What to do before you move to LA (if you’ve got to do it)

So I’ve talked about the Pros and Cons of moving to LA. If you’ve got to come, and you think you’re ready, here are a few things you ought to do to prepare yourself. This isn’t a packing list – it’s about a year’s worth of prep. And it’s just my opinion….so take it for what it’s worth.

Make Some Films

Do you want to be a director? Go make some films. Wanna be a producer? Go make some films. Do you want to be an actor? Go make some films. So do you wanna be a screenwriter? Go make films. If you want to work in the business? Go make some films. Hollywood is half about about who you know. The other half is being someone worth knowing. How do you do that? Have a few million dollars to give away or, have some skills.

But screenwriters don’t have to be on set. Actors don’t need to know how to edit. Why should a producer learn how to frame a shot? The proof is in the pudding and when you get to LA,  how will people distinguish you from the homeless guy on the freeway with a script for sale? Or the annoying 8 year old with twenty plays under their belt? Or the countless ‘producers’ with nothing to show for themselves? You have to have a film. A film will showcase your writing skills. A film will make an actor shine. A film will show what you can actually ‘produce.’ And if it’s your first film, it’s going to suck… so prepare to shoot a few.

This really makes sense if you think about it: You’ve written a great script and all of your friends in Minnesota think it’s great. But when you hear the words coming out of the actor’s mouths…..it just doesn’t sound right. Or you’re funny to all of your friends, but when you see yourself on screen, it just doesn’t sell. Cinema is a complex medium and what works on stage, or in front of your friends doesn’t always work on camera. We’ve all seen bad films, but the special sauce that goes into a good film is pretty special. If you’ve mastered that BEFORE you come to LA, you won’t embarrass yourself. And the worst case scenario is you’ll get pretty good at your craft. You’ll be someone that a stranger might want to give money to to do the thing you do.

What making films, ‘at home’ does is gives you time to, stress free, practice your craft. Go shoot some of the interesting locations where you’re from. Build your reel. Learn what kind of people you want to work with, and what kind of people you don’t want to work with. Learn good working habits. Take time to ‘get good.’ Could you imagine if someone wanted to be a quarterback, but waited until their senior year in college to start developing their arm? If you can run, and you have the instincts, you’ll still be passed over for people who’ve been in the trenches a lot longer. Get as good as you can, before you make the leap.

Apply To Some Contests / Film Festivals

A lot has been said about rip off film festivals and screenwriting contests. Do your research and be aware that they’re not all equal, and start submitting your work to the good ones. Not the great ones, get in the good ones first. It’s OK if you don’t get into Sundance with your first film. Most people don’t. But you will learn a lot about how audiences respond to your projects by watching them watch your films. It’s become a cliche  but of course your mother liked it, and on the web, it seems that haters feel more compelled to respond than people who genuinely enjoy your work. When you’re in the theater  standing at the back and you see people dipping their heads, looking at their phones during your climactic scene, you’ll know it doesn’t work. And when you see them all in tears when the lights come up, you’ll know it does.

Festivals are also a great place to get out and meet folks, other filmmaker types like yourself who you might run into later on down the road. A lot of people think networking doesn’t start until you get to Los Angeles. They don’t realize the people who you will most gravitate to are folks from your home town, your alma mater and contacts you’ve make along the film circuit. That old adage, “the folks you see on your way up…” takes on new meaning in Hollywood, as former assistants become full blown agents, distributors and department heads. And where’s a good place to meet them on equal terms? Ahh yes, film festivals.

Film festivals are also a great place to build a rep. Meet people, show your work, and be recognized by your peers. There is also a right way and a wrong way to market your film. See how other people do it, learn what to and not to do. This includes flyers, posters, social media campaigns. Do you know how to talk about your film in front of an audience to make them ‘like’ your film? On one hand filmmaking is an extremely abstract and isolating craft, but to grow your career, you have to do a 180 and be a charismatic and visionary ‘artist.’ And this can be the director, screenwriter, cinematographer or actors.

Make Some Online Contacts

You don’t have to be in LA to connect with people in LA. The Internet has opened  up many opportunities that just weren’t available a few years ago. Online, you can find work, find resources that’ll be important in LA and learn to distinguish, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly.’

Now when I say, find work, I don’t mean paying work. Are you an expert in motion graphics, film scoring, coloring or editing? If so, you might get paying work – studios send the work of to Southeast Asia, why shouldn’t Indie producers give you work in Saskatchewan? You’ve got to get out there and show you’ve done great work and you’ve got the skills to earn your billing rate. But if you’re an actor, writer, producer or director it may be worth your time to spend some, ‘long weekends’ in Los Angeles ‘working’ on film sets. “But actors, writers, directors and producers don’t actually do work on film sets,” You might say. (that’s a joke… laugh). Writers, you want to get scripts to those directors, right? Actors, you want to get cast by those directors, right? Directors and producers need to hire and work with good crew, right? And you can find these shoots online. I don’t know, just an idea.

At the end of the day there are a ton of people in LA who are worth working with and two tons that you should run like hell from. Yelp and Twitter aren’t necessarily going to give you the scoop on ‘the bad guys.’ And everyone you meet on Craigslist, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and whatever else is out there won’t be good or bad. I’ve been bored and showed up to grip on some pretty wonky projects, and unexpectedly met some amazing, talented hardworking people I’d happily work with again. Often times it’s not the shoot itself that’ll bear fruit, but the opportunity you make of it.

Save Some Money

Finally save some money. A lot of money. 3 to 6 months is optimal. I guesstimate 3 months of expenses in LA to be about ten grand. Expensive, isn’t it? If you want to, ‘cut it cheap’ live in the hood and eat ramen three times a day, have at it. That’s not where the people you want to meet to get the work and exposure are… but do your thing. Living in some parts of LA are just as bad and/or far from the action in traffic as where your moving from.

Save enough money, to take some trips. Not only is Los Angeles a bit consuming, but there are some truly amazing places like Joshua Tree, Ojai and San Diego that are about two hours drive. Mammoth Lakes, Paso Robles and Mexico are 3 to four hours away. And you may say, “I’ve heard of San Diego, but why should I go to some lakes?” The things you see along the way, like the historic western town of Bishop, Red Rock National Park and the California coast line, are inspirational locations, you might want to shoot something small, that could feel a lot bigger if it’s not on Wilshire Boulevard. Besides, on Wilshire Boulevard, LAPD will stop you and ask you for a permit.

And don’t put all this on credit cards. That’s a pretty dumb idea. Look, you might think ten thousand dollars is a lot of money.  Don’t then turn around and spend fifteen after you’ve paid the interest. Yeah, I’ve read Napoleon Hill, 49 Steps to Power and the Art of War. Many people will quote all of that, “Burn the ships so you can’t turn back,” stuff. Hey, it’s your life. You have no element of surprise coming to Hollywood to be in the entertainment industry. Sleeping your way to the top becomes much less appealing when you see some of the people you’ll have to sleep with. New people in town are a dime a dozen. If you have your own, you’ll have a chance to say no to the dumb stuff, until your eyes adjust to the glare of all the bright lights.

And if you can, pay your car off before you come. Leasing a Maserati will only get you so far. The people you want to work with and for have all seen it before. Have a laptop you know how to use.  Oh, and have a camera.

If you haven’t already, check out some reasons you might want to move to LA, and some reasons you might be better off at home. I mean, if you’re gonna save ten grand, and you call yourself a filmmaker, you might as well just go make a movie.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress