Saturday, July 25, 2009

Should I move to LA - or can I get a job from somewhere else?

Alicia writes: I just finished up my MFA and I'm trying to grow the balls to drive from my home in Jersey to LA with the hopes of landing an agency job (or any entry-level job for that matter), as well. I know times are bad. I've put in over 80 job applications at various companies (mostly in the biz) and had one offer to work for free. Honestly, I can't go without a paycheck much longer. I come from humble beginnings, and I had to pay my way through school, which means the loan payments are going to be kicking in soon. You're already out there in the trenches, and I want to know if you think your move has been worth it? Has your journey been fruitful? Have you made viable connections? I get the feeling I need to tune everyone out and just sojourn to LA. In your informed opinion, what do you think?

If you want it, go for it. There's a saying that if you can see yourself being happy doing something else, then you should do something else. But if any other job would just be a job and this is your passion, then I think you should give it a chance and try it out. Jersey will always be there. You can always move to LA, give it a few years and move back if you hate it or don't want to try to live the crazy dream anymore. That being said, be aware that there are thousands of people who DO grow the balls and move out here. Be prepared to compete with all of them for jobs. I have a lot of unemployed friends, many of whom are well-connected. You may have to find a non-Hollywood job in the meantime...but that might not be the worst thing in the world.

Yes, the economy sucks. People with experience have been laid off and will be competing with you for open positions, making it harder than ever. Shows have cut their budgets. Executives must now survive with one assistant instead of two! But I always tell people that it has never been easy. Five, ten, twenty years ago, even in the '70s when my boss says "money grew on trees" - it was still tough and competitive and took a lot of work to make it in Hollywood. If you want easy, this is not for you. Similarly, if you want a clear-cut path like 1. go to undergrad 2. go to med school 3. do your residency 4. be a doctor, this is not for you. There is no guaranteed path for success or failure. Every writer has their own story and set of unique, fateful circumstances.

As tempting as it is to stay in NJ and apply for jobs online, you're not going to get hired this way. I don't really think any of those 80 jobs ever really considered you. You need to move here. It's hard, I know, but thousands of other people do it - and they're all going to be considered before you. Click on the Job Search tab on the right for more posts about this. As for the money thing - you may want to sit tight for a year or two, get whatever random job will pay you the most and just sock money away. I wish I had, but I was too restless and excited and I came out here with no savings. I feel guilty and embarrassed every time I watch Suze Orman.

Was my personal decision worth it? I don't know. Ask me in five years...I've only been out here permanently for two. Sometimes I do get discouraged and wonder if I'll ever be successful, but I'm realistic and know it's going to take me a little while longer. I don't know any 24 year-old solidly working writers (and don't tell me about them, please). Sometimes you can get stuck in a rut, though...for a while most of my phone calls to my mother included diatribes about how college degrees are worthless, the American dream is dead, and there is no reason to believe that hard work will make you successful. Luckily for her I'm not always so dramatic.

I think you always just have to keep asking yourself: Is this what you want? Are you writing, or reading, or doing whatever you need to do to help you career? Are you learning at your job? Overall, yes - I think my decision to work at an agency has been worth it. I have learned a LOT and made some very important connections. Would I recommend it to everyone? Not necessarily. Is it the only way to go? No.

Take a chance. Make the move. Don't let yourself be a victim of the economy, of self-doubts, of naysayers, of whatever. You are the only one in control of your career, your life and your future. I know that sounds like a horrible self-help pamphlet or something. Not even a book, but a you know it's bad. But trust me on this. As long as you feel like you're in charge and you're being proactive about everything, I think you'll be fine.

I'll get more specific in a couple weeks, as I'm in the process of some big lifey things myself (sadly, no, I did not just sell a spec for a gazillion dollars). But regardless, I'm feeling positive. You can too! As my screenwriting mentor/idol/fairy godmother told me last night, "Have fun! Do shots! Have sex in the bathroom!" So I pass that advice along to all of you. Metaphorically or literally.

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Alicia Guarracino said...

Wow, Amanda, thanks so much for your response. I think think the decision to move is a blend of practicality and dream, which touched on so articulately. And thank you for being honest about wishing you had socked away money first. I watch Suze Orman, too, and I really respect her opinion. Good luck with your news, whatever it may be.

Dan Williams said...

I've gone through the "my M.A. in English is useless" phase, too, but things turned a bit when I started going to the classics for plot and character ideas. The "Twilght" author did the same. She writers her books with one of the classics in mind. So I guess getting the degree is one thing and learning how to use it to advantage is another.

I never went through a "the American dream is dead" phase, but what saved me was my writing kept improving a bit as I went along. So why stop the journey when it keeps getting better and better? Especially over money? The money isn't worth it.

Lastly, the amount of hard, hard work it takes is phenomenal. In my twenties, I couldn't believe it! But somehow I just adjusted to the fact that 99% of my work was just practice, trial, self-improvement, and that the success would come. It's been worth it so far to keep the dream alive. In fact I couldn't live any other way.

Oh, the money. I'm a big fan of saving a lot and of working at a day job to pay the bills. But use the day job as research and write about it. Write about how people make money, how the business works. That way you are getting paid to do the research that will lead to writing success.

Sounds good, huh? It's a daily attack, to learn, to understand and to find success.

Schmetterling said...

I bid one-half a gazillion.

Tanya said...

Very insightful/motivational response, Amanda - even for those aspiring to a different career. Looking forward to hearing about your big "lifey things" soon. :)

Tania said...

As someone who has just decided to suck it up and make the big move this coming winter, this was a nice bit of cheer-leading for me to read! At least I'm coming from Manhattan, the most expensive place in the universe, after which even LA seems like easy living.

We Really Didn't Think This Through said...

If you can pay your bills and still find time to write, you're in a good place regardless of where you reside.

dannytribe19 said...

Always inspiring to read your guidance, Amanda. Thanks.