Where did you grow up in LA?
I grew up in the Valley. It’s removed from what you would consider Los Angeles—it’s very much “the suburbs.” It was like I grew up somewhere else entirely, despite the fact that it was just 20 miles from Los Angeles.
Was your goal to move to LA?
It was. Even though I did have a four-year detour in Indiana. I followed my boyfriend at the time to college at Indiana University.
I was in this Jewish youth group called BBYO. I was very much an outcast in high school, very much an ugly duckling. I don’t know if I’m a swan now—that’s up to your readers! [Laughs] But this youth group was my safe haven. Even there I wasn’t fully accepted. I’ve always been a bit different.
I went to a very small high school. It was called the Zoo Magnet Center. It was on the parking lot of the LA Zoo. My previous high school was so big and I dropped out a few times, so mom and I thought the Zoo Magnet Center would be fun. Even there I didn’t find my niche, but it was easier to be anonymous at a smaller school because people would just do their own thing.
Why couldn’t you find your own niche?
Because I like so many different things. I feel the cliques in high school were very focused: the “typical” teenagers, the punk rock kids, the Christians…. I didn’t want to be put in a box.
Do you still feel that way?
What I love about LA is that you don’t really need a “squad.” I don’t have squads in my life, but I have different quadrants of friends that fulfill certain needs of mine and I fulfill certain needs of theirs.
Switching gears: When you went to college did you have a career in mind?
I knew that I wanted to be in television and not necessarily movies. I was interested in the business and history of television, so that’s what I majored in. I also majored in gender studies for fun. I loved all the classes that I took, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in television. I didn’t even think about trying to figure out what I should do.
Were there TV shows that inspired you growing up?
I loved the History Channel, Discovery and TLC back when it was The Learning Channel. I particularly enjoyed In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy. Every episode was a different historical or scientific mystery. I loved that show. It’s super old school and I think it’s the inspiration for a lot of the paranormal shows that you see on television now, whether people know it or not. I was always drawn to informational television.
Did you ever consider documentary filmmaking?
No, even though I consider what I do to be a more heightened, entertaining version of documentary filmmaking. Documentaries can be very entertaining, but I have to entertain people and I don’t have the luxury of filming something over eight years.
Right now I am the Vice President of Development for Trooper Entertainment, which is a Lionsgate Production overall deal. So basically what I do everyday is come up with new television show ideas from scratch. We get pitched from time to time, but my job is to really find and hone in on these worlds and characters myself without the help of an outside producer.
That sounds amazing and exhausting coming up with ideas all the time.
Yes! I love finding interesting people with a skillset or talent. So let’s say I have it in mind to look for the younger version of Long Island Medium, much like I did with Monica the Medium, which is a show on Freeform [formerly ABC Family] that I more or less created. Creating a reality TV show takes a village so I don’t like saying that I created something, but I spawned the idea. I identified her as a talent.
Let’s say you’re reverse-engineering a show. So you’re thinking, “I think the younger version of Long Island Medium could work. There are three places I could sell that: ABC Family, Oxygen, and MTV.” But what if she doesn’t exist? This is probably the hardest part of my job. It’s reality television, so what you’re looking for has to exist in some way, shape, or form. You could have a million ideas for a person that would make a great show, but if that person doesn’t exist then you’re out of luck.
Does it blow your mind to have an idea and then see it alive on TV?
Does it blow my mind? Well, it’s my job, so not so much. The most exciting part is getting development money from a network and then seeing the finished product. Even if it doesn’t make it to television, seeing the finished product is what’s most exciting—seeing your vision come to life.
How do you come up with ideas?
Sometimes I’ll identify a network first. I’ll come up with five different ideas and then they’ll end up liking one. I love honing in on one particular network and jamming them with ideas until they buy something.
Networks will also say when they’re looking for certain things. Then it’s a mad dash for production companies to be the first one to find it.
For Monica the Medium, I knew how I had to pitch it: “It’s a young version of Long Island Medium.” But I wasn’t necessarily looking for that.
I think some of the best ideas are like, “This person is interesting, how can I make it a show?” As opposed to looking for something for a particular network. That’s where I’ve found the most success. You want to find people and concepts that are evergreen.
How do you create something that’s sustainable?
Before I go down the road of trying to develop something and sell it to a network, I always consider whether it’s something that can sustain a series. When I was first talking to Monica, I was drawn to the fact that she had three sisters. She also had an amazing mother who was Costa Rican and was still grappling with Monica’s gifts. There are a lot of stories that can come from those relationships.
I just saw all the different stories: romance, family, college. How do you go through college? What about roommates? How do they feel when they find out you’re a medium? Not to mention you have three readings an episode. I just saw a lot of legs in that story.
I want to ask you about HollywoodWEST. Why did you start it?
HollywoodWEST (Hollywood Women Executives Stronger Together) is an amazing organization of women executives, which I started with my best friend, Maytal Gilboa.
I think that the biggest hurdle for women in the industry is identifying a mentor. One of the reasons I struggled to become an executive in my mid-20s is because I didn’t have a mentor. I had bosses that were great and I learned so much from them, but I don’t know if they considered me their “mentee.”
Especially in the agency world, there’s so much turnover that you have a new assistant every six months to a year. It’s really difficult to take a shine to someone. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I found my mentor, who is my current boss. That’s why I started this group, to provide a community where females can find their own mentors.
Were you surprised by how many women came forward and said they needed this?
I wouldn’t say I was surprised because that was my experience. My co-founder, Maytal, felt the same way. Some people have great mentors and they’re lucky in that way. But I think lack of mentors is one of the biggest struggles that women deal with.
Your mentor isn’t necessarily going to be a woman. My mentor is a man, so I think women should also keep that in mind. In some ways, you may be better off having a male mentor.
The general perception of the industry is that it is very male dominated, particularly in higher positions. Do you think that’s true?
Yes, but sometimes I see a reason for it. Sometimes women are very shy and think, “I don’t know if I should be interviewing for this job….” I hear a lot of excuses.
I read an article that claims we apologize when we speak. Like we don’t own our knowledge.
I hate that. I think it might go back to just not having the right mentors. If you have a male mentor, you see how he’s acting and you’ll want to mimic that. I don’t know what women are looking towards to inspire that kind of behavior. I don’t know whether it’s popular culture but it needs to stop. I find myself guilty of it, too.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I want to keep building on the role that I have now. I don’t see myself working at a network anytime soon. I’ve always been drawn to being the underdog. Call me a masochist, but I love being “the seller.” I love being turned down until I get a “yes!”
It doesn’t crush your soul?
It doesn’t! It drives me. I’m glad it’s taken me ten years to get to this point, because I’ve learned so much. Sometimes the sooner you rise the harder you fall, so it’s been a slow burn for me.
I think my life experience has led me to connect with human beings and convince them to really open up their lives for a show. It’s because I’ve gone through a lot in my life, so I’m able to relate to the people I’m reaching out to on many different levels.
What’s your favorite reality TV show out right now?
I would say Married at First Sight. I wish I came up with that show! Also Are You the One, just because it’s a heightened version of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. It creates a situation that’s ripe with a lot of drama.
What do you think is the big appeal of Keeping Up With the Kardashians?
They’re very open and raw. I’m sure there’s some producing that goes on with that show, but Khloe was ok with being arrested on television. A lot of people wouldn’t be ok with that. They really put themselves out there.
So, of course, you’re going to end up relating to them and wanted to aspire to that lifestyle. Look at I Am Cait. She’s putting it out there for the world to see—you have to respect that and be attracted to that.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give?
If something doesn’t make sense, you have to question it. Everything in life you have to question. This comes back to trusting your gut and being open to that.
And always haggle! Just go for it.
How do you like living in Culver City?
I like that it’s a little removed from Hollywood. When I lived in West Hollywood, I would run into people all the time. I do like taking that break and not having to worry if I have makeup on when I’m just stepping out of the house because I might run into someone I know.
Do you have any favorite spots in the area?
I really this Indian takeout spot called Samosa House. It’s vegetarian.
Where do you take out-of-towners?
I would take them outside of LA. I would take them to San Diego Zoo. It is like a zoo on steroids. It’s such a better situation for the animals.
What does LA mean to you?
What I love about LA is the environmental aspect that I don’t think you get in other cities. Nature inspires me and grounds me. This is the only city that has a large predator, the mountain lion. No other metropolis could sustain mountain lions. That boggles my mind!
Being a fourth-generation Californian, I can definitely see what led my ancestors here. It’s really the “land of opportunity”—such a beautiful and inspiring place.
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©