My name is Chris, I’m an actor and voice over guy who earned a living as an actor for 20 years in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles in 2015. Before making the jump, I wrote a book about building a sustainable career as a Midwest-based actor. I moved because I wanted the chance to work on projects that I didn’t have access to while living in Chicago. So far, aside from the pandemic shutting everything down for a time, I’m happy to say the plan is working. If you’d like to read more about me and my career antics, check out this and this.
Moving to LA is a big decision, one you might still be in the process of making. It can be filled with uncertainty, so I’m going to share what I’ve learned about living and working in Los Angeles. Along the way, I’ll include some resources actors should check out.
This post is LONG because I wanted it to be complete. I’ll add to it as I get more info and suggestions from other actors. In the meantime, if I didn’t answer your question the fastest way to find me is on Instagram or Twitter.
Keep in mind that everything included here is a reflection of my personal experience. Since every actor’s path is different, some of what’s here might differ from what you’ve heard before. No biggie, it’s good to get multiple perspectives.
A note: this post closely follows the format of one I did for actors moving to Chicago, so if you’re looking for that one, it’s here.
Let’s get into it.
Is Now The Right Time to Move to LA?
When to move is a very personal decision, but it’s good to consider the current state of the entertainment industry.
It’s no secret that the global pandemic brought TV, film, and commercial production to a halt in March 2020. The business virtually stood still for months. However, as of November 2020 the production has been slowly coming back. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many actors left LA because of the lack of work, leaving an opening for actors who are considering entering the market.
It’s also worth noting that the business is not back up and running in full force. Dozens of TV shows were canceled or are still in limbo. Films have been postponed. Those that have returned to shooting are often temporarily shut down when Covid breaches the production bubble. The situation is still very much in flux, but we’re making progress.
Adding to the complexity is a new dynamic in casting. Historically, producers would audition and cast actors in LA for projects that shoot elsewhere, like Chicago, Atlanta, or Vancouver. However local casting is currently playing a much larger role. Producers are more likely to hire local actors as opposed to bringing an actor in from LA, meaning if the show shoots in Chicago, a role (especially a smaller one) will probably go to an actor based there. Therefore, as it stands now, actors in LA are most likely to book projects that actually shoot in or near southern California.
Widespread adoption of a vaccine would help production come back to normal levels, but even though researchers are working at a furious pace, no one can say exactly when one may become available.
Yes. Self-taping will be with us for the foreseeable future, so you should be familiar with how to do them. Here’s a good guide to best practices for self-taped auditions.
How Do You Move to LA?
When it comes to the logistics of long-distance moving, there are few cheap and easy options. Moving is a chore whether you’re relocating cross country or just across the street.
If you’re looking to spend the least amount of money, bring a little as possible with you as you drive yourself to your new home. It’s a time-honored tradition to pack your car up with only the essentials and drive west. If you’re wondering about alternatives, here are three methods to consider.
Hire a Moving Company.
We hired movers. My wife and I, along with our twin five-year-olds, packed up the house ourselves after having a massive garage sale. On moving day, a crew loaded what remained into an 18-wheeler and we left our old house with enough clothes for about a week. Also on that day, we shipped our car to our new address. We packed a few things in it, making sure they were well protected against random pothole jolts.
While hiring movers is convenient, it isn’t cheap. Plus, timing can be tricky. A long-haul moving company will show up on a prearranged date, but they don’t guarantee when your stuff will arrive at your new home. Same with car shippers. Instead, they give you a delivery date range. In our case, we had to kill about a week in Chicago before flying west. That way, we didn’t have to camp in an empty house in LA waiting for our stuff to arrive.
We opted for convenience over cost savings. But that convenience also came with a little worry. What if our things got lost? It happens. To make sure I always knew where our things were, I packed a GPS transmitter in one of the boxes, and put another in our car. Monitoring their location allowed us “see” where our stuff was. I was glad we did this, because our car arrived on schedule, but we discovered that our moving truck sat in an empty parking lot for four days before finally getting on the road to LA. I was on the phone with the moving company every day, and my pestering was what got our things delivered in a more-or-less reasonable timeframe.
If all this sounds expensive, it was, and that’s the big downside to this method. To us, though, it was worth the cost to make our kids the priority instead of our things. They were going to be cranky, requiring even more attention than usual, and we wanted to have the ability to just focus on making the trip as easy and fun as possible for them.
Rent a Truck and Move Yourself.
We considered getting a rental truck and doing everything ourselves, meaning packing up the truck, driving it, parking it in hotel lots overnight, unloading it and returning it when the job was done. But all while dealing with twins? No. It also meant we’d have to bring a whole lot less with us. Rental trucks are smaller than big rigs. We didn’t want to ditch our furniture and start over. Between that and the thought of struggling with our kids not having their normal routine for a week or more, we decided against this method.
If this might work for you, make sure to read the fine print on the truck rental agreement. There are plenty of hidden costs and liabilities built-in to protect the rental company. After insurance, milage and gas, trucks can cost far more than you think you’re going to spend, so buyer beware.
Ship Your Things With Amtrack.
I know, right? Amtrack? Turns out they have a little-known program that ships cargo, and anyone can use it. You pack up your stuff, get it to a train station, and it goes into the cargo hold of a train heading to your new home city. Then you get it from that station to your new house, and of course, unload it.
This can end up being far cheaper than even renting a truck. The cost for shipping is very reasonable, the additional costs might be a truck rental to get your things to and from the train station on either end. But if you have a few friends help you load and unload, you can move for just a few bucks. We discovered this option late in the process, but we might have considered it if we hadn’t already made a plan.
What About Pods?
Pods are large cargo containers that are dropped off at your old house. You load a container yourself and a company picks it up, ships it, and leaves it at your new house for you to unpack. The lure of this setup is that you can move in at your own pace. But know that street space is very limited in a lot of areas of LA. Because of this, the city actually requires you to have a permit to leave a pod on the street for any length of time. So unless you can drop the pod on private property (like a driveway), you will not be able to leave a pod streetside. This option requires precise timing, so make sure you’ve got it very well planned before signing any contracts.
No matter how you move, I highly recommend bringing only what you really need. It might sound crazy but if your big TV is more than a few years old, it could be cheaper to buy a new one than to move it. This is true for a lot of items, particularly if you’re hiring movers. And even if you’re driving a rental truck, you can save a ton of money if you have less to haul. Less stuff means smaller trucks, fewer moving supplies like boxes and tape, and less risk of something breaking along the way.
Where to Live in Los Angeles
LA is huge. I think of it as the biggest suburb I’ve ever seen. There is just so much sprawl and so many choices that it can be hard to pick a location. Here are some things that are generally true about living in LA as an actor.
The Business is not Located in One Area.
The entertainment industry is spread out, meaning if you want to be conveniently located to everything, there isn’t one single place you should consider. The industry has such a large footprint that you can drop a pin just about anywhere in LA county and be close to something having to do with it. Casting offices, acting schools, agent offices, recording studios, studio lots, and stages are just about everywhere.
That Said, LA Has Two Main Chunks: The City and The Valley.
If you look at a map of LA, I think of the city as being between the Pacific Ocean and downtown LA, and the 101 freeway and somewhere south of the 10 freeway.
Within that area, the business is most concentrated in an area that encompasses Hollywood, West Hollywood, Westwood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. There’s a LOT of stuff for actors to do in this area, so if you want to be close to most things, find a place within this particular chunk of LA. There are elements of the business that are outside of this area, and plenty of them. But generally speaking, this is where a lot of actors land.
When people refer to the valley, they mean towns like Burbank and neighborhoods such as North Hollywood, Studio City, and Sherman Oaks. This area is north of the 101 from the 5 on the east to about the 405 on the west. A lot of media companies like Disney, CBS, and Nickelodeon are based in this area, and they have plenty of industry infrastructure like casting offices, training centers, and recording studios to keep them company.
City vs. Valley Living
Living in the city comes with everything you’d expect: a high cost of living per square foot, parking challenges, lots of people, and lots of options for things to do and see. If you want to be in the middle of it all and not have to go very far for anything, choose a place in the city.
Traditionally, the valley is a little cheaper and a little less crowded. It’s more suburban with plenty of big box stores and free easy parking, but it’s also farther away from a lot of the places you’re likely to go. The pandemic has definitely lowered traffic levels, but travel time is still a significant factor in determining where to live in LA. You’ll spend more time on the road if you live in the valley, simply because you’re farther away from the places you often need to be. However, housing is cheaper there, and it’s relatively safer than the city. It’s also a little sleepier since many families live in valley communities.
In the end, you have to decide what your priorities are. Do you value convenience over space? Quiet over nightlife options? There’s a trade-off for everything.
Other Areas: Calabasas, Orange County, and LA’s Eastern ‘burbs.
The entertainment industry is spread out, but go far enough away and you’ll eventually find yourself in an area with little to no connection to it. In the north and western parts of the San Fernando valley, towns like Calabasas are more where people live rather than work. Same is true out east in Pasadena and beyond. Orange County, down south, has some action but not much. These are areas you could consider if you have kids or are looking for a more suburban kind of living.
Chances are you’ll want to take advantage of some of the acting training in Los Angeles, but how do you choose where to go? Here are some things to think about.
Obviously. Google’s your friend here, as well as yelp, and even the acting sub on reddit. Once you’ve got a few names that people seem to like, it’s good to get a sample from each of them of what’s taught there. Pre-pandemic, you could audit classes, where you visit and observe a class. Some studios have transitioned to offering audits over zoom, but others have dropped their audits all together, making it harder to see the quality of training.
When you need answers, you’ll likely get them by chatting with people at the studio. Call or email them, and ask about what philosophies or methods they follow, about the format of classes, and about how often you’ll get a chance to work in class. Often these studios are named after someone, so ask if you get to take classes with the founder or not. Sometimes founders no longer teach, or only work with a small group of students.
I think it’s just as valuable to learn about the business aspects of things as it is to learn technique. So ask how much class time is devoted to things like agents/managers, the ins and outs of the business, or networking with casting. It’s important to know how these things can move your career forward.
Here are some studios to explore. I’ve either taken classes with them or have friends who have had good experiences with them.
Driving in LA
Los Angeles and the State of California take their liscencing laws very seriously. Legally, you have ten days to get a new driver’s license with your new address. Don’t sweat this, plenty of people ignore it for months. But eventually, the only way to do it is to go to the DMV, which is as bad as you imagine it will be. Luckily you can make an appointment online. Do this. It will save you time. The DMV is a necessary evil you’ll need to deal with to avoid tickets. Speaking of, LA is also very serious about aggressively protecting pedestrians. Drivers really do respect crosswalks and lights here, and most sit on their brakes as pedestrians cross the street, more so than in other cities. The penalties for endangering pedestrians are harsh. Likewise, pedestrians also have to follow road rules. They only cross streets using crosswalks, and almost never cross without a walk signal. They’re also often ticketed for jaywalking. Consider yourself warned. As far as parking, it’s a challenge anywhere in the city, less so in the valley. Parking meters are still cheap, and enforcement has been lax to nonexistent during the pandemic. That will change and when it does, municipalities will be back to their old aggressive-ticketing selves.
Do I need a car in LA or can I walk/bike/take public transit?
There are actors who live in LA without cars, but most of them spend a lot of money on Uber. The fact is that driving is often the most efficient way to get around town, even though traffic can be a nightmare. If you need to get from Burbank to Santa Monica for back-to-back auditions (which hopefully you will once the pandemic eases up), that’s something that can take hours on public transit, but at the right time of day it’s under an hour in a car. Given the heat and the need to look good when you arrive to your audition, biking around town is not practical. There are no showers at casting offices. Also, LA drivers are notoriously ignorant of how to share the road with bikes, making it unsafe for bikers. People do walk, but distance and terrain matters. Often it’s physically impossible to walk from home to an appointment because it’s just too far away, or there’s a lack of sidewalks, or an abundance of hills. There’s really no one “rule” about alternative transportation in LA, other than the fact that without a car, you’ll spend much more time and energy on planning how to get around.
Groceries in LA
Here’s a rundown of the most common stores:
Ralph’s: Good selection, middle-of-the-road pricing. Good rewards program that lets you get discounts on gas at Shell stations. If you do a lot of driving, this is the place to shop just for the gas rewards.
Vons: Virtually the same as Ralph’s except discounts at Chevron stations.
Pavillion’s: Smaller cousin of Ralph’s and Vons.
Smart & Final: Cheap. B-grade produce. Off brands. Once in a while you get lucky with a decent brand at a super cheap price.
Gelson’s: Where celebs get their groceries. High prices, but high quality stuff to go with it. Their produce is great. Their meats are crazy expensive.
Trader Joe’s: Parking nightmares aplenty because all the lots are so small. LA people are insane about TJ’s, so much that I think it might be a cult.
Whole Foods: Generally better parking than TJ’s. Pricey. Bunch of stuff here you’ll try once and never use again. Good smoothies, though.
Apartment Life in LA
The median home price in LA county this year is $710,000, which is why everyone rents. To find a place, apartments.com is a good starting point. Hotpads.com, craigslist and Facebook groups can be good resources. I also like therentalgirl.com. Once you decide on a neighborhood, it’s good to just walk or drive around and call numbers on rental signs. Some mom and pop management companies don’t have websites, so you have to actually talk to people to get details.
As far as quirks, you’ll frequently see listings that do not include refrigerators. There’s a healthy used fridge market on Facebook for this very reason.
Rents are sky high, but most apartments are rent controlled (does not apply to single family homes), meaning the landlord can’t raise you more than a couple percent each time you renew. However, large rent bumps are common with tenant changes. Some places are currently offering deals like free months on yearlong leases or free upgrades. Many apartments come with parking but plenty don’t, so make sure you know what you’re paying for. Pools can be important, especially in the valley where it’s usually 10-15 degrees warmer than in the city.
The COVID Factor
Mask wearing is very big in LA. You won’t get into any store without one and will get funny looks if you’re bare-faced in public. Angelinos are on board with the idea that wearing a mask can help stop the spread, and although we don’t like it, we do it. So be prepared to wear a mask in public, and if you’re anti-mask, you’re going to be very frustrated here. So maybe just stay where you are.
The entertainment industry has developed protocols to allow TV and film production to continue while keeping cast and crew as safe as possible. You can read more about them at FilmLA.
Food trucks in LA
LA has a vast number of great restaurants, but the food truck culture here is amazing. You can get anything from lobster rolls to soft serve ice cream from a truck. The food’s inventive, the prices are decent and the people are friendly. And thanks to the weather, food trucks operate year-round. When you get here, treat yourself to a midnight burrito in the parking lot of a closed car wash. It’ll be the best burrito you ever had.