Guest post by The Script Lab‘s Jeff Legge:
After opening its doors to screenwriters in Los Angeles over three decades ago, The Writers Store in Burbank is closing its doors on July 19th, 2017. It’s a sign of the times – brick and mortar establishments across most industries are finding it hard to compete with online retailers.
If you’re a writer in Los Angeles, chances are you’re familiar with The Writers Store – if not directly, than at least by reputation (they also run the popular ScriptMag website which was acquired in 2011 are the same time that F+W Media acquired The Writers Store). On the surface, it’s a good old-fashioned brick and mortar bookstore designed to specifically cater to the needs of writers. From Save The Cat, to Robert McKee’s Story, all the seminal texts are accounted for. The store was founded by the Mr. Dan Douma and his wife, Gabriel Meiringer, who began selling early personal computers from the basement of a feminist bookstore.
And the books were just the beginning. The real source of their success was computer hardware and software sales; The Writers Store was the single biggest seller of Final Draft software, which took the industry by storm in the 90’s and early 2000’s when computers were changing the way the industry wrote and shared scripts.
The Writers Store was legendary for its varied clientele, from the greenest of the green to some of the industry’s most seasoned pros. All were welcome – from Damon Lindelof to the newest writer in town.
In a lovingly-crafted tribute posted over at ScriptMag, former Writers Store staff member (and ScreenCraft Comedy Screenplay Contest winner) Katiedid Langrock gushes over the secret ingredient to The Writers Store long-standing success: not the endless shelves of books, but the people.
“We who worked at the store loved talking story and the industry with the nervous-yet-talented, because we had all been there. Nearly all of us had representation and took big meetings with the crème de la crème of Hollywood. Among us, we had sold scripts, optioned scripts, won a Nicholl Fellowship, won basically every other contest, created and shot a TV series with Hollywood elite, written for television, and so on.”
”They just make you feel like you’re a man with potential,” said Jay Wolpert, who worked on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. ”It’s an inspiring place to be,” he said. (source: 2004 New York Times article about The Writers Store)
As for why the staff stuck around even after finding success in the industry at large, Langrock outlines three reasons.
“1) We had all seen enough writers make a big sale only to struggle for the next few years to know it was worth sticking around even after our moments in the sun.
2) The Writers Store graciously let me and others take a leave when we got a writing gig and embraced us back afterward with open arms. (A couple of the Mad Men writers used to write obituaries between writing gigs. I think we had the better deal.)
3) Our friendships were real, and our writing improved being in that environment. How could it not when we got to talk story every day? And even though we benefited greatly by The Writers Store’s understanding that it was hiring writers first, I truly believe it was our customers who benefited the most.”
As someone who once frequented the store, the staff was never anything short of revelatory. During my first year at USC, I visited The Writers Store for a copy of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, only to leave with a half dozen other books instead along with an entire page of films to watch. All thanks to the helpful greeter that met me at the door (I never got his name, unfortunately).
For writers based outside of LA, it’s difficult to express how rare of an experience this is. Hollywood is a tightly knit, closely guarded, and ultra-competitive industry with a notorious inability to find, nurture, and develop new talent. The Writers Store operated under a different modus operandi – and it all came down to the de facto mentorship of the staff. There were no secrets, no holding back of useful tricks of the trade out. All the tools were up for grabs – it was up to you to figure out how best to use them.
It’s been over half a decade since Borders went out of business, while other giants like Barnes and Noble have been forced to diversify their business while increasingly expanding their online marketplace. From e-books and regularly updated, expert-run blogs, to the rise of Amazon as the go-to seller of just about everything (they’ve even opened a bookstore of their own, which they stock according to online sales data), it’s clear that we’re in the middle of a period of dramatic transition. And the more niche your audience (not everyone’s a writer, after all), the harder it is compete.
But so what? What does the loss of The Writers Store really mean for screenwriters? Will every last remaining copy of Save the Cat suddenly disappear? Will aspiring writers find it even more difficult to find the resources they need to begin their careers as professional storytellers?
No. Our current information age makes the act of “learning” easier than ever. In all but the most extreme cases, we’re never more than one or two clicks away from whatever it is were looking for. Even if it’s just an e-book copy of Save the Cat.
As Katiedid Langrock wrote: “It provided a place to sit on the floor… soak in the enormousness of it all… to breathe in how much there is to learn, feel for the first time that this crazy dream may not be so crazy, and know with certainty that though there may not be a direct path to becoming a screenwriter, there are steppingstones.”
For the thousands of writers that passed through its doors, it served not just as a bookstore, but also as a creative oasis tucked away in the craziness of Los Angeles.
Maybe it’s time to create a new space in LA for screenwriters. What do you think?