Fellow Georgetown Hoya, and empire-builder, L.A. Ross has been making a name for herself in the entertainment industry through hard work, taking risks, and by keeping her eye on the prize. She’s worked for TheWrap, FOX News, 20th Century Fox, and Lionsgate, and she’s just getting started.
Below she shares with us who inspires her, how she’s paving her way in the entertainment industry by following her passions, working with James Franco, what we can learn from her experiences, and how Robin Williams was her most memorable interview.
Hi L.A., thank you for speaking with us, can you tell us about how you got your start in the entertainment industry?
I grew up with a mom who was a radio DJ and had her own TV show in D.C., so I guess you could say entertainment is in my genes. I studied broadcasting and journalism, and since I majored in Government at Georgetown University, it was pretty natural for me to work in news in Washington. I got an internship at Fox News the fall after I finished undergrad, and they decided to keep me around for four years!
While I was there, I realized what I loved most about the job was making television, more so than reporting news. So — and this is actually insane — in 2011 I quit my job and moved to Los Angeles to get my master’s degree from the Producers Program at UCLA. And I LOVED my time there. I met great friends and mentors, interned at spots like Lionsgate and 20th Century Fox, and most importantly, learned how this industry works.
Writing for TheWrap was a logical transition between my journalism background and entertainment future.
What were some of the challenges that you faced while at FOX and at the Wrap? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge at Fox was probably making the transition between the logistics side of the newsroom to the editorial side. What I found was the best way to prove you can do the job is to just do the job. While I was an assignment editor, I pitched stories that got produced and paid much more attention to the actual daily developments and their implications, rather than just the news-gathering aspect. I had to be aggressive about it, and in the end it paid off.
The daily challenge at TheWrap, and I imagine all the trades, is the delicate balance you have to maintain between pursuing tough stories and keeping the lines of communication open. The trades are different than general newspapers, in that trades are built to perform a service for a very specific group of readers that’s educated in the subject matter. And those readers are also your sources.
In politics, all news is pretty much bad news, or at least extremely critical. Politicians expect it; their whole industry (yes, I consider politics an industry) is adversarial, so it’s natural to have an adversarial relationship with the press as well. But with entertainment, you’re dealing with artists, extremely subjective material, and a whole cadre of people whose livelihoods depend on whether the public buys their product. If a movie gets a bad review, or even a good review but the box office numbers are soft, public perception of the product is colored negatively. So if you write a critical story — no matter how accurate or fair it is — undoubtedly you’ll have hurt feelings, and sometimes it takes a while for people to get over it.
What are some of the biggest career risks that you’ve taken? What advice do you have for those looking to “take a big leap” and follow their dreams?
Well like I mentioned about my transition at Fox, it was a huge risk to put myself out there and try to move over to the editorial side. That was a rare feat, and it didn’t come without some roadblocks and rejection. But I knew I would be happiest as a producer — and that I had the chops — so it was all worth it. I think, if you want a promotion or want to move to another unit within your company, the best way to assure your bosses that you deserve the change AND can handle it is to take every opportunity to learn the ropes, fill in where you can, and offer suggestions and ideas where appropriate while still doing your own job 100%.
As far as taking a big leap… well, I got that promotion about a month before I found out I was accepted to UCLA! So I was at a really tough crossroads, but I had the support of my colleagues who recognized I needed to pursue my dream career. It was the same thing when I left TheWrap. I met some great people there who were incredibly understanding and supportive when I realized I needed to shift gears. Both of these things are crazy, mind you — I left gainful employment and two promising career tracks because they weren’t fulfilling that creative passion. I most fortunate to have the love and support of my husband, Lee. He not only was willing to uproot and move to Los Angeles with me, right after we got married, but to support both of us financially while I was in school and be okay with my decision to take time off to build my writing portfolio. I’m so lucky in that regard.
If I hadn’t gotten married I still would’ve pursued my dreams — I worked full time during undergrad so I could afford Georgetown — but having Lee this time around makes it that much better.
Who are some of the women in entertainment that you admire and why?
Shonda Rhimes obviously, not because she’s a black woman running multiple hit shows but because she doesn’t make a big deal about being a black woman running multiple hit shows. When I first heard about Ms. Rhimes’ race-blind casting process, I was like, “THIS is what all casting, and hiring, and school admissions processes should be like.” Her producing partner, Betsy Beers, is phenomenal as well.
Mindy Kaling’s career path is one I’d be happy to emulate as well. Writer/producer/commedienne is a great title (I think I could do without the actor part!), and she’s funny as all get out. And she’s another woman who doesn’t bend to controversy, which I appreciate.
He’s not a woman, but Mark Boal is someone I admire as a journalist who’s making a point of combining the two industries I’ve built my life around.
What advice do you have for other women looking to break into media and broadcasting?
I think this advice would apply for all young people, not just women. It’s the best advice I got, from my 10th grade journalism teacher: don’t major in journalism or broadcasting if you want to be a journalist. Major in something else, and keep up your journalism chops by writing for a small paper or interning at local news stations. By studying something like Government or Business, you’ll have a niche. Think about how arcane CNBC can seem to someone who isn’t a Wall Street broker, then think about how valuable a good producer who knows the subject matter inside and out could be to that network.
Who was has been your favorite person to interview and why?
I’ve done a lot of red carpets since I’ve been out in Los Angeles and been able to interview a lot of really cool people. The one that really stands out right now is Robin Williams. I think about how lucky I was to have interviewed him. It was at the premiere of “Happy Feet 2,” and he was just so pleasant and humble — and funny! It was actually the second time I met him; the first time was maybe six or seven years before in D.C. I made him a double espresso at Starbucks. I can’t imagine how stressful it must be for comedians to feel like they always have to be “on,” so it was nice to just talk to him.
What have been some of your most memorable assignments?
I covered a wildfire last year. I may have moved away from journalism, but I will always love covering natural disasters. They’re just so raw; the situation can change at any minute. And those are the assignments when I felt like my job really meant something, where my reporting could help people get out of harm’s way or let them know how they could help others in need.
What’s next for you and how can we stay in touch?
While I was in school I produced a short for James Franco — it was actually featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live! So we’re submitting the completed feature to film festivals and working on getting distribution.
Being a showrunner is my endgame. Beyond writing, I know the producing side and actually enjoy the industry politicking. So I’m doing some freelance producing and writing right now while I build my screenwriting portfolio. It’s a pretty great gig!
If anyone wants to reach me, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @LARoss!