Questions for the Cross Country Actor

So, I’m sitting at The Coffee Bean at LAX in the Southwest terminal and strike up a conversation with a young actor. He finds out I’m from Atlanta and starts bombarding me with questions about the Atlanta market, agents, and so forth. Conversely, I am often approached by actors in Atlanta bombarding me with questions about the Los Angeles market, agents, and so forth. I’m sitting on a plane right now on a cross-country flight to Atlanta, so I thought I’d take a moment to answer some of the common questions I get from actors from both coasts. It should also be noted that I know nothing about the New York scene, so when I use the term “cross-country,” I’m referring to Atlanta and Los Angeles. Keep in mind that these are just my personal experiences and opinions, many of which I may be completely wrong about, so take this for what you will. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. Actual results may vary.

Atlanta to Los Angeles
Q) Should I move to Atlanta or Los Angeles?

Well, that is a very personal question, isn’t it? There is certainly plenty of filming being done in Atlanta and there is far less competition than there is in Los Angeles, but… the film business in Hollywood is bigger than Atlanta, New York, Canada, and the United Kingdom combined. There is a lot more opportunity to audition for bigger roles, series regulars, strong supporting roles, etc. in Los Angeles. Most of the film businesses, uh, business is handled in Los Angeles and that’s not likely to change. Many directors, producers, casting directors, writers, etc. love their LA lifestyle and probably won’t move to Atlanta anytime soon. That being said, living in Los Angeles can be fucking hard. Really fucking hard. There is SO MUCH competition, many of which are better and have stronger resumes than you (or me).  The casting directors out here already have their favorites — those “go to” actors that are already in line ahead of you.  You often have to be truly special or just really fucking lucky to even get in line (even if you have a great resume).  I know people who have been in Los Angeles for two years and don’t even have an agent yet.   It is ridiculously expensive to live here.   I also know people who moved to Los Angeles and ended up living in their cars. If you make the move to Los Angeles, you will have to accept the fact that you may be starting your career from ZERO and it will likely be a multi-year process. You may end up working a job you hate just to pay the bills and living in a two bedroom apartment with four roommates in El Fucking Segundo. That being said, Los Angeles can be a wonderful place. The weather is great almost all the time. There are beaches and mountains and desert surrounding the city. Los Angeles has a diversity of people, cultures, and landscapes that in absolutely unique in the world. There is SO MUCH talent and opportunity in Los Angeles it can be awe-inspiring (and quite frightening as well). I literally cried one day driving back from an audition for CBS with a view of the Hollywood sign in my windshield I was so moved by it all.

Whether you want to work in TV or film is also a consideration.  In Los Angeles, television is king with a staggering amount of shows filming in Hollywood.  Film, especially the big block-buster type movies have mostly left Los Angeles for places like Atlanta where they can film MUCH more cost effectively.

You should also consider where you are in your career.  If you are still trying to master the basics and focus on gaining experience, Atlanta is probably a better place to be than Los Angeles.

If you are a Los Angeles actor considering the move to Atlanta, there is also so much good to be said about Atlanta. The film business is booming and showing no signs of slowing down! There is much less competition in Atlanta and lots of roles to be filled. It’s a great place to build credits and gain experience. There are wonderful teachers and talent and an exciting film community in Atlanta. Jobs are readily available and the cost of living is HALF of what it is in Los Angeles. There is an amazing food and music scene in Atlanta and the city is vibrant and moving forward in so many areas. Life is SO MUCH easier in Atlanta. But, most of the roles you audition for in Atlanta will be co-stars and day players, with most of the series regulars and larger film roles still being cast out of Los Angeles. Like living in Los Angeles, you will need a side job as making a living as an actor in Atlanta is tough. There are, of course, exceptions and I’m seeing Atlanta actors booking bigger and bigger roles, but, for the foreseeable future, most of the major stuff is going to be cast out of Los Angeles.

While there is good and bad to each city, the choice of where to live and work is very personal and you have to find the right balance to maintain satisfaction in your life. Are you willing to sacrifice some bigger film opportunities for a much easier ability to make a living in Atlanta? Are you willing to possibly go broke for the chance of booking someting big in Los Angeles? It all depends on what you want and are willing to sacrifice.  Eventually, however, your career in Atlanta my grow to the point that you have to move to Los Angles to move to the next level.

When to move to Atlanta or Los Angeles is also a personal choice. I wouldn’t consider moving to Los Angles until you have sufficient credits to make agents, managers, and casting take note. If you don’t have experience, the competition in Los Angeles may eat you alive. Most of the people I know in Los Angeles (myself included) moved way too soon.

As a side note, I think quality of life MUST be balanced with career choices.  Don’t go to one place or the other simply as a career move.  Consider the lifestyle you desire and make sure there is a good balance.  I think, when you are more fulfilled in your “real” life, you become much more better situated to achieve truth as an actor.

The film business in Atlanta is booming, why did you move to Los Angeles?

That may be the most common question I get and the answer isn’t really related to the film industry much, but rather a life choice. I grew up in Coastal Georgia and lived in Atlanta for twenty five or so years. I had never lived outside the state of Georgia and, while I love Georgia and my roots will always be there, on personal level I felt a little stagnant. I needed to change things up and go live someplace else… see new sights, meet new people, and gain new perspectives and ideas before I got too damned old to do it. Of course, I was not willing to give up acting to do it, so the choice of cities to try was crystal clear: Los Angeles. Hands down, moving my primary residence 2000 miles away from Atlanta was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I had a very comfortable life in Atlanta and could very well lose it all and fail horribly in Los Angeles. So far, that hasn’t happened, but I can’t say with any certainty what the next few years will bring. But, what I ride this has been! I’ve met amazing people, seen new sights, learned so much about myself and have had some truly awe-inspiring opportunities (and even booked a few roles). As much as I miss being in Atlanta on a daily basis and in spite of the fact that I have no fucking clue what tomorrow will bring, I feel more alive than ever. I am just fortunate that I still have family, business, and charity work in Atlanta and that casting directors and my agents there, for whatever reason, seem to like me and that affords me the opportunity to “come home” more than I ever imagined. I am fortunate and I don’t take a single fucking second of it for granted.

I’m living in Los Angeles, but I’m thinking about getting an agent in Atlanta. What do you think?

There is a lot of great opportunity in Atlanta, so if you can find an agent who will take you, why not? Most of the auditions in Atlanta are self-tapes, so, theoretically, you can audition for most things filming in Atlanta from anywhere in the world. But… keep in mind that if you audition in Atlanta, most of the roles are local hire only, so you’ll be on the hook for your own airfare (often having to book at the last minute), hotels, meals, etc. This means if you book a day-player role at scale, you may very well lose money on the gig. My advice would be that, unless you can legitimately work as a local hire in Atlanta, don’t try to get an agent and audition there. Many Atlanta agents, rightfully so, won’t even look at you if you are not local or can legitimitaly work as a local hire. AND NEVER EVER, FUCKING EVER, LIE ABOUT WHERE YOU LIVE! Just don’t do it. You will ruin your credibility and piss people off. Most people in the industry in Atlanta know my primary residence is in Los Angeles. They also know that I can very legitimitaly work as a local hire and that they can trust booking me, because I assume the responsibility of making sure that I’m flexible and will, come hell or high water, be there when I need to be, often on very short notice (as evidenced by the fact that I booked a plane ticket last night to be in Atlanta less than 24 hours later for a call-back). If you desire to work in Atlanta, you assume ALL RESPONSIBILTY for making it work for call-backs and production.

I’m living in Atlanta, but I’m thinking about getting an agent in Los Angeles. What do you think?

Forget about it. Seriously. The vast majority of all auditions in Los Angeles are in-person and they rarely accept a self-tape unless you are out of town on a gig and have a VERY legitimate excuse for not being in the room (and even then casting will still often tell you to take a hike). Unless you have the financial means and job flexibility to be in Los Angeles for an audition TOMORROW (or even this afternoon), don’t bother. Most agents will not even look at you if you are not local to Los Angeles. Why would they, when there is already so much talent and 19,478 other actors who look just like you already here? Of course, there are alway exceptions to the rule — if you have an amazing resume or a VERY unique skill or look, then some agents may actually be willing to take the risk, but, again, the responsibility for getting to Los Angeles at the drop of a hat falls exclusively on you. Oh, and as I mentioned above, AND NEVER EVER, FUCKING EVER LIE ABOUT WHERE YOU LIVE!

Should I come to Los Angeles for pilot season?

No. I wrote a more detailed blog post about my thoughts on this, but in a nutshell, here is what I think. It can sometimes take months or years to find an agent in Los Angeles and to get casting comfortable enough to begin inviting you in. Almost two years into working and competing in Los Angeles and I’m still just scratching the surface. It’s not going to happen for most anyone overnight, unless you already have an amazing resume or VERY unique skill or look and even then, the chances are slim. Also, pilot season really ain’t what it was even a few years ago. So, should you come to Los Angeles for a few months? If you can, absolutely. But, do it for the change of pace, to study with some of the best, and to gain a fresh perspective. Relax on the beaches and soak in the sun. Enjoy it!! But, just don’t expect to come to Los Angeles and book something next week.

How do you handle being a cross-country actor?

It isn’t easy at times. It’s expensive and can be tough juggling the schedules. I am fortunate that I have a solid career and reputation in the hair industry so I have job that pays the bills and affords me the chance to travel (through an incredible business in Atlanta and flexible and forgiving boss in Los Angeles). That said, it’s expensive going back and forth so much. I’m often asking for time off from work and burning up vacation and sick days so I can travel for auditions and bookings. I haven’t had a proper vacation in a few years because I just can’t ask for more time off. I spend a lot of money on acting expenses and travel and I’m in debt and often live paycheck to paycheck (which hasn’t been the case in years). I am always working.  Always.  Even on those couple of days here and there I can sneak off on a day trip, I’m often taping auditions or submitting.  All of that being said, the sacrifices are worth it and I will do whatever it takes for the chance to do what I love. It can be frustrating at times, but it is worth it to me, so this is what I do.

Well, there you have it. I’ve burned through an hour in this cramped seat on Southwest flight 1994 to Atlanta writing this blog post. Hope this helps in your decision making process if you are contemplating Atlanta vs. Los Angles and what your next steps might be. I can’t tell you what to do, because it is all very personal. I am blessed that I have so many people on both coasts who believe in me and allow me to live this dream and give me the opportunity to do what I love. I adore both Atlanta and Los Angeles and am proud to call both cities home. It’s not easy having your heart in two places, sometimes, but I can’t imagine it any other way for me at this moment in time. That may change, but for now, I’m loving every minute of all of this. Even sitting in the middle seat, row 9E, because I know it’s taking me some place I love. I’ll be able to say the same thing tomorrow.

Now, go follow your dreams. Chase your passion. Break every mutherfucking leg you’ve got and then some!