I Haven’t Been to LA in 2.5 Years (and I’m Still Breathing)

16:59 17 June in Musings, Rants and Raves

As I’m writing this I’m en route to Los Angeles for the first time in roughly two and a half years. This flight used to be something that I would do every two months, but once I started grad school at NYU Stern I found myself unable to take a week off for west coast meetings. At first this worried me. Was I going to lose touch with the extensive network I had built and maintained out west? Would CAA stop calling me because they had forgotten what my face looked like? Would three years of hustling go completely to waste? What proved to be true was actually the complete opposite.

Anyone who knows me (and now everyone reading this blog) knows that I absolutely hate LA. Hate it. I find myself slipping into madness if I spend more than a week there.  And I’ve had to live there for a 4-month and 3-month period over the span of 2 years once. I love public transportation, I hate traffic, I’m technically allergic to Mexican food, and my favorite season is winter. They have great sushi, I’ll give them that. My chi is definitely more aligned with New York with many other cities ranking above LA. In fact, the only two places on Earth I’ve been to that fall behind LA are Atlantic City and Mexico.

Personalities aside, I also am not a big fan of the LA indie film industry. And this (not how I think smog is stupid) is the main point me writing today. Los Angeles is viewed as the Mecca of our industry. But just as the Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Atheists, Scientologists, and countless other religions don’t give patronage to the holy city the world of indie film should not pay tribute to a single community. That is not to say that LA is evil to all, it’s just one flavor out of many. I wouldn’t even go as far to say that New York is the perfect film community. It’s not. It is for ME, but it’s not for all the wonderful people in Austin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Cleveland, Nashville, New Orleans, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle.

My opinion of the work ethic and focus of the LA indie film industry largely is a result of the high studio presence in the city. I’m a firm believer that independent film needs to be as independent as possible. The closer you are to the studio system the more influenced by it you will be. As a result in LA I meet more people spinning their wheels, building up hefty development slates that collect dust instead of dollars, moving from job to job due to high turnover rates at production companies, and compromising artistic vision for commercial viability than anywhere else in the film industry. A lot of this is viewed as acceptable because it’s exactly what a red-tape filled, slow to act major studio does. However, in independent film this should be viewed as unacceptable behavior as it does nothing to further our art and furthers our reputation of bad business.

Now that I feel like I’ve slammed the City of Angels enough allow me to also say that it’s not all bad out there. The issue is one of ratios where for every Lynette Howell, Kevin Iwashina, and Drake Doremus you have 300 people pitching you that “awesome” Stone Cold Steve Austin, $35 million budgeted indie film. It makes sense that this is the reality. Just look at the high stakes we as an industry give to people looking to make a break into the biz. The Discovery channel should film the seasonal migrations of young recent college grads heading west to make their start in a mailroom. But guess what, it’s not mandatory to go there. No one is making you and the fact that “there’s more industry” out there is a fallacy. There’s more LA film industry.

As someone that has made six films in three years, 5 of which never needed anyone to step foot in Los Angeles, I can tell you that you don’t need LA. What you need is wherever your heart belongs. Mine is wrapped in concrete and steel, and has subways speeding around under it. Do yourself a favor and don’t begin your career as an independent filmmaker by compromising your self. If you do then you’ve entered the dark realm of compromising everything you love about film.

  • J.

    Curious, James: What do you love so much about winter? Just not a fan of warmth/sunshine/clear blue skies or is it something else?

  • J.

    Also, not that you were saying it was, but just to note: Atheism is not a religion.

  • Brian D. Shields

    Part of me thinks far fewer film school grads would be going to LA if the real estate developers had gotten their way and they took the Hollywood sign down to build more homes in the hills. I’m very glad they didn’t prevail for the sake of cinema history, but that sign falls somewhere between a beacon of hope to young filmmakers and magnet for the future waitstaffs of The Grove.

    Side Note: ‘What you need is wherever your heart belongs. Mine is wrapped in concrete and steel, and has subways speeding around under it” might be my favorite line you’ve written on any post thus far.

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James Belfer - Founder & CEO

James founded Dogfish in 2009 to produce and invest in independent film (in which he made 6 films). He was named by Deadline Hollywood as one of 2012′s 10 Producers to Keep Watching. In 2013 he launched the Dogfish Accelerator program after an inspiring experience working for TechStars in Boulder, Colorado. He’s a Northwestern University graduate and received his MBA from NYU Stern in 2013. He currently is an Adjunct Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he teaches Strategies For Independent Producing. James aspires to be one of the world’s most renowned hermits. He tends to spend most of his free time in South Williamsburg watching cartoons and googling “best Texas BBQ in NYC.” He also runs a monthly meetup called A Presentation of the Deplorable, Bizarre, and Terrible in which he binge watches 10 films in a row that most of the world has never seen (most of the time for glaringly obvious reasons). As of July 2014 only 3 people have attended.