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