Not everyone in LA is a struggling actor. Amanda Linnell meets four New Zealanders beating a different path to success.
We found Fiona Connor sitting on the floor next to a set of stairs with a couple of fellow artists, photocopying paper. They are in the soaring foyer of the Hammer Museum, one of LA's most cutting-edge arts institutions with a reputation for its varied contemporary collections and provocative exhibitions. Connor is a participating artist in Made in LA, an exhibition that focuses on the works of 60 LA-based early and mid-career artists.
The stairs Connor is sitting next to are, in fact, her show installation Lobbies on Wilshire, 2012; and are a perfect reflection of the actual stairs that a group of UCLA students are currently and noisily climbing to get into the spacious gallery which loops around a zen-like courtyard. The work, explains Connor, is about taking something out of its normal context, using it and viewing it in a different way. The stairs have been used as seats for group discussions, and today as a platform for the piles of photocopied paper which also are part of the installation; the words written on them are snippets of conversations Connor has overheard in the gallery and discussions between her fellow artists. Indeed, as we sit for the interview at a little table near the photocopier, we, too, are part of the installation.
To be invited to show at the Hammer is quite a thing and a reflection of just how far Connor has come in her career. She graduated from the University of Auckland in 2004 with a Bachelor Fine Arts/Bachelor of Arts, and moved to LA in 2009 to attend the California Institute for the Arts. She graduated with a Masters of Fine Art last year. Studying in LA, she admits, definitely opened her up to the American art world a lot faster than if she'd stayed closer to home. In LA she has a strong network of artist friends, she doesn't have a studio but plans to and she has a growing fan base through commissions and sales.
"LA makes you - keeps you - curious every day," explains Connor. "And with that comes the question to yourself why are you here? This city is so broken, it doesn't really care... Anything goes, but nothing goes."
Like all LA locals, Connor is quick to recommend places to eat, drink, shop, explore. "There are a lot of closed doors in LA, but once you get behind them it's amazing. Last Monday night I was in this club that was rammed with total freaks and I had one of those seminal LA moments and the thought 'I'm never going to leave'," laughs Connor.
* Connor is represented in Auckland by the Hopkinson Cundy Gallery where she will be holding an exhibition next month from September 13. A solo exhibition of her work, Untitled (Mural Design), is currently on display until August 12.
Having Morgan Freeman around for dinner is not an everyday occurrence for Adam Borich, but it is the kind of thing that happens when you live in LA.
Borich, who owns two gourmet pizza restaurants, Lucifer's Pizza in Hollywood's Los Feliz and Melrose Ave, is used to seeing stars - he counts Eva Mendez, Brian Austin Green and Megan Fox as regular customers - but Morgan Freeman coming for a dinner on Christmas Eve thanks to a mutual friend, was a highlight. "He's the nicest guy. Loved my turkey stew and insisted we do the haka for him," laughs Borich, who admits first falling for LA when he was an 8-year-old on a family trip to Disneyland. He returned in 1998, representing the City of Waitakere as part of its student exchange with Huntington Beach and from then on was hooked. "I knew I had to find a way to live in sunny California one day. It just took me 10 years to do it."
Giving up a corporate career in New Zealand and selling his house, Borich took the plunge, five and half years ago, after seeing how bad the pizzas on offer in LA were, even though it was one of the most popular food choices. "LA had not seen anything like a lamb pizza or my favourite SPQR shrimp pizza, so it was a bit of a task to try and get them to open their minds and choose something other than a mozzarella or pepperoni pizza. I now own and run two award-winning gourmet pizza places in Hollywood. My job has changed from the early days of slugging it out in the kitchen, day-in day-out, to now focusing on growing the business and opening our new location on Melrose Ave. It keeps me pretty busy but it's great to see that we have built up a great name for ourselves and the early work paid off. I now have over 20 employees, so learning to how to manage them is the biggest challenge.
"Unfortunately the city has a huge turnover. You meet some amazing people who arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a dream to make it in Hollywood and it can be sad watching them slowly run out of patience and money and have to say goodbye to move back home, burnt out and disappointed. It can really be a tough city in that regard. The entertainment business, which is the big pull factor for so many people, is one of the roughest and most difficult beasts I have ever encountered."
Working in the hospitality industry means Borich is regularly invited to events and parties. "The good thing about LA is that every night is like a weekend night. There are some pretty fun things happening. I have recently found a new escape, riding horses in the Hollywood hills way up under the Hollywood sign. You have the most amazing view over LA. It's hard to believe you can do that right in the middle of this huge city.
"I also love hanging out at friends' houses and just chilling. I try to visit my friends down at the beach as many weekends as possible. I have a cool beach cruiser bike I keep out there and we try and go for a bike ride along the beach as often as we can. It's a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city."
When it comes to LA style, Borich confesses to wearing the first thing he sees in his wardrobe, and says he was more conscious of how he looked in New Zealand "because the bars and clubs there are so strict about dress codes. Here they will let you in in jandals. I think the woman here dress up and are more obsessed with how they look. The plastic surgery thing here is just awful and that just scares me. These people all end up looking like cat women, including the men."
ANDREW (STAN) AND NATALIE STANISICH
Cafe owner & senior project manager, Guess ECommerce
In true LA style we are drinking cold, crisp white wine, sitting in the dappled sunlight of a garden bar of a discreet hotel just off Sunset Boulevard. Across the table from me are Stan and Natalie Stanisich, who moved to LA three years ago after she won a green card in the US Diversity Programme. "I just entered on a whim," she smiles. "I'd always felt at home here when we visited, so we thought let's give it a go."
For the 14 years prior to their move, LA had more or less been Stan's second home as he worked as a flight attendant for Air New Zealand. "I really developed a love for the city," he explains, "and we knew that we wanted to live near the ocean and that ultimately, I would open a cafe."
The pair settled in North Rodondo, 10 minutes from Manhattan Beach, where they found the perfect site for the cafe. It took two years before the doors opened, and in that time Stan worked for Apple. "It was an amazing opportunity to work for one of the hottest retailers on the planet, and learn the buying and working habits of Americans. There's a lot ideas and information that I gathered in that time that I use in the running of the cafe."
The cafe is Two Guns Espresso and the only place, says Stan, where you can find a flat white in the South Bay. "As they say here, it's easy to find a bad coffee, but hard to find a good one. At Two Guns we've been slowly educating people - providing smaller, stronger coffees, and explaining that a big coffee of poor quality is not better.
"It's been a real talking point as has being a New Zealander. We have had to work hard to build relationships with the local community, but it's wonderful being part of that, having our regulars, employing locals."
For the elegant Natalie, her experience in New Zealand developing the digital brands for fashion companies soon saw her making contacts in LA. It was while freelancing for the leading international fashion house Guess that she was offered the role of senior project manager of the eCommerce department at their world headquarters in downtown LA. She oversees the production of the creative assets, promotional assets and brand engagement across three brands. "It's creative and collaborative, which I love," she enthuses "and being involved at the very heart of such a big international company is incredibly stimulating."
When not working, the couple enjoy the laid-back lifestyle and the "almost always" good weather. Walking on the beach, going on culinary adventures around town, holding parties at home, hiking, and weekend excursions to Palm Springs are all part of their LA life.