I get this sort of question quite frequently from people: “I’m moving to Los Angeles in a few months. Where should I live and what is a good job to have while pursuing a career as a screenwriter?”
Getting established in Los Angeles is a critical step in building a career as a screenwriter. You need to prepare for the long haul because you’re most likely not going to sell a script for a long time.
When I first moved to Los Angeles years ago I lived in Valley Village, which used to be part of North Hollywood. It’s not one of the hip, trendy places in L.A. to live like the beach communities but it’s well positioned so you can get to just about anywhere in L.A. in a reasonable amount of time and it’s about as inexpensive as you’re going to find in the L.A. area. It’s very close (less than a 15 minute drive) to Burbank, Toluca Lake, Hollywood, and Studio City. You can get to places like Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and downtown L.A. fairly easily. You can get to the Westside (Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Brentwood, Venice and Culver City) usually in about an hour during rush hour traffic. So no matter where you end up working or where you want to get in L.A., Valley Village is a good choice and probably the best value for your money.
Valley Village bleeds into North Hollywood and prices get even cheaper the further north you go. If you’re going to live in North Hollywood try and stay as far south as you can as it gets a little dodgy way up in the northern part of North Hollywood. Stay in Valley Village or as close to Studio City as you can afford. As a rule the closer you are to Ventura Blvd. the better the neighborhood is going to be.
Here’s a link to Valley Village on Google Maps:
Update: A reader emailed me with a nice tool so you can see pricing and safety ratings in neighborhoods around Los Angeles. It’s here: http://www.lalife.com/
Valley Village is here: http://lalife.com/Valley_Village
One word of warning: Valley Village is in the San Fernando Valley and there are people in L.A. who thumb their noses at the Valley. It’s definitely not the hippest place in L.A. to live but personally I never cared and was glad to find someplace centrally located for a reasonable price. If this is a concern for you look in the Hollywood area. You’ll probably pay 10% to 25% more in Hollywood and 50% to 100% more to live in a trendy beach community like Santa Monica or Venice but they are “cool” compared to the valley.
Another thing I like about the valley is that it’s much more suburban where as places like Hollywood or Santa Monica have a more urban feel and getting around is much more difficult than in the Valley.
Don’t move to L.A. without a car. Public transportation can work in a pinch but L.A. is too spread out for it to be useful. L.A. is essentially urban sprawl for hundreds of miles so walking places usually isn’t feasible either. I love to walk and I’m a very fast walker but I rarely walk anywhere.
When you first get to L.A. I highly recommend that you find the best job that you can even if it’s NOT in the entertainment industry. If you have experience in a particular field purse a job in that field. When I first moved to L.A. I worked at a tennis club. There were lots of actors, writers, producers, and directors who were members of the tennis club so I made lots of “industry contacts” quickly. However, not one of these contacts ever produced any tangible results as far as actually helping my screenwriting career. Sure they gave me some advice, passed me scripts to read, and even read some of my material and gave me notes on it, but nothing that really helped me sell a script.
Unless you’re above the line talent (producer, director, actors, and writer) working any job in the entertainment business is going to be long hours with minimal pay. Once I worked as a production assistant for an independent production company and they paid me $50 per day for working 10 to 12 hours a day. After I was hired I found the stack of resumes that they had gone through to choose me. They had received over 100 resumes so I was lucky to even get the job! Since I was only making $50 per day working for them I continued to teach tennis on the weekends. As things got busier with the production company they wanted me to work on the weekends and when I refused they fired me!
It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that if you’re working 12 hours per day Monday thru Friday and then working a second job on the weekends you’re not going to have a lot of time to work on your writing. Don’t fall into this trap. If you’re a great networker maybe you can make it work and an industry job would be worth the time you lose. But I’m not a good networker so I never made any connections through the industry jobs and I would have been much wiser to spend my time working a more normal job with normal hours and writing in my spare time (which is what I eventually did).
Try to make your life as comfortable as possible so that you like living in Los Angeles. Find a second career that you enjoy, can make decent money at in case screenwriting doesn’t work out, and gives you some spare time and money to continue writing. If you like living in Los Angeles you’ll be more apt to stick it out for years, which means you’ll be more likely to finally sell a script. If you take that “survival” job and end up hating your life you’ll increasingly feel like moving back home. Getting established as a screenwriter isn’t going to happen overnight. In fact there’s a Hollywood saying that goes something like “the overnight success takes 10 years.” I firmly believe this so if you’re moving to L.A. be prepared to work hard for 10 years or more before selling a single script. Make those 10 years as enjoyable and productive as possible. Life really is a journey not a destination so enjoy the 10 years.
Keep in mind, too, by living in Los Angeles you’ll be meeting other aspiring filmmakers all the time – even at your non-entertainment industry job. If you have time and money you can start to work with them on small projects. Maybe you’ll meet a director and you can pool some money together and shoot a short film that you wrote. Maybe you’ll meet a talented actor who wants you to help him write a vehicle for him to start in – and maybe you’ll want to shoot a trailer for the script to try and find financing for it. These are the sorts of things that can slowly build your career but you can’t do them if you have no time and no money.
Check out my post Do you have to live in Los Angeles to be a screenwriter? to learn why I think living in L.A. is so critical to being a successful screenwriter.