Los Angeles Won’t Make Your Movie!

1 Jun

My greatest inspiration does not come from famous directors nor Academy Award speeches.  Rather, I find inspiration in “nobodies” like me who doggedly plug away at their first few films.  And living in Los Angeles, one would think I am surrounded by such people; however, the reality is that I am not.  Instead, I often run into disillusioned and derailed dreamers.  As most people know, countless folks move to LA every day to make movies, but the truth is that only a few actually do.

Day-to-day survival in LA is quite demanding; it’s expensive, crowded and competitive.  But even if you’re rich, there are many distractions to be reckoned with.  New attractions and social events tempt you while endless traffic jams and long waits at stores and offices delay you.  Nonetheless, in my opinion, what cripples aspiring filmmakers most is the presumption they bring with them to LA: the city itself will make their movie.  Far too many pilgrims naively believe that moving to LA will make them a filmmaker as though it were a rite of passage.

Sure, there may be actors and studios on every corner, but, in the end, one needs to do the hard work and make the film happen.  I believe many genuinely try; however, most are swallowed up by the very city they thought would help them.  As a result, I find myself meeting many filmdreamers, rather than filmmakers.

I’m not one to judge.  Without the support of my wife and family, there is no way I would now be making my first feature film.  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.  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.

Film pioneers heading West are seldom warned about a simple truth: though Los Angeles routinely supports those making big budget movies, it will ultimately foil and defeat many attempting to make low-budget films.  People like me, trying to make a movie for virtually nothing are viewed as pariahs, beggars and wannabes.  Sure, there may be that rare rental house owner or editor who embraces us nobodies, but most are tired of giving handouts and have become resentful.  Even mom-and-pop  store owners have become savvy and demand hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for the use of their little shop.

Such is the reality for aspiring filmmakers in Los Angeles, thus, rather than inspiration, I often find myself barraged with frustration and humiliation.  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.


17 Responses to “Los Angeles Won’t Make Your Movie!”

  1. MARK GEORGEFF March 16, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Couldn’t agree with you more on your experiences.
    I did my MFA in screenwriting at one of the big film schools and then before I crewed on indies for a few years after…I actually spent a year homeless on the streets of LA. This was not in my plans at all when I hit LA! Trust me on that. But a construction contractor I worked for who left town without paying me…and an ex girlfriend who threw me for a loop…started a downward spiral for me which led to major drug and alcohol usage. Thus, broke and homeless. Life finally got back into gear but even during that time on the streets…I never stopped dreaming about breaking into the film business…and it’s very easy to find paper and a pencil to write. no matter what. Now…8 years later, clean and sober still, I’m working as a media creator for the state of California…and have new scripts companies are looking at. But, in this digital age…it’s about me doing my own thing on my own terms as a director-writer. But also writing the other specs for the system. Believe me…I’m a working example of shutting out all the disbelievers; do your own thing and go right to the global audiences. Distribution is changig along with the trehcnology…but people still want stories. gd stories. No matter what. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. They’ll say it…but just turn and walk away. Congrats on making your dreams real.

    • Christopher March 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      Wow, Mark. That’s an incredible story of perseverance and survival! Hats off to you for pulling through and continuing onward with your passion. Thank you for sharing and affirming my thoughts on LA…

  2. drew hall November 17, 2010 at 5:25 am #

    Great post and you are spot on. I live and operate mostly in the Midwest – fly over country, as some have called it. There are some major advantages – most locations are FREE. Most street closures are FREE. You can even get food donated for FREE. You may have to train crew, but there are surprisingly enough pockets of very talented and vetted technicians. Here in Columbia, Mo we have an amazing DP who graduated with his masters from AFI – and honestly…it shows. He’s got a great eye. So far we’ve helped produce two features, one of which sold at TIFF, the other is in post. We have just completed principal on a short film that has over 300 vfx shots. The VFX super is being pursued by some of the LA houses, but like living close to his family. The aforementioned is not meant to be a braggadocios, but instead an agreeable act of defiance against the stereotype. The one and biggest challenge we will all face outside of LA – onscreen talent. It’s just harder to find. Extra’s…sheesh…people don’t care about filmmaking here – hence the free locations and street closings. Principal talent may need to be imported from one of the coasts. Either way – its about balance. It’s about the quality of life, not the quality in it. Enjoy what you do, not the mystique behind it.

    • Christopher November 17, 2010 at 11:20 am #

      Great comment, Drew! Once again, another great example of the hometown coming through… Wow!!!

    • Mark Stolaroff November 17, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

      Hey Drew, this sounds like a recipe for success and the kind of thing I would encourage in my classes. I f you can find a small group of talented and similarly motivated folks in your hometown, you’ve the beginnings of a great no-budget film. I hear you on the onscreen talent. One idea is to craft a film around the use of non-actors. Develop a story around interesting people, let them play themselves, and develop a methodology that allows you to capture great, natural performances from these people. It’s been done numerous times with great success (“George Washington”, “Raising Victor Vargas,” Craig Brewer’s “The Poor & Hungry” immediately come to mind). Best of luck to you guys there in the Breadbasket, or Heartland, or whatever they’re calling it these days!

  3. Jose June 10, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    I really enjoyed your essay, eventhough I find myself on the other end of the equation. My girlfriend and I have been thinking about making the move for years but now it’s a certainty since she’s secured a job. It’s hard though, trying to make films in small towns that dont have the resources of big cities. And forget trying to make a living, unless you hop from Boom town to Boom town (Baton Rouge this year). In any event, I am looking to make more contacts in LA. Do you need a Script Supervisor for your August shoot?

    • Christopher June 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Jose! Definitely keep in touch and consider me an LA contact. I understand what you mean about the benefits in LA. I agree, there are a lot; however, for beginners, I feel the benefits are generally outnumbered by the challenges and distractions.

      My co-producer will be script supervising for us, though I will keep you in mind for the future. Keep in-touch!

  4. Mark Stolaroff June 7, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    Hey Chris, this is all absolutely true and is the kind of stuff I try to stress in my No Budget Film School classes, (and is in fact, expressed on the entry page of my website, with the “Hollywon’t” postcard–similar to your “Ur Not Welcome” sign). This city is sooo not no-budget filmmaking friendly, from the permit offices to the location owners (and their agents), and as you say, to all the people who for some reason get so upset when you suggest that you’re not going to pay people to work on your film. A perfect place to find this kind of attitude is on the LA Producers Group Yahoo site. So many “professionals” who get pissed off when you try to get something for free. Yeah, I get it. You worked your way up and now you don’t want to be taken advantage of by a slimy producer. But to those folks I say, great, don’t do it, why would you? But don’t forget that there are plenty of new folks just starting out that need the experience and the contacts. And as for slimy producers, yeah, I’ve never paid much to the crew on my films, but I’ve never been paid myself and I’ve self-financed the films and risked (and lost) my own money. It should be clear to these people that I’m not doing it for the money. I’m trying to get something made that I can be proud of and that everyone involved can be proud of. Certainly, the folks I’ve worked with understand that, and so I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible people who busted their ass for little or no money. I’m happy to say that those folks never felt like I was taking advantage of them and that now I can’t afford them anymore, since they worked their way up and can now command a high day rate. The haters need to chill!

    And of course, it’s so true about Sundance. They don’t want your derivative stories set in LA. They want to see locations that haven’t been captured on film and the stories that come out of those places. They don’t have to be big stories, just honest and rarely told. Fortunately, those places are usually happy to have you, so you don’t have to have a filming permit, don’t have to pay location owners, or police and fire, and generally everyone benefits.

    • Christopher June 7, 2010 at 11:01 am #

      Thank you for the comment, Mark. It’s always great to be affirmed by someone from the “trenches.” As for the insulted producers regarding freebies, what about all those office and production “interns” reading scripts for free and making Starbucks runs for free? Give me a break.

  5. Laura Z June 4, 2010 at 10:14 pm #


    I’m a friend of the wonderful and amazing Helen Kim, who I met, incidentally, when I lived in LA about 7 years ago. I also, incidentally, came to the same conclusion as you’ve expressed in your blog, and I moved home and made a documentary. And I know that if I had stayed in LA, I never ever ever would have ever made a documentary let alone a film. So I think that your thesis about the home court advantage is dead on. I throughly enjoyed your blog post. Lots of luck to you in making your movie. Please feel free to come to IL where we have many small towns that you don’t need permits to film in.

    • Christopher June 5, 2010 at 7:30 am #

      Wow, thank you so much for the comment, Laura. I’m so happy that you were able to make your film! And thank you so much for the Illinois welcome :) I love the way you put it: home court advantage!

  6. Harut Akopyan June 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    I really like this post. I’ve often wondered if I move to a smaller town and make a film, would I A) have it easier? and B)get more attention from fests?


    • Christopher June 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

      Thanks, Harut. I’d say Yes and yes to point your thoughts. Of course, LA helps a lot in more conventional ways, e.g., studios, major lighting needs, etc., however, for micro-budget folks like me, well, you know….

  7. Chuck Norton June 1, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    Great post bro. This could be said for SO MANY disciplines in la.

    • Christopher June 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

      Thank, Chuck. Yes, I agree: it does relate to many, many other professions folks come to LA in pursuit of….


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