When I made the decision to move to LA (I’d just graduated from college and decided anywhere had to be cheaper to live than NYC) (I was right), I had this notion that I’d somehow find steady commercial work within the first three months, book a role in the next hit indie film and be well on my way to becoming the next Jennifer Lawrence by the time I was 23. I know this was delusional. I honestly just think the idea of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment was so ludicrous and impractical that my brain had to invent fantasies just to keep me moving forward. Kind of like how POWs endure extreme torture, I imagine. Numb the pain. Shhh. Don’t think too much.
Anyway, I’m sure you can guess that my A plan didn’t exactly pan out. And so, after two months, when the little money I’d saved was starting to dry up, I realized I needed to suck it up and find a day job.
Now, I’m fully aware that you aren’t like those other sad actors who move to Hollywood who end up waiting tables. I know you are way more talented than those wannabe directors who have to take PA gigs on internet promo shoots that only pay $75/day. But, look at it this way- although this blog post won’t be useful to you, you can read it and then impart your newfound wisdom to your girlfriend’s talentless schmuck of a brother who’s moving to LA to become the next alt. indie rock star, because he will definitely need to get a day job (or three), right?
Glad you decided to keep reading.
In my mind, the best kind of day job should accomplish 1 of 2 things. Either it should allow you the flexibility to go to auditions/take meetings/jump on board shooting your friend’s short film last minute OR 2. it should feed into the career you are pursuing, directly or indirectly.
If your day job doesn’t afford you one or both of those things, your ‘day’ job can very quickly become your ‘main and only’ job, and you will resent it.
These days, I work as a producer or coordinator whenever funds are low. It’s not acting, writing or directing- which is what I really want to be doing- but it gives me immensely valuable experience learning other aspects of production. If you can’t find a job that gets you on film sets and you must work at a restaurant, apply to a location near a studio or big production company. A friend of mine was a Starbucks barista right next to one of the studio lots and became friendly with several of the studio execs and name talent who came in for morning coffee, including an accomplished director who is now a fan of the webseries she writes and directs. Stay tuned to see if that connection pays off some day.
And now, a cautionary tale:
My friend Jill moved to LA 10 years ago to become an actress. By most standards, she’s doing pretty well for herself- she has a nice-sized apartment in Hollywood (no roommates!) and she generally can afford the things she wants. Her secret? Her awesome job as a bartender at a hopping bar in H’wood. She rakes in a ton of money. She also has to work REALLY late nights, and can never summon the energy to get up in the morning for auditions. She once confided to me that she feels stuck. She wants to pursue her dream but it’s just not feasible with her lifestyle. Cutting her hours or getting a more-flexible-but-lesser-paying day job is hard for her to imagine. She’s comfortable- but at the same time, she hates her job for making her so comfortable.
She gave me some advice: keep your expenses low. If you can keep your expenses low, you won’t settle for a time-sucking survival job just because you need the funds.
A friend of mine later hooked me up with a job as a paperwork filer at Media Services Production Accounting, where I could make my own hours. It was only part-time, the pay rate was only so-so, and it was a 45 minute commute from my apartment– BUT I never had to turn down an audition while working there. It was that filing job that, a week before the Project Greenlight deadline, allowed me to take three days off to make the short film that got us to the final round of the competition. A competition that, ultimately, would allow me to leave my day job and work full-time as a writer. Full circle, see?
I think I’ve done a pretty good job of following Jill’s advice about keeping my expenses low: rent a tiny bachelor studio or find a place with a couple roommates, go grocery shopping instead of ordering takeout, get comfortable shopping at Goodwill or not at all, skip the daily Starbucks, don’t get cable, cut yourself off after one drink (or, better yet, stick to ginger ale on ice), become friendly with the local mechanic so he doesn’t charge as much when a UPS van hits your car in Koreatown when you were on your way to a friend’s birthday party, etc.
The main reason this lifestyle was (let’s be real, still is) do-able for me was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be stuck living paycheck to paycheck- so below the poverty line it was ridiculous- for forever. I had to believe that all my networking, auditioning, guerilla filmmaking and self-promotion would someday pay off.
And you know what? It’s starting to. Last April, as a result of events that transpired after Project Greenlight and me scoring my first line producing job on a high-profile web show, I was able to quit my day job.
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