July 25, 2016 at 8:35PM

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I probably did a stupid thing, I moved to Los Angeles, now what?

The title should sum it up, but I finally made the move to Los Angeles. I'm originally from a small town in the Midwest, but had just finished a film degree in Phoenix, Arizona and had been making a living over the last year for the first time as a freelance videographer. I finally had enough saved up to afford splitting a studio with a friend next to downtown Los Angeles, and now here I am, broke, anxiety ridden, but excited and optimistic about the new opportunities surrounding me.

So what should I do now? My passion is in documentaries, but I love film in general. What are some tips and tricks on surviving in this monstrous city? I assume a lot of other filmmakers on here have made a similar move, how did it go for you? What did you learn? What good decisions or mistakes did you all make?

22 Comments

Sounds like you're either living near Skid Row or the Arts District? I hope you're not paying too much, because rents in LA are so jacked right now.

The only advice I can give you is DO NOT GIVE UP OR RELENT. There are quite literally thousands of us here, all doing the same thing, so you can not give up for one moment if you're going to make it here as a DP.

Having said that, I would say get a flexible job to pay your bills. No one in the history of filmmaking has moved here and started making the kind of living you need to in order to survive here just from film work, and it's getting harder and harder each day. Maybe make your own short Docs, find others doing docs and offer to give up some time to help shoot for them, get yourself into a community of filmmakers and get to Networking. You absolutely have to get a reel and a good site or you won't make it here. You might get lucky like a few people have, but think about how many people are here struggling compared to how many actually make it big quickly. Look for Reality Show work, which pays well and is plentiful here. Make a doc about where you live.

Myself, I thought just moving here and being "in it" and having so many great ideas was going to get me in, but man, was I wrong. I even had amazing connections to top-notch folks, which didn't help at all because I hadn't done the footwork needed to begin with. So now I'm re-formulating and re-structuring so I can finally get work after being her 8 years already. Don't do what I did!

Good luck!

July 31, 2016 at 5:25PM

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Edmund Lloyd
Cinematographer/Director
133

Would you mind to elaborate on "the footwork"?

I'm a fresh filmmaker interested in making it out to LA once I get a some experience under my belt. Thanks!

Edit: You've already answered!

- Network
- Flexible job to pay bills
- Make short films
- Work on projects for others
- Put a solid reel together
- Get yourself a website
- Get lucky ;)

August 1, 2016 at 2:12PM, Edited August 1, 2:19PM

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I didn't see you had a reel until after I wrote all that. Pretty good reel! Maybe could be a little tighter, but lots of good composition and showing that you've done some actual work. It's funny, I can totally tell the difference between the LA and AZ scenes due to the light. But this reel should help. How long have you been here now?

July 31, 2016 at 5:33PM

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Edmund Lloyd
Cinematographer/Director
133

Thanks so much! I'm living in Westlake next to DTLA, sharing a studio with a friend. The rent is a little ridiculous for the space, but it is comfortable and I'm surviving! That's a great idea about making a doc about where I live, as LA and especially my area is completely different than anywhere I've ever lived in so many ways.

I've been technically in LA for two months now but have been back and forth between PHX and LA doing some work there as I pick up clients here. So far I've found one through a family connection in LA who is enough to pay my bills so I'm very fortunate.

Thanks for the feedback on my reel! Haha, LA and AZ look completely different, it is so much easier to film out here. I'm going to fix it up and tighten it though soon when I've got some more material to add to the reel.

July 31, 2016 at 11:01PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
973

I wish I knew. Came to LA with 7 years of experience and a thriving wedding business, I need to fly back to Florida to pay rent way too many cheap shooters in LA.

I'm hopefully getting a job at Starbucks to pay rent, I am begging to get free PA work like everyone else.

It's funny I always felt on the right path until moving to LA, LA makes you want to give up. You see how many more talented people their are than you, and you send hundreds of resumes to never get a response back.

Making money and paying my loans seems like a pipe dream unless I change careers.

August 1, 2016 at 11:16AM

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I guess, for me, I've anticipated that LA will be a struggle. But I came to the city looking for inspiration and a change of pace. There are many days I have to stay inside my tiny apartment, watch movies and read books because I cannot afford to go anywhere as I wait for checks to arrive.

Fortunately, I still have sufficient work in Phoenix that I can return to for a week or two at a time if things get rough and friends to crash with, and the occasional Stringr job that may or may not pay. And then I get to reap the benefits like meeting Guillermo del Toro at a book signing a few days ago, and seeing Werner Herzog give a lecture next week at an IDA event.

The discomfort, constant anxiety, and uncertainty, are only one side of the coin. Don't be discouraged, and if you must, get that Starbucks job and just see it as temporary. Everything is temporary.

August 1, 2016 at 1:49PM, Edited August 1, 1:50PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
973

Spend two hours a day pitching people. Find their emails, go to networking events (meetup.com) and do whatever corporate work you have to (learning how to sell and close deals is paramount to our work as filmmakers, and it's the business side of our work that's grossly overlooked on film sites and YouTube channels). Don't quit. P.s. Staffmeup.com is another good site to find work.

August 1, 2016 at 2:15PM, Edited August 1, 2:15PM

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All I could really say is network (obvious, I know). Definitely another job in the meantime is normal. I work a full time job, 5 days a week 9-6. It's bitter sweet - does it help "fund" my filmmaking business in a way? Yup. Allows me to get some good gear to get me going (camera, sound, lights, etc.). BUT - leaves me very little time to actually shoot! So I just focus on weekend gigs for now.
But yeah - taking any gigs, even if free at the start, to get shooting and meeting people helps - definitely a slow process. LA is very hard, but the city has a lot to offer as well.

August 1, 2016 at 7:34PM, Edited August 1, 7:34PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1467

Before you decide on moving to LA you have to ask yourself- what type of filmmaking do I want to do? Do I want to be a Camera operator? Director? Cinematographer? Writer? Actor? Do I want to make movies, TV, infomercials? Unless you answered actor I would stay away from LA. unless you want to get away from your parents, girl/boyfriend, that small town lifestyle or if you have a driving force to become a movie star. Unfortunately actors in LA are "a dime a dozen" but that's another story. BUT, you don't want to be dying on your death bed saying "If only I had gone to LA" so if you're an actor, go there and get it out of your system. You might get lucky.

Don't get me wrong, LA is full of excitement and it's is a great place to live but it's expensive and the traffic and ten billion people will drive you crazy. The entry level competition is your field is also very tough. In my opinion the only reason to move to LA is if you have a studio connection/relative/friend or if you want to be a writer. Most powerful people in the "business" (especially TV) started out as a writer, then director or producer. The way to get ahead as a filmmaker is to hopefully have a reel and even if you have that you will most likely start out as a grip if you want to break into the "studios". If the rest of the crew likes you, they will bring you along from film to film and from there you can slowly work your way up. As you work as a grip you should write and write and write if you can. Some day you will know important people and you will show them your script that you want to direct.

Before there was video and digital cameras, young people came to LA because you had to. There you could purchase film, rent cameras, rent editing machines, find musicians and learn your craft. You do not need LA today if you are starting out! Cameras are cheap and computers so all so powerful. A $100,000 camera in the 80's can now be replaced with a $4,000 one. What would cost you $25,000 in special effects for your movie back in the 90's can no be duplicated in $99 software today. The biggest difference between pre-digial and modern day digital is.... the Internet. Computers and the internet were not available back in the 70s, 80s and 90s. You had to go to LA (and certain colleges) to learn about filmmaking. You had to go to classes and more classes and OJT. You don't need that now today. You can make a film anywhere. Larger cities are better for finding crews and talent but you don't need LA. You can become a big wig in a little pond by working in a larger city but in LA you are very small and it's highly competitive. In the acting world the expression was "throw a stick onto Malibu beach and you will hit 15 good looking, blond, 6' 165 lbs. actors with great bodies."

Now if you are already in LA--you have to find a steady job that won't interfere with the pursuit of your craft. Best jobs are at night- bar tender, parking cars, caddying at the fancy country clubs, (Like I did) etc. A steady income will keep a smile on your face which in turn will attract people to you. And, if you're good at sales, get a sales job where you can call your own hours. Get good at selling. Most creative people don't know how to sell themselves, much less their work. Read books, take classes and learn to sell. Get your real estate license. Sell anything. And last but not least is to surround yourself with POSITIVE people. Never hang around with losers or let them hand around with you. NEVER. Losers (those that aren't winning in their lives because of a negative attitude) will try and bring you down to their level. Reading the book "Creative Visualization" will also help you greatly.

In November when I attended AFM in Santa Monica and met scores of other independent filmmakers, hardly anyone of them was from LA. And when presenting my independent film to sales agents and distributors, NONE of them asked if I was based in LA and used LA people. They don't care. They just want to see good product.

Bottom line- if you are really talented and believe in yourself.. you don't LA. Showing a good film at a film festival will get you more attention to the important LA people, then 15 years of wondering around through the maze called LA.

An added footnote- As a member of the WGA I've spoken with a number of LA's literary agents and they've all said- I alway read the scripts coming from OUTSIDE of LA first because all the LA writers hang out together in coffee shops and all the stories/topics are the same. When something comes from outside LA.... it is fresh and that excites me.

August 2, 2016 at 1:32AM, Edited August 2, 1:43AM

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William Scherer
Writer/Director/Producer/Fine Art Aerial Photography
166

"throw a stick onto Malibu beach and you will hit 15 good looking, blond, 6' 165 lbs. actors with great bodies."
I remember that, but the way I heard it was "Throw a beachball and it will bounce off a dozen Robert Redfords" !
A brilliant post, thanks.

August 3, 2016 at 9:37AM, Edited August 3, 9:49AM

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Saied M.
1278

Thanks for your insightful response. I definitely agree with you on most of it.. At the same time, I'm hoping to live in a city where I am pushed and inspired by the constant creativity surrounding me as well as be able to travel out and film elsewhere for different documentaries and projects. I grew up on an isolated Midwestern farm, moved to the shore of the Mississippi River, then lived in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. So I have those places for inspiration to draw from with my screenwriting or revisit to shoot a documentary.

All that said, I already moved and have a years lease in my current apartment in downtown LA. So for the time being, I live in LA and need to find a way to make it work. I can always return to Phoenix or go elsewhere if it doesn't work for me here. But I'm staying positive and am determined to make this crazy city work.

August 3, 2016 at 4:24PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
973

I have to agree with the above comment. If you had it going in Arizona why did you want to come to L.A? Is it the idea of Hollywood? You said you are interested in documentary work though. Is there a better market for that in L.A than somewhere else? Why can't you work on your craft in Arizona? If L.A is where you want to live, thats cool and all but I think you will eventually find many in your boat would kill to have the opportunities you sound like you may have left behind in Arizona. It's not about the city you live in, it's about the films and stories you can tell. As for surviving in L.A -try to get a steady job and do film work on the side until it pays enough to support you full-time. Networking is key.

August 2, 2016 at 11:47PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1665

Honestly, I moved to LA because I have a sister who lives out here with a four year old nephew and 1 year old niece. I'd been driving from Phoenix to LA frequently to spend more time with them until finally it felt like I just needed some family back in my life full time.

But also, I'm originally from a small town in Missouri, moved to New Mexico, then to Phoenix, and now to LA. Each move has added so much to my life, and I want to keep the momentum going. I also have no plans on settling in LA long term, but know that I'll want to have lived here at one point in my life, so I may as well do it while I'm in my twenties, see what big city life is about, before I leave the country or return to a smaller town.

You certainly state valid reasons of why I should have remained in Arizona, but I felt stuck. To be honest, living here has made me really appreciate what I left behind, but I would never have appreciated it as much had I remained.

So is this a mistake? Maybe, but I would have felt as if remaining in Phoenix was a mistake also. So I made a decision and stuck with it, and am now figuring out how to maintain my life out here.

August 3, 2016 at 4:08PM, Edited August 3, 4:08PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
973

The city now were people are moving to is Atlanta Georgia, it has massive tax breaks but also built sound stages and other infrastructure that has attracted productions. Minneapolis, New Orleans, North Carolina, Austin Texas, I have friends who work on feature films more in those cities and states then my friends in California. There is a saying, build your resume outside of L.A. & NYC, then move to those cities. Good luck.

August 3, 2016 at 2:15AM

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bjones
Filmmaker and Photographer
15

Thank you sir :) I build an OK resume, have filmed freelance for CNN and StudioNow(and others) for two years. But by no means is it a rock solid resume or one that will wow anyone. But it does show that I'm a capable enough videographer. Maybe I jumped the gun with this move, but I've made it this far, and I'll figure something out.

August 3, 2016 at 7:04PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
973

Atlanta. And Austin, etc.: it really depends on what you want to DO. If you want to work for free on indie movies, and maybe- if you make the right connections- pull cables on a big movie for someone, Austin is fantastic. And it IS a fun place to live! With Atlanta, if you want to be a below-the-line worker bee, it's fantastic (still need to know the right people).

Now, you said you have a passion for documentary storytelling. I'm not sure LA is the best place for that, it is a very expensive (like NY) place to be, and all you really need is you to do that kind of work. You could be based anywhere. But you also say you have a passion for movies in general.

So, you're in LA, what do you do?
- Accept it for what it is. Don't second-guess or let others second-guess for you. Embrace the crazy of LA.
- Try really hard not to get financially destroyed, getting a side gig is smart.
- Meet people. Most of them will be full of shit. Some will be authentic and smart. Many will have a bit of both.
- Make stuff. Since so many people come to my hometown thinking they'll 'be discovered' and sit around waiting for the phone to ring, the ones who actually DO stuff stand out.
- Don't become a douche canoe. We have too many of those already. By the way, Austin is FULL of douche canoes these days, too! Dunno about Atlanta.
- Stay/become healthy. Health is primary.
- Do not judge your success by the apparent success of others, in LA. Much of what you see is illusion.

August 4, 2016 at 12:06PM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.

Exactly, Make films and Make work! it blows my mind when I am in L.A. working and I meet all these "filmmakers" that are living there and they haven't made any shorts or docs, experimental films - no festivals to speak of and in their 40's & 50's with their credit cards maxed out. WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN doing all these years goes through my mind.
I'll tell you. Chasing the carrot of TV and even worse, crap Hollywood formula films, thinking "they" can regurgitate those those film genre's even better, well they can't, plane and simple. I would look up the work of Cory McAbee, Craig Baldwin, Jon Mortisugu, Jem Cohen, and Bill Daniels. What they all have in come is, they didn't enter L.A. what so ever, Just the opposite, when the William Morris Agency, MTV, Hollywood, and other institutions came to these filmmakers, everyone of them turned them down and remain independent artist and filmmakers to this day.

August 4, 2016 at 4:18PM

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bjones
Filmmaker and Photographer
15

I'm excited to dive into the work of each of those people you recommended! Jem Cohen's work especially piques my interest. I was not familiar with any of those filmmakers until now so thank you!

I'm still getting on my feat after the move, but next week I'll be shooting a short road trip doc up the coast with a friend I've not seen in years, and then exploring other story concepts for short docs and films that I can make on little to no budget.

August 4, 2016 at 6:24PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
973

Great! here is another if your into docs on the international side. look at his work Mark Brecke
Also, Check out native voice films.

August 4, 2016 at 8:44PM, Edited August 4, 8:44PM

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bjones
Filmmaker and Photographer
15

I been to LA for music, the worst of the two evils. Filming as in the art itself is best out there because the scenery is unmatched. I returned home for family which I no longer have. Irony. Have a degree where you can do something like being a subtitute teacher like I will be doing. Can pay my bills and have valuable flexibility. I'm back in Miami without a car versus LA, $100 per month, you can ride almost any bus, city buses have to pay or have the $132 per month and the subway and metrorail to get around if one isn't driving. I'd just be focused on making content. If I could, I'd shoot everyday. LA, you can shoot worthwhile stuff everyday.

August 7, 2016 at 12:29AM

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Freddy Long
Writer-Director
282

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