Sunday, July 12, 2009

Choose your rut

There is a sign on an muddy dirt road: "Choose your rut carefully. You'll be in it for the next 26 miles."

Mary and I chose Austin, Texas. As ruts go, it's pretty awesome. As major movie projects go, well, we're kind of in a rut.

Other actor friends of mine chose L.A. As big studio movie projects go, it has been, and still is, the place to be. As a place of business, L.A. looks like it's becoming a pretty big rut, according to this op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Casting director and actor Mark Sikes, along with millions of other people, think L.A. is the bee's knees. Mary and I thought it was pretty cool, too, though with all the usual caveats- too expensive, traffic sucks (REALLY sucks, not like Austin traffic sucks), and smog, though it's gotten better. As a young single person, I think it would be great. As an old married couple with kids looking for a house and good schools, not so much. Especially not as a struggling actor. But Sikes is quick to note "[Y]ou'll be here ten years minimum. If that sounds like a prison sentence then you might want to get out now. "

Hey, every place has it's good and bad.

The Texas legislature recently passed historic incentives to lure productions back to Texas. I was in Shreveport for an audition last week, and a fellow actor mentioned that the Louisiana just passed higher incentives to keep productions there. More rut for us? *Sigh...*

One attraction of states like Texas or Louisiana is the absence of city and state income taxes, like the ones that Newcombe's WSJ article rails against. You also get a lot of quality life for your money. Summer is hotter, but we don't have earthquakes. Shreveport is nice, but basically a gambling town. My agent once offered my wife and I the chance to run her New Orleans office years ago, but I'm opposed to drowning in hurricanes. A well-known movie and television star once confided to me: "Hell, yes, I'd prefer to live in Austin. What actor wouldn't? But L.A. is where the work is."

With so much capability in the hands of independent filmmakers, and the old studio model changing under our feet, it is important to look at TQL- the Total Quality of Life package for whichever rut you choose.

For us, Texas, and Austin in particular, is pretty hard to beat. Forbes Magazine agrees, with Texas claiming the top five spots for Best Big Cities for Jobs in 2009. Austin is usually near the top of most such lists, whether it's CNN, Kiplinger, U.S. News and World Report, or acting colleagues. Most actors are unemployed most of the time, so we need other jobs to make ends meet. Those jobs are getting harder to find in L.A., even waitstaff jobs, the actor's bread-and-butter gig!

So when you're considering where to hang out your filmmaker shingle, choose your rut carefully. You'll be in it a long time.

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