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Here’s What It Takes To Make it in LA

moving to los angeles, personal stories
waiter

“What are you going to do when you get to Los Angeles?”

“Probably wait tables to start.”

This irritated my dad. You can tell by the way he pursed his lips and stared more intently at the television. If my dad was your typical parent, he’d have snapped back with:

  • “You didn’t go to college so you could wait tables”
  • “You don’t need to move to Los Angeles to serve food”
  • “They need waiters here, too. Why not save money first, then move?”

He wanted to say all of these things. Any of them. Instead, he did something totally against his nature: He stayed silent.

I’ve seen my dad tell managers at restaurants he’d make such a scene they’d wish he never stepped into their building. I’ve watched him shout back at other parents at soccer games, and fire new hires five hours after they started because they had a bad attitude.

My dad doesn’t stay quiet often.

But this time, he bit his tongue.

Because about 10 years ago, he was looking to break back into the restaurant business. Except he couldn’t find a job right away. So…

Yup. He went back to waiting tables.

He knew getting back into the game was a months long process — and he had a family to support. So one afternoon, he went out and bought a waiter’s apron. By the time he came home that night, he had a part-time job waiting tables at Real Seafood Company.

More than a decade later, he owns three restaurants.

Yet it’s in this moment that I’m most proud of him. The moment he had to make a choice:

“I could wait for the right position to open up. I am too good to wait on other people and bring them their refills of Diet Coke and apologize for the lack of shrimp in their shrimp scampi.”

OR

“I could take whatever I’m offered today. I just need to start: If that means mopping floors and fetching booster chairs, fine. This is just the start. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Which would you choose?

Get These 3 Things in Los Angeles At All Costs

Recently, I received this email from a reader looking for advice on moving to Los Angeles:

“I’m planning on making this move myself.  I’m in no rush if it means making this move the wrong way, but I also don’t want to waste any time.  I don’t know a single soul out there and I don’t want a roommate. I have trust issues with sharing responsibility.”

I admire her determination.

But I’m wary of here last sentences: “I don’t want a roommate.”

When you’re planning your move to Los Angeles, your world should be consumed by three objectives:

Nothing else matters until you’ve satisfied a minimum 2 out of these 3 things.

Ignore everything else: Finding a car, furniture, making friends, exploring Los Angeles.

Just get started on these three things, no matter how awful the start may seem in the moment. Discomfort is temporary, not forever. It’s just the first step. You’re building the foundation.

After the foundation is set:

  • You’ll have money to spend on $13 cocktails at Perch
  • You’ll have your own apartment again, roommate free, where you can binge watch Gilmore Girls or Pretty Little Liars to your heart’s delight
  • You’ll land your dream job, and laugh about those days you slung frappuccinos at Starbucks or stocked shelves at Target

But you gotta be tough.

What would you sacrifice for your fresh start in Los Angeles?

(I wrote a guest post on I’m Moving to Los Angeles about how to find a roommate in Los Angeles. A must read before you move. My buddy Justin runs the site and I know he’d appreciate it if you checked it out and left a comment. Thanks!)

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Photo Credit: Geoff

What can I do in college so I’m ready to work in entertainment?

career, college, first hollywood job
college

Alyssa writes:

What can I do while in college to give myself the best shot? I’m hoping to land some internships within the industry, things like that. Should I really plan to move to LA after college, as your posts seem to suggest?

Should I be writing spec scripts now (outside of my coursework and personal writing) and sending them off? I really don’t know!

I feel like doing some of those things now would be premature, and yet I’m very afraid of waiting too long.

I guess I’d really like to find a balance – being as prepared as possible, gaining experience, improving my own work, but also not being eternally miserable and stressed, while still giving myself a shot at an assistant-level writing job after college.

Does that balance exist?

I’m going to give you three recommendations.

First, I have something to admit:

I love setting New Year’s resolutions.

I love perching above a blank sheet of paper and thinking of the ways I’ll crush it this year:

  • Get up at 5 a.m. to write
  • Go to the gym 3x per week
  • Become fluent in Spanish (“Look, I even got Rosetta Stone! This time, I’ll do it!”)  

I’ll carve time into my calendar. Meticulously schedule and reschedule. Stick to it for two weeks.

Then real life happens. I get tired. Sick. Bored. And my aspirations wither away.

When you write…

I guess I’d really like to find a balance – being as prepared as possible, gaining experience, improving my own work, but also not being eternally miserable and stressed, while still giving myself a shot at an assistant-level writing job after college. Does that balance exist?

It sounds like my New Year’s resolutions that I won’t ever keep.

Your expectations will fall short of reality

There is one exception. It’s a big one.

You can achieve that “balance” if you know 100% this is the only life you want.

If it’s an obsession for you, then do it all. Do everything:

  • Add writing scripts to your personal writing
  • Reading scripts
  • Shoot shorts on your iPhone 6 on the weekends

What does obsession look like?

I’m not saying, this has to be your life if you want to be successful.

However, it’s the only way to pull off the “balance” you’re describing above. Which isn’t balanced at all. 

Be brutally honest about who you are

If this is NOT you, that’s okay. Most people are not. They find success in other ways.   

I wasn’t obsessed. I cared more about making money than making movies. Instead of watching films or reading screenplays, I worked four jobs in college.

I don’t have an impressive, self-taught film pedigree. I didn’t read my first script until I was 24-years-old.

But before I moved to Brooklyn, I was in the mix. Same as anyone who started at the bottom, clawing to the top in Hollywood.

This is not the “right” way either. It was my way.

There are hundreds of things you can do right now.

Your most important first step? Decide what NOT to do.

For example, you’ll hear advice like: “Oh, just make something and put it on Youtube. You never know.”

No, we do know. As Gaby Dunn shows us, the Youtube economics are sad. If you’re not obsessed about creating for Youtube or becoming a Youtube personality, don’t make Youtube videos.

My 3 recommendations for college students

1. Get work that pushes you outside of your comfort zone

You don’t need to get paid. But if you’re not good at talking to people, try doing it a few hours a week (for example, work for the university fundraisers, who call alumni for donations). You don’t have to do it forever. Do it so you get comfortable with discomfort.

2. Make money

Dennis Lehane wrote, “A man with a deep war chest can take on all comers.” My father put it another way: “You have to learn how to do things without money. But when you have money, it definitely makes it easier.”

3. Follow Scott Myers’s, 1, 2, 7, 14 Rule

  • Read 1 screenplay per week  
  • Watch 2 movies per week
  • Write 7 pages per week
  • Spend 14 hours per week prepping your story

Pick one of these 4 things and start.

Focus on these 3 recommendations. Finish school.

Then, you’ll sort out the other questions. Like “should I move to LA?” or “is this worth it?”

You’ll be ready.

###

Photo Credit: _SiD_

27 Rules for Networking in Hollywood

career, networking
cocktail

One of my favorite Hollywood behind-the-scenes blogger, Doug Richardson, shared a story about a dad who wanted to break into entertainment:

“I got so friggin’ tired of trying to climb the hill,” claimed the preschool dad. “But it’s such a who-you-know business. Without the connections, guys like me can never get ahead.

Here’s the truth, Doug writes:

Nearly everyone in showbiz began with zero Hollywood connections.

(If this resonates with you, I’d recommend picking up Doug’s book, The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches.)

I want to pick up where this post left off:

How do you start building connections?

In a nutshell: Drink with as many people as you can.

Below are my 27 rules to “doing drinks” in Hollywood.

This is how I went from waiting tables (Ozumo in Santa Monica — no longer there — and Natalee Thai on Venice Blvd) to working with Dennis Lehane (Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Shutter Island).

This is a methodical approach. Some might call it “cold.” They wouldn’t be wrong.

I’ve found it works for people like me, who read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi because the idea that I could “just be myself” triggered blinding anxiety that made me want to throw up.

(I keep notes on every book I read and make them publicly available. My notes for Never Eat Alone are here.)

With that said, your mileage will vary. All rules are meant to be bent. Some broken. Here we go:

27 Rules to Doing Drinks in Hollywood

  1. Take nothing personally. Last minute cancellation? Enjoy your free night and try again
  2. Always drinks, never dinner
  3. Short invitations. “We should do drinks. How far out are you? I could do next Thursday”
  4. Schedule 3-4 networking drinks per week. At least 2 will cancel. See #1
  5. Google the shit out of people
  6. Keep a list of go-to places. Picking a location should take 2 minutes, not 9 emails. Here’s what my list looks like
  7. Keep it convenient. No meet-n-greet drinks in Burbank if you’re coming from Santa Monica
  8. Avoid loud places
  9. Avoid 3-4 person group drinks  
  10. Get their phone number
  11. Remove the words, “today was crazy” from your vocabulary
  12. Order your usual drink. Stick to what you know
  13. Share something cool you did this weekend
  14. Do something cool on the weekends
  15. Admit you stalked them. “I saw online you did X. That’s awesome, how did that happen?”
  16. Stop with the phone. Silence it and put it face down on the table
  17. Listen
  18. Take notes on them. I dictate notes as I walk back to my car
  19. Add notes to their contact information
  20. Put their contact info into “buckets”. “A” means you’ll reach out 1/week, “B” 1/month, “C” 1x every 3 months (h/t Keith Ferrazzi)
  21. Follow-up like a pro (next day). “Great to meet you. Here’s that script I mentioned. Looking forward to reading/watching X”
  22. Follow-up like a pro (2 weeks). “I got through 50 pages of X. The writing was good but it wasn’t for me. Thank you for sharing, I really appreciate it”
  23. If you can give, give. Scripts, screeners, information  
  24. If you need, ask. See #23
  25. Keep a short list of people you want to see again. This should be about 10% of the people you meet  
  26. Use multiple mediums. Get off email. Text, gchat, or Facebook message people you want to build a relationship with
  27. Do drinks back-to-back. Advanced only. Maximize your time with back-to-back drinks when possible

What did I miss? What rules do you follow?

#####

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

Did You Expect to be Great?

career, moving to los angeles, personal stories, random thoughts
candle

I ask everyone who emails me for advice on moving to LA the same question:

“What do you want to do in Los Angeles?”

Last time, I told you I only get a reply 30% of the time.

Of that 30%, here’s what 99% say:

  • “Acting. Just a little bit. Nothing big”
  • “I’m a musician. But mostly for the change of scenery. Hopefully some new work”
  • “Something in entertainment. Hopefully writing TV or film”

…which is really interesting. Because it means one of two things:

  1. These guys are the most unambitious, unimaginative people ever (hint: I don’t think it’s #1)
  2. They feel weird admitting what they really want

I think we’re getting warmer.

Because it’s not #1. Don’t kid yourself. If you’re looking to move to Los Angeles — with little money, no definitive job prospects, and no housing — you don’t fall into the category of unambitious or unimaginative.

Which leaves #2, and this next question:

What are you embarrassed to admit?

Here’s my guess:

You’re embarrassed to admit you expect greatness.

What is greatness?

Greatness can look like any number of things:

  • For actors. Broadway, film, TV, collecting residuals from that AT&T spot
  • For musicians. Selling out a standing room only venue. Or a platinum record
  • For writers. NYT Bestseller, that Emmy, seeing your play come to life

For most of us, greatness is why we move to LA: We believe we’re destined to be great. Not just good, not “also-ran.” Great.

Yet saying this aloud seems arrogant. So we keep it to ourselves.

How do I know this?

I’m guilty myself.

Another assistant would ask: “What are you looking to do? Do you want to be a screenwriter?”

I’d answer: “You know, maybe…  I’m still just learning about this business and figuring out where I fit.”

Meanwhile, every morning that week at 5:30 a.m. I’m up typing into Final Draft before spending the next 10 hours answering someone else’s phone.*

There’s an audacity to expecting greatness. For example, if you say you expect to be a great screenwriter, you’re also saying you’re better than the millions who “never makes it,” whether it’s because they don’t have the connections or (more likely) didn’t write well enough.

It’s difficult to admit this to someone…

But it’s even harder to admit this to yourself.

Once you admit you expect greatness, you admit that you’re trying. You’re writing everyday, taking classes, you’re joining writing groups. You’re working on the craft while everyone tells you to “be normal” and “don’t be so hard on yourself.”

The downside is you could fail.

For example, the first screenplays I poured hours into were — objectively speaking — shit.

It’s terrifying to realize your expectation of greatness could be nothing but a mirage you’re stumbled towards.

So when someone asks, “What do you want to do in LA?” you’re better off giving a vanilla answer (“Oh, I don’t know… maybe I’ll take up acting.”) It’s not normal to open yourself up to an emotional, devastating beat down. 

But on the flip side, by definition, there is nothing normal about greatness.

###

*This is not to say you should pour out your heart and dreams to your Starbucks barista and her mother. If it’s a first date or your current boss, they don’t need to know everything right away.

Photo Credit: Topher76

I am not famous, I am me

career, moving to los angeles, personal stories
cameron

Cameron Diaz has words of wisdom for you.

(If you know who Cameron Diaz is, jump ahead to 00:29.)

 

Here’s the part I want to highlight for you:

“When people say, ‘I want to be like you, I want to be an actor, I want to look like you,’ the question I always ask is ‘why?’”

I ask all my readers: “What are your biggest struggles to move to Los Angeles?”

They’ll tell me it’s money, or they don’t know where to live, or if they’ll find a job. All solvable problems.

Then I’ll ask, “Why are you moving to LA?”

I get an answer 30% of the time. The rest, I never hear from again.

“Why?” is a difficult question.

  • It can be hard to articulate (“I feel I could do great things if I move”)
  • It can be embarrassing to admit (“I always wanted to be an actor and no one else knows”)
  • It can extremely personal (“I’m stuck in a corporate job and I finally left my asshole boyfriend”)

But there’s always an answer. Figure out your “why” before doing anything else.

Making money, finding the right place to live, getting started on your career… we can get there together. That’s what we’re doing here.

But “why?”

That’s up to you to figure out.

Bonus: I also love this part:

“Being famous is my job. When I’m with my friends and family, I am not famous. I am me. I am Cameron. Fame doesn’t define me. If you’re looking for fame to define you, then you will never be happy.”