I get regular calls and emails from up-and-coming filmmakers and producers who live in places like Des Moines, Omaha, or Albuquerque, and want advice about pitching a TV series or movie idea to Hollywood. Some have even gone to the trouble of filming a entire pilot. Many of you reading this are in a similar position – you have a dream to produce a TV series or movie, but you live somewhere outside of the major media centers of Los Angeles and New York. So what do you do?
I’m not in a position to tell anyone how Hollywood works (it’s one of the great mysteries of life), but here’s a handful of thoughts based on my experience and the experience of numerous friends in the industry that might help:
It’s true that with the dramatic changes in technology, you can produce a movie or even TV series anywhere these days. In fact, Atlanta, New Orleans, Wilmington, Vancouver, and other cities outside Hollywood have become major production centers.
However, while movies or TV programs are being produced in many cities across America and the world, that’s not where the projects are given the green light. For the most part, the decisions to produce the projects are still being made in New York and Los Angeles, so being there is important for pitching and follow up meetings.
As a result, most people in cities outside LA and NY being hired are “below the line” crew members: make-up artists, assistant camera operators, drivers, production artists, assistants, extras, etc. In most cases, the “above the line” positions (Producers, Directors, DP’s, lead actors, etc) are hired and brought in from NY or LA.
Geography matters. The truth is, you’d be surprised at how many projects I’ve produced in Los Angeles that began with conversations with other industry professionals who were also parents at our daughter’s school, someone from church, or a chance meeting at an industry conference – and sometimes at a coffee shop. Meetings often happen at the last minute, and if you can’t drive across town within the hour, you may lose the project.
Early in my career, I tried to make it work living in Oklahoma. But my revelation happened when I was asked to produce a movie trailer for Walt Disney Studios, and ended up doing five roundtrip flights in two weeks. They just wanted me to be there and watch each edit together. At that moment, I realized that if I was serious, I needed to move.
There generally only two exceptions in my experience:
1) Established, bankable filmmakers who have proven themselves. In other words, Steven Spielberg, Emma Watson, or Johnny Depp can live wherever they want. You and me? Probably not.
2) Filmmakers and producers who find funding locally. Many independent filmmakers find funding sources in their local area, so they don’t need a studio relationship – at least until it’s time for distribution. But if you need a studio relationship for funding, supervision, a long term series, or other reasons, then it will be very difficult to live elsewhere.
Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, and no one but you has the final say on your career, but if you’re serious about making major studio and network driven entertainment projects – and you can’t find the funding locally – for the most part geography matters.