From LA Screenwriter To Working LA Screenwriter - Angela Bourassa
From LA Screenwriter To Working LA Screenwriter. Angela Bourassa Discusses Her Journey:
You all know Angela Bourassa from her blog LA Screenwriter, jam-packed with resources for screenwriters which she started a decade ago to improve her writing. She also wrote an article for Creative Screenwriting Magazine on writing vomit drafts – figure of speech of course. Vomitus draftus is a necessary part of the writing journey. There is no actual emetic activity involved. Ten years later, something happened. She became what’s known in the business as “an overnight success.” Angela shared her major milestones so you too can become inspired.
What were the major milestones in your journey to becoming a working screenwriter?
Oh gosh, my journey has been a long one to this point, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I knew going into college that I wanted to be a screenwriter, so I went to UCLA hoping to get into the screenwriting major as a junior (you have to apply once you’re already enrolled in another major). I made it to the interview stage and then totally bombed and didn’t get in. That was my first inkling that this journey wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
Anyway, I had no intention of giving up on my dream, so I took some writing classes and did a few development internships and started writing feature scripts. Life and relationships took me in and out of LA after school, so I started working as a freelance web content writer and using my mornings to work on scripts. I got married along the way and had my son, and there were definitely years when I wasn’t very productive or focused, but the goal always remained screenwriting. I had a few respectable contest placements along the way and some phone calls with producers or managers that didn’t end up going anywhere, and then finally in 2019, things started to come together.
My friend Tim Schildberger introduced me to a producer who ended up working on one of my scripts with me and then took out a shopping agreement on it. That same script won the sci-fi category of PAGE, which got me some attention from a few managers. Then another script of mine made the finals at the Austin Film Festival, and that’s how I met the managers I ultimately signed with.
Things started a bit slow with a few general meetings here and there, and then the producer with the shopping agreement sent my sci-fi script to UTA, and they loved it. UTA asked my managers what else I had, and they sent along my (at the time) latest script, If You Were The Last, and UTA loved it and signed me. Then the meetings started going crazy and both If You Were The Last and my sci-fi script, now titled Turn Me On, both started getting packaged. Both projects now have producers and directors attached, and along the way I landed a rewrite job on an Amblin project, and that got me into the Writers Guild. Now I’m doing a lot of pitching, looking for new projects to bring to producers, and trying to find time to keep developing my own original ideas. I’m thirty-four now, so that’s how long it took me to get here.
How did you stay motivated and inspired during the in-between moments?
Well, I didn’t always. There were definitely times I worried that I would never break through, especially because my main path for trying to land representation was contests, and there are just no guarantees when it comes to contests, even when you have great scripts. Case in point, I entered my script If You Were The Last — the one that got me fancy agents and landed near the top of the 2020 Black List — into contests before all this craziness began, and it didn’t even make the quarterfinals of AFF. I entered Nicholl six or seven times over the years and never reached so much as the top twenty percent.
But even when things seemed bleak and I seriously worried this dream would never come true, I could never bear the idea of giving up. That was how important it was to me. So I just kept writing, and I worked to make myself more productive and to keep educating myself so each script would hopefully be better than the last. I definitely got in the bad habit some years of submitting to contests and then just waiting for months to find out how that script did instead of starting the next script right away. There was a lot of wasted time, and when I finally got focused, that’s when I started making strides.
What was the first step in this series of steps to your current success?
I don’t know about a first step, but there are three things that I think really helped me improve in the last few years. First was getting in the habit of writing a little bit every day. I have this one-page writing chart for the year and I cross out every day that I write, and it can be the tiniest bit of writing. Writing a joke. Coming up with a new idea. Editing a paragraph and changing a comma to a period. That all counts. Because the trickiest thing for me — and I think for a lot of writers — is just getting started. Before tracking my writing, I’d end up going weeks or even months without writing. The first year I started tracking my writing days, I wrote four feature scripts and a pilot.
The second thing is taking big swings. I started caring less about what would sell and more about what I liked, and I started taking bigger story risks, doing weirder things, and mashing up dissimilar genres. I think that has contributed to the development of my “voice,” whatever that means.
And the last thing is just getting older and gaining life experience. Becoming a mom had a huge impact on my view of myself, and that trickled into my writing. I’m more confident now, and I get that my value and my writing aren’t the same thing. I’m just better equipped now than I was at twenty-one to explore more varied and interesting themes. Hopefully that will continue.
Is success more of a mindset or hard work?
I think it’s both. You need to do the work, absolutely, but you also need the confidence in yourself to face the endless barrage of rejection. Because here’s the thing — the rejection doesn’t stop once you start writing professionally, it just becomes bigger and more frequent. You might spend months developing a pitch on a property that you absolutely love and then lose out on the job at the final stage. And that happens again and again. But when you do win out, it’s that much more exciting and gratifying. When people want to invest millions of dollars into something you wrote — that’s amazing. But the no's are still much, much more frequent than the yeses, so you need that mindset of valuing your own work and being proud of what you’re creating, even and especially when it doesn’t work out.
What was the biggest impediment to reaching this level earlier?
Not living in LA consistently definitely slowed me down — I currently live in San Diego, so I couldn’t go to networking events or get a job in the industry. But the real thing that slowed me down, honestly, was my own laziness. Now that I’m a mom, it’s heartbreaking looking back and realizing how much free time I used to have in my twenties that I totally squandered. I think everything worked out for the best for me, but if I had a chance to go back, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. And I would have taken an improv class!
What’s the best and worst advice you were given?
Oh, that’s tough. It’s not exactly advice, but one of the most important lessons I learned along the way is that I’m not special, meaning there are a lot of other people out in the world with the same goal who are just as smart and skilled as I am, and they’re working a lot harder. It was never guaranteed that I would achieve my dream, but I definitely acted like it was for a while, so breaking that mindset was essential.
The worst advice I got was when my car got totalled and my family suggested I put my ten thousand dollar insurance check toward a twelve thousand dollar car. I was like twenty-six and working freelance at the time and had no savings. Why didn’t they tell me to buy a four thousand dollar car and save some dang money!?
That’s life advice, not writing advice, but it’s important — save some dang money.
What is your Black List project that won you acclaim?
If You Were The Last. It’s this sort of sci-fi rom-com. I like to describe it as When Harry Met Sally in space, with dancing.
Why do you think it captured the attention of the industry?
Well, it’s different. You don’t come across too many rom-coms set on a spaceship. I also made a point of writing the production design into the script, because I wanted it to look and feel like these characters’ own magical little world, not like you’d expect a spaceship to look.
It’s also fun, which was a big advantage at the start of quarantine — and still now — when readers wanted escapism. Though I wrote it before COVID-19, it’s a story about two people who are stuck inside together and making the best of it, so it’s timely, as well, which has definitely helped it resonate.
What does packaging mean and at what stage are each of your projects at?
Packaging can mean a lot of different things. In both of these cases, I still have all the rights to my scripts — no one has bought or optioned them — but producers have come on board to help me put together the movie we want to make before taking the complete package to financiers. So both scripts now have producers and amazing directors attached — and it turns out that “attached” is a somewhat nebulous term like “signing.”
In most cases there aren’t any formal agreements in place. But anyway, now each project is going out to actors. Once we’ve attached actors in the lead roles, then we’ll find our financing and get these things made, or at least that’s the goal. I’m grateful that both projects are in great hands and that I have excellent reps guiding me through the whole process.
Who is your current agent and manager?
I’m repped by a whole team of folks at UTA and by my managers at Fourward. They regularly communicate about projects being sent my way and meetings I’m having. Both my agents and my managers will set me up on generals and bring me things to pitch on. I end up talking with my managers on a much more regular basis, but my agents are very accessible and helpful, too.
How did land your studio writing assignment?
I was very fortunate that multiple producers were interested in getting involved with If You Were The Last. One of those companies had another project they were working on with Amblin, a Christmas movie. They needed someone to do a rewrite, so I read the script, let them know my thoughts, and then I got to meet with a few execs at Amblin. A few days later they told me I got the job. It was the very first thing I pitched on, so it was really exciting getting some early traction. That script is heading toward production now, so fingers crossed that it all comes together!
Who are your heroes that inspire your storytelling?
Nora Ephron, Greta Gerwig, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Katie Silberman, Emerald Fennell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Brook Maurio, Pamela Ribon. To name a few.
How are you planning your career now?
I’m still very much figuring it out. I’m pitching on things that I find really exciting and saying no to the things that I know aren’t for me. I’m trying to make more time for my own original concepts and for possible adaptations that I find on my own. And I’m trying to learn more about producing, because that’s really interesting to me. I’m actively trying to become a writer/producer, and I’ve got my eye on potentially directing in the future, but that’s a down-the-line goal. For now, I’m mostly hoping the industry doesn’t tire of me any time soon!