There’s no debate that when a show, movie, commercial, or even music video comes on, we’re made well aware of the actress or main character starring. But what about the stars behind the camera? Penetrating the barriers of almost any industry as a Black woman is already difficult, but breaking into entertainment can be even more of a monster. I got a chance to talk to 3 phenomenal Black women who are taking their careers in the industry by storm. Here’s their advice on receiving lessons and trusting the journey:
Who Creates & Pushes the Storyline?
You may be wondering what it’s like to be a creative person behind the camera. Meet Nawara Blue, currently working as a Co-Executive Producer in Unscripted Television with credits on Pawn Stars, Married at First Sight, Real World, and Love without Borders.
“In college, I imagined I’d be like Samantha from Sex and the City. I went to school for public relations but after starting a job in PR soon realized it wasn’t for me. When someone offered me the opportunity to work as a Production Assistant, I took it.” Within a year, she knew she wanted to produce and started working on the track to get there. After being a Production Assistant and Production Coordinator, her roles included Associate Producer, Field Producer, Senior Field Producer, and Supervising Field Producer, respectively.
An Associate Producer is a sort of assistant role. “You’re helping with the vision of the story but none of the vision is particularly yours. You’re helping in the field and even assisting with paperwork.” A Field Producer is more hands on with the cast while helping to execute the vision. A Supervising Field Producer is helping with the vision of the show while managing the field producers. “What do I need my producers to create?” They also help write the beat and script.
Blue shared that in most of the positions she’s had, she was given the opportunity to do more than what her title typically was responsible for. And she was so grateful for that. When asked, “How do you have such a positive outlook on this? Some people would be upset doing a job they aren’t being paid for or even receiving credit for, but you are actually thankful for it. How come?” Her response was, “You could either look at it as I didn’t sign up for this or you could look at it as this is going to be more for me. I may not have the screen credit, but I have the experience and the references now for the next job. At year 13, I might not be as lenient but starting out it’s a great mentality to have.”
One of her favorite shows to work on was The Vet Life, a show she pitched and got to work with her family on. She’s excited to live in the Co-EP space for a while and maybe even pitching more ideas with her acquired experience.
“Eat the meat and spit out the bones” is the advice Blue gives to young women who are grown but growing. It’s a saying her stepfather used to say all the time, and a reminder that we don’t have to take everything as a whole. We can take out the things that apply to us and get rid of the rest, or even put things to the side and save them for later. Some things just may not apply to you in that time and space.
Who Manages the Budget & Pays the Bills?
If you’re looking for the woman to speak to about the money, Tiffany Smith is the one. Having worked on Servant, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, and a handful of shows for Netflix, Disney, and ABC, she currently works as a Financial Controller.
As a Lead Production Accountant or Financial Controller, Tiffany manages the overall team, manages processes and due dates, and reports numbers to the studio she is working for. A few positions, ranked entry-level to supervising respectively, are Clerk, 2nd Assistant Accountant, 1st Assistant Accountant, Lead Accountant, and Financial Controller. There is typically also a payroll team strictly for processing just that.
Here’s a little background on what the job responsibilities on a team consist of. An AP Clerk does the office filing, distribution of emails or mail, and any other duties to assist 1st and 2nd Assistant Accountants. A 2nd Assistant Accountant audits and pays invoices to the show’s vendors, and reconciles the money spent by crew on p-cards. The 1st Assistant Accountant manages the Clerk(s) and 2nd Assistant(s) and makes sure the office is running smoothly. They also do journal entries, reconcile the bank account, and provide direct support to the Lead Accountant. These job duties can shift from team to team.
A lot of what Tiffany does includes “putting out fires and people management.” That can be managing upset crew members, or providing information to financial executives and producers. I also have to do research to make sure I know labor laws and union rules to assist line producers.” She didn’t know this is what she always wanted to do, but fell into it after leaving special events in 2008 and going back to school for Accounting. When she was working as a Corporate Accountant at Broad Green Pictures, she would chat with the Freelance Production Accountants and find out more about what they did. A few years later, an opportunity presented itself to work as a 1st Assistant on a show in Alabama and she took it. Since corporate and production accounting are two different worlds, it took a lot of adjusting at the beginning but she’s been thriving ever since.
Tiffany’s career advice is “Young black women, do not be discouraged. You will run into people who are not willing to give you a chance to work in the industry because it is gate-keep central. You really have to find your people. I wouldn’t have been able to move up without the help of other women who brought me up. And I try to do the same for others.”
Lifewise, “surround yourself with people who keep you grounded. In entertainment specifically, you can lose touch with reality. People outside of it keep me balanced.”
Who Guides the Crew, Vendors, & Flow on Set and In Office?
Chasidy Morris has worked on features, television, and even music videos with credits on Queen Sugar, Lizzo: Good as Hell, Queer as Folk, and Claws.
In her most recent roles, Chasidy has worked as a Production Coordinator or Assistant Production Coordinator where she works in the production office on “paper and people management.” Her job includes making sure paper is properly distributed to crew and coordinating with vendors to make sure things flow properly. “It’s like a mix of project management and event planning.”
“My inner child may have always known this is what I wanted to do, but it took me a while to get there.” She initially went to college with intent to become an attorney, and eventually switched paths. She remembers a movie filming in Baton Rouge on 3rd Street, and she just walked on to the set and asked for a job. She laughed as she thought back to the fact that she just walked onto a production, but it landed her a job and another job and so on. The 2nd part to the story, which is actually the 1st part of her journey, was in her 5th grade American History class when her teacher’s brother and his friends came in to talk about the film industry. The class then produced a show called ‘The Besty Ross Show’ and she will never forget creating the episode of the American Revolution.
Since then she has worked as a Production Assistant, Producer’s Assistant, Director’s Assistant, 2nd Assistant Director, Production Coordinator, COVID Compliance Supervisor and more. Having worked with almost every department has contributed to her success in her current role.
One of her favorite shows was Blackstock Boneyard because of the connections she made. All of the shoots were night shoots in a house in the middle of Louisiana that was probably haunted. But she’s since maintained those friendships and even gotten additional job opportunities from it. And another overall favorite is Claws for sure.
Chasidy says, “It’s not about the end goal or end result. As you’re growing, keep your goal in mind, but don’t be so focused on the end results that you don’t enjoy the journey.”
Asya is an accounting and finance professional who loves fiction novels, travel, writing, nature, and being a plant mom.