Great question, Wendy… obviously, no one ever wants to pack up their entire life and move to another city with nothing but the hope of landing a job. It’s risky. It’s daunting. It’s utterly terrifying.
And unfortunately, in the world of Hollywood, it’s usually the only way to do it.
Rarely do Hollywood companies hire people from out of town… they tend to only hire—and only want—people who are already living in Los Angeles. This is for a handful of reasons…
1) The turnover rate in Hollywood is incredibly high. Not just at lower levels, like assistants and runners, but even at higher levels, where executives frequently last only a year or so in their jobs. (And when an executive or agent is fired, laid off, promoted, or leaves a job, their assistant often goes with them.) So when someone leaves—ESPECIALLY an assistant who takes care of much of a company’s vital day-to-day grunt work (filing, copying, running errands, answering phones, maintaining schedules, etc.)—the company needs to fill their shoes IMMEDIATELY… often as soon as the next morning, and it’s tough to do this with someone who lives out of town.
2) Bosses often want someone who is familiar with L.A. and knows their way around. This is because much a low-level assistant’s job is running errands, tracking down special requests, making restaurant reservations and recommendations, etc. In other words: they need a base knowledge not available to out-of-towners. And while you may be a fast learner, many bosses have no patience for a learning curve; they want to know that if they tell their P.A. they need a certain kind of paper, or a special food request, that P.A. knows exactly how to find it, get there, and return as quickly as possible.
(This is also why many bosses won’t hire first-time assistants, period. They want an even broader base of knowledge… they want to know that if they say, “Get Steve McPherson on the phone,” or “Call Barry Meyer,” or “Set a lunch with Jeff Jacobs,” the assistant not only knows exactly who that person is, they already have the number memorized.)
3) Hollywood is an entire industry based on connections or relationships, and people tend to hire people they already know: friends, nieces, friends of friends, etc. And if you’re living outside Los Angeles, it’s nearly impossible to begin forming the contacts you need to build a network strong enough to help you get that first (and second) job.
Having said this, we all know people who LIVE in Los Angeles… and we all probably have friends or relatives working in entertainment… and you should never be afraid to use these connections. If your uncle is a VP at Paramount, you may luck out and be able to land a job before arriving in L.A. (but again—he knows you; you have a pre-existing relationship)… but at the very least, you’ll land in California with a small network of contacts to help you get started.
4) It’s easy for out-of-towners to flake, and for execs, producers, or agents who are often quasi-helpless without their assistants, it’s risky to hire someone who doesn’t even live in town. You may be incredibly intelligent and perfectly qualified… but the most important qualification—to a nervous exec who needs support—is that you can show up immediately.
Having said all of this, Wendy—there are certain ways to help yourself if you’re not yet living in Los Angeles. Namely: get an entertainment-related job wherever you are. Start working at a TV affiliate station. Find a production company specializing in local commercials or corporate videos. Take a gig at an advertising agency that deals with networks. Many cities these days even have talent agencies that supply actors and models to local commercials, productions, and photo shoots. And while you’ll probably still need to BE in L.A. before getting hired in L.A., any of these jobs will begin giving you real-world industry experience… as well as help you build your Rolodex.
I hope this helps, Wendy… while I wish I could tell you it’s easy to lock down a job before getting out here, it’s just not true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start your career—or even have a long, prosperous entertainment career—wherever you already are.