The best thing you can have going for you when you move to any new city is a connection to a community of wonderful people who will help you avoid missteps and show you the ropes. I am still connected with some of the fine folks who helped me when I arrived in 1993 and again in 1998. Their advice kept me from having a harder road than is necessary. Their support helped me through times when I drove into proverbial ditches despite their best efforts to help me steer clear of them. I am very fortunate to be connected to a community of amazingly generous and genuine people (including you). Survival tip number one for moving to Los Angeles: Plug in!
Luckily, that's even easier to do before you move now, because of the huge community of actors who gather online, worldwide. Check out places like the message boards at Backstage or PARF (especially for parents of young actors). Our SMFA Ninjas Facebook group is on hiatus right now but there are several regional and focus-area SMFA groups also at Facebook (and you should check them out in the FILES area of our main group). Apply to join our NEW (non-Facebook) community space here. No matter where you go for online support, do the site regulars a favor and perform a SEARCH of a topic before you post a question. Chances are, it's been discussed before — maybe even very recently — and you can ask a better-informed follow-up question, rather than a general, unresearched one. That's how you show 'em that you're a ninja. 😉
It's also very easy to read about LA-based actors' experiences, thanks to the blogosphere and actors' interest in putting their lives "out there" for all to see. Many years ago, Stephon Fuller was one of the first actors to track all of his auditions, meetings, close calls, and bookings via the web. Now, thousands of actors of all levels are posting about how they Taft-Hartleyed themselves, how they got their self-produced work up on IMDb, how they used social media to connect with buyers at another tier, details of their every audition and workshop, how they got their first agents, the big move, and who shot their best (and worst) headshots.
The only caveat I'll mention here is that many, many, many people are out there posting their experiences anonymously. DANGER! If someone is unwilling to say who they are — so you can check their credits to know if their advice is even worth believing — beware. There are people who create Twitter accounts, blogs, and even Facebook pages saying they are casting directors, agents, managers, publicists, directors, producers, etc., when they are NOT. Be very careful taking advice from anyone whose experiences and credentials you cannot verify. Back in the day of the face-to-face meeting, you could be sure you were getting advice from someone you could trust. Now, anyone with an online gadget can call himself an expert and advise actors in ways that are irresponsible.
So, read everything, yes. But before taking action, be sure you've filtered the advice carefully.
As Stephon himself says, his "Long-Ass Bio" is an account of what steps he took in his career, not a prescription for success for anyone else. And if anyone is selling something, keep that in mind as you read any "free advice" they offer. They may lay out tips that make you feel that the only real answer is to take their expensive "intensive" or buy their materials. That could mean that the "free advice" is just enough substance to bait you, flavored with a spin of "you can't do this without me."
People move here every day without a net, without a plan, without a single connection… and they do just fine. The great power of the internet is that now you can tweet, Facebook status update, blog, or post at any online gathering space a quick, "Anyone have firsthand experiences with so-and-so's class?" before plunking down your money. Awesome. Take advantage of that to avoid unnecessary pitfalls.
Read everything in the archives at The Actors Voice (of course), Act Smart! Good Tools for a Great Career, The Working Actor, New Thoughts for Actors, Playbills vs. Paying Bills, Acting Answers, Brains of Minerva, I'm Moving To LA, and Ms. in the Biz. I also recommend a few great books (including mine), and I have a podcast you may enjoy — and there are more popping up daily, so please explore. Be sure to check this file in the SMFA Ninjas Facebook group for a constantly updated list of "ear candy" the #SMFAninjas love. Also, follow all the links in the great Your Turn and follow-up column I put together for folks looking to move to Los Angeles. Watch interviews with casting directors at VCN, Casting Qs, Actor Biz Guru, Acting Resource Guru, Master Talent Teachers, and anywhere else you can get a glimpse of what's going on in the offices of those folks you're targeting.
Of course have your profile up (and updated) at Actors Access and LA Casting, as those two sites are the two most-used sites for theatrical and commercial casting, respectively, in Los Angeles. Check in DAILY (if not several times each day) to see what's actively casting in your soon-to-be new market. Keep in mind that there are significant (the highest-end) breakdowns NOT available for actors' direct submissions. So, what you'll be seeing at these sites is a sampling of what to expect. Also keep an eye on the sides at Showfax, production info at CastingAbout (get a free week from them here; also follow them on Twitter), IMDb in Production, The Wrap, The Futon Critic's DEVWATCH, etc., to develop an overview of the massive amounts of production going on here, every day. Don't get overwhelmed. Just start soaking it in.
Reach out to your college alumni and hometown buddies who've already made the big move. Wherever you're from, there's a posse of folks in LA that are also from there. Whether that's your old acting studio, your college, conservatory, or even high school, there's someone here who has that in common with you, and that's someone with whom to connect. Of course, stay connected with your fellow ninjas. You've shared this experience with one another, and you'll cheer each other on for a lifetime if you stay plugged in.
Get clear on your type and brand. Especially if you're from a minor market where you can be less specifically branded, narrowing your type and age range will help you. Start by experiencing this free guide at my blog. Get your SMFA Hot Sheet type list and really go down the rabbit hole.
Research headshot photographers. They all have websites. Grab the LA photographer SMFA Hot Sheet, Google each of 'em, find their galleries, and bookmark your faves. Find the ones who shoot your type very well. Don't look for glamour shots. Look for fantastic marketing tools that just happen to be photos of people like you. Ask at your chosen online community what locals' opinions are of a few photographers you're considering. You'll hear a lot.
Prep for LA auditions. Grab sides from Showfax.com for co-star level auditions in episodics and supporting role auditions in films. Grab your video camera and practice! Use the Rehearsal App to help you along. Run lines with the good folks of We Audition (maybe even get yourself a survival job with this company). Until you're in Los Angeles taking classes from folks who can advise you on how to nail the first auditions you'll experience here, you can teach yourself a lot just by watching yourself deliver these one-liners. If you need motivation to get consistent in your self-taping, join the free SMFA Self-Tape Challenge and get at it! Remember to grab the self-taping tip list from Breakdowns (that's a PDF).
If you can make a trip to Los Angeles for a visit, that's awesome. A reconnaissance mission to get the lay of the land, the pace of the day to day, the flow of it all can make a huge difference in your ability to plan for the move. Again, I'll recommend that you check out this archived Your Turn for some great ideas about events to hit while you're in town. My most comprehensive list is in the SMFA Hot Sheet area, of course.
Check out panels put on by Backstage and SAG-AFTRA (plus SAG-AFTRA Foundation Casting Access Project, The Business Series, and Conversations) as well as anything going on during local film festivals. Join the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory! Without even being a member of SAG-AFTRA, you can check out recorded streamed events at the Foundation website. Also check out other groups that mount industry gatherings, panel discussions, or meet-and-greet opportunities (some free, some not) such as Paley Center Series, Women In Film, Ms. in the Biz, Film Independent (FiND), LA Actors' Tweet-Up, and Showbiz Software Store. For an exclusive list of all things NINJA, keep an eye on the SMFA Events List.
Get plugged in with the many writers' groups that utilize actors for staged readings. This is a great way to connect with higher-tier buyers and content creators even before you have an agent! A few favorite groups: Naked Angels' Tuesdays @9, Story Salon, Writers' Boot Camp. Note that there are also a ton of private groups that your friends may be able to get you into! (Have I mentioned it enough? Stay plugged in!)
If you're into short-form production challenges of film or theatre, do the rounds at Sacred Fools' Fast and Loose, The 48 Hr. Film Project, 168 Hour Film Project, Big Vision Empty Wallet, and We Make Movies. All theatre types should get on the Big Cheap Yahoo Group and theatregoers need Goldstar to keep it cheap. Of course, company members volunteer to usher in exchange for experiencing the best shows… and they build a community of creatives. 😉 There are indeed benefits to theatre in LA.
Set up Google Alerts for high-priority people and groups you want to connect with. If you haven't already, dude, do it now. The more you know about their history before you arrive, the better shot you'll have at jumping right in without that annoying ramp-up that comes with feeling "new" to a group. Follow key people on Twitter and connect at Facebook. (Seriously, don't underestimate the power of SMART social networking.) Visit "essential sites" daily (you have this list in my book, Self-Management for Actors): Actors Access, LA Casting, CastingAbout, Showfax, IMDb-Pro, Backstage, Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Cynopsis, and Deadline, just to get used to what's going on and who's who. No pressure. Also hop on Studio System News, Programming Insider, and Info List for inbox goodness. If you're tracking commercials, start here. I'd say a daily visit to the SMFA dojo is a no-brainer. The community is what you make it, y'know?
In case you might want to take CD workshops (people who are new to town, talented, and totally ready to book — both due to talent and business savvy — tend to do very well at CD workshops. Understand the law and really research your workshop folks), targeting the "right" ones is very important. Tracking which shows are cast by whom (using IMDb-Pro and CastingAbout) and determining not only which are the best match for your type but also which new shows are most likely to be given time to "find their audience" in the new season is a great use of your energy. Doing it now, before you're here, means you'll be even better at it when you are here (when you'll be able to add firsthand information to your show bible). And then when you score that meeting or audition with someone on your target list, you'll be armed not only with your talent, but also with lots of intel that gives you an edge. If you're certain workshops will be a part of your marketing plan, a subscription to Acting Resource Guru will serve you well.
Fire up your Netflix or program your TiVo and catch at least one episode of every show, just to get to know the flavor, the feel, the vibe (and *really* read the credits, to keep up with who's working where, always), so that you're ready when you get an audition for it. Very important to keep up with who's doing what, and where, 'round here. Beefing up your vocabulary for the players and working the muscle of how the business side of your career is done is going to put you miles ahead of those who say, "Eh, I'm talented. Who needs to be bothered with that other mess? I'll just get to LA, find an agent, hope he submits me, and go out on auditions when called." YAWN.
Assuming you're not able to do all of the above stuff during your reconnaissance mission, that's okay. You just keep all of this flagged for when you're actually living here. It'll keep you busy for a good long while, and you have decades stretched out ahead of you, so it's a good thing there's so much still to do! 🙂
Have you saved up enough money? A lot more money than you think you need? Please do! Also, check out reputable moving companies if you're not going to do it yourself. Read the reviews. Ask around. Be sure you're in good hands and that your valuables are insured or 100% within *your* control during the move so there's no drama. Fill out those change of address cards at the post office. If you're going to be moving anywhere near the end of one year or the beginning of the next year, please do whatever you can to avoid paying "partial year taxes" in both places of residence. It's a huge headache, and if you can avoid it by timing your move (or your last paycheck "back home") just right, you'll be so glad you did, come tax time.
When you're ready… incorporate.
Be prepared for smogging and registering your car if you're bringing it with you, and of course, for getting your local driver's license (always make an appointment with the DMV online, as it cuts down on wait time drastically). Keep all your pieces of ID together before the move and during the move, because you'll need access to it all to both close out your world "back home" and then to open bank accounts and establish utilities, here. To register to vote in Los Angeles County, start here.
Pre-move, clear that clutter. Review the neighborhoods of Los Angeles (and see where they line up with your targets), consider a membership at Westside Rentals, check those crime stats (if you must), prepare your earthquake safety kit, study up on the Metro, join AAA, read up on traffic laws, find an honest mechanic (tell 'em the guy whose wife drives the white Miata sent you, or explore other mechanics if Funk Bros. isn't nearby), install the Transit and Waze apps, and bookmark SigAlert.
For those of you coming from outside of the US, prep your work papers. For those in need of PWD resources, reach out! Same for those needing support of the 12-step variety. Mental health resources abound too! Creatives need support! LA is great for that. While not my favorite name for a website, I Hate My Life has a ton of free and cheap resources for medical care, housing, and job listings. Check out LA Freecycle and LA Re-Use It to repopulate your decluttered home. And if you need to curb your expenses, check out these tips. To drill down on all of this, ninja style, check out my interview with Denise Duffield-Thomas of Get Rich, Lucky Bitch fame!
The UTA Joblist is posted here (but could get pulled at any moment, as often happens when anonymous sources post proprietary information online, so Google around for another source if that one goes away). Check The Hollywood Temp Diaries, Entertainment Careers, and all the links in my piece on Thrival Jobs for many more creative ideas. Of course, Survival Jobs by Deborah Jacobson is a favorite resource of mine, filled with tidbits on freelancing and temping. While I'm sharing loads of links, a really great (but somewhat random) resource list from Backstage is here.
Sure, do some Googling on gyms and fitness classes (run a search at Mindbody or just join me for pole fitness) and churches and synagogues and temples and mentorship groups for giving back (we like Do Good Stuff, as the lady who started it — Annie Wood, Cricket Feet Showcase alumna — is how WriteGirl came into our lives), but also run 'em all by your community here for good measure. Same with referrals for healthcare, getting your taxes done, social hotspots, whatever! And, of course, when checking out acting coaches, you'll want to audit if you can, and again, check out those folks' reputations with as many other folks as you can reach. Don't do this to stall out on making a decision of your own, of course. 😉
Of course, when you arrive in LA, get thee to our awesome Self-Management for Actors Retreat! It's the best!
Before you get to LA, whip out your Aligned Hustle Calendar and schedule your first coffee date with a friend you've made online. Schedule your first lunch date with one of your fellow ninjas. Plan to attend your first networking event and take a buddy — to be your networking wingman — if you can. Pick a date to check out your first play or improv or sketch show. Register to attend your first SAG-AFTRA event or other panel discussion type event at Paley Center or at a film festival.
Schedule your first trip to the beach, the Santa Monica Pier, the Grove, the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, Griffith Park, Universal Citywalk, and other iconic places that tourists come from all over the world to experience, so you can stay mindful of the fact that this town is bigger than just the crazymaking busywork so many folks do in this industry. Schedule an audit of at least two of the classes you want to consider for your ongoing training. Pull those CD workshop calendars down from their websites to see how often your targets are doing the rounds.
Take advantage of the rich resources available to you via your computer. Google everyone. Read all the blogs and message boards and support sites out there (but remember to strain all advice through a filter of "This is what worked for this person, not necessarily what will work for ME" before charging into anything, especially when money is involved). Check companies out at the SMFA Ninjas Facebook group.
Realize how very lucky we are, right now, to be in an era where people who used to pride themselves on being harder to reach, mysterious, protective of anything that helped them get an edge are now sharing — usually for free — career notes and tips about their journeys. What a wonderful time to be an actor! You can create your own content, you can figure out how to succeed in a market you've never even visited, and you can give back to others who are coming up after you by mentoring in much the same way. This business is changing for the better every day and we're a part of that shift. Isn't that awesome?
This is the Super Bowl of Acting. Be ready. And 'til you're ready to suit up for the biggest game in the world, train. Prepare. Build a life that is a great foundation for success at the top tier. Find your HAPPY, because that will keep you thriving, wherever you live. Stay new as long as you can and enjoy the mystery of discovery. It's delicious! Congratulations on your decision to try Los Angeles on for size. It's not easy, by any stretch. But it's a place that is beautiful, warm, and filled with people from all over the world all in pursuit of their dreams. What a wonderful place to be!
I'll continue to celebrate you as much as you'd like to stick around for the ride! I'm so honored to be a part of your creative journey!
Welcome, ninja! WELCOME HOME!