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?!”
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 romantic 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?
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. The 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.