Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Los Angeles vs New York

I thought I'd take a break from the relentless plugging of Hell Froze Over to offer you, my readers, some lovely insights into how LA works. And this came about in a very surprising way; namely, a casual friend of mine from New York called me during the holidays a few months ago, in despair, and asked if I could give her some career advice. I'll call her Miss New York, because she is totally and completely a New Yorker in every way.

My first thought, honestly, was that she was insane. Not because she was asking me for advice -- I give advice all the time, and not always asked for, but I have been told I'm a good listener and I like to think that I'm an almost-wise-sage-in-training. At least, that's what I tell myself as I notice my zen pep-talks gathering to a crescendo around the 20 minute mark. But I was astonished that Miss New York was asking ME for advice -- because this is a girl who is drop dead gorgeous, has a ton more contacts and opportunities than I do in the industry at this time, and oh yeah, her modeling picture (done by a famous photographer, naturally) is hanging in the Hollywood Arclight right now.

Readers, if you ever hear me blog about MY picture hanging in the Arclight, it's probably my driver's license that was left in a woman's bathroom stall and now it's posted on the Lost and Found wall. I rest my case.

But I agreed to meet with her over coffee, wondering what I could possibly offer her besides a four minute "Don't worry, it'll get better" speech and maybe an awkward "I haven't known you very long" hug. So there I sat, in the coffee house, checking text messages as Miss New York collapsed into the chair opposite me and told me that she didn't understand Los Angeles and was thinking of quitting and going back to New York.

"Don't do that," I said automatically, because it breaks my heart to see people I care about feel broken by this city.

"But LA is so different," she said, and I nodded sympathetically, having no idea what she meant. So I thought about it, and asked.

"What do you mean, LA is different? How is New York different from LA?"

"In New York, it's all business. If you're not on the ball and totally professional, showing up early to business meetings and looking completely polished and put together, you don't get work. That city will chew you up and spit you out if you don't know what you're doing."

I thought about LA, with the hoards and legions of actors and actresses and producers and directors and writers who show up to auditions and meetings late, dirty, frazzled and clearly have no idea what they are doing. New York IS different, apparently.

"So what's the problem with you being in LA? I figure that if you're more professional than most of the other actors out there, you'll blow the competition away," I pointed out.

Miss New York nodded. "That's what I thought too. But instead I have to show up to all these parties and network and schmooze and then none of it goes anywhere. And I manage to insult people without really trying."

I thought about this too, and then it occurred to me. So I asked.

"How are your relationships with people?"

She blinked, understandably confused. I repeated my question. Her forehead scrunched. "I guess they're...okay? Do I need relationships with people?"

And suddenly I knew exactly what she needed from me and why I was there. I leaned forward and told her that I was going to tell her a secret, the huge difference between New York and LA. Her eyes widened.

New York is business, I told her. Los Angeles is relationships.

And there you have it. You don't even have to read any more of this blog if you choose not to. But you might want to stick around for the explanation.

New York is business meetings, business lunches, and people are brusque, professional, and don't take things personally. If you audition for someone, you might be a really nice person who goes to church with the director's grandmother, but that doesn't mean you are going to get the part.

In Los Angeles, relationships are everything. There are so many people in this town, so people want to connect, and not feel lonely, and if you cultivate a relationship with an agent or a casting director, then that agent or casting director will start pulling for you and doing their job for you, because they know you. Because there's a relationship. People who move to LA and don't know anyone don't get very far.

Miss New York looked skeptical, so I found another example. "You have some of the most aggressive drivers in the country, right?" She agreed, although we both noted that Boston (::shudder::) is the worst. Well, of course Boston is the worst. If you lived in a city of one way streets that you may never see again if you missed turning onto one of them, you would drive through crosswalks to get to your street too.

I digress.

"But you don't have too much road rage, do you?" I asked. She shook her head no. "Right," I told her. "This is because in LA it's a PERSONAL INSULT when you cut someone off."

Miss New York looked a little alarmed, and I thought to myself, This is probably explaining to her right now why she pisses off people without even trying. And why she probably gets honked at a lot.

So what I thought was going to turn into a twenty minute You Poor Thing conversation turned into a four hour long psychological analysis of how LA operates differently from New York. And it really is all personal. For example, when Miss New York told me that someone let her down by not showing up for an event that they were supposed to work together, she fired off an angry email at that person, and then was surprised that this person didn't want to work with her again. "It wasn't personal," she explained. "That person just did a bad job and I needed to let her know it was unacceptable and unprofessional."

"Right," I said. "However, because you pointed out what she already knew, you turned her guilt into anger, and now not only is she not going to work with you, but she's going to make sure her ten closest friends won't work with you either." Miss New York looked dismayed.

"But I'm the best person for that job!" she said.

"It doesn't matter," I said. "Because it's all about relationships in this town, and you just ended eleven relationships. People you've never even met before don't like you now."

But it wasn't all bad news. We analyzed some stuff Miss New York had done in the past, but we also figured out how she could move forward, repair some relationships (relationships are almost always repairable -- that's the good thing about them) and she learned to not be as blunt or direct as she had been with people who, understandably, take things personally.

We hugged a hug of genuine friendship as she left the coffee house that night, and I have a feeling she'll do just fine in this town. Not because of me, per se. Because Miss New York did her first LA thing when she called me and asked for my advice. She cultivated a relationship and it helped her discover what she couldn't have discovered on her own.

I love LA.


Elle said...

i'm pretty bad about relationships too! I want to live in New York. In a really fancy apartment. That my television series paid for.

Kristin said...

You are right on. Maybe that's why I like New York better at the moment... On the negative side, people know this in LA and we all get bombarded by people who bullshit about how great and important they are when they are not. That's so annoying :) Whatever. I still love LA!

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