walley's picture

Damn right, Mark. Netflix is proof of what the future is going to look like. So many people are discovering movies and TV shows they never would have heard about via the normal routes. Quality rises to the top.

A.R. Arias's picture

CJ, this is a fantastic idea and a great opportunity for so many writers to build relationships with filmmakers. You're onto something groundbreaking here. I see an entirely new industry of Indy screenwriters and filmmakers starting right here and now. Thanks for making that happen. It's exciting to be a part of it.

CJ Walley's picture

Thanks for such kind words, Alberto. It's great to have you part of it. Let's hope we all kickstart something special.

Mauro Ferritto's picture

Great article. Now more than ever writers can be global and sell anywhere. I'm sure it's a bit different for TV, though, but I agree with how things need to change - including our mentality of it all.

Mauro Ferritto's picture
Todd Ciaciuch's picture

The "Hollywood" moniker in your vernacular needs to die before you sacrifice any spirit or 'negative waves, man'. The issues you broached here, the inside club cronyism -- the incestrous nature in elitist gatekeeping -- the issues are far more complex than that. There's 3 people in the room; the elite makers, the audience herd, and the dreamers. Be a dreamer and focus on the herd. No one is watching the herd.