Practical advice for those moving to LA or NYC
If you’re moving to Los Angeles or New York or just getting out of school and trying to make it on your own for the first time, do you have enough seed money to pay for rent, utilities, phone, car maintenance, auto and health insurance, food and miscellaneous expenses for several months until you can generate an income? Can you afford to live alone or do you need to find a roommate? Do you know the lay of the land and how you’re going to be getting around? What are you going to do if you can’t find an industry job right away? What if you can’t find a job that pays enough to cover all your expenses or you have to work for free for a while just to get your foot in the door? Do you have other skills to fall back on? Do you even know what the job market is like? And even more basic, what type of lifestyle are you up for, and where would you be happy living? Before you make any move or strike out on your own, do your research, know what you’re up against and be prepared.
Here’s some advice from my friend Alison. She’s a writer/director who moved to Los Angeles from Maine about three and a half years ago, and these are her thoughts on just starting out:
“Here are a few things to consider if you’re moving to a town like L.A. or New York: First, how many people do you know there? Make contact with each of them, and invite them to lunch or out for coffee. I also joined a bike team, which has nothing to do with the business, but it got me out, and I met some terrific people. It’s all about creating a community for yourself.
Consider moving into a house or apartment with a bunch of roommates who are in the biz or just starting out like you. The rent is cheaper, and you’ll be exposed to more people. And after a day of beating the streets, you’ll have someone to come home to and sit on the couch with. My roommates became my community, and I cannot imagine starting life here without them. It wasn’t until later that I moved into my own place. Next: pick a neighborhood you like and one that feels comfortable to you. Since I’m a water person, I just knew I had to live near the ocean. That helped.
Be prepared to get out of the house to meet people. Accept every invitation. There are always tons of parties and events where you can meet people in the ‘business.’ Your true friends will eventually come to the surface, but in the meantime, you will be building your contact list and learning how to get places. In no time at all, your social calendar will be filled and you’ll be able to pick and choose what you want to do.
Focus on your goal. I worked as an assistant director when I first moved here, and while I loved my time on the set, I never had any time off to write. The benefit of constantly working on sets is getting to meet new movie people, and when you want to do your own project, you’ll have tons of friends who can help you. The disadvantage is that you can become known as just another crew person who ‘really wants to direct.’ After a while, I ended up taking a straight nine to five office job so I could write. The hours aren’t so long, and I have my evenings and weekends to work on my own projects.
Take classes or join workshops. Figure out what kind of person you are and what kind of discipline you need to get your work done. Do you need deadlines? Do you need structure? Do you need a schedule? If you do, create it for yourself. Make your art your first priority after making money. Money is imperative, since the only thing more stressful than not getting your work done is money problems. Remove your money problems so you can focus on your work. But if you don’t make your art your top priority after having enough money, you just won’t do it. Some people opt to make their art their top priority instead of earning a living. I know two who threw caution to the wind when it came to finances, went deeply into debt and had sketchy loan sharks threatening to break their knees. Terrifying. One now has a seven-picture deal with Miramax. The other just signed a three-picture deal with Fox Studios after over five years of playing financial Russian Roulette. He is still crawling out of the hole, but both guys made it. It’s a path, but you have to have balls of steel to take it. Not for me, and anyway, I had enough debt from student loans and my car to not want any more. But if you have the opportunity to devote yourself 100% to your art, you’ll probably get there.
Excerpt from Hollywood Drive: What It Takes to Break In, Hang In & Make It in the Entertainment Industry by Eve Light Honthaner. Copyright © Elsevier 2005. All rights reserved.