I met Adam Davis last year. He was a student at Drake University, my alma mater, and came with the high recommendation of a mutual mentor. Adam wrote and directed a lot of short films while he was at Drake, and movies were clearly his calling. He was wondering whether he should bite the bullet and move to Los Angeles. I said yes, definitely — but he should prepare to work his ass off when he got here.
Adam took me at my word. I’ve had lunch with him a few times since he’s moved here, and after our last batch of Baja Fresh, I asked him to write up his experience so far.
Every year, a few thousand recent college grads move to Hollywood, hoping to get started. Here’s how Adam did it. He’s very much mid-process, but notice how much he’s hustling to get his next job. How you can never tell who is going to pay off as a contact. That’s how it works.
With a goal of becoming a writer/director, I moved out to Los Angeles in late March with my friend from college to try to get work on sets as a production assistant. The first few days were an exhaustive apartment search, and luckily, we were able to find a place in Culver City within the week.
As we waited for our internet to be hooked up, I was able to piggyback on someone’s wireless signal and started the job hunt. I went to my three favorite websites, craigslist, mandy.com, and entertainmentcareers.net. Every day was spent sending out resumes and cover letters for any and all PA jobs I could find. Features, shorts, commercials, music videos, it didn’t matter.
The first week was terrible. No calls, nothing. The feeling of impending doom of being jobless, or even worse, having to get a regular job, was awful.
But in the second week, I started getting calls. I interviewed to be a PA on a short film that was shooting in late April for two weeks with a pay of $20 a day. Having nothing at the time, I agreed to it. But it still didn’t solve the problem of having a job now.
I had another interview for a feature which was supposed to start pre-production at the beginning of April, and got hired on in the art department. That was going to pay $50 a day, which I was ecstatic over. The day before I was supposed to start work, I got a call saying that the movie had been pushed back to August 1st.
So again, no job. Wanting to get on set and make connections, I took a job in the art department for a music video for no pay one weekend. I was told that they had more jobs that paid coming up and if you worked for free they would get you on the paying job. Since April, I still haven’t received calls for a paying gig from them. I’ve received many calls for more non-paying jobs, but none that pay.
But overall, it was a very interesting shoot where I got to spray the band members with chocolate-tinted water to simulate black rain. Just something you don’t get to do very often.
Becoming a little desperate, I started calling people that I had worked with and met last summer, when I had an internship with Marvel Studios. I had worked on a feature for a few days for free, and I called up the 1st AD, who remembered me. He said that the film he was on was fully staffed right now, but if anything came up, he’d let me know.
A day later, he called saying that he needed me to be a key set PA for three days. I snatched up the opportunity, and worked on Dead Air, a zombie horror film.
After that, work on the short film started. It was called The Legend of My Heart-Shaped Anus, a quirky comedy being submitted to Sundance. It was great working with such a small crew because I got to learn a lot about lighting and cameras. And instead of being a PA, I turned into a grip and electric. Wrangling cables, setting up lights, carrying stands, everything. In one scene, I got to drop heart-shaped poo, made out of chocolate, onto two puppets fighting. It sounds strange, but it makes sense when you see the movie. I started thinking that perhaps the mark I would be making in Hollywood is to drop various incarnations of chocolate onto people and things.
Then May rolled around. I applied to more jobs and had a few more interviews, one with Lionsgate in the office of the CEO. They were looking to groom future studio execs, and since I expressed my interest in the creative side, I was told that perhaps a desk job wouldn’t be the best thing for me. I knew that to be true, and I’m very glad they picked up on that and let me know.
Then I had an interview scheduled with a guy who needed a personal assistant as well as a PA on his TV show. I went to the coffee shop we selected to meet at and he never showed and never answered his phone. So that was another one that didn’t work out, but it was for the best because I had an interview to be a PA on a shoot for Fox Reality’s Average Joe: Reality Revealed. I got the job and got to help the producers out with some pre-production for the shoot. We shot the interviews that weekend, and apparently I impressed them enough because on Monday they brought me on board to be an assistant editor since I know Final Cut Pro.
The editing job lasted from May through early July, and during that time I was given enough freedom to work other PA jobs as they came up. The 1st AD that got me on Dead Air, called me to work on a PSA, so I worked as a PA during the day, then went straight to the office to edit through the night. I did that for three days, and luckily my brain didn’t explode due to lack of sleep.
Later in June, a contact that I met last summer during my internship called me with an opportunity to work on the new Judd Apatow produced film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I jumped at the chance, and got to work on my very first big studio flick. That single night on Forgetting Sarah Marshall was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set.
I then got a job as a PA on an indie feature that’s hopefully going to Sundance, Thunder Geniuses, so I had to end my time at the editing job. Thunder Geniuses shot at a studio, a school, and then in the woods for two weeks and it was the most demanding shoot I’ve been on so far. But it was also extremely rewarding since I was able to make some great connections with a lot of people that can hopefully get me work in the future.
After 18 grueling days, we wrapped and I got a call from the editor of Average Joe: Reality Revealed, asking if I could come back and help out with some more editing to finish up the project. That’s what I worked on last week, and this week I’m not sure if I’ll be working on it again, since we’re almost finished.
I also got a call from my contact to work on the new Will Smith movie, but I had to turn it down because of my previous commitment with the editing job. But my roommate was able to take my place, so that’s a benefit.
I’ve been applying for more PA jobs, but hopefully I’ll get to rely on applying less and less since my network expanded greatly after Thunder Geniuses. But as of right now, I’m back to updating my resume, searching the internet for jobs, and debating whether or not to bug my contacts for work yet. But that’s what I like about the job and the life in Los Angeles. The uncertainty and the excitement of never knowing what’s going to happen next or who might call with the next awesome job. I’d prefer nothing else.