The Call to Adventure

You might be a little crazy to move to a country with a notoriously bad health care system the same day you were diagnosed with a chronic illness.

You certainly would have to be out of your mind to move there to pursue a dream of making movies.


by Madeleine Parker

Luckily for me the protagonist of this story is a complete bag of nuts so my call to adventure was six months in Los Angeles in an unpaid traineeship at Lawrence Bender Productions and at the same time self funding and shooting my second short film Wolf Girl.

They say Los Angeles is the city of angels but I prefer to call it the city of angel dust, anything is possible while you are in it, kind of like a chemical induced mania but we all know that come downs are no fun especially from PCP.

I’ve taken a few aspirins and have an ice pack on my head so I am ready to talk about the good the bad and the ugly of what many foreign filmmakers ponder: moving to LA.

They say Los Angeles is the city of angels
but I prefer to call it the city of angel dust.

Plan Before You Fly

First off the visa process might send you leaping from a tall building before you have even had a chance to step on US soil or at least in your city’s US embassy and that’s definitely an experience you don’t want to miss. Just remember you’re guilty until proven guilty and don’t you forget it. Nothing worth doing is ever easy so try not to be discouraged at the early stages.

It took me three months of job hunting, mountains of paperwork and a lot of money orders before I got the stamp in my passport.

Unless you are from a country town, arriving in LA can be a pretty disappointing experience, unlike NY which is instantly exploding with excitement. LA takes a while to reveal itself and once you get into the swing of the business of show you realize why everyone comes here, the magic word is movies.

Caught Up In Hollywood

If you live and breath cinema like I do then you will connect with the pulse of this place. Getting caught up in the Hollywood scene is an easy thing to do, but if you are genuinely there for films, the gloss will wear thin pretty quick. The focus will be on meeting the right people, not those who will ‘make’ your career but those who will inspire it.

If you are genuinely there for films,
the gloss will wear thin pretty quick.

When I decided to direct the script inspired by my recent diagnoses with Lupus, I was in the right place to make it happen. Compared to making my first film in Sydney, shooting a film in LA was like ordering a morning coffee: routine.

Being completely inexperienced played a huge part in my first experience but the main factors were cost and commitment. In Sydney I had felt completely on my own; without support from a film community I was taking stabs in the dark. My first and second short film both had the same budget but the production values were very different.

In Sydney I had felt completely on my own.

A-List Script Advice

Working for Lawrence Bender I had access to his very talented development executive, Janet Jeffries. Janet read my script and gave me the honest feedback I needed.  I’m not sure how blunt she would have been if we hadn’t spent time dissecting the crazy place that is Hollywood over cups of tea and debating our favorite films.

Her advice was invaluable and helped me better visualize how my screenplay would translate to screen.

Thousands of people in Hollywood share the same dream as you but instead of looking at them like they will be  competition, which is what I heard over and over before I left Sydney, I utilized their passion and knowledge to help my cause.

United We Stand

When there is a large group of people with the same interest combining resources and facilities, it means everyone gets a better product and higher production values. This is what seems to happen in LA that is missing in other cities.

Everyone gets a better product.

The casting houses use this idea by offering free casting space and equipment for directors. In exchange, the actors who come in for castings have the option of watching their read online for a small fee.

LA casting has a huge community of people working with the same goal in mind: getting booked. So posting professional casting calls is free and for my first casting over thirty actors showed up for non paying rolls.

Of the dozens of film schools in the area, the students who are starting out have the mentality that working on more films means more experience. So most of them do not expect to get paid more than $50-100 a day with meals and mileage. These guys know what they are doing and they do it with dedication.

These guys know what they are doing
and they do it with dedication.

Fun Versus Film

On the contrary, in Sydney my offer for $400 per day for a four day shoot was being turned down by all the crew I rang and I eventually shot with a passionless skeleton crew of three.

The only saving grace in Sydney was Mike Molloy, my cinematographer, who has worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick. His experience was gold. I might never have made it to picture lock without him but getting him involved was pure luck.

My LA cinematographer was equally as talented and a whole lot more crazy. The legalities about shooting permits and the threat of being sued, fined or thrown in jail are all very real in LA. If you are caught shooting gorilla style (a favourite of mine), lack the proper supervision when shooting with children or animals or if you do not break at exactly the right moment for lunch according to California law … you’re in for a whole lot of attitude from your crew.

My LA cinematographer was equally as talented

and a whole lot more crazy.

The idea of not taking yourself too seriously is very much an Australian thing so I had a better experience shooting in Sydney but I had better production values in LA. And although both are important the key to me is the film I ultimately present to the audience.

-Madeleine Parker

3 Comments

  1. David Di Muro May 2, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Wow! What an amazing story. It is obvious by reading between the lines that the LA industry is focused, professional and holistic. Something which we lack here.

    Like you I have posted casting calls with full MEAA pay rates and had ten applications and only two people actually turn up to the audition. The rest called and asked if they could reschedule because an “emergency” had come up at the last second. What a joke and what a lack of professionalism.

    Congratulations on your experience and your film.

    • Madeleine May 4, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

      David, isn’t it crazy how it works… completely backwards. You would think that the less opportunities there are for people in an industry, they would be motivated to surround themselves with as much experience/work as possible. However that’s not what is happening here and I just cannot figure out why.

  2. Ashley May 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    So you finally made the movie,FANTASTIC! Where can we see it ?

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