TLDR: Save money, have your resume/reel/port ready to go, make friends and remember to do what you love!
I’m really glad that I decided to move to LA but it was a pretty quick decision and there are some things I wish I knew beforehand in order to properly prepare. Here is a list of things I wish someone had told me before I moved out to LA. Again, this is just from my personal experience, so take it or leave it. Some people did give me really good advice before I left FL, and some people gave me really good advice once I got here (those are posts for another day).. but if you’re planning to move out here sometime soon & you’re from a small town like me… these things might be helpful.
- Save money for acting classes. Obviously we all know that we should be regularly studying our craft, but if you want to take classes that will really make a difference on your acting resume-save a little chunk specifically for that, before getting out here. Casting breakdowns ask that you actually list if you have taken any improv classes from Groundlings or UCB because they are so well-known and credible. Classes are about $300-$500 per course. I’ve been out here a year and now I’m focusing on paying down the credit card debt that I have accumulated surviving this past year. If I saved the money beforehand I would have started on these classes right away while my schedule and wallet had room for them. It is still a goal of mine and I plan on starting classes this year.
- Save money for headshots. I don’t care which small town you are from or how many amazing photographers reside there-you need professional headshots. Professional headshots can make a huge difference in getting auditions and if you want good ones, you need to go to a photographer that knows what the hell they’re doing. That means they are specifically a “headshot photographer” -not a wedding photographer or lifestyle photographer- an actual headshot photographer. I’m guilty of not doing this one yet either. I used a headshot from a lifestyle shoot I had & it faired me pretty well for the first 6 months. Then I got some actual headshots done by a friend of a friend with a professional camera which faired me even better, but now I’m saving the money to get some “real” ones done because I know it will be a game changer. Also, don’t spend $1500 on headshots unless you’ve got the money to blow. You can get good, legit headshots by an actual headshot photographer for $300-$500.
- Have a demo reel! If you can scrounge up any footage, whether it be free indie work, free student film work, free any other kind of film work that provides you with footage of yourself-do it. If you don’t do it before you move out here, guess what? That’s what you’ll be doing when you move out here. Like me. Which is fine, but you can save time & get ahead of the game if you have something to start. Something is better than nothing. BUT something terrible is worse than nothing, so try your best to get some good footage & cut it to resemble something of your actual talent. I know some people that have paid reel companies to make footage for them out here and that is one way to do it, if you do come out here with nothing. However, I have heard that agents/managers/casting directors prefer reels that are made from actual work you’ve done. That being said, that is their preference so it may very well be better than nothing-but it isn’t free either. Not that I’ve actually done a lot of research on reel companies, but from what I’ve heard/seen here and there, they can be about $800-$1500. And I’m just too stubborn for all of that.
- Save money for visiting home. Boy did I think I was ready to get the hell out of Florida. Of course, when the day came that I actually left, I was a huge pile of tears, naturally. Now, I don’t think I’d ever want to move back to my hometown, but I sure do miss some of the people there a WHOLE LOT. I’m not very good at making friends but I have met some decent people out here & thank God I have exactly 3 Florida friends out here that moved here before me. I was able to go home a few times last year, but not as much as I would’ve liked & it definitely added to my credit card debt. Never in a million years would I have thought about budgeting for vacays home while planning to move here, but in retrospect, I sure wish I had. I miss my mom and my brother so much sometimes it hurts. It’s weird not having my best girl friends that I grew up here with me whenever I need them. I actually have homesick breakdowns every few months (…which is taking a lot of balls for me to even type out to you guys right now.) Bottom line, plan to visit home or you’ll end up moving back home. I mean maybe that’s a little dramatic..but definitely a possibility. lol Fortunately, I’ve got a nice long Florida trip planned in a couple months which should make me feel a little better!
- Save money for random shit. Cities are expensive. LA is terribly expensive. Sure rent is a lot- first, last, security. Most places just do first & security thank God. But, did you know that A LOT of rentals out here don’t come with a fridge? You’ll either have to buy one or pay extra per month for one. Have “oh shit” money socked away for things like parking tickets- it doesn’t matter how careful you are, it’s like LA initiation. Oh and car registration! I know people that still run around with their out-of-state tags but be careful with that. If you play by the rule book, you’ll have to register your car out here & I bought my car soon before I left Florida so I actually had to pay the difference in sales tax too. Came out to be over $700. Sales tax is what? 10%? No, really. Expect a lot of sales tax. Pay to park almost everywhere you go. Give yourself an uber/lyft allowance too because sometimes that’s cheaper and faster than finding parking. Oh and invest in one of those hands-free phone devices in your car. They’re serious about that law-I got $160 ticket for talking on speakerphone once because I had the phone in my right hand.
- Get a parking spot. Don’t listen to the landlords when they say there is “plenty of street parking.” Do yourself a favor and either stake out the area you’re thinking about renting to find out if there actually is a decent amount of street parking near your place or apply for an apartment that comes with a parking spot. Even if it is extra per month. Parking was so bad in my old neighborhood that my roommate and I would have to park 3 blocks away if we got home any later than 3pm. It was a good 15-minute walk in a not-so-nice area of town where I had plenty of “close-calls” and I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that.
- Save money for weed. This one might not be for everyone, but hey, its legal here & I tend to think it’s a better vice than alcohol. With the stress of LA traffic and this competitive field, you’re going to want a method to unwind & it’s as easy as running up to the dispensary on the corner. Actually you can use an app called Eaze & have it delivered right to you. Long story short, might as well plan for it.
- It’s okay to live a little ways away from Hollywood. It will inevitably take you an hour/hour and a half to get to your audition. I thought that living real close to the city was my best bet. Unfortunately, it made my first year living here somewhat miserable. Rent is super high (I mean, yes everywhere here, but worse the more in LA you are) parking is terrible & it will still take you an hour to get anywhere. You’re better off living a little further away and having a much better quality of life. Just accept the fact that it’s going to take you an hour/an hour and half to get into the city for your audition/callback. Good thing is, there’s a lot of self-tapes nowadays anyway to save you some time. Living in Long Beach has made me so much happier and appreciative of Cali living. Go up to Burbank or Pasadena, same idea. Anywhere out-of-the-city a little bit. In reality, I only live like 20 minutes south of where I used to live & I’m 20x happier.
- Pee beforehand. No one else will let you. Maybe this is a very general “city” thing, but seriously, traffic is bad out here-you might be in your car for 2 hours & most places won’t let you stop in & use their bathroom. I’m talking gas stations, stores, you name it-people are stingy with their toilets. A lot of places expect you to buy something and then you have to get a code number for the door…stopping at 4/5 different places when you’re already running late somewhere and your bladder is gonna burst is not a fun game to play. (Especially when it’s that time of the month, ladies.) I’ve found McDonald’s bathrooms to have been my best bet in times of need- which sounds terribly awful, but I promise you, it’s better than nothing.
- Learn to parallel park. And park in weirdly small spaces. I mean, if not, you learn real fast. Again, this may be a typical big city thing, but I’m from a small Florida town. & I sure had to learn quick. I never parallel parked in my life-I also never had to drive through hills and mountains and windy roads where you can’t see if a car is speeding by because of the curvature and all of the street parking. Driving is stressful. If you’re good at, maybe you have a future in Uber driving. Nevertheless, if you learn that beforehand, that’s one less stressor you have to worry about.
- Plan for self-tapes. Have a camera with a tripod near a window or invest in a decent lighting kit ($50 easy on Amazon) & getting it set up in your apartment/home with a white wall/plain background is crucial. Having the equipment is super helpful. Yes, you can make do with your iPhone and a DIY tripod out of books-but it’s much easier to knock out your auditions if you have the proper set up waiting for you. I’ve missed plenty of self-tapes because I didn’t have the proper set up and I just couldn’t make it happen. What a waste. Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve only recently done this for myself & it’s made a huge freaking difference. I get more done & I don’t procrastinate as much because I know it’s not such a pain in the ass. (Also, fyi, if you’ve got a lack of friends to read for you-like me-it’s important to have a camera separate from your phone so you can talk one of your friends/family members from back home into reading for you on speakerphone while you record your audition with another device.)
- Have hobbies/ways of meeting people. Fortunately & unfortunately, I grew up in town where the same group of kids I went to pre-K with were also graduating high school with me. The good thing was that I always knew everyone and had a bunch of friends. The bad thing is, once I left that comfy support system, there was notta whole lot in LA. Like I said, I do have a few FL friends and some really good friends I’ve met through work (which is the only way I haven’t completely lost my mind) but I don’t really have a group of friends that I hang out with on a regular basis-which (believe it or not) is actually really important for your mental/emotional health, at least I think so. lol My from-FL friends and my work friends all live on the other side of the LA county essentially so I try to see them as much as I can but it’s not very often. Also, the culture out here is super flake. You may try to make some friends but it’s not that easy. At least, it hasn’t been for me. Now that I live in Long Beach, I’d like to make some friends in this area so I’m going to start taking yoga classes around the corner from my house. Hopefully I’ll meet some cool people there. I think if you have other hobbies, it helps. Our industry is pretty competitive-you’re not exactly making friends in the waiting room at your auditions.
- Reach out to anyone and everyone you know out here. Out of the 3 FL friends I have here, I was really only originally close with one of them. The other two I became good friends with real quick. They were both super helpful & they took me under their acting wings & taught me the things they’ve learned about the film industry in LA. & I actually roomed with one of them for the first couple months! It was great but I booked an air Bnb for the first month (before I came out) because I didn’t want to be homeless and I ended up losing like $1300. Lesson learned, don’t be shy. Reach out to everyone and anyone you know before you go wasting money & making mistakes. They gave me a lot of helpful tips & they’ve become some of my really good friends now! You never know the kinds of relationships that will cultivate in this big scary city & its best to start planting those seeds before you actually make your move!
- Pack more lotion. Maybe this one is exclusively for east-coasters that are used to an excessive amount of humidity… but my nose would bleed almost every morning for the first few weeks & my face still feels like it’s going to crack off sometimes. Plan to Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize. & Drink lots of water. Or you’ll feel like a fish out of water, like I did.
- Things are misleading in LA. There is an interesting kind of “mirage” feel to this city. People are shocked if you’re nice. Which is weird. & Apparently, for your own sake, you might want to take everything/everyone with a grain of salt. Again, this might be for any small-towner headed to a big city-but apparently there’s a lot of shady in LA, just as there is everywhere else. However, there’s a sense of magic in the air in NYC that I haven’t found in LA & maybe that’s my own skewed perception of things. It seems like people go big for the films here but not so much in real life. There is a serious lack of festivities for all holidays all year round, in my opinion. & Everything is made out to be a bigger deal than it is. Maybe this is a very obscure tip, but I wish I didn’t get so psyched about being in a big city for the holidays because I’m pretty sure we partied harder in Florida. And just little things, like businesses with misleading names and items or cover charges for things that just aren’t worth the money. All of those “pop-up” museums that cost $30 to get in just so you can get one good instagram pic & it’s really not even that fun? No thanks. And you think “Oh sunny California!” but what they didn’t tell you is it’s actually really cold and windy and the beaches are freezing. I still love you California, I promise. I just have higher beach standards coming from FL & other Floridians need to be prepared.
- Creepers are everywhere. The casting call was on a legit casting site & the audition is at a legit casting studio that you’ve been to multiple times? Ahh it must be okay. NOT. Make sure you ALWAYS do your research on the people you’re about to go in a room with because ANYONE can be a creep. I’m usually pretty good about doing my research but if you start to get busy with multiple auditions and multiple jobs, its easy to get lazy. I had one terrible run-in with a guy & I didn’t even know what hit me until I was half-way home and crying with discomfort. Thank God nothing happened happened to me, but basically I was alone with a man in a room for a “ecom model casting for prom dresses .” He asked me to remove my tights to make sure I didn’t have any bruises or anything that would interfere with the shoot (idk why but I did it-discreetly, under my dress without showing anything) and then he asked me to remove my bra (which I did not) and then started asking me about nudity projects & when I went to leave the room, the door was locked. Fortunately, I was the last girl for that casting but I was so creeped out I left without even reporting him. It was at Space Station casting which is a studio that I’ve gone to for multiple legit auditions before and after that occurrence but that particular day caught me so off guard that I’m just lucky he didn’t try anything more. Be careful!!!
- Remember your craft, your passion. If you’re coming out to LA because you love acting, you’ve got to act once in a while or you’ll totally forget what you’re doing all this for! It is real easy to get busy with work, stress, traffic, adulting, trying to make friends, affording groceries, auditioning, fighting with technology, fighting with your neighbors, etc. but you have to goof off and act a little or you’ll totally lose sight of your goals & the big bad city will actually swallow you up & crush your hopes and dreams. Pick up a script and act it out with a friend, throw on the camera and make up some characters, read some plays or rehearse some monologues, audition for that play that you really want to do & it takes up a lot of time & probably doesn’t pay much or anything at all.. do it & have FUN! Because the truth is, if it was enough to get you out here, it’s enough to get you through the times when you feel like it’s pointless and useless and hopeless and a total waste of time. Just act & have fun with it like you always do & it’ll get you back on the right path. & As long as you’re doing what you love-you’re doing it right! I managed to land a role in a play (that wasn’t paid very much) called “Time Stands Still” (which I was a fan of before auditioning) & it turned out that the director also directed a bunch of amazing film projects like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and numerous sitcoms! WTF-how cool is that?!
I’ve learned a lot living in LA this first year and I’ve got to admit-I was a huge grumpy butt underneath that whole time. But I’ve met some amazing people through work and my play and I’ve gotten closer to people that I knew back home & I’m finally able to say that LA is growing on me. I hope these tidbits will help anyone that may be making the big move soon & if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I hope that your first year in LA will go a little smoother than mine did, even though it was really a pretty great year overall. And remember #13-even if you’ve got no one else, you’ve got me 🙂