Selma Edelman (’84), second from left, is executive producer at House of Moves, an animation and motion-capture studio in El Segundo, Calif. Edelman spoke about being a woman in entertainment for a video profile by Hothouse Productions students including, from left, Yanjuan “Yana” Song (’18), Lauren Casabona (’18), Claudia DeTrempe (’18) and Grace Condon (’18). Casabona donned a motion-capture suit to help demonstrate House of Moves’ work. Photo courtesy of Hothouse Productions

Industry alums talk gender discrimination, taking creative risks and work–life balance

By Emma Guillén and Julie Butters • Videos by Hothouse Productions

The #MeToo movement has underscored a truth women in entertainment have long known: Whether you’re an entry-level production assistant or a veteran filmmaker, you will routinely face gender discrimination, sexual harassment—or worse. COM alums are no exception. They’ve been designated the office gopher because of their gender, experienced unwanted physical advances from coworkers and bosses—and been told it was all part of the job. Early in her career, Jana Steele Helman (’04), vice president of scripted programming and development at Freeform, was told by a human resources representative that disrespectful treatment from men in film and television was “to be expected,” and “if you can’t take it, you should probably go work elsewhere.”

In November 2017, 10 COM students traveled to Los Angeles to film Helman and other BU alums discussing life as a woman and a leader in entertainment in the BU Boss Lady panel, held at the headquarters of the BU in L.A. study abroad program. The students are members of Hothouse Productions, a COM class that operates as a student-run, client-driven video production agency. Garland Waller, an assistant professor of television who oversees Hothouse, accompanied the group. They produced a video of the panel, which featured Helman, Anna Fisher (’15), a television writer and an executive producer’s assistant at CBS Television Studios, Fonda Snyder (’85), an entertainment consultant and president of the literary agency Alchemy Ink, and Sabrina Wind (’90), president of television at Jason T. Reed Productions at ABC. The alums discussed their careers, sexism they’ve faced in the industry, balancing work and family, and collaborating—not competing—with fellow female leaders. “We can help each other succeed,” says Fisher. “Our female boss can mentor us—we don’t have to be mentored by a man.”

© Boston University 2017

An all-female team from Hothouse also produced video profiles of four BU grads working in entertainment.

Nancy Bennett (CFA’80, COM’83), chief creative officer and studio head of the Los Angeles-based company Two Bit Circus—which mixes science, technology, visual arts and storytelling to create stage shows, robotics and interactive games—spoke about her time at MTV, taking career risks as a female creative and her advice for young women breaking into entertainment:

© Boston University College of Communication 2017

Selma Edelman (’84), executive producer at House of Moves, an animation and motion-capture studio in El Segundo, Calif., described how managing BU football prepared her to work in TV, her struggles with work–life balance and how animated characters can help girls cope with everyday challenges:

© Boston University College of Communication 2017

Samata Narra (Questrom’03), senior vice president of comedy development and programming at Fox Broadcasting Company in Los Angeles, spoke about what makes a great boss, her biggest failure and diversity in entertainment:

© Boston University College of Communication 2017

Writer and producer Nicole Savini (’99) was a COM lecturer in fall 2017. The former supervising producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert talked about working with Colbert, adjusting to motherhood and the importance of being open to the unexpected:

© Boston University College of Communication 2017

Students say working on the projects improved their filmmaking skills, encouraged them to be assertive on the job and gave them valuable career advice. “Look to connect [with others], not to impress” was a tip Grace Condon (’18), director of photography, picked up from Bennett.

© Boston University College of Communication 2018

They also learned from Bennett and other alums that while being a woman in entertainment is fraught with difficulty, it also has advantages. “I like challenges; I like things that have never been done before,” Bennett said in her video. “And that may be a symptom of being a female creative, because when you are doing things that haven’t been done before, no one can tell you how to do it.”

BU Boss Lady Panel Hothouse Productions Team
Alec Dakin (’18): photographer
Jordan DeFilippo (’19): photographer/writer
Brianna Ingemi (’17,’19): director
Justin Kim (CGS’18, COM’18): sound/editor
Zachary Schiffman (’18): producer

BU Boss Lady Profiles Hothouse Productions Team
Lauren Casabona (’18): producer, writer
Grace Condon (’18): director of photography
Claudia DeTrempe (’18): director, writer
Mabelin Luzon Calcano (’19): social media photographer
Yanjuan “Yana” Song (’18): sound/editor

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  1. I am a COM ’58 graduate and moved to CA immediately after receiving my degree. I was an executive at 20th Century Fox Film Corporation prior to Murdoch’s acquisition. During my tenure on the corporate staff, I had the privilege of introducing our new president of production, Sherry Lansing, who later went on to greater fame as a top executive at Paramount Pictures. In addition to Sherry, we also also had other top film execs who were female. It was taken for granted that, in terms of gender, both women and men were equal to the task of producing and directing top-notch films, as well as serving in senior executive positions.

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