Issue: Issue Summer 2004

Hollywood Reality

With its pervasive images of superstars and billionaire film and television execs, Hollywood draws people from all over the nation to partake in its glory. But how does the experience of living here compare to the images and expectations?

Even for those who’ve never been to Hollywood, it’s a pretty sure bet that newcomers have a strong image of what it’s like to live here. Few cities worldwide have received as much media attention and, with the exception of New York and possibly Paris, few others can boast a comparable reputation when it comes to being a place where people come to realize their dreams.

Phil Oosterhouse, a 32 year-old writer from Dearborn, Michigan, moved to Hollywood after college for a job at a production development company. He had a very specific image of Hollywood upon arriving: “I pictured that there’d be limos and rich people everywhere, and everything would be really stylized and fancy.” 

But once he arrived in 1994 - before Hollywood’s renaissance - reality soon hit him. “I went with a friend the first night to see the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd.  Our illusions were shattered that first day. We walked back to the hotel shell shocked.”

Having come out with a “let’s see what happens” attitude, Phil is actually quite happy living in Hollywood. “It’s a town of extremes, but I put up with the bad because of the good, whereas in Michigan I was really pretty ambivalent about everything.”

Originally from Austin, Texas, Michelle Mellgren moved out to Hollywood from Lubbock, Texas five years ago to write and act. Never having visited Hollywood before, her image of the city was molded by the media portrayal on television, films, magazine and the news. This included the glamorous idea that everyone would be dressed up all the time. “It turns out everyone is in casual dress,” she says.

“I was really green,” she says, looking back on it now with a smile.  She laughs at the fact that she’d believed - having trusted the two people she knew who already lived here - that she’d be able to get an agent as soon as she arrived. Eventually she did begin acting professionally, but she soon found it wasn’t enough. “I had to write and produce to survive in the long term in this business.

I also realized why everyone was self-centered: because only the strong survive. It’s much more of a high paced survival atmosphere here than I had imagined.” But despite her expectations, she loves living in Hollywood for the creative opportunities the city offers.

Determined to be a film and television editor, Eric Anderson moved to Hollywood from Cambridge, Massachussetts two years ago. Having grown up near metropolises such as Boston and New York, he had much less of a culture shock than did Michelle and Phil.

“I had tried to prepare myself for a much tougher fight, frankly,” shares Anderson. “My expectations have actually been exceeded. I’ve been rather fortunate in that I’ve had good luck in building a career and a social life out here. The ubiquity of the entertainment industry has an effect on the tone of some public places, which at times can be rather self-important and pretentious, but it plays a role in the identity of the city’s collective unconscious.” For people seeking a career in the entertainment industry, Anderson sees Hollywood as “fraught with opportunity and like-minded people.”

Raised in Utah, Chanel Pease was living in Portland, Oregon before moving to Hollywood two years ago. She and her boyfriend at the time moved out here on the assumption that there would be greater work opportunities. While in Portland, Pease had lived a very Bohemian lifestyle. “I thought it would be the same here but everything would be more grandiose - like life would be a big party and that it would be really easy for both of us to find work.”

Although finding work was relatively easy, the pay was less than in Portland and the rent was  higher. Soon she realized that if she didn’t want to struggle she’d have to take another job, so she went into hotel management and decided to put her music career temporarily on hold.

Nonetheless, Pease enjoys living here and appreciates the attitude of hope that characterizes the town. “If you set aside the flakiness, the ego, and everyone who’s trying to get their piece of the pie and one-up each other, it’s still a place where you can have a dream and pursue it.”