Shits and Giggles vs. Craps and Laughs
May 17, 2007 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I want to move to LA and try to "make it." What are some general (or specific) things my young, naive, optimistic self should know before embarking on this adventure?
posted by Mach3avelli to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Doing what?? You should bloody know that part.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:07 PM on May 17, 2007

People will be able to be more helpful if you're a little more specific. From your tags, you're moving to... act? Be in a band? I guess? So are you asking how to get an actor? Where to get headshots? Will you need a day job? What kind of work do you want to do? Do you drive? Are you independently wealthy and you just want to know what bars to hang out at? When are you thinking of moving?
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:09 PM on May 17, 2007

You will probably fail. Don't let that deter you, though. Never know until ya try.
posted by gnutron at 10:10 PM on May 17, 2007

I'm going to guess you want to "get famous", so for general advice, I'd say...go, get a steady job so you can support yourself, and spend your nights networking and being creative. Make friends with people that are fun and interesting and like to do the same kind of stuff you do. Then, work on projects together. Work constantly, and promote the heck out of your stuff. It'll take a LOT of stamina but it's not impossible, especially if you're talented.
posted by lhall at 10:17 PM on May 17, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry.

posted by Mach3avelli at 10:18 PM on May 17, 2007

Jenna Fischer (The Office) wrote an excellent essay on this topic.
posted by O9scar at 10:22 PM on May 17, 2007

What's your background? Do you have previous acting experience? Where, and what kind? A degree? From what program? How old are you? What do you look like? Do you have friends in LA who work in the industry? Connections of any kind? More information about you will make it much, much easier for us to advise you.

Your profile says you're a "server, personal trainer, musician." Are you certified or accredited as a personal trainer, such that you'll be easily employable by gyms, etc.? Having a flexible day job will make it easier to support yourself while you audition. Any skills you can exploit to make money will be useful.
posted by decathecting at 10:31 PM on May 17, 2007

Response by poster: No acting experience, no connections, Communications degree from a UC, 25 years old, white male, no face shots/portfolio or anything. Just a dream. *emo tear

I can support myself as a server or certified personal trainer in the meantime right away.
posted by Mach3avelli at 10:58 PM on May 17, 2007

Don't touch drugs AT ALL. You have better things to spend your time, money, and health on. Also, your day job will drug-test you.

Live cheap and in LA county.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:05 PM on May 17, 2007

Don't you want to make sure you like acting first? Take an acting class somewhere and see if it suits you and if it's something you want to pursue seriously.
posted by junesix at 11:06 PM on May 17, 2007

Live cheap, clean and be incredibly hot. Learn to network, but don't learn in bars. Invest in a reputable acting class. Go out for auditions, for theater and tv alike. Never stop looking for a day job in the industry. Develop your own project as soon as you can guarantee its success, or at least completion. (Jenna Fischer's essay is all I can say and more.)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:20 PM on May 17, 2007

If you haven't already, build a very thick skin...and prepare for rejection. From women, agents and homeless folk, rejection from anyone within the city bounds. And they may make you change your name, I can't think of a single Jerome who "made it." Good luck!
posted by Asherah at 11:28 PM on May 17, 2007

I can't think of a single Jerome who "made it."

I can think of two: Jerome K. Jerome. BA-DUMP-TSSH.

Also, read Jenna Fischer's essay. Good luck - you'll need it. And be careful. LA is an isolating place.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:47 PM on May 17, 2007

Watch Swingers... imdb link
posted by tomw at 1:11 AM on May 18, 2007

Defining 'networking': find someone who is important in the biz and fuck them.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:49 AM on May 18, 2007

Expect to be rejected. A lot. Don't let it get you down. Get yourself out there. Network. A lot.
posted by zardoz at 3:00 AM on May 18, 2007

Serve from the left, pull from the right.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:18 AM on May 18, 2007

As someone who works in showbiz, I'll say that you should know that just about everything about LA sucks, but most of all Hollywood and TV people. If you walk in knowing that you'll be surrounded by assholes who are motivated entirely by self-interest and how they might leverage you into as much money as possible in their own pocket (while paying you as little as they think they can get away with), you can be better prepared and make decisions accordingly.

Also, as someone said above, watch "Swingers," if you haven't already.
posted by nevercalm at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2007

You sound way to unfocussed to begin this journey. Occasionally miracles happen and people get hit by the magic wand and succeed in show-biz, but if that's your plan, you might just as well stay at home and play the lottery.
To be successful as an actor you need acting in your lifeblood. You would be somebody who is already putting up with crap at their local theater because of the lessons they would learn. You are trying your hand at writing your own monologues. You are seeking out great hard-to-find monologues because they are like discovering gems. You are memorizing and reciting e.e. cummings because of the deliciousness of the words (Anthony Zoerbe got his start doing this).

I hate to be critical, but spare L.A. from another someone who sort of wants to become a star. To be an actor, it takes passion, ambition and love of the art.

And if it is right for you - nothing I said above should or will discourage you.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:31 AM on May 18, 2007

If you were in Canada I'd suggest this book. There's gotta be some sort of American equivalent.

I almost ended up going into theatre so I know some of the drill.

If you want to be an actor, you will spend 95% of your time promoting yourself and the other 5% actually acting. It ain't like most fields where, you learn your craft and network and eventually find a decent job. You could be drop-dead gorgeous, brimming with talent, know everyone in the business, and STILL find no work. That's show business. You really, really, REALLY, have to love acting if you want to pursue it as a career. Most actors end up becoming teachers because of the inconsistent/lack of work.

If you have no experience, I strongly suggest some preliminary acting classes. This is not to build on your "acting skills". It's to find out if you like the damn thing. Network. Try to meet as many actors as you can who are involved in the biz. Talk to them. Explore as much as you can. Go to as many shows as you possibly can. If you're still interested, try to find preprofessional or professional training classes that are available in your area.

More than 9 times out of 10, you will be hired for a job because you know the casting director (well), they like you, and you're attractive. Or you're just plain lucky.

My BF knew this one guy who was a successful actor in the US. But he was also a bit of a sociopath. He did classical theatre training for 4 years, he had a very yummy bod, but he wasn't getting any work. Turned down at every audition. There was one coming up, so he decided to befriend the casting director. But you can't just go up to the casting director and be all like "so, how YOU doin?" They'll spit in your face.

So he hired a private investigator for several g's to follow the casting director around--to pick up on his habits, his hobbies, etc. He found out the guy liked a particular ritzy bar, a particular beer, and a particular kind of gambling: horse-racing. So he made sure to go to the ritzy bar the same night the casting director was there. Dressed up to the nines. Striked up a conversation with the guy--just as a stranger. He paid for the guy's beer (and remember, this is a ritzy bar, so they expect $100 for a tip). He told the casting director that he was really sad because the horse he usually bet on had just died. They had a great conversation. Became the best of friends. The following week the casting director sees him at the auditions. Holy shit! What are you doing here! What a coincidence!

And guess who got the job.

We don't know if this story is true, since the BF kept saying how weird this guy was, but I dunno, it could happen. Sometimes, relying on luck just ain't good enough.
posted by Menomena at 7:45 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

no face shots/portfolio or anything

You mean head shots. Get them done before you move to L.A., it will be a lot cheaper that way.

Plan on having a car.

You sound really stupid. Have an exit strategy planned in advance, and check it with someone smarter than you to be sure it makes sense.
posted by bingo at 8:16 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

you are what you drive. stay on the west side and don't go south of pico blvd. book plenty of gym time for your flawlessly sculpted body, because you can bet your competition has. cultivate an aura of mystery about yourself and avoid unprotected sex. leisure days in malibu, work days in santa monica and party nights in west hollywood. if you're waiting tables/bartending, remember that the next nondescript schmo who walks in could actually be a powerful studio exec, and treat him/her that way.
posted by bruce at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2007

Prepare for everyone to be vastly encouraging of your talents and skills as an actor which are just like the next Colin Farrell and full of praise for your wardrobe and hair and for everyone you meet to have a script just about to go into production or up for a big role in the next big movie or really good friends with a hot agent.

And you're just the person they're looking for! It's going to be fantastic and its all going to come come together next week after this meeting that a guy I met at the gym promised he could get me with Spielberg, but I'm a little hard up right now and could you lend me a couple of bucks until then?

The first few years in "the biz" (don't call it that) you'll be the guy lending the money. If you stick around in a couple of years you'll be be the guy asking.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:58 AM on May 18, 2007

Response by poster: You sound really stupid. Have an exit strategy planned in advance, and check it with someone smarter than you to be sure it makes sense.

I've got a lot of much saner close friends who keep me grounded.
posted by Mach3avelli at 10:06 AM on May 18, 2007

RPM, your username is perfect.

Looking through your history, you've discovered your inner drive to pursue law, inquired about "personality jobs," and contemplated getting into sales. You sound like just another pretty face (your picture is in a previous thread) who doesn't realize how bad the lines they're mouthing for shitty parts actually are and gets chewed up and spit out by The Machine. Sorry, but I'd say don't bother. People with these attributes are a penny a dozen in LA.

Actually, they're a penny a dozen in NYC, too.
posted by nevercalm at 10:22 AM on May 18, 2007

There is no rhyme or reason to who makes it in Hollywood.

I've had people do really well who were talented, smart, hard-working, etc. I've also seen people like that fail. I've also seen people who weren't all that talented do well.

If you think you want to do this, go for it. It's not like you are going to be alone, and you probably won't make it, but you won't make it if you don't try. You aren't getting any younger. The upshot is that a lot of people who fail at acting end up finding something else that works for them. Sometimes something else in the Industry. And it can be a heady and fun experience surrounding yourself with creative people, always thinking you or one of your friends is on the verge.

Live really cheaply, have a working car, and don't forget your goal. It can be easy to get distracted by dayjob success.

The hard part is landing an agent. If you get an agent, be encouraged. Half the value of taking acting classes is that you might meet someone who can help you get an agent, or an agent may see a showcase or workshop.

If you are a personal trainer, you may be able to do stunt work... which could be a way for you to do more work. A lot of jobs need someone who can do a small stunt [fall off bicycle].

Once you start working, be the guy that people like to work with. Know your lines, hit your marks, don't be obnoxious, be professional. Acting is a job and no one wants to have to spend a second thinking that you might screw up the scene. Anyone can put in a good word that helps you get a part.

Assistants have a ton of power in this town. Be nice to them, be scared of them.

It's not all that hard to get a little bit of work. Even being an extra pays and is an excellent way to get your union card. What you have to keep in mind is that all success is fleeting. Most of my friends are writers, one is very good and has been plugging away for years towards being a TV writer. She finally landed a staff writing job, she'd made it! The show was cancelled after like 3 episodes. Having made it to staff writer, it should be a little easier for her to do it again... but there are no guarantees. It could be 2-3 years before she does it again.

I don't think it is a good idea. LA is an expensive and soul-destroying place. You might be better off moving to Missoula or some other small city with a low cost of living, working as a trainer, starting a band, building a life. You just sound bored and a little ambivalent and I don't get the feeling that you have the stamina and drive to deal with all the bull and rejection and tiny success. But what do I know? If you want it, it won't kill you to try. But the 3 years you'll invest are three years you could put into building a real career or a real company, or even making real money that you can blow on travel.
posted by Mozzie at 11:27 AM on May 18, 2007

LA can be a fantastic place, depending on your circumstances. Having a job lined up before you get here is crucial: the cost of living in crazy, and trying to live off whatever you saved before moving here will not suffice for long.

This town is full of aspiring actors. Guess what? They're all going to make it!

Kidding. This town has all the actors it needs and about 10,000 more. The bottom line is if you just want to 'make it,' stay where you are and play the lottery. It's better odds than you'll face moving to LA trying to be the next Brad Pitt. However, if you want to live in a megalopolis with some amazing people, have some great experiences, immerse yourself in some post-modern Americana, and work your ass off, then LA might be the place for you.
posted by mullingitover at 1:03 PM on May 18, 2007

As in all creative pursuits, you need to decide whether you want to be really good at what you do or really rich and famous for doing what you do. The upside of the former is that with enough hard work success is almost guaranteed, and you'll be able to make a decent living. Yeah, I know you want to be both great and famous; think for a second about how many actors fit that description.

You should make this decision as soon as possible, because these are really two different paths. I'm assuming that because you use the phrase "make it" you want to be a rich and famous actor. Get some minimal acting chops, schmooze like crazy, stay clean, and have absurd, lottery-winning luck. And as Artie Lange, of all people, says--the most important thing in Hollywood is to be able to quickly memorize a script and knock out a serviceable performance in a take or two.
posted by Nahum Tate at 1:22 PM on May 18, 2007

I am not in the biz, but did spend a few years trying half-heartedly to break in as a screenwriter, until I found that my life improved considerably the second I decided to ditch the Hollywood dream. However, I do know a fair number of people who are in the biz in various capacities (including my boyfriend, who's worked variously as a comedian, actor, and writer for 25 years).

As someone else said upthread, naive, good-looking people with no experience who think they're going to come to L.A. to "make it" are a dime a dozen. This town is lousy with them. They're literally everywhere, on every street, in every supermarket, in every gym and club.

Before you come out to L.A. (and, btw, it's expensive here), take some acting classes locally and find out if you even have an interest or a basic talent. Audition for some parts in local theater. Get some headshots (you can always redo them later). Work out some practical goals for yourself.

Also, think very, very hard about how you deal with rejection -- because you will be rejected out here, daily. My boyfriend goes to multiple commercial auditions every week (seriously, some weeks he's had auditions and call-backs in the double digits), and gets cast every few months. It's a numbers game and it's hard.

You will also come into daily contact with people in the biz who will lie, cheat, steal, and break your mother's knees if they think it will get them an advantage over you. This isn't a cliche -- the biz can be astonishingly vicious and predatory. You have to have a strong sense of yourself to not be taken advantage of or destroyed here. I've seen it, and I've heard stories that have made my skin crawl.

"Making it" and keeping your sanity and soul in the process requires a lot of focus, determination, discipline, and steady work. If you don't have those, then the dream of moving here and becoming rich and famous is likely to turn into a nightmare.

Which is not to say that there aren't other reasons to be in L.A. -- it's warm, weird, and wonderful (it is also expensive, sprawling, isolating, and filled with Hummers and people like Paris Hilton). But take some practical steps to find out if acting is even for you before you come out here.
posted by scody at 3:18 PM on May 18, 2007

You will also come into daily contact with people in the biz who will lie, cheat, steal, and break your mother's knees if they think it will get them an advantage over you. This isn't a cliche -- the biz can be astonishingly vicious and predatory.

Seconding this, and I'd like to add: when it actually happens to you, it's not nearly as exciting or interesting as you imagined it would be. Hollywood assholes aren't special; they're just like the assholes you knew at home, only worse. The encounters you have with them will not be epic battles over your integrity and the fate of the industry; they will be petty squabbles with other people at or near your own level, who are trying to prove to themselves that they have some kind of power, and they actually don't, so they're taking it out on you.
posted by bingo at 6:17 PM on May 18, 2007

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