Andrew Kmiec was born and raised in Northwest Indiana and graduated from Ball State in 2009 with a degree in creative writing. In 2010, he moved to Los Angeles, determined to fulfill his childhood dreams of storytelling and filmmaking.
Since moving to L.A., Andrew has worked with some of the industry’s most influential storytellers in both commercials and feature films. In 2014, Andrew quit his day job so he could put his stories to paper. He has another job in marketing now, but he had to live off ramen and cheap coffee before writing several screenplays that caught Hollywood’s attention.
We recently got to talk with Andrew about his journey to L.A. We hope English majors draw inspiration from reading about his experiences, and will attend his presentation in Bracken 104 on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 (4:30 PM).
If you’ve ever dreamed of writing stories for television or film, you should go. We hope to see lots of English and TCOM majors there.
How did your degree in English lead to your job? What skills did you learn that helped you in a professional setting?
I knew very early on that I wanted to be a storyteller in film. This gave me a little bit of a leg-up on the kids who were moving to California to “figure it all out.”
I had great mentors at Ball State– both in TCOM and English–who helped me focus my energies and take a more theoretical approach to filmmaking and storytelling. I also acquired technical skills outside of class by joining the Digital Corps.
A lot of people think that just because a school isn’t in L.A or New York that it can’t produce great storytellers or filmmakers, but college is really all about you taking control of your degree and your future. What you make of those four years is up to you. And ultimately, what you carry on from your college years into the real world will set the foundation for your career.
Working in Hollywood, I learned that the people who rise quickly and become the leaders of the industry are those who can intelligently analyze, interpret and discuss story… which is the basis of what we do when we study literature. From witnessing how all my friends are doing five years after graduation, I’ve learned these are skills that are fairly unique among English majors. These skill can translate to dozens of different career paths.
Can you describe your job search and how exactly you got this job?
This is really the million dollar question, isn’t it? There are a hundred different ways to get from starving college graduate to David Benioff, to Diablo Cody, or to any other successful screenwriter. Some people go through talent agencies, working their way through the mail room until they become an agent’s assistant.
Some people leapfrog off that desk to become a studio executive’s assistant. Some work directly for the studio, while others work in production.
Regardless of which route you take, this is a town where who you know is just as important as what you know. You can be the greatest storyteller on the planet, but if you’re horrible to work with or have zero social skills… nobody will want to work with you. Los Angeles is the world’s biggest small town where everybody knows everyone.
At the end of the day, the key to success in Hollywood is to always be making new friends. You should also always be reading, learning new things, writing, and pushing yourself. A lot of people get distracted by the lifestyle… it’s important to keep your eye on the prize.
The hardest part of being a writer is time management. People will ask you to go out every weekend, but you are in control of your own destiny. When you’re starting off, the only deadlines are the deadlines you make and keep for yourself. And the earlier you start setting goals and making them, the easier it will be when you have deadlines with a studio.
What are some cool things you’ve done while working in L.A.?
Since I knew that the office life wasn’t for me, I worked as an office production assistant for a couple years, waiting for the right director’s assistant position to open up. Luckily, I ended up connecting with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu while working on a Facebook commercial at Anonymous Content. Alejandro was in pre-production on Birdman at the time as well, so it was very busy. We also shot a cool experimental short film on VHS during that time. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work alongside a talented storyteller.
When Alejandro and the team went to New York to film Birdman, I stayed in Los Angeles and took a job working for legendary music video director, Mark Romanek, which was an equally rewarding experience. Both are very different to work with, but great filmmakers, and I learned a lot about the entertainment business and how to tell a compelling story.
Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?
Becoming a successful screenwriter is basically like winning the lottery.
At this point, even for me, it’s been almost a year since I’ve been signed by one of the top agencies in the business. I’ve met with dozens of executives all over town, pitched a handful of ideas for major franchises, and I’m still working a day job in marketing, pursuing the Hollywood dream by night. Working toward a career as a storyteller is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
That’s why it pays to be confident about your storytelling abilities. You can’t even get your screenplay to a studio without an agent (they literally won’t accept it), and then once you get agents, they send you on a circus trip of meetings all over town.
These meetings are basically first dates between you and studio executives to show them that you’re smart, capable, down to earth and trustworthy enough for them to risk their jobs and millions of dollars in hiring you to write a film.
The skills we developed in the English classroom discussing what we read are the same skills I use every time I’m in a meeting discussing themes, character, and the stories of commercials, music videos, television shows, and films.
Another tip for English majors? Just like when you’re writing a story, get to the core of the idea.
What is it you really want to do? Write fiction? Poetry? Screenplays? Stage plays? Teach? Work in advertising? All of these routes can be equally rewarding. You can translate the analytical and communication skills you learned as an English major to nearly any discipline.
If you want to be a screenwriter, don’t be afraid to reach out to alumni. Ball State has quite the foothold on Los Angeles these days, and we’re always looking to help out fellow “underdog” midwesterners.
Work hard. Don’t quit your day job until that big paycheck is in your bank account. Even after you finally get an agent or manager, it can take years to support yourself entirely from writing.
Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. You might hear a hundred no’s, but it only takes one yes.
Please attend “BSU to LA: Making the Big Move into the Entertainment Industry” on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 in Bracken 104 (4:30 PM).
Yes, it’s during finals week.
In this presentation, Andrew Kmiec will discuss:
- Getting an agent and life after being signed.
- Pitching vs writing on spec.
- Different paths for forging your career.
- Indie filmmaking, the studio system, and getting a movie made.