Why You Should to Move to LA if You Want to Get into the Film Business

Every few months, I meet some wide eye noob who’s just arrived in LA to be in the film business. I’ve often wrestled with the wisdom of this. So this week’s “Top Reasons You Should Move to LA if You Want to Get into the Film Business” will be followed by “Top Reasons NOT to Move to LA to Get into the Film Business” and finally, “What to do Before You Move to LA to Get into the Film Business”

There may be no better learning environment

As a great DP friend of mine once said, “the Hollywood studio system is great at two things: spending money, and making big, beautiful, expensive movies.” If you get on a studio set, there is a precision to how everything is executed, that almost boggles the mind, and often gets the job done in three takes. For a low budget filmmaker, it’s the equivalent of someone who likes to make cookies going into the kitchen of a great bakery. There may be no better place to learn about filmmaking.

There are a ton of bad lessons to ignore, from the waste, the attitudes, the union man’s sole dedication to ladder holding to the neglect of everything else. Yeah, let that go under the bridge. In Hollywood, you can see an army of filmmakers at work, winning the war against an empty box office. That’s important. But on a low budget, you have to be Seal Team Six, because you don’t have any buffer when you’re spending less than a few million. Hollywood is a great place to learn and hone those skills.

In Hollywood, you can find a great cinematographer by asking around. The place is crawling with special effects make-up artists, set designers, costume makers, VFX folks, editors and guys and girls who know folks in distribution. The coffee shops are littered with ‘pretty good’ screenwriters and actors, and everyone has a short film, or something on the web. It’s like college sports – so many talented people who’ll soon go on to do something else, but much better than you’ll probably be if you never make it to LA.

Opportunities

There are also opportunities in LA you’ll never find in other parts of the country.

“Hey, can I borrow your RED package next weekend?”

“Sure”

Probably not a conversation you hear in a grocery store in Missouri. But in LA, you’ll find everyone has china balls, a jib or a slider, a couple of c-stands and a Canon 60D. That is an exaggeration, but not far from the truth. Everyone with ‘below the line’ aspirations in the industry has picked up a couple of tools of their trade, and the handful of professionals have some cutting edge toys and they know how to use them. And with access to these kind of folks, it’s cheaper and easier to become proficient at your craft.

I’m very enthusiastically pro the DIY gear movement, but I have to say, it’s a beautiful thing to use a high end tool for a job that calls for a high end tool. It’s the difference between driving a second or third hand car with a few hundred thousand miles on it and pulling that new BMW off the lot for the first time.

And it’s not just gear – gear doesn’t make films, skilled filmmakers make films. Working with skilled filmmakers is the best way to learn film making  A young director in Baltimore might bump her head till it’s sore trying to make a scene work, but if she could just get on a studio film set for a week, she could learn a lifetime more than she ever picked up from all the behind the scenes she studied on a million DVDs. And in LA, with a lot of work and luck, said beginning director can find a paid gig doing it.

Acting

Some directors figure out how to make good films before they arrive in Hollywood, but outside of New York, an actor will never get enough screen experience, until they make it to LA.

Actors need to act, and stage acting is different enough from screen acting, that you have to get in front of a camera. Not your mother’s camera or your little brother’s camera; the camera of a somewhat skilled director with access to a skilled editor. Otherwise, your metric for a performance is somewhat skewed. It’s like playing basketball on an elementary school playground. Just because you can slam dunk back home, doesn’t mean you’re ready to go pro.

Likewise, a director will gain more skill working with trained, experienced actors than with friends and family, ‘back home.’ Trained actors can push a director to tell a deep and coherent story, even if he’s not prepared to, and this push and pull is what makes a film greater than the sum of one person’s work. There’s a reason it’s called a collaborative process. Your little brother will do whatever you tell him, but he’ll never deliver a grounded character full of subtext, and emotion, because he doesn’t know what that is even when you explain it.

Acting is like any physical exercise, the more your do it, the more that’s asked of you in doing it, the better you’ll get. Likewise, acting for film is one of those things where, until you’re trained, it looks pretty easy but everyone else will know you don’t know what you’re doing.

Access

What it comes down to, is the benefits of moving to LA are access. Access to learning, access to equipment and jobs, access to skilled professionals who can take your game to a whole new level. You may have a hero in the business, someone you look up to, and at some point, on an annual basis, he or she has to pass through LA. More frequently, though, you can meet the power brokers, people behind the scenes who really make things happen. Actors and directors come and go, but there are parties who make careers and create the trends long before opening weekend. And in LA, they’ve got to eat, take their kids to the park and pick wine up on the way to a party just like everyone else. Play your cards right, and you can have a golden opportunity. Be an intrusive, overbearing creep… and you can close doors faster than you can say, “Hey, can you read my script?”

LA is a town of relationships, and a funny place where familiarity opens doors. If you come here to work, and you actually do the work, you will either get the call, or find yourself in a position where you can make the call. Treat people right, keep your politics to yourself, and deliver on your promises, and you can go places. Places might not be what you imagined them to be… but you’ll be able to go.

There are some great reasons to move to LA to make it in the film business, but there are some real reasons you might not want to. I’ll talk about that next week.

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6 Responses to “Why You Should to Move to LA if You Want to Get into the Film Business”

  1. Solid, honest and great advice for those wanting to move to LA.

  2. Matthew says:

    I was expecting a “Stay the hell out of my city” post… but you know what, everyone here could use more aspiring filmmakers. New Blood is always welcome. They work for cheap! 🙂

  3. […] I move to Hollywood to be in the film industry? Here’s an article about  the upsides. This article covers a few of the […]

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  5. […] about the Pros and Cons of moving to LA. If you’ve got to come, and you think you’re ready, here are a […]

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