Ciao, cats. I wrote this for those who move to LA from all over the world to find fame and fortune, to “make it” in Hollywood. For this article – “Hollywood” means the U.S. film, TV and music business.
Once upon a time, I moved to LA to work in the music business. I arrived with a music degree and drum sticks, drum trophies, and little to no idea how to accomplish my goal. Worse yet, I had no idea what my goal was. As a result, my first attempt of moving to LA to “make it” in the music industry ended in an unpaid record label internship, a financial crash and a humbling move back to the Bay Area. It was terrible.
Attempt #2 was equally exciting, but for different reasons.
In 2004, I moved to LA again, but after months of planning. I wasn’t quite smart enough to start networking early (this was before social media) — but I had a good plan.
In October 2004, I arrived in LA. Here we go again. But this time, I had a law degree and music industry experience. On the flip side, I had one friend in LA, no job, no clients, and no experience in film or television. I started almost from zero.
In less time than it took me to run out of money, hope and dignity in 1992 — I became a producer of a feature film, and I (barely) had enough clients to pay bills and stay in LA. Which is important, and mission #1 once you get to LA. Because once you can be self-sustaining financially, you can build a career.
The first few years were not easy, I made mistakes — but my plan worked, and I carved out a film career in LA. Here are a few concepts I hope you will find helpful to navigate your way, and get your foot in the door early in the game.
EDUCATION IS GOLD
As soon as possible after arriving in LA, sign up for an entertainment industry class at a local college –Santa Monica College, UCLA, USC etc.
Look – the educational possibilities in LA-LA land are not real world possibilities — this city is geared towards the entertainment industry.
Almost every university and college in LA has some sort of classes or programs in screenwriting, acting, directing, post-production, engineering etc., that anyone can take, if you meet certain prerequisites (which are usually easy to meet, or nonexistent). These can range from a one-day screenwriting seminar — to something like the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, which is two nights a week for a school-year.
FACT — Taking a class or program in LA when you arrive is, by far, the #1 way to network among your peers, and it is better than a networking event, because it is a shared experience for months. Which means you are more likely to organically make friends.
And just as importantly, a class or program is a great way to continue to update and improve your entertainment skill set.
FYI – I took screenwriting, film editing, film finance, acting, and producer classes — in every single one of those, I made new friends and colleagues. At UCLA, I emerged with two scripts, new friends, and enough client work to pay for the program (5k at the time).
BOTTOM LINE — Unlike the real world, LA has many great opportunities in film, TV and music education — take advantage of them, they are gold for your career and network, in many ways.
IF YOU’RE AN ACTOR — WRITE.
Actors — ponder this. If you come to LA “only” to act, you’re going to spend the entire time going to auditions, aka asking a third party for permission to practice your craft.
Which is fine, that’s part of the actor game.
BUT — the minute you put pen to paper, you start to take control of your career. If you finish a script, you create intellectual property of value, aka you have a film in development just by saying its so …. and voila, you’re a producer. And, you can write the perfect role … for you.
This same line of reasoning applies to musicians, in terms of trying to compose music, instead of just performing. See where this is going?
Sit in the back seat, or drive. It’s your career, make your choice.
IF YOU’RE A WRITER — ACT.
If you’re a writer — shut the computer off once in a while, get outside, and take acting classes. Do anything to get out of your home office and/or coffeeshop and live among the real world sometimes. Too many writers live in the pages, and are convinced the only to make it is to write and write and write.
Pssst. Making one great friend in LA is equal to writing 50,000 great pages that nobody reads.
An acting class will get you out of the house, give you new friends and creative energy. You’ll be happier, you’ll improve as a writer and your network will grow fast. Maybe you’ll find yourself producing a short film with your classmates, that you wrote — that’s better than sitting inside alone, no?
BAD CONTRACTS KILL
Rule 1 – If you’re not an entertainment lawyer or a very very very experienced manager or agent, do not draft or review your own contracts, under any circumstances. Stop.
This is not a lawyer commercial.
Point of fact, you can go to law school for three years, get straight As, and then practice as a commercial lawyer for 25 years … and still have zero idea how to review a film contract. It’s a specialized field, and mistakes in negotiation and/or drafting can make for a very bad day.
Please understand this.
If you’re trying to make a movie, you’re trying start a million dollar (plus) business based upon intellectual property. And if you’re using oral agreements, self-drafted contracts or general contract templates that you found online or from another film to lay the foundation for this business — it’s doomed.
Bottom Line – Get an entertainment lawyer when it’s game time
CREATE YOUR OWN WORLD IN LA
Do not arrive in LA and wait to get invited to events or parties. Create your own world, as soon as you can. Even a simple dinner with classmates can make magical connections.
In 2004, a buddy of mine and I started “Dinner Club 7” in LA.
We decided to give everyone a chance to introduce themselves and talk about their #1 project — it became a fantastic event. We started with 8 filmmakers, a few years later, we had 40-50 filmmakers at every event, and a waiting list to get it. Dinner Club 7 was a great source of friends, colleagues and clients — and it was entirely self-created.
NEGATIVE ENERGY KILLS
The following “energies” do not work in Hollywood
“You’ve wanted to act since you were a baby, it’s the most important thing to you on Earth.”
Understand this — in LA, your incredible desire to succeed doesn’t make you special.
Everyone comes to LA with an incredible desire to succeed, and everyone gives up friends, family, money, school and whatever — to “make it.”
By definition, you want success/fame/money badly — and so does everybody else.
In fact, you’re trying to succeed in one of the most-competitive businesses on Earth, in the most competitive city on Earth for this industry. Don’t believe me? Ask your uber driver about his/her script.
In Hollywood, everyone runs away from desperate people. Desperately asking for job or role will not work, it will close doors. If you find yourself desperate to succeed or make money etc, at any point in the game — you must do a great job at hiding that desperation, or get out of LA for a while and take a break.
DEPRESSED AND/OR ANGRY
It is difficult, it not impossible, to make progress in Hollywood when you are depressed and/or angry. Curing depression and/or anger is beyond the scope of this article — but you cannot network and succeed easily in either state.
BOTTOM LINE – Avoid doom and gloom at all costs. Even if you have to check out of LA for a few months.
VISUALIZE YOUR GOAL
It’s molto importante to understand exactly what you’re trying to do in LA — what is the end game, why are you here? What is your perfect result?
If you want to reach a goal, you must know what it is.
There are tons of resources to read about visualization of goals. The bottom line is, you need to know where you’re going or you’re not going to get there — and that is important in Day 1 in LA, because your journey to the perfect job will probably take a few detours.
You might be an engineer for a while before you get a chance to rap. You might work as an extra, or a waiter, for a while. That’s no a problem–as long as you have the end game in your sights, and are working towards that goal.
WARNING – Simply showing up to LA “to make it” without any clear idea of what that means is just an exciting way to run out of money.
Finally — before I moved to LA the second time, as part of my plan, I drafted a set of seven principles that I would abide by, no matter what happened in LA, and these worked. If you found this article helpful, check this out.
Thanks for reading