“Friends” in Hollywood

You know the old saying about wanting a friend in Washington?  Buy a dog.  Well, it's entirely the opposite in Los Angeles.  Here, everybody has lots of friends.  It seems everyone is your friend.  Of course, I'm being somewhat facetious. The city is no more (or, in fairness, probably no less) friendly than any other big North American city.  My point is about the vernacular.  In Los Angeles 'friend' can mean business associate, someone you know, someone you met once, a guy you've had a couple of email exchanges with….Truly, people never say "I know someone over at Warner Brothers" it's always "I have a friend at Warner Brothers".  It's never "I know that director" it's "that director is a friend of mine".  Upon my first brush with this practice it irked me as I saw it as fake and disingenuous.  I assumed that people were bragging about who they knew and embellishing the truth.  However over time I came to realize that that wasn't actually the case, at least not entirely.  The word really has a different meaning here.  When people talk about 'friends' they often aren't really claiming to know that person socially, or that they see them on the weekends, or have their home number.  They would even be surprised if you made that assumption.  To them, when they say 'friend' they mean it and expect it to be understood by the listener as 'someone I know'.  It's taken on a more nuanced meaning in this context.  (Recently, I was mediating a disagreement between two parties and each of them said to me of the other, "Well, he's a good friend but…" when it was clear from their interaction that they were anything but.  In contexts like these it can be a very curious affectation that pushes the boundries of any normal understanding of the word.) 

We all know that different part of the country use different words ('soda' vs 'pop') and many industries have their own specific vocabulary.  I'm not sure which one of those two possibilities is at work here.  I'm curious if entertainment workers in New York use the work 'friend' in the same way it's done in LA or if people in LA who are not in the entertainment business (I hear there are a few of such people) use the term as I describe above?  Is it geographic or industry specific?


When people talk about 'friends' they often aren't really claiming to know that person socially, or that they see them on the weekends, or have their home number. They would even be surprised if you made that assumption.

So, how would someone refer to a real friend?

An observation of cultural difference between the left coast and the rest: Back East you're treated like a stranger until you're accepted and then you're in for the whole ride. Out West you're welcomed in on first breath but you will never be fully accepted no matter how long they may know you.

I'm an American living in Russia. The Russian word for "friend" is very limited in use. Most of the time when an English-speaker says "friend", Russians will use their word for "acquaintance". And if its something in-between - you "have their home phone number" - they have a middle word for that, something you might use for old classmates, etc.

It's crept into my approach to English now and I have significantly reduced my application of friend. It is all cultural, and its interesting to see that different groups within the same language can use such a fundamental word in fundamentally different ways. I'm originally from the South and our use of friend I think falls somewhere between the two coasts'

Ah! At last I understand that odd Americanism "personal friend".

I think this relates to another conversation I was having recently regarding facebook.

A former classmate was uncomfortable about whether or not he should accept a friend request from someone that he only considered to be a friend of a friend. I pointed out that it's only awkward because Facebook chose to use the terminology 'friend'.

In conclusion: facebook is going to change the meaning of the word 'friend' for everyone.

Similar terms in other contexts might be Bro or Comrade.

The meanings of Friend, Brother, and Comrade are different, but none of them quite mean what you'd think they'd mean at face value.

In investment circles on the West Coast, the term is used similarly. Still haven't gotten used to it after all these years.

Actually, I see academics calling each other "friends" or "colleagues" at other institutions more than lawyers, for example, calling each other friends. And, if you are not a "friend" of another in the economics profession, you can always say you are from the same "school" of thought. I suspect economist flock as much as those birds of Hollywood.

In "project-based" economies, opportunities are overwhelmingly a product of the grapevine and friends-of-friends. So it's not a stretch to say your future income is correlated with the breadth of your professional network. So however crass it might be to misuse the term "friend", wouldn't it be worse to say "Bob? I know him; he's a professional contact".

In the social web sphere then, it's less "Facebook friend with a dash of disingenuousness" and more "LinkedIn contact with a dash of warmth".


Born and raised in Idaho, and I use 'friend' fairly loosely. I, for one, only use the word friend if I still have (generally) positive feelings about a person.

While we're focusing here on the acquaintance --> friend transition the friend --> significant other transition is also effected. Many of my peer group will talk about a lady/man they've been seeing for months as a 'friend'. I wonder if this is regional, or generational or a common usage that I'm unaccustomed to.

isn't this just the equilibrium of your original reason? why should we expect "friend" to maintain its original meaning in a social universe where there's an extra benefit to embellishing?

Lived in LA for seven years, relocating from the East Coast. The thing about LA is that friendships are far more immediate and also short-lived -- you find yourself becoming pals with someone, then in six months you never hear from them again. My friends made in childhood and early adulthood in NYC are life-long, but most of my LA friends are phantoms now. Also I think people are more grasping and ambitious in LA -- you are only friends with someone if you can do something for them, either socially or career-wise. All of this is one reason why so many people give up on Los Angeles after spending a couple of years there. Bliss at first, then empty and sad.

Is it perhaps because film-making and entertainment are so collaborative and the coordination process is legend? "Bob has signed on if we can get Joe," so you don't ever want to be the weak link.

I work in Hollywood, and I must disagree and say your initial impression was correct. People are, in fact "bragging about who they knew and embellishing the truth." Now, it is true that everyone KNOWS this, and as such, the claim is always taken with a grain of salt thus somewhat altering the practical definition of the word, but the intent is nonetheless the same: to make others that you might be better connected than you actually are.

I've lived throughout the Northeast, both urban and rural, and never once assumed that "friend" was anything other than a true friend, that is, your "NYC" definition. Being now in San Francisco, I haven't noticed a difference, unless I'm missing something.

Dan, I think your observations on freindship have less to do with geography than they do with getting older. I've lived in NYC for 10 years and have always been amused at how immigrants from some countries will refer to me as "my friend" before we've even met. Coming from southern Illinois, I know people who can take years to use the term. I find that tendency a bit stingy, even though I can exhibit it myself.

Now I'm about to move to LA where most of my real friends live. They're the friends I made in college and during my early 20s. I'm sure most of us have similar histories with many of our real friends.

"you think *you're* popular?!? I have friends I haven't even *used* yet"

Political people also tend to refer to everyone that have ever met as a friend. Even enemies they refer to as friends, except with a pause before the word: "my ... friend."

Have worked in the LA film industry for about 8 years, went to USC film school here for four years before. Now that someone mentions it, "friend" is pretty highly coded. It's a very easy shorthand, at least in my experience for "if I call them, it would not be considered a cold call."

I'm a technician with about 60 credits, so I have a LOT of "friends," as it were, people who I can call and say "remember when we worked on 'Tuck Everlasting'?" and all of the sudden we can talk turkey and general good will is presumed. There are two other kinds of people, "stars," who are people you haven't worked with but everyone knows through media celebrity, and "who the hell are they?" who are neither known to you or anyone you know. You always show respect to everyone, but "friends" get the benefit of the doubt in verbal transactions, "stars" get the benefit of the doubt in creative decisions, and "who the hell are they?" get neither at first.

"Friend" is a very quick shorthand, but if I'm ever in a sales meeting and we're going through the Hollywood Reporter looking for jobs to go after, and we go through the process of "Anyone here know anyone working on 'Green Lantern'?" etc... we try to be much more specific about exactly what the relationship is: "I went to school with X and do all his shows." "X knows me by sight and knows my first name." "X dates a personal friend and client and has been trying to find me work" etc... All of these people are "friends."

1. Decades ago, using "friend" instead of "girlfriend" was a genteel way of saying "whether we have a romantic or sexual aspect to our relationship is actually none of your business."

2. Traditionally, an Englishman does not make a friend unless he has known the candidate for at least five years.

Richard Gadsden's post triggers a memory (which may stand some correcting) that in the House of Commons:

1. A "friend" must be of your own party

2. A "right honorable" friend must be a privy councillor

3. A "learned" friend must be a barrister (not a solicitor? -- not sure)

4. A "reverend" friend must be a clergyman

5. A "gallant" friend must be an army or navy officer

6. A "noble" friend must be a peer or courtesy lord (including Irish peers who were eligible to sit in the Commons in the 19thC?)

Under that system, Winston Churchill eventually became a Tory's "right honorable and gallant friend" and I once knew who held the record for most adjectives, I believe a 19thC Irish peer who took Orders after having served in a war, and eventually advanced to the privy council, and who was therefore a noble, gallant, reverend and right honorable friend -- but not learned.

I think that Hollywood moguls should adopt a similar hierarchy of adjectives to denote the relative wonderfulness of their various "friends." They should also adopt the colorful clothing of the Lilliputians and wear various colored threads around their waists to denote their own degree of mogulness.

There are alot of different types of friends, and everywhere you go in the world people say things in a different way. This is one thing that they do in California, if I work with someone I would perfer to call them my coworker. Although out west they are more likely to call them their friend. I also think that there are many different reasons for this; alot of people in California feel they would rather be "friends" with someone than a person they know because of the way is sounds when rolling off the tongue. I like the example used with soda and pop, it shows how when you go different places people use different names for things. I moved from North Carolina to Michigan for awhile and I found this very persistent. The things that are said up there are pronounced differently or even have a different way of saying things. This is something that you have to get familiar with and it becomes easier to understand what a person really means by what they're saying.




Comments for this post are closed