Big Cities: 3. Los Angeles, California
For anyone moving to Los Angeles, indie moviemaker Lundon Boyd (Dealer, Poor Boy), who moved there from Alaska, offers this advice for keeping your head above water: “Take classes, write more, act more, take every job you can. Never say ‘no’ to a social gathering. Get a smaller vehicle. Already have your reel cut, already have scripts to show. Most people are willing to get a cup of coffee with you. The old cliché of ‘who you know’ really does apply.” In other words, be prepared for networking. Lots of it.
Home to a whopping 430 soundstages and studio facilities, Los Angeles is a prolific provider of jobs for moviemakers and creative folks of all stripes. It’s remarkable how much the endless sprawl can feel like a company town—you’ll find your squad at the gym, in the city’s deep well of restaurants, and of course at the theaters: the Laemmle chain, Downtown Independent, Echo Park Film Center, the raucous Cinefamily and grindhouse-y New Bev, stately American Cinematheque, and so on. And you can join one of the many indie organizations in the city: NewFilmmakers, Filmmakers Alliance or Women in Film…
“I personally love Film Independent,” says Jen McGowan, director of Kelly & Cal and founder of Film Powered, a series of free peer-taught classes for female filmmakers. “I feel very strongly that you must find your people. L.A. is a very spread-out place and it can be very easy to become isolated here, or get distracted and lose your voice.”
As for the moviemaking. California expanded its tax incentive program significantly in 2015, with $330 million now available annually. Be warned, though, that getting your hands on that money isn’t always a walk in the park: The state’s much-decried lottery system was abolished a couple of years ago in favor of a more structured process based on job creation. Many applauded this, but independent moviemakers, allocated just five percent of the subsidies, point out that the job ratio factor favors bigger-budgeted titles—and indeed the minimum spend to qualify is a cool $1 million. (McGowan: “Where filmmakers start their careers is where they build their contacts, and it would be good for L.A. to nurture its filmmakers sooner.”) Indies can take comfort in the fact that while the basic tax credit for larger features is 20 percent, independent features get 25 percent—which, unlike all other categories of production, is transferable.
As anyone who watched La La Land knows, there’s a lot of sunshine (315 days of it, precisely). And though the cost of living is high, Los Angeles doesn’t have to break the bank. Watch beautiful people (and their beautiful dogs) hike Runyon Canyon, or explore an arts scene bursting with underground galleries, comedy shows in taco shops, and alternative music venues in a place where car culture is still king, but the public transit system is increasingly robust. And if you’re savvy about your neighborhood, the city can be—dare we say it—delightfully walkable.