Hollywood’s exodus: Why film and TV workers are leaving Los Angeles

Los Angeles has long been a magnet for those chasing their big break in film and TV, drawn by the allure of creative fulfillment and fame. But conversations about a growing exodus are getting louder, as escalating housing costs and dwindling career opportunities push many to pursue their dreams elsewhere.

The city’s entertainment industry workforce has been rocked by a series of unprecedented shocks, from a global pandemic to last summer’s double labor strikes by writers and actors. As the streaming boom has faded, entertainment companies have hemorrhaged jobs, and networks, studios and streamers have pared back their programming slates. With the industry in the grips of a slowdown and the cost of living in L.A. still high, the motto for those struggling to remain in the city has become “Survive till ‘25,” in hopes of a rebound next year.

But many have simply been unable, or unwilling, to continue to tough it out in a city where rents have risen and home prices linger at an all-time high, up 6% over last year alone. With a potential strike of 60,000 people in the crew members’ union keeping the industry on edge, not to mention the existential threat of artificial intelligence to creative jobs, the uncertainty has driven a growing number of film and TV workers to seek stability elsewhere.

Some have left for work in places like Atlanta and New Mexico, which have lured productions out of L.A. with generous tax incentives. Others have given up on the entertainment business altogether and are trying to forge new careers. Whether they moved out of choice or desperation, uprooted Hollywood workers have inevitably coped with unexpected challenges, both financially and emotionally.

Here are three of their stories:

Robby Piantanida, 36

Robby Piantanida packs up his home in Alhambra days before his move to Tyler, Texas.

(Zoe Cranfill / Los Angeles Times)

When it comes to film and TV production, Robby Piantanida can do pretty much everything, from cinematography to editing to directing to visual effects to scoring. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy,” he says. These days, though, it seems like doing everything is still not enough to stay afloat.

In the nine years since he moved to L.A., Piantanida has earned an array of credits on documentaries, music videos and film and TV projects. He edited a PBS documentary on L.A. art dealer Jeffrey Deitch and a short doc called “Fertile Ground,” about food insecurity in Mississippi, that won a regional Emmy in 2021. Recently he served as director of photography on the series “How Music Got Free,” executive produced by Eminem and LeBron James and now streaming on Paramount+, and as the cinematographer on the indie film “Dogleg,” the debut release from L.A.’s Brain Dead Studios, which is now on Mubi.

But recently, like so many in Hollywood, Piantanida has found himself caught in the industry’s downdrafts. This month, faced with shrinking work opportunities and the soaring cost of living in L.A., Piantanida, his wife and their 2-year-old daughter packed up and moved back to his parents’ place in his native Tyler, Texas, to regroup and save money while they figure out their next move. “If we didn’t have this kind of family support, I have no idea what we would have done,” he says.

Since early 2021, Piantanida and his family had been renting a three-bedroom house in Alhambra for $2,626 a month. But during the pandemic, his wife, who has a background in production and art design, was laid off from her job at a talent agency and lost her six-figure salary. Opportunities grew more scarce for Piantanida, and his annual income dropped from around $150,000 at its peak to closer to $80,000.

When their landlord decided to sell their house, they knew something had to give. “We’ve been surviving for several years on one income,” Piantanida says. “We’ve drained a lot of savings just trying to keep this dream alive. … If we were able to find something for the same price, that would be great, but everything like this house would be close to four grand. Work is so slow right now that I couldn’t justify spending four grand a month that I don’t have on rent. We’d be taking money out of my wife’s retirement in order to stay in L.A.”

When Piantanida first arrived in the city nearly a decade ago, the streaming business was in full swing and opportunities for an aspiring filmmaker appeared relatively plentiful. He had spent the previous seven years honing his filmmaking skills in Jackson, Miss., where he’d studied fine art in college, starting a full-service boutique production company for documentaries, shorts, music videos and branded content. Although he had plenty of experience behind the camera, Piantanida had no real connections to draw on in L.A., and his pay initially took a hit.

“I moved from Mississippi, where I made $2,500 a day shooting commercials, to L.A., where I was lucky to get $500 or $800,” Piantanida says. “It was very challenging to get plugged in. I’m chronically bad at selling myself and there’s so much gatekeeping. Everything I’ve ever done has been through word of mouth.”

Gradually one job led to another, and Piantanida found his footing. But good-paying, creatively-fulfilling work has become increasingly hard to find. In the last three years, Piantanida has created about 20 to 30 sizzles — short, promotional videos used to pitch TV shows — but only a few have been sold in a market that favors cheaper, trendier content like TikTok-style reality series and game shows over high-end documentaries. Making matters more difficult, companies are producing content internally, reducing freelance opportunities for someone like Piantanida, who has no representation and has never quite managed to amass the requisite hours for union membership.

Piantanida has poured much of what he has made into equipment, at an annual cost of $20,000 to $50,000, which he is able to count as a business deduction on his taxes. “There’s so much expense in staying up with the latest stuff,” he says. “All this stuff would change if I went union. I would make as much money as I could, and I wouldn’t spend it on gear — I would spend it on savings. But when you own your own business and you’re an S-corporation, I was raised and told by tax guys, ‘Just buy equipment while you can. That’s stuff that you can use and make money with.’ So I’ve always put money back into the business.”

To raise cash, Piantanida has been selling some of that equipment lately; he is trying to offload $30,000 worth of lenses. “That would greatly improve our situation,” he says. “But it’s not really a buying market right now.”

In Texas, Piantanida and his family will be paying $350 per month to live in a cottage on his parents’ 12-acre property and taking advantage of free childcare from his parents and sister. In addition to getting back into more lucrative corporate work (a recent job for a mental health start-up paid him $30,000), Piantanida is hoping that Texas’ generous tax incentives for film production, which the state raised last year to $200 million from $45 million, will help bring local work his way.

“California is ruining the industry, and now Texas is making its move, kind of like Louisiana and Atlanta did 15 years ago,” says Piantanida, who is developing a project for PBS Austin featuring atmospheric visuals paired with his own original ambient music. “There’s a good amount of work in Texas, and it looks like a good move for us.”

Still, going from Southern California to East Texas is a major adjustment. “I love the climate in L.A. and the access to the mountains and the beach,” Piantanida says. “We’re going to miss it a whole lot. … I need to change my plates, too, because we’re in Trump country now, and if we drive around with a California tag, we’re going to get harassed.”

In a year or so, if the film and TV businesses pick up again and his wife lands a new job, the plan is to try to move back to the West Coast and buy a house, possibly in Lake Arrowhead or in the Bay Area or Seattle.

“I left Tyler when I was 17 and never wanted to go back,” Piantanida says. “But my family’s land is amazing — they’ve got a beautiful spread in the woods, and you can be out there and be totally isolated. This is just a unique time in our lives to take a break and reassess. This slowdown is affecting everyone. We’ll see where we land.”

Jennifer Brody, 44

A woman swining in a backyard hammock

Author and screenwriter Jennifer Brody enjoys her backyard hammock amongst the desert landscape in Joshua Tree.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

In 2001, Hollywood was on a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory. Annual box office was climbing each year, with new blockbuster franchises being minted left and right, from “Harry Potter” to “Fast and the Furious” to “Ocean’s 11,” while Netflix was still sending DVDs through the mail. Moving to L.A. that year fresh out of college, Jennifer Brody felt like she was poised to catch the wave.

Looking back now, given all that’s happened to the industry since, she feels like she just about missed it.

By the time she arrived in L.A., Brody had studied film as an undergraduate at Harvard University and done two invaluable summer internships: one working for a producer on the Walt Disney Studios lot and the other on the set of an offbeat $5-million indie starring a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal called “Donnie Darko” — “a little movie that became a very big movie,” Brody says.

Brody hit the ground running in Hollywood, landing a job at blockbuster director Michael Bay’s newly formed production company Platinum Dunes as an assistant to producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form. From there, she moved over to New Line, where she had an inside view as projects as varied as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Terrence Malick’s period drama “The New World” came together. In 2008, she produced the dance film “Make It Happen,” which starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tessa Thompson, for the Weinstein Company.

Inspired at an early age by John Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood,” Brody had initially planned to become a director. But, once inside the system, she soon discovered how narrow the path was at the time for female filmmakers.

“I’m obsessed with Kathryn Bigelow, and when I first got to New Line, I was trying to put her on all of our director lists [for projects],” Brody says. “I was essentially told that she was un-hireable and that we weren’t even allowed to meet with her. I remember being like, why? Because I had just worked for Michael Bay — you want to talk about difficult?”

Growing up as a pop culture obsessive in Roanoke, Va., Brody had never considered writing as a potential career. “All the writers we read were old white dudes,” she says. “I just didn’t see myself represented, especially as I identify as queer and I’m neurodivergent.” But when the entertainment economy soured following the 2008 financial crisis, Brody decided she wanted to take greater control of her fate through an entirely different medium. “I had already been doing uncredited rewrites on movies that were getting made as an executive but I wanted to do more big world-building stuff and wanted to learn how to write prose and fiction,” she says.

In 2016, Brody published her first science-fiction novel, “The 13th Continuum,” which she eventually turned into a trilogy that was in development at Sony Pictures until the post-strike slowdown. Since embarking on her writing career, along with screenplays, pilots and graphic novels, she has penned seven middle-grade books under the pseudonym Vera Strange for the Disney Chills series, which reimagines Disney villains in contemporary stories, and contributed a Darth Vader tale to a book of original stories set in the Star Wars universe from Lucasfilm Press.

Even with income from writing that, in a good year, could reach into the six figures, Brody found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet in Los Angeles. “What really caught me off guard was the incredible rent spikes that came after COVID,” says Brody, who over the years had rented places in Laurel Canyon, Malibu and downtown. “I was prepared for increases, but not 40%.”

In late 2021, in search of cheaper housing, Brody moved to Dana Point, where she rented a one-bedroom apartment for $2,500 a month. A year later, when the landlord raised the rent to almost $3,000, she decided to move out to Joshua Tree, where she found a three-bedroom house for $1,900 a month in a welcoming creative community with stunning desert vistas.

“I have a national park in my backyard,” says Brody, who has a new sci-fi romance series launching this fall called “A Sacrifice of Blood and Stars” and supplements her income by teaching writing both one-on-one and in workshops. “I couldn’t have the quality of life that I have here in Los Angeles. But I still miss L.A.. I miss my friends. I miss restaurants. I used to go to a ton of concerts.”

Looking back, Brody thinks she landed in Hollywood just as the worm was about to turn.

“I arrived when everything was about to start to decline,” she says. “Everything around us was becoming more corporate-minded. Essentially, my read is that they took a very profitable business model and destroyed it themselves with the tech bros and the quarterly thinking.”

Occasionally Brody feels the tug to move back to the city. But for the foreseeable future, with the cost of buying a house in L.A. still out of reach and the industry increasingly averse to creative risks, she is content out in the desert. “Sometimes I think, oh, maybe I’ll go back some time,” she says. “But the L.A. that I miss isn’t the same city. It doesn’t exist.”

Talia Brahms, 30

A woman standing by a beehive

Since leaving Los Angeles for Colorado, former script supervisor Talia Brahms has found a new calling in beekeeping.

(Shlomit Ovadia)

In her former life as a script supervisor in L.A., Talia Brahms was responsible for ensuring that every detail on whatever film or TV project she was working on was perfectly aligned with what was on the page.

“I was the one on set making sure that the person holding the cup in their left hand is always holding the cup in their left hand,” she says. “Any continuity mistakes that you see — that’s the script supervisor’s job to prevent that from happening.”

But after six years in the industry, having worked her way up from student films to independent features, Brahms began to feel that the script of her own life needed a total rewrite. “I felt like I was doing a good job and I enjoyed the people that I worked with,” she says. “Each production was like a new family — I enjoyed that aspect of it. But I wanted to do something more with my life. Something was missing.”

That something, surprisingly, would turn out to be bees.

Brahms, who grew up in Los Feliz, had initially become a script supervisor almost by accident while studying technical theater and film at Cal State Long Beach. “Friends doing various film projects knew I did stage management for theater and asked if I could be their script supervisor,” she says. “I didn’t even know what that was at the time.”

With her skills for organization and communication, Brahms found she had a knack for it and, after graduating in 2015, she took a 10-week script supervising course. From there she began trying to build a career in the film industry, going from one job to the next through word-of-mouth referrals.

While working on sets could be exhilarating, the relatively low pay meant Brahms had to take every job she could find. “When I was first starting out, there was no way I made more than like $22,000,” she says. “It was gig to gig at different rates, with gaps in between each production.”

Eventually Brahms was earning around $60,000 a year but that was still not enough to afford a decent place of her own in Los Angeles. “My friends in the industry were living in a house full of, like, 10 people,” she says. So to save money, she commuted to shoots more than an hour each way from Long Beach, where rents were slightly more affordable.

Eventually the grind started to take a toll. “It became soul-sucking, in a way,” she says. “I felt like everything for me was dedicated to the film industry. I opted out of going to family funerals because I had a film gig the next day in a different town. There was a whole mindset that me and all my friends in the industry had that you had to say yes to work at the drop of a hat. Because you never knew where the next gig would come from.”

In the spring of 2020, with the industry suddenly shut down by the pandemic, Brahms — who had always been environmentally conscious and felt bothered by the waste she saw on film sets — decided to explore her interest in nature by taking a beekeeping course outside of Los Angeles. Rather absurdly given the subject matter, the course soon shifted to Zoom. So, to get the hands-on experience she wanted, Brahms found an opportunity through the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, where she could work with a beekeeper in the mountains of Colorado.

Brahms initially planned to stay for just a month, but when she was offered a job she decided to take a leap of faith: “I was like, ‘Screw it, I have family in L.A. and I can always fall back on filmmaking,’ ” she says. “So I started working for the beekeeper.”

More than three years later, Brahms lives outside of Boulder and works as a farm assistant and manages beehives at multiple locations, deepening her newfound passion for sustainable farming. “Even before I moved to Colorado, I really liked the idea of having a homestead,” she says. “I feel like I’m just an apprentice and I’m wide open to take in all of the information about all these practices I’m really excited to learn about.”

The work is hardly lucrative but Brahms keeps her overhead low, splitting the $1,200-a month rent for a two-bedroom condo with her partner, Erik Folkerts, who works as a financial analyst in the renewable energy business. “I’m getting paid minimum wage, so it’s really not that much,” says Brahms, who supplemented her income for a while by bartending. “But it’s enough.”

Now instead of poring over a script for hours a day, Brahms trains her attention on the five beehives that are under her care. “There really is nothing like holding a frame of 100,000 bees in your hands and hearing the humming of it,” she says. “It’s very labor-intensive; a hive of bees that’s filled with honey can be 100 pounds. It can be intense. You have to really be present, and I think that’s what I really enjoy about it.”

In addition to helping the planet, Brahms feels her new calling has helped her spirit. “When I moved out here, it was really a struggle at first and I had this epiphany,” she says. “I had been having all these problems in L.A., and I thought moving to a different state would fix all of that. I had a moment of clarity, like, ‘’Oh, I think it’s just me — I think I need to grow.’ And Colorado and beekeeping really allowed me to do that.”