Would grad school be a good way to relocate?
July 5, 2013 11:24 AM   Subscribe

With a strong desire to live in NY or LA and having trouble finding work that will get me out there, if grad school is a partial-to-fully-subsidised option, would it be worth while to relocate for?

I want to write for TV or work in the TV/Film industry in some capacity. This has been a long term goal of mine for over a decade now, though I have always felt like I have been moving in the wrong direction.

I finished my undergrad degree about 3 years ago (unconventionally at the age of 28) and immediately did PA work on two features before the work more or less dried up here in Austin. Since those two films all I have done is day played on a reality show and not much else.

I know I need to be in LA or NY. I have never been to LA and recently won a trip to NY and thought it was pretty great, though I was only there for two days.

Relocating seems far off because of my current financial situation, however my dad is retired military and has said that he can transfer his GI bill that he never used to me for grad school. I think it would cover most cost, there may or may not be a stipened, and if I need to, I have no problem working (worked my way through school once before). If I were accepted in to a school I am sure I could find financial help from family to get to the new location.

The programs in NY and LA both seem to offer a greater ability to network and get internships in industry than the poor luck I am having now, but it also feels like a big risk. I feel like I am teetering between making this big move by any means neccesary (though those means seem limited) or giving up on my dream all together.

In the meantime I have been trying to work on things here. I made an indie pilot/short film but I feel like it didn't come out as well as I would have liked and may actually hurt me more than it helps, and it left me broke even though i (comparitevly) spent nothing on it.

So I guess my question ends up being two questions 1) is this a viable way to relocate and 2) is this worth while for the industry I am trying to be in? It feels like opinions on graduate degrees are varied in the industry with a lot of emphasis put on the fact that one went to more school instead of just going to work.

Any advice, recomendations or thoughts are welcome. I've asked many contacts I have and the answers seem to be "it doesn't hurt to try" but I already feel like I am in a state of financial ruin, so i certainly appreciate any info
posted by djduckie to Education (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What do you do now for work? Because if the answer is 'nothing'... why not hop on a bus, get on Couchsurfing.org, and try to get a job at an LA coffee shop?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:30 AM on July 5, 2013

I work at for a telecomm. I make more than minnimum wage, but just barely enough to get by.
posted by djduckie at 11:31 AM on July 5, 2013

I think it would cover most cost, there may or may not be a stipened, and if I need to, I have no problem working (worked my way through school once before). If I were accepted in to a school I am sure I could find financial help from family to get to the new location.

A stipend from the education institution won't cover much, probably nowhere near what you'd need to live in NY or LA. My wife's grad school stipend was contingent on grad school being her "job" (she was technically paid for Graduate Assistant work she did for professors, like grading papers and teaching classes) and specifically forbid her from having any other employment. And since grad school doesn't seem to be your main reason for actually being there - you're only going to be there to make contacts in the city and try to get into showbiz, right? - you'll probably flunk out in short order.
posted by LionIndex at 11:42 AM on July 5, 2013

I have no problem working

I am sure I could find financial help from family to get to the new location.

Perhaps I'm missing something but why can't you just move and get a random job? Unless there's some program that's an absolute guarantee of professional success (and from what I understand there isn't) it sounds like "get a few years older and put off actually trying to work in chosen field while attending more school" is really not the way to go here. Actually this whole question, the way you worded it, made me flash back to my college days and an oft-repeated catch phrase of our instructors (in a closely related field): "the resistance is the neurosis."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:45 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely look into how much would be paid for (including living expenses). If the answer is most, then sure, it seems like a good thing to do. You can use the time in school to do internships, make connections, and work on your craft.

If the answer is "not much would be paid for" then you need to figure out if there's a way you can make up the difference without taking out huge loans.
posted by lunasol at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2013

Crazy idea - what if instead of going to grad school, you apply for jobs at the institution that you're interested in attending? Universities have tons of jobs, the benefits are usually good and occasionally you can even take classes on the cheap.
posted by kat518 at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2013

Both LA and NYC are very expensive places to live and go to school.

I would just go to one of these cities, find a job, say in a coffee shop or restaurant, and network the hell out of the place.
posted by dfriedman at 12:07 PM on July 5, 2013

Don't go to grad school unless you are seriously passionate about a specific subject enough to be poor for the next 2-10 years (depending on the subject and if you want a PhD). There is getting in first, which requires money (application fees), GRE testing (studying and MORE money), finding a mentor that will be willing to take you on and nurture you (difficult), and even that does not guarantee you a spot. Funding varies, is competitive, and not guaranteed throughout your entire career. So, for example, if your funding is based on a grant, and that grant runs out after year one, you're in a position where you have to scramble to find funding. Even then unless you receive an impressive fellowship (typically awarded to those with an impressive background in the field) you are STILL going to be hovering around or beneath the poverty line even with a stipend. Also, considering graduate school is a full-time job itself, you probably won't find yourself with much free time, unless you want to flunk out or gain nothing from the experience. A lot of grad students also report experiencing more anxiety/depression and other psychological distress than their non-academic peers.

Save some money, Air BnB/couchsurf around, and find a job that will allow you to explore and experiment in a new city.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:42 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Find out more about your father's GI Bill benefits so you can make a informed calculation of what the costs of going to school might be. The GI Bill comes in a number of flavors depending on the period and details of service. Benefits can vary from tuition plus a location-determined housing allowance to much more limited benefits. This is further complicated by the fact that some higher-cost private schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, which effectively reduces tuition for certain GI Bill participants.

Benefits can also vary by your state of residence and the details of the school. Your best bet is to identify specific programs at specific schools and check with the VA to see what the GI Bill would cover.
posted by potential lunch winner at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2013

I can't speak for NY, but as far as LA goes, grad schools can definitely offer you a networking boost. But only the right grad schools. Honestly, there are only a couple in each city that carry any kind of cache. In LA, it's USC, AFI, and to a much lesser degree, programs at UCLA and Cal Arts.

The thing is, people expect that going to USC, for example, means a guaranteed career path in the industry. Not so. Even being at a tremendous grad school, like SC, will still require you to network like hell.

I knew immensely talented people at SC who never made it in the business simply because they weren't active enough in getting their name out there, scouring relentlessly for jobs and internships, and pulling every string possible to get contacts. They just didn't get the culture. I knew others who were much less talented, but who busted their tails and got the right "ins."

One more thing as far as LA goes... I'm not saying you can't make it out here. But just be aware of how many other people are also coming out here to live in West LA, go to a grad school, work as a food server, and "try to network and get noticed" in production or as talent. Thousands upon thousands of people have this same idea and already live in LA right now, trying to do this. I know several myself. Some have found some success, while others are scraping by year after year.

It's not impossible! You can do it, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort (or a tremendous amount of luck).

Best wishes.
posted by Old Man McKay at 4:39 PM on July 5, 2013

Have you written any scripts? If not, you should start. Grad school at USC or UCLA--assuming you get in--is one way to get started in show biz, but there's no guarantees. If you move to LA, be prepared to work at a day job, while writing your specs and samples the rest of the time.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2013

I want to write for TV or work in the TV/Film industry in some capacity.

Do not go to grad school for this unless you are independently wealthy.

If you want to go into this for a career, and you don't already have an in, the best thing to do is to move to one of those two cities, get a crappy side job or temp or something, and then work your way in via working on student shorts for free and networking your ass off.

If you want to write, the best way to do this is to move to Los Angeles. There are almost no TV writers' rooms in New York. You're not going to get staffed as a writer in this point in your nonexistent career (ESPECIALLY out of New York, see above about the dearth of writers' rooms there), and you have virtually zero chance of lucking into a writers' assistant gig in New York. Once you've arrived in Los Angeles, get that shitty side gig or temp job or whatever and start writing. Network, improve, write your ass off. Keep doing it. Get better. After a long time, maybe you'll end up staffed on a series. If you're lucky.

You have no chance whatsoever to get a job in TV or film and be relocated from wherever you currently live to either New York or Los Angeles. The industry just doesn't work that way.

In order to get a career in TV or film, you will have to start with unpaid internships and slowly work your way up through entry level jobs over several years. This is why it's pointless to go to grad school for this sort of thing unless you're independently wealthy. The sheer amount of student debt will prevent you from actually doing what you want to do, and nobody wants you to have an MFA, anyway, so it's basically flushing money down the drain.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another reason not to go to grad school -- on top of it being a pointless waste of money and an entirely unnecessary qualification -- is that you're already on the older end for the entry level in film and TV. If you spend a year applying to grad programs, and then you spend 2 years getting an MFA, and THEN you want to start working in the industry, that's just not going to be an option.

Productions tend to wrinkle their noses at hiring unpaid interns in their mid 30s, and even if you can convince someone to hire you as a PA at 35+, chances are you'll feel either physically or socially too old for that kind of work. Creatively, while I won't say it's impossible to get staffed as a writer in your late 30s, your chances decrease as you approach middle age. If you want to be writing or directing, you need to be doing that right now, not waiting 3-4 years to think about starting to work towards that.

If you want a career that you can slowly gear up to over the next several years, you probably aren't looking for something in the film industry. At least not on the production or creative side.
posted by Sara C. at 10:39 PM on July 5, 2013

Seconding Sara C. - grad school won't help you in the entertainment industry much at all. Technology tends to be highly outdated on the production side in school, so it's not even great vocational training. There is some slight networking boost, but just working will get you that.

You should move to LA for all the reasons she cited. Production and writing for film and TV is in LA. NYC is more reality, art film and (rarely) tv (law and order and Girls mostly). If you were into theater and indie films maybe NYC would be a decent idea, but commercial filmmaking is pretty much an LA industry. As a bonus LA is a lot cheaper and a better quality of life.

A car is your biggest start up cost in moving to LA, and you may already have one? If so, get in your car, find a craigslist sublet and just move.

I feel like there is a decent Austin network in LA, have you looked into your alumni group or anything to find people who moved there? That's a good start to meet people and get the lay of the land.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:58 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

MFAs in film are not like a PhD program- you'll most likely be looking at loans (not grants) and spending over 6 figures in total. Believe me, even at top schools the ROI is terrible. Old Man McKay makes a good point about specific schools- those are the ones you want to target if you're set on this plan, but I really think you should just move and get an internship with your money.
posted by rainydayfilms at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think moving to NY to pursue a career in film and TV can be a great idea, if what you want to do is be a production accountant, or a location manager, or a technician of some kind (camera, sound, post-production, etc).

There really is a lot of work there, and it's a small community, so one or two big movies in town can skew things to the point where they're desperate to hire ANYONE with the right skills. Also, since New York is a huge world-class city which is a hub for a lot of other different industries, there isn't that since of EVERYONE in town clamoring to "make it" in film, which can make Los Angeles intimidating and make the industry here kind of gatekeepish.

That said, the only part of the entertainment industry that is in New York at all is the production side of television and features. And mostly only specific kinds of TV and features. If you want to work in an agency, move to LA. If you want to work at a studio, move to LA. If you want to make commercials, move to LA. If you're interested in reality TV, move to LA. If you want to hop from indie to indie and never worry about joining a union, move to LA.

And by and large, if you want to write, move to LA. Even within the framework of certain types of television and features that tend to happen in New York, all the writers for those projects are working out of Los Angeles. The thing about writing for film is that you can basically do it anywhere, but all the networking and meetings and wheeling and dealing and development happen in Los Angeles. Even if you were to move to New York and luck into a job as an assistant in one of the few TV writers' rooms that exist there, if you want to make the leap to actually becoming a TV writer yourself, you're going to need to move to Los Angeles to have any real shot at it.
posted by Sara C. at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2013

If any of your preferred schools are public move there first and establish residency, it will save you a whole lot on tuition.
posted by mareli at 12:12 PM on July 6, 2013

Btw, my successful LA TV writer friend moved to LA from NY because she felt that there was no way to get into that line of work in NY. Circumstances were different from yours, but it was still a huge personal change and not an easy thing to move. She had gone to grad school but not for film. Probably what her grad (and undergrad) degrees helped with most in LA was connections. (She went to those kinds of schools.) She also had a NY agent at an agency w/ an office in LA. So if you've done other writing, maybe the local agent with LA agent connections is another thing to consider. Not that literary agents are the easiest things to acquire... But basically I just remember her teaching herself how to write scripts, moving out there, and being really determined about networking, etc.

Though FWIW (which might not be much) I know other people who work in non-writing aspects of film/tv and live in NYC, Baltimore, Vancouver, and (I think?) Wilmington NC.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:21 PM on July 6, 2013

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