PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 20, Landings: Lhani Jamison
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Austin Bunn: This is Landings. I'm Austin Bunn, an associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts. And today on Landings, I interview Lhani Jamison, a 2017 graduate of Cornell University. She was an ILR major and she currently works at NBC. In this short interview, she tells us about her work life at NBC, how she got the job, and her experiences in the page program. Enjoy.
Austin Bunn: Whatever gave you the idea that you would work in film or television or media. When did that start?
Lhani Jamison: So I've always loved television shows, movies, all of that. But I didn't really know that I wanted to work in entertainment until my sophomore year. Um, I was working at OADI or WAH-DI, depending on how you say it. Um, Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives at Cornell and we mentored middle and high school students of color, majority girls. Um, and so our whole role as community advocates was to create workshops and seminars kind of dedicated to helping the girls understand who they were, who they wanted to become, um, and getting them ready for the college preparatory type of process when you're applying to schools. And all of that. Um, and so I remember we did this one workshop on self image and we use clips from Beyonce's Pretty Hurts video, um the film Misrepresentation, Dove's Real Beauty commercials. And it was so eye opening just to see the girls say, well I don't think I can be successful. I'm not like anyone in any of these clips or this movie.
Austin Bunn: So revealing.
Lhani Jamison: So revealing.
Lhani Jamison: And I was like, that is wild. Like you always hear people say um, the media has a huge effect on how people think about themselves. But to have your mentee say that to you, I was like, I like film, I like diversity, I should combine these loves and kind of make this my, my work or my career goal.
Austin Bunn: That's terrific. So Lhani, you've been in Los Angeles two years now.
Lhani Jamison: Yeah, two years in May.
Austin Bunn: So you've really landed well. I mean you have a full time job that you enjoy, which is key. So the purpose of this podcast is to help students who are considering moving out here or thinking, considering jobs in film and TV, to get a sense about how other Cornell grads made a path for themselves. So I thought we'd start, at least with your college experience, you were an ILR, uh, major. And tell us a little bit about what in that preparation helped you to have the job that you have now.
Lhani Jamison: Definitely. I think that—ILR I loved because it really combined my interest in history and law and business. Um, and it allowed me to see how you can be an effective employee and effective leader in a work environment. Um, and what is positive? What is good about working the work-life balance that you want to create for yourself? So I think specifically the classes that I took, like Labor and Employment Law and even Econ, in a lot of ways, which I struggled with, um, just kind of having those experiences really allowed me to see that if you understand the business of whatever industry you're in, it can really catapult, um, where you can be successful otherwise.
Austin Bunn: I'm going to pause a second 'cause there's some motorcycle or something in the periphery, but now it's done.
Lhani Jamison: Okay.
Austin Bunn: Um, and so as a college student you are ILR major, but you were also a participant in a sorority too, right?
Lhani Jamison: Yes.
Austin Bunn: Tell us about that.
Lhani Jamison: Yes. So my sophomore year I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. Um, first black historic sorority. Um, and that was incredible for me because I think it really expanded my network of different people that I was involved with. I think when I came to Cornell I really had my core friend group from O Week. Um, and then my ILR classes who I was really close with. So I think having a group of other young black women who had a range of passions, people wanted to be doctors, lawyers, um, pharmacists. I think that was really interesting for me. Who came from all over the country. I had friends or, um, sorority sisters from California, Atlanta, New York City was a large place, New Jersey. Um, so I think creating that network for myself was really helpful. And there were a couple people also interested in entertainment.
Austin Bunn: I was gonna ask. So have you seen, have you connected with anyone from the sorority out here?
Lhani Jamison: Um, you know, one of my alliance sisters, she's actually moving out next summer after she graduates, so that's gonna be really exciting. But honestly, I think by and large, a lot of Cornell grads in general kind of migrate to New York City. So yeah, not, no one from my sorority has really lived in LA yet, um, since I've been out here. But people I think are slowly making their way.
Austin Bunn: This is why I thought you'd be a great person for this podcast 'cause you made some big choices and you largely did them by yourself.
Lhani Jamison: Yes.
Austin Bunn: So let's back up to the summer after your sophomore year. This was where you first had your exposure to the industry, I hear, right? You got an internship at NBC. Tell us about that.
Lhani Jamison: Yes. So that was crazy because that, I was actually pledging my, for my sorority, um, at the time that I had to apply for this internship and really land it. Um, but I have to say that was probably the most transformative experience, living in LA on my own, um, the summer after my sophomore year into the fall of my junior year. I was out here doing credit internship in the labor relations department at NBC Universal. Um, and so that was just, it was great because one, I got to apply what I was learning in classes at ILR in a nine-to-five, nine-to-six type of work environment. Um, and so that's where my classes, like collective bargaining and econ and labor and employment, labor and employment law really came in handy because I think when the lawyers in the department saw that I really had that expertise, they would ask me in caucus, what do you think or what's your perspective?
Austin Bunn: Incredible.
Lhani Jamison: And I think to be valued that way was a huge reassurance that my education really meant something and that my hard work in my classes really meant something. Um, and I think it also was great because I learned that it's invaluable to have an understanding of what the unions do in this entertainment industry. But I specifically wanted to lean into something that combined the business and the creative sides a little bit more, ultimately.
Austin Bunn: Yeah, that's fantastic. So you were able to secure that position through a job fair. Is that right? At ILR?
Lhani Jamison: Yeah, so I basically was interested in doing this year off campus because ILR has so many opportunities to still graduate within your four years, um, and have off-campus experiences. So I was like, I want to do a credit internship in the fall and then study abroad in the spring. And so Brigid Beachler, um, she handles our credit internship program. She had all the information on the different places where you could intern. And NBC Universal was like this big company. They took two interns, one in New York, one in LA, um, for the fall semester and then the spring semester. And so I was like, I gotta make it happen. And I thought that it was particularly advantageous to work there because if you worked in either LA or New York, you could, um, do a summer and a fall joint experience. So because I was pledging, it was great to have two job searches combined into one if I could land NBC Universal. Um, and so yeah, that's pretty much how I came about that.
Austin Bunn: How did you make that experience work? Because you came out here, right?
Lhani Jamison: Yes.
Austin Bunn: So, how did you find housing? How did you even make your life make sense? I have to say housing was the biggest challenge. Luckily, my dad's sister, my aunt, she lives out here and so for the summer portion of my internship I was able to live with her rent free, which was amazing. She dropped me off at the train. So I would take the train from Hollywood and Highland every morning, which is one stop to Universal City Station. Um, just over the hill basically, and I'd be at work and so it was really nice because it's like I got my footing over the summer and then I think it was like the beginning of August or the end of July, I moved out and I found a little, um, a room and a bathroom in Burbank where I rented like a pseudo-type of apartment situation. I was living on my own in LA.
Austin Bunn: Was there no kitchen? You just said a room and a bathroom.
Lhani Jamison: There was a kitchen. But honestly, I did not cook that much. Like I love to cook, but I shared the space with others. I didn't have my own pots and pans, like I'm kind of weird about that, so I didn't end up cooking that much. Um, but the biggest great thing about that apartment was that I had access to a shuttle from the Burbank train station to work every day for free. So I would literally walk from where I was living to the train station and then I would be dropped off right in front of my building every day.
Austin Bunn: You say train station. Is this the subway or was it an above ground train there?
Lhani Jamison: There's an above ground train. It's like the Burbank Metro link. Um, so yeah.
Austin Bunn: So you have this position for the summer into the fall. Hugely transformative. You're involved in these caucus meetings. I don't even know what that is, but the word caucus implies some seriousness, um, and some real weight. Um, at the time, did you think you would come back to NBC? Did you, did you think about that?
Lhani Jamison: You know, I did. I, and that's an excellent question actually because that was one of my things. I was like, I love the culture here. Like you feel at every level I think valued and important and I think the exposure that you're given from more senior leaders as a young person is unmatched based off of other experiences. I think I've heard some of my friends talk about, so, um, a large part of why I think the NBC Universal page program, um, not the page program, NBC Universal internship experience program is so impressive is because they build in different like business leadership components into your internship. So I remember we had a page program informational session that I actually attended. Um, and it's funny because I remember going and I was like, this sounds great, but I don't think after this internship experience I'll need to do the page program. I was like, I think I'll be ready for a job or I'll be ready for grad school. But it was really cool hearing the pages talk about rotating through different departments, everything they learned. But I remembered that. And like other events they had, they had Steve Burke, who's our current CEO, come speak to us. They had Ron Meyer, who's like an EVP of the whole company, he's more on the film side, um, come speak to us about his career trajectory and just his journey. Um, so yeah, it was great.
Austin Bunn: So then scroll forward, you decide the page program might be interesting to you and tell us about the process of securing the page position.
Lhani Jamison: Sure. So I will say I had a list going into my senior year at Cornell of all of the programs, job programs, early career media internship or career programs that I wanted to apply to. But I applied to grad school right out the gate. So USC and UCLA have these producers programs. I was like, that's perfect. I'm academic oriented. I was like, I want to just kind of get this under my belt and then launch into, uh, my career path. And I didn't get in. And I remember I didn't get into UCLA first and then it was USC. And I remember going to see Manchester By the Sea because it was like my pick me up after I didn't get into USC.
Austin Bunn: It's not really a pick-me-up movie.
Lhani Jamison: But I loved it. It was cathartic. It was so good. Um, and I was like, okay, I gotta, you know, reroute or reroute myself. And so I was always planning to apply to the page program. So got my um, essays turned in, I got all of that. And then after that, um, after the essay portion and you do well on that, you get onto the next round, which is like a video-recorded interview. Um, so I did that. And then the final portion, um, is a in-person panel interview in New York or LA depending on where you applied. I only applied to LA 'cause I knew that I wanted to be back here. Um, and so I remember actually in your class I was um, writing down like what I want to do for my panel interview 'cause you have to give a speech as a part of it, which is infamous. A lot of the page interview is kind of top secret, but everyone knows that there's a speech portion of it. So I was like drafting what I wanted to write, what I wanted it to be about. Um, and then you have to make your way out to LA or New York. You have to find a way. So I had to fly, um, I had to drive home to Maryland 'cause flying out of Ithaca is ridiculously expensive. Um, so I had to drive home, fly to LA, did my interview and you know, it was so high stakes that I was just like let me just do my best. Like I've found a way out here, I've prepared, I'll just do my best. And I had a great experience. I was like, I was the only, I was the only interviewee on my panel that had been a past intern. So I think I had some confidence there 'cause I was familiar with a lot. I knew where I was going, um, and I was familiar with the company, so I think that was helpful. Um, and so I landed that and then I found out I think like a week later that I got in.
Austin Bunn: And that's amazing. So there were two pages, did you say chosen or how many pages got chosen?
Lhani Jamison: Um, so from my panel, typically I think they'll take one to two depending, but sometimes they'll take three. I think they do about six different panel interviews because each cohort—I was the May cohort—is comprised of seven to nine pages depending on how many. Yeah.
Austin Bunn: And the, one of the things that seems so appealing about the page program is this rotation through the different divisions of the company. Can you talk about what they were?
Lhani Jamison: For sure. Yeah. So you do four rotations. The first one is a business rotation that's required and you actually don't interview for that one. So it's assigned to you based upon your resume, your experiences, and what the page program thinks would be a good fit for you and the department who's receiving you. Um, and so my first business rotation was in digital distribution, which is a part of the Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Group, which was actually great because I got to see the relationships that we as NBC Universal have to create with Fandango Now and Amazon Prime, iTunes to really market our material after it's been in theaters or on TV for a while. We want to release that to kind of get that residual income for the company. Um, so that was my first rotation and then it's kind of broken up for your remaining three rotations into content or consumer. So I knew I wanted to do more content-oriented things. So my second rotation was in diversity programming and that's where I currently work. Um, and we are responsible for the behind the camera and in front of the camera initiatives that are really dedicated to getting more diverse talent on screen and behind the camera for all of our shows. And it's cool because it's not only for NBC, our network, but also Universal Television, our studio. So my boss who's the department head, um, really spearheads all of the initiatives and she works very closely with the network and the studio. Whenever there's an opportunity to beef up our creative diversity, um, at every echelon of the industry or TV making process.
Austin Bunn: You rotated through those four or five different divisions, you said. And when did they offer you a job? Did that happen last summer then or the summer before?
Lhani Jamison: Yes, so that was my second rotation. My third rotation was in primetime programming. So I was really supporting like current programming, um, comedy development, drama development, all of that. And then my fourth rotation I was really working with, it was my consumer rotation. So I was working with the publicity and corporate communications team responsible for doing all of our diversity and inclusion efforts. So it was cool 'cause I still got to go to the diversity programming, like, meetings and I was in touch with our team. And so that's when I really started applying for jobs and I thought I wanted to work in current programming right out the gate. So I was applying for desks at the studio, at the network, all of that. But my current boss, she had a availability on her desk 'cause her coordinator got promoted and there was just some movement. And so she just called me and she was basically like, this is an opportunity, you wouldn't even have to interview. Um, we've had you before. We know your work, so do you want it? Basically. And I was like, this timing is perfect. I have to pay attention. Um, so yeah, that's what I went with and that's how that happened.
Austin Bunn: Tell us about what the day to day is like. So what is a day in the life at NBC?
Lhani Jamison: Sure. So for me, my job as a coordinator is, um, really two pronged. There's the administrative wing. So for my boss I answer her phones, I reel calls with her when she needs that, I manage her calendar, and I've really taken on the responsibility of like an office manager for us. So all of our expenses, um, not only for our programs, but also just like our grocery run, I'm tracking that. We travel a lot in our department, um, because that's what we do. We can't just stay in LA. We have to go around the country to people who can't come to us, who are great voices, who are great actors, directors, writers who have these visions that could be helpful for our company. Um, so I really track our spending there. Um, and then on the other side, I do get the opportunity to be creative. So we have these programs for writers, directors, actors. So a lot of my time is spent reading scripts. Um, people are submitting currently for our late-night writers' workshop. We have Writers on the Verge coming up in May. That's a shameless plug right there to apply. Um, but after we have all of those submissions, it's our job within our department to read. Um, and so not only am I reading, but I'm saying what I like about the script, what I don't like about the script. I'm doing coverage pretty much. Um, and I'm giving that feedback. And our team is small. We have our SVP, my boss, we have two directors, one for the in front of the camera, one for behind the camera, an associate who's a junior executive who's responsible for managing all of the submissions, me, another coordinator, and our page. So we are the dream team responsible for screening all of this material. So any given day I could be reading a script or watching a cut coming in for our directors' initiatives. Um, so it's really cool 'cause I do get that development type of experiment. Um, experience on the writing side. And then just, I think I'm developing an eye for talent, um, acting talent, directors' talent. What looks good, what do I like in an actor's performance, what makes that strong? Where could they grow, where could they be good in terms of our, um, network series or our studio series.
Austin Bunn: So, Lhani, one thing's really clear is you're so well spoken, you've got a lot to say. You have a really great attitude. What are some of the, if you had to give some advice to somebody thinking about trying to find a job at NBC or any of the other networks or studios, what would you say, what are the things that you feel like are vital about how to secure a job?
Lhani Jamison: I think the number one thing is, and it probably sounds really simple, but be yourself. Honestly, I think so many people come into entertainment feeling as though they have to perform or like they have to be outgoing. But I know some of the highest level executives or like highest level creative people in this industry are introverted and even the funniest people are quiet if you go to dinner with them unless they're comfortable with you. So I think being yourself is going to be your secret weapon. I think learning who you are and really being able to reflect on that. And I think being able to talk about that. What makes you interesting? What makes your experiences um, valuable to an environment where you get to be creative and talk about interesting things, you know? And I think having those different experiences, even from someone who wants to be an executive to say, oh, well, when I'm reviewing this script, this resonates with me because I've had this experience. So maybe you can think about it differently. Um, and that way and just being able to give cool notes because of who you are. I think bringing that authentic self to an interview, to your job every day is really critical. Um, so that's why
Austin Bunn: Lhani, that's such a great point because I think a lot of young people don't realize they have a strong point of view. Or they discredit their own point of view.
Lhani Jamison: Definitely.
Austin Bunn: But understanding that you come from a specific place and you've had unique experiences that are valuable, especially for companies that are about representing the world. They want to know people from different, from different points of view. Um, talk about just the lived experience of being out here. You've managed to work it out that you live really close to where your job is, right?
Lhani Jamison: Yes. I, if I could say anything, try to do that. You know, like even if it means paying a little bit more if you can, I would do that. LA traffic is real and it's not a big part of my life because I live five minutes away and I think that's always been a priority for me. Especially growing up, I lived 45 minutes away from school, so I was like, when I have money and I can decide I'm going to live close by to wherever I work or go to school or whatever. Um, so it makes a big difference and I think you're going to work long hours in the industry. I had a rotation where I would get to work at 8:30, if not earlier, and not leave until 7:30, no lunch. And that was just the nature of what we had to do and that was three months long. And oftentimes I work long hours. So being able to not have to drive an hour home makes a really big difference. And I think that's another thing. I think finding a way to take care of yourself. Self care is so important. For me, it looks like working out or like getting a nice meal out whenever I can. That's what I like to do. Don't discredit that because I think in an industry where when you're coming up, you feel like you're at the bottom of the totem pole, even when you are, you know, making strides, it's really important to find things, even if it's just going to a movie, you know, that really make you feel good and remind you why you're, why you're grinding.
Austin Bunn: Yeah. That's great life advice for anybody really. What about, I have just two more questions. What about some peak experiences for you since you've been out here, what have been some of the best moments, maybe moments you've shared with friends or with family or things you just thought, I'll never, I would never have had that experience unless I'd come out here.
Lhani Jamison: Yeah, that's a really good question. Um, I think
Austin Bunn: it sounds like you've gone to dinner with some famous people.
Lhani Jamison: Really?
Austin Bunn: Well, you mentioned that there's somebody who's really quiet even though they—you were at dinner with them.
Lhani Jamison: Oh, oh, well we do for Standup NBC. That's actually, that's a, that's a good lead in. So for Standup NBC, which is one of my favorite programs that we do, it's a nationwide search for diverse comedians. Um, and so as a coordinator this year I got to go to New York and really help with that. We have a whole diversity week and that's one of the big highlights of that. Um, and so I think, um, I'm trying to think of who that was. I don't know. Some of our alumni are like Amanda Seales, who's on Insecure and she has a comedy special on HBO. Didn't go to dinner with her, but that would have been cool. Um, Tone Bell who's in the upcoming film Little, he's on a bunch of different things TV wise. Um.
Austin Bunn: So having an opportunity to see some of this talent, like, grow up in the industry.
Lhani Jamison: Absolutely. I think that's a big thing. And I think even just like for our Female Forward, that's like a landmark program of ours. I think being able to see a director who's directed tons of Hallmark films or tons of non-network type of projects get their first film. I mean, their first episode of network television, is huge. It means so much to people and it's really that momentum that gets them going throughout their careers. I think that's awesome. Being able to make the call for my boss to tell someone that they got staffed, who's never been staffed. That's a great feeling. Um, and I think, like you said, just being able to look back and say, I'm doing it. You know what I mean? Every day it is hard. Like my family for the most part, aside from my aunt who lives on the other side of town, so I don't get to see a lot, isn't here. And I think just being able to really kind of build and make friends and friends who are family out here and sustain a life for myself is something I'm really proud of and is exciting for me.
Austin Bunn: Looking forward, where do you think you'll be in five years? What directions are you hoping to move in? What looks, seems exciting for you?
Lhani Jamison: Um, I think off the bat I'm really interested in, in front of the camera. I love talking to actors. To be able to transform into someone is magical to me. And so hopefully more involved in that process. I think, um, film is also something that's really interesting to me. So to be in a job experience or opportunity where I could do both TV and film would be really interesting. And I think to, um, graduate from being a coordinator or an assistant to an executive or a junior executive, I think definitely within the next five years is within my reach. So it's just where that's going to be, um, and who's going to be championing me and who I'm going to be championing. I'm really excited for that as well because I think I'm here because of the people who've gone before me and have reached back and have said, this is how you do this. I just on Tuesday was at a high school alumni event and Salaam Coleman Smith, who I think is at Freeform now, she was at Disney when I met her, um, is an executive who I had lunch with and she was just asking me about my experience at Cornell and was giving me words of wisdom and it just means so much to be able to have those moments with people who have literally been in your shoes and can say, hey, number one, it's going to be okay. Number two, you can do it, no rush, you know? Um, so to see her, um, when I now am in a full-time role was a, a really big moment for me. So I can't wait to hopefully one day be able to help people that way as well.
Austin Bunn: That's fantastic, actually, Lhani. I think that's a good place to stop. Is there, just, just in case, is there anything else you wanted to say that maybe we hadn't covered?
Lhani Jamison: Um, one thing I would say: read the trades. I didn't know how crucial it was to be on top of the industry's news. Even in Ithaca. I say once you can get in that mindset of just you do this every day, that's going to put you so far ahead when you are applying for a job because you're going to know what the industry news is if that happens to come up in an interview. So I think to just be in LA, even if you're not in LA.
Austin Bunn: Great point. For you, what are those trades? So Deadline.com? Variety?
Lhani Jamison: Deadline, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, the Wrap is a really good source. Podcasts are great 'cause I think those really keep you abreast of um, interesting things, trends that are going on in the industry, shows, films you should know about as well.
Austin Bunn: For students who are listening to this, what podcast would you recommend?
Lhani Jamison: I'm going to start with Don't @ Me. I'm going to start with Justin Simien's podcast that Austin recommended to me. Don't @ Me, has incredible guests that, even if you're not like listening weekly, if you have some time on the weekend, you can just get through a couple or even more than that.
Austin Bunn: Ted Sarandos.
Lhani Jamison: Yes, Ted Sarandos. He has a great one with Issa Rae. Um, tons of people, tons of people.
Austin Bunn: Great. Lhani, thank you so much for joining me today.
Lhani Jamison: Of course, thank you for having me.
Austin Bunn: I hope any listeners have enjoyed this. We'll be in touch.
Lhani Jamison: OK, great.