Shayna Waldman – Development & Production Exec, The ATS Team
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
Sure, I am born and raised in LA, and I studied Philosophy, Religion and Psychology at Bates College, a small liberal arts university on the East coast in Lewiston, Maine. The plan was to be an Attorney (like my Father), however, after graduation and working at a law firm for a couple of years in Boston, I began to question my career plans. On moving back home to LA my childhood best friend hired me to work as a Production Assistant on a new celebrity dance competition show. The law exam prep books were put down and never opened again.
My current role is Development & Production Executive. We’re in an industry that likes to box people into their section or niche, and it can be challenging to cross over or straddle both. For instance, going from unscripted to scripted show production, from TV to Film, from creative to production, from one country (USA) to another (UK), from professional to Mother AND professional.
What I have found is that if you work hard enough, and people like working with you, you really can do any of these things (or all of them). I have always tried to prove this to myself and others. The only limits are the ones we set ourselves or allow others to set for us. My incredible boss and The ATS Team have supported me in these endeavours and have allowed me to oversee production and development for our UK and global operations. From any given day, I might be building relationships with external producers, working on a new show format, pitching to a broadcast executive, attending a legal or finance workshop, running a cost report meeting or solving any number of issues out in the field. I love the constant challenge and no two days are the same.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not formally, but I am always planning my career in my head. Constantly evaluating, planning and adjusting.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Moving to the UK after building a career in LA has absolutely been a challenge. You need to start over, a challenge which has been clearly exacerbated by the pandemic.
In our industry, it really is all about relationships. People have to know you and like you to move ahead in terms of business. I have found that some Brits love Americans, and some aren’t as interested… You’ve got to get in where you fit in, and I live by the “work hard and be kind to people” ethic. Being extremely aware of others and “reading the room” are hugely important – something a tad harder when you aren’t physically in the room with them and have to speak over Zoom. Plus, you’ve got A LOT of personalities in our creative industry – so be yourself and accept you can’t please everyone!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Oh, this is such a tough question. I am confident about my achievements in general, but when asked to pick one, for a second I think to myself, do I really have any “achievements”? We are so obsessed with defining an “achievement” as awards or formal milestones. But to me, deciding to upend the progress that I had made in my TV career out in LA to completely start over in the UK has been a serious achievement. It has taken so much effort, a serious amount of studying, network building and perseverance. I’ve been working in the UK on and off now for nearly 6 years, but still feel like I just got here.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
How much I care. Because I care so much, I work very hard (sometimes too hard…) and I am constantly studying or training to be better at my job. I am also a good problem solver, which might even be my top skill – and problem solving makes up most of my career. Also I am kind to people and try to create a positive environment in which people are happy to be and to work. Often, I find people will put in more effort because of it. I always try to be a mentor and to be there for people. It can be a tough industry, with a difficult reputation. I am working to change that. I am also very reliable and resourceful, and I really believe these have helped me progress.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I love mentoring! I try to be a mentor to anyone and always make myself available to help people, whether it is answering one question or a thousand, giving advice, making an introduction, or spending time training on how I do things, or lessons that I have learned. I used to run the internship program at my first company. One summer I accepted 9 interns into the program. I didn’t want to turn anyone away who I felt really wanted to be there. It was certainly a challenge, but it was worth it to give 9 very motivated students the opportunity to go forward and create more opportunities.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Our limiting beliefs in ourselves and each other. I blame our culture, which is a much longer conversation, but we’ve got to be constantly aware of and evaluating the thoughts we have and the things we say to each other and about each other. There are a lot bullies in our industry (I have seen way more in LA than the UK, but I know it is a significant problem here as well) and we have a culture that not only allows them, but often glorifies them or excuses them. A recent example of this is the rant that Tom Cruise just went on about Covid. The way he spoke to his colleagues was so uncalled for, even though his message was on point. The response was really split. I saw an uncomfortable amount of people in support, saying the way he spoke to his colleagues was perfectly reasonable, given the message. We have so much work to do to change our culture and understand the toxic effects of creating and upholding certain environments. I am really happy that things are starting to change and people are at least being given a platform for these discussions, like this one.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I experienced a lot of bullying in my earlier career, particularly from a very successful top executive producer in LA (who is even more successful and powerful now), and I wish I stood up for myself. The entire team knew about their behaviour and allowed it. I was not the only victim, it was the environment he created. He was the kind of guy for whom there would be an announcement when he arrived, and everyone would have to get into their places and “look alive”, no matter how they felt or what they were experiencing. I hope he’s gotten better over the years. Or if not, I hope people will start standing up to him. But I think you learn with age and experience, so I try really hard not to be so hard on myself about it. Maya Angelou had better advice than I can ever give: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge and what I am hoping to achieve (and won’t stop until I do…) is to sell the first original format UK format for The ATS Team.
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