A Day in the Life of a Hollywood Writer with Travis Betz
Every Hollywood filmmaker has an origin story. For decades, movies have shaped and inspired writers to tell their own stories on the silver screen. Novice filmmakers learn from experienced writers and directors by studying and gaining inspiration from their films. Director Bong Joon Ho lovingly gave credit to Martin Scorsese in his 2020 Oscar acceptance speech for Parasite. Ho said, “When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is that ‘The most personal is the most creative.’ That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese. When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films.”
At The Los Angeles Film School, our goal is to bring the entertainment world to our students. Successful Hollywood filmmakers and writers aren’t hard to come by as many of them visit our campus for panel discussions, screenings and Q&As. Our hope is to inspire students of all ages and backgrounds to create and share their own personal stories.
Today, we’re giving you an inside look at a Hollywood writer and director’s process. We sat down with Travis Betz, a top screenwriter here in Los Angeles, to get the scoop on how he started writing and creating his own films.
From Stage Acting to Screenwriting: How Travis got his Start
As a kid, Travis created movies with a VHS recorder in the basement of his childhood home. Travis convinced his sister and best friend to act in his home movies. “I was a bit of a control freak through the process,” he says. “I learned that I wanted to be in control of the story.” That control translated to a deep passion for turning the mundane into spectacular storytelling on and off the stage.
Travis knew he wanted to pursue a creative outlet when he got to high school. He wrote, directed and acted in plays throughout high school and college. But Travis instinctively knew there was something missing in his creative pursuits. “I am happiest when I am writing or crafting,” he says. He followed that instinct, switched gears, and began writing more seriously.
After graduation, Travis moved to Los Angeles and got a receptionist job at a literary talent management agency. The job allowed for a ton of downtime, which he used to create construction paper videos and posted them on a brand-new site for creators: YouTube. At that time, it was easier to get noticed on websites like YouTube because there wasn’t a ton of competition and video content. Comedy Central found his videos and offered to pay him for his work.
While negotiating, Travis said, “I’ve got something else. I want to do something else, too.” He pitched an idea for a live-action story. They took it, and Travis Betz, a Hollywood writer, was born.
Screenwriting Tips that have helped Travis Betz
As any creative person knows, your method can often seem like madness to everyone else. Luckily, we can learn from each other and improve our natural creative talents.
Be flexible in your writing. “Sometimes I write down a very detailed outline with characters. Other times, I have loose ideas, and I sit down and start writing and see where it takes me.” Allow your creativity to flow. You can always go back through a story and add in more details.
Keep track of your characters. Travis uses lists about characters to maintain continuity (who came from where, what their mom’s name was, their first pet, etc.). Keep detailed notes of who your characters are and where they’re going in the story.
Learn to take criticism. This, Travis says, is the most important lesson. “You’ll only be shooting yourself in the foot when you don’t. You’re never as good as you think you are. The critics are not always going to be right, but everybody has some nugget of good advice in them.”
Find readers who appreciate your work. “Build up a family of readers,” Travis says. Find people who you trust to look at your work. Find out what questions they had while reading, what didn’t make sense, and what fell flat. Take their advice and have another look at your script.
Collaborate with other filmmakers. Travis says the first thing you need to learn if you want to make it is how to work with others. “Get to know everyone you can — writers, producers, directors, everyone. Know what they’re doing, and then present yourself. They might think about you for other jobs. Film is a community.”
Learn How to Pitch Your Projects
If you want your work to be made into a film, you have to learn how to pitch movies to networks.
What is a movie pitch? It’s an exciting summation of your story with an emphasis on characters, the conflict, and the genre. You need a good pitch if you want to get anywhere. Travis recommends a few things when it comes to pitching:
Practice in front of a mirror. Record yourself, and then watch it. Pitch your story to your friends. Practice it so many times you’ll be prepared to answer any question and be prepared for any situation.
Fight through your nerves. No matter how often he prepares, Travis still gets nervous before a pitch. “I have to fight through it,” he says. Know your story so well that if you do stumble, you can move to another section and pick right back up.
Be prepared to fail. “For the most part, you are going to fail a ton. You are going to pitch and pitch and pitch and your stories are going to go nowhere. And you are going to feel sad and feel like this is for nothing. That’s not true. You are practicing, and you are getting better. Take feedback. Take it to heart. One day your pitch will work and you’ll think—ah, I cracked the code,” Travis says.
When we asked Travis what final bits of screenwriting advice he had for our film students or prospective students, he said this:
Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to create a community around your work. If you love it, then go for it. As a future screenwriter, take your life into your own hands and do the work. That’s where you will find success.
Thanks, Travis Betz!
Travis worked on the YA novel adaption of Darius The Great Is Not Okay which was recently bought by Universal. You can also find Travis creating shorts and feature films for his film company, Drexelbox Films.
Interested in our Writing for Film and TV program? We offer a writing degree at The L.A. Film School for students interested in screenwriting.