I graduated from Montana State University in May of 1992 and the very next day I packed up my house and moved to Los Angeles. I could not wait to get down here. I had the highest hopes for my career in the entertainment business. I had come to Los Angeles the prior summer when my first screenplay that I had written in college received much attention from industry professionals. My career looked promising indeed. Not many people get so much attention over their first script. Things didn’t quite work out as planned, and I am here to tell you what went wrong, so hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes. I condensed my 20 plus years of experience of living in Los Angeles into a few chunks of my experience and acquired wisdom.
Don’t Expect Much Help
That is one thing I want to stress – nobody helps anyone in Hollywood. You may know people who are connected to this and that. You will find them reluctant to stick their necks out.
Everyone here is struggling to maintain their own careers and lives. They say it is who you know and not what you know. That is only partly true. Who you know only goes so far, because you have to produce. There are hundreds of siblings, sons, and daughters of famous people around LA who can’t make it in the industry. Nepotism in Hollywood will only get you so far.
That also goes for staying with friends when you first move here. The rule of thumb is that you get to stay on the couch for two weeks while you are looking for your own place. Everyone in LA has had to go through that, and they don’t have much patience for freeloaders.
If Somebody Does Offer Help – Let Them
If somebody in LA who has more experience and connections than you offer help or advice – graciously take it. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, pay attention. When I first moved here, I was often too proud to take help, or thought I knew it all. I got some attention early on, and my ego was out of control. That was a big mistake. I could possibly have had a completely different career had I listened to certain people or accepted their help and advice.
Be teachable. As the song says, “It doesn’t matter where in the world you’ve played before, California is a brand new game.” That said, be mindful of people’s motives, because there are predators out there. Another bit of wisdom someone gave me – “Never turn down a cash tip.”
Make Your Own Breaks
Nobody is going to offer you a leg up – you have to take risks and make your own breaks. Through amazing luck, or an early stroke of genius I was able to get my first screenplay in front of some huge players in the Hollywood film industry. I sent a letter out written from the main character’s point of view, which was basically a cry for help, but at the end of the letter I revealed that the author of the letter only existed on the pages of my screenplay. Within days I had several responses from people like Oliver Stone. My professors in college advised me not to send that letter out – they said it wasn’t professional.
There are no rules in the entertainment industry, or any other industry for that matter. Fortune favors the bold.
Find Work Close to Your Home
Life in Los Angeles can be stressful, and making long commutes only compounds that. Of course, there will be times when you will have to commute, but try to keep that to a minimum. There have been times when I had to commute two or three hours a day back and forth to work, and those were probably my most stressful times in the city.
Life is so much easier in Los Angeles if you live two or three miles from where you work. If you are able to work from home, that is even better. Most people in LA drive over 20,000 miles a year, which is above the national average. Also, we have the worst traffic in the nation. Anytime you can live and work in a specific area, your quality of life will be much better.
Avoid the Party Scene
The whole nightclub/party scene in LA can be very seductive. Early on, I justified hanging out in nightclubs and bars thinking I was going to be “discovered” or meet key players there. Nothing can be further than the truth. Though it does happen, more often than not contacts met in nightclubs will be superficial at best. Unless you are in the nightclub business, a few visits will suffice. There is a whole dark drug and sex culture here, that has derailed it share of newcomers and even old timers. Some of my friends did not survive it. I learned the hard way, and completely destroyed my life at one point, and am lucky to be alive. Trust me on this one.
Keep Your Expenses Down
Life in Los Angeles will be much easier for you if you keep your expenses down. Rents are very high here and take up a big chunk of our incomes. Expensive car payments, gym memberships, insurance, going out to eat, and plastic surgery all add up. Unless you are making a ton of money right off the bat, you will have to work very hard to keep up. The harder you have to work to pay bills, the further you will drift from your true goals.
Set Goals for Yourself
There were years that I wrote down several goals for myself and I attained all of them. Other years I didn’t set any goals for myself, and guess what – I didn’t attain any goals. Make some attainable goals and some outrageous ones. Reach for the stars, but be realistic about it. Do something, no matter how minor every day toward your goals. Just getting by is hard in Los Angles, but if your goal is just to get by that is all that will happen.
Start Your Own Business
I had some success in my chosen career early on, but I often had to work stupid survival jobs that I hated and felt trapped in. I finally started my own bartending business and have never been happier. If there is some skill that you have that lends itself to being self-employed, look in that direction. I also do freelance writing jobs. I have to hustle to make my own money, but have more time to pursue my true passions and don’t feel like I am stuck on the hamster wheel. Now, with the internet, almost anyone can start some kind of a business to at least supplement their income.
Be of Service to Others
For years, I had the attitude that it was all about me. I went into jobs, relationships, and everything else thinking only about what was in it for me. It took me a long time to learn that being of service to others is much more rewarding. Today, I try to be of maximum service to others as much as possible. I bring that philosophy into my bartending business and that has allowed me to get dozens of five star reviews. I think about how I can actually help people have a great event. Also, when I am invited to dinner, or to an event, I offer to help out. It makes a big difference. I also try to not be in such a big hurry. I slow down on the road. I let people in. Life is much less stressful that way.
Cherish Your Family
When I arrived in LA I was married and already had two young children. My son was five, and my daughter had just been born. The pressure to succeed was great. I had left a successful family business to pursue my dream. A family friend who was connected to the entertainment business, did not offer me any help, but gave me a bit of advice. He said, “Cherish your family. There are many people in Hollywood not very connected to reality. Cherish your family. They will keep you grounded.”
Sadly, I did not heed his advice. The pursuit of my career took precedence. The party scene took precedence. I ended up losing my family, and things went downhill from there. I became one of those people in Los Angeles who lost all touch with reality. My kids are grown now and doing fine and my ex-wife remarried.
My Final Thoughts
Life in Los Angeles is very exciting, and the weather is great. There are so many different neighborhoods and cultures packed into one city. I love living here. There is so much to do and so many fantastic opportunities. Many people arrive here with nothing and become very successful. They see the golden eggs lying everywhere. Be on the lookout. Your direction may change, and being even better than you imagined. Adjusting may be tough at first, but keep your eye on the prize. Don’t be a victim. I think of the hard times I have had in Los Angeles, and realize most of them were of my own making.