Two alumnae who hold powerful behind-the-scenes roles in Hollywood recently shared experience and advice with students.
After graduating from UC Davis, Alana Kleiman (B.A., international relations, ’00) headed to Los Angeles hoping to land a job in the entertainment business even though she had no contacts. Twenty years later, she’s now vice president of Seth MacFarlane’s production company Fuzzy Door.
Stephanie (Herman) Levinson (B.A., communication, ’06) started a similar journey after graduation. Seeing UC Davis on Levinson’s resume caught Kleiman’s eye and she gave Levinson her first Hollywood job at 20th Century Television. Things worked out for Levinson there; she is now senior vice president head of 20th Television, Disney Television Studios.
The duo recently met online with students in a cinema and digital media studies class to give insights on working in the entertainment business.
“It is a real coup for our students to get this,” said Andrew Smith, professor of cinema and digital media.
Getting started has gotten easier
While both women were interested early on in the entertainment industry, it wasn’t easy finding a way to break in when they were starting out. When Kleinman was looking for jobs, she faxed her resume to every talent agency in Hollywood.
Today, online job boards, LinkedIn and other virtual networking platforms make it easier, they said. They also say the business is more open to people who are not from Southern California or graduates from traditional feeder schools such as UCLA or USC.
“(The industry) is looking for non-LA people, people with a different point of view, and they want to have a bunch of different voices in the room,” said Levinson, whose projects include This Is Us, Modern Family, The People v. O.J. Simpson and The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
The field has also become easier to enter as the lines between film and television have dissolved – actors and writers are also producers and directors and own production companies.
“When I started it was all compartmentalized,” said Kleiman, who has worked on Family Guy, American Dad!, The Orville and Hulu film Books of Blood.
“There is no traditional path anymore. Family Guy hires people off Twitter,” she said.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the demanding nature of entry-level jobs.
"The hours were crazy and the pay was horrible,” Kleiman said. “You have to be willing to start at the bottom and you can’t think you’re too good for it.”
Running errands is a big part of the job and doing that well goes a long way.
“You want to be the person that they want to get their coffee,” Levinson said. “Your job is to make their lives easier and do it with a smile on your face.”
Roll with the punches and evolve
Adaptability is the key to lasting in the entertainment business, they said. The industry is in constant flux, with mergers and leadership changes, projects that peter out and are subject to the whims of public taste, the global economy shifting and, as 2020 has shown, pandemics.
Although Levinson has worked for the same company her entire career, that company has gone through many changes, including being acquired by Disney in 2019.
“You need to think about the long game,” Levinson said. “There are culture shifts and you have to be flexible. The flexible people end up still having a job.”
Although they have many years in the business, what inspired Kleiman and Levinson at the start still inspires them.
“You’re reading scripts and looking for that lightning in a bottle, connecting actors and directors,” Levinson said. “I’m in a position to see the landscape and help facilitate that. Being part of putting a show together that can reach so many people and be something they talk about at the dinner table — it’s awesome to be part of that.”
“I’m still a fan first and an executive producer second,” Kleiman said. “Even after all these years.”