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Spotlight: Following the Hollywood dream

Posted: Tue, 4th Jul 2006, 10:09am

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Simon K Jones

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“Real life man,” sighs A.J. Rickert-Epstein, “bills, rent and work.” Nobody ever said that following your dreams was easy, as he’s discovered over the last eight months since leaving his home town of West Chester, Ohio for the big city lights of Los Angeles.

Making the move to California is one thing: earning a living so you can stay once you’ve arrived is something else entirely. We thought we’d catch up with the veteran FXhomer and star of the forthcoming X3i: Divinity feature film to see how things were going.

“I had applied for like fifty jobs while I was still in Ohio getting ready to move,” recalls A.J., “and I didn’t get a single response back. I realised later that no-one looks at applications unless you’re living in LA. Why hire someone who has to move 3000 miles to work for you when there are fifty people already in town that want the same job?”

Having already prepared himself for a difficult transition, A.J. wasn’t going to give up easily. After all, this was something that he’d been preparing for since he was a child: it was the dream of every young filmmaker – to become a Hollywood filmmaker.

Back to the start

A.J. had been introduced to movies at the tender age of two by none other than Beverly Hills Cop, but it wasn’t until ’92 that he discovered his passion for filmmaking when a camcorder found its way into the family home.

After realising that support for aspiring filmmakers in the Cincinnati area was thin on the ground, A.J. began to turn his eyes to the west coast.

“I always figured I’d have to move away from Cincinnati one day if I wanted to pursue filmmaking seriously and I guess that helped me detach myself from the area,” he says with a hint of regret. “There were a few low-key local film festivals but, other than that, not much. I even had to start the M.A.F.I.A. film society at college because nothing existed.”

Having made the decision to leave, he next had to decide on a destination. “I wanted to see what the world had to offer and LA seemed to be the right choice,” he explains. “I wanted to be my own boss in life and I couldn’t really do that in Cincinnati. In LA, I’m able to freelance because of the much larger pool of opportunity. I’m close to the action and the likelihood of good things happening is higher. Freelancing isn’t for everyone, though. It’s often uncertain, sometimes scary, and your taxes are nightmare.”

Uprooting

Moving to an entirely different part of the country is stressful at the best of times, so A.J. was thankful for some family support. “My mom and my dad really support my decision to pursue filmmaking so there were both extremely helpful. My mom helped me plan financially and find an affordable apartment.”

Of course, not everybody is in a position to receive family assistance. Not a problem, says A.J. “Bring some friends with you, work together, make your own support system and kick some ass,” he advises. ”Another thing is it’s expensive here. Figure out your monthly expenses before you arrive and save enough to last six to eight months. It’s quite possible that you’ll be unemployed for that long and it’s hard to go to interviews or auditions if you’re busy selling vacuum cleaners at Best Buy.”

An established education is also crucial, although perhaps not in the way you would expect. A.J. advises against the obvious route of film school, instead recommending majoring in other interests while improving your filmmaking in your own time. “I’ve had a taste of film school and I learned more by making my own films than I ever did in a film class, though it’s different for everyone,” he says. “If you study something different, travel and try new things then you’ll have something more to offer than every film school geek who comes to Hollywood with zero life experience and a head full of Truffaut movies.”

In a town where everybody is an aspiring writer, director or actor, having a unique selling point can take you a long way. Knowing where to look and who to meet is also vital, with A.J. particularly recommending Craigslist.com and Mandy.com for those trying to find their first break in the industry.

The reel world

“The first job I got here was from the manager of my apartment complex, Dave Craig,” recalls A.J., proving that it’s not always what you know but who you know. “He has his own production company so I showed him my reel and he hired me on the spot for a corporate video.”

A personal demo reel can be the key to Hollywood, showing potential employers your true skills in a way that a standard resumé would not. “Make you own shorts before you come to LA, so you have a decent reel,” A.J. recommends. “It’s a visual industry and if you can shoot your own stuff then you are self-reliant. Even if you’re an actor it’s a good idea to be technically proficient so you can support yourself in down-times.”

Putting together a reel before arriving in town is also important due to a rather ironic Hollywood quirk: while being the movie capital of the world, it’s strangely resistant to actual filmmaking. “Everyone is used to people making movies here,” explains A.J., “so it’s more of a nuisance to them. Back on Ohio, I could tell the police about a shoot and they’d hop in their cruiser to come down and watch ‘cause it was something cool to them.” In LA, however, they’re much more likely to simply refuse you permission.

That’s not all, folks

The value of having a high quality demo reel was proven to A.J. recently while working on a 35mm film by the name of Chasing 3000. “You meet a lot of people on a movie like that,” he says, “and I ended up passing my reel around some of the crew.” As a direct result of his impressive reel, A.J. found himself playing multiple roles as an extra as well as doing some second unit directing.

This in turn led to a meeting with the producers, Dan Berg and Brian James Kelly, who also happen to work in Warner Bros syndication. A few weeks later A.J. found himself called into a casting session for a new WB pilot. “They wanted me to act! I was to be the actual cameraman character in the pilot. We shot last weekend in Santa Paula, a town full of olive groves.” Keeping your eyes open and grabbing every opportunity as it flies by is the surest way to hitch a ride to the next level.

Fingerman Returns

Although his burgeoning acting career might indicate otherwise, A.J.’s main goal is to pursue directing. “I figure the best way to be a feature filmmaker is to just be one, so I’m shooting my first one this summer based on the short film Fingerman that Chris (CX3) Cowan and I made a few years back.”

The tentatively titled Fingerman: Dr London and the Triangle Force looks set to follow in the community-minded footsteps of Project One and RECON 2022 by bringing FXhomers together for a good cause. “Cantaclaro is going to supervise special effects and might be a camera operator if he has time, and Aculag expressed some interest in a cameo appearance,” reveals A.J. Another potential project would see A.J. re-teaming with Daywalker writer Logan Nalliah on a shoot that could take them all the way out to Sri Lanka.

So far, it seems that A.J.’s big move has worked out rather well – here’s hoping his career continues to improve in all directions! For anybody else looking to take the leap of faith, he has some final advice: “The successful people out here are the ones who stick to their passions, keep a focused mind. Remain diplomatic, keep your head down and do your job to the best of your ability on every production. It’s awesome living in a city where new things are going on all the time. You’ll discover a lot about yourself and find out if filmmaking is really for you.”

A.J. has kindly offered to answer any questions that you guys might have and says to send him a PM if you have any specific questions about making the big move to LA.

Want to know more?

Posted: Tue, 4th Jul 2006, 10:53am

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ashman

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Fantastic!! I hope everything goes well for you in LA, I wish nothing but good things for you. You are very brave in taking such big steps following your dreams, please keep us posted on how things turn out.

Keep going, never give up!

All the Best
Ash
Posted: Tue, 4th Jul 2006, 11:41am

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Sollthar

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Indeed, I can only repeat what ash already said.

Good luck there AJ, I hope you'll be able to do what you wish for!
Posted: Tue, 4th Jul 2006, 3:44pm

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brennanmceachran

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I wish you all the best!

Brennan
Posted: Tue, 4th Jul 2006, 5:28pm

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b4uask30male

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Well done,
remember us when your at the top.!
Posted: Tue, 4th Jul 2006, 7:51pm

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BackOfTheHearse

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Hey dude, I'll be heading to LA in about two years, persuing my acting career. Maybe we'll get the chance to work together some time.
Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 6:26am

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Lior

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I wish you all the best. My freind moved from Ohio to here in New York. He told me the same thing. NY or Cali is the best for filming jobs. I wish you all the best. Watching your movies clearly shows that you have nothing to wory about making it to the top. I wish you all the best. Your actors especaly Mr. Rain from mortal kombat kicks butt. You guys are an allstar team. Dude i wish you all the best. Looking forward to seeing more stuff.
Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 6:40am

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Waser

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AJ is the man. If it weren't for him, I would have never have stuck around fxhome. I, as everyone else here at fxhome, wish him the best. Also, love that the spotlights are back. Yes!
Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 7:36am

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hahoozhafax

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Ahh, very nice spotlight.

I actually stumbled upon the new Cobra Productions website a while ago so I was wondering how long it would take before AJ's big move was mentioned here. When I discovered he had actually taken the "leap of faith" I was greatly impressed by his success thus far.

Being a native of Ohio myself, I can also vouch for the fact that there's not much around here for the aspiring filmmaker.

Ditto on what Waser said as well. The first few movies that got me hooked on FXHome were some of the stuff that him and Chris did way back when.

And a feature-length Fingerman smile ? Keep 'em coming AJ. All the best to you.
Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 4:29pm

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JT9

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This spotlight inspires me smile. All I can really say is I wish you the best of luck AJ biggrin!
Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 4:58pm

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Serpent

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I too was attracted to FXHome by many users, CX and AJ were on that list (along with ssjaaron, Sollthar, and others). I hope you make it and my best wishes go to you. smile Have fun too.

Last edited Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 5:32pm; edited 1 times in total.

Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 5:12pm

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Harvey

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Yeah, best of luck to you AJ. I hope everything goes well for you. smile
Posted: Wed, 5th Jul 2006, 7:16pm

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starfan

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wish u the best from all of us, and i may see you on set sooner or later as i live in hollywood too smile good luck!!!
Posted: Thu, 6th Jul 2006, 12:26am

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er-no

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Great spotlight and well AJ, couldn't really be pushing the right buttons if you tried? wink

Nice one and well done, I personally know how hard it is to get into the industry and now that I've cracked it myself it's a tough sonnova. I've had some fantastic moments so far with some of the top actors and directors in the world. I'm taking a step back from it now myself though and concentrating on my next short.

Woohar!

And of course... A.J is going to fly me over for a cameo appearance?
cool
Posted: Fri, 7th Jul 2006, 2:05am

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ajjax44

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Hey guys, sorry I haven't responded yet - I've been busy working on Fingerman. Thanks for all of the comments and good wishes! I really appreciate it. I hope I get to meet/work with those of you who live in LA at some point. We should have a myspace page for Fingerman by the end of July. I'll post it in the forums somewhere when we do. Sorry Im' so brief, but I gotta get back to work. Later guys!!!

PS - Er-no, I'd fly you out if there was room in the budget!! Maybe next time dude

Last edited Tue, 18th Jul 2006, 2:40pm; edited 1 times in total.

Posted: Fri, 7th Jul 2006, 2:12am

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er-no

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Looks like I'll just have to fly myself out with my kit.

wink
Posted: Wed, 12th Jul 2006, 9:48pm

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Evman

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Very nice and inspiring spotlight.

I just went over to LA for a week's vacation to check it out. I looked into some film schools, took some studio tours, and of course, went to Disneyland.

The one thing that I miss already is the climate, where the humidity seems to be nonexistant and the heat not too bad. I haven't decided if i'd ever want to move out there yet, but your insight AJ gave me some more needed info.

I'm sure you'll do very well out west.
Posted: Mon, 17th Jul 2006, 4:03am

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Gnome326

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Really sounds like your going in a good direction. Its always nice to hear an aspiring film maker actually persue his dream as appose to giving up because you don't want to put the effort into it.
Posted: Mon, 17th Jul 2006, 3:14pm

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ajjax44

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Hey guys. Here's some sneak pics from the Fingerman shoot so far. We're about half way done. Enjoy!










Posted: Mon, 17th Jul 2006, 5:01pm

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Waser

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amazing!
Posted: Tue, 18th Jul 2006, 2:42pm

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er-no

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Those photos got better and better.

I want to live with you.
Posted: Tue, 18th Jul 2006, 3:52pm

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ajjax44

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There are more photos in the new fingerman thread here:

http://fxhome.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=24873

I'll continue to update that thread from now on with new pictures as opposed to updating this thread.