While technology now makes it possible to reach out to just about anyone, anywhere on this planet in record time, those who have showbiz ambitions realize that sooner or later, they’ll have to pay a visit – if not make a permanent move – to one of the two centers of that universe, Los Angeles or New York City.
While those urbs are large, metropolitan enclaves, those of us who have lived on both coasts know all too well that the vibe and culture are quite different.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
You can fit twenty Manhattans into the land area occupied by L.A. So, if the sprawl doesn’t floor you, the smog – the continual presence of a thick mixture of smelly smoke and fog – probably will.
The City of Los Angeles is plunk in the middle of tonier communities like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to the west, and Pasadena and Irvine to the East and South East, respectively. Hollywood, originally an invention of the real-estate business, is on the North end of the city. While gentrification has improved parts of that community considerably, with Hollywood Boulevard well on its way to Disneyfication, large swaths of that area are still dicey; depending on which block you live.
But the lure of living in a place we’ve all seen ad infinitum on TV and in the movies stands strong. So, everyday hundreds jet into LAX, or, if funds are limited, they pile out of the bus station on Vine Street or at the downtown depot, inhale a bit of that omnipresent smog, and think, “I’ve arrived”.
One big surprise is the level of social segregation that is still present – with poor Angelenos huddled in the center – South Central, Compton, and Watts – while those in the moneyed 1% are ensconced up north in the hills, living on the beach, in communities like Malibu and Pacific Palisades, or in parts of the Valley or Orange County. And since this is a car-centric city, you don’t have to see “the others” unless you really want to – zipping by on the freeways takes care of that.
Coming to New York City is no less exciting, but it requires a bigger dose of daring – if you’re in touch with reality. The Big Apple continues to provide iconic images to the world – the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Fifth Avenue and the bright lights of theaters on and Off-Broadway, all add to the dazzle. Millions want to be a part of it – but most of them don’t have the nerve – or the money – to make that move.
If you come from Middle America with its small towns and fields of grain, then this East Coast multi-culti-mash-up may seem as overwhelming as Calcutta, at times. Transportation is a breeze, compared to getting around in La La Land, but the intensity, while energizing at first, can become too much for the sensitive artist to handle. Add to that the ridiculous rents, and the shortage of housing options for those on the lower end of the economic scale, and the dream starts to take on a sharp edge – which is the first step towards easing into what is called the “New York attitude”.
As small as the entire five-borough area is, many long-time New Yorkers live in a state of provincialism, making declarations like, “I’ve only been to Brooklyn twice” and, “I try not to go above 34th Street, if I don’t have to”. Even though you can cross Manhattan from river to river in less than an hour, with a brisk walk. For some, this tiny island is NYC, and everything else is regarded as a type of second-best, no-man’s land. Yes, elitism is alive and well there, so get used to it!
GIVIN’ YOU THE BIZ
So, you’re here (or there) – now what? How do you make your way closer to the brass ring?
In Los Angeles, there is only one business that really matters – the others all exist to service The Biz, to varying extent. That’s the good news. The scary thing is that almost everyone there has aspirations related to showbiz – even if they won’t publically admit it.
So, don’t be surprised if your dentist is also writing scripts, and the guy that bags your groceries is putting together a package deal for a no-budget horror film (since that’s where they all seem to start). Breakfast, lunch and dinner conversation invariably veers towards showbiz, unless you are one of those lowly civilians who have settled for ordinary in the land of delusion.
True, there are more opportunities in Los Angeles, if you’re tabulating the number of TV shows, production companies and film studios located there. But in reality, the minute you hit the Southland, you become just another amoeba in an ocean filled with super-ambitious, cut-throat individuals, who have perfected the art of the air kiss and the fake-phony, so you either get with the program or you’ll soon join the ranks of the also-ran.
In NY, just keeping a roof over your head will force you to “keep it real” even when you’d like to relax in the lap of la-di-da. Unlike on the West Coast, laid back does not go over well here. And there is far less film and TV work, so the competition is fierce, and often furious as well – another component of that lovely New York attitude.
You’ll get the hang of that sooner or later, and learn to give as good as you get, if you want to survive. You’re well on your way once you start ignoring red lights on traffic signals – something that will earn you a big, fat ticket in L.A.
N.Y. CACHÉ – L.A. WISECRACKS
New Yorkers arriving on the Coast (that’s the cool way of referring to the Big Orange) will find that initially, at least, there is a certain interest in what you have to offer – but that will soon wear off, because a fresh batch will be arriving tomorrow, to add to the competition. East Coasters bring with them a kind of sophistication, based on having had to live in cramped quarters and dealing with bad plumbing in the dead of winter. They sweep into the Southland with an air of conqueror-in-waiting that stands in marked contrast to the often ridiculously superficial natives.
Bump into some of them a few months later, however, and they too have donned Lycra shorts and are running roller-blade circles out in Venice Beach. More converts to the Church of Crazy.
Cali natives arriving in New York have learned not to openly reveal this fact unless they are asked, for it usually brings forth the “Zen, EST and Bodhi Tree” jokes, and snide comments about “all the nuts rolled into California”. But the fast-paced East Coast lifestyle can be just what the doctor ordered, since the go-go and “get outta my way” spirit there can cook up a career boost.
Another unexpected dividend is that many who spring from the So-Cal Petri dish are invariably more attractive – especially in the Big Apple, where so many residents are frightening real – that’s industry speak for ugly!
HAVE REP, WILL TRAVEL
You may be out there on the West Coast in the sunshine (and that damn smog), but actors, writers and others in that tribe will soon find that they won’t get very far without a good agent, manager, or attorney to represent them.
While in NY there is a certain tolerance for interacting with artists who are unrepresented – chalk that up to the rather fearless nature of people there – in Los Angeles, the sheer number of wannabes has created a major level of paranoia in the power-brokers. So they seek protection from the hoi polloi, especially the thespian kind. You might be blessed with talent – so you say – but you won’t be taking many meetings and going to auditions unless you get a recommendation from a highly trusted someone. The “got discovered walking down the street” is just fictitious PR – pure rubbish!
There are about a half-million (union and non-union) aca-tors out there in Earthquake Central, waiting for that call. But time is definitely money, especially in this industry, and the bigwigs have to take a break to get their Botox and Restylane shots, so that severely narrows the attention given to those frothing with screen dreams.
In New York, you’re sharing limited space, and people there do walk (a serious sin in L.A.) so chances are actually quite a bit better that you might run into someone of import – especially if you’re using your Kindle to read on the street, like so many other inconsiderate pedestrians.
LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP
Set aside your desperation before deciding if a move East or West is actually going to be beneficial in the long run. Escaping boredom and bad relationships might be motivating, but you’ll get bitch-slapped by reality not long after you get to your destination, because these cities are the big leagues, and it ain’t no joke.
Black folks in particular will find that the biz is a microcosm of America, with all its attendant positives and problems. Those whose sense of clarity is set on “high” will find it much easier to negotiate their way through what is at best a crapshoot.
In Los Angeles, you will find that most of the clichés are actually true – that people are shallow, and that many of those you considered your friends have suddenly turned cold and calculating. The 24-7 obsession with “making it” can also be tiring – and that often leads to involvement in strange psychological contortions, and cultish experiments, in order to cope.
Some of that does occur in New York, where the art of daily survival is a high-stakes experience. So it’s important to ignore the glamour that might be associated with living there, and focus on sacrifice as long-term strategy – that will ultimately prove to be far more useful in lifting your spirit during trying times.
Living in Nowhere Ville (read, flyover country) might not sound like a wise career move, but be patient and keep in mind that those who rush toward the flame, discover that fire burns – and they usually have the scars to prove it.