The attitude around whether or not one has to live in Los Angeles in order to make it in the film industry has changed drastically over the past few years. A decade ago, anyone you asked would say that without a doubt you must live there, at least for some period of time. Then social media happened. All over the place, scripts were getting made not because of who you know, but because of how many people on the Internet know you. Digital technology improved, and the barriers to entry dropped dramatically. More films were getting made at lower costs, resulting in a lot more rough but a lot more diamonds, too. The “top tier” film festivals lost their stranglehold on the indie market, with more and more deals coming out of second and third tier festivals.
In short, the world changed and a new reality emerged, one that’s given an unprecedented level of access to Hollywood for people all over the globe.
Everyone knows this now, and yet people still like to tout the benefits of living in L.A. No doubt, they are plentiful: being surrounded by the industry, the buzz, being able to take that meeting today instead of next week, chance run-ins with industry players, and so on.
Well, I’m here to share with you the reasons why I’m glad I don’t live in Los Angeles–not because I hate the city (I actually love it there), but because it’s been the best thing for my career.
In 2006 I left my day job to start working as a freelance writer. I’ve been doing that full time ever since. The experience has at times been humbling, terrifying, agonizing, and exhilarating. I’ve had moments of joy that are unparalleled in any other profession. I’ve contemplated suicide. I’ve failed more times than I can count, been rejected more times than anyone should have to bear, and succeeded more times than I sometimes feel I deserve. I’ve got evangelists who are begging me to work for them, and I’ve had people tell me I’ll never make it in this industry (sometimes the same people).
But at the end of it all, I’ve learned some invaluable skills. I know how to market myself. I know how to network. I’ve kept staying the course, and have been rewarded for it.
Most importantly, I’ve been making my living as a writer for most of my working career. People are impressed when I tell them I write and edit books for a living, and have been doing that for seven years now. It gives me credibility. It’s given me tremendous experience. Most people don’t think about the similarities between writing a technical manual and writing a screenplay, but they’re there. And of course, the similarities between editing a fiction book and writing a screenplay are considerable.
I don’t know that I would have had this opportunity in Los Angeles. Most of the people you talk to there fall into one or both of the following categories: (1) they’ve been working in the industry full time since they graduated from USC, and (2) whatever job they have leaves them no time to write. You hear all the time stories of people who are talking about it but have subconsciously given up. I’ve been able to keep writing, and make my living. I’ve been patient. And I’m being rewarded for it.
I also think there’s a lot to be said for being an outsider. Most of the people I meet when I come to California are folks I know either directly or indirectly through Austin Film Festival, and they’re delighted to see me and find out how things are going. They love that I offer a perspective from outside the insular bubble of Southern California. And they’re happy to arrange that meeting for while I’m in town. I can call somebody up and ask if they want to go out to lunch just ’cause, but that’s a much more unusual invitation if we both live in the same city than if I’m flying 1,500 miles to be there. And I get to put all my meetings together into one whirlwind adventure of a week.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t move to Los Angeles (though some people I know would). Nor am I saying that I never will–n fact, I fully expect that at some point that’s going to be the natural and obvious thing to do. But I will say that I’m glad, when my wife and I contemplated it a year and a half ago, that we made the choice we did.