There’s an obscure song - “The Ballad of San Francisco” - by an obscure band - Caedmon’s Call - with a line that laments, “Here is where I live and so I guess that means the carrot’s gonna dangle for at least another year.” For me, the orange taproot in the song has always represented Los Angeles, the film and television epicenter of the galaxy. The San Francisco part of the song? Inapplicable.
The first time I heard the wonderfully folksy song back in 2000, that carrot dangled closely to my nose. I was certain I would end up in LA, finding success in film and television, devouring the carrot and getting high off its nourishment of praise, adulation, and riches. It wasn’t the superficial rewards I was after, but simply the satisfaction of doing what I loved, living and breathing the craft for which I have the most God-given passion.
But the carrot seemed unattainable at the time. It teased me, provoked me, taunted me. Yet, I was content - nay, passive - enough to live off the supplemental provisions of a secure job, family proximity, familiar surroundings, forthcoming marriage, and the solace of being in the NFL broadcast home of the Vikings. I mean, really... could I have moved to LA and missed the Mike Tice and Brad Childress eras? Perish the thought.
In life there are no do-overs. I don’t scorn the life I have today. Sure, my ‘secure’ teaching job turned into three layoffs in six years thanks to budget cuts, but I have a fantastic marriage and three kids that bring me more joy than I could have ever imagined.
Had I moved to LA out of college, who’s to say where I’d be today? I would have still married my college-sweetheart. We would have had kids. Our financial shortcomings probably wouldn’t have disappeared in a 90000 zip code.
Then again, maybe I would have ‘made it’. Maybe my acting dreams would have come true. Maybe watching my wife cry as she left the kids in the morning could have been averted as I left for my job on the set of [insert favorite sitcom or movie here]. I would be living my dream and she would be living hers as a stay at home mom. Win-win.
I’ll never know what might have been. And if you’re reading this as you consider whether or not to move to LA, remember that in 15 years you’ll never be able to answer the ‘what-if’ question. If your blood is filled with a need to act, a need to perform, a need to be in the film industry, you can’t expect that need to go away. The question is - can you fulfill that need from where you live or do you need to make the jump and grab that dangling carrot?
The answer is nebulous. The answer is different for everyone. Does the answer even exist?
Unless you join the football team, you’ll never know if you can catch a pass, throw a block, or kick a field goal in a game situation. You can simulate just about anything you want in your backyard, but simulation isn’t validation.
You’ll never know whether or not you can ‘make it’ in Hollywood unless you move there. Does that mean you just pack up and leave? Throw caution to the wind? Leap before you look?
Well, you can’t try out for the football team without any credentials. You need to have some God-given athleticism; you need desire; you need commitment. In the same token, if you want to give professional acting a shot, you need to have God-given talent, and you need to manufacture desire and commitment.
Buying cleats and a helmet from Eastbay doesn’t make you Adrian Peterson and driving your ’95 Taurus to LA doesn’t magically anoint you the next Jennifer Lawrence.
But buying the football gear or driving west gets you closer than staying home.
So to move or not to move? Let’s explore that question with three young actresses, each of whom made the move to LA within the last several years.
Angela Rachelle, who moved out in 2007, Natalie Chmiel, who relocated in 2008, and Tristin Rupp, who ventured west in January of 2012, each spent time in the film and television industry in Minnesota. Each had found opportunities acting in commercials, industrials, and independent movies.
“I had a good time acting in the Twin Cities,” reflects Angela Rachelle. “It was more ‘fun’ and less ‘business’ [than LA].”
Adds Tristin Rupp, “I did tons of projects in the Twin Cities. I was almost always working on something.”
Ms. Rupp and Ms. Rachelle state that most of the work they did in the Twin Cities was paid, albeit not always a lot. Natalie Chmiel, on the other hand, says, “I acted only briefly in the Twin Cities. I was predominantly doing student films or auditioning for small budget projects. It was rare I got a paycheck.”
Ms. Chmiel didn’t seek representation during her short stint in the Twin Cities which may account for her lack of paid gigs. Ms. Rupp and Ms. Rachelle, on the other hand, were represented by several agencies by the time they decided to bid farewell to the Midwest.
Ms. Rupp also signed with a manager who has offices in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. “[Craig Damon of Oryon Media Artists] has the connections and first-hand experience and knowledge of the business in LA. I attribute so much of my success to [Mr. Damon],” she gushes.
Finding representation with connections in LA and your home town is a huge advantage, but it is rare. Most, including Ms. Rachelle and Ms. Chmiel, ventured west without a Los Angeles based agent or manager. Ms. Rupp secured an agent after her move thanks to the connections provided by manager Damon. “Getting an agent before moving to LA is very difficult,” Ms. Rupp offers. “[Agents] don’t want to take anyone on who isn’t already in town. Don’t waste your time or theirs.”
There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but counting on being the exception is like betting all your chips on double-zero; you could beat the house or you could go home in a gunny sack.
Regarding LA agents, Ms. Chmiel warns, “There are a lot of scams being run out here. If they find you, it is likely illegitimate. I found representation very soon after my move. Horrible representation.”
All three girls agree that representation is necessary to keep up in the competitive LA market. Auditions for low- and no-pay projects are readily available through a number of online resources, but the good gigs are accessible only through your agent. Ms. Chmiel reminds that having an agent doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be auditioning all the time, but without one, you’ll be very hard pressed to get in front of the major casting directors.
Overall, each actress claims to be going on more auditions in LA than she had in Minnesota, but the competition is more fierce. “It’s cutthroat out here,” warns Ms. Rupp. “It really is every man for himself.”
Ms. Chmiel adds, “You definitely get a sense that the strongest will survive. Who can work the hardest and last the longest? The actors I know out here are the hardest working people I’ve ever met. It is astonishing how many people are out here just wanting to get paid for doing something they love.”
Asked if they are happier in LA than they were in Minnesota, each actress responded the exact same way: yes and no.
“I found myself in LA,” reflects Ms. Rachelle. “I am much more secure and happy in who I am as an individual. LA was the pinnacle for me, so knowing I came here and took my shot leaves me with a sense of no regret. Still, there is much more rejection and it’s harsher here. I miss the Minnesota community.”
Ms. Rupp echoes Ms. Rachelle’s thoughts and adds, “LA is very lonely. I miss my family, friends, and surroundings of Minnesota, but ‘home’ does not have what I want in my career. If you can get through the negativity and cynicism, you’ll find positivity in this creative landscape.”
Each lady encourages those considering a move to LA to do it. “The opportunities are far greater out here, but so are the sacrifices,” says Ms. Chmiel. “The best advice I can give is to connect with a group of hard-working, motivated people that you trust and respect and make your own material. With the way media is changing, there really is no excuse not to be putting out your own stuff.”
Ms. Rachelle adds, “It’s worth the regret you will have if you don’t try it. You can make it work. I’m not saying you’ll love the lifestyle; it’s hard work and can be extremely lonely, but if your dream is worth the fight, then don’t be afraid. Just make it happen.”
As simple as they sound, Ms. Rupp offers these closing words of wisdom that are too often overlooked: “Stay true to yourself. Know who you are and what you want and don’t want. Don’t lie to yourself or others. Life’s too short.”
Whether you discover who you are in Minnesota, LA, or somewhere else, don’t let yourself wonder what could have been. It’s a very hard road, but if you have the talent, the desire, the fortitude to handle seemingly endless obstacles, go forth and spread your wings. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to take that chance.