Selling My Soul To Hollywood
October 10, 2010 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Should I move to Los Angeles to work in Teh Industry?

This is a bit of a follow up, or maybe a revisit, to this question from a few months ago.

I've spent the last five years working in film and television in New York. For a long time I was on a path towards eventually becoming a production designer. Earlier this year I realized I wasn't happy on that path, and that future career advances wouldn't make me any happier.

I've been assuming it's time for me to leave The Industry and pursue my writing - which up to this point has been blogging, creative nonfiction, and features journalism. I was looking into relocating to a cheaper city which would enable me to have a typical day job and dedicate more time to that.

And then my world got rocked. Someone recommended me as an assistant to a VIP type on a new TV series. I needed the money, and it's a part of the industry I've never really seen before. So I accepted.

I really like my new job. A lot. Enough for me to consider maybe not leaving the industry just yet. And now people, especially writers, are telling me I ought to be in Los Angeles.

This is something I hadn't seriously considered before. Hollywood seems really intense to me. Until now I also hadn't had any connections there, and didn't have a clear picture of how I would go about getting a job or even what sort of work I should be looking for.

In addition to my concerns about the Hollywood culture and career stuff, I'm also ambivalent about living in Los Angeles. I don't own a car. I prefer a more urban landscape. I like the somewhat intellectual cultural scenes of New York. I'm looking to relocate, and I'm aware that New York is New York and other places are not. But L.A. seems like a complete 180.

So...? Is this something that should be on my radar? Is this something I am destined to fail at, or that will make me miserable?

Important specifics:

1. I'm 29 years old, single, no kids, no debt. No strings, but I probably don't have another decade to go be some asshole's assistant and have it go nowhere.

2. I don't know a ton about screenwriting, though I have read hundreds of TV scripts as part of my job over the past several years. It's more like "I'm good at other kinds of writing, I have connections, why not?"

3. I've been to L.A. before and didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. In fact, I sort of liked it.

4. If I lived in Los Angeles, I'd want it to be somewhere relatively central.

5. I am prepared to have roommates. In fact I'd prefer it.
posted by Sara C. to Work & Money (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For one thing, start reading John August's blog. Search back -- there have been some great posts in the past there about what it's like to come to LA and start finding jobs in the industry. And you will definitely need a car. (It is possible to live in LA without a car. It is not possible to live in LA and work in the industry without a car.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:03 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the industry aspect of your question, but as someone who has lived in both New York and Los Angeles, it might be useful to reframe thought process such that you aren't trying to compare LA to NY, which is approximately like comparing apples to zucchinis.

This here is an amazing love letter to LA, and if what it says sounds good to you, you may very well be cut out for a fantastic adventure there. And if there's a chance for you to live in a place you find intriguing, doing work that you find exciting, why wouldn't you take it?
posted by amelioration at 7:06 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't do it, because people say things like, "You should do this and that" and give advice when they really don't have much of a stake in the outcome. Also, you like your current job. You should only move to LA if they give you an offer that has some security in it. Maybe you should make more connections in LA in the meantime so that door is always open.
posted by anniecat at 7:30 PM on October 10, 2010

Response by poster: Anniecat, the job I have now only lasts until the end of this month. There may be another season, or other offers that will come out of this particular gig. But in my experience, there are no "offers that have some security in them" in the sense that other fields offer that*. I can get recruited, interview, start a new job, settle in, and finish out in the time it takes a person in another field to go through the initial interview process.

I've also learned so far in this industry that you do NOT pass on a better opportunity because you already have a job and it doesn't entirely suck. And I think the people telling me I should be in L.A. are saying it because they mean it, and because they're trying to give me career advice.

*Though it's entirely possible that some producer I know would say, "well if you ever end up in L.A. give me a call, we'll find you some work to do." But that's not really a secure job offer in the sense you probably mean.
posted by Sara C. at 7:48 PM on October 10, 2010

I have had to face almost this exact same question before. I had been working in the industry in New York for about five years, but without any progression towards anything real, and trying to write (I actually wrote a number of screenplays I was quite proud of, but I had no idea of how to go about shopping them.)

Facing my late twenties and knowing that I would one day need to settle an actual self-sufficient life, I pondered moving to L.A. and instead went to DC for law school. Now it's four years later, waiting for my bar results, and still no jobs on the horizon. So that might not have been the best choice.

The truth is that the industry in NY can sustain you, and for a certain personality LA just isn't going to cut it for what they need from where they live. I can't tell you if you are that personality but it sounds like you are. Once you are inured with the overall closeness friendliness of NY, any place that is that immersed in car culture and "who you know" is going to be difficult, especially in a time in one's life when they aren't going back to school or any other place where meeting people is relatively easy.

But not to be a downer! If you know how to write well, and tell compelling stories, then adapting to screenwriting is a fairly simple matter. You're going to want to pick up some books. Robert McKee's Story is the gold standard, even if you need to take some of it with a grain of salt. The columns are also indispensable (and this one is particularly aimed towards your question.)

Most importantly, however, if you want to write (that is, you just don't think production design is going to happen now without something unforseeable occurring), you don't need to make this call yet. You can write in NY, and probably keep doing so if you become successful at it, given the advances of the information age and the prevalence of East Coast Offices of the studios.

Anyway, feel welcome to MeMail me if you have any more questions, and just remember that moving to an unfamiliar place on spec is generally going to be unwise, especially if you like where you are. If you DO decide to make the jump, though, I'm sure there are many MeFites who would be happy to meet you and help you get started. Good luck!
posted by Navelgazer at 7:53 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. That "asshole's assistant" job could be the path to success.. but only if you change the way you think about it. My kid was an "assistant" for years... took the bosses kids to soccer, took the car in for service, did the construction manager gig for the house renovation, worked his butt off... eventually that "assistant" title changed to "Producer"... it wouldn't have happened had he had a negative perspective on that assistant job...

2. That "assistant" job allows you to network and make contacts for your writing, don't underestimate the value of that.

3. there is no "central" in L.A., you'll need a car, you'll do a lot of driving.

You're at a perfect age to give this a shot..but be prepared to work very, very hard.
posted by HuronBob at 8:00 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

- I disagree. I think NYC is WAY more intense than LA. Maybe because there is less opportunity in TV and Film in NYC?


-You will need a car. It's fine. You'll adjust.

-I prefer West Hollywood. Easy to Downtown. Easy to the West Side once you figure out the short cuts. Easy over the Hill. There are tons of neighborhoods in LA, tho, and everyone has their favorite.

I find once one settles on an area, most people really kinda settle in and live within 2 miles of their home (socially) due to traffic patterns and hassle. Don't be that person! Always be somewhere that you feel it is easy to get in and out of.

-If you ever want to get anywhere on time, stay off the 405. It's called a Freeway... but another and more accurate term would be Parking Lot.

See you when you get here!
posted by jbenben at 8:38 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Fwiw, if you told me you were going to move to LA to be "in the industry" I'd assume you were going to do porn.
posted by bardic at 9:29 PM on October 10, 2010

I posed this question to a career counselor just yesterday. Currently, I'm a fashion design student in Los Angeles. I asked him, "So what if I wanted to go to New York?"

He emphasized the importance of your network. Since you've been in the business for several years, you have a better network in NY than you would coming to LA and starting fresh. So where your network is is definitely something to consider.

He advised that I should build up my career and experience in LA a bit and then consider moving to NY in a few years when I have something to bring to the table and probably have made a few connections there.

As for LA...

While you will need a car, I have to say that getting around downtown LA is pretty easy with a combo of subway, buses and city-walking. I don't know why people are so clueless/scared/apprehensive about public transportation around here. Example:

"So, where'd you park?"
"I took the subway and a bus."
"Oh... you can do that?"
"Yeah, its really easy." (really easy, you can route it on google maps!)
"I've never been on a bus. They seem scary."

It's just a frigging bus! Same thing with the subway. "Oh cool, we can take the Purple line there." "Oh, I can just drive us." And then we spend 15 minutes trying to find parking, ugh.

Sorry, that turned a little ranty. However, that said, you will need a car. That's just how it is in California.

Good luck~ feel free to memail me!
posted by p1nkdaisy at 9:55 PM on October 10, 2010

I don't know anything about the industry, because I'm not in it. I did move to LA for a job, from a city that is very different (London). Yes, you need a car. There are neighborhoods you will enjoy, that are walkable.

Overall though, I can't give know your situation, but all I can say is that you should do it. Seize opportunities. You are young, have no family to tie you to NY. Go, try it out. What's the worst that happens? You don't like it and move back to NY. Not really such a bad thing to happen. Better than forever wondering, what if?
posted by Joh at 9:56 PM on October 10, 2010

Someone commented that being in a place that is immersed in "who you know" will be difficult. I'd like to refine the point: It's quite possible that you're in an industry where people care who you know. But LA is a city where the vast vast vast majority of people are still in no way connected to that industry, and what's more, they don't give a shit who you know or where you're from.

This could actually be really nice - go two miles in any direction from wherever you work, and you're going to be able to plug into a really interesting world that's totally outside of your professional life. If you're into separating work and life, I think LA could make that happen. You just have to work at it a bit.

As to preferring the intellectual character of New York, this is a common complaint of Bay Area people who come to or move to LA. People often miss going to a sidewalk cafe and overhearing people talk about books and movies, for example.

There are two ways to view it, though: one is that LA is a less intellectual place. The other is that LA is full of people who didn't go to grad school, or college, or high school, or grade school in whatever city or country they are from. They bring a lot to the table intellectually, but it may be in ways and venues that you are unaccustomed to.

On the flipside, LA's large enough that you can cultivate anything you want for yourself.
posted by kensington314 at 1:30 AM on October 11, 2010

Best answer: I'll pipe in on the whole "never thought about living in LA thing". I'm from Chicago and have lived in New Mexico, Detroit, Boston and Northampton MA all before settling in Denver. I'm going to be moving to LA in the new year because that's where my GF is. I've been spending A LOT of time there these last several months.

It's really grown on me. I once that it a soulless void of sunshine and nothing else. Since actually being there I've realized that there really is something interesting going on every night... somewhere in the city.

There are actually neighborhoods. With unique identities, even. Transit does exist and it isn't the worst in the US. But I agree with someone up thread who said that you're unlikely to be able to be IN THE INDUSTRY without one. Time, after all, is money.

I don't find people to be as diverse in LA as in Chicago or New York... But I'm in Hollywood and WeHo a lot. I wouldn't expect a lot of diversity. When we venture into Ktown, Echo Park, etc things get a little more interesting.

You will have to cultivate friendships to sustain you. And because LA is so vast and there's so much to do, it can be hard. Roomies will certainly help this! So will MeFi... or at least this MeFite... come on out and check LA out for yourself. If I'm in town we can arrange to do a little tour of the more interesting parts of LA with you. Be forewarned: this will include Hugo's for vegan goodness, Scoops for vegan ice cream and the Museum of Jurassic Technology if my GF has anything to do with it.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:23 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

LA is possible but difficult without a car (I got from Long Beach to Santa Monica on the bus at 14. It took I think 4 hours, but I made it!)

I know a lot of people in "the industry" in LA who have been struggling for 10+ years despite great networks and writing/whatever ability. They mostly have part-time jobs and an amazing ability to always mention when their Director's Guild (or whatever) screeners come in the mail. Living in LA is very expensive in ways (i.e. not fixable by having a roommate) that surprise most newcomers, even from the Northeast. This seems to make one lull very costly, if not fatal, to one's career.

Having said that (and nthing the "no place is central" thing) I would never live in NYC and still kind of miss LA.
posted by SMPA at 6:48 AM on October 11, 2010

Can you work on your writing from anywhere? If so, why not try LA and if the Industry thing doesn't work out or loses it's appeal, start working on your writing. At that point you'll have a network on both coasts and can move back to NYC if you wish.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:12 AM on October 11, 2010

Response by poster: SMPA, what do you mean when you say that the expensiveness of L.A. is not fixable by having a roommate? Do you mean people don't do that, or that a roommate won't entirely solve the problem?

Also, to folks reiterating that I'd need a car - I'd figured that. And would be open to getting one if I decided to try L.A. I don't mind driving, I just wouldn't want to live a completely car-fueled lifestyle where I have to drive everywhere for everything all the time and basically live on the 405. For instance I would want to live in a neighborhood where I might be able to walk some places sometimes.

I'll also explain what I meant when I said that I'd want to live somewhere "central". When I moved to New York, I was desperate to live in Manhattan. So I got a place in Inwood, which is way, way uptown. It was Manhattan, sure, but it took half an hour on the subway to do anything. There were no restaurants, no interesting bars, no shopping. You couldn't even rent a video. And forget proximity to the culturally interesting "downtown" sorts of places, or the possibility that I'd live near the friends I was meeting in school and my new job. I don't want to make that mistake again - if I move cities, I'd like to land in an area where I would be near the stuff I like to do (and/or likeminded people), or even just the basic conveniences of living a comfortable life. I basically don't want to live in the complete ass end of nowhere just because "It's LA!"
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 AM on October 11, 2010

It's great that you have that impulse about living in a central 'hood, because imho those are the awesome places to live here! I say this as someone who wasted 5 years in the culturally meh and gridlocked part of the city that is the westside. I used to spend at least 30 minutes driving to the interesting stuff, now I can walk/ride my bike/take the subway to a lot of that same stuff. Like any other place, LA is what you make of it.

Roommates are perfectly normal here--like any other place. The only thing that will cost more here is transportation if you have a car (insurance+gas). Everything else you can do for less.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2010

I just wouldn't want to live a completely car-fueled lifestyle where I have to drive everywhere for everything all the time and basically live on the 405. For instance I would want to live in a neighborhood where I might be able to walk some places sometimes.

It's quite possible to live in a neighborhood in LA where you can walk to a great many restaurants, clubs, stores, theaters, parks, whatever. So it's not like you'd need to drive to every single place you want to go. But you'd need a car for work-related matters and for the times where you need to hit places you can't walk to.

Don't think you'd be chained to your steering wheel. Yeah, you'd want or need a car. No, that doesn't mean you can't walk places. You just can't walk every place.

I basically don't want to live in the complete ass end of nowhere just because "It's LA!"

If you're working in the industry you probably wouldn't be living in the ass end of nowhere. But you will, of course, be paying extra dinero not to live in the ass end of nowhere.
posted by Justinian at 10:45 AM on October 11, 2010

Yeah, you'd be totally fine. GF lives in Hollywood, essentially at Hollywood and Fairfax. She walks all over or takes the bus to places beyond her hoofing range. She goes weeks without getting in her car.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:56 AM on October 11, 2010

Roommates don't entirely solve the problem. Bearing in mind that I've never lived in any other similar city on my own as an adult full-time - every little thing seems to cost more than it does elsewhere. The fact that you have to spend an enormous amount on not just your living space but also food, the car insurance, the annual registration, your clothes... every place else I've lived, there's been somewhere nearby that you can decamp to that costs less (like living in NJ or rural Virginia but commuting into NYC or DC.) In LA it's expensive for two or three hours in every direction.

It doesn't help that my time in LA as an adult was defined by a soul-crushing lack of funds that got worse the harder I tried. As an example: I spent an entire (weekly, only job I could find) paycheck on my vehicle license fee. If my car hadn't died (the last straw before I moved out of the state,) the next VLF would have taken most of another paycheck. The cost to register my $900 car for one year in CA was thus close to three times the cost of registering my current, $10,000 car in Ohio. Not counting smog checks, higher insurance, etc. - that's the paperwork fee to register the car. I hear they doubled the VLF after I left.

I was also renting a single bedroom from a guy whose ex-wife shrieked at him at all hours of the day and night, in a house with severe infestations and some significant structural problems, for $400 a month. Some of the Mormon kids I knew in Long Beach had "the House," which someone's dad had cosigned a mortgage for, and there were always several more guys than beds even though all the beds were bunked (the rumor was that there were twenty designated "spots," but the girls were disinclined to visit so no one could confirm if that was really true.) Almost every person under 35 that I know is either married or living with their parents or both, outside of these crazy ten-guys-to-a-bathroom scenarios. Including everyone in the business: these are people with lots of IMDb credits who have funny stories about Star Trek actors and 35-hour-a-week jobs in retail management, not just my Disney coworkers (some of whom had a $250-for-a-bed deal going in Lakewood that I can probably hook you up with.)

Which isn't to say that it's necessarily any worse than NYC (from reading the New York Times, I'm inclined to think that it isn't.) But it's awfully hard to come into this scenario without resources and be comfortable. I think a lot of people underestimate how much harder it is to start over in a very expensive place than it is to be there already.

If you like walking to stuff like bars and tea rooms and comic book stores and such, the Burbank/Glendale/South Pasadena/Highland Park/Eagle Rock area is not that bad, and it seems to a kid who grew up and hung out there in the 1980s/1990s that it's ridiculously safe these days. Certainly it's better than the suburby bits of Long Beach/Huntington Beach/Anaheim for walkability. But be aware there's always something happening at Downtown Disney or Hollywood & Highland or the Hollywood Bowl or Griffith Park or Santa Monica or whatever, and you can't possibly walk to them all, and therefore stock up on podcasts: my Star Wars habit and UCLA classes and Long Beach address put me in the car a good 20 hours a week. Plus, California embraced the modern mall very early, so some things, and certainly affordable things, are sometimes inconvenient by mass transit (as compared with NYC or Chicago or DC.) I actually trick-or-treated each year in the Glendale Galleria as it was unsafe to do so in the area my family lived. People share tips on the safest and most desirable places to drive their trick-or-treaters to.

And if you end up working for the Mouse, use your CM access to the parks and treat the people there well. The ABC and Studio guys weren't often very pleasant, when they showed up at all, and it rankled. For whatever reason, the ESPN workers were always really respectful (and seemed to actually enjoy themselves.)
posted by SMPA at 11:32 AM on October 11, 2010

Response by poster: The fact that you have to spend an enormous amount on not just your living space but also food, the car insurance, the annual registration, your clothes...

Isn't this going to be true of living life an as adult, like, anywhere? It's not like we're nudists living on manna from heaven here in New York. Browsing Westside Rentals, rents look either cheaper or I could pay basically the same amount for something much better than I can afford here in New York.

The main thing I'm concerned about, in terms of making ends meet, is car expenses. Which is something that's going to take some math, and probably also some savings, over the next several months as I decide whether this is a good idea or not. How possible would it be to get by with a (high quality, new) vespa or a motorbike of some kind? Would that be cheaper, or am I just deluding myself by thinking "not a car" = "none of the problems of a car"?
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 AM on October 11, 2010

I think your ability to get by with a scooter of any kind depends entirely on what kind of work you're going to be doing and what your dress expectation is going to be. If you're an assistant to someone I would imagine that a scooter may not fly if you're going to be expected to pick up/drop stuff (or people) off. If you're going to be some schmo on a set and just have to be places in a timely fashion then I would say a two wheeled vehicle would be ideal. Do keep in mind that lane sharing is legal in LA and you can conceivably get where you're going a LOT faster on two wheels. You will want to be EXTRA careful doing so, though.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:58 PM on October 11, 2010

Response by poster: Good point about being an assistant and needing to pick things up, drop things off, possibly give people rides. I take for granted the existence of "production vehicles" here in New York.
posted by Sara C. at 1:37 PM on October 11, 2010

This is coming from someone who just moved from LA to NYC and work in the industry. I left LA after 8 years only because I didn't like the city, and feel New York is a better fit. After reading your paragraph, I recommend 2 things..

-Even more than thinking about the cities, try to think of something you can reasonably do that will make you happy. You can always write what you want to on the side, maybe things will work out. Everyone in LA wants Something grand, but most work on crappy tv shows and try their best and who knows some make, some don't.

-Move, why not. Do it minimally. Don't take much stuff, live minimally, work hard. Even if you're not successful it will be an experience that will help you grow as a person.
posted by mattsweaters at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, I have always felt that networks are totally different between the two cities. I have a few friends here who've gone to L.A. and done well, but mostly after happening upon some L.A. contacts here in New York. And now it's happening to me. I'd hope that seeing some of my previous jobs (most of which are incredibly well known properties/projects) would help me at least be taken seriously, but yeah, I'd be relying on L.A. based connections I'm developing on my current job.
posted by Sara C. at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2010

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