How can I pay the bills in LA in the meantime?
January 11, 2005 10:41 PM   Subscribe

I am in the last semester of my undergraduate years, and am facing the prospect of 'real life' in a few months. I live in Los Angeles and am planning on pursuing music and screenwriting as a career, but obviously will need to work to support myself while I pursue these unlikely options. I am wondering what suggestions people have as to what jobs would pay a living wage relatively quickly without much experience...[more inside]

I am looking at bartending/wating tables but have no experience in either field (other than some catering work I did) and am not certain at all how hard it is to get a job like this without any resume to speak of. I will be graduating with a B.A. in Poitical Science, but don't like the idea of going to law school. Any help on what jobs to work during the interim period of my life would be much appreciated, along with tips/advice on how to obtain a bartending (or similar) job (for instance, do those bartending schools do anything for you?). Thanks in advance...
posted by rooftop secrets to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Los Angeles and am planning on pursuing music and screenwriting as a career, but obviously will need to work to support myself while I pursue these unlikely options.

Have you considered living abroad for a couple of years, perhaps in someplace very cheap like Beijing, Seoul, or Prague? This would give you the life experience/cultural understanding/personal growth that might fuel (or at least inform) your art, and since it would be much easier to make a living wage in those places (probably by teaching English, since as an American you're probably a coveted commodity), you'd also have more time to write/perform. After a couple of years, if you've got something really great that you think people would be interested in, LA will still be there.

Just a thought.
posted by gd779 at 11:02 PM on January 11, 2005

How's your typing? Even a low level clerical job can help you start the career if it puts you in daily contact with relevant industry professionals. It's all about building up contacts. If there's a particular company you'd love to be writing (playing?) for, apply for every opening you're remotely qualified for. If their current openings don't fit your skills, ask which agency handles their temping and go apply there. Temping can't be trusted for a reliable income, but on the other hand they can usually put you into something fast and the paychecks get cut every week.

On the other hand, gd779 has a great point. LA is ruled by the ambitious and hungry. There are better, cheaper places to focus on exploring your creativity and developing your craft.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:08 PM on January 11, 2005

A lot of college friends waited tables or tended bar. Their consensus is that good money can be had, but be prepared to be thoroughly wiped out by the end of a shift. Keep in mind too that if you're planning to do music gigs, that's probably going to directly conflict with your employer's busiest hours and your peak tip-earning periods.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:27 PM on January 11, 2005


I would recommend manual labor, good grist for a writer. Go for cement finishing or even set construction. Some kind of construction. Those jobs pay pretty good after a little bit and you'll at least get some exercise in the bargainou'll likely get called all sorts of names buy a bunch of bozos though. Plus, if you fuckin' hate it it motivate you to keep on your chosen path.
I had a lot of 20 somethinng friends who worked contract delivery jobs for the USPS...and the hot girls in movies always go for the UPS guy...
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 11:29 PM on January 11, 2005

If you're determined to stay in LA within the parameters you set in your post, prostistution is one option. Since you live here and you're young you probably know better than I where to start (I'd suggest the Standard on Sunset or downtown, and the Chauteau Marmont). Get to know the bartenders and the bouncers before you try anything. I've heard of a listserv but don't know it's address. Main thing: do not attemp this without a measure of protection, and that best line of protection is your fellow workers.

A waitron job at an exclusive club is a good in, but again, it's who you know.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:36 PM on January 11, 2005

Bartending school is a scam. Restaurants want experience, not schooling. And if you seek employment at United Parcel, anticipate excellent pay for being treated like shit.
posted by cribcage at 12:02 AM on January 12, 2005

posted by Kwantsar at 12:37 AM on January 12, 2005

In that part of the country, to make money quickly without much work experience, probably the porn industry. I hear men don't make very much money compared to women, though.
posted by matildaben at 6:18 AM on January 12, 2005

Depends on what you mean by "living wage," but I'd definitely look into temping. If you have computer/typing skills, you can probably get boring, but steady, data entry work and depending on how supervised you are (some companies seem to want to believe that temps don't even exist) you might get a fair amount of writing done at work.

I temped right out of college for about a year; my last assignment turned into a permanent job. Soul-sucking, but permanent. It's been my experience that in big cities, you can get fairly steady work as long as you a) show up, b) don't bitch too much and c) have the most rudimentary of social skills. The bar for "impressive" as a temp is disturbingly low.
posted by hilatron at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2005

My advice (from someone who KNOWS) is this:

DO NOT get a waitering or construction job unless that's what you want to do with your life. You will not make much money, and these jobs are hard, harder than real jobs. You will be wiped out and never get around to writing anything. You may get stuck at this job for a long time and it will never help you in the least.

DO GET a job working at a publishing house or somewhere related to what you want to do. The best way of getting this job is to offer your services for free for a while somewhere, or at a really low salary, which is what you would be making anyway.

You will find it really is easier to achieve your goals by making ok money with a real job, than working your ass off at a low paying one. Don't equate artistic success with material success. Go for both. The starving artist thing is a tired cliche that doesn't hold up. You won't regret it.
posted by xammerboy at 7:13 AM on January 12, 2005

Get a job as a production assistant. I understand that Dreamworks hires out of Adecco. As a working screenwriter, I urge you to stay as close to the industry as possible and in a position to make contacts, or you'll likely be very sorry later.
posted by headspace at 7:51 AM on January 12, 2005

headspace is dead-on. I moved to LA to do what you're considering (screenwriting that is, not music). Didn't know the city. Didn't know anybody. But I was fortunate enough to land a PA job on a network show. The pay's crap. The hours are long. But there's no substitute for the experience and connections an entry-level job in the industry can give you. Shook lots of hands during the day, and wrote lots of spec scripts at night. Three years later, I was on staff and in the Guild.

You're gonna need two things to make it in Los Angeles:
1) ability
2) connections

The first thing you're gonna have to take care of on your own, the second will only come by working in or around the industry. You'll make more money waiting tables or whatever, but an amazing script will do you no good if you can't get someone to read it.

If you're still in school, check out the Academy Of Television Arts And Sciences. They have a great internship for students (it's what got me to move to LA). It's paid, and you can apply for it even if you're a senior (I did).

Good luck.
posted by herc at 10:57 AM on January 12, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions people. I have a fair amount of connections through my writing partner who is graduating the USC screenwriting program at the same time as I am graduating from the PoliSci dept. We think we have ability but that remains to be seen. I like the suggestions though and I will look into a temp agency for quick work right out of school, as that sounds like something relatively easy to do. I also thought about the fact that a waiting/bartending job may conflict with anything gis at night or late night writing sessions, and the line about working a job you hate as motivation is dead-on (I have had quite a few of those). So thanks for all the help again.
posted by rooftop secrets at 2:07 PM on January 12, 2005

I agree with Headspace and Herc. A writers' assistant job is even better than a production assistant job, if you can get such a thing; I was a writers' assistant on an HBO show for 3 years before getting on staff and into the WGA.

Of course, writers' assistants jobs are in even more heavy demand than PA jobs, which in and of themselves can be tough to find. You might need to look for a job-to-pay-the-bills-while-you're-waiting-for-a-better-job-to-pay-the-bills-while-you're-waiting-for-your-dream job. Basically, anything that can get you on a studio lot or in a production company--answering phones, whatever--is a good start.

Most studio lots of reasonable size have in-house temps. I have heard them called "floaters" but I don't know if that's a universal phrase or specific to one studio. Call up the human resources department of Warner Brothers, Sony, etc, and ask if they have in-house temps, and, if so, how you can become one. I once heard a talk by a guy who won an Emmy for working on "From Earth To The Moon"; he started off as an in-house temp, got assigned to Tom Hanks' office temporarily; then got assigned to Tom Hanks' permanently; and, eventually, got the chance to impress Tom Hanks with a killer spec script.

If you can't get anything entertainment related, then I also endorse the idea of general temp work. You will often find that it leaves you with a fair amount of office-time for writing.
posted by yankeefog at 2:17 PM on January 12, 2005

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