The Big Debate: Which is Better, LA or NY?

By Michael Strand

With all due respect to places like Atlanta, Austin and Chicago, all cities that certainly are busy when it comes to film and TV shoots, the real debate still is with the heavyweights of the entertainment business, Los Angeles and New York City. And without a doubt it is still the big debate amongst people who work in entertainment. LA or NY? Which is better?

Well, as someone who lived in both cities for significant periods of my professional life, I feel I can weigh in on the big question. First of all let me say, I really do think both LA and New York are fantastic places to live and work. And they both will hurt your bank account really badly, though New York at a much faster rate. But it’s not like LA is cheap. In both cities, prepare yourself to eat a lot of Ramen until you make it.

Let me start with the positives of living in New York. Well, it’s New York. There is nothing like it at all. The energy is real, and it gets into you. I don’t know how a person can live in New York and not be motivated. Life comes at you fast there and it forces you to be on your toes. And there is so so much to see and do. Let’s not talk about the arts and all the museums, Broadway, Off Broadway, film, TV, Wall Street, fashion, sports, you name it. And the positive of everyone being so crammed together in those five burroughs (remember, NYC is more than Manhattan) is you get exposed to all walks of life and all kinds of people, in terms of ethnicities, careers, religions, you name it. All that on one subway car!

The downside of New York is well, its crowded, and therefore the aforementioned cost of living. I know this sounds like I’m repeating myself. And I am. But you cannot consider New York without realizing how big of a deal the cost of living there is. If you go in unprepared for that, it won’t be a pretty picture. Another downside of New York is that because it moves so fast, the people can indeed come across as unfriendly and downright rude. To a degree many New Yorkers take this attitude as a source of pride. They shouldn’t. But it is a truth about New York. Of course, not everyone there is like that. But overall you will find people too busy, moving too fast, to seem caring about the other people sharing the concrete with it.

But honestly, those are my only real negatives about my time in New York. They are big ones, but its not like I have a litany of NYC peeves.

Photo by Sasha. @sanfrancisco

Now on to the positives of LA. Well, its LA. By that I mean the stereotype of year round sun, good weather, beaches and good looking people is real. I also have to say that the things most will say are the downsides of LA, the traffic, it is too spread out, that it has no culture, are actually the very things that looked at differently, make it so fun and unique. Take the traffic complaint. Well, LA is a car environment no, doubt, due to that fact that it is so spread out. But that is one of the cool parts of being in LA, that you can open those windows, or put that top down, almost any month of the year, and bask in the sun. True, you will deal with traffic. But you also get to sing along to your favorite jams or listen to your favorite podcast, while sitting in said traffic. And while it is spread out, that provides us the ability to experience so many different cultures and environments all in one day, from the mountains of Big Bear to the beaches at Santa Monica and Malibu. From the beauty of old Pasadena to the newness of some of the neighborhood of Orange County. It’s all LA.

As to that “LA has no culture” complaint, that’s just silly. And likely comes from people who are NY snobs about that. LA does not have the amount of theater that New York has, or may not be as known for our art museums. But be not mistaken, LA has a thriving theater community. And it certainly has some of the best museums anywhere, from the Getty to the Broad downtown, and lots of other places in between. It’s just a mater of what you’re looking for.

But let’s get to the root of the question of LA versus NY as it relates to people who work in entertainment, since that is who I’m addressing here. The answer is it depends on what you want. There is no denying that New York, thanks to Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, has one of the world’s best theater communities. And if you want to focus on dance, it is also much more likely to provide you the best of the best to aspire to. You can find those things in LA but it just won’t give you the scale that New York offers.

When it comes to film and TV, the opposite is true. While NYC definitely has a long list of TV shows and films that shoot there, it just cannot compare on any real level to the scale at which LA operates when it comes to film and TV. LA simply provides way more opportunities for casting in film and TV than New York. Of course in both cases, that also means the competition to succeed is greater since more theater and dance people flock to New York, and more film and TV actors fill LA every day.

So the bottom line to the question on the table of which is better is its a draw. And that is not a cop-out. There just isn’t a simple answer to that. LA and NYC are both world-class cities with lots to love and lots that can get you in trouble. It just depends on what you want to focus on. If film and TV is your thing and you crave the sun, LA is your place. If theater or dance is your thing, and you like hustle and bustle, and cold winters, then head to the Big Apple. There is no reason to hate on either place. It really isn’t an either-or situation, as people frame it all too often. I loved my time in New York and I absolutely love LA. I wish I could be bi-coastal, but remember what I said, that cost of living thing, in both places, makes that idea unrealistic, at least until the money is pouring in.

New York may have the best bagels, but LA has the best tacos. Both are tasty.

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