Best Coast?: Why Moving from New York to Los Angeles was the Best Decision I Ever Made

Almost two and a half years ago I left what I thought would be my forever home, New York, for Los Angeles. Moving from New York to L.A. is the best accidental decision I ever made.

I’m now writing and directing a proof of concept for a television series called ‘Shiner, starring Ross McCall and Jim Beaver. In L.A., I have a steady job as an associate producer, which is a huge improvement over years of living paycheck to paycheck as a freelancer or waiter in NYC.

When I left New York, I felt like I’d dumped the worst relationship of my life. How did it come to such a bitter end with a city I once loved, the city I still believe to have shaped me?

On March 3, 2013, I boarded a plane from New York to L.A. with a one-way ticket. I planned on working freelance production on the West Coast, as I had before, and buying a ticket back to New York once the work dried up. It was a rough winter. I might have worked 10 days since the start of the year, and all of February had been spent raising money to shoot some episodes of my zany webseries for branded content, Zompire Vixens from Pluto! I didn’t even crack $5,000 in cash, and on top of that, I was stuck with a roommate who had moved her boyfriend into my apartment without asking me. (I’d introduced them. Oops!) I needed a fresh perspective, and I needed a new strategy.

My second job in Los Angeles at the end of March promoted me to coordinator at nearly double my usual New York day rate, even when I was producing small projects. The check was big enough to buy a car, albeit a very used one. So after 10 years in NY, I said, “Fuck it. I’m now a Los Angelena.”

Where the A-List Industry Is

I’m not the only New York refugee who went west. Morgan Faust, one half of the writer/director team BroSis!, exited NYC in 2012. She landed in L.A. and almost immediately locked her first paid writing gig on a feature.

“I had to come to terms with the fact that the business of film and TV is in L.A.,” says Faust. “By no means does the art of the craft live out here, but the business does. If you want to make a living in this industry, you can choose to do it elsewhere—and there are some very good reasons why that might be the right choice—but do it with the knowledge that L.A. is still the heart of the film and television economy.”

Even if I’m not feeling the love for New York these days, I did reach out to some friends who did the reverse transition, leaving the relaxed California sunshine for a full seasonal array in NYC, as well as the impetuous energy and haute culture. That atmosphere is admittedly lacking in Los Angeles, although not completely nonexistent, as many New Yorkers would have you believe.

Commercial and music video director Will Joines moved to L.A. from the sticks of North Carolina right after college. “I didn’t particularly care for L.A. at the time,” he says, “though I think that was the smack-in-the-face of my first foray into a big city more than L.A. itself.” Will ended up moving to New York after his then-girlfriend, now-wife was accepted to Columbia. “I immediately loved New York and felt at home there right off the bat.” He adds, “Side note: ‘Loved’ is synonymous with ‘broke.’”

“If you want a vibrant indie scene in film and music, you can’t really beat NYC,” Will says. “If you want to be working in A-level film and television, you have to be in L.A.”

Creatively Conducive Environment

Aaron Wertheimer—writer, director, and star of Wedgerino, a comedy feature currently on the festival circuit—has flopped coasts twice. While living in L.A., he wrote the script to the NYC-set Wedgerino, with the intention of casting and working with people from NYC. He moved to the East Coast primarily to make that movie.

With its broad array of neighborhoods and easy access to nature, Aaron says he found it easier to write in Los Angeles, without the distractions of New York. Yet ultimately, he says, he prefers the “DIY attitude” of New York filmmaking.

“Overall, the NYC indie mentality is to write a script, scrape funds together, and go out and make it happen. In L.A., the writers I met were all writing medium- or large-budget movies and then waiting around to get a star attached, or find funding some other way,” he says. “I realize that the Hollywood way works for a lot of people and creates some great films, but it’s not the way for me.”

Quality of Living

To be fair, Los Angeles wasn’t all roses from the start even for yours truly. I spent some of my first year homeless. I had to deal with the debt I had racked up over years of underemployment in New York. Work was better, but my freelancing activities still weren’t consistent enough to make any concrete plans. (Watch the following video for details.)

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLxvuWMZ3Xw

Perhaps above everything, I was lonely. It was hard to start over after 10 years. After a year, however, all of these problems were showing tremendous improvement. Quality of life is no contest between New York and Los Angeles unless you’re independently—or dependently?—wealthy. In L.A., I found a large-by-NYC-standards apartment with no rodents on a tree-lined street, and I even got myself a boyfriend.

I have to admit that the only thing I miss about New York is the snow, but I’m of the minority opinion on SoCal weather.

Getting staffed in production was a tremendous weight off of my back, and my boss has been incredibly supportive of my creative work outside of the office. I’d certainly never made the kind of connections in New York that would allow me to cast actors from Band of Brothers or Justified in my films.

“Did I mention the fish tacos?” says Morgan. So, yeah—New York and I are done. MM

Jenna Payne is developing an Appalachian Godfather tale called ‘Shiner for series and raising funds for a proof-of-concept short film. She also creates lo-fi animations for YouTube, and directed the only narrative shot in blacked-out Manhattan during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, “Darktown.” Find her on Twitter @jenna_payne.

2 Comments

  1. Brian C. Leggett

    August 17, 2015 at 9:24 am

    This is a load of garbage. I would never leave New York for Loser Angeles. So what LA is the movie making capital of the world. So what. I am a screenwriter ad aspiring filmmaker myself, but I can do all that here in New York. I don’t have to be in LA jus to have a movie career. New York can have just as much as Loser Angeles has. New York is my home. I do not like LA.

  2. Ramon

    August 14, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Great article. You confirmed what I suspected for a long time. Thank you!

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