BCPC Get Moving Interview with Matt Christensen

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Welcome! I'm Katie Toomey, a freelance video editor living here in Los Angeles, CA. I started this “Get Moving” interview series in what feels like a long overdue fashion. After having many approach me about my own moving blog and how helpful it was to have another experience to read about or relate to, it sparked me to interview others in our industry who have made a move somewhere for their own work.

My aim is to help broaden the reach to share these stories for others out there, like me, who wanted to hear more perspectives to help build confidence, to relate to planning worries and execution woes, and to understand the struggles and even successes more fully.

This series will hopefully help you gain wisdom to be better informed when and if taking that risk and leap for yourself.

I myself have made a rather large move (the biggest I've ever done to date) moving from the East coast in NC to the West coast to LA just last year. I wrote my “East to West Coast Moving Adventure” on Creative Cow very soon afterwards to document the process. I've been living in LA ever since. All these experiences will combine to make a collective resource that anyone can access - from any where, at any time. If you don’t know anyone who’s done this sort of thing, it can feel very isolating and impossible to manage on your own. You shouldn’t have to face this alone - and now, you won’t have to.

Matt Christensen // Software Quality Engineer, Adobe // Online Editor & Colorist, Freelance // @_mchristensen

When it comes to moving, Matt has made one major move so far. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska and lived there until he graduated high school. Then, right at 18, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in Film Production. However, also during his studies, he did have an entire semester abroad where he lived with a host family in Bonn, Germany. He’s been living in LA for about a decade, now.

Matt currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Theresa and their cat, Little Bit. He loves computers and the nitty gritty of post production technology. In Matt’s free time, you’ll find him either learning to write software or on a plane to somewhere new – he makes it a point to visit a minimum of one new country every year.

MOVING BACKGROUND

Two suitcases, one carry on bag, no parents, no smartphone, and a cab driver who had never heard of my school. Standing in a slow moving line of strangers waiting to get my dorm room assignment, carefully shepherding my few possessions.

Katie: What event or situation sparked the move?

Matt working on a short film with friends during the summer after graduation, before leaving Omaha to attend film school in LA.

Matt: As I finished up high school I knew I wanted to study either Computer Science of Film Production. I could have gone either way, really, but I decided for Film Production thinking, as many do, that I would love being a director. It’s no secret that Los Angeles is *the* place to go for that, and I found what looked like a good film school.

The furthest west I had ever been was Phoenix, but I applied and got accepted. I still remember vividly the day I got the letter saying my scholarship and financial aid had gone through, and it meant I could go to LA and study film. I was ecstatic.

Can you tell us some of the ways that the new area(s) differs from some of the other places you've lived or the last place you lived? What is similar and different for you? What do you like and dislike about your new area? 

This one’s kind of hard because I have never actually lived in my hometown of Omaha as an adult. I’ve been back a handful of times, but it’s not the same, so my perspectives on Los Angeles and Omaha are tinted based on living in Omaha as a child and young adult, and then in Los Angeles as a college student and an adult.

Omaha is a nice, relatively quiet but fun Midwestern city. People think of farmland when they think of Nebraska, but Omaha has about 1.5 million people and is vaguely the physical size of Las Vegas, so growing up there in the suburbs was pretty similar to many cities all around the country, I would assume. 

Matt climbing up to see the Hollywood sign.

Compared to Omaha, I remember initially finding Los Angeles to be mind-numbingly huge and dizzyingly diverse. My school was in a tucked away neighborhood on a bluff overlooking the city, near the airport and the beach. So in a way, the next 10 years of getting to know Los Angeles involved working my way out of that sheltered bubble and expending farther into the city properly.

I chose a dorm at my school that catered to out-of-state students in that you were paired with an in-state student in your dorm room, and they put on a few events each month that often involved trips off campus to see parts of Los Angeles. That was essential for me as I did not have a car at the time. While I’ve never been the kind to be swept up in the glamour of Hollywood, it was extremely surreal to stand in person at places you had seen on TV or in movies growing up. 

When people inevitably ask if you like Los Angeles, I always have to pause. Calling it love/hate is too extreme, but I’m not someone who loves LA. I appreciate what is great about it and try to ignore what isn’t so great. I love that I’ve gotten to dive into post production, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I could not have had elsewhere. So, in that sense I like it. But, were I an accountant by trade and able to find work almost anywhere, I would be out of Los Angeles in a heartbeat. Seattle? Chicago? Copenhagen? Rome? Berlin? Yes, please.

Now when I look back at Omaha, I see a city that was a perfect size to grow up in, but is ultimately too small for me. Were I to live there now I would feel like a fish in a fish bowl. A large, not so bad fish bowl, but still one where I knew exactly where the boundaries were and also where I’d probably run into old high school people way too often. I love going back to visit and see family, but that is just enough for me.

Matt’s dorm room at LMU. A humble beginning while on his film journey.

TRIP PREPARATIONS

Preparations for this move were quite a bit different than I imagine most moves are. I was freshly graduated from high school and didn’t really own much as I was living in my parent’s house. I packed up two suitcases worth of clothing and assorted things, then had a backpack with my laptop and whatever else fit.

My parents also shipped out a box of some larger things to me that would have taken up too much suitcase space at a later time.

Trying to do a minimal move like that today would be impossible for me, but at the time, the constraints of having to move by plane was compatible with the tiny amount of stuff I actually had.

Also, I had been working part time during the last two years of high school so I had some income to my name, but I think my parents covered my flight to Los Angeles for me. And for living arrangements, I was going to be staying on campus for Freshman year, so those two key parts of moving - travel and accommodation - were pretty much taken care of.

How did you begin to prepare for the move? 

I don’t recall anything too interesting with regards to packing or that kind of preparation. I do remember pouring over my school’s website trying to learn every building and scrap of information I could before heading out that way.

The preparation that really comes to mind was emotional.

Matt, far right, tinkering around with film projects during that summer.

While I was never not completely stoked on taking this path, my move was all wrapped up in the emotional environment of graduating high school, with friends and relationships all rapidly changing. I had a steady girlfriend through the end of high school, and she ended up going to a school in Chicago.

While I like to think we were both very adult about the situation and agreed it wasn’t in either of our interests to try to go to the same school, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t very difficult to go through that summer, having to count down to our inorganic breakup. Also, the same went for a few of my close friends who were either staying in Omaha or going somewhere that wasn’t southern California.

Do you have any packing tips and tricks for us?

I’ve moved 5 times now in Los Angeles and I can say this – I look forward to moving as a chance to let go of things. It can be difficult in daily life to do a true audit of if you need to keep a given thing or not, but packing for a move is a special time where you are forced into a different way of looking at all your things and I tend to thoroughly enjoy getting things out of my life when I can.

I may not be what you think of when you see #minimalism on Instagram, but it’s a lifestyle I aspire and subscribe to. If you’re at all in doubt – just get rid of it :)

What sort of challenges did you face trying to save or come up with the budget needed?

I had a part-time job during high school, so I had some amount of living money for myself but let’s face it, as an 18 year old just out of high school, it only goes so far. For that reason, my parents helped pay for my flight, and then the dorm cost of living was covered through both school scholarships and loans.

However, I did make it a point to go to the job fair on campus and find a work-study job right away so that I could provide myself with some income while still handling all my school work. That proactive step was crucial to being able to still have some spending money without burdening my parents with that. I landed a job in the Office of Post Production in the Film School, and that absolutely knocked me into my eventual job field and career.

Matt at his work-study job at the Office of Post Production.

Shot of an edit suite at his work-study.

What would you -not- recommend cutting costs on when considering a move?

I can’t really speak to this for cross-country moves, however I will say that in my last move, I was able to afford hiring movers for the first time and it was an incredible feeling, given that I had done four moves within Los Angeles sans movers. My advice, in the case of moving within a city, is that you shouldn’t hire movers that do everything for you. One, it’s expensive, and two, you forfeit the above mentioned benefit of getting to pare down your possessions and really consider what you need to take with you. Movers who do all the packing will, by definition, take everything!

Instead, we packed everything up and even moved over most of the boxes by ourselves. Then, we were left with just the bigger, heavier furniture or things that didn’t fit in my car. At that point, we hired movers for an hour or two with a big truck. They did it in one load, and it was unreal to have the move “finished” but not be tired and sweaty and rushing to return a truck. Highly recommended if you can swing it.

MENTAL PREP

How did you mentally prepare for the move?

Due to the timing and nature of my move, most of my prep was emotional and related to essentially closing down friendships and my relationship with my girlfriend. Looking back, it’s kind of a strange thing to know that at the end of the summer you are uprooting your life and moving across the country for at least the next four years, and likely not coming back. I was a mature enough person at 17/18 that I knew I had to have a clean break in those relationships, but that didn’t make it easy. I was (and am) also a hopeless romantic in some regards and all the pop-punk-emo songs of the late 2000’s didn’t help with wrapping up the end of my last summer at home.

On the other hand, I was incredibly excited. I remember the film school gave a list of suggested movies to have watched and I got a Hollywood Video membership that summer and started just ripping through them. I wasn’t quite aware of the ‘snobby film school kid’ stereotype yet, but I think subconsciously I was and wanted to jump head first into it.

Did you ever find yourself at a low point and feeling like giving up or saying no the opportunity? Were there any times that people tried to talk you out of it or alternately were they supportive and helped you stay focused/encouraged?

Leading up to the move, no, I never had a low point. Other than maybe saying goodbye to my girlfriend for the ‘last’ time, but of course, later I saw her again on breaks and eventually we even made an attempt at long distance. But like most who are going out of state to a school they chose for a major they chose – I found it hard to be anything other than incredibly excited.

THE MOVE ITSELF

Overhead shot of LA from Matt’s first flight.

My parents, especially my dad, were not thrilled about me going to Los Angeles. They fully supported me following my dreams and studying film, but they both had a negative opinion of the city myself. The summer before leaving had many references to “La La Land” (this was before the film) and “Hollyweird” from my dad.

I don’t remember too much about the flights or travel itself. We didn’t go on planes a lot growing up, but I had been on a handful such that it wasn’t particularly memorable.

I do remember getting to my school was my first real hurdle. This was the fall of 2008, and there was no Lyft and smartphones were not common. I definitely didn’t have one, at any rate. So after landing and getting my bags, I stepped outside the airport and felt that first blast of Los Angeles sun and air, then quickly realized I needed to track down a taxi. I’m not positive, but I think that was my first taxi ever. It was certainly the first time where I was on my own and handling talking to the driver. I got all my bags loaded in, got in, and as he starts to pull away from the terminal, the driver asks where to. I say “Loyola Marymount University” to which he replies, “Where’s that?

My stomach fell out of the bottom of the car. I had no idea how to get to my school. This was my second time in Los Angeles, the first being a few months earlier at orientation when I had come out with my parents. I knew that LMU was very close to the airport. I had studied Google Maps on my laptop quite a bit over the summer., but I had no way to look it up and no idea of what directions to give.

After driving around for 15 minutes or so, the driver pulled up next to another cab at a red light and yelled out the window asking if they knew. He pointed us in the right direction, and we did eventually make it. It’s funny to look back now and realize how modern technology has basically completely removed this problem from daily life.

Matt standing in front of his dorm room, complete with filmstrip name tag.

My next memory is standing in what felt like an incredibly long line in front of what wast to be my dorm as they checked people in, gave them their keys, and dispensed the necessary information. I was standing there in the hot sun, surrounded by strangers, no more than an hour after getting off my cross country flight to my new place, and rolling around my bags that held all I had to my name. It all hit me then, a rush of excitement and feeling like I was treading water with barely my nose up in the air.

When I got to my dorm room, my roommate had some of his things there but was nowhere to be found. We had been assigned over the summer and given contact information, so we loosely had an idea of each other. I remember as I opened my suitcases feeling like, while the room was tiny, I had impossibly little in ways of possessions with which to fill it. It would be months before I felt like my half of the room was even properly “moved in”.

AFTER THE MOVE

How long did it take to settle into your new place in your new area? In new job duties?

The great part about dorm life in school is that you have to try hard to not make friends. It turned out a good number of the people on my floor and in my dorm were also film students, and we quickly had a nice little group going. I’m not a complete social extrovert, but I’m pretty easy going at making new friends. I think it also helped that my dorm was set up for out-of-state people, and there was an instant camaraderie meeting a fellow out-of-state person as a result.

Did you feel homesick ever or miss your old town? If so, how do you deal with those feels?

LMU Bluff scenery, nearby Matt’s dorm room.

Yes. I’m not one to get too homesick and I was 100% excited for my move and school but even so, when jumping into a new situation with new people you are inevitably going to have a reaction where you long for the safe and known.

It also didn’t help that my dorm was right on the edge of the bluff my school sat on overlooking Los Angeles. That kind of thing, at night, was like a flame to a romantic moth like myself. I would go out there and think about things, and sometimes that meant missing home or friends. Also, a big part of meeting new people especially in college is telling them about where you’re from. You get good at mentioning the cool stuff and leaving out the lame stuff, but doing it all the time it’s easy to get sucked into missing it.

These days I’m not really homesick ever. I love going back to see my family but I think space from them also does me well – I don’t know what I would have done if I stayed in Omaha.

Matt’s gorgeous sunset view at the edge of LMU bluff.

If you arrived 'hot' to town without a job, how did you manage to find work? -OR- If you came to your new area with a job in tow, how did that go?

This question doesn’t exactly apply to me, but I did hit the ground running by going to the student job fair on campus and landing a job with the Office of Post Production. At the time I (like most new film students) thought I would love directing and be great at it. So at first, I wasn’t necessarily jazzed on post production, but I did know that it involved editing and that involved computers, and I had a passion for that so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. It was awesome.

What opportunities do you have available to you now (either that you didn't have before or have more of now) Do you find you have less work opportunities?

Matt in his friend’s dorm room, working on a film school project in his freshmen year at LMU.

I can pin literally every opportunity I’ve had in Los Angeles to the fact that I moved out here for school. I learned much of what I know about filmmaking and post production from school, and it was a classmate of mine that recommended me for my first assistant editing job, which was my first post production job after graduating.

Plus, I do color work on the side and still get work from people I went to school with who have gone on to be cinematographers and producers and directors. People say that you can learn what you need to know about filmmaking in a few weeks without film school, and while that may be true, I don’t think I could replace the network I got from attending a film school in Los Angeles.

Matt already working on a little film project back home in Omaha before even going to college.

How has moving changed your life, for better or worse or in-between/uncertain?

This one is almost too big to answer – there is no way to imagine a different life. It has all been for the better. While I don’t have much advice for making a move as an adult, I can speak to those looking at schools and considering moves for film school.

First of all, it’s true that film school isn’t necessarily right for everyone. If you are a self starter, you can come to Los Angeles and take a couple classes at some of the trade schools for filmmaking here and get yourself going and onto sets to build a career from that. I wanted a full proper Bachelor’s degree so that meant going to a full on school that offered a degree in Film Production. I think there is value for a lot of people at getting a rounded out education and also, like I mentioned before, the deep network you can get from a film school where you and your classmates survive together and build those bonds.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with going to some kind of film program not in Los Angeles or New York. Find a school that has a film production program and has you make some student films and work as a team and you can save a lot of money at a smaller program like that. Then, decide on moving to a market where you can build a career on your skills. Once you have one or two jobs under your belt, no one cares where you went to school as long as you know the lingo and workflows and are good at what you do.

Outside of the film/post production world, I would also add that I think there’s a lot of value in moving out of the place you grew up when you go to school. It’s not for everyone, but if you at all feel a pull to do it, listen to yourself. It’s scary, and it can be a lot harder than my experience was, but the world is an amazing place and you have a painfully short time to experience it.

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Katie Toomey

Katie Toomey is an accomplished LA-based editor with nearly a decade of diverse credits across the broadcast and digital spaces, including serving as editor on the main title sequence for Netflix’s Lost in Space. Born and raised in Indiana, Katie spent the beginning of her career split between corporate video and cutting the few independent film projects in the Midwest including the feature film “Ingenue” which premiered to a sold out IMAX crowd. She then pivoted into commercial and advertising in North Carolina, serving as a staff editor for the agency Mullen Lowe. There she helmed national campaigns for companies like Pep Boys and Tresemme, working on finished products as well as pitching new business. Taking the long way around to California she’s working her way through the unique LA film scene, including a stint at Imaginary Forces. She is currently a freelance video editor.