Barriers to Entry aka “So you wanna work in the film business?” PART I

A WMM Original Article Written by Valentina Vee

On March 14th, 2014 at YouTube Studios in Los Angeles, WeMakeMovies had one of its first full days of shooting several sketches for our YouTube channel (we need subscribers, hint hint). In typical fashion, many of the other sound stages were booked solid, with various crewmembers lugging large-sized pieces of set decoration and equipment across the spacious lobby of the building that was once one of Howard Hughes’ personal airplane hangars. Amidst this flurry of activity, a petite brunette beauty, sitting in a makeup chair and preparing to shoot a music video, sighed deeply whilst applying her lipstick.

Los Angeles is just impossible for relationships,” she said, puckering in the mirror, “Especially for this industry. Like, if you have time for dating, you must not be doing enough. I mean, get out of here if you’re not doing anything – LA’s way too expensive and there’s way too much traffic to not be busy all the time!”

This got me thinking about the thousands of people in LA who aren’t doing anything – those people who are waiting to be discovered, searching for jobs, or honing their skills in a particular specialty. What about them? When will they ever be as busy as this rising starlet seated before me? And at what point does a person go from being “a struggling filmmaker” to “a busy filmmaker”?

I realized that this point comes when one passes a certain threshold, or overcomes certain barriers that are in one’s way to a successful career. Those barriers most often come as a string of “not-enoughs”: not enough connections, not enough money, not enough time, etc. So, barring those necessary (but vague) requirements, what else do you need to get into the film business? What specific things should a newly-transplanted Los Angelino need in order to start working with any degree of success? I decided to make a list for any would-be major creative player in the Hollywood game. Do you have all the essentials? Check below.

EVERYBODY

$1,000/month – rent. Whether you live with a roommate or seek a place out for yourself, rent is the biggest expense anybody living in LA will incur. Where you live is up to you, but stay safe – don’t sacrifice piece of mind and security for a good price on a living room couch in Crenshaw. Check Padmapper for an amalgamated map of several room-posting websites.

$8,000 – a reliable car that will get you from Silverlake to Santa Monica without breaking down. A used car is just fine, seeing as you’re not Tom Cruise and can’t afford that Bugatti just yet. This is essential – as Los Angeles is a sprawling city with its studios sprinkled far apart from each other. Also, living in the only Metropolis without an underground system – you’ll be out of luck if you’re counting on reliable bus schedules.

$200-$500/month – food and drinks. This number may vary widely, depending on your diet and cooking needs. Remember to factor in a few chances a month for social meals and/or drinking. Pro tip: the 99-Cent Store chain sells fresh fruits, veggies, and meats. You may even lose weight by shopping there!

$300 – smartphone (preferably an iPhone). This is as essential as food and a place to live. You will be on-the-go often, checking your e-mail and accessing the Internet for research. Besides the clear functional advantages of a smartphone, the less-obvious draw is that you’ll look unprofessional without one. Nobody is going to call you with updates about changes in shoot dates and locations – that will either be texted to you or sent by e-mail. If you don’t receive texts and aren’t on online 24/7, you’ll miss out.

$30-$100/month – fitness. This is optional, but highly recommended. It’s important to stay fit in LA, not only for personal satisfaction but also for health reasons. How are you going to accomplish everything you’ve set out to do if you can’t even lift a box of toiletries up to your 2nd-floor apartment? Gyms in LA range from the budget-friendly 24-hour Fitness to the ridiculously over-hyped Equinox.

$150ish/month – health and car insurance. Don’t be stupid, get insured.

 

MINIMUM COST OF LIVING IN LA: $9,680 to start

 

ACTORS

$300-$400 – headshots. Photographers need compensation for their skills, time, equipment, studio space, assistants, makeup artists, re-touchers, and printers. And although this price for a few photos is steep, you’ll undoubtedly be satisfied with the results of an expert rather than your mom holding your phone in front of your bedroom door. Backstage.com has an entire category devoted to headshot-related questions.

$0-$200,000 – training. Sometimes, you’re Jennifer Lawrence and you needn’t have any sort of formal acting experience. And sometimes, you’re just you. So assuming you haven’t already been scouted to become a superstar, casting directors would like to see that you’ve studied your craft. This can be done many ways (personal classes from acting coaches, schools for acting, or full-scale university programs). One thing you don’t need: a Master’s Degree. It’s no guarantee of a job.

$100 – basic profile on an acting site. Multiply this value by the number of acting sites you plan to post your profile – complete with your spiffy new headshots, your education history, any roles you’ve done, and various random abilities like fire-breathing. LACasting, the most popular acting site, will ask you for a $25 initial fee, $15/month to keep you on the site, plus $25 for each additional photo you want to post. You can upgrade to a Premium Membership for an additional fee.

$100/month – gas. You’ll be driving a lot (see above) and gas prices in LA are cause for more than a few angry status updates on Facebook.

$3,200 – union payments. so you’ve gotten enough SAG-AFTRA vouchers and you’re ready to join the union? That’ll be a $3000 initiation fee, $200 a year in dues, and 1.575% of all your earnings under SAG-AFTRA contracts. Hooray!

$0 – agent and manager. This is important – if somebody wants to be your agent and/or manager, you should never give them any money up-front. A legitimate agent will not take a single penny until you have started working under their representation. After that, agents will take 10% and managers will take 15% of all your earnings. Again – whooo hooooo!

priceless – talent, perseverance, and a thick skin. Don’t you ever give up, you go-getter!

 

MINIMUM COST OF ACTING IN LA: $500 to start

Check back for Part II tomorrow!