Jessica Sitomer: Greenlight Coach

Seminar for the SOC

As someone who’s done it all in the entertainment biz, Jessica Sitomer tells us all about the course of her career, saying yes now and figuring it out later, and how being a jealous four-year old Monkees fan sparked her interest in acting.

Where are you from originally and how did you get your career?

I am originally from Westchester, NY. I first knew I wanted to do this when I was 4 years old watching the Monkees. I always liked Micky Dolenz because he was the funny one. I would sit on my rug, eyes glued to my TV waiting for him to walk into screen… and he always did… and I would swoon. Until one day Micky walked out with his arm around a little girl, my height, same age, same hairstyle, and I froze, and did the only thing a jealous 4-year-old could do… I screamed, “MOM!” She came running in like the house was on fire or someone was breaking in and I just pointed and said, “Who is that girl and why is she with Micky?!”

Watching the Monkees from my cardboard house Once my mom caught her breath and found the humor in the situation, she said, “Honey, she’s an actress.” So I asked, “What’s an actress?” And she told me, so I said, that I wanted to be an actress, to which I received those dreaded words, “Ah well, you have to know people.” Well, I knew people, I knew my cousins, I knew my babysitters, and while none of them knew the Monkees one cousin and one babysitter gave me their full set of Monkees albums, (and I still have them, so don’t lend me things,) but I figured if the people I knew didn’t know the Monkees, someone out there had to, so if I memorized ever word to every song and walked around singing them, someone would discover me and put me on the Monkees. And, that’s what I did. I walked around for a year singing Monkees songs. My parents probably should have explained syndication to me at that point because the show hadn’t been shot in years, but why break a kid’s heart right?

You’ve worn many hats in the entertainment industry, and have more than 20 years’ experience as a writer, independent producer, development associate, director and actress and career coach. What has that experience been like, and how did you get started? Did you know you wanted to pursue all those things, or did one job lead to another?

To answer your last question first, no, I had no intention of pursuing anything other than acting, in fact, I didn’t even know career coaching and professional speaking was a career. I got started when I was 21 and went to see Pretty Woman. Although I had done theater growing up, when I saw that movie, and wished that role was mine, I knew I had to stop kidding myself (and my parents) about going into advertising, and pursue my dreams. After two years of training in NY, I was advised by an ICM agent to move to Los Angeles. She said that if I did, she would help me. I jumped at the chance, and on January 16, 1994, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I landed in LA. Twelve hours later was the Northridge earthquake and the agent packed up and moved to NY. I stayed. Again, I put myself in a challenging 2-year acting program, and just before graduating, I landed my first lead role in an independent film. It was on location for a month in Oregon and I was in heaven.
There, I learned a lot about producing on a shoestring budget, so when I got home, I decided to take my career into my own hands. I created a sitcom called Living in Limbo, which started out as a weekly show at the Improv, and 9 months later, I produced the pilot.

I always said if I loved doing something as much as acting, I would do it. So, I gave myself a month to land a job in development. I accomplished that goal, and worked for Debra Hill. At the time we were producing Crazy in Alabama, Antonio Banderas’ directorial debut. The greatest part about working for Debra, was that she hired me because I had produced the sitcom pilot (which reminded her of herself when she was starting out), so she assumed I could do anything she threw at me. I just said, “Yes,” to everything and then would ask friends and mentors how to do it. Like when she asked if I could do a location scout. I said that I could. Having never done one, I asked the President of the company what I had to do, and then after spending 4 hours with an all access pass to Universal’s Halloween Horror night, I delivered, what the producer on the other end of the phone, referred to as ‘the most comprehensive location scout report he’d ever seen’. Luckily, I got to listen in on calls, because my boss took the credit, but I knew I had done a good job. I also knew after many incidents like this (me doing the work of a producer above and beyond) that it was time for me to move on. I was leaving with a second gift, the gift of my very own personal development guy. After the amazing training from Barri Evans, who was the president of the company at the time, on reading and breaking down scripts, I began writing. Having created a lifelong friendship with their head of development, he has read every script I’ve written and giving countless notes on countless drafts.

Immediately, I got a literary manager, based on a treatment for a TV show and two Prescriptions on MTVromantic comedies I’d written. He suggested to me that I write for television because I turn around notes so quickly. I decided to take a television writing class at UCLA extension to learn about the format. It was there, that I wrote my first spec script, and had the bones for an original single camera half hour comedy, called Prescriptions. I went on to write, produce and star in that show, and it even saw a little time on MTV.

Simultaneously, I was working at the Camera Guild, to make money, maintain health benefits, and give back to the community. I did this as their Career Coach. I created the position for myself, after working in member services and realizing the members’ biggest gripe was that they were paying dues and the union wasn’t getting them work. The union’s job wasn’t to get them work, but as a career coach, I could empower them to generate their own work. My supervisor gave me the opportunity to do a 3-month pilot program with 30 members, and the results were so outstanding, that I continued there for 7 years coaching over 1000 people one-on-one, and multiple group coaching programs. I also created a mentor program with over 100 volunteers. When I realized I couldn’t reach as many people as I wanted to help in the industry, I left to form The Greenlight Coach Inc.

What is Lights, Camera, Action?

Lights Camera Action

Because of the great results I was having with my clients during live trainings, I recognized that I had a step-by-step system to success. I created the reality show Lights, Camera, Action, which is Top Chef meets The Apprentice for the entertainment industry. The 15 contestants were a mix of actors, writers, a director, a producer, editors, a TV hostess, and a location scout. My head judges were diverse too, Jen Grisanti, was my entertainment industry expert, Star Ladin was my branding expert, and Robert Finkelstein was my business expert. I was the head judge and host. We had wonderful industry guest judges on every episode, as well. The contestants were competing to be “Greenlit” which meant a cash prize and a yearlong platinum coaching package with me. The goal of the show was for everyone to learn and grow in their careers, so we left out the normal ‘drama’ that comes from contestants fighting with each other, and instead encouraged a supportive environment where the drama was created by the short time limitations put on them for every ‘And Action’ and ‘Elimination’ challenge. What these contestants accomplished in a 6-episode show, was more than most people in entertainment do for their careers in 10 years. Not only did it change the way I coach, because I saw what was possible with the right incentive, it also changed the clientele I was willing to work with. Attitude, drive, and being coachable, is what determines if I’ll work with a client one-on-one.

Can you talk a bit about the consulting services and coaching you provide via THE GREENLIGHT COACH, and who those services are geared toward?

My services are geared toward anyone in the entertainment industry who is an independent contractor, looking for more work, better work, or different work. They know their craft, skill, or art, and I teach them the business side, how to market themselves, network successfully, interview skills, follow up strategies, and much more. I do this in many different ways: 1. I get brought in by organizations/unions to do trainings (1-2 days) 2. I present 3-hour seminars on a multitude of subjects that I tailor to a group’s needs 3. I take on a limited number of one-on-one coaching clients 4. I have an online business school, Greenlight U, which is open for enrollment once a year 5. I have home study programs; Triple Your Contacts Doing What You Love, The Celebrity Status Formula, How to Write Great Cover Letters, and The And Action! Advanced Program (which goes with my book And Action! that can be purchased on Amazon) 6. And ActionThe most affordable, is my Greenlight Elite Program, the membership program I created so people can have access to me as their coach, learn from industry mentors, as well as become a part of an international private online community. 7. Finally, I do keynote and college speaking.

Jenny Yerrick Martin: Industry Insider

KeynoteSAGAFTRAThere’s something really special about individuals who find joy in helping others succeed. Jenny Yerrick Martin is one of those special people.

As the creator and writer of  Your Industry Insider and author of  Breaking Into the Biz: The Insider’s Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career, Jenny combines her experiences as a hiring executive in film, television and music with first hand profiles of artists, entertainers and industry professionals who share their own stories of career successes and challenges, to demystify the process of establishing a career in the entertainment industry. Jenny’s work is a must read for anyone interested in landing a first job in the biz or finding a “better path to industry career goals or dreams.”

What inspired you to start Your Industry Insider?

I have been an entertainment hiring executive for many years. During that time, I’ve interviewed hundreds of entry level candidates and reviewed over 1000 resumes. I started Your Industry Insider because I recognized how little real-world information existed about working in the industry – what the path is for someone in a particular job – how do they get to be an agent, TV writer, film producer, studio executive, etc. – and what the day-to-day is like for someone in the job. Also, of course, best practices for getting into the industry, for moving up, and for staying in the industry. I wanted to be that person giving people the inside scoop on showbiz, hence the name of my site.

Tell us about your new book, “Breaking Into the Biz: The Insider’s Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career.” Breaking_book_cover1

The book is an extension of the content I provide on the site and in some of the free resources I create for my audience. (By the way, I just released a free guide called “Identifying, Landing, and Acing Your Ideal Entertainment Internship”).The idea was to put the whole path together – formulating a career strategy with a target position, creating job hunt materials and honing other resources, and finding and landing the right opportunities.

What qualities have you noticed the most successful people in the industry have in common? And what (if any) of those characteristics have been surprising?

What you would expect is that the most successful people are the most hardworking, for the most part. The one that people might not expect is how nice most successful entertainment professionals, at least the ones I know, are. And I think mostly it’s genuine, especially as people get more established and start having the opportunity to “pay forward” the help they were given early on. But I also think that a key to success in the industry is recognizing the value of your human network.

If you hadn’t pursued a career in entertainment, what career path do you think you might have followed instead?

It’s always been about writing. I love storytelling. Over the course of my career, I have written screenplays, and novels, and now articles. I find that I enjoy telling the stories (and also reading them) of real people more and more as life goes on. The shape of someone’s life story, or an aspect of their life story, is fascinating to me.

For a period of time, I did resume writing on the side. Dull, sloppy, or poorly-written resumes always kill me in my job as a hiring executive – it was very healing to be hired to create something that told a compelling and authentic career story to help someone land a particular job. Many people are surprised by how much creativity I advocate using in writing cover letters and resumes – not in falsifying your background and qualifications, but in telling them the right way to make you seem inevitable for the job you want.

How important is dress/appearance in landing a job? What other factors (aside from experience/talent) are most important?

Well, as I said above, you need to tell the right story so you seem inevitable for the job you seek. And once you do that on paper and get the opportunity to interview, you want to extend that story. Dress to fit into the organization’s culture. Tell stories that convey your qualifications. If you are interviewing for a production assistant job on a television show, you tell stories about how hard you have worked to get the job done, whether the job was a college project (or even something you did in high school), an internship, a volunteer experience, or even a personal experience where the odds were against you and you made something happen or got something done.

A recent example of this type of demonstrating you are right for the job was in the profile I ran of former agent talent Jill Cutler. She wanted to work at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the top agency in Los Angeles, but when she called the HR director, she was curtly told they didn’t have any openings. “I had bought a book about getting a job in Hollywood and it said that even if a company is not hiring, you should just call them every single week until they agree to sit down and meet with you, even if it is just an informational meeting,” she explained “I submitted my resume to a woman at CAA by the name of Arlene Newman and called literally every Wednesday for three months until she agreed to meet with me.” This perseverance, a steadfast failure to be deterred in reaching her goal, demonstrated one of the key qualities required of an agent. It’s no wonder she was hired soon after the HR director relented, and then promoted up the chain to agent eventually.

How have the people you’ve profiled on YII helped you in your own career?

It’s helpful in building my body of knowledge about the industry to have more and more profiles. A great example is that story about Jill Cutler, which is so helpful in illustrating a key point to my readers and the people I speak to at colleges and other events. Aside from my ongoing corporate position, Your Industry Insider is my career so I am not looking to get my scripts read or land auditions or another position.

JYM_7366_Cropped

Has maintaining a career in the “biz” ever interfered with having a normal family life?

This kind of speaks to the above question about my career. I have been a writer my whole career, mostly on the side. I have had interest in my screenplays and have been represented for both screenplays and novels, but I have made my living through my corporate position and done a variety of creative pursuits, including writing, on the side.

There was a point where I was pursuing television writing. I was finding that I had skill in creating in that format and I had enough contacts that I would probably have been able to get myself staffed eventually and start moving up that way. But at the same time I was coming to these realizations, my husband and I were in the process of adopting a baby. And I realized that if I was successful with TV writing, I would see the writing staff on whatever TV show I was working on more than I would see my husband and this child I was finally going to have. So instead of pursuing something that would demand so much time and attention outside the home as a full-time career path, I decided to stay on my existing path and create something of my own on the side. I can work on it off-hours, on my own, and still be front and center in my family life. It’s not a decision everyone would make but it works for me.

Do you teach or have you ever spoken at an industry panel or event?

I do speak to college and other industry groups, both as a keynote and part of a panel. I haven’t had time to teach an ongoing class, but I am in the process of creating a couple of online courses on industry topics. In addition, a partner and I are putting together an all day event in the fall for people who have recently moved to Los Angeles to enter the industry.

You’ve given great guidance on how to break into the industry in your book, but what advice could you give to someone on how to stay in the industry (and have a lasting career)?

From the very beginning of your career, you must remember that you are not just creating a career or trying to reach a goal. You are joining a community and having a life. Seek always to contribute to the community as a whole and help the other members of the community. In that way, you will always be a valuable and valued member of the industry.

Myq Kaplan

photo by Mindy Tucker

Photo by Mindy Tucker

Myq Kaplan is one of the brightest young comedians out there. The 2010 Last Comic Standing Finalist has an unmistakable style, and is one of my personal favorites. I was lucky enough to sit down with Myq during the Moontower Comedy and Oddity fest. Kaplan is doing it all. He’s set to release a new comedy album June 11th, and you can catch him live on Conan TONIGHT!

I first saw you perform on Comedy Central’s LIVE AT GOTHAM. How did you get your start in comedy?

I went to college up in Boston, then started grad school in 2000. I was a singer songwriter for a while (and still am). 2002, I was in grad school around age 24 when I started pursuing comedy in Boston at a place called THE COMEDY STUDIO, and then found out about all these other places up there. And that is the answer to that question.

I did that LIVE AT GOTHAM around 2008, taped it in March, aired in June, and basically moved to New York right after that.

Were you a funny kid?

I don’t think most people would’ve said I was a funny kid. I was pretty quiet. When you’re small, like 5, 6, 7, 8, most kids don’t have a good sense of humor. You laugh at farts then when you become a grown up you’re like, “Oh I can do that again, good.” There’s some period in the middle when you’re like, “No fart jokes!” Maybe not for everyone. Some people might love fart jokes forever, but for me, there was a period where I thought I was too good for them. I know now I was wrong.

I went to this summer camp where I sort of blossomed socially during high school so I feel like I definitely started to do things I thought were funny, and some people might also think were funny, but other people might be like, “That’s annoying.”

So over the course of my life as a comedian, I’m becoming a funnier person as I become a better comedian. Some people have the goal of having the person on stage match the person you are off stage. I’m doing the other thing. My person off stage has become the person I am on stage all the time! That is sort of a joke, but I am kind of like meeting in the middle. imagesI’ve heard that Lewis Black said something like, “If your personality is like a bunch of slices of pie (of different characteristics and traits) then your stand up persona is like 1 or 2 of those and amped up.” But then over time, the more you focus on those characteristics the more you become that character. You know, like in the way that Andrew Dice Clay will seem more like his character than he probably was in the past.

You should see how well I ask questions in my everyday life.

I want to. So no, not a super funny kid.

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Andy Kindler

 

Andy Kindler - photo by Susan Maljan.

Andy Kindler – photo by Susan Maljan.

Comedy veteran and New York native, Andy Kindler, has appeared on the HBO Young Comedians SpecialLate Night with Conan O’BrianThe Daily ShowDr. Katz Professional TherapistHome Movies, The Larry Sanders Show, and is often recognized for his character Andy on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. He is also a frequent guest and correspondent for The Late Show with David Letterman.

Kindler recently performed at the Moontower Comedy and Oddity festival in Austin, TX, and I was able to catch one of his performances, which turned out to be my favorite show of the fest. Hosted by the legendary Dom Irrera, the showcase featured Bil Dwyer, Lucas Bros, Marc Maron and Judah Friedlander. Kindler killed, and his energy had the sold out club rolling.

I had a chance to sit down with the very friendly and very funny Kindler right before the festival got underway.

Describe your process for generating material.

Let’s see. I drink coffee. Actually (Kindler takes a sip of coffee) that was just an excuse for me to drink coffee, although, energy is good. For generating stand up material, as opposed to technical manuals, I really don’t sit down and write. I just wait for things to happen. Because most of the comedy is something that is bothering me on TV or is something that’s bothering me in the world. So it’s almost all interacting with the world, and then because I give a speech every year, or have been lucky enough to give a speech every year at Montreal, (Just For Laughs). I give a speech about what’s wrong with comedy, so that makes me have to focus, and that’s actually a good process. Then I write things down.

I’m not big on giving advice and stuff, but good advice for anyone who writes anything: anytime the idea comes to you, write it down, and you can’t judge it while you’re writing it down. For most people that’s the main mistake they make. They think about the idea and go “oh that wasn’t good” so they’re constantly editing when you need to separate your editing from your creating. So that’s one thing I’m pretty good about. I’m also trying to do more voice memos lately.

Are you your harshest critic?

The thing about stand up is, I’ve tried many different things in life, I was a singer-songwriter, and I can say honestly without being falsely humble I’m confident that when I come out with a joke I’m going to enjoy it, so I feel like I can do it. So I’m not a harsh critic that way. In other words, once I find the joke, if I like it, I like it. The critical stuff is more of how much stuff I’m coming up with.

You were on DR. KATZ

Yeah that was one of the first things I did on TV.

How do you like TV? You were also on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. How does that compare to doing stand up?

I would pick stand up over anything because I’ve been doing it enough years – I can tell the process of it is the most enjoyable of all the things. I can be a very harsh critic of my acting, not because I feel like I can’t act, but I feel when I go on auditions I’m very self- aware, so a lot of times if it’s going to be a part where people get it because the person commits to a thing, I usually don’t get that part. When I started stand up there were many years of a lot of pain. I have obsessive compulsive tendencies. So a lot of the time on stage I was thinking “oh what am I doing?” On stage I was really wrapped up in thinking about what I was doing on stage. That took years to get rid of.

What do you think about taking classes or going to school for comedy?

That’s a tough one, because you know, I was in a duo.  We had a day job together selling stereos. So my school was doing a couple years with him (my friend). We signed up for open mics. I think it’s something that you can’t really be taught. I definitely am not against people who take classes, because it’s so scary to start, a lot of times at that beginning level you’re just performing for other people in the class. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, just don’t ascribe to anyone’s Svengali-like advice.

Who are your biggest comedic influences?

I was influenced by Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, David Letterman, I was a big sitcom fan so I knew about Bob Newhart’s sitcom before I knew about his stand up.images

So I didn’t specifically follow stand ups, but then of course I knew about several, like George Carlin, and then later I got into Lenny Bruce. I also remember loving Richard Pryor as a kid, all the original Saturday Night Live people were great. David Letterman was a huge influence on me because he kind of took that Johnny Carson thing one step further in terms of he was able to make fun of the joke when it didn’t go well. Dave took it to the next level of “isn’t this ridiculous?” Everything is ridiculous, very funny. And the Albert Brooks and Woody Allen movies.

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Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest

image by Jon McMahon

Picture by Jon McMahan

Moontower Comedy and Oddity festival in Austin, TX this past weekend did not disappoint. Event organizers and planners did a wonderful job, selecting terrific venues (my favorite being St. David’s Bethel Hall), the majority of which were in walking distance from one another, and if you had a badge you were allowed to park in the One American Center Parking Garage for free, in the evenings located at 7th and Congress – only a few blocks away from most of the action.

puddles

In only it’s second year, Moontower delivered – the talent was stellar. On Thursday night alone I caught Neal Brennan, Myq Kaplan, Chris Hardwick, the legendary Dom Irrera, Andy Kindler, The Lucas Brothers, Marc Maron  Judah Friedlander, and this awesome sad faced singing clown named Puddles.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with a few comedians performing at Moontower last week.

Check back with LCC later in the week for  in depth interviews with Andy Kindler, Myq Kaplan and the The Lucas Brothers.

 

 

 

Tom Ragazzo – Associate Producer

After studying Television and Video Production at Emerson College in Boston, Tom Ragazzo moved to Los Angeles where he has worked his way up from being a PA on feature films like ALONG CAME POLLY and BEWITCHED, to Associate  Producer on the hit NBC show PARKS AND RECREATION, where he’s in charge of all post production. Now in it’s 5th season, Tom is still with the show and handles the many day to day issues that come with taking a show from the footage that comes out of a camera, to the finished product you see on TV. 

What does a Post Supervisor do?

The Post Supervisor role is different depending on what type of show you’re working on. On reality shows, the Post Supervisor (or Sup) is usually the head of the post department. On scripted shows, the Sup is usually the second in command of the post department, right under the AP or Associate Producer. In the scripted world, a post sup will usually assist the AP with day to day tasks, keep watch over the post PA (production assistant), handle the paperwork and billing for the department and other office type responsibilities.

While each AP runs their department differently, usually you see the post sup handling the video side of finishing an episode. Once an editor and producer “lock” an episode, meaning they are happy with the edit and pass it off to get ready for air, there are a bunch of tasks that still have to happen before you see the episode on TV. Since a show is comprised of both audio and video, there’s substantial work that is done to each of those before air. So the post sup will sort of oversee the video work that happens. That includes things like visual effects and video clean up (meaning adding any CGI to an episode to create elements that weren’t physically there during shooting, or cleaning up the picture to remove any set elements that accidentally got in the camera’s way, like boom poles or crew members), or things like adding opening and end credits, etc. The sup doesn’t actually physically do the work, but they will go in and work with the artist to pass along info as to how the shot should look and then approve the work once done. All of this work eventually gets married back to the finalized audio that the sound team had been working on, and then it gets aired as the show you see on TV.

What are your duties as AP on Parks and Rec? What hours do you typically work?


As the AP, or Associate Producer, on Parks and Rec, it’s my job to oversee the entire post production department. Once the tape comes out of the camera on set, it is my job to make sure that tape goes through all necessary steps to turn it into a TV show.

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