PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 24, Landings: Olivia Krebs
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Austin Bunn: Olivia, thank you for joining me today on Landings. Olivia Krebs is a 2015 graduate of the hotel school at Cornell. And today we're going to talk about her experiences coming to Los Angeles, interning for two years, and now working as an associate producer and co-producer on some interesting projects you're going to tell us about. So the way I like to start this, Olivia, is to think back to your first experiences in Los Angeles. So talk about your sophomore year, summer.
Olivia Krebs: I got out here by the graces of Cornell in Hollywood. I got my first internship as basically just a script reader for Di Novi pictures. She's a producer with a first look deal at Warner Bros.
Austin Bunn: Look at you, first look deal at Warner Bros.
Olivia Krebs: I didn't know what that meant at the time. That took some time to understand what was happening. It was a crazy experience in that, I mean, they get so many scripts. I was reading probably two or three scripts a day, which was honestly the best introduction I could have had to the industry. It was a very crash course in what I liked and what I didn't like. And to their credit, if you like something they will strongly consider it.
Austin Bunn: So you applied through Cornell in Hollywood and that's how you got that. You mentioned before that you had applied to a bunch of different places, but that actually Cornell in Hollywood was able to secure you the internship. Is that true?
Olivia Krebs: Definitely. I was applying to larger and larger entities like NBC programs or just any of the internships by large studios or networks and was getting really no traction whatsoever. I had experience in theater and I'd worked for an opera company, but people just weren't biting and that was definitely my first lesson in learning that online applications aren't
Austin Bunn: Don't work.
Olivia Krebs: They don't work.
Austin Bunn: So you were able to find these internships through Cornell in Hollywood, so you're a proponent of Cornell in Hollywood, it worked for you. You did it two years, right?
Olivia Krebs: Definitely. I think it is the best way to get your foot in the door if you—and there's nothing to lose by applying to it. You can still get an internship on your own. But it was necessary for me to even get my foot in the door.
Austin Bunn: When you think back to those early experiences, what kinds of prep did you do at Cornell that helped you get those internships or at least helped you prepare for what it would mean to be out here?
Olivia Krebs: Well, I met with Professor Austin Bunn, who didn't know who I was, and he basically told me to read as many newspapers and you know
Austin Bunn: Variety, Deadline.
Olivia Krebs: Yes. All of that. And to basically volunteer to help everyone that I met out here. The person that ran the program made web series and was constantly looking for help. So he suggested that I offer my service to him, which he didn't end up taking. But that definitely was a good first step in creating a relationship out here. That got me my second internship while I was out here that summer. So that was—most internships, you have to kind of fight to have any responsibility, or at least that was my experience. So getting as many internships as possible was the best thing that I could've done.
Austin Bunn: You part timed it too. So you work 20 hours. Okay.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah. So I worked for another entity, which was Star Thrower Entertainment that was started by a Cornell alum and I also read scripts for them and I must've read like, I don't know, 300 scripts that summer, which was again the best thing I could've done.
Austin Bunn: What surprised you most about Los Angeles, coming out here? When you arrived, did you think it would be one sort of thing and it turned out to be something else? For example, just the volume of scripts you read probably was astounding. Just how much is out here that will never get made.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah. I think the quality of scripts kind of blew me away. I was disappointed. I think I came out here with, you know, rosy cheeks and thought that I was special, I guess. And just realizing you are not special. Everyone is out here trying to do the exact same thing as you and no one really cares about your story, which was kind of a hard but good thing to learn. You kind of had to give yourself up and just kind of realize that you basically have to give everything that you have in order to be of any value to someone rather than expecting anything in return cause you just are so not at that stage yet.
Austin Bunn: You come out to Los Angeles now, for a lot of undergraduates, they've never been to the west coast. They don't know anything about what it means to live here. What are some of the things you would counsel a student considering coming out here? What are the things they should think about beyond just say internships, I mean quality of life or how to make the city work for you?
Olivia Krebs: Well, definitely do a better job of figuring out where you're going to live than I did. I looked up on the map how far my internship would be and found a cheap place in Hollywood and figured eight and a half miles was no big deal, but that meant I ended up spending two plus hours in my car every day, so don't do that. It would have been better for me to just not have a car and have lived closer and just distributed the money that way.
Austin Bunn: How did you find an apartment? Craigslist, Airbnb, or something?
Olivia Krebs: Craigslist. I Craigslisted both summers and both times kind of ended up with a slightly unstable person. It ended up being fine for both summers, but just know what your living situation will be. It was scary for me, for someone that likes to plan so far ahead, Los Angeles does not plan far ahead. The soonest you'll be able to find a place is a couple of weeks out. So you just kind of have to be okay with the fact that it's all going to be last minute. That was stressful. And for the internships too. I mean, I didn't hear back about the internships until a couple of weeks before I needed to be out in Los Angeles, which was so stressful. But everything is last minute. So.
Austin Bunn: And Cornell in Hollywood also has some sessions and a mentor or things you can do while you're here to help.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah.
Austin Bunn: Did you participate?
Olivia Krebs: Yeah, I did. Mostly because it is very required, which is good. You should, there's no reason why you shouldn't, but, there's definitely a lot of pressure to go to those events. But, I was very impressed with the programming. There's something usually either once a week or once every two weeks and it really touches on all facets of the industry so you can really get a feel for what you're interested in. And I was struck by an experience at an agency, which kind of led to my first job working at an agency just because I found that to be pretty interesting. And the mentorships are pretty great. Usually they partner you with people that don't, at least my experience was they didn't have a lot of time for me. Just because they're really high-up people, which was so cool I had access to them. There’s one I still sort of keep in touch with. But there are definitely great resources. So that's kind of something that you will determine how much, how effective that is for you.
Austin Bunn: So you just touched on your first job. So you spent two summers interning out here, sophomore year and junior summer, and then senior year, summer: did you have a job when you moved out here?
Olivia Krebs: Not when I moved out here, which stressed me out to know and cause all of my friends were bankers that had had their jobs lined up for a year.
Austin Bunn: Yeah.
Olivia Krebs: I didn't have a job, but I was optimistic that I could find one quickly because I had a large network of people that I had met that were willing to help me and I kind of just came out here and hit the ground running and I ended up getting a job at an agency after two weeks. So, I think because I had laid the groundwork for that the summers before, I was able to get one so quickly. I think if you haven't spent time out here, it's going to take a lot more time, which isn't a bad thing, but just know that's the case.
Austin Bunn: This is great. And it's really encouraging, I think, for students to understand just how comfortable you need to be with the structurelessness of finding a job out here; it's not like your banker friends or your law friends where they might get a job offer while they're still at school.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah.
Austin Bunn: You have to be here to get that work. You did, however, go to Thailand before you moved here, right? So you traveled abroad?
Olivia Krebs: I did. After graduating I did two long-distance bicycle trips, which took up a lot of time. And then I lived in Thailand for a year teaching to high schoolers.
Austin Bunn: Did that experience inform the way that you lived here or how you got your job? Was it something for you to talk about in job interviews? Was it something that you felt like taught you a little bit about what made you happy as opposed to what could pay the bills?
Olivia Krebs: I definitely think it set me apart from other candidates. Most people go right after school into the industry. And the person that hired me at CA explicitly said she thought I was so interesting because of these experiences that I had. So it definitely set me apart. And because Los Angeles is really the only place I can do what I want to do, I knew I'd be here for a long time and I tend to get a little stir crazy. So I wanted to have these experiences under my belt before I started to get momentum and couldn't leave.
Austin Bunn: There's a, how to put it, a sort of a heuristic that working at an agency for a year is a great way to learn the business and see how things operate and who the players are. Is that true for you? Do you feel like working that time at CA was instructive for you?
Olivia Krebs: Definitely. It was a, I had a fear when I came out here that I wasn't enough of an asshole to make it in the industry and it turned out that I wasn't. But working at an agency was the perfect training, to, you know, be one when you needed to be. It definitely gave me boundaries and taught me to stand up for myself more than anything. I learned a lot very quickly, also about the kind of person I wanted to be in the industry.
Austin Bunn: And you ended up getting your first job after CA via that job, right? So you now work for a writer?
Olivia Krebs: I did. The real way I got, I mean, I met plenty of people through the job, but I was producing a comedy show on the side. And a friend that I had at CA would go see me a lot and his agent is the agent of my current boss. So he recommended me for the job when that came up cause he verified that I was funny enough and good enough a writer to get my current job.
Austin Bunn: To be a writer's assistant. That was the official job.
Olivia Krebs: Correct.
Austin Bunn: And you've now slowly but surely moved up in the ranks and now your writer leans on you more and more. You're now a co-producer on a potential television show he's putting together. Right?
Olivia Krebs: Yep. Yeah, that's been a really exciting process to go from having to fight to get my opinion heard to he refuses to do anything without my opinion. So that's been a really rewarding transition.
Austin Bunn: I want to reflect back a little bit on your college experience, in light of what you're doing now. What were some of the things that you did with your time while at Cornell that you think positively affected your life here?
Olivia Krebs: I was in the improv group the Whistling Shrimp, which, we probably took way too seriously and treated as a varsity sport, but that intensity around comedy and something creative, which my major was not really that creative. So having that outlet was pretty important for me.
Austin Bunn: Remind us of what your major was. You were in the hotel school, but what was your major?
Olivia Krebs: The hotel school is just a definitive major.
Austin Bunn: Oh, there's only one major. Okay.
Olivia Krebs: It might've changed since then, but yeah, it's just a—hotel administration was the major. So spending that time in a comedy community with people that were spending all their free time thinking about comedy kind of made it seem possible, you know, as in, it wasn't something that I really considered. I was also in a business fraternity that was also extremely and probably unnecessarily intense.
Austin Bunn: What was it called? I don't think I know this one.
Olivia Krebs: Delta Sigma Pi. DSP.
Austin Bunn: Okay.
Olivia Krebs: We really did an intense pledging process, which was an excellent crash course in professionalism and what blew me away about these people was they acted like they were, you know, 20 years ahead of their actual status. Like these people are creating businesses and they were all graduating with insane jobs that I couldn't understand. And even though they didn't understand entertainment, they were extremely useful in showing me how to kind of play this game of faking it until I made it.
Austin Bunn: Great point. I also know that you worked on some short films while you were at college and you worked on the radio, right? You said you had a radio show?
Olivia Krebs: Yeah, I had a radio show, which was just something that I kind of just did in my free time. It was a way to find music and I would just do small bits in between.
Austin Bunn: You made this short film that I saw that was like a reality show fake, a parody.
Olivia Krebs: Yes. I made a web series with some of my friends in the comedy community, which became pretty close over the four years I was there. And it was just a really fun way to combine everyone in these groups to make this what kind of felt like a senior thesis. Just cause there wasn't really a, an official thesis for what my time had felt like. So it was nice to just kind of feel like I closed on something tangible. It was a kind of mockumentary about a guy trying to fall in love and totally blind to the, of course, love in front of him, which is
Austin Bunn: And also the effect of reality television on people's love stories because it seems like the characters sort of know that they're being filmed, but also in some ways not.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah. And it was about the people filming it, becoming more characters within the story as well.
Austin Bunn: Have you showed that to anybody out here?
Olivia Krebs: I don't think so. I think it's pretty unappealing for, it's good to have these things, but it's, most people don't want to be shown your work. I think people have a huge fear of liking you as a person and then seeing your creative work and not liking it or not thinking it's good and then just feeling like that could end the friendship. So unless someone explicitly asked to see your thing, I would refrain from it until you get to a certain point in your relationship. But that's, that's just been my personal experience.
Austin Bunn: There's something poignant in that too though because it is a creative act. You're trying to express something, you want to have people enjoy it and be entertained by it. So to feel self-conscious about sharing it with people. We do live in a time with a lot of content out there, so it, it's hard to cut through that and expect people to spend 15 minutes or 10 minutes of their time looking at something you made. Looking at the way the industry works now; what counsel would you have for young people thinking about coming out here and moving into the industry? Are there specific areas you'd recommend things to have done before they come? Ways of preparing?
Olivia Krebs: I think having some sort of side hustle and knowing that you creatively won't be satisfied with your first job and doing something on the side that will; that's the behavior, you know, it's traits, you're getting to do the kind of work that you hope to be doing and showing that you are capable of doing that on the side is the best way to get to where you want to go. I think in terms of preparing to come out here, just knowing that you have to call on every person that you know; I mean, it only takes one person to get the job, but you really have to commit to maintaining relationships with the people that you know out here because that is unfortunately everything out here. That's just, that's how everything runs. It's a giant high school of referrals and that's just kind of a game you have to play.
Austin Bunn: So when you say maintain relationships or keep them up, that means writing kind emails, thanking people for their time. It'd be congratulating them when you read about good news, like what are the kinds of, how do you keep a relationship alive?
Olivia Krebs: Definitely congratulate people when you hear about good news. If you know someone that you worked with has something out, watch it, write them a quick note. And a big part of that is not expecting responses. I had some much higher up contacts that I would kind of stress out about sending something cause I would send something and they wouldn't respond. And I kind of felt like I was bothering them, but then every, you know, fourth email I'd send, they would reply and be like, “I'm so glad you're reaching out to me” and would kind of throw me a bone. So that was something I felt insecure about. But ultimately I was glad I maintained those relationships. And also just kind of finding a way to provide value. Like, one company I worked for, I was always just looking for interesting articles. So I would just kind of scour, as many publications as I could for things that I would think they would like.
Austin Bunn: Yeah, you even reached out to me when I had this project that's in development and you wrote me an email and said, hey, how can I help? Which was really kind of you to think about: "Okay, is there a role I can play? Can I do some reading for you? Can I read a draft to give you feedback?"
Olivia Krebs: I think being selfless in this industry is the best way to learn. So I mean it's in that way advantageous for yourself. But also it's really refreshing. I think people get disheartened by how selfish this industry can feel. So just making a decision to not be like that will one, keep you sane and two, ultimately benefit both you and your relationships.
Austin Bunn: Let's talk about your life now and just well-being cause I know it can be really disorienting for young people to move out here, not know many people, and just find their way in a big city that is, can be, kind of isolating. What are some of the things you've done or lessons you've learned about how to stay well and how to have a good time and keep your quality of life up?
Olivia Krebs: I definitely struggled the first year, working at a really intense agency where people are living lifestyles that did not in any way match my own. Everyone on their weekends would go spend their parents' money at rooftop bars. And that was just not how I wanted to spend my time. So committing to the networking that you have to do, but understanding you have to very much maintain your own sense of identity and not morph into what you think the city wants is, much easier said than done.
Austin Bunn: You did some UCB didn't you? Didn't you take UCB classes?
Olivia Krebs: I did. I took two classes. I was personally a little disappointed with them. One, they're pretty expensive and two, I feel like UCB has kind of become a machine for turning out actors. Basically, actors kind of have to have it on their resume now. So that didn't quite turn into the community I'd been hoping for. I'm so glad I did it, but I think the better way to do it is creating something on your own and kind of pulling a community together. So, the comedy shows that I produced were huge. And I was also lucky that I had a network of people out here already because I studied abroad in Prague. I did a film program, which if you are interested in film, I would definitely recommend to anyone at Cornell. Basically it's just a semester of making a short film and being taught by Czech teachers, which are very schooled in, you know, Czech new wave, and that is a fascinating experience. But all those people that were in my program all moved out to LA afterwards. So that was a really great way of having a foundation of people once I got out here.
Austin Bunn: And they weren't Cornell students?
Olivia Krebs: No, no. They were all from all over and you know, I got to meet all of their friends and it's still to this day, they're some of my best friends in the city.
Austin Bunn: That's great. In terms of preparation for coming out here, that was really big because Cornell, we have a small production program, so to be able to go to Czechoslovakia and study with a bunch of other film-passionate students and make stuff that really helps compensate for what we can do on campus. And you weren't a PMA major so you didn't even necessarily have access to the cameras the way that majors do.
Olivia Krebs: Definitely. And I really wanted to go abroad but because there were so many classes I wanted to take, I didn't want to go abroad just to take bullshit classes, which it seemed like a lot of my friends were doing. Their academic experience just kind of seemed like a joke and an excuse to travel around, which, you know, nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to make better use of my time academically. So having that academic experience was great. It was also right after that program I worked at the Cannes Film Festival, which was huge because I wouldn't have been able to afford going over there just for the festival, but I could just hop down to France and work there.
Austin Bunn: Did you work at the American Pavilion?
Olivia Krebs: I didn't, it was through the American Pavilion, but I did, because I had been living in Prague and could speak a little bit of Czech at that point they assigned me to the south and Eastern European Pavilion and I worked with basically representatives of Bulgaria, Croatia.
Austin Bunn: Belarus.
Olivia Krebs: Yes, and some of the best people I've ever met. And it was very fascinating to see, you know, film sales in that capacity. That was an excellent experience. That kind of shaped what I wanted to do.
Austin Bunn: I think one thing I'm so impressed by in you, Olivia, is you have a very entrepreneurial sense about your own life. So you look for opportunities, you go for them instead of waiting for an opportunity to come your way, land in your lap, which is pretty rare. It does happen for certain people who are sprinkled with magic dust. But for most of us, you have to create your own good time. And so finding that opportunity, going to Prague, even these days, you said you're working on projects with, you know, friends or collaboration projects. Those are really great things to do because it keeps your life interesting to yourself. You're not waiting for other people to give you permission.
Olivia Krebs: I, that kind of makes me think of, I met with a girl recently who went to my high school and she was telling me about how, you know, she's worked on set for a couple of months and she's done all these jobs. And she was like, I've paid my dues. And I was like, you've paid dues, but you haven't paid them to anyone in particular. You know, you haven't paid them to yourself. You're not doing something that you can show to people and you're not paying them to a specific person or entity that wants to help you, that wants to forward you along.
Austin Bunn: Great point. Right. So thinking about who you're working for, why you're working for them, and developing a relationship that can potentially open doors down the road, that's important. As opposed to just an institution or an organization like a film production. Or TV show.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah. Just like I think people think checking off the boxes is what will get them somewhere but that's just, it's not the case. It's creating an experience that people want to be a part of, I think, and want to bring you along for, that's been, that's just been pretty useful for me.
Austin Bunn: What's your hometown, Olivia? Where are you from?
Olivia Krebs: I'm from St. Louis, Missouri.
Austin Bunn: Do you miss home? Do you feel like LA is your hometown for the future?
Olivia Krebs: I miss certain things about St. Louis. I miss parking spots and nice people at the grocery store. I miss, I definitely miss the people. When I meet people from the Midwest out here, I get pretty excited. What I don't miss is when I go home and people are like, you work in Hollywood, and you know, they pitch you their genius TV idea. And it's always ridiculous of course. I definitely miss the people, but Los Angeles has really grown on me and I say it to people that move out here all the time, that there's no such thing as an easy transition to Los Angeles. Like, your first year is going to be hard, particularly cause if you went to Cornell it's a good chance that most of your friends and family are much further away. And there's also something kind of insane about this city that pretends to be perfect all the time that you feel like when you're not, you just feel like you're going crazy. So yeah, but it's grown on me. I think choosing to focus on the things in the city that you love is the best way to make the city your own. I kind of felt like I had to do everything. I had to meet everyone, which at first may be the case, but then you can choose the people that are, are more meaningful to you and realizing that you don't have to explore every relationship just because you feel that you have to.
Austin Bunn: Mm-hm. Yeah, great point. Olivia, this has been awesome. Is there anything else you want to say that you haven't touched on about life here? Ways of making your life work here? Preparation advice you might give to undergrads who were thinking about following in your footsteps?
Olivia Krebs: I think your taste will end up being a very important part of your personal brand and watching as much as you can and reading as much—people don't read enough out here— is just the best way that you can have an opinion about what's being made and what you want to be made.
Austin Bunn: That's a terrific point. I think guiding, using your tastes as a guide and being prepared in terms of knowing the form, watching enough and not just watching what's on now, but what was great and successful from before, it really matters.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah. I think continuing your education is important. Like, I have a goal to watch 100 movies every year, 50 of which this year I'm trying to watch foreign films, which has been a pretty great goal.
Austin Bunn: Seen anything great recently? What have you watched that you've loved?
Olivia Krebs: Not a foreign film, but I watched Minding the Gap, which is a documentary that came out last year that I was blown away by and was very frustrated that Free Solo won over Minding the Gap. I thought it was just a far more timeless and beautiful story with some of the most amazing cinematography I've seen.
Austin Bunn: On Hulu too, right. I think you can watch it there.
Olivia Krebs: Yeah, also I'm on the app Letterboxd, which is a way to document everything that you've seen or want to see. And I, you know, I follow just a couple of my friends and it's a great way if you have a watch list, you guys can compare watch lists to find something that you both want to watch really easily. So that's been... Definitely document everything you watch. It's useful for casting ideas, and it's ultimately just as useful down the line.
Austin Bunn: Love it. Excellent recommendation. Olivia, thank you so much for joining me today and I wish you luck.
Olivia Krebs: Thank you. I hope you're back in LA soon.