Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The year

For those that know me well, they will sigh a predictable, "Oh right," when I proclaim that the end of this month is a few days past the date I first moved to the great Californay (Sept. 14th, 2007).

God, has it really been a year? What a mess. All month I have been looking back, prepping to write this post, hoping to find a positive light at which to make my current position seem more deserved, seem more awesome and fantastic and magical, but no, the first year, pardon, sucked donkey balls. It was that bad. This blog was created to document and retell the praises AND the horrors of Hollywood for a young-as-fuck film-school grad (I hardly even mention my degree, I promise you, no film-faggotry here) but I rarely posted, and in those trickling moments almost never mentioned my life. But now, on the eve of October 1st, it has come time to retell what the first year in L.A. might be like for you (or you, or you, or you.... or you!) The results are pretty, the journey was not.

I moved here really liking this place. California is green, it's sunny, people seem happier than on the east coast, and you can see the sky. I bought a hybrid car and was exempt from everyone's gasoline kryptonite as its price gradually skyrocketed. I loved that on every corner, especially in Burbank, film related businesses thrived, their signs proudly promoting cinema-puns like "Lightning" or "Post Office" and the titans were peppered in Burbank, too. I drove by Warner Brother's Studios every day and looked forward to the prospect of just experiencing cinema of that magnitude. That was really my whole intention coming here: why make movies in LA if you're not going to make quintessential Hollywood movies? If the budgets weren't big and the people Oscar-winners and the productions mind-blowing then I should just go back to New York City and make my $5 million indies with a skyline you couldn't ever replicate in a computer. So there. I don't want fame. I don't want fortune. I just want to do what I do, and do it really damn well.

First the strike hit. The writer's strike reared it's well-intentioned head right around October, and productions started disappearing. Having almost no contacts, I got stuck right back where I started: Craiglist and freebies, which I was doing while I was a sophomore in college and thought I was over. Apparently not. Work stayed impossibly scarce for months. Improbably so. While the independents boomed as the studios closed up shop, the competition for crew on the productions still unaffected was impossible. That entire few months seems like a blur... I hardly remember what even happened in that haze of depression. I took on an assistantship that pretty much ran me like a shredder in barely three weeks. I returned to interning for companies that never bothered to make me feel worthy. My goal wasn't work big shows anymore, it was just to find a workplace that had good atmosphere and good people, but I couldn't seem to even find a boss that knew what he/she was doing.

But I used that spare time for something: I finished "Zombie Gets A Date" and I finished my feature script. I attended the Tribeca Film Festival and finally felt like myself again, I felt like I knew what I was doing. When I got back to L.A., I moved out of my apartment in Burbank with three actress roommates and into a single bedroom in Hollywood with no roommates at all, for the first time ever. The move killed my bank account.

Then I got sick. I got really sick. I got so sick that my health insurance, valid in New England but not in California, refused to pay even for the procedures I needed for examination and diagnosis. Within a few months I was in so much pain I couldn't work a full 12-hour set day. I was lucky to be working in Art Department on an indie feature at the time with great crew, so they let me lie down in the art truck cab every four hours or so with no questions asked. It was a very scary time, my body, usually healthy to a fault, was completely rebelling against me. I finally had to take an indefinite trip back home to Massachusetts, where my insurance was valid, to get checked out and hopefully treated. A month later hope was restored, and with it an almost brain-probe induced nostalgia for Los Angeles. I came back a complete 180. Look at the trees! Look at the flowers! The sun! My friends! My movies! The pain is gone, now there is LIFE!

Something clicked while I was away. I missed L.A. so badly. Maybe I loved it. And now I definitely do, with all my heart. It has become home, it is home. I have found my hotspots, I see the culture in the architecture, loving the nature, I'm learning to "work it." I get it now. I love this city. All it took was some time away. I finally have the street map memorized.

And that very nearly puts me to the end of my first year. When I returned from the East a whole new person, I was stuck professionally because I had so much time off my trail had run cold. No one who hires was thinking of me anymore (a key ingredient to staying working in the industry to is keep the iron hot, keep your name on the Producer's or the Production Coordinator's mind. If you're not the first they think of, you're not trying hard enough.) My trail was ice cold, so I started from scratch, calling everyone I have met looking for a springboard. I braced myself for another winter.

Then success! The planets aligned and my search coincidentally fell at the same time as a need for a P.A. on a new movie. An unexpected contact led me to the job, and here I am now, VFX PA on Roland Emmerich's "2012", a $200 million movie that's headlining the summer. Our offices are located on-campus at Sony Pictures, which marks my first time actually working on the lot. I am currently absolutely smitten with my job, and I doubt that in the whole nine months (!) that I'm slated to work here I will ever take it for granted. It was a long time coming.

I d have to say I'm disappointed it took this long. I had a lot of false starts, many issues that most people do not normally have to contend with. It was not a painful year as much as a hard-edged one, but what I do pride myself on is making something happen. Whether success was going to happen instantly or five years down the line, I worked hard as often as I could to make things happen for myself. I refused to settle for craigslist ads, while I did those crummy jobs that never paid, I made active efforts to keep the ball rolling, calling, filming, greeting, practicing. Day-to-day it felt as though nothing was happening, but you have to fight such feelings; only when it's dark enough can you see the stars. For those that come here dreamers, it does little good to do that either... I have plenty of dreams, but it's the goals I was moving towards. Those practical, real goals. Acquiring those is what kept me happy. Dreaming is only a motivational tool. It will not get you the job (coping with THIS mode of thinking, by the way, was a difficulty in living with three actresses).

I've been reading a plethora of entertainment related blogs as of late. So often there are posts about what it takes(I guess readers often email with questions about such things.) Some are incredible. Some are horrifying. Some make you think twice.

If this blog is discovered by some kid hotshot who thinks that they can come here just like I did, I hope you assess yourself beforehand. Just consider the math. Film is the industry here. Your chances are higher. Simultaneously, they're lower. What are you going to do about it? It's a tough world, as is the cliche, but as long as your head is to the ground (or you are completely insane, because character counts for at least 50% of getting a job here) it is possible.

There's bruising left over, but there's no real way to fail if failure is another step to success.

Mike Doherty


Ian said...

Wow, what a great blog. I completely understand what you went through. I had the same problem in New York. I wanted to get into the animation industry in NY and after graduating from college I applied to as many places as I knew but they either had no job offers or they only had internships available.
I interned at this one small production studio in NY. I thought I would be doing AfterEffects work at least but it turned out to be complete bullshit. The internship was a complete waste of my time because I did absolutely nothing. They didn't even pay for my transportation cost.
Luckily enough, I ended up finding another internship with this Japanese animator. At least he would pay for some of my transportation and lunch money. I thought I would learn more about Flash but it turned out to be another bad experience. The guy was really neurotic and fired me after 6 weeks because he said I was working too slow. I was learning the program so it took me a while and never really gave me a deadline anyway. Basically everything just went wrong.
This guy I interned with was in a building with other small companies. During my last week I decided to browse around and I ended up finding a company that does video games for the web. I ended up interning there for a month and they hired me as a freelance artist. After a week I was fired because my skills weren't good enough and said that my drawings were poor. I got really depressed after that for a while. I felt like they just really insulted me. They needed a fast turn around and I still felt like I needed to be guided more and I guess that wasn't the time for that. I didn't even tell my parents about it.
I applied to some other jobs I found and I got an animation test from an animation studio in NY. I ended up not passing the test. It was good for me to do though because realized while I was animating that I wasn't that great at drawing hands. I ended up taking the time to really study hands to get a better understanding of them on my own time.
I ended up applying for this editorial assistant position at this small publishing company in Staten Island. I was always a bit interested so I applied for the heck of it. After hearing no reply from them in two weeks and having no other job offers I called them and they said they never got my resume. I e-mailed them my resume and they basically offered me the job over the phone. I took the job because i didn't have anything else.The pay was shit and the commute was long but I needed a job by this point. The only good thing that came out of it was that I ended up doing some graphic design work for them. The work I did turned out really good and at least with some graphic design experience, I cold at least apply to some graphic design jobs. After applying like crazy for about 7 months, I finally got another job offer that is 5 min away from my house at a real estate company. It was a administrative assistant/graphic design job.
Just like you, I was also doing work for free but it doesn't seem like there is much else out there. I ended up getting a freelance job to animate a music video for a start up rock band. They couldn't afford to pay me but I figured I might as well do it for the experience and it is something I could add to my reel.
I finally finished the video and I've been working at the real estate company for about a month. So far the job is pretty boring and the graphic design work I've been doing has also been a bit boring. I've been designing some flyers but the information that has to be on them is generally that that interesting but I'm trying to make it as visually pleasing as possible. There previous flyers are awufly designed too. I don't know who did their flyers before but they are just really bad. The perks with the job is that it's a 5 min drive from my parents house and it gave me more time to work on the music video.
I'm somewhat happy with where I am but I am still not the place I want to be at with my future.
I don't mean to give you my life story but moving to Cali is something I've been considering. It's just really hard right now because of the economy and everything plus it would be really costly to move to Cali without any kind of job offer. It's seems that it is even harder now than before to get a job because of the economic situation the country is in which is why I am leaning towards not moving to Cali so quickly now. I also feel like I need to work more on my skills. Doing the music video was a great experience for me but there are still things I need to learn.
Anyway, best of luck to you.

Stewart said...

Wow, didn't know you were deathly ill. Welcome back to the world of the living, or dead, or what ever combo you prefer.

Glad to know there are some really low lows. Sorry you had to go through them, but stories of perseverance are heartening. Hope the festivals keep showing you love.

stephen said...


it sounds like quite a year. But you've got guts. LA scares me. the physics puzzle me. the rays burn me.

i feel really lucky here in new york, but know that can change with the wind. keep up with the festivals and keep the news coming.

Leetal said...

You are super lucky, Stephen. You totally deserve it though, I think you're totally on the right path.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Los Angeles! Glad you stuck it out.

I always admire people who come out on their own, not knowing anyone or anything. I don't think I could have done that.

I didn't learn much at film school, but I learned Los Angeles, which is probably the most important thing.

Thanks for the link, too. I'll hit ya back.