Living the Dream

Renee
Renee Reiff, an Executive Assistant at DreamWorks TV Animation.

A friend who loves writing once said to me that when she came to college, she wanted to be a writer–but now, she simply wants to write.

Sometimes, this is the most specific I can be about my post-grad plans–I want to write. In any capacity or at any company, full-time or not–whatever it takes for me to engage with my love and fascination for words. Technical writing. Marketing. Editing. Publishing. Showrunning. It is true that opportunities to write–to communicate well on paper–stretch across the borders of industries and abilities, underpinning numerous (if not all) departments, and that it is and will always be an important part of any path in life, creative or not. However, while these opportunities seem limitless, the competition feels intimidating and makes them seem much harder to come by. We are many, we English majors, and sometimes the prospects appear to be hopeless.

Despite the infinite permutations of career options that English majors face, I have, over the last four years, narrowed my goals, refined my future vision. The two industries that I would like to work in are publishing and entertainment (specifically, film or TV). While publishing is a newer interest, I have been drawn to the latter for my entire college career. As a pre-med freshman, I immersed myself in different film organizations on campus and, for a long time, considered applying as a transfer of major into the School of Theater, Film, and Television. Eventually, I realized that I would be happiest as an English major (which I proudly am now.) However, I am still active in the movie world both academically (through the film minor) and in leadership and production (through Delta Kappa Alpha, the professional cinema fraternity). As much as my passion currently resides in prose writing and all things literary, I feel sure that one day I will want to return to film and dedicate my time to the entertainment business, to script development, documentary filmmaking, or showrunning.

With that said, how does someone like me–who has no film internship experience–get their foot in the door? To answer these questions, I spoke with Renee Reiff, a good friend of mine and a proud UCLA alumna. Renee was a Theater major and, for the past nine months, has held the position of an Executive Assistant at DreamWorks TV Animation.

In our discussion, Renee gave me an overview of what happens in a typical day at DreamWorks. She assists her boss in any projects that he might be working on as well as oversees daily secretarial activities such as scheduling calendar events for her boss, making phone calls, and constantly collaborating with other assistants and executives in her department and others. She also handles all asset information between production and overhead. Currently, she shadows her boss on the TV series Voltron: Legendary Defender, which will premier on Netflix in June.

Renee and I also had a conversation about Dreamworks company culture, what DreamWorks looks for in potential employees, advice about the industry, and other topics.

  • DreamWorks company culture: “It’s very welcoming. Mark Taylor, the Director of TV Production, has a cool thing where his entire office is filled with candy. He has an open-door policy so anyone can feel free to stop by and chat, not only about work, of course, but about their lives. He has a genuine interest in getting to know people. Apart from that, the office is a great environment. People are all really professional and doing their work, but they’re still having fun. Sometimes there are nerf gun fights and that kind of thing! It’s a really special environment because you aren’t ever afraid to talk to anyone.”
  • What DreamWorks looks for in applicants. “We call it ‘the spark.’ DreamWorks is basically looking for somebody who really wants to be there and who’s not only passionate about content and animation and kids’ TV, but who also has other interests outside of work. Some people are comic book enthusiasts, or love sports. Mark Taylor loves taking people to Dodgers games. Really, what characterizes a DreamWorks employee is a passion to learn, to grow, and a down-to-earthness.”
  • Renee’s future plans. “My next step would hopefully be to grow within DreamWorks and be promoted, but I really still want to learn. If that means being an Executive Assistant at another company, so I can see what it’s like at, say, Nickelodeon, then that would be really beneficial.”
  • Most significant challenge at DreamWorks. “A lot of the time, in this industry, things happen last minute. For example, there was one time when Netflix was coming on a Friday, and we assistants only found out on Thursday. We had to finish everything up–all the prep–in less than twenty-four hours. It was intense, but I loved it because it was fun–we were all coming together, being crazily stressed out and driven absolutely nuts. But experiences like this have taught me how to think on my feet, which is the most valuable lesson to learn.”
  • Advice for someone (like me). “Definitely get your foot in the door through anything–an internship, a friend’s friend, etc. Get to know everybody–don’t be that intern or assistant who doesn’t care to get to know everyone. Take people to lunches or coffee. Get to know the execs. Don’t feel like you’re being a burden to them–most of the time, they want to get to know you, to help you achieve your goals. Make yourself known. And be that person who stays up to read material for a meeting the next morning. Be the person who’s trying to find the hottest script. Push yourself every day–think about what you want to be, and then work toward it. And most importantly, maintain relationships. There are gonna be jerks in this business, but you gotta find the gems and hold on to them for dear life. And the people you don’t get along with–kill ‘em with kindness. Rise above the conflict. They can be as mean as they want to but if you put on a smile they can’t do anything against you. If you react negatively, they have ammo against you. Don’t give them that opportunity.”

My biggest takeaway from my chat with Renee was definitely her suggestion to get to know everybody and maintain those relationships. While I think I have no problem being friendly and sociable, I know that one of my weaknesses is keeping in touch with those who are not physically around me. In the past year, I have gotten random advice from various adults (colleagues or, more randomly, Uber drivers) that all seem to speak the same truth: keep in touch with the people who care about your growth. Don’t lose connections. I have realized during college that this is not as difficult as it may feel. The only obstacle to keeping in touch with people is the fear that they will forget about you if too much time passes, or that they will not want to help you out. Last year, I reconnected with a professor that I had not talked to in almost three years. I’d refrained from reaching out to him because I thought that too much time had passed. Nonetheless, we ran into each other by chance at an on-campus event, and I was surprised that he remembered me very well. A while after that, we got coffee, and he offered to look over any short stories that I had written.

Hearing Renee emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with others has inspired me to contact some of my old professors before I graduate. As uncertain as the future is, I am excited by the fact that there are people who care about my success and growth, and are willing to be there by my side.

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