Migration Patterns

One of the little quotes that appears on this site sometimes is, “If you know a good actor in San Francisco, soon you will know a good actor in Los Angeles.” What I mean by that is the fact that is seems all people trying to make it in acting eventually end up in Los Angeles it seems. This is tough when you live in San Francisco because you’re very close to LA, but just not quite close enough to make a great many parts of the film shoot work.
People come about to acting in one of three ways. Maybe they are sometimes enouraged/pushed to do it from an early age and it’s something they’ve always known. Maybe they wake up one day and decide to be an actor because they either can’t figure out what else to do or just feel the need to try it. Or maybe they are randomly cast in something and find out that they have some ability as an actor despite never really having given it a go until that point. For the record, I’m of the last category, but when it really comes down to it, I don’t call myself an actor.
So, from this step, the person tries to make it in acting at a local level. They’ll do plays, student films, and maybe even get small parts in larger films if they’re shot in the area where they live. This can be the most prolific and rewarding point of their career as an actor. There are some that call it quits at this point because they have kids or realize that acting doesn’t really pay that well and they focus in on a real job. Then there are some who decide (whether correct or not) they really have some talent and that if they’re going to make it in this line of work, they need to move to Los Angeles.
Here’s where things get interesting because they go from floating on their back in a relatively small pond to attempting to tread water in the Pacific Ocean. I’ve seen estimates that there are 250,000 or more people in LA trying to make it as actors. I think there might be more, but getting back to behavior patterns, once people move to LA, you’re going to hear from them a lot. This is because once they move down there, they don’t really have squat going on. They have to keep their time open for possible roles and they don’t have any possible roles because they’re just getting established.
Six months will go by and at this point most people can get something going and they’ll be bad about returning your phone calls. Stick to email if you want a response. A lot of these somethings people find are bit parts as extras in larger productions. Let me emphasize that getting these parts is not making it in the business. I’ve heard from many an excited parent that their kid is an actor, when really they’re the person you might see out of focus for one second in the background with a large crowd with the real actors in focus in the foreground. Out of all this, the dedicated people might get some bigger roles. They might get in to SAG (the actors union) and they might stand a chance of making it. How much of a chance? Not much to be honest.
There is a breaking point people reach. They will often move back from whence they came, joining the others who found day jobs and return to the normal life that we all know. There are also those that will stick it out in LA and continue to exist on the outer circle of Hollywood ad infinitum. They get day jobs down there and will always be an actor looking for a break and cursing their agents for not finding it for them. Really, you gotta admire the tenacity of these folks. To some degree, I’m one of them, although I know better than to move to LA. I’ve had my brush with the inner circle, working for a well-known movie direcctor, but at the same time, I realize that if anything is going to happen with what I do, it’s going to be because of me doing it and being “discovered” is not a reality.
Am I a pessimist in all of this? Some may think so, but really, it’s just realistic knowledge from seeing many, many friends go through this and wish that they had just stayed in San Francisco so that I could keep working with them. Naturally, a writer might read this and think, “Wow, this is a great story to tell!” Don’t do that. Just don’t do that. It’s a cardinal mistake of every beginning writer to tell this story. It’s been told before and there are probably more scripts of this floating around Hollywood than there are actors trying to break in.