Guest Post: Christopher Boghosian “Los Angeles Won’t Make Your Movie!”

Guest Post: Christopher Boghosian "Los Angeles Won't Make Your Movie!"

Last Friday, Rosen & Bennett offered up some first feature advice: go home. Today Christopher “I Am A Nobody Filmmaker” Boghosian comes to a very similar conclusion after spending some time knocking around Los Angeles. His last post generated quite a lot of buzz. Wonder if you fellow LA residents feel like wise?


Moving to Los Angeles just might be the worst decision a filmmaker can make. Whereas the city is arguably the best place to break into the studio system, LA is quite adverse to independents like me.

Life is tough in LA. Its high cost of living demands a well-paying job, while filmmaking requires flexibility, but the two rarely go together. Finding and keeping the “perfect” job becomes a job in itself. Even if you’re well-off, the congestion and state of atrophy in LA is sure to zap your creative energy. Everything takes longer; a couple errands can easily consume your entire day. And because everyone is in each other’s way, anger and resentment runs rampant in lines, stores, and, yes, especially traffic. Keeping the optimism and energy needed to make a film becomes an emotional challenge few conquer. In LA, the struggle to survive while creating quickly turns into the struggle to create while surviving.

To make matters worse, aspiring filmmakers are nothing special in LA. In fact, we’re a nuisance. Did you know it’s a misdemeanor to film in LA without a pricey permit? Yup – you can end up in jail with shoplifters and prostitutes. Whereas the city bends over backwards for big budget movies, it seeks to foil and defeat micro-budget projects. People like me, trying to make a movie for virtually nothing are viewed as pariahs, beggars and wannabes. Sure, there may be that rare person who supports our “passion,” but most are tired and resentful of the inconvenience. Even mom-and-pop storeowners have become savvy, demanding hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for the use of their little store.

Filmmakers might argue that LA is abundant in resources. That may be true, but resources cost money. What good is knowing a production sound mixer if you can’t afford her reduced rate of $250/day? And what good are all the actors if the talented ones don’t audition for your no-name, low-paying project?
Sometimes I suspect moving to LA is one big diversion. It seems productive and necessary for one’s filmmaking career; however, it just might be another distraction from the blank screen, a costly game of solitaire. It’s easy to be fooled; the move feels productive: packing and driving; buying furniture and decorating; applying for jobs and interviewing. But in the end, you’re right back where you started from, a blank screen, except now you’ve added a whole slew of burdens and concerns distracting you even more.

Without the support of my wife and family, there is no way I would now be completing my first feature film here in LA. I am incredibly blessed and I know it. On the other hand, LA is my hometown. I was born and raised here, thus, it supports me in ways it does not support my immigrant peers. I’ve got all kinds of family and neighbors willing to help me out. This is why I believe most aspiring filmmakers would be more productive back home where they presumably can focus less on survival and more on making films.

Independent film productions in LA often entail law-breaking, angry neighbors, and police shutdowns, whereas I continually here stories about community support for productions elsewhere, such as free catering, police cooperation, even auto dealers lending cars out for free. This is precisely why I am eager to shoot my next film in my wife’s tiny hometown in Indiana.

Making a film is incredibly difficult, so why compound it by moving to an inhospitable city with laws and a culture aimed at thwarting you? If only the thousands who migrate here every year would stay home and make the most with what they have! Ironically, top film festivals like Sundance actually prefer provincial films set in unknown towns and communities. Festival programmers want to be taken someplace new rather than see another crummy LA apartment.

So, perhaps, while driving out to Los Angeles, many aspiring filmmakers are leaving behind their greatest asset: their hometown.
-Christopher J. Boghosian

Christopher J. Boghosian is an independent filmmaker and blogger born and raised in Los Angeles, California. You can visit his site at FollowMyFilm.com

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Comments

Joseph

Great post. I’ve been considering my best options, for getting my 2nd feature made, and this blog was the tipping-point. Staying home. Thanks for sharing this.

Vishal Singh

Completely agree. Granted, I’m about to move to LA, but only coming out of good ol’ SF Bay Area. I’m only there for film school, and if I can’t make the right connections in that time by the time I graduate (which is obviously unlikely) then I’m going back to my little NorCal town next to San Francisco. No cliche’ locations, abundance of family and friends to help you, and so much more freedom when filming in the city. And even IF I end up living in LA; I still can’t see myself actually FILMING most of my movies there. I’d get really tired of the locations really fast.

Hmm

All good points, I think. But I’d guess that indie filmmakers don’t go to LA because they think it’s pan-movie-friendly. They go to have it both ways. Make a microbudget on the side (or maybe they’ve already made one) while searching for paying work in the film/tv industry.

And that’s a reasonable plan in this day and age. Many filmmakers with acclaimed works on the festival circuit still have trouble paying bills and getting their film distributed beyond a couple theaters for a couple weeks. I don’t know — maybe the Wes Anderson/Richard Kelly-style career plan of using your DIY project/short as a directorial sample after selling a script to an Indiewood company is the best way to go, all things considered.

Yes, you risk selling out and betraying all your artistic values…but that usually happens anyway even if you went the “honorable” festival route. *cough* David Gordon Green *cough* I don’t even like his films at all, but I’ll tip my hat to Joe Swanberg — how he’s managed to stay in business and stay true to his values…it’s pretty damn impressive.

Christopher

Thank you for all the comments – much appreciated. Lots and lots of wisdom in these comments, which add tremendously to my post.

Good to be in conversation with you all!

Peace,
Christopher
http://followmyfilm.com

Paul Kampf

Christopher, your post hit many nerves in me. LA is a cold, difficult, ruthless reality. At the same time, it’s generous, passionate and full of possibilities. I’ve touched both sides of the elephant myself, so I understand which end you’re on now. I’ve shot two features outside of LA because of the generosity and lower costs for locations, etc. However, the shorts I make in LA enable my company to build the artistic/personal currency to bring talent to the bigger projects. It’s a smash and grab reality. But, I feel the obstacles in LA offer the best (and most painful) lessons if we’re going to follow our passion for film making here or elsewhere.

Tess

I’ve made three micro budget films… two in small home towns and the latest in the NYC area. The pros and cons of each have been commented on above. I find the key is to build a community of like-minded collaborators and supporters wherever you go . If you can’t pay someone you have to offer them a good experience, the credit and, when applicable, material for their reel (actors, DP). I have seen so many filmmakers act as if working on their project is a privilege and honor for the many people THEY NEED to get it done. Always appreciate that these kinds of movies can only be made with the generous support of friends and even more often strangers. Don’t expect anything. If you treat people with respect you will be surprised by how many do want to help an aspiring filmmaker even in NYC. I’ve had a location agree to a low rate and then at the last moment demand an exorbitant fee (in West Virginia) and then found a replacement location for free in an NYC suburb. You never know. Choose your location based on what inspires you and be ready for a lot of hard work. If making a movie was easy everyone I went to film school with would do it.

Jon M

Indie film making isn’t about location; it’s about community. LA is just as inhospitable for indie filmmakers as any other city. It’s about the community and crews you build.

You could find a sound mixer for $100/day out here. They may not be as good as the $250 one, but they will do the job. You can’t find competent production crew members everywhere, which ends up costing you in post production.

Sometimes film makers use “indie” as a crutch to cheat people out of their services. Check the LA craigslist for endless examples. You should pay your crew a working wage. You should pay for your locations because they’re offering you invaluable production values at the expense of lost wages, stress (specifically for property owners new to film). You should be looking for the acting talent and not imdb pages.

Whether it’s LA, New York, or Chicago, there are great crews out there who are willing to work for a strong director and story. No one should expect people to fall head over heals for them because “I’ll put you in the movies”. It’s the Indie Director’s responsibility to juggle the cost and execution of his project. Find more money or make it cheaper.

mike vogel

I just finished making a feature in Portland, Oregon that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d tried making it in LA or NYC. We shot outdoors in multiple locations without permits. We had free access to bars and hotels through connections and just by asking total strangers. Over 100 people ended up helping in some way. I think your last line about a filmmaker’s hometown being their greatest asset nails it.

Renee G.

felt the same way about NYC. grass must always be greener. is this just a case of “wherever you go, there you are?” – a little sick of people blaming a PLACE on their problems – i work in docs and features, have been doing so for over 10 years, work both in the states and in europe, have features in development, work in non-fiction, have built an international sort of life and career and couldn’t be loving LA more. I guess when I came here I was a bit jaded already and not desperate. I’m not here for the dream. I’m here for my friends and the weather. attitude is everything – moving and grooving as I have always done, but LA seems to have made things easier, not more difficult.

Sujewa

Good post. But migration does have its benefits (maybe not to LA though :) for indie filmmakers. When I am back in my home town I feel far too relaxed to get busy with both the day job work & other aspects of life & film work, but when I am in NYC (where I moved to from home) I feel like I’ve shown up for work or that being here takes a lot of work so I feel additional drive/presure/motivation to make the best of all the great resources this city has to offer & get going with the next film project, etc. I guess people just need to be where they feel the most motivated/inspired, NYC is pretty good for that for me at the moment (and by NYC of course I mean Brooklyn, pretty tough to afford Manhattan for most indie filmmakers :)

– S

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