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New York vs Los Angeles: The Industry Showdown

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For many years I have considered moving to NYC. I love the east coast. I have often been told, and even more often felt, that I am more of an east-coast than west-coast person. I love the city, the creative vibe, the infectious energy. To help me solve this NY vs LA dilemma, I called upon some of my amazing friends to ask them about their thoughts about the industry in these two markets. This is a longer article than usual, but FULL of information so buckle up!

Let me introduce:

Stephan Goldbach – Stephan is an actor and producer, known for The Man in the High Castle (2015), Lethal Weapon (2016) and American Horror Story (2011). He currently is a bicoastal actor between LA & NY.

Audrey Rose Joseph – Audrey is a dear friend who I met on Newsroom back in 2014! She is an actor, producer and 1st AD currently living in NYC.

MaryLynn Suchan – MaryLynn Suchan is a bi-coastal producer, writer, and actor currently based in LA after spending the previous eight years of her career in NYC.

Anonymous – The friend has decided to stay anonymous, but she is an actor, producer and director who is currently living in LA after completely kicking ass in NYC.

Let’s get to those questions shall we!


Where do you currently live and why did you move from one city to the other?

Stephan: I currently live in NY. I wanted to do some theater here and pop back into some casting offices here. I lived in LA 4 1/2 years and I’ve been back in NY for 8 months.

Audrey:  I lived in LA for 7 years, three years I was in college and then 4 years working in the industry both acting and on the production side as a producer and AD.
I moved to New York when my boyfriend at the time, now fiancé, had been working for the past year in SF and didn’t want to move back down to LA and I didn’t want to move to SF so we met in the middle (figuratively hehe) and decided to move to New York. We didn’t have much of a plan when we moved. We decided after a trip to New York, and within a month we had sold most of our belongings, packed up our car and drove across the country.

MaryLynn: I was in NYC for eight years. I started out as an actor wanting to be on Broadway. Over time, I was in a web series that a group of friends created, and I was hit with inspiration to write my own series with a couple friends. That showed me how much I can take on when I enter the film/tv space, and I was hooked. My series took me through the festival circuit and wound up at a festival called Catalyst. After a couple years of attending that festival and working more as a producer/writer, I began to work on that festival in a producer capacity. After my first year of producing that festival, the execs asked, “When are you moving to LA? That’s where all the work is.” I took a trip out a month later to see if I would want to move, and I made the move happen six months later. That was May of 2018.

Anonymous: I moved to LA because 99% of the series regular roles are cast here, and I was tired of only being considered for co-stars and guest stars. Even though tax incentives have pulled a lot of productions away from California, LA is still the mothership of the film/tv industry, and I believe that if you want to have a career as a lead in a show or film, you need to put in some time here. I lived in NYC for 8 years.

 

How would you describe the LA industry vs NY?

Stephan: In LA, especially in the valley, on the westside and around Hollywood everybody knows a couple people who are in the industry. Your neighbor is, your soccer friend is, your barista is. The industry shapes the metropolis. In NY it doesn’t jump out at you like that, unless you’re on Broadway. And yes, NY is more theatre and musical theatre, LA is more studio pictures and maybe a little more TV but NY has caught up.

Audrey: LA as a city is more consumed with the industry where in NY there are so many people and so many more industries. Film is less prominent. In my experience in LA once you have a script and the green light the first people you hire are your production team, producer, director, AD…But in New York they hire the camera team first. This shift in focus tends to breed a more indy, gorilla style filming. If you hire camera first most of the budget ends up in camera. In New York I’ve found that the production team, producers and ADs sometimes even a director are hired at the last possible moment, just in time to get the show together before shoot days. All in all, LA I think even on the Indy side, really strives to follow union standard where New York does things a little dirtier.

MaryLynn: There is this tangible feeling of the industry in LA that you don’t get in NYC. Part of it is that LA is known as the entertainment capital so it’s naturally everywhere you look, and the other part is that production companies, agencies, etc. are not hidden in skyscrapers. New York is very straight-forward and direct, which I love and appreciate. Everyone in LA is much kinder, but there can be a fake quality, at times, to it because you don’t know who is going to be at the top tomorrow. It drives me nuts! On the flip side, the good people (which are most of whom I’ve encountered) want to genuinely help when they are able to. In NYC, it felt like there were fewer opportunities so people clung to them.

Anonymous: LA seems to be a place where you can either skyrocket very quickly or get lost in the shuffle. In NYC, if you put in the work, eventually you will book some TV roles, but it is a slow and steady progression – and there is a cap on how high you can rise. I believe that NYC casting is a much warmer, friendlier community that values hard work and talent. If you want to be a steady working actor, work in procedural TV and/or you are an attractive but real looking actor, I would recommend NYC. If you are super attractive, young and/or want to have a career as a lead in Film/TV, I would recommend LA.

 

How would you describe the people in LA vs NY?

Stephan: That’s a tough one. I’ve met great people in both cities. In NY you have a chance of running into them. In LA you want to execute your experiences a little more. RIP Jonathan Gold.

Audrey: The people in the industry in LA, and this is not to offend because I have GREAT friends in the industry in LA, but they are a bit self absorbed in their work. It’s hard to get away from it. You go to get coffee and they talk about the film they’re working on and the gear they have and how magnificent or how disastrous  (its never in between hehe) the director or DP or AD is and how they are completely making or breaking the rest of the production. Since everyone in LA works in the industry someway or another, or wants to, this is kind of okay and I think it’s become this way because of that. Also because of this visual medium being so prominent everything in LA becomes a bit showy.

Where on the flip side, in New York, film is much less of a deal so people tend not to get in the weeds about it at a social gathering. It maybe mentioned but often only if you ask. The conversations seem to revolve more around other things, the weather (since its always changing in NY, lol jk, I know it changes in LA too just less drastic), a new pop up, or a bar or restaurant they’d just been to, and inevitably somehow the transit system always gets brought up and more times then not complained about. But I think that is an important point because the transit system is what humbles people in New York. The rich, the poor, the old, the young, the sane, and the bit nutty are all on there together shoulder to shoulder and it grounds you and gives you perspective.

Anonymous: I think that people in LA tend to be more relaxed, tech savvy, business savvy, fairly one dimensional (this is a gross generalization and obviously doesn’t apply to everyone) and transparent about what they want from you. People in NYC put more emphasis on craft and process. They have busy lives and tend to be more multi-dimensional people. They work hard and are more transparent about the fact that it takes an incredible amount of work to achieve success. People in LA seem to “arrive” without wanting to show you the work underneath. In general the people in NYC feel more “real” than people in LA – in both good and bad ways.

 

Is the casting process different?

Stephan: Not really that much. I’d say that mostly depends on relationships with reps and casting.

Audrey: I’m not auditioning anymore, but I was early on when I first moved here. I had left my agency in LA, so I was in a way starting from scratch again. I used Casting Networks (LA Casting but the New York version) that is what brought me the most success in LA before I had an agent, Actors Access, and Backstage. I quickly realized that Backstage is the best resource in New York. I ditched my Actors Access subscription when annual renewal came up. I kept Casting Networks, but not once did I get any traction from it. All the jobs I booked were from Backstage, and when I was casting for a few short films and web-series I got a MUCH higher turn out and much higher quality talent on Backstage.

MaryLynn: I have not been on enough auditions to properly answer this. I moved to LA and told myself that if I did, I wanted a completely new and better life. For me, I couldn’t stand another day working in a restaurant. If I was making the 3,000 mile move to LA, I wanted a career in the industry and a better work-life balance. That meant putting aside acting to work as a producer, and now I’m working on my writing skills to fully round out the career I want: to produce a show I star on.

The one audition I did go on was so lovely. The casting director took her time looking at my resume and made a few kind compliments. She gave me a hug and made the audition room warm and inviting. I never experienced this in NYC. I’m a member of AEA so Broadway auditions are in and out in a matter of 45 seconds to a minute. You have 5 seconds to show personality before your monologue/song and 3 seconds on your way out. Trying to stand out in that process is difficult and the stress level is so high. At this LA audition, people were offering to review sides with me and suggest other places for me to find auditions. It was really lovely.

Anonymous: Yes. In LA, I have had several first read auditions where I sit across the table from casting in a room and never go on tape. I have never had that in NYC. NYC casting seems to care more about actors and who they are as people than the casting community in LA. In NYC, I would feel comfortable saying hi on the street. Not so much in LA.

 

Do you feel people are more creative and entrepreneurial with their career in LA vs NY?

Stephan: Maybe the avenues in LA are generally a little more industry related. I’ve seen people do one woman or one man shows in LA and NY, that’s possible in both places. If you’re a playwright in NY or a sketch comedy writer in LA, there are places to go in either town from there.

Audrey: No, I think it’s pretty equal.

MaryLynn: YES. In LA, people are doing more work in the industry and finding side hustles that don’t take away from their goals. NYC is built upon the theory that the harder you’re struggling, the more grit you have–the edgier you are. I’ve worked 5 jobs in a week to make ends meet and have extra money for savings, and I would burn the candle at both ends constantly. I still work multiple jobs, but I am better about giving myself time off and stepping away from it. In NYC, I see a lot of creatives making their own work, which is wonderful, but it’s also really expensive and time consuming because you have to wear so many hats on the indie level. In LA, people more often seem to be trying to sell ideas/scripts while working in the industry in various capacities to pay the bills.

Anonymous: People are much more creative and entrepreneurial in LA. There are more multi-hyphenates in LA, and people in general seem to be more skilled in various creative roles. Also, actors in LA develop social media followings and understand the value of press.

 

Are the type of shows different?

Stephan: I find it really interesting that comedies set in NY shoot in LA, like Brooklyn 99 or Sunnyside. I assume it’s the tradition of the studio / sound stage TV production, but also LA has somewhat more of a comedic vibe, is maybe a little more light hearted. NY tends to come up with some grittier stuff.

Audrey: Yes, and no, I think LA has every type of show. New York definitely has more cop shows, and more dramas and far less sitcoms or live studio audience productions. Mostly because the big studio lots are MUCH smaller in New York. If you are interested in Theater there is way more in NY, everything from dinner theater and non-union blackbox to the major leagues of Equity Broadway

MaryLynn: There are just so many more shows being filmed out here. It was so hard to get auditions on TV shows in NYC and even harder to get an agent. One time, I did a pay-to-play, and the agent was complimenting my marketing materials, spreadsheets (shocked, right?) of auditions and industry people I knew, and he really liked the sides I chose. I said, “I’ve heard similar feedback from multiple agents now, and I just want to know what would keep you then from calling me tomorrow? Whatever that thing is, I can work on it and progress, but I need to know.” and he said, “No, I promise I will look at your website and reach out.” He never did, and I followed up twice. I didn’t need any more compliments. I needed an agent, and those pay-to-plays were let downs every time.

Anonymous: Yes, NYC thrives on procedurals (Law & Order:SVU, Blue Bloods etc.), more serious shows (Madam Secretary, Succession, Billions) and grittier films and TV. LA has a majority of the comedies, lighter dramas + network shows.

 

Are the “types” of characters different in LA vs NY?

Stephan: Yes. More so in where the shows are set though. If you want to represent LA or NY authentically you’ll write and cast that way. And then again back to 6 – LA maybe a bit more comedic, light hearted, NY a bit more gritty. But it’s really hard to base career choices on that.

Audrey: Yes, in New York there are more stereotypes, not to say that characters aren’t dynamic but they are just a bit more theatrical also as a blond, I find I have far less competition out here and I stand out more.

MaryLynn: I also don’t think I can answer this. I’m more of a comedic actor so there were not a lot of shows for me to audition for in NYC unless I went dramatic. I have emotional availability and love a good cry, but my resume lends itself to comedy, and it’s hard to break that.

Anonymous: I think it’s more a different flavor of character than different type. For example, the professionals are more buttoned up and subtle in NYC. In LA, the professionals have more personality.

 

Do you think it’s easier to book Co-stars in LA vs NY?

Stephan: I think that really depends on who you are. In LA casting and producers see a lot of different people, and I think if you’re somewhat of a unicorn, there’s a chance you’ll go out more in LA.

Audrey: I think its about the same, ratio to ratio, actors to opportunities, number wise I’d guess it’s pretty close. I think it just depends on what works better for you.

MaryLynn: I do believe so based on what I hear is happening for my friends out here! YES, easier in LA.

Anonymous: NYC

 

Do you have an agent in NY? What was that relationship like? Did you have an agent in LA?

Stephan: My agency reps me in both markets. Bi-coastal is complicated if you’re not at a certain stage in your career. Can you afford to fly in on short notice? Is it easy for you to maintain two places? If the casting offices and producers already know you well, it’s definitely easier.

Audrey: I do not have an agent in New York. I did have any agent in LA. I really liked my agent in LA but when I decided to move they were supportive but didn’t have the ability to follow me. In New York, I met with a few and it never quite clicked right, and I transitioned more into the production side and I work now pretty exclusively as an AD so I just stopped looking.

MaryLynn: No… never could land one. Searched a little out here, but being a multi-hyphenate, I need the right agent to understand what I’m doing.

Anonymous: I had a manager there. (I do here as well.) My NYC manager acted more like an agent and I got WAY more auditions. My managers here are more focuses on the long term trajectory of my career. I rarely get in the room, but when I do, it is for leads or big projects.

 

Any other bits of advice for someone who’s considering a jump from LA to NY?

Stephan: If you want to go the road of making a name for yourself through Off Broadway Theatre and you like hustle and bustle and a lot of weather, NY is a great place. If you’re more of an outdoor person and don’t mind driving, LA is a great place.

Audrey: I would say come out for a two weeks or longer, get an airbnb and try to live like a local. Don’t do anything touristy, buy groceries, use the transit, and really get a feel of what New York living is. If that has better quality of life for you than LA then make the move. At the end of the day if you are happy with the energy of the city, you will be successful and happy in your life. If you are miserable where you are living each audition becomes a challenge that needs to give you an excuses to endure. Bringing that into an audition will not make someone want to work with you. They are very different cities and personally I prefer New York, but I grew up in Chicago so I’m drawn to big cities and public transit. I’m also not a fan of driving and I’m allergic to palm trees so LA was not a great environment for me to thrive. In my 2 and a half years here I have been more successful, more relaxed, less stressed, and overall been healthier mentally and physically. You need to find what is best for you and you alone. Everything else will fall in line

MaryLynn: DO IT. Do not hold back, but be smart about it. If you have a job upon landing, I highly recommend it. I did not, but I saved up about $8,000. Looking back, I wish I saved more. At least $10,000, but $15,000 would have ben really great. Do not hire movers because it’s a headache and a lot of money. If I could do it again, I would’ve sold everything and bought new upon landing. The work is in LA so you definitely have to do it, but it is a huge adjustment and an isolating city so I think it’s important to prepare yourself for as much as possible so those difficult days are not too overwhelming. Save your money (have enough aside to get settled and find work for two months), figure out where you would want to live, how much can you afford for rent, car budget (or live near public transit, but I don’t recommend it), work (get a gig outside the industry right away/reach out to your contacts before you land), prepare those resumes and buy a box of tissues because it is not easy, but even at my poorest ever, LA gave me a better quality of life that New York.

Anonymous: Make sure you have enough money to pay the rent and sustain yourself. NYC is expensive. Very, very expensive. Dive head first into the theatre community. Drop off your p/r to casting and ask to be a reader for them.


Well this has certainly given me a lot to chew on… Anyone else considering the move? I would love to hear from you through Instagram @deborah_lsmith.

Deborah Lee Smith

About Deborah Lee Smith

Deborah Lee Smith is an award-winning actor, producer, and founder of “More Than You See”, a non profit organization dedicated to sharing stories and resources surrounding the daily struggles of mental health. Recent projects include “Here Awhile” starring Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect), and “Last Three Days” starring Robert Palmer Watkins (General Hospital). Deborah is also a regular contributing staff writer for the entertainment website “Ms. In The Biz”.