Meet Three Women Working Behind the Scenes to Make Your TV Shows a Reality
The entertainment industry has been seeing major shifts in how women are treated in the workplace since the startling #MeToo revelations began. While the industry still struggles with the gender pay gap and diversity in entertainment across all jobs, there are more women at the helm than ever before. In our Women in TV series, we chat with female producers, writers, and crew members who prove that being in the entertainment industry isn’t just for boys. This week, we talk with three women who work behind the scenes in television as a locations department coordinator, a talent manager, and a writer’s assistant to learn how there are more roles for women than just in front of the camera.
Meet the Behind-the-Scenes Women in TV
When you watch the credits rolling by after your favorite TV show or hear a writer thank her manager during an award speech, you might wonder who these people are and what exactly they do. To get the scoop on what life is like behind the camera, we spoke with Kristy Turner, a locations department coordinator for TV and film; Rachel Miller, a talent manager and founder of Haven Entertainment and nonprofit Film2Future; and Celena Cipriaso, an emerging TV writer who earned a coveted spot in NBC’s Writers on the Verge program. Each of these talented women contributes to the entertainment industry and shares her insights on where she thinks the business is headed.
(Kristy Turner; photo via Kristy Turner)
Brit + Co: For people who don’t work in the entertainment industry, what’s your title and what are your responsibilities?
Kristy Turner: I am a locations department coordinator for TV and film. The locations department finds and manages each location that isn’t shot on a stage. My responsibilities include working with locations on getting a contract in place, making sure our legal and risk management departments sign off on them, working with the accounting department to get checks cut to pay the locations, and then organizing vendors for each location (such as dumpsters, tents, tables, chairs, air conditioning, heaters, lights, catering, etc.).
Rachel Miller: I’m the founding partner at Haven Entertainment. My responsibilities are running the company and making sure our clients’ careers are moving forward and that they are steadily working.
Celena Cipriaso: I’ve been a TV writer, a script coordinator, and a writer’s assistant. As a TV writer, I wrote four episodes of All My Children. I was responsible for writing a script from an outline of the show. I’ve been a script coordinator for The Arrangement on E!, a prime-time scripted drama. I double-check all details and changes of the outlines and scripts before publishing it. I’m also in charge of tracking legal clearances, and I’m the liaison between the production and writing departments. As a writer’s assistant (which I did for part of season 1 of The Arrangement and for Starz’s Teresa), I sat in the writers’ room all day and took notes of stories being broken and track what beats have landed. Right now, I’m working on getting staffed on a prime-time show.
(Rachel Miller; photo via @laurenelisabethphoto)
B+C: What does your typical workday look like?
KT: I often start getting phone calls and texts around 5:30am, especially if we’re shooting on location that day. Vendors may have questions on deliveries, or the location managers in my department may need my help in organizing something last-minute. I typically get into the office around 9am and check the status of any hot ticket items, like agreements I’m waiting to get signed or checks I’m waiting for. I work with several key assistant location managers in the department (there’s usually one assigned to each location), and I work with each manager to get things prepared for that location. Some locations have a lot of neighboring homes or businesses, so in addition to paying for the location we have to create deals with the neighbors for either getting their property in the shot or for inconveniencing them on our shoot day, so I help process those agreements. I’m lucky enough to leave around 6pm each day (an unusual feat in TV production), but I’m sometimes fielding calls, emails, and texts until 10pm each night.
RM: I try to structure my week so my meeting days are grouped Tuesday through Thursday (which really means I am spending most of my day in the car running around all of Los Angeles). I keep Monday and Friday free for reading client material and giving notes. But the biggest part of my day is following up on people we submitted projects to, trying to get client meetings with executives on the books, setting pitch meetings, and making sure things are moving forward on behalf of our clients. I also founded the nonprofit Film2Future to bring at-risk, diverse youth into the entertainment pipeline, which means I’m constantly checking in on our students or doing the million things that need to be done to keep a nonprofit going. Basically, I am on email/text 24 hours a day.
CC: It varies. When you’re a TV writer, you’re either in the room all day breaking story or you’re off writing, trying to meet a deadline. As a script coordinator, you have to tackle whatever is being thrown your way — whether it’s a problem with clearances, publishing a production draft, or helping writers track a story. As a writer’s assistant, you’re in the room all day, typing everything that’s being said and organizing it in a readable fashion for the writers to look over.
(Center of NBC’s Writers on the Verge photo: Celena Cipriaso; photo via Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
B+C: How did you land your first gig?
KT: I had worked on a few films when the location manager I worked with got hired on a TV show and brought me along. I worked on four seasons of that show.
RM: I was 23 at the time and had just finished my third year being a Hollywood assistant and simply couldn’t take it anymore. I called up my best friend Jesse Hara (who was also an assistant) and said, “Let’s start our own company!” He said, “Are you crazy?! That’s a terrible idea! We are just assistants!” I countered with, “It’s like going to grad school. We will be taking on the same amount of debt to go to grad school. If this doesn’t work, we will have learned more than we would have in grad school, and we can always get a job after a year if this doesn’t work out.” I convinced him. From there, we promoted ourselves from assistants to CEOs, took on some bank and personal debt, launched our first company called Tom Sawyer Entertainment with eight clients, and away we went!
CC: My first TV gig was at All My Children, which I got through an internship contact from my time at ABC Daytime. That one connection led to my first job in LA, which was as a writer’s assistant for The Young and the Restless. My first prime-time job I got from a writing friend I made at a networking event I organized while I was still living in New York.
B+C: What is something people don’t know about your work that you wish they did?
KT: I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 10 years, but I didn’t really get to know this city until I started doing this work. I also get to learn fun things like which movies and TV shows shot at what locations, and now, when I watch things, I can often pick out the exact location where it’s being shot. Some people might think it takes the magic out of it, but I find facts like that really interesting.
RM: I wish people knew that not everyone is ready for representation when a manager/agent starts calling or when they themselves set out to look for representation. Managers work 24/7, and we expect that same work ethic from our clients. A writer’s gift is they can work any hours they like, but we expect them to put in the same (or more!) total hours that we are working on their behalf. However, sometimes a writer isn’t ready for that kind of commitment.
CC: When you’re trying to break into prime-time scripted shows, it’s easier if you brand yourself in a certain way. For example, a writer that specializes in sci-fi or fantasy, you’re expected to always write those type of samples or try for those type of shows. But I love writing sci-fi genre stories, and also dark, more realistic stories about complicated Filipino characters. I would love to be able to do both types of shows. Hopefully, I can.
(Rachel Miller’s Film2Future nonprofit; photo via @laurenelisabethphoto)
B+C: What do you love about working in TV?
KT: TV as a medium for storytelling is becoming so much more powerful. It’s going through a renaissance right now, and I like being a part of it.
RM: My favorite part of the job is helping new voices break into entertainment. The very best days are when you can call an emerging talent and tell them they got their first professional job or that someone wants to buy their script. It never, ever gets old! Being able to tell someone that they can quit their job at Trader Joe’s and get paid to write/act/direct is why I got into the business in the first place.
CC: I love how TV tells the journey of a character through multiple seasons and how we see them grow and evolve and become emotionally attached to them in the process.
B+C: How do you see women’s role in producing television evolving and changing?
KT: It seems like there are a lot more women working in TV now, even just from five years ago. The first season of TV I worked on, the major positions were primarily men. In my department, I’ve always been the only woman. The show that I just wrapped up had two other women in my department, two of the three directors were women, the heads of the art, set decoration, props, hair, makeup, costumes, and accounting were all women, and the executive producer/co-creator was a woman. The playing field is really opening up.
RM: Truthfully, I think we will start to see more women, and specifically women of color being in charge — both as showrunners and the executive side. We need women calling the shots (both on set and in the boardrooms) to really see the numbers start to change.
CC: It’s expanding. More female directors and writers are being put in the mix for shows. People are finally acknowledging that telling stories from a female point of view is really important, and I have seen more of an emphasis on female protagonists in scripts I’ve been reading.
Would you love to work in the entertainment industry? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature an interview with a boss who has your dream gig!