Thursday, August 16, 2012

Leaving Hollywood: Sometimes We Have to Go "There" to Make it Here.

For more than 100 years, stars and starlets from the hinterlands – places such as Nebraska, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Canada – have trekked west to Hollywood, to find fame and fortune in the cinematic arts. Packed into their bags were hopes, dreams, dancing shoes, good hair, killer cheekbones and raw ambition. Something else that many brought was a perspective on life and people who live outside the world of movies and entertainment. Arguably, knowing who movie audiences are and how regular people live regular lives enriches how they write, produce, edit and star in films.

So if you grew up in LA, is there something you’re missing?

Perhaps. It’s hardly the case that the Los Angeles-raised individual is handicapped at making a career in film. The opportunities to train in the industry are here, with acting and film schools drawing people from around the world. It doesn’t hurt to have an uncle, and high school classmate or someone you caddy for at the golf course to be in the industry, someone who can help you get your own start.

But entertainment in general and the movie industry in specific exist outside of Hollywood. The sheer size of Bollywood and its audiences is the most obvious example. A Website,, the College Foundation of North Carolina, encourages young people in that state to observe how on-location shooting and digital technologies undermine the assumption that a film career needs to be developed in Southern California.

Another example is the New York Film Academy, which has campuses in both Los Angeles (at Universal Studios) and Manhattan, but also at Disney Studios near Orlando, in Europe (Florence and Paris), Asia (Kyoto, Shanghai and Beijing), South Asian (Mumbai and New Delhi), the Middle East (Abu Dhabi) and Australia (Queensland).

School administrators say that studying abroad reflects both the film industry’s hot spots and traditions. But just as important, it provides an opportunity for students to get that experience of going “outside themselves.”

While NYFA has its own LA film school campus – acknowledging that the majority of the industry’s base remains firmly ensconced on the West Coast – it encourages all students to rotate their studies from location to location, if at all possible. Yes, the Angeleno who takes a 3-, 4-, 8- or 12-week class in another city or another country will have to navigate the challenges of travel and housing, currency and language. But who doesn’t have to do that if they want to work on a world stage?

The experience of travel and relocation has an ability to strip a person down to his or her core, away from the social set they may have cultivated and the accomplishments that exist in their past. It was none other than D.H. Lawrence who said, “When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.”

Which is probably what Judy Garland (born in Minnesota), Brad Pitt (Oklahoma), Charlize Theron (South Africa) and perhaps even Zach Galifianakis (North Carolina) had in mind all along.

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