La La Land has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards. It has won 7 Golden Globes.
The film, written and directed by Academy Award nominee Damien Chazelle — and produced by independent film producer Jordan Horowitz (a ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship mentor last year) — tells the story of Mia [Emma Stone], an aspiring actress, and Sebastian [Ryan Gosling], a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life in Hollywood explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.
Within the film’s amazing musical numbers, screenwriters can find inspiring lyrics that they can learn from and be inspired by. Here we take such lyrics and showcase them in the context of the screenwriter’s pursuit of their own screenwriting dreams.
1. “Without a nickel to my name. Hopped a bus, here I came. Could be brave or just insane.”
The never-ending question that screenwriters pondeer is, “Do I need to live in Los Angeles to make this dream come true?”
Having both lived in Los Angeles and well outside of it during my career, I can attest to the fact that there are two answers to that question — yes and no.
I’m a walking and talking example that you don’t need to live in Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. All of my success — and I define success in the context of being paid Hollywood money, getting into development and production company rooms and discussions based on my screenwriting, and seeing my own work produced with a name cast — has been achieved while living outside of Los Angeles. I’ve flown back for meetings and set visits, but 99.9% of the time I’ve been writing and networking with Hollywood while residing in Wisconsin. So no, you don’t have to live in Los Angeles.
However, the benefits of doing the “brave or insane” and packing up to move to Los Angeles are aplenty.
You can certainly write anywhere, but you can’t get the necessary face time and feel for the film and television industry living outside of Los Angeles. You can’t accomplish that kind of networking and positioning. You can’t substitute the benefit of being available for “water bottle” tours and meetings if you do happen to see your scripts attain some notice.
Living in Los Angeles is a key factor to any possible success. It doesn’t guarantee it, but it certainly tips the odds more in your favor compared to someone that doesn’t live in the city. Despite the fact that I’ve been blessed with some success living outside of La La Land, I’ve also suffered from the drawbacks of not living there.
So if you have a chance to make the move, do it. Whether you or your family think it’s brave or insane, know that it’s clearly in your best interest as you chase this screenwriting dream. And the beauty of it is that if life declares otherwise, and you have to — or choose to — live elsewhere in the end, at least you were there to get things in motion. And if that’s not in the cards, dreams still can come true wherever you may be.
2. “I’m reaching for the heights. And chasing all the lights that shine. And when they let you down. You’ll get up off the ground. ‘Cause morning rolls around. And it’s another day of sun.”
The life of a screenwriter is a grind. You will be let down. You will be rejected more than you are ever accepted. But the key factor in this journey is to remember that when the rejection happens, and you’ve been devastated by it, you must always get up off the ground. Because another morning will roll around and it’s another day with many possible moments where you can finally shine in their eyes.
3. “They say ‘you gotta want it more.’ So I bang on every door.”
No truer statement has been uttered in the context of a screenwriter’s journey. You have to want it more. You have to push harder than the tens of thousands of others in the world trying to accomplish the very same that you are striving to achieve — the dream.
And that drive must force you to bang on every door that you can. The pessimists will say that no one in Hollywood is going to answer, but nothing could be further from the truth. Success as a screenwriter is often about the odds. The more chances you take, the better odds you have of winning. You may only win a consideration, with X producer, manager, or development executive taking a look at your script, but congratulations because you’ve just opened a door that so many crave to one day enter. And sometimes that’s all it takes.
So bang on every door you can through email, through film festivals, through writing conferences, through networking, etc.
4. “And even when the answer’s ‘no’. Or when my money’s running low. The dusty mic and neon glow are all I need.”
This may read cryptic, but it’s so true. With that constant rejection and the tough times that come from it as you’re working those day jobs you hate, or are indifferent about in comparison to your dreams, that “dusty mic and neon glow” — in this case your writing process — is all you should need to keep you going. The story. The characters. The concepts. The triumphs and failures for each script. You have to love it. You have to have a passion for it. You have to enjoy the process. You have to be intoxicated by the storytelling.
Otherwise, what the hell are you doing here?
5. “Someone in the crowd could be the one you need to know. The someone who could lift you off the ground. Someone in the crowd could take you where you wanna go. Someone in the crowd could make you. Someone in the crowd could take you. Flying off the ground. If you’re someone ready to be found.”
All screenwriters need to know is that all too often, it takes just that one person in the industry. That one connection. That one lead. That one chance encounter. That one person out there that you don’t even know could be the one to make your career — to make your dreams come true.
Every screenwriter that has seen any amount of success — big or small — can usually equate it to that one person or encounter that started it all.
So keep hope alive knowing that this is all it often takes… finding that one. But, you also have to be someone ready to be found. You have to have great scripts. One isn’t enough. And you have to showcase a knack for the cinematic skills within your scripts.
Seek those people out, but be ready, able, and willing to present them with reasons to help make your dream come true.
6. “City of stars, are you shining just for me?”
The answer to that question, as you the screenwriter looks out upon the city of stars, is yes. Now, obviously, this isn’t really the case. There are thousands upon thousands trying to make it in the film and television industry. However, you have to believe that those lights — which represent the dream — are shining just for you.
You can’t get caught up in the big picture. You can’t be overwhelmed by the odds against you, the others vying for the same prize, etc. You have to believe that you, and you alone, are on this journey. You have to make it just about you. This perspective will allow you to focus in on your own journey and quiet the noise around you.
7. “Who knows? Is this the start of something wonderful and new? Or one more dream that I cannot make true?”
This thought is something every screenwriter knows and understands all too well. We get excited when the powers that be in the film and television industry take notice. We get excited when someone says they’ll read a script. We get excited when we’re invited for a phone call or meeting. We get excited when we’re being considered for anything.
But we know where these hopeful thoughts and excitement can lead us — down a road to nowhere. Sometimes too quickly.
It can be heartbreaking, but the beauty of this is that you’re doing what most in the world never do — you’re chasing a dream. And when the sun that is your life begins to finally set one last time, you’ll die knowing that at least you tried. And if you’re one of the lucky ones that have seen the dream come true, you’ll die with a smile, glad that you tried in the first place to make that all possible.
8. “A bit of madness is key. To give us new colors to see.”
Writing the same variations of what is already being produced in Hollywood will get you nowhere. The system is already saturated with more of the same. What will get you noticed is going against the grain, if not just a little bit. Originality is hard to come by these days and yes, Hollywood certainly knows what they like — and don’t like — based primarily on past successes and failures. However, what many don’t talk about is that Hollywood wants different. They want original. They want it because most are so sick of the same endless concepts and scripts. Hollywood development is often a broken system these days — as we covered in How Screenwriters Can Fix the Broken Hollywood System — so screenwriters must take the chance on offering development executives, managers, and produces what they didn’t know they wanted:
- Different and original concepts.
- Concepts and characterizations that are outside of the otherwise conventional box.
- Unique true or fictional stories that haven’t been told.
In order to do that, yes, a bit of madness is key. Everyone is telling you to offer Hollywood more of the same. But to give them “new colors” to see, yes, embrace the madness of doing what most warn you not to do — be different.
9. “Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.”
Here is to you all out there in La La Land and beyond. Here’s to you all who dream this screenwriting dream. Here’s to our cousins; the actors, the directors, the artists, the playwrights. Here’s to all who chase any dream that seems unattainable and unrealistic to most.
We’re an uncommon breed. For some, what we chase may never be found. For others, it may come quickly, only to discover that it’s not for them. For the rest, time will drag on for weeks, months, years, and beyond before finally realizing that dream in some way, shape, or form.
“Here’s to the fools who dream. Crazy as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that break. Here’s to the mess we make.”
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as two writing assignments with Larry Levinson Productions, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies