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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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.