"Industry Spotlight" is our monthly series where we interview professionals from across the entertainment industry about their current jobs and career trajectories. Our hope is that you will learn more about the positions you're already interested in, discover new roles you may not have considered, and utilize the wisdom of those who've paved the way before you to forge your own path for success.
This month, we sat down with Ashley Griffis, Executive Director, Children's Entertainment at The Jim Henson Company.
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: What is your main job function?
ASHLEY: My main job function is to find and develop new properties into shows that are responsible and relevant for kids and audiences today. I work with the creator/showrunner on the creative of the show to make it the best it can be, including packaging the project with talent, art, scripts, co-producers, animation, curriculum advisors, and so on. It is also my job to go pitch the shows to networks in order to sell them to series.
HR: What is your day-to-day like?
ASHLEY: My day to day is doing whatever I need to do to move each of my projects forward. On paper it looks like emails, meetings, and calls, but in reality it's pitching shows to networks, taking meetings with writers, giving notes on creative, brainstorming, checking in on deals, meeting with new talent, reaching out to agents, researching curriculums, focus group testing with children, taking new pitches, searching for new projects/books, and staying updated on what is relevant and popular with kids, parents, and teachers.
HR: What's different about working in children's programming than other parts of the industry?
ASHLEY: I believe the main difference between children’s programming and other parts of the industry is when you work on children’s entertainment you are not working on content for yourself (or other adults), but for a demographic that is developmentally and a psychologically different than you. Although many of us remember our favorite shows when we are kids, and we are able to tap into that inner child, it is important to remember how different it is to be a child today and what entertains them.
HR: What do you like most about your job?
ASHLEY: My favorite thing about my job is working with talented people with different backgrounds, stories, and ways of thinking. I love being genuinely surprised and inspired by an interesting story/character. I also love being creative with other people and working together to come up with a story or solution to a problem.
HR: How did you get your current job?
ASHLEY: I have always been very vocal about my passion for children’s entertainment and made that clear in college to my professors. So when my professor met a woman who worked at Henson, he recommended me to her. I was then able to get an internship with Henson, and while I was an intern I covered various assistants’ desks. I was then lucky to be asked to stay and work as an assistant. I continued to be vocal about my desire to help with children’s television, and when opportunities arose to help on shows, I was first to volunteer, while remaining a full time assistant. After a few years of being an assistant and helping on productions, I was able to transition out of being an assistant and into the children’s entertainment department. I was then able to work my way up and focus more on development.
HR: What are the skills someone would need to succeed in your position?
ASHLEY: The skills someone would need to succeed in my position are patience and persistence. It can take years for a show to become a series. One of my shows took over 9 years from inception to production. A lot of people think you can come up with an idea and make a show right away, but it takes a lot of time to incubate an idea and to package it with the right talent. In addition, it also takes a lot of time sell an idea to a network -- it all depends on the executives at those networks and their tastes or what’s already on their slate. You could have the best project in the world, but if it doesn’t fit their strategy or needs, or they have a show that's similar, you won’t be able to sell it. However, if you love a project, don’t give up on it. There are always new networks, executives, and avenues to get your story told -- just be open to the ebb and flow of the industry.
HR: If you don't like ____________, you won't like my job.
ASHLEY: If you don’t like selling, you won’t like my job very much. A large majority of my job is pitching my shows and the talent that's attached, including myself as a creative executive and my company. Pitching and selling is very difficult. You are trying to convince people who are looking for a reason to say no to love your project as much as you do or at least see the potential in it. You receive way more “nos” than “yeses” but you have to put the same amount of love and heart in each project even if they don’t sell -- and you have to keep on selling.
HR: What’s something you do in your job that an outsider wouldn’t expect (and maybe you didn’t expect before you took the job!)?
ASHLEY: Something in my job that an outsider wouldn’t expect is how much I have to understand about deals, unions, rates, and credits. It’s important to understand all of these things because I need to be able to manage a budget for each project and also be an advocate for the talent to get them their rates. It’s also important to be a responsible producer and create within the confines of budget so the project will be able to be made. It is also important to manage expectations and work with your own BA to make sure you are advocating for the correct fees for your company and know your own worth and what you will be providing for each project.
HR: What’s a mistake you made early on in your career?
ASHLEY: I made many mistakes early on in my career. I became an assistant straight out of college and had no real formal training on a desk. The biggest mistake I probably made was sending my boss to a meeting on a the wrong day! I somehow wrote it in the calendar a week early and she drove all the way there to find out it was the following week. I double checked every date after that incident. You can learn something from every mistake.
HR: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to break in/move up in the industry, what would it be?
ASHLEY: The best advice I was ever given is to take as many general meetings as you can, and when you are in those meetings ask if they would feel comfortable introducing you to someone else that would be beneficial for you to talk to. Most people will be happy to put you in contact with others that have similar interests, and this helps you quickly get to know more people in your area of interest and allows you network.
HR: Thanks, Ashley!