Surviving on Set as a Screenwriter

CJ Walley
14 min readMay 16, 2019

I recently did what many say is impossible, not only did I manage to secure a writing assignment in Hollywood from the middle of nowhere in the UK but I was also fortunate enough to be flown out to Los Angeles to watch the feature film I had penned go through principal photography. While the latter rarely happens for screenwriters, I still want to write about what it’s like being a writer on set watching your words come to life, warts and all — CJ

As I boarded the towering housing block with wings that is the British Airways Airbus 380 from Heathrow to LAX, I had no idea what was in store for me. Tinsel town was the stuff of legend and film sets nothing but lore. I’d taken time to read Movie Speak: How to Talk Like You Belong on a Film Set by Tony Bill and knew my bangers from my apple boxes but really, deep down, the only rule I knew for sure was that screenwriters are as welcome on set as Hepatitis-B and I was about to break that rule day after day for the next six weeks. This is what I learned from that incredible experience.

It’s Going to Cost You

Regardless of how much your producers will try to help you out with flights, board, and food, the logistics of preparing and your needs during the shoot are going to eat into your personal funds. You’re going to probably need new clothes, travel essentials, snacks, meals, sunblock, heroine, and various other items over that extended period. Plus, here’s the thing, the ongoing intensity of set-life is going to wear your stuff out fast and you’re potentially going to lose items within the chaos — such as leaving your phone charger in a hotel room and having to desperately mime what what looks like sexual intercourse to a confused hispanic store assistant in Van Nuys the next morning.

You’re Not on Holiday but You Are a Tourist

Speaking of Van Nuys, Los Angeles itself is enormous and the vast majority of it feels like the set of Boyz in the Hood. You are ultimately there to work and may find yourself isolated in a rough neighbourhood without a car to keep production costs as low as possible. It’s up to you to…

CJ Walley

Screenwriter | Film Producer | Founder of Script Revolution & Rebelle Rouser | Author of Turn & Burn