Women You’ve Never Heard Of

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Interview with Cara Sullivan, Coordinating Producer at National Geographic

From shooting at a rum distillery in Puerto Rico to wrangling puppies for the Puppy Bowl, there’s never a dull moment in the life of a National Geographic coordinating producer. I got a chance to chat with Cara Sullivan, currently the coordinating producer of The Incredible Dr. Pol on Nat Geo! Check it out:

 

Bridget: Where did you go to school and what did you go to school for?

Cara: I went to American University in Washington D.C., graduated in 2006. I was a film and video production major, and I minored in cinema studies.

 

Bridget: Did you always want to do reality filmmaking or were you initially thinking that you would be a narrative filmmaker?  

Cara: Back then, reality television didn’t exist like it does now. I loved documentaries and photography, and working at Discovery or National Geographic had always been a dream job of mine. I was a bit late in deciding where I should go for college, but after I took a television and broadcasting class my junior year of high school, I knew where I wanted to focus.

 

Bridget: How did you first get the job at National Geographic?

Cara: A good friend hooked up my interview – like pretty much everything in this business, it’s who you know. It sort of breaks up into thirds: One third is who you know, one third is your work ethic and you as a person, and one third is your reputation. You need to be a hard worker, someone who people can get along with, and it always helps to know someone. I started working for National Geographic Television in June of 2008.

 

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Bridget: Have you always had the same position at National Geographic?

Cara: I shuffled around between departments actually. I started as a production coordinator. From there, I was promoted to associate producer in 2009. Then, just recently, I became a coordinating producer.

 

Bridget: Can you walk through the job description of the coordinating producer and maybe the difference between that and the traditional movie and TV producer? 

Cara: Right now, I’m on the post-production side. We have a whole team of field producers, cameramen, sound recordists and other production personnel out shooting in Michigan right now. My job here is managing the post associate producers and loggers, as well as overseeing the edits to make sure everyone is getting what they need. I also review all of the footage, cut down stories for the editors and post producers, and get to weigh in creatively. I absolutely love my new position.

 

Bridget: Are you able to share the show you’re working on? 

Cara: Oh yeah! I’m working on the third season of The Incredible Doctor Pol. He is a 70-year-old veterinarian, who runs a clinic out in the middle of Michigan. He cares for large farm animals as well as domestic smaller animals.

 

Bridget: What are some of the other shows you’ve worked on?

Cara: I’ve worked on so many but one of my favorites was a special called, “Inside Fenway Park: An Icon At 100.” It was a one-hour program for PBS documenting the past 100 years at Fenway narrated by Matt Damon. Another favorite show I worked on was called, “The Lost Leonardo da Vinci”, a documentary about a lost da Vinci masterpiece. It was a fascinating show, and I was flown Florence, Italy for the shoot as a field associate producer.

 

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Bridget: Did you work on Puppy Super Bowl? 

Cara: Oh yeah! “Puppy Bowl IV.” That was a Discovery show. That was probably the most amazing shoot ever. My job was basically picking puppies up and bringing them on set, which was a fake football arena.

 

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Bridget: Who or what is the craziest subject that you’ve captured? 

Cara: The puppies were definitely the cutest. Italy was definitely the most interesting because where we were filming in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. We had to film at night with guards so the public wouldn’t know we were there. We were drilling holes through a mural and inserting a camera to see if a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting was behind it. The mural was preserved before we drilled! There was a lot at stake, which made it really cool.

 

The master blenders at Bacardi were really fun to work with because they are mostly all family members, and the product is really amazing. They achieve the signature Bacardi product by smelling and tasting it, and mixing a variety of barrels aged differently to create whatever type of Bacardi rum they need. There are more steps to the process but a master blender blends the final product before it’s shipped. It’s such a cool process and family business, and they are so passionate about it, they are very inspiring.

 

Bridget: You’re making me thirsty for, like, rum cokes now.

Cara: Hah! It’s really amazing. We filmed at the distillery in Puerto Rico and got to step inside one of their warehouses containing hundreds of these recycled whisky barrels that the rum is aged in. Each barrel ages differently depending on where they are placed in the warehouse, and there’s no formula. I mean it’s…it’s mind blowing!

 

Bridget: Starting out in this business, you don’t really make a lot of money, but since it’s a passion of yours you do it. Do you have any advice for women to pursue their passions but actually be able to make it on the small money they are making just out of school?

Cara: I have one outside of my bank savings account that I set up so each month, money automatically goes in and I conveniently always tend to lose the password so I can’t get at that money. I think I do it on purpose. This has come in handy for big emergency expenses, such as a car repair. Also, say my budget is $200 a week to spend on things outside of the necessities like a networking dinner or lunch – taking that money out in cash really helps. Keeping receipts didn’t really work for me. I would just swipe my debit card for everything and not really think about it.

 

Bridget: Do you have any advice for women starting out in the television industry? Maybe encouragement for all the penny pinching and nights in to save money?  

Cara: I would always try to remind myself that it was temporary. When I first moved back to D.C. after graduation, I shared a one bedroom, and it was really sad. *Laughs* But I wouldn’t spend much of my time there. I would go to the gym or walk outside, and I just really immersed myself in my work that I loved. Nine months later I was able to afford a better apartment where I actually had my own room that was also closer to work. So, I think it helps just reminding yourself that it’s only temporary, and it’ll pay off in the long run. As far as making money go farther… When I knew I was going to go to a happy hour, I would make a big lunch and save part of it. I’d eat the other portion at 6 before I went out. So I would just get drinks and maybe a small app. I was still able to be social, but I wasn’t dropping wads of cash on food. Just planning ahead is a huge money saver. I’m also a huge shopper, J. Crew and Banana are my go-to’s, and they always have sales (and J. Crew has an online factory store). Spend your money on staple items like a blazer, long cardigan, silk top, jeans and boots. I wear this outfit every day and just mix it up, so I know what to buy during a sale. I try to avoid buying clothes when I need them because I always end up spending more than picking something up on sale in an attempt to plan ahead.

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Shannon Herber, Assistant to Musician and DJ Moby

If you’ve ever seen a Bourne movie you’ve heard some Moby. Or maybe you’ve seen him on 30 Rock, walking around SXSW or maybe you’re the proud owner of one of the 20,000,000 records he’s sold. You probably haven’t heard of Shannon! She’s Moby’s assistant. I got the chance to talk to her a few weeks ago and chat everything from first jobs to the best star treatments. Check it out!

How did you start working for Moby?

Shannon: I’ve been working here for just over two years and I got the job the same way anybody in the entertainment industry gets their job: it’s who you know. When I moved back to L.A. from Miami, I was looking for a full time job in the music industry. A friend of mine knew someone who worked at Moby’s management company who said they were looking for someone to work with him and my friend thought I’d be perfect for it. I sent in my resume and then a few months later I heard back. I went through an extensive two month interviewing process and then was hired in January after the holidays.

What was your first job out of undergrad?

Shannon: It was just a job. I worked as the general departmental assistant for the interior design branch of a home building company. My parents moved there while I was in college and I lived with them for a year to save up money to go grad school and move out to L.A. At the time, Phoenix was a booming housing market, and there were new housing developments spouting up all over, so I worked in the interior design branch of one of those companies, where people would come to pick out their carpet, interior paint colors, etc.

I remember walking in every day and thinking, “I do not want to be here.” That propelled me to make sure that I got out. I kept telling myself that mundane paperwork is going to exist everywhere, but at least when the mundane paperwork is about music, you’ll like it so much more. And it was true! When I got to Universal, sure, I still went into the cubicle every day and I still had to do mundane paperwork and file other reports, but then it would be a report from me going to SXSW. It was stuff I didn’t mind doing as opposed to, “Oh, let’s talk about the new carpet options for basic homes in the new development down the street.” So I would just say, use those desires to do something different. Use them to make sure you don’t get stuck in a rut because it’s a “good job.”

What did you go to school for? Did you study anything specific to what you’re doing now?

Shannon: Not particularly. I went to Smith College in western Massachusetts for my undergrad and earned a B.A. in English. I originally moved out to Los Angeles to go to graduate school at USC. I earned my M.A. in Communication Management, but that was more along the lines of what I did originally as a publicist at Universal Music for a few years, and I had worked in independent publicity before that, so my degree was more specialized for that.

I can’t really speak much to film or television, but the music industry is definitely more based on on-the-job training and the work you’ve previously done. They don’t necessarily go in too much for degrees unless what you do is very specific, like legal or business management, or anything having to with royalties, that kind of thing.

Did you learn more in school or on the job? Either at your previous job, as you were saying, at Universal, or now working with Moby? If there was something specifically in school that really benefitted you, what was that and how did it help you?

Shannon: I personally learned more on the job. I got my first internship at Universal Music. I worked in their publicity department and when I graduated from grad school at USC, there were no open positions for me so they recommended me to someone else. I worked at an independent publicity firm for almost two years and then when a publicity position at Universal did open up, they called me and said, “We want you for this job because we trained you as an intern and we know you can do the job.” My boss at Universal really became my mentor and helped me out tremendously. So, I would definitely say I learned more on the job.

Also, in my current position with Moby, I’ve learned a lot on the job. Previously, I had never been fully on tour with a band before. During my first year of working with Moby we traveled the world for a total of about five months. So, I was gone outside of the country for a lot of 2011. While working in publicity I had sort of been on the road here and there, but I had never been away from my family, out of the country, for a long time. That was a brand new experience. That takes balls. You really have to love what you do because you’re going to eat, sleep, breathe it every single day, and you probably don’t know where you are or what time it is. I definitely learned so much that first year.

It sounds like that must have been an incredible and exhausting year. 

Shannon: It was an amazing experience. Now I can say I have been to Lithuania, I’ve been to Belarus, I’ve been to Lebanon.  I’ve been to some crazy places, and you kind of get this star treatment just being part of the posse. It is hard, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if I’d want to go back to Dubai as a normal tourist.

Can you give sort of a quick snapshot of a day-in-the-life for you? 

Shannon: Ha, goodness, there is no typical day.

That’s a good answer too! 

Shannon: Well, I work from home, because there isn’t an office. Moby’s management is based in London, but Moby is based here in LA; so when the deals are done and everything is taken care of on the business end by his manager, then I handle the organization and logistics. He could be doing a photo shoot one day, then filming a ‘guest star’ spot on a TV show the day after that. He’s also a DJ, so sometimes we travel to festivals where he performs as a DJ. So, any day consists of me waking up, checking my email, getting back to loads of people on lots of different things. I also manage his house, his car, his personal calendar. I project manage his life, basically. Everyday is different.

This is more of a personal question, I guess. Have you ever cried on the job, or had to leave and cry and gather yourself and come back, or something?

Shannon: I did once and it was mostly because of stress. Stress and lack of sleep. We were in France, and it had been a particularly difficult day. There had been a miscommunication regarding the location of some promotional interviews so we were having a tough time completing everything we needed to get done; certain things were out of my control. As a perfectionist, I like to give a hundred and ten percent on the job, so when you’re traveling every single day, and you’ve had about ten hours of sleep in the last week – like I said, you’re dealing with people in a different culture, in a different language. There’s just loads of stuff happening and you have to manage all of it. At one point I had this moment where I just said, “I need a minute to myself.” I walked away and I kept telling myself,  “You’re doing the best you can. You can’t control everything.” Then I just walked back in and said, “Okay, here’s how we’re going to move forward.”

I would have cried more than once in that situation.

Shannon: Lack of sleep is a hard one for me. Plus you’re in a different hotel room every night, you never know if there’s going to be a soft bed or a hard bed, you don’t know when you’ll get to eat or what you are eating, and it’s usually festival catering. One time we were in either France or Germany, I can’t remember specifically, but I thought they had given us sausages. Well, it wasn’t sausage. It was something like pig intestines. So, then you think, “Okay, I can either continue to eat the pig intestines, or I could go back to the hotel and spend fifty dollars on a sandwich. Hmm…” So you eat the pig intestines.

What do you think is the coolest star treatment you’ve ever had? 

Shannon: There are little things that stick out of my mind, like when we played at SXSW a couple years ago, and we were just walking down the street and we bumped into Michael Stipe. They are old friends, so Moby introduced me. I had the thought, “I was just introduced to Michael Stipe by Moby, and now they’re joking about how they look like each other. This is amazing.” Some days are really cool.

You’re a bit of a singer yourself, aren’t you?

 Shannon: I don’t do it professionally, but I did start as a musical theater major before I switched to English, and I do it on the side as a personal hobby.

You have sung backup for Moby before, haven’t you?

Shannon: Yeah, Moby likes to utilize multiple talents that people have. If you work for him and you play an instrument, he may end up utilizing that talent somewhere down the line.

He sounds like a pretty good boss.

Shannon: Yeah, it’s really great. I had worked as an EA before and I was not a fan of my former employer. It was a big lesson in “money doesn’t buy happiness.” It’s the exact opposite now working for Moby. He’s really down to earth, and he has loads of normal friends who are usually pretty interesting people. He really does try to keep involved with people’s lives and pay attention to who they are. He’s always very aware of what’s going on in my personal life. I had a boyfriend during the first two years that I worked with Moby and he was always very conscious of that. If there was an extra ticket for something he’d tell me to bring my boyfriend, things like that. So, he’s very aware of the employees and their personal lives. It is really important and much appreciated on my end.

Your past employer – that you said was really hard – do you feel like you can appreciate your work situation now more than you maybe would have if you didn’t have that negative experience? 

Shannon: I definitely don’t know if I would have gotten this job if not for that prior EA experience, but I didn’t enjoy it while I was in it. At the time I didn’t have anything to compare that experience to. I think current crises that I run into would seem much larger and scarier now if I hadn’t had that previous experience. It puts what I’m doing now into perspective. So, I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but I’m certainly better off for having experienced it.

Do you have any advice for young women who are maybe just out of college, and they’re in their first entry level position? Do you have any advice for staying tough and getting through it?

Shannon: Oh, yeah, for sure. We all have those days when we need a moment. I just go into the bathroom, give myself a little pep talk and then go back out. Ultimately you want to present a strong, put-together, I-can-handle-anything demeanor up front.

It’s unfortunate to say, but there is still a little bit of sexism in the workplace, especially in the entertainment industry where it can still be somewhat of a boys’ club. Guys in bands will sometimes date their publicists or date their managers, which doesn’t hurt them but can sometimes make her look unprofessional. The lines of play and work are blurred because you’re taking one of the bands you publicize or manage out for a drink, going to a show, then it’s three in the morning, and the band wants to keep hanging out somewhere. I think sometimes, unfortunately, the women in this industry fall into the pattern of, “Well I’m just having fun and hanging out and that’s what I’m supposed to do.” They’re coming in hungover the next day because they were out until four in the morning with the band. I’m sure the band had a great time. Is their boss going to enjoy them being hungover and emotional the next day? No, and it can detract from your professionalism. So, I would just say find a mentor. If you have any issues or are confused about what’s work and what’s just fun, obviously discuss it with somebody who has been in your industry for awhile and whose opinions you value.

Hard work pays off, in my opinion. Everything leads to something else, so make sure that when you make work connections, you’re honest about it. Don’t just try to get something out of people because they do remember it. For everyone who is on their way up, someone’s on their way down, and you’re going to cross paths in both directions. Make sure to be nice to everybody because everyone remembers if you’re not.

Photo Credit: Julia Reed Photography 

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Natalie Scicolone, Assistant to the Fashion Editor of Marie Claire

Name: Natalie Scicolone
Occupation: Assistant to Zanna Roberts Rassi, Marie Claire Senior Fashion Editor

B: How did you start working at Marie Claire?
Natalie: I actually interned at Marie Claire my senior year of college. I didn’t think I got the internship – I stressed myself out to the extreme, but they just told me keep an open mind, and I ended up interning here and absolutely falling in love with this industry and especially Marie Claire. When I graduated college I moved back to the city, and it took me a few weeks, but something opened up at Marie Claire and I interviewed, and I couldn’t be happier as Zanna’s assistant.

B: What did you go to school for?
Natalie: I originally went to school for journalism but then switched my major to retail and fashion and also minored in business and sales. It’s kinda the same realm.

B: Did you learn more in school or on the job?
Natalie: I definitely learned more on the job. Stuff that I do in this job you can’t learn in school. I mean, school gave me a great base for being professional, and I obviously learned a ton and I applied myself…I was constantly learning at school, but what I do here is completely different and things that no one can really teach you.

B: How long is a normal day for you?
Natalie: It is a lot of work – nothing like The Devil Wears Prada, though, because Zanna is an absolute angel. I’m the luckiest person alive to be working for her. But I enjoy working. There’ve been times where it’ll be late and Zanna will find out I’m working and she’ll be, like, “Go home!” So, it is a lot of work, but then again I love it so much that I don’t really think of it like that.

B: Have you ever cried on the job? (Or had to leave, cry, and come back. :))
Natalie: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but definitely. Anyone who tells you they haven’t cried is totally lying. We were packing for my first cover shoot with Zanna and it was during Fashion Week. There were so many things going on, and as soon as everyone left for the night, I was in the fashion closet by myself, and I just had this little breakdown. But sometimes it takes that breakdown and I snap out of it. Sometimes you just need to get it out of your system.

B: How do you get through your worst work day?
Natalie: Honestly, I just remind myself that this opportunity is such an amazing one and I feel so lucky and blessed to have it. Even on the worst day I remind myself that this is only something I could have dreamed of a year ago. Reminding myself of that really helps me snap out of whatever mood I’m in and makes me focus.

B: You work for a pretty bougie magazine, and I’m sure that requires dressing pretty classy everyday. Do you have a favorite wardrobe staple for always looking your best?
Natalie: I have this big obsession with denim shirts. I don’t know if people would consider it a staple but it’s definitely my staple. I have to remind myself that I don’t need a denim shirt in every shade of denim.

B: What’s the one piece in your wardrobe you couldn’t live without?
Natalie: It’s hard to name one piece! I can’t live without my shoes and my jewelery. Especially live-in jewelry – things that I get that are nice and I keep on all the time.

B: Do you have any tips for girls who want to look like a fashion editor but can’t afford designer pieces?
Natalie: It’s all about being really creative and open. There are so many pieces from runway that trickle down into mainstream that we see at our favorite stores like Zara, H&M, and Topshop. It’s about going out and looking. Guaranteed you are able to put a look together for under $100 if you take the time to really search. I think it’s definitely more available than people think!

B: Do you have any advice for other young women as they leave college and are looking for a job?
Natalie: I feel like I could write a book! I think interning is really important. But besides that, one of the most important things is that it just takes one person to give you that chance. And when you get that chance you have to prove to them that they made the right decision. It’s about that one person saying, “I believe in her. I see something in her. I think she can do this.” So, when you get that chance, you really have to own it and not let it go.

B: What’s the best part of this time in your life?
Natalie: Everything! I think the best thing is that this is a time in my life, or in anyone’s life, where we are so young that we can be or do or go wherever [we] want. This is the time when you get to make a name for yourself and it’s up to you how you do it. It’s refreshing to know that if you got an opportunity in London, there would be nothing stopping someone our age from doing it! Now’s the time when you can actually just go and not look back.

B: What are you struggling most with right now?
Natalie: I think that if I had to classify a struggle I think it would be being away from my family and closest friends. That gets hard. But then I remind myself I’m in New York
City, I’m 23 years old… you know? That helps me get past that. But sometimes you just want that home cooked meal.

B: Who’s your biggest cheerleader?
Natalie: My mom. She is the most supportive and inspiring woman known to mankind. I moved here without anything lined up and I feel like most mothers would be like, “Oh, no, you’re not doing that.” But she completely stood by me and I can’t thank her enough for being a cheerleader for me.

B: What’s your dream gig?
Natalie: To be honest, I’m still figuring it out. I don’t think I necessarily have a dream gig. At the moment, what I’m doing right now – being Zanna’s assistant – is my dream gig. I can’t even express how happy I am and how much I love working with her and for her. I’ll figure the rest out as I go.

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Introducing: Women You’ve Never Heard Of

Let’s talk about great women. Women who did incredible things, who broke barriers, who looked stunning doing it. The Joan of Arcs, the Gertrude Ederles, women like Margaret Thatcher and Rosa Parks. These icons have inspired generations of young women to never give up, to stand for something, and to do great things.

But we aren’t all supposed to courageously defend the Falkland Islands, swim the English channel (Who’d want to do that?), or liberate our country from English domination. If every women was called to do that, a lot of incredibly valuable things would never get done. We won’t all be burned at the stake before age twenty, but what young woman doesn’t need to be courageous moving away from home, starting her first job, or having her first child? Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but just because those actions aren’t written in the history books, doesn’t mean that they are any less valuable.

The women who do make it into the history books were given incredible opportunities to use their gifts and talents, but just because our circumstances are less glamorous doesn’t mean we should live our lives with less fortitude, love, and perseverance.

Every moment we are given is a gift, right? Shouldn’t the things we do in those moments be done with purpose and conviction regardless of the task?

The incredible Mother Teresa said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Yeah, she won a Nobel Prize, but, before that, she was just a little nun from a tiny town in Albania. And she did small things with great love.

So, let’s get the discussion started. We are dedicating this column to women who have done incredible things. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, maybe you have. Maybe you’d like to tell us about a woman you know who is doing incredible things with humility, love, and generosity and expecting nothing in return. Here it is. The column of Women You’ve Never Heard Of.