I'm an aspiring film director/producer, entering UTA next year as a freshman. I constantly hear that you need to be in LA for the film business, or that everyone ends up in LA, and I wanted to know a little more about this.
My question is, why? Why do you need to be in LA? I lived there when I was younger, and all that I remember was that the cheapest dirthole was still more expensive than my modest house in Austin. Also, I've had friends tell me how strict LA is on permits, whereas in Austin, I was shooting on the street w/o any permits and a police cab came up and offered to buy us lunch.
So...why LA? I ask this question because Austin's film program is offering students internships at select studios in LA (such as Paramount and Lionsgate) as well as in NYC (but I believe that's more for TV). However, is this something worth looking into? To be honest, and I don't know everything about the industry so this is all coming from interviews/workshops, but the films I want to make I could make probably shoot here in Texas.
I would be honored to hear what you guys think and what your experience is with this.
P.S.: Money is a HUGE factor for me.
Edit: added some line spacing.
Edited by John W. King, 02 January 2016 - 11:55 AM.
With the exceptions of Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, as well as Silvercup Studios & Astoria-Kaufman Studios in Queens, NYC really isn't a studio-based town. And even the ones I mentioned are dwarfed by the L.A. studios. So if you have the opportunity to intern at a big studio like Paramount or Warner Bros., I would head to L.A. and start making connections.
Speaking as a foreigner, my strong impression is that despite the enormous number of people who are trying to get in, the odds are still far better. The maximum possible level of achievement is largely similar worldwide, but there are a hell of a lot more spots shooting, say, commercials, music videos and high-end drama in Los Angeles than there are anywhere else on the planet, even compared to the number of people seeking them. The issue in (say) the UK is that even getting access to the market, if that's the right word for jobbing potential directors of photography, is far easier. I know people who work five jobs a month in LA. OK, half of them are unpaid and the rest are paid at the sort of derisory rates that are common for beginners worldwide, but it's hard to even do that in London, because there aren't five short films a month being shot.
Beyond that, there is at least the pursuit of excellence. Sometimes, employers with high expectations can be difficult. On the other hand, living in a perpetual environment of ingrained and deliberate mediocrity can be something of a prison sentence. Los Angeles filmmakers, at all levels, at least know and understand what can be done, and don't automatically approach everything with the assumption that the results will inevitably be lacklustre and uninteresting. Sheer intent doesn't actually stop the results from being lacklustre and uninteresting, but at least that's not the outcome that's being actively played-for. To some extent this is a transatlantic thing - Brits are miserable, Americans enthusiastic.
Yes, from what I've heard, LA may be the best place in the world to make commercial film and television productions, but is a terrible place to make microbudget short films because the population is generally quite clued-in. If you ask someone to shoot in their field/barn/whatever where I live, they tend to get excited. Do that in LA and people reach for their ready-printed stack of contractual paperwork.
There are other places in the world where the situation may be similar - huge amounts, really huge amounts of film is turned in India, but it depends what you want.
It really depends on what you wish to do, what is your end game?
If you wish to simply work in the film industry, as in people pay you to do a singular specialized job, like cinematographer, editor, gaffer, etc, then it's a wise idea to start on the ground level in Hollywood and work your way up.
If you wish to produce your own product as a writer/director, I'd stay away until you've got one heck of a good portfolio. Get a good job in Austin and use that money to make a bunch of short films. Submit them to festivals and get some buzz going over a few years. If you can find someone to invest in your films, what's the point of leaving?
What I see here in Hollywood is the same routine over and over again. Young film student comes to Hollywood. They get an unpaid internship, get abused and can't pay the rent. So they get a full time job as a waiter or something of that nature and try to make ends meet, but it becomes impossible, so they move home. Los Angeles is a huge rotating door, for every 250,000 new people that come here, there are another 250,000 leaving for whatever reason.
There are two types of people who "make it"; Highly specialized artists and jacks of all trades.
The highly specialized artist job is a REAL commitment. You start on the ground floor as an intern, then assistant, then slowly move up the ladder. Most specialized jobs, it can take upwards of 10 - 20 years to reach your end goal and a lot of people never quite reach their dream, settling for a lower-end job in order to pay the bills. Plus, you need a lot of luck along the way, meeting the right people AND having a decent skill set, can open a lot of doors.
A jack of all trades is someone who can pretty much do anything on a project. More and more people are fitting this profile as time goes on since technology is so enabling. It's far harder to work here as a jack of all trades because without a speciality, people don't quite understand what you do. However, it's a HUGE enabler because you could theoretically work in a parallel industry like technology at the same time you're producing projects. I'm slightly bias towards "jack of all trades" as well because I'm one of those guys and I've survived here in Hollywood for 13 years, never committing to a single specialist job. Whatever pays the rent, as long as it's creative, I'm there.
In terms of shooting in Los Angeles, it can get tricky. The more people you have on the ground, the more people will notice. The trick is to be extremely mobile and don't even think about boom mic's and large cameras. If you have a little camera and wireless mic's, with three people behind the camera, you'll probably be fine. Plus, the further away you are from Los Angeles, the less problems you'll have. Remember, everyone and their mom shoots here, so the cop's are especially keen to this. If you strike a permit, you really need insurance and a whole host of other things. If you make a feature film that you wish to sell, the buyer needs to have sign off's from every single location and person on screen. It doesn't matter what city or people are in the film, it's just the lay of the land. Plus, to make a bigger show with actual actors, you need an LLC, insurance, permits and all the standard legal documents anyway. This is why a lot of first time directors shoot in the desert or far away from civilization, on public land, so they don't need to spend as much on these things. So it really doesn't matter if you stay in Austin or move to Los Angeles, if you plan on being a filmmaker, making a living off your films, you need to have all these documents and a business to boot.
In the end, if you plan on being a filmmaker, producing your own product, there is no reason to move. I'd stay in Austin, I'd focus on fine tuning your skills and when the time is ready for you to head out west, you will know. Until then, keep experimenting and making whatever you want. Make sure people are free to watch and critique your work and make sure you don't make the same mistakes repeatedly.
I guess it depends on what kind of Internships you can get and if the experience might lead to work of some kind.
Obviously because this is a cinematography forum, people are looking at LA a lot from the point of view of someone who is going to be a DP in which case Hollywood is great because there are lots of films being shot there you can work on.
However if you plan to be a low budget indie writer director type then you can do that anywhere. Austin might even be a good place to do that kind of thing. Then the question becomes more about how you are going to finance your movies and survive, in which case it might be good if you are going to major in dentistry or something.
If money is a significant factor then maybe you need to think about where the money might come from long term.
I started working when i was 10, nepotism at it's best, as my dad worked in films. For most of my young working life there were a lot of floors I swepta, and a lot of little regional commercials I worked on, aerobics videos, cooking shows, basically anything with a beta-cam. Then I joined the army, young, pre 9/11, and I left film behind wholly. After some years of some things not savory to discuss on a forum as such i wound up back in Philadelphia, and in College. I didn't necessarily want to do film, but, it was easy and I felt i needed to do something (while in school Anthropology really piqued my interest and I also got a BS therein, but that's another story). So I went into film, this time academically-- it had been a job before hand, but something had changed within me then and it became more of--- well in reality the only way in which i can interface with the world-- how it makes sense to me, how i see.
I never did an internship in college, I just worked. I shot and I shot and I shot, and then I graduated, and the first thing I did wasn't to move to LA, it was to shoot a bit in Philadelphia and try to make a go of it. And I was told, I wasn't horrible. I even got paid to shoot features in Philadelphia-- perish the thought! And eventually, even there, it wasn't enough in terms of work to be sustainable, not in the least. So I went to China on a big commercial gig as well as an art grant for my then girlfriend, and when I got back, I looked, and I had nothing booked, and I got offered a full time job working at my university. I of course, out of fear, took it-- it paid well-- really well. And I thought, oh I have all this vacation time, and all this money, I'll DoP on the side. And I never did. I couldn't, the job was full time, the money you get quickly goes into your lifestyle, you adjust to the amount of money you make and, like everyone we give into buying this or that-- justifying that oh, we had a long week, let's go to the bar and have a round or two, or three, with some people whose personality we can marginally stand for brief spurts. And it was awful-- everyday was awful.
So I saved up, and I eventually packed it into LA. It'll be 4 years come Feb 5th. And since coming here I have worked, generally, 200 days or so out of the year, even from my first yr here.
Granted, I had shot many things, and I suppose I am not awful at my job (though I am sorely disappointed by everything I've shot, others seem ok with it). Somehow, I make ends meet every month. It's not easy, but it's fulfilling. And it's specific-- and that's the problem.
We can all tell you our stories, all tell you what we went through but it doesn't in the least matter. That all is the past, it's not now. None of us can honestly say to you, oh come to LA, you'll work, or oh, stay home and make films that's all you need to do. Time changes, and the opportunities we are faced with are borne out of the specific path we have so far walked-- a summation of choices we've made both wise and foolish which worked and exploded marvelously.
So you want advice, some magic path, a trick-- there is none. There's no 12 step program, there's no real map. It comes down to you and what you will encounter as you walk your way through life.
Do you think Vilmos Zsigmon expected to be carting off film across boarders away from the communists as his path to Hollywood-- assuming that was originally his end goal at all?
So what do you do? Well it's the same thing you do when you're on set, I think-- you look at what's in front of you and you make your best choice-- often your best guess-- and even better sometimes you go to your gut. You follow it through, whatever it is moving along and constantly judging the course you've set and making the adjustments you can as you learn and see more in your own life.
So why LA? Well none of us can answer that for you, honestly. You have to go with your own experiences, your own values and stop looking for a consensus on what the right choice is to make, because there isn't one.It all just comes down to what choices you can make and compromises you can accept. You gotta figure that all for yourself as you go along.
By 1912, major motion-picture companies had set up production near or in Los Angeles. In the early 1900s, most motion picture patents were held by Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company in New Jersey, and filmmakers were often sued to stop their productions. To escape this, filmmakers began moving out west, where Edison's patents could not be enforced. Also, the weather was ideal and there was quick access to various settings. Los Angeles became the capital of the film industry.
It is somewhat ironic that the recent suit against a 'fan' based adaptation of the Star Trek Franchise didn't take heed and move their production to Tijuana, BC. Mexico, which was one of the reasons 'why LA' when the Edison did send out detectives to shut down 'patent' infringing movie production...
In any case, Hollywood is what developed, and the massive infrastructure that has developed over the years is hard to 'beat'. While other areas have developed some 'film making' infrastructure, most of the places where projects are developed and green lit, takes place in the LA region.
Austin has developed some infrastructure as has Atlanta and Vancouver, for outside the US, but 'close enough'...
I recall some estimates of 'hollywood' output as being about 500 films a year, perhaps 25% are mega budget, with the rest being less than mega... in any case the number of people vying for jobs on these 500 is large relative to the positions available.
If one can find work in some other local, it is appropriate to recall Julius Caesars 'advice'... better to be the chief man in a village than 'second' in Rome(paraphrased...).
Obviously there are some here that have been successful. But it takes a lot of effort and 'networking'... real networking not schmoozing in parties... ok... maybe some shmoozing... but one does have to pick the right parties...
Unless someone has specifically said their purpose is to produce features, I wouldn't assume that's a desire. Most people know it's a nonstarter. You must recognise how unusual you are. It's not a career most people have access to.
A lot of people have this idea that it's possible to be in a position where one decides what projects to pursue and directs them with complete creative control. Practically nobody ever gets to do this outside of tiny short films - anyone who goes after these roles is asking for the world on a stick. The only people who get that are the top half dozen names in the world, and Richard Boddington.
It's a lottery-win level of good fortune to get there, and that's even assuming you're the right kind of schmoozer.
The only people who get that are the top half dozen names in the world, and Richard Boddington.
It's a lottery-win level of good fortune to get there, and that's even assuming you're the right kind of schmoozer.
There's always an element of chance involved I agree, luck is defined as when opportunity meets preparation. I know one guy from Gander Newfoundland, that is light years ahead of me, he had a faster assent up the Hollywood ladder than either Lucas or Spielberg, and he's 10 years younger than I am. He had zero family connections to the movie industry prior to his success.
I do as I please when I make a movie that is true, however, there are downsides to every path. Mine certainly has them.
Well, no, Richard, luck is defined as random happenstance that happens to suit one's own purposes. The influence of luck reflects neither positively nor negatively on the character of the person who experiences it, but I've always been careful to recognise when I've enjoyed it myself. Mistaking luck for ability is an enticing bit of self regard, but we should be careful about giving advice based on the assumption that exactly the same random chances come to everyone.
Well Phil, you have great technical knowledge, how did you acquire it? It didn't just fall into your brain.
If an opportunity comes your way you can only take advantage of it because you have acquired all that knowledge. The "random" opportunity is one thing, but being able to take advantage of it is another thing.
Even Justin Bieber had some degree of talent in order to open the doors that he did. Yes....groan.
The big problem as a low budget indie producer isn't where you live because you don't even have to shoot films where you live (although maybe it can be more convienient) but much more to do with financing. It obviously helps if you can have a really decent well paying career that can pay for the films you want to make.
Even Justin Bieber had some degree of talent in order to open the doors that he did.
And a massive, massive quantity of luck. That sort of performer is essentially a combination of a face that's attractive to the target audience and some degree of stage presence, which isn't that rare and is almost infinitely replaceable. Having it be anyone in particular is essentially a matter of good fortune. If you believe that it's good fortune to be Justin Bieber, anyway.
And Freya, I'm not sure I'd actually want to live in LA if I wanted to be an independent filmmaker - at any level - because it is actually quite a hostile environment for anything other than very big shows. There are a lot of staggeringly good people available even at quite low levels of the technical and creative trades - I've said before how brilliant even beginner crew can be in LA compared to London - but I suspect the best place to use them would not be at home.
That said, the comparative situation as regards the feasibility of entrepreneurship in the UK is just terrible, so I don't know. Perhaps LA is better. At least you don't end up with such a big bill for heating or pumping out.
And Freya, I'm not sure I'd actually want to live in LA if I wanted to be an independent filmmaker - at any level - because it is actually quite a hostile environment for anything other than very big shows. There are a lot of staggeringly good people available even at quite low levels of the technical and creative trades - I've said before how brilliant even beginner crew can be in LA compared to London - but I suspect the best place to use them would not be at home. P
Well yes, even London suffers from this kind of thing in a minor way because large companies and corporations like the BBC skew the market a bit, pumping up the price of locations etc. My point was a bit that you don't have to shoot where you live anyway although if you were in LA then you also have the high overheads which would not really help as an independent filmmaker. Actually London also suffers heavily from high overheads, so these places might be good to avoid in a way.
but the big issue is how are you going to bring in the money to pay for the indie films.