Your favorite book is about to become your favorite show to binge-watch. Netflix is banding together with a team of amazing women like Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon and Charlize Theron to make the book that started a movement a scripted television comedy. We chat with the show's kick ass Executive Producer, LaverneMcKinnon, to get the scoop on the show, as well as what it takes to make it in the entertainment biz.
Tell us what an executive producer is?
In television (as opposed to feature films), there are essentially two kinds of Executive Producers: writers and non-writers. The Executive Producer who is creatively and fiscally responsible for the series is called the showrunner and is typically the writer and creator of the project. All final decision making comes from the showrunner—think of that person as the CEO of a corporation. Sometimes there are writers on a project who receive Executive Producer credit, but they are not the showrunners.
Then there are three kinds of non-writing Executive Producers. I’m a non-writing Executive Producer and my job is to get the project started—it’s a very entrepreneurial position. So I find the intellectual property (which could be a book, life rights, an article, or an original idea). If the property does not have a writer, then I will find the right writer to bring the project to life, and I guide the creative, sales and production process for that project. My most important job is finding and hiring the showrunner (a.k.a. CEO) for the project and then empowering and supporting that person.
Other non-writing Executive Producers can be the director or the intellectual property holder—for example, Sophia is Executive Producer for the Girlboss series!
What's your day to day like?
Ha! I’m a classic over-achiever—starting my workdays with bootcamp, meditation, supershakes in order to prep me for my day … because every day is a little different. I typically have creative meetings or work sessions with writers where I hear pitches for new ideas, or we brainstorm on a project and what direction it should take, or I’m giving feedback on an outline or script. I’m also sending a lot of emails to follow-up on projects to make sure we’re meeting deadlines, or continuing to move forward in a productive, thoughtful manner. I like to set aside time every day to “think thoughts”—my biggest challenge personally is not the “doing,” it’s the feeling and so I carve out time to connect to my intuition. A part of my day also involves my family (of course!) so I take one of my two daughters to school every day, do my best to pick up at least one of the girls from school a few times per week, and to be home for dinner and put the kids to sleep. After they go to sleep, I usually work for a few more hours reading, catching up on emails and mapping out what needs to be accomplished in the next day.
A lot of people say it doesn't matter what you do with your undergraduate major, because it's not what you end up doing as a career, but you majored in Radio, Television, & Film. How much did your undergraduate major actually set you up with skills that you still use now?
Hmmm, what a great question! My major was a production major and I unfortunately did not learn a lot about production because when I was at school, the equipment was constantly breaking down! My greatest learning came from the experiences that I had outside of the classroom working on student films, at the radio station, producing theatre. My advice on this front is to follow your passion—and not major in something because you think it’s going to get you a job. Your major MAY help you get a job, but what’s more important is how you are developing as a human being. Yes, you want to have skill sets, but play to your strengths and what you love. We don’t have control over what’s going to happen in our lives so trying to plan outcomes is futile. My belief is that it’s okay to plan, but don’t plan the results.
When you're reading a new script, what really captivates you/what do you look for?
I love all kinds of stories—fantasy, mysteries, sci-fi, soaps, etc. But ultimately, I fall in love with the character(s)—and am always hungry to find characters who are rooted in an emotional reality that can then take me into any world. I so strongly believe in the power of storytelling to create community and to heal—part of my life purpose is to bring stories to the world that will bring down barriers, find commonalities and soothe the hurt of isolation.
What is it like working on a team full of women including such a powerhouse like Charlize?
Totally awesome! The truth is, though, that I don’t see the team that I’m working with as women first—I see them as unique, empowered individuals who have big dreams and the courage to live their values and life purpose despite mistakes, failures, disappointments, confusion and despair. We all experience huge setbacks in life and as awesome as the women that I work with are, they don’t live golden lives and I get to see their perseverance and vulnerability, which inspires me every day. So, yeah, it’s totally awesome.
Television is having an amazing moment right now, especially in the world of instantly available streaming shows. What are you excited about most with Girlboss, and how do you hope it will continue to pave the way?
I’m really excited for Girlboss to continue to touch, move and inspire current fans along with new fans. Some people love to read books, some people love to watch content, some people love to listen to stories. Our intention is for the Netflix series to satisfy Sophia’s current fans, and reach new ones who may not have read her book or heard her story. Through the massive accessibility of streaming and Netflix, so many more people will be able to experience the story, which is pretty cool.
What's your best advice for young women looking to break into the entertainment industry?
Be open to all possibilities. Focus on how you want to show up as much as—if not more than—what you’re doing. And my big take-away from Sophia’s book and why I’m so excited to be working on the series is that the straight and narrow is not the only path to success. I wrote and produced educational films before I worked at an agency before I worked in animation before I worked at CBS before I became a producer. My path was all over the place and what I discovered along the way was how much I love stories, how much I love strategy, and how much I love being a facilitator and helping people achieve their dreams. So don’t be discouraged if the first plan doesn’t work out—continue to honor your values and purpose and you’ll find a path that’s right for you… and more than likely a new path will emerge and then you’ll follow that one.
Interview by Tori Borengasser