Ely Henry is a Canadian actor/improviser/musician living and working in L.A He wrote this post for Canadians, but most of it applies whether you’re living in Winnipeg, Manitoba or Little Rock, Arkansas. You can follow him on twitter @ElyHenry
Every year I get a ton of people asking questions about moving to Los Angeles from Canada for acting. I usually go through the same list every time so I figured it would just make more sense to put it all in one easy-to-check note.
So. Here’s my thoughts.
Where are you at in your career?
First off, you need to see if this move makes any sense. If you’re coming down for acting and entertainment purposes, you need to see if there’s any interest in you down here.
If you’ve got an agent and you’re getting a lot of work or you’re doing a ton of live shows then you’re in a good spot to try and get out to L.A. However, if you don’t have an agent and aren’t doing a ton of live performance and just think L.A. might be a better chance…it’s going to be a lot harder. Not impossible, mind you, but much harder.
No sense moving to a place you’ve never been. Take a week or two and come down to Los Angeles to scope it out. You want to know what you’re going to get yourself into.
You also want to meet with as many managers and/or agents as you can to see if there’s even a point in you moving down from a business perspective.
This is the part that makes people the most uncomfortable, but it has to be done. If you’re serious about really trying to make L.A. work out, then you’ve got to ask for some help. Before your trip down to L.A., call everyone you know who might be able to help you set up meetings.
If you’ve got an agent, tell them you’re going down and ask them to hook you up with any managers they have down in L.A. Email any casting directors who’ve hired you before or who you’ve developed a good rapport with. Just a friendly email telling them you’re going down and asking for any advice they might have and if they know anyone that might be looking for a client like you. Simple. Best case, they have a friend who you can meet or you get some solid advice. Worst case, no response. No harm, no foul.
Ask any and all friends who’ve had success in L.A. for advice. Everyone’s got a unique experience and they might be able to help. Also, see if they’ve got anyone that would meet with you too.
It’s really important to have this set up before you come down. Otherwise, you spend the first six months to a year (at least) looking for representation. And that’s exhausting.
When to visit?
This, to me, is the most important part and the thing people get wrong most often.
If you’re coming to L.A. for the first time, don’t come down for Pilot Season. Literally one million people come to L.A. for Pilot Season. It’s madness. If you’re looking for an agent or manager during that time you’re going to be shit out of luck. They’re all busy pumping the clients they already have into as many rooms as possible. They won’t have time to meet with you.
Pilot Season is kind of all over the place but it’s safely from January to April.
When I first came down it was in May. Everything’s settled down by that time and it’s easier to get a meeting because everyone’s working on getting ready for the upcoming season of shows.
When to move?
Provided you’ve got adequate representation and you’re willing to leave behind socialized medicine, you’re ready to move.
Again, avoid Pilot Season.
Personally, I had great success coming down at the end of the summer. I came down August 29th and it was the perfect warm up before the insanity. All the pilots that are going forward have been picked up and beginning production. This means they’re all starting to audition for guest stars, co-stars and recurring parts. And since you’re not there with the throng of Pilot Season hopefuls you’ve got a better shot at the rooms and the gigs.
This is a really good tip I got from a friend after I got here: resumés in Canada are different than in the U.S.
In Canada roles are called “Principal” or “Lead” or “Actor”.
In the U.S. TV roles are referred to as “Guest Star,” “Co-Star” or “Lead,” and in films as either “Lead” or “Supporting.”
If you’re coming to the States then you want to make sure to redraft your resumé to fit these. Casting Directors out here don’t know what any of the Canadian terms mean, and it might make you miss out on some gigs as a result.
Here’s the basic breakdown: “Guest Star” is a character who’s integral to the plot of the episode. “Co-Star” appears in the episode in a non integral capacity. “Lead” is pretty self explanatory. Also note, by the way, that both “Guest Star” and “Co-Star” can be recurring. So if you’ve been on something for three episodes or more just put down “Recurring” in front of whichever you are.
Be generous with your “Guest Stars” and “Leads” (but don’t lie).
Visas and Citizenship
Honestly, I’m not the best person to talk to about this. I’m a dual citizen from birth. My mom is from the States so I was able to move down with no problems.
I’ve got lots of friends that came down on visas and that’s a whole different bag. If you can afford it, find an immigration lawyer and talk to them. This is one of those things that’s easier with money. Unfortunately.
This country is confusing when it comes to health stuff. Here’s what I did when I first came down. In Ontario there’s a way to get a travel extension on your OHIP for two years (at least, there was when I left, maybe it changed). This allows you to still return to Ontario for any medical treatment for two years. I’m sure other provinces have something similar.
Getting that and travel insurance for when you’re in L.A. is your best bet right away. The travel insurance will cover your ass in the event of emergency and if anything major happens, just hop on a flight back to Ontario and you’re all set.
After you’ve been here for a while…well, that’s its own thing. Thank god for Obamacare because it makes everything a lot easier and cheaper. When you’re ready for full insurance go to coveredcalifornia and look around.
Do I need a car?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: strongly recommend it. You can get around without one, but the transit here is pretty bad and takes a looooong time. You can get everywhere you need to but it’ll take a very long time. So if you’re trying to get to an audition or something…best to avoid public transport.
Where to live?
This is all dependant on what you’re into. I live in Los Feliz which is great because I can walk around. Lots of bars and restaurants within walking distance. Also a couple movie theatres. It’s great.
If you’re used to Toronto or any other big city with great walkability my neighbourhood suggestions are as follows:
If you’re more into the suburban vibe:
…basically anywhere in the valley.
Santa Monica or Marina Del Ray. But you’ll be far from everyone who loves you or cares about you.
L.A. is not for everyone. It’s a strange place. I hated it when I first got here. It took me a good year and a half to really settle in. But some people love it right away. You just have to find a solid group of people to explore it with and you’re in good shape.
Don’t overthink the city. Yes, tons of people come here to fulfill dreams and whatever, but at the end of the day it’s a city like any other. People, food, bars…whatever. Just look at it like you would any other place and don’t get caught up in the “HOOOOOLLLLYWOOOOOD” mentality.
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