LA FIRSTS is a new interview series at ATW&SB, shining a spotlight on just a few of the countless people who make the brave and absurd decision to move to Los Angeles to write for film or TV. We talk about what got them packing boxes, the realities that hit when they first came to L.A. and important milestones they finally achieved.
Delayna Michelle is a writer from Virgina who moved to Los Angeles in 2011. She now works as the executive assistant to the showrunner of Seth MacFarlane's American Dad. You can find her on Twitter at @DelaynaMichelle and a contributor of PoorEXcuses.com, an anthology of lies, deception and lessons learned--a website created for the sole purpose of inspiring a more truth-filled world.
When did you first realize that you wanted, or needed, to move to LA?
I didn't admit to myself that I wanted to be a writer until I was 26. Later than most people, I think. I had a good job, had a good group of friends, lived in a nice apartment...and I was completely miserable. I visited L.A. when I was 29 and it was the first time I felt I belonged somewhere. Going back to Virginia was the most depressing moment of my life. It was like I had seen the world in color for the first time when I was in California, and my life in Virginia was in black and white. With my 30th birthday approaching, I decided I couldn't live like this anymore. There was no point in living a life that was, in my opinion, mediocre. I didn't want to die wondering, "what if." So, I quit my job of seven years, gave away most of my belongings and moved in with my parents for about 8 months so I could save some money to move.
How did you friends and family react when you first told them you were moving?
I'm one of those people who doesn't really like to tell people what I want. Carrie's mother's voice starts screaming in my head, "THEY'RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU" and I clam up. So, naturally when I started telling people that I was going to move to L.A. to pursue screenwriting, they were shocked. And I think no one really believed I would do it. I'm pretty shy and scared of a lot of things (like dying alone without cats), so this was completely out of character for me. My parents were definitely hesitant to offer their support. I think the thought of me living so far away scared them. But when they saw how determined I was, they changed their mind. And like my dad told me before I left, they "just wanted me to be happy."
What was the first thing you did when you arrived?
Cried. Isn't that what everyone does when they realize they left everything behind to chase an impossible dream?
How did you find your first LA apartment (and what was it like)?
A friend from high school had made the move to L.A. almost a year prior to me, and she told me there was an opening in her apartment complex in Koreatown, which is pretty central to most of things. (Except the beach. Nothing but the beach is central to the beach.) I applied and that's where I ended up and still live. It's a studio (good luck trying to find a one bedroom for a reasonable price) and I pay for a parking spot. (Good luck finding an apartment where parking is included. You'll most likely have to street park and that can be torture.) It's pretty quiet and I have a great view.
What was your first LA neighborhood like?
I live in Koreatown, but it's like, the very beginning of Koreatown, and pretty close to Hancock Park where all the mansions are. Turn one way and you're in the lap of luxury. Turn the other and you have no idea what anything says because it's all in Korean characters. Keeps things interesting.
How did you find your first job in LA?
I have a degree in environmental science, but I didn't move 3000 miles across the country to do that again. I wanted to work in "the industry." Unfortunately, most of the time, working in the industry is all about who you know, and I didn't know anyone. EXCEPT, I did have a producer of a couple of my favorite TV shows following me on Twitter. I took a deep breath, and direct messaged her, asking if there were any openings at one of the shows. I thought for sure I was going to get blocked. To my amazement, she said to send her my resume. OMG! It was all very kismet because a couple of PA positions had just opened up. I interviewed and got a job as a production assistant to the writers of American Dad!
What was that first job like?
Being a production assistant is both awesome and sucky. On the one hand, you're paid very little. After taxes, you're starting out on a little less than $500/week (and I work on a network show. Cable shows could pay less). And living in LA is VERY expensive. I have to ask for money from my parents at least once every couple of months (I'm lucky I have them. I don't know how I would have gotten out here or survived living here without their help). Your hours are long and unpredictable, and you have almost no time to work on your own stuff. And that's just for an animated show. A live show is worse.
But on the other hand, you're in! Your foot is in the door and you get to know a lot of insider information about the ins and outs of Hollywood. You make connections and get valuable advice from people who have been where you are and are now at the top. Not to mention, you're learning first-hand about making a TV show. And you see celebrities! I met Pamela Adlon recently and it was like, the highlight of my life. I love her.
How did that first job help you land on your feet/expand your social circle?
I took my job as a sign that I did the right thing in moving out here. I got my job after only 2 months (unheard of). And since you're working long hours with people, you get to know them pretty well. It's like having a nice little niche where you feel like you belong. Awww. Yay.
What was your social circle like when first arriving in LA?
I knew a couple of people from high school and a couple of people from college when I first moved out here. So I wasn't completely alone. And my high school friend lived down the hall from me for the first few months. I think if it weren't for her and her husband pushing me to get out, I would have just stayed in the corner of my apartment, rocking back and forth, wondering what the hell I just did. Thanks, Katy!
What was the first time LA felt like home?
I think it was my 31st birthday. I had been out here for about nine months, and I went out to dinner with a few guys from work and their girlfriends. It was good food, good people, and I felt happier than I had in a really long time.
What was the first time moving to LA felt like a mistake?
Every bad day I have at work. It can get so frustrating. You feel like you're never going to make it. Every time you're passed over for a promotion, or mess up and get yelled at makes you wonder why you're knocking your head against the wall, trying to make it in such a harsh industry. And L.A.'s a tough city to live in. It can feel like everyone's against you (especially driving. Everyone's against you when you drive).
How did you move past that first time feeling that?
I still feel that way every now and again. Like I said, those are on my darkest days when I feel like nothing's going my way (or I'm majorly PMSing). But it always passes. I think about moving back to Virginia and every cell in my body revolts at the idea. If you feel like you can't go back, the only thing to do is to just keep pressing forward.
If you could do it all again, which of your firsts in LA would you do differently (and why)?
I honestly don't think I would do anything differently. I followed my gut for the most part and everything worked out pretty well. It could have gone much worse, but I don't think it could have gone much better. I'm in a great position, I have great friends, and I'm happy. It's like Joseph Campbell said: "Follow your bliss and don't be afraid...doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."