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Welcome to Los Angeles

Jeremiah writes:

I’m moving to LA in 2 weeks to do the PA thing and possibly do some extras work with Central Casting (while I pursue writing and directing). I know, it is ill-advised to move out there right now but I’m doing it anyway. I was wondering if you could tell me your thoughts on a few issues.

1) I read the PA Handbook that you posted on your site recently. It mentions that wearing a fanny pack full of useful things is a good idea. What do you think? Would I be the laughing stock of the crew to arrive on set wearing a fanny pack? I’ll already be the new guy and don’t want to be “the fanny pack guy.” How about a messenger bag? How do you keep track of all the stuff you use? I’m sure holding sides as well as everything else you might need to keep track of can be tough without a bag?

2) I have the opportunity to stay in West LA near where the 405 and the 10 intersect. Or I can stay in Studio City about a mile from Universal. Where would you advise staying if given the choice? Rent is exactly the same in both places. I’m not one for the night life so that really doesn’t factor in. I just want to be in the right area for work.

Now is really not the worst time, Jeremiah. While the economy is bad, it’s bad everywhere. If you’re not going to have a job, you might as well not have a job here.

Besides, production is picking up, at least compared to a few months ago. Nobody shoots in December. Pilots are getting picked up to series, so they’ll be hiring soon, and there are movies here and there. You just have to know where to look.

Regarding your first question, well, the PA Handbook is a little old. It also recommends you carry a roll of quarters and call the production office every half hour. It’s like they didn’t have cell phones in 1999! (I plan on writing an annotated version, soon, to bring it into the 21st century.)

Your instincts are right– a fanny pack is a ridiculous idea. In fact, I don’t carry any kind of bag at all (other than my computer bag, if I’m in the office). Like most PAs, I wear carpenter jeans or cargo shorts, which have more than enough pockets for a production assistant’s needs.

I always carry at least two pens (because the director will want to borrow one, and he’ll never give it back), a sharpie, a small notepad (for my poor memory), and my cell phone (on vibrate, of course). Depending on the type of gig, I’ll also bring a flashlight and a pair of gloves. Work gloves from OSH or Home Depot will do. Don’t bother spending money on Set Wear; it’s not like you’ll be carrying hot lights.

As for your living location, either of those places are fine. The thing is, you never know where you’re going to be shooting. Even if you are working on an NBC show, that doesn’t mean they’re filming on the NBC/Universal lot. You could be shooting at Hollywood Center Studios, like Heroes.

I’m surprised that you say they’re the same price. West LA is usually quite expensive. Have you looked at the apartments? I’d be willing to bet the Studio City place is nicer.

Good luck, and welcome to Los Angeles!

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12 Responses

  1. “Heat”? Where are you from?

    If you’re coming from anywhere in the northern part of the country, you will never have to worry about heat.

  2. While we’re on the shoes run: Converse look artsy and such, but you’ll have the worst back problems EVER standing for 14 hours on the tissue paper those call soles. Wear some real sneaks.

  3. Thanks Anonymous, and to everyone else for the input. The place in West LA is an older house and its definitely a unique situation – friend of a friend kind of thing. The apartment in Studio City is WAY nicer. I’m leaning in that direction but the heat is definitely a factor.

    Good to know that things are picking up. Makes me feel better about the move. I’d love to read an annotated PA Handbook. Go for it.

    Does anyone have anymore tips for an LA Newbie?

  4. When I first started in the biz — yes, as a PA — I asked the vastly more experienced grips and juicers about steel-toed boots. To a man, they said no. Those metal toes might protect you from small injuries, but if your steel-toed foot happens to get caught under something really heavy (like a tail gate), the steel in the boot will be crushed onto your hapless toes, and thus be extremely difficult to remove. The end result could be amputation.

    Better to break a toe than lose it. Besides, a set PA can expect to be on his/her feet 12 to 14 hours a day — and those steel-toed boots are heavy…

  5. Steel toed boots? Man, I really need to re-read that thing.

    Final Girl is right. Wear comfortable, durable shoes, but don’t go crazy.

  6. Just don’t wear heels and you’ll figure the answers to all your questions on your first day on set. Just a cell phone and a notepad and a car and a brain.

  7. Back to the wardrobe bit: It sounds stupid, but wear a good belt. Walkie talkies keep getting lighter, but they still drag your pants down (and by the end of the day, they bend your spine). I used to like wearing a chest harness similar to this one:

    http://www.motorola2wayradios.com/hands-free-holster.html

    (Don’t let the unhappy, dorky looking model fool you. These are great except over bulky cold-weather gear.)

    You can also find bigger ones with more pockets for carrying more stuff, but I’m pretty sure that moves you three notches back toward the fanny-pack-dipshit look.

  8. I second West LA. I used to live in the valley and would have to get over the hill which can cause headaches (depending on time of day) and yes, the summers will be hot and the Valley will be hotter…always surprised at how hot Canoga Park or Woodland Hills gets.

    Cargo shorts work fine. I saw a PA on my last gig wearing one of those Home Depot things that go around your waist in is really one big pocket. No, not the orange ones you see . He stuffed pens, call sheets and wore it backwards so he just reach into his back to grab whatever he needed. I thought it was a great idea.

  9. I work at CBS Radford quite a bit, right in the heart of Studio City, and in the summer it’s hotter than hell. If you like 100 degree days, — and nights — it’ll be fine. If not, you’ll rack up some fat AC bills from May through November. West LA will be more crowded and hectic, but it’ll also be at least 20 degrees cooler, and a lot closer to the beach, for those unemployed days in your immediate future. Given the nature of the biz, even a veteran has plenty of down time — as a newbie coming to town, unemployment will be your defaut setting. But don’t let that stop you — most of us faced the same seemingly impenetrable wall, and managed to get through one way or another. You will too.

    On other thing to factor in is the air — it’s generally a lot cleaner in West LA, especially in the summer, although maybe not if you’re living right up against the 405. All things considered, I’d take the crappy apartment in West LA over fancier Studio City digs in a heartbeat.

    In terms of work, it doesn’t matter where you live. Just be prepared to do a lot of driving…

  10. Ah, thank you very much for clarifying about the fanny pack! What I would like to know is: will I really need steel-toed boots on set?

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