Do I really have to move to f***ing Los Angeles to have a career in indie film?

First of all, not sure anyone really wants a “career in indie film” as it’s not all that lucrative, even for the Mumblecore of it all, but since indie film is where we often have to start…yeah. Plus, this question seems to come up at every panel across the country.

LA definitely has its advantages, but no, if you’re “working” in indie film, you most likely don’t need to be in Los Angeles anymore to make your films or find an audience or even meet the people that can help you to make bigger films or get you a higher profile cast. You can do this from anywhere in the world now, thanks to this lovely thing called the internet, and to the over-abundance of decent and constant film festivals.

But even if you hate Los Angeles, fear it, or dread it, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to GO to Los Angeles. Yes you will, and you better like it. Because, if you’re doing anything that people are paying attention to, all the people you’ll need to meet with will be here. Things move fast and die fast, so you’ll have to be ready to get on that plane and be out here. And, of course, if you’re planning on working in the studio system at all, ever, sorry, you will still have to actually move here.

No, you’re not selling out by moving to Los Angeles. And no, you’re not going to turn into “one of them” by being here. You won’t start doing wheat grass shots and meditating, you won’t go vegetarian and kill the hopes and dreams your parents had for you, and you won’t bleach your hair and get plastic surgery. But you will meet people along the way who will eventually help you, and you will form your own community here over time, and yes, you will grow to like it here, maybe even love it.

Before you trek out here for your meetings or your move, here is a list of weird things that happen in Los Angeles:

  1. They say it takes an average of 10 years to get “discovered” in Los Angeles, as a filmmaker. What does that mean? It means it will take about 10 years of working your ass off here till you are earning an ok living. If you went to film school, that is cut in half, if you are working in the studio system, it’s completely different. But for indie filmmakers, plan on a good 10 years of hard work till you’re settled and doing what you want, and making money doing it.
  2. People in Los Angeles (who are in the film business) want to feel like they’ve found the next hot thing. Take advantage of being “new”. People want new stuff that’s cool, and they want to be credited with finding it. If you’re new and you’ve got new ideas, you’re better off than people who have been living here for 25 years. (Damn, I’ve been living here for 25 years.)
  3. The friends you make won’t actually be that helpful until they’re so rich and successful that they just don’t care anymore. It’s the random contacts that will actually be more helpful. If you’re friends it gets hard for people to pitch you.
  4. The friends you make, who do what you do , can’t actually help you to get agents or managers or anything anyway. They can try, but usually this is a waste of time.
  5. There is a time when you need to go back to your hometown to make another movie. Your town looks cooler than Los Angeles, don’t keep shooting here, it’s so boring. (Yep, I’ve made 3 features in the Valley.)
  6. Feature films mean more than short films. Yes, there are exceptions, but really, agents and managers and producers aren’t handing out assignments and deals to people who’ve made a bunch of short films the way they used to. Make a feature, it’s not that big of a difference from making 3 short films.
  7. There is a high rate of homelessness in Los Angeles. And I mean of filmmakers. Your annoying day job sometimes doesn’t cut it if you’re also trying to make movies, or you end up divorced when your spouse thought you’d get rich quicker. It’s ok though, your friends will actually help you with this, because they’ve been homeless too.
  8. It’s sunny here, a lot.
  9. There is a definite time when you will need to move here or come out here. Usually that is when your indie film has been hit on the circuit and people want to rep you and send you out to meet producers to get your next film going. Hopefully, this happens for you.
  10. A large number of people in your hometown will be confused by this move, even express their hatred for Los Angeles (even though many of them haven’t even been to Los Angeles.), it’s ok for them to hate it, keeps them from moving here. (My commute to Los Feliz lately has sucked, the less people on the freeway the better.)
  11. Jobs and projects do come out of nowhere. You need to be ready with your scripts and your films when someone asks what you’re up to and wants to see your stuff. You’ll meet someone at a party and they will end up being the guy or girl hiring on that assignment you wanted, and you’re already one step ahead of all the other filmmakers because you’ve already met.
  12. You need my book even more if you’re not planning on moving to Los Angeles. (Yep, shameless.) (The Indie Film Rule Book on
  13. You will want to hide when you run into that producer while you’re at your day job, you don’t really need to, everyone has a day job while they’re making their films. (While I was working at a chiro office I used to use a fake name to call the producers I’d met with, and I would mysteriously disappear when they came in.) As long as your films are good, no one cares that you’re doing what you have to in order to get your bills paid.
  14. These always seem to end on number 13.

I’m in Hawaii while everyone is in Dallas…and I’m still sorta jealous.

Posted on April 4, 2011 in Blogs, Indie Girl Q&A With Heidi Van Lier by

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