I'm a young aspiring Director of Photography based in Chicago. I have been freelancing for a couple years now and I'm considering finally moving to Los Angeles. I was wondering if anyone could offer me some advice as to how I can best prepare for the move? I'm not sure yet when is the best time to move.
I have done work as an electric and Gaffer on short & feature independent films and AC work on digital & some 3d experience. I have very little film experience as an AC. I have lit for 16mm as a Gaffer and know how to pull focus without looking at a monitor on the red but I haven't had much hands on experience with 35mm cameras because only big union shows around here seem to shoot 35 anymore. I am perfecting my resume, website, reel, business card and reading as many books as I can. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Also, incase it makes a difference, I own a full cinema style Canon 7D camera package with prime lenses, marshall monitor, etc. which I intend to take with me.
Edited by Salil Sundresh, 20 September 2010 - 03:32 AM.
Equipment you own really doesn't matter. What you need to determine is how you wish to proceed with your career. Do you want to work your way up to being a DP through the camera or electric departments? That would take years (decades in fact) with no guarantee of every achieving the goal. Or do you prefer to just jump in and sell yourself to the world as a DP knowing that you will start small, likely working for very little or no money, and still maybe never being able to achieve a viable living.
There is no good or bad time to move to LA (or any other place in the world where production is happening.) You just have to decide to go and expect to invest a lot of time working for free while keeping your overhead expenses low in order to keep your options open. The last thing you want to do is have too many bills which would necessitate having to take a "real job" that takes away your freedom to go do free or low-budget gigs.
It's all about time... meeting people... building a resume/reel and being out there so that you make a name for yourself. There are no shortcuts unless you happen to be the son of someone famous and established.
Television, if that's where you want to work, is a seasonal business. Shows crank up anywhere from late May through July, and run on into the next year. Pilot season is January/February through the first week of May. There's a time called hiatus, which runs from pilot delivery until the new season starts.
As for actually moving, there are two seasons here, Normal and Rainy. The Rainy season will start in a few weeks, usually late September to October, and run to about March. Of course you don't want your stuff to get wet, so people tend not to move during the Rainy season. Late in the rainy season is a good time to look for a place, because you can tell if it leaks.
My honest opinion, based on knowing a lot of people who've done what you're contemplating, don't do it.
I've got several friends who went there several years ago, and all of them are still on unemployment. PA jobs are coveted, prized, fought for. The closest any of them have come to solid work was a brief stint as a runner for a bottom rung production house, which soon went kaput and laid him off. He came to LA aspiring to be a DP, and now his all consuming ambition is to get into a Union. And California is a financial basketcase at the moment, so you might not even be able to count on unemployment. Do you have enough savings to go months, perhaps a year, or more, without a decent paycheck?
The great tragedy is that all these people I know are SO talented. Their work far outstrips my own. And it is all such a waste.
The fact is that there are countless young people going to LA, to where talent and work ethic is not enough, because you've got to compete with SO MANY OTHER people who are as talented and hard working, perhaps more so, who have the connections.
Why are you eager to leave Chicago? Lotta stuff happening there. There are many cities where you can make a name for yourself, and build up to the point where you don't have to go to LA. You're brought to LA, because there is work for you.
Look to cities with tax incentives, that draw in productions looking to cut costs. New Mexico and Michigan are both up and coming.
Moreover, don't go to a city blind. Get some poop lined up. Before you even think of packing up your car, or buying that plane ticket, start dumping your demo and resume everywhere you can. Because in this economy, now is not the time to take a blind leap. You gotta make plans.
I for one would jump to work in DC or New England. But I will not venture out that way until I've got a project lined up, or work that will keep me going for six months.
So I say, stick with Chicago. Chris Nolan's gonna start shooting the new Batman movie there, and that shoot will undoubtedly be the hottest gig on the planet. Devote your life to getting a spot, ANY SPOT, on that shoot, and the connections you make could save you a lot of sleepless nights and heartache.
@Brian Though I do agree with you about making a blind leap, you also MUST yield a certain mindset and attitude wherever you are. I recently moved to LA in August 2010. I knew 1 person before moving here and he's an actor friend (with obviously NO ties to anyone that could've aided me in my emergence as a Cinematographer.
However, since I've been here, I've been getting TONS of work (small $ and large $$$) and now the amount of connections (that I might add aren't only people I've met, but people I've worked with and for since I've been here). I've gotten work from talking to people in coffee shops, ads, networking, etc. There are natural qualities one must possess in life period...that should be merged with whatever filmmaking ability you have and acquire along the way.
I've loaded for an AT&T commercial dir. by Chris Robinson, AC'd for Bruce Francis Cole, and am a working editor Milkt Films and Granted Productions. There IS no one way to make it as a DP. I was a film student that moved to LA from Jacksonville, FL with a solid reel, packed up my mustang with everything I could take with me, about $13k put away, and the type of personality that its seems people admire. Slept in my car for less than two weeks so I didn't have to pay for a hotel room while I apartment searched, then found a little loft downtown LA. For me there WAS no other option. There is absolutely NO opportunity for growth as a DP in Jacksonville, FL AT ALL. Since I've been in LA I've learned SOOO much...and I can couple that with the knowledge and experience that I'd already possess = Progression. I went from HAVING to shoot on DSLR and HD (spending TONS of $$ on my own equipment) to working with 35mm, Alexa, RED. Not saying that LA is always the "go to" city, but if you live in a city that I DID, you've got to spread your wing SOMEWHERE. Before, I prided myself in being a hungry, self-taught Cinematographer, Editor...NOW I'm actually able humble myself and gain some of the best experience while making living as a filmmaker.
I'm 26 years old and I worked in the mortgage industry for 6 years while in college...so I made off with funding projects and loosing TONS of money teaching myself...NOW I'm able to learn and gain experience while getting paid (whatever the scale) to do so, ALL because I put my ducks in a row and took a realistic leap of faith. But it isn't for everyone and YES there are rough patches...it goes along with any profession.
@Sahlil, you're in a much better city for production than I was. There wasn't even a single rental house in Jacksonville (and city has a darn NFL team!!!).