Do you have to live in LA to be a filmmaker?

There is no doubt that Hollywood is the centre of the film industry but will moving there benefit your career or is it nothing more than a pipe dream?

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In this post I will go through the pros and cons of moving to the city. I will start of with the basics and seeing as I don’t live in LA myself I will link to resources from others who have made the move.

LA is an expensive city to live in and any well paid film jobs will be very hard to come by.

Work Visas

My audience for this blog is very diverse so it is worth mentioning the practicalities of moving to LA. Do you currently have permission to work in the US? If not it won’t be as easy as you might think to gain a work visa.

You will need to get sponsorship from a company to make the move. This will mean applying for full time jobs which excludes freelance film set work. The most you can get without a work visa is a 90 day holiday pass - you could use this time to try and gain sponsorship but do keep in mind you are competing for jobs against thousands of others just like you.

Before planning your move visit the passport office and ask about what permission you need to live and work in the US. This will differ depending on your citizenship.

Alternative Cities

In America the two major cities for film work are LA and NYC but do consider that your local city will also have film industry jobs. I live in the UK and here you will find major studio work similar to Hollywood in London. However other cities outside the capital (Manchester, Bristol, Leeds) are good for alternative work such as TV and Commercials.

‘It is worth mentioning that when I worked on film sets (even major ones) I was still based in my home town outside of London. This is because feature films are shot on location all over the UK. Occasionally I had to stay in friends houses in the capital but accommodation was almost always covered.’

Keep in mind that you don’t have to live in a major city to find work. If you are looking for work outside of the studio system alternative cities might be more suited to you.

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Your Job Role

In LA the majority of work will be studio films, TV shows, sitcoms and commercials. If you are looking for work in any of these sectors you will need a specific job.

If you are just starting out this may be an entry level job such as Runner or Production Assistant. You might already have a specific skilled job role such as Spark, Grip, 3rd AD or Second AC. If you have a focused skilled job and previous work experience within it paid jobs will be easier to find.

If however you are moving to LA looking for an above-the-line job role (i.e Director, Screenwriter, Lead Actor or Producer) you will need a plan.

Directors

To be a director on a TV show you can either work your way up the crew ladder or make your own films to garner attention. Either way you will be expected to have some crew experience to be trusted in this role. If you are making Indie films you can be based anywhere in the world to do this, film festivals allow submissions from filmmakers world-wide.

Screenwriters

LA is said to be a helpful place to live in if you wish to pursue screenwriting. You will need to be prepared to do a large amount of socialising and networking to find work. You can read screenwriter Sam’s advice on Moving to LA - Read Here There is also a detailed post on John August’s blog - Read Here

Even in LA paid film crew job roles do not grow on trees. You will not be trusted to do any of these jobs without extensive experience, contacts and dedication.

The Long Game

It is going to take many years to make it in LA. It could easily take 10 years to get a union card and have frequent work on studio film sets. For above-the-line job roles there is no guarantee that LA will ever be able to satisfy your dreams. Expecting to reach your goals in a year or two is unrealistic so it best to come at the industry with a long term plan.

Hollywood Juicer has written many blog posts on working in LA in the lighting department - Read Here | Indie Film Hustle has a podcast episode on moving to LA - Listen Here

LA is also an expensive city and is recommended by many that you arrive with at least $5000 saved in your bank account. You will need money for accommodation deposits and it could take several months to get a basic entry level job.

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Conclusion

If you wish to work within the studio system then LA is a good place to live. To do this you will need to have permission to work in the US, have savings and be prepared to spend many years fighting for your place in the industry.

If you wish to produce your own independent films or become an ‘auteur’ director then understand that you can pursue these roles anywhere in the world.

Moving to a new city will always have it’s risks. There is a chance that LA will not work out and chance that LA will be exactly what you need at the start of your career.

It would be good to hear your own thoughts on whether filmmakers should move to LA?