Should I move to Hollywood to be in the film industry? Here’s an article about all the upsides. This article covers a few of the downsides….
There are few film jobs.
One of the goals many ‘green’ filmmakers have when they move to LA is get a job in ‘The Biz.’ What many newbies can’t possibly know is that paid industry work is pretty hard to secure. New Hollywood faces are typically competing against old guard veterans for jobs. The only advantage a new face has, is that she or he is willing to work for less. And when the job isn’t so critical, that can work in a newbie’s favor. But with the money that’s typically on the line for a studio film, there aren’t many, ‘not so critical’ roles. It’s a tough town, and contacts can only get you so far. Not in a union? Yeah, contacts can only really do so much.
Many newbies also aren’t aware that a high number of jobs are subject to just, ‘dry up.’ Production deals end, companies fold, departments get outsourced. More than any other industry, Hollywood flexes and contracts based upon the overall economy. With the recent ‘cord cutting’ phenomenon - where cable subscribers are canceling their subscriptions – Hollywood is taking an extra hit in the pocketbook, and that effects who can get hired. This doesn’t even account for a ‘newbie’ getting let go for not really knowing what he’s doing, because he’s new.
Add to that, ‘Runaway Production’, which is the fact that more and more good paying film work actually occurs outside of LA, and you have a great let down for anyone who’s planning on driving or catching Greyhound out to LA to live the dream. For some, the jobs might have left LA and actually come to you! Texas, Florida, Georgia, New York, New Mexico, and Colorado are just a few states where the filmmaking job markets are smaller with possibly better odds for the new kid on the block. According to the MPAA, New York’s film business is half of California’s, and Texas’ is just under half of that. If your plan is to get a job and learn the business, California might have the most jobs, but might not have the best odds.
Plenty of folks come to LA expecting to work ‘any job’ if they can’t work in the business, but they don’t realize this hustle was played out long ago. Restaurants, law firms, real estate agencies and other ‘good paying gigs’ have been burned by creative types through the years and as soon as you suggest that filmmaking is even a hobby, many will see you right to the door. Everyone’s heard the one about the actress who couldn’t act like a good waitress. No one has time for you to ‘take meetings’ during your lunch because meetings always start late, often run over, and with LA traffic, you might as well call it a day. You can use up a lot of sick days and vacation time with that. Notice I don’t even list the minimum wage coffee shop, fast food, security guard options. LA is an expensive place.
There’s no money in LA
Which brings me to reason number two: There’s no money in LA. This truth swings two ways: LA is expensive, and no-one is forking out the cash for you to make your movies.
LA isn’t London/New York/San Francisco expensive. You can live a pretty good life in LA for pretty cheap, once you find your way around. But you MUST have a reliable car. This isn’t me being the fashionista – as America’s second largest city, LA and its outlying areas is vast, and film locations can literally be anywhere within a 30 mile radius. I’ve bussed it to film sets – two hours of transportation to work 15 hours as a PA is no fun. So cars and gas cost money right? And many folks from outside of California aren’t prepared for $4.50 a gallon when it hits.
So you have to have a car, a residence, etc. and more often than not you have to come up with your own tools to make your own films. You want to be a filmmaker, right? Be that a beast of a machine to get your editing and video effects on, or your make-up kit, or your camera, lenses, filter, batteries and rig – filmmaking toys ain’t cheap. Even PA’s are expected to have their own radio ear piece for on set. You want the job, right? Actors don’t get off cheap – they need money to pay for classes and casting workshops and they need the idle hours to go to audition after audition. And more and more frequently, actors are asked to shoot and edit their auditions and up load them. Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo money. Is one performance the same as another that is not well lit?
Then there is the myth of investors. It’s rare in LA that individuals will take a gamble on a film. The first rule of Hollywood filmmaking is, “Don’t spend your money on a film.” Hey, I didn’t make it up. So if a famous actor isn’t going to spend money on their film, why would they spend money on yours? Cause you’re cute? You’d have to give em’ a bit more than cute.
In film financing circles, it’s pretty common knowledge that ‘film investors’ don’t live in LA. Before there was Kickstarter and Indiegogo, people like Oscar award winning director Lee Daniels was fundraising across the country to get films done. His investors for the award winning film ‘Precious’ were in Colorado.
But more and more often, studios are making fewer and fewer films, and turning around and distributing more completed films. How and where the films get made isn’t their problem. They’re try to negotiate a shrewd bargain with you (read: less than you spent on the film) and if the film isn’t a blockbuster, you’ll learn about ‘Hollywood Accounting’ the hard way.
LA is hostile to filmmakers
LA is a hostile environment for filmmakers because often you never know where you stand. Everyone runs late, meetings get cancelled 10 minutes before they’re supposed to happen and , “I’ll call you,” really means “Goodbye.” The gatekeepers – people just like you who’ve been in town for a couple years, are paid to keep you away from the the people you think you want to see. Often, the people you think are the lynch pin to you getting your project funded, green-lighted or distributed, are themselves hustling to make things happen. In my opinion, Hollywood is best described as an M. C. Escher poster, where soon as you get oriented, what you thought was up will be down, and reality just becomes skewed. It might sound like a strange place down the rabbit hole, or someplace over a rainbow, but just wait until you try and get some work done in it. And this is before you try renting costumes, gear or licensing music for your production. Have you seen all those credits at the end of a feature film? That’s all the folks it takes to make a movie for a reason.
LA’s also full of charlatans. I’ve seen hustlers charge unwitting dupes for things that are quite obviously free. I’ve filmed live events that people have paid hundreds of dollars for, only to be told some stuff they could have googled. I’m pretty suspicious of people selling “access,” “secrets” and “formulas.” Especially when they haven’t walked down a red carpet in a while. Call me a cynic, but the only things I believe in are hard work, smart planning and trial and error. Hollywood is not a meritocracy – who you know is often more important than what you can do. But if there were such easy ‘tricks,’ everyone would be doing it, and the bottom feeders wouldn’t have time to collect your couple bucks to share how they made their millions.
And then there’s getting, “Side Tracked.” Most people in the Hollywood machine came to LA to be a creative, but in the process of making a living, ‘getting in where you’re fitting in’ and eyes opening to what ‘really’ goes on in town, a lot of people end up becoming agents, studio execs and running craft services companies. There’s a cliche that, ‘everyone’ in LA has a script. This comes from the fact that most folks moved to LA to make their movie. Life just gets in the way. (Look at me, how’d I become a blogger again?) There’s a cliche that gets tossed around, ‘You don’t fail in Hollywood, you quit.’ I often like to add… “or you die.” I guess it comes down to a quality of life question really. Do you really want to spend 15- 20 years trying to ‘make a movie,’ or do you have better things to do with your life? I like the philosophy of Yoda; “No try, only do.”
Make your own movie
But you say you want to make a movie? Well go ahead. Get a camera and get started. Production tools are cheap, distribution is free (on YouTube) and the rules of the game have changed forever.
You want to see what can be done outside of LA? Check out Ryan Connolly over at Film Riot. He’s built a nice little niche that has plenty of sponsorship, and Hollywood folks like Kessler are calling him to produce stuff for them. He started on a t2i and now he shoots on a Red and a 5d – rough times, right? He’s from Florida. Then there’s Seth Worley, director of the Adventure Now series who was picked by Red Giant Software to be their go to director for product ‘trailers.’ I was introduced to him by an agent who said his short, Plot Device was the hottest thing in Hollywood a couple years ago. He’s from Nashville. These guys may have gone on to become pretty familiar in Hollywood, but now Hollywood is trying to emulate what they’re doing.
There are a ton of tutorials of how to do everything from light a scene to how to distribute your production. There are even resources that will help you with your script. Long gone are the days when Hollywood was an opaque curtain that obscured how the movie magic managed to happen. The curtains have since been ripped back and the anatomy of any great shot can be broken down, and probably already has. There are even people on YouTube who will show you how to build million dollar filmmaking tools out of PVC pipe and wood shaving. OK, that’s an exaggeration. But try drilling a straight hole in your Hollywood apartment – you need your dad’s drill press for this stuff. =)
It would be a gross exaggeration to say you can learn everything you need to know reading this blog, or watching anyone’s tutorial. The fact is that you learn filmmaking by making films. It’s work, and if you do the work, you’ll get the results, not fame, but quality films. You want to be famous? I don’t know what to tell you. You want to be rich? Study accounting. Become a stock broker. If you want to make other people’s films, drive to LA, stand in line and after a while, you’ll have a chance among the ranks of soldiers who make other people’s movies. If you have a vision, and you want to share it with others, it takes just a little more effort ‘at home,’ than it does in LA.
And don’t, “What if.” Your first film will not get distribution, and if so, it won’t make you rich. No one will see you at a club and actually read your script. Anyone in Los Angeles who has time to talk to a no-body, probably can’t get your movie made. The only person who’ll get your movie made is you. You’ll ‘produce’ a movie, not, “if you have a movie in you,” but if you learn the basics, and put them to work. Even Spielberg played with a Super 8 camera and mastered the craft before working on Jaws. When you have something that a studio can exploit, you can believe Hollywood will call you or steal it. Either way you’ll get paid.
LA is a ‘tired’ location
The Hollywood sign, the Capitol records building, Santa Monica Pier. You’ve seen it all before, it’s all been around for the last 50 years of cinema, or more. Don’t you think there are more interesting places to shoot than LA? Not only are most LA locations cliché, they undermine the basic film theory – making meaning and emotions with images. And without a studio budget, you typically don’t have access to use these building’s interiors. This can be cheated, but you won’t get away cheating much on Rodeo Drive. Ironically, the Indie filmmakers who are making a splash, shoot in South LA, ‘the Valley’ or under a freeway somewhere. You don’t really need to come to LA to find this variety of ‘normal’, ‘nondescript’ and ‘out of the way’
Aren’t there much more flavorful locations where you’re from? Swamps, deserts, deep forests, and islands? The endless plains of Kansas and Missouri? According to Seth Godin and many other digital evangelists, the age of generic ‘Entertainment’ is over. People want stories that are more personal, specific and relevant to their communities – Not generic ‘Holly-where’ locations. Local films won’t earn millions of dollars, but if they are well told, they don’t need to cost millions of dollars either. You may not realize it, but everywhere is ‘interesting.’ Fargo anyone? You may have all of the interesting in the world right under your feet so why move to LA and try to rebuild ‘home’ on a sound stage?
I could have never imagined how important support could be until I moved to Los Angeles. Everyone is busy working on their thing, you better have a lot of motivation and charisma or money to gather a squad to work on your thing. Or you can just stay home. Home. Where your friends are, where your family is near. Where people like you because of who you are, not because your project has potential for lucre or fame.
It should never be taken for granted the time and place you are ‘happy’ to be. There’s a saying, never save for tomorrow what you can start today. It can also be said, never save ‘until I move’ what you can start doing at home. If you’re going to be a filmmaker, start making films. Yes, you can learn a lot going to LA, but as I mentioned earlier, you can learn a lot reading blogs online. But you will learn the most making films. Go get those ‘hideous mistakes’ out of your system, and start telling great stories. Use the social equity you’ve already earned where you’re at to collect a couple of locations, find some local theatrical actors and figure out how a scene works. No need to sacrifice everything of value and go off among the “lost angels.”
And none of this is important enough to miss your nieces and nephews growing up, helping your parents as they get older or falling in love with someone who isn’t looking for a leg up in their career. Maybe I’m getting old, but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Consider what you might be leaving behind before you set off to race a bunch of rats, to eat some dog.
But who am I to talk… I made the journey. I’ve found some great friends in ‘Hell-A’ and I’ve learned a ton to boot. Some days it’s a great place to be. Other days… at least the weather’s nice.
Los Angeles isn’t all bad, this article covers some real upsides to how Hollywood might be your land of milk and honey. Next week, If you’re going to come to Tinsletown, how to come with a plan.