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Friday, May 30, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Two* (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Two


(Note: This entry was originally supposed to be a direct continuation of the last entry and explain the time I lost 400 or so dollars trying to make it in film. By the time I got to that portion of the story, I realized I had already written quite a bit. In an effort to keep these posts reasonably-sized, that story will have to wait until next time. Just imagine this as a bridge to the next story, because it will pick up right when I got to LA.)

I moved out to Los Angeles in 2008, unemployed and ready to start working. Problem was, I didn’t really know whereto find a job, let alone a writingjob. I realized I had absolutely no clue how to find work as a writer, as I came to LA with no connections and no leads on work. So I made the first mistake (of many) right out the gate: I turned to Craigslist and looked for any work in film. In my mind (and in the minds of a lot of wide-eyed, wishful thinkers venturing out to the Golden state), it was important to simply find a job in film and the rest would follow. Pre-production, production, post-production: it was all the same in my mind. It was one big world of film, and I just needed to get inside. The rest would follow.

What followed was 6 years working at a post-production house, gaining absolutely no access whatsoever into my field. (Any access I achieved would be done on my own time.) Don’t get me wrong: the job was great. I excelled quickly, was promoted numerous times, earned a good salary, and most importantly: I got to work with big studio films. It was hands-down the most glamorous, exciting, and bizarre job I’ve ever held. (I could write an entire book on that job alone.) When I was sitting in the lobby for my interview (pinball machines to my right, cappuccino machines to my left), a guy skateboarded around me multiple times, while talking on his cell phone. Having come from a background in government work, I couldn’t comprehend what kind of boss would let their employees skateboard around the office. Turns out he was the boss. So, that’s the kind of environment I was entering.

Over the years I made a lot of connections. I can’t even count the number of times someone would say to me “If you ever need a job or a recommendation, let me know.” But here’s the problem: they were all in post-production. No one could help me make the leap to where I really wanted to go. Sure, I was climbing the ladder, but I was climbing the wrong ladder. I was doing all the work I should have been doing as a PA or a writer’s assistant, but I was doing it in post. And I’m not going to lie: at a point I felt trapped. I had invested so much time in the post-production job, that it seemed horrifying to me to start back over in another sector of film. Was I really willing to quit my current job and go work for $10/hour, doing menial tasks at outrageous hours with a family to support? No. I wasn’t.

It’s hard for me to tell you to do otherwise, because I would probably do the same thing again. When you have a family, it’s really hard to weigh anything else against that. So, I can’t say “Take a risk! Quit your job.” But I can say to exercise caution before you leap into a particular field that’s unrelated to what you want to do. Examine what that position can do for you now, and what it can do for your future.

And most importantly: don’t think of film as one big, all-encompassing field. Think of it more like a bunch of little islands, with really bad communication between one-another. But I guess I can’t really complain. My island had a pinball machine.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew? Email PJ at New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

** STILL not related to Seth MacFarlane in any way, shape or form

3 Comments so far


May 31st, 2014 at 1:57 am

I have been working in pre production for 6 months now and recently got lucky and got a PA job at a crappy reality show. The PA job pays significantly less, has worse people working in it and I have to work longer hours. I decided to go with the Pre Pro job because it gives me more time to write and edit and PAing for a couple of weeks in an office outside of Burbank strenghtened my resolve that I (and the proverbial WE) shouldn’t be diddling working up a ladder, but focusing on why we are here to begin with. Hope I’m making the (w)right decision.


May 31st, 2014 at 9:51 am

At the very least the job is affording you the ability to write. It’s mainly about getting comfortable/trapped. If you do a good job, you’ll inevitably be promoted (unless it’s a REALLY bad job), and it will become harder and harder to justify going back down. But you’re only 6 months in. Just be wary of when you start to make excuses and lose track of your initial goal. That’s what I did.

Either way, good luck and congrats on even having a job.


May 31st, 2014 at 10:28 pm

wow. just … wow. and thank you. bb

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