My senior year of college, one of my professors, David Mold, asked my Business of Acting class, “How many of you are planning to move to LA within the next 10 years?” Over half the class raised their hands, including me. “Within the next five years?” Hands dropped. “Within the next year?” Only two hands remained raised, including mine.
One of my classmates, Danny, later asked me, “Are you really planning to move to LA after graduation?” with the hushed air of disbelief and reverence that is usually reserved for questions such as, “Do you really have an inoperable brain tumor?” “Yes,” I responded. “I’m really planning to move to LA.”
At the time, I was frustrated with my life. I’d hit a wall in New York. My career wasn’t advancing (I didn’t have much of a career to advance, to be honest), I hated the size of my Queens apartment (my room was so small I could spread my arms and touch opposite walls) and I worried I’d wasted the past four years of my life getting a theater degree that wouldn’t matter in the real world (it doesn’t- but I don’t regret getting it).
I worked for a huge YouTube channel at the time, and I loved the process of making videos. I was entranced by the idea that I could do that on a larger scale in Los Angeles. When I was fifteen, I’d come down with bronchitis and had watched like ten hours of behind-the-scenes footage on the Narnia DVD, and ever since then I was convinced: Making movies was the closest thing we have to magic in the real world. And if making movies was magic, LA was Hogwarts.
All through college, I kind of assumed I’d eventually ‘get my Hogwarts letter’- book a big movie role, or catch the attention of a big studio through my YouTube videos- and I’d move to LA out of necessity. But I was beginning to realize that wasn’t going to happen.
So, I essentially wrote my own Hogwarts letter (I will run this analogy into the ground if need be, so help me God). I bought a one-way ticket and called up the only person I knew on the west coast, my college friend Travis. “My aunt said you can sleep in her attic,” he told me. “Great!” I said. “There’s no bed up there though,” he told me. “I’ll see you in three weeks,” I responded.
Buying a ticket and setting up sleeping arrangements was the easy part. Since ‘it’s all about who you know’, I figured I’d better start getting to know people real quick.
Throughout my final semester of college, I’d made a list of every potential contact I had in LA. A production assistant on an indie film I acted in had a friend who’d moved there. I took down his name and email. A guy came to talk to my Business of Acting class about his experience as a TV actor. I went up to him afterwards and asked for his email. My dad (who works as a construction equipment sales rep, SO relevant to filmmaking, I know) knew someone whose wife was a manager in LA. I added her to the list. And, surprisingly, when I checked Facebook, I actually knew a few people (however distantly) who had moved out there. The list kept growing.
By the time I’d reached LA, I’d set up 1-2 coffee or lunch meetings every day for my first month here. I had no idea where anything was, so I’d let whoever I was meeting pick the spot. This had the added benefit of 1. introducing me to every neighborhood in LA and 2. teaching me when to avoid rush hour traffic (basically don’t drive between 7a-10a and 4p-8p. Good luck.)
Two days before I moved, I was walking around the lower east side of Manhattan, saying good-bye to the city I loved. I wandered into the NYU book shop and stumbled across a little pink book, “Adapt or Wait Tables” by Carol Wolper. I plopped down and read the whole thing right there. Then, I went back the next day and bought it so I could read it again. I wouldn’t consider Wolper’s book gospel- after all, she can only speak from her personal experience, just as I can only speak from mine- but I strongly agree with her on this: Adaptability is hands-down the most important quality any freelancer- actor, writer, director, producer, gaffer, PA or cinematographer- can possess. Inflexible people are just not built for this industry; especially not now, when it’s changing so fast.
So many people I talk to have built Los Angeles up to be so big and scary in their minds. Look, it’s just a place, filled with… wait for it…. people. Many of whom aren’t even from LA, just like you aren’t. Stop psyching yourself out.
So, I know you’re on the edge of your seat, wondering- did it work for me? Did my three weeks of planning and network-building pay off?
I’m still here, aren’t I?
That friend of that PA ended up not having time to meet with me- he apologized profusely via email- but he suggested I reach out to a producer contact of his who might be able to get me some production assistant work. The producer he referred me to was Melissa, an incredible producer who has taken chance after chance on me- it was Melissa who hired me on my first ever coordinating job, then later on my first ever line producing job.
And the wife of my dad’s friend ended up being Liz, one of the most badass b*tches in Hollywood who loved my YouTube videos and got me in the room to audition for some of the most talented writers and directors in the industry.
I owe both of these ladies, along with the scores of other people who gave me advice, brought me on set when they didn’t have to, and who continue to believe in me- a lot. I always try to pay it forward; that’s one reason I’m writing this blog. If you end up using any advice on here, don’t forget to pay it forward yourself when you can. I’ve heard this business can be manipulative and competitive, but that hasn’t been my experience. This industry, at least at the level I’m at, is full of people who want to help those who are willing to work hard. If that changes at the higher levels, then I honestly hope I’ve switched careers before then.
Remember Danny, the guy who couldn’t believe I wanted to go to LA? I ran into him in Times Square last month when I went back east for the holidays. He was entering the stage door for a hit Broadway musical- he has a great job working on the crew, he told me. He’s dating one of the lead actresses (it’s serious), and he seemed really, really happy. He did what I could not- truly hack it in NYC. It’s a good thing he stayed.
There is no blanket right answer for everyone on the LA question, but there is a right answer for you. If you’re making things happen wherever you are, then it’s totally valid to wait for a job or an important meeting or a Sign From God before making the move out here. Or, hey, maybe you aren’t meant to come to LA, after all. There are thriving film industries elsewhere. Toronto, Atlanta, NYC come immediately to mind.
But if fear is the only thing holding you back, I got news for you: You’re probably never going to stop being afraid. So… ???
Don’t forget to add me to your list of contacts for when you do move out here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you soon,
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