Last weekend, Paul Haggis, former Scientologist and director of probably the worst film about L.A. ever made, Crash, gave an interview to the Guardian in which he revealed he's moved to New York City. He explained:
LA is pretty much a one-industry town and conversations become quite circular. In New York I talk instead to neuroscientists, bakers and restaurateurs.
Setting aside the ridiculousness of the inference that there are no restaurateurs in Los Angeles (all those poké places must spontaneously emerge from the ether), it's actually a fairly common assertion: L.A. is Hollywood, where they make the movies, where movie stars hang out, and not much really goes on.
Except that it isn't true. Not even close.
“Hollywood would like to be the tail that wags the dog, but the economy of the region is highly diverse,” says historian-author D.J. Waldie. “Hollywood is not an inconsiderable component to the regional economy, but it is by no means the most important.”
According to a recent report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, motion picture and sound recording jobs accounted for just 2.4 percent of the private sector labor force in the city of L.A. in 2015.
The city's top industry? Food services and drinking places — i.e., bars, restaurants and supermarkets, which accounted for one out of every 10 private sector jobs.
By any number of metrics, Hollywood is a tiny part of L.A.'s economy. Take the top 10 employers in the county: the county itself, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the city, UCLA, the federal government, Kaiser Permanente, the state of California, USC, Northrop Grumman, Target. You have to go all the way down to No. 16 before you get to a movie studio — Disney.
Or take the list of L.A.'s Fortune 500 companies. Only one, Disney, makes movies. The rest, from Northrop Grumman to Health Net to Occidental Petroleum to AECOM, represent a panoply of industries.
Or take the list of the top 10 richest Angelenos. Only two — David Geffen and Sumner Redstone — are entertainment moguls. The richest Angelenos are Elon Musk, a tech guy, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, a health care tech guy.
Richard Rushfield, who writes the hilarious daily entertainment industry newsletter The Ankler, defends the Hollywood-as-center-of-L.A. paradigm, saying that the entertainment industry is our calling card.
“Without the entertainment industry, we’re San Diego with slightly worse weather and a slightly larger port for trucks to move through on their way to the Midwest,” Rushfield says. “What brought the tech industry to L.A. of all places? It’s certainly not our tax environment. It’s access to creative people. The culture of Hollywood, the glamorous, creative culture, is very attractive to people who want to set up other kinds of businesses.”
Waldie has a different interpretation.
“Los Angeles is, uniquely, a city in which a niche and a neighborhood overlap, and where you could spend the bulk of your working life within a setting in which you think the people who work around you are the only people in town,” he says. “Spatial fragmentation of Los Angeles abets the notion that we have a fragmented economy.”