Hey, Pamie: “How Do I Move to LA?”

Today’s Weekly Procrastination (which couldn’t come at a better time on my procrastination schedule), fills me with anxiety.


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Hi Pamie,

So I am thinking of moving to LA in…well, around a year from now after my current lease runs out. I am woefully unprepared as yet, so it all depends if I get my shit together by the deadline, I suppose. This isn’t so much a job-related question (since I don’t really know what I want to do other than “something different/creative that I don’t really have the option to do here, so I may try whatever”) so much as a moving one: What would you say that someone needs to have before they move to LA? Other than a car, which I don’t have but know I’ll have to buy one before I go. I suppose “friends/contacts living in LA” is another one, but I definitely don’t have that either. But beyond those, what should I be doing in the meantime to get ready to move?

Thanks–
Jennifer
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Hi, Jennifer. Excuse me while I double over for a second and take some deep breaths and momentarily feel better about being on the other side of this dilemma. Your questions leave me with a lot of immediate questions. Namely, where are you and how old are you and do you have a job right now and do you have money saved up and why do you think you want to be here (and really no friends at all out here?) and what kind of options do you not have out there and—-

Actually, I should get back to those questions. Because they’re good questions. But I’m going to start with what you should do if you know you have to move here (because sometimes you know. I knew. I didn’t have a job out here, but I knew I had to come here if I wanted the kinds of jobs I wanted to work).

So. Before I moved out here, I visited. I came out here a few times before I even decided this was where I needed to be. I came out here for a couple of auditions and meetings. (Those meetings and auditions happened because I was already writing and doing comedy in Austin.) Then I came out another time just to hang out with some friends who were doing the kinds of things I hoped to be doing. Then I came another time just to see the different neighborhoods and get a feel for where I’d like to be. And then I saved up enough money that I had about three to six months of savings and some freelance jobs so that I wouldn’t be broke and/or homeless by Christmas. It’s not sexy and carefree, but I’m the kind of girl who likes knowing she’ll have clean underwear every day and will at no point find herself having to sell her laptop to pay the rent. (I cannot say the same for all of my past roommates.)

Everybody’s story of how they got here and how they made it work is vastly different. But for me, I had a history of moving, so it wasn’t too daunting; I had money saved; I had a bit of work lined up; I had a lot of friends out here and at least two years worth of freelance writing experience plus connections in comedy and television (all of whom had suggested I move to Los Angeles so they can help me get work); I had a car, a roommate, a boyfriend, a place to live and the complete conviction that there was no other option for me, and I was never looking back. This was it for me. I can’t recommend anyone else moving out here unless they also were just as sure.

You need a car. I don’t know, maybe some people do it with just the bus and the semi-subway system we have out here, but if you’re planning on having the kind of job where you have to take meetings and/or go on pitches– and especially if you’re going to be starting out as an assistant, you’re going to need a car. I don’t even understand how people come visit this city without a car. It’s huge. And the studios aren’t next door to each other. They aren’t all in “Hollywood.” In fact, most of them aren’t in Hollywood at all.

You need some friends. Or connections. I guess you could come out here with nothing but a (in your case, so vague) dream and hit the ground running, but you’d have to immediately start networking. Get in an improv class or take an acting class or start making your… crafts? I have to assume you have an interest in some kind of Industry job or you wouldn’t have written to me.

But let me back up, for just a second. The strangest part of your letter to me, the thing that got me doing the slow inhale-then-exhale is this:

(since I don’t really know what I want to do other than “something different/creative that I don’t really have the option to do here, so I may try whatever”)

Jennifer. Please don’t come out here and end up in porn. This feels like what happens right before someone comes out here, makes some friends who like drugs, gets into a weird car accident and doesn’t have health or auto insurance, gets into crazy money trouble which leads to doing porn. I am not trying to judge here. I’m trying to help. This isn’t the city to find out what you want to do with your life.

I’m going to write that one again, and bold it.

This isn’t the city to try to find out what you want to do with your life.

It’s too hard! It’s too hard to live here and deal with traffic and idiots and the heat and rent and the parking and the fucking Trader Joe’s goddamn parking lots and the constant construction and the sirens and the crazy neighbors and gas prices and the TRAFFIC and other people who are always talking about themselves or how much they hate something because everybody just hates on everything all the time and then you start drinking and then why not porn.

You can’t come here looking for answers. I wouldn’t suggest it, anyway. You have to come here with a purpose and a rather delusional concept of your own odds of survival. You have to believe in yourself like you’re a three-year old standing at the edge of her bed, wearing a homemade cape. You can’t come here hoping the universe will guide you, because the universe will kick you in the balls and send you home.

Wait. Are you beautiful? Like, really fucking amazing looking and have never had to wait in a line and you don’t have a car because people are always offering to take you somewhere and you usually don’t have to pay for your food and the reason you’re looking for something new is because you’re bored with everyone where you are? Because then you can probably come out here and be fine. All the prep you’ll need is a manicure and a fresh bikini wax.

But let me back up. Before you make a huge move like coming to Los Angeles, you are going to want to make sure you arrive here with your best foot forward. And that’s more than making sure you have a car and some savings. I wouldn’t come out here wanting to be an actor without a resume that shows you are ready to be hired as an actor. That means a history of acting, decent headshots, even possibly your Equity or SAG card. (And a reel, right? Actors, it’s been forever since I’ve had to do any of this stuff. Back me up in the comments.) Likewise, I wouldn’t come out here with dreams of being a writer if you don’t have a spec script or three, or a pilot and a pitch, or at least a manuscript you didn’t sell or a website that’s popular or a Twitter feed with an impressive number of followers.

Enter this town with this question already answered: What is the reason that it’s your turn to be here?

I’m saying this as someone who has moved twenty-nine times in her life. Moving is hard and it changes everything, and if you’re using it to shake up your life, maybe go where it’s cheaper and a little easier, or at least more fun. Find a place with a thriving theatre community, or a smaller industry town where you can learn if you like it and make the connections you’ll need when you move to Los Angeles: like Austin or New Orleans or Vancouver.

What is it that’s not available to you where you are? Creatively, I mean. You can write from anywhere (and apply for things and get enough feedback to find out if you’re on to something). You can use the Internet to make “there” wherever you are. I mean, I suppose there are some very site-specific jobs (The circus comes to mind. Being Edie Falco is another.) But even before I moved to LA I had to stop and decide if my talents and desires weren’t better suited for New York or Chicago or even Minneapolis. Because I had my sights set on television, LA was where I needed to be. Had to be. I promise you that Austin may very well be the hardest city in America to leave. Were it not for the oppressive summer heat giving you that one very good reason, there’s truly no other.

The last thing I’d ever want to tell someone is to back off from their dreams. I truly believe that you can make it work out here if you have a lot of determination, an honest work ethic, and talent. But the ones who aren’t sure if they want to do this, the ones who just feel like they need something different, who are hoping something guides them — this is the wrong place for them. It’s too easy to sit on your couch and never leave the house. It’s too easy to take one meeting that makes you feel like shit. It’s too easy to watch all these other people do all these amazing things and think it’ll never be your turn. It’s not worth it if it’s not what you want with all of your molecules.

I mean even if you’re watching The Voice and thinking, “If I could just get in there and audition… Maybe I should move to LA and see if that’ll work for me.” Do you see how experienced all those people on The Voice are? That guy who won this year, wasn’t he Alicia Keys’ backup singer? HE ALREADY HAD A CAREER IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. That’s how much you have to have under your belt to get your dream going.

But if you were like, “Lady. I just want to go somewhere with nice weather where I can surf and hang out with weirdos and smoke medicinal marijuana and make friendship bracelets and like, be,” then yeah, this place will work, too. Although I’d say save up a bit and go live in Hawaii. I mean, if you’re gonna do it, fucking do it. Don’t half-ass it in Venice. BECAUSE YOU ARE JUST MAKING TRAFFIC AND PARKING WORSE.

In conclusion: move to LA when you’re walking towards an opportunity, not a fog of uncertainty. You can come here not knowing what’s going to happen to you — because nobody does, not any day ever — but don’t come here hoping someone somewhere whom you’ve never met or heard of will make it happen for you. Because that will never happen. Only you can do it. And only when you really, really want to.

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If you have a question about writing or television or novels or screenplays or any of these places where I write words and other people read them, send an email to pamie at pamie dot com with the subject line: YOUR WEEKLY PROCRASTINATION.

Past Weekly Procrastinations

25 thoughts on “Hey, Pamie: “How Do I Move to LA?”

  1. Harsh, Pam. But totally and 100% ACCURATE. I know a girl and I gave her all this exact same advice. She didn’t take any of it. She moved to LA all starry-eyed and full of hope with dreams of directing. She had to move home to Someplacenoonehasheardof, Michigan three months later. And you know what? Good riddance. This city doesn’t coddle people, it crushes them and their adorable dreams. Quickly.

    Have a plan and have a back-up plan and then one more back-up plan, just in case. And have a lot of money. Not having a plan is how “moving to LA” turns into a “three month vacation in LA wherein I depleted my entire life savings.”

  2. This was a really good entry for me. I was tweeting with you from ATX when I jokingly said I’m gonna have to move to LA but i probably will have to move to LA. At least I know part of what I want to do and have some friends out there but I still have some shit I need to figure out first. I want to have a job out there first, even if it’s the corporate thing so I have something stable while I’m writing/trying to find someone who likes my writing. But I just moved back to TX after being in Baltimore for 5 years so I need a little Texas time before uproot my life again.

    1. Texas time is always important.

      I understand not wanting to come out here without some form of income. And waiting until you’re mentally/physically ready for what comes with the hustle is a smart move.

  3. This is great advice!

    I started to write a whole other post on what to do if you’re an adult actor who wants to move to LA but the short answer is, yes, you will ideally want demo.

  4. All good advice. The only thing I’d add is “be healthy if and when you come.”

    Don’t make a move like that, with all that it entails, if your health is even remotely iffy.

    In 1995, I came, I saw, and I went home (which, for me, was the absolute right decision) after four months (bonus month?) because I couldn’t get and stay well in LA.

  5. Oh god, listen to Pamie!! Do not come to LA to figure out what you want to do! It is not the place to do that. It will crush you. And we’re not just saying that to keep dreamers out of here, we’re saying that because unless you’re a rich girl (and even then!) you just can’t make it happen here without a plan. It’s not a town that works that way.

  6. As someone who fled LA last year after my passion for working in TV Production wore off: Thoroughly, thoroughly agreed. There are logarithmically cheaper, exponentially kinder places to find yourself than LA, particularly Austin, Albuquerque, and New Orleans if you have vague notions of getting into the Entertainment business. I have friends who started in LA now in all three cities and liking it vastly better than LA because you don’t have to make an insane amount of money to live comfortably.

    The other thing that gets underestimated about LA is how isolating the vastness of it becomes. My group was scattered across the Basin and the Valley, and it practically took an act of congress to get more than 3 of my friends to do any one thing at any one time. Everyone (especially those in the biz, but even my non-showbiz friends worked insane hours) was so exhausted and booked up with work that the only time I’d see people I didn’t work with was either Saturday night, or maybe Sunday at brunch if I was lucky. I live in Chicago now, and even in this huge city, the walkability and great public transit system mean plans come together between disparate groups of friends with minimal friction, and I didn’t realized how badly I’d missed that living in LA.

    Bottom line: Unless you know for a fact that you need to move out there to make specific advances in your career, consider one of the cities that have smaller film industries thanks to tax incentives. The three I mentioned previously and Atlanta are where I tell people looking to move to LA right now to look into.

  7. Ugh. My niece just arrived there TODAY (to pursue acting) and I am so worried about her. I watch LA Complex! I know she has to figure it out for herself, but at what cost? Literally and figuratively and all that shit. No sleeping for me tonight.

    Crap.

  8. Well okay, so: what about someone who has her MFA in film and a short film that’s making the festival rounds and is planning another short film and has a (needs revision) feature-length script and a script for an animated short and plans to write a spec script for TV?

    And is 32.

    And lives in New York.

    Stay or go?

    1. Annie: YOU sound like someone who could hustle LA and make it work for you. Already have a short film in the rounds = time to get an agent. Finish those scripts, know the answer to the question, “So, what do you want to do next?” and have an idea sketched out for where you’d like to be in five years. If you need to be in LA to achieve that (because some people are very successful filmmakers without ever leaving New York), then get over here. (I also suggest seeing if you have a friend in LA who is itching/needing to get to NYC for six months and do an apartment swap.)

      Another suggestion: see if you can come out here for a week or two and take agent/manager meetings. Work your film festival connections. You can get a lot done before you ever even pack a box.

      Thirty-two is nothing. But I’m all about taking a couple of hesitant baby steps into this giant, germ-filled pool before you decide if you’re ready to get in the water.

  9. I am so glad I am not the only person who read the question and was filled with breathless anxiety. I was worried for a moment about your answer, then remembered whose blog I was reading. You never let me down, Pamie!

  10. I have a dissenting opinion. LA is not that bad. Being unemployed doesn’t mean you have to end up in porn.
    However, I do totally agree that there are easier/nicer/cheaper cities to live in while you figure out what you want to do with your life.
    After college, I lived in Boulder, CO for years, went to grad school in Orange County and then moved to LA in time for my 28th birthday. The first year did suck, and it would have been a lot worse if I didn’t have a car, a two month paid internship and some savings.
    That said, I’m an Art Director – not an actor or a writer. Those career paths are really hard no matter where you live.

  11. As a 20 year old I moved from small town to capital city. My parents clearly didn’t understand how risky that was – nor did they prepare me in any way for the responsibilities that come with independent living. I encountered all kinds of questionable people in the first couple of weeks I was there. Any one of them could have involved me in something I would have really regretted. Fortunately I had just enough sense to skirt around those people and keep my nose clean.

    It is VITAL to have a plan and I encourage Jennifer to really take in all the wisdom expressed here.

  12. This! This is so true. I can’t even…

    Okay, let me start again. I am not a “creative,” so I can’t speak to that aspect of your article. What I am, however, is a native Angeleno who left for college (at the age of 28), and discovered I couldn’t move back, even though my nearest and dearest family is in LA, and I love so much about it.

    I think I’ve moved as many times as you, Pamie, and most of those moves were in and around the Los Angeles basin. I miss the mountain ranges and the Mediterranean light, and the good taco trucks and the mix of Spanish accents and lingering, glorious sunsets (even if they *are* smog-enhanced). For the longest time I thought that maybe I would return, someday.

    However. I always knew that the only way I could come back to that sprawling, energy-sucking place is if I had a *thing* — as in, something which drove me to get out the door and across the freeways, and back again. A project and a place I belonged, with coworkers and a joint mission.

    I always had such a hard time explaining this to my parents. All I could say is that I would “need to have a thing.” And, who knows? If someday my passions and projects pull me toward L.A., I will welcome the place (I can’t really call it a “city”) with open arms. Until then, I am an expat, and I get to enjoy the tales of immigrants such as yourself.

    On a totally pragmatic note, I have to chime in on the necessity of a car. You might actually be able to work it so that you live near your potential workplace (or along a decent transit route), but your social life and potential connections will be severely limited. I relied on transit a lot in my teens and twenties (um, 20 years ago?), and while I loved the experience, it took up lots of time and sapped most spontaneity out of my days. (I dunno, if you’re an artist living in the Brewery and all your peeps are hanging out in the downtown/East of downtown area, maybe that’s an exception?)

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