La la la la, la-la la… (to T-Rex song Hot Love)

Vernon Over the last few weeks I have been taking council from several close friends, including DP Vernon Layton, as they have experience of either working or living in LA.

One friend, who I don’t want to name, who now lives in LA, met me for lunch when I was out there and we discussed many things.

One of the things that resonated for me was the notion that LA is about ‘received wisdom…’ and that 80% of people out there don’t have an opinion – so if someone powerful says it is good,  then it must be good. Very few people are prepared to contradict this ‘wise’ view, so the best way in is to find a powerful and ‘wise’ person to back you. This is part of the philospohy of getting a powerful agent I guess (though I think everyone knows an agent is prone to ‘selling’ their client and not ‘the truth’).

Gone Fishing DP Vernon Layton has also been in contact and has bee good enough to us all, to allow me to share his communications…

You’ve carved a strong mark in the UK tree for doing the indie thing and you have a huge global following hanging on your every blog.  Although going to the states might feel a little like quitting a sinking ship, it’s probably worth bearing in mind that this ship has never really floated and with the current economical problems, there’s less chance it ever will.  Ok, there were a few liferafts.  But they were mostly constructed of pretty thin tax-breaks, which probably served to drown more than they actually saved. 

I guess the difference between things here and things there is simply one of perception.  I remember being so aware of that one day when sitting on the end of a 40ft crane arm hanging low out over the junction of Highland and Sunset with the LA police holding miles of traffic in all directions.  The amazing thing was, although we’d do the shot again and again, nobody ever even hooted.  I think if there’d been someone dying in the back of an ambulance, they’d have held it long enough for us to get the shot. 

Over there they see the film business as a money-making industry that hugely helps support the country by generating massive revenues.  So naturally, it’s encouraged and tolerated.  Here though, nobody really knows what it’s all about.  So if you want the truth – and it hurts to say this because very selfishly we hate the thought of you not being here – there’s absolutely no doubt in our minds that you should take the US route whilst it’s still open.  Even if for no other reason than that if you don’t, you’ll always be left wondering about the big ‘If?’.

Is it also possible for Lucia to go with you?  At the time we faced our decision, we had kids established in schools… Despite every effort, even green cards and social security numbers, it soon became very clear that it wasn’t going to happen for all of us.  We tried but we couldn’t make the move work out, so I found myself there alone most of the time – and believe me, it really wasn’t easy.  I soon learnt the meaning of the phrase: ‘divided by a common language’.  I had a couple of English people to connect with but they were frequently away on films.  The rest of the time there were the people I worked with, who only ever seemed to talk about their next project.  The one thing that kept me going was running in the Hollywood Hills – a lonely experience if ever.   Despite them speaking English, it can be a strangely lonely country out there with strange people in a sort of candy-floss, fairground.   You really need people who speak the same language and understand the same innuendo and it appears you’ve already got that.  You already have an infrastructure of ex-pats of a similar age, which is really good news.  So, if you can get Lucia there too, then just go book the flights.

Just remember though.  If you ever need me out there to get rid of a cloud or just make the sun set a couple of hours earlier or later…then in James Taylor’s wonderful words:  “All you have to do is call.”

Best, V

And here is his second email…

On the reverse side of the LA coin, I feel there are a few things I observed that I should mention:-

1).  The fact it’s a money making machine before anything else has an obvious downside.  If you can bear to stick with the low-budget indie stuff, there’s a chance of maintaining a greater degree of control.  If you do get to enter the big-budget arena, you’re in with lions that think they know what’s best for you and the film.  Guess you know this anyway.

2).  The Brit is favourite right now.  Consequently, the UK and it’s wife and half of Europe are there.  So despite there being way more production, the competition’s seriously fierce.

3).  Nobody minds where you came from or what you did before as long as you can convince them you have the potential to make money.  This all sounds great but it can be a double-edged sword when it comes to getting your first full-length feature.  Form figures heavily around the backer’s table when it comes to who gets to direct.

4). Memories are astoundingly short.  Good contacts are everything..  You’ve already got an agent – and you must have one.  But no matter what he/she promises and who they put you together with, they’re only as good as you.  Sounds obvious, but it’s curiously easy to forget.

5). There’s tons of initial verbal enthusiasm but it’s worth remembering that unlike the Brits, they rarely say what they’re actually thinking.  Which is probably why there are so many people out there sitting around doing nothing.

6). Living in LA is not cheap.

7). Finally.  Something, Craig Bernstein, my ICM agent once said to me when I returned from a meeting gushing with enthusiasm:  ‘In LA meetings always go well.’

Best, V

As you can see I am blessed by having extremely wise advisors around me and I am very grateful for this insight from Vern.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

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