Ex-Chicagoans tell their hopes, plans for LA success

Ambitious Chicagoans have migrated to the Hollywood film industry ever since Charlie Chaplin moved to sunny California a century ago.  And they’re still coming, undaunted by the challenges, to make their mark in media and entertainment.

Three new arrivals — screenwriters Dante Bacani, recent Chicago Screenwriters Network president, and board members Michael Kandarev and Ron Maede — joined established residents

Christiana Miller, CSN’s founder/ex-president and Lindsey Blackmon, actress-comedian in a breakfast discussion about their transitions. 

The roundtable was led by Colin Costello, who put his big agency career behind him and moved to LA when he felt it was his only  to advance his screenwriting career.

COLIN COSTELLO: Let’s start with the obvious question. Why the move? 

DANTI BACANI: I just moved here because, the fact is, if you want to be a film or TV writer, Chicago is a great city to film in, but not so great when it comes to film or TV writing. There are 30 times more jobs out here for writers. That’s a chance I’m willing to take. Also, sadly, I’m getting a divorce. So what better a time?

MICHAEL KANDAREV: My ambition was always to be a working

TV writer. I have two pilots I’m currently shopping. This is where it has to happen. Besides, in Chicago we found our real-estate taxes going up and not the value of our home.

The stars finally aligned when my wife was able to transfer out here and magically, our house sold in three days. We left Chicago in November, threw everything into the car, drove through an ice storm in Oklahoma and never looked back.

RON MAEDE: If you want to work in advertising, you go to New York or Chicago. Tech, Silicon Valley. I want to be in the film industry. Industry is the key word here. Sure, you can make a short film or a web series in Chicago. But the industry is here.

CHRISTINA MILLER: I’ve been here since 1996, about two years after I co-founded the Chicago Screenwriters. When we founded the network, I was still at Northwestern and I was faced with the choice of signing with an agent locally or going to work as a paid intern in NBC’s Story Department in LA, which was led by their former VP of Development, Geoff Harris. I chose the latter because I felt it was an opportunity that would never present itself again if I stayed in Chicago.

LINDSEY BLACKMON: I was being booked as an actress for lots of jobs in Chicago, mostly industrial films. I was also training at Second City and wanted to take what I learned West. In 2003, when I lost my day job, which was calling on Chicago agencies for a production company, that sped everything up for me. I didn’t see the point in staying in Chicago any longer.  So I picked up and left for LA. It’s a process, but I’ve been starting to produce more short films and I’m also doing stand-up. 

Chicagoans now working in L.A.: Ron Maede, Bante Bacani, Lindsey Blackmon, Michael Kandarev and Christiana MillerCOSTELLO: Talk to me about how LA helps your goals?

MAEDE: You mean besides enjoying the weather? We just had our BMW convertible shipped here! Seriously though, I just finished my seventh screenplay, which is super low budget. I feel that by living out here, I have a better shot at getting it financed and produced.

MILLER: I got a little burnt-out on TV and the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Although it’s gotten better, the process really starts with the agents presenting you and your work. I learned my agent wasn’t sending me out at all or even better, sending scripts to shows that were cancelled or getting cancelled. I asked why she was doing that and she said, ‘Moms don’t belong on staff.’ I was stunned. And this was a female agent.

So I went into health care here in LA for almost ten years. The day I quit my job, I was hired as a writer on “General Hospital: Night Shift.”

But the landscape has changed now, especially in TV. So I’m focusing on E-publishing fiction books. I’m experiencing success with my latest, “Someone Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead,” a top seller on Amazon.

KANDAREV:  Right now my goal is writing for television. TV is where it’s at. And working in TV is a 9 to 7 job in LA. Like Christiana said, the landscape has changed dramatically and there are many new avenues for writers’ voices to be heard.

BACANI: You never know who you’ll meet wherever you go. You could be driving an Uber and have the president of Hulu as a passenger. And I’m going to be ready to pitch him.

BLACKMON:  The goal is the same – to be a working actress as well as really hone my stand-up chops. 

COSTELLO: How about some tips to people who might want to follow you out here?

KANDAREV: Before you move out to LA, accomplish all you can in Chicago. There are plenty of talented filmmakers, actors, editors and crew people all ready to roll up their sleeves and make a movie.

MILLER: Don’t come here with the attitude of ‘what can you do for me.’ No one has time for that. They’ll ignore you. Come here with the attitude of ‘what can I do for you?’ LA is hard.  Decide what you really want out of it before you come.

BLACKMON: Gotta come with a plan. How are you going to pay your rent?  Are you willing to hustle? How hard are you willing to work to achieve your dreams?

BACANI: It’s a win-win kind of thing. If this is the industry you really want, make it work for you. But it’s going to be expensive. Gas is higher. Rents are higher. Don’t believe in the dream bullshit.  Be open to the opportunities that appear before you. You don’t know what they will lead to.

MAEDE: Like they say on “Game of Thrones,” “Winter’s coming.”

Colin Costello, who still calls Chicago, “home,” is a working screenwriter whose credits include 2013’s “The Stream,” the Emmy-nominated “Moochie Kalala Detective’s Club” and the 2016 family film, “Traveling Without Moving.” Contact him at colin@colincostello.com.