Producing Honest Work with Taylor Ortega

Taylor Ortega is a powerhouse producer in the making. If her recent win at the College Television Awards, aka the Emmy’s for College students, tells us anything Taylor is going to be huge. The young producer strives to work on projects that speak to her and ignite her curiosity. With speaking to her it’s easy to see, honesty is at the root of all of her storytelling no matter the media. From musical comedies (one of her favorite genres) to her interest in romantic comedies, Taylor can see the truth of life in any work. Taylor juggles side projects while also working full time at Nickelodeon in the live action production and development department. To anyone, this sounds like the ideal life of a budding creative but in conversation, she quick emphasizes: no one is perfect. Honesty. Taylor is an incredible creator and absolutely someone to learn from and watch out for.

*this interview is an edited interview between Taylor Ortega and our founder, Kim Hoyos”

The Journey

How did you find your interest in video production?
I grew up in Monrovia, CA and when I was younger I loved going to Universal Studios Hollywood. My favorite ride was the backlot “behind the scenes” tour. It definitely sparked my initial curiosity and definitely inspired my interest in producing. This was my first real exposure to the film/TV world and though it was a bit contrived, since it is an amusement park ride, I thought it was AWESOME (and still do!).

Were there women in the arts you admired growing up?
I always have looked up to Denise Di Novi. She is an insanely successful producer and now director! I love that she’s produced a lot of different kinds of films and has never limited herself to telling one kind of story. Plus, alongside her professional success she also has a personal life too. She’s not only an established creative, but she’s also a wife and a mother. I truly admire how she has been able to have a career and a family, two things that are really important to me.

How did internships help you during college? What has been your favorite experience?
All of my internships were great! They helped me earn credits for college, which contributed to my ability to finish my undergraduate degree early. I can’t really pick a favorite as they all contributed to my education in different ways. I was able to learn different tactical and useful knowledge at each company/show that I have been able to apply in school and in my professional work. My advice for students who are seeking out internships is do as many as you can and always have a “can do” attitude. No task is too small because in the end the experience will really help you figure out where you want to work after school and it will give you a network of contacts to call upon for referrals or advice.

Did you feel that your MFA was crucial for your current success?
For me personally, I do believe it was. Though, I do not think an MFA is essential for everyone. Coming from LA, I earned my BFA in Communications Studies (and a minor in Film & Electronic Arts) from California State University Long Beach. Though I had internships “in the business”, I never really got the film school experience and more truthfully, I just wanted an excuse to move to NYC. I figured I would apply and if I got in, it was the perfect excuse to leave LA. I am so grateful for the way it worked out because moving to New York for grad school was the catalyst for me meeting so many people through my program, landing my current job and finding my way to my boyfriend, Ben.

What would you say to creatives deciding whether or not higher education or formal training is for them?
I would say really reflect on what you think is best for yourself and especially for your finances. Higher education is very expensive and I am lucky to have been able to work during grad school and to have parents who have helped me along the way. Without my parents support, I would be in A LOT more debt than I am now. In my opinion, the best part of being in an MFA program are the connections you make through your peers, professors and alumni, plus you get the opportunity to really shut everything else out and focus on your craft.

BUT that’s also possible outside of school too, it all depends on your individual circumstances and what you really want. If you want it, I say go for it and take advantage of all the opportunities and the time you get while you’re in the program because it will be over before you know it! Work really hard and network while you are still in school because once you’re out in the real world a job will not just fall into your lap. You will still have to hustle to find work!

Her Work:

How did you gravitate towards producing?
In high school, I learned that the “producer” is in charge of organizing the entire production and for me that was music to my ears. I love being able to contribute to the creative side of things, while also being in charge of the logistics. Running the ship and picking out the furniture, hiring the crew and being the lookout is probably one of the best jobs ever (pirate analogy, no idea where this came from haha)

Do you prefer film, tv, or digital production?
If I had to pick right now, my first choice would be TV, then film, then digital, BUT that is not permanent and will continue to fluctuate as I move along in my career.

Are there any other roles you enjoy a lot or would like to learn how to do?
Though it is not really in my wheelhouse, in grad school we were able to direct and write along with produce projects. I really enjoyed the creative liberties that came along with directing and writing. I would love to have the opportunity to continue learning more about directing and writing, simply because I think it makes me a better producer! I can understand the creative process better and be able to fight harder for the project, since I understand the writer or director mindset.

What has been your favorite piece to produce so far?
Hands down, Everything’s Fine: A Panic Attack in D Major. I love musicals and I love film, and this piece brought both of those together which was a dream come true! I hope to continue working on musical projects created for television and film.

How do you decide what kind of work you take on?
For me, it always come down to story. It has to be a story that I can empathize with and that I find endearing and relatable and that I believe in. Also, the people I work with is an important part of the decision too. If I don’t believe in the project or the people I am working with, then I am not the right producer for the project.

Everything's Fine A Panic Attack in D Major:

How did you sign onto the production of “Everything’s Fine”?
Most producing students at Columbia take about 3 years to graduate, whereas most writing and directing students take 4-5 years to finish. This means for thesis projects 3rd year producers are typically paired up with writing and directing students from older years. Some students know people outside of their “year”, but some (like myself) do not, so our grad program organizes a speed networking event where students from different years can meet and hopefully find people to work with on their thesis projects. Zack (Morrison) and I met during that event and I was immediately excited about the story he pitched, not only because it was a musical, but because I thought it was a very relatable idea that could speak to an audience.

How long did production take?
We shot the film over 4 days, but we began pre-production in the summer of 2017, shot in October 2017 and wrapped post in March 2018.

What were some challenges during production?
We were very lucky to have few minimal issues come up during production. However, the night before production, after Chris (our AD) sent out the Day 1 call sheet, Zack called me in a panic! One of the actresses for the first day of shooting had an emergency and could not be there at her 8AM call, but could be there at 1PM instead. We could not shift the morning scene because the featured actor of the musical number had a hard-out time for that day. Luckily, between Zack, Chris, and I we were able to come up with a solution. We would replace the character she played with another character from the story for the musical number that was scheduled to shoot first thing in the morning. Though this was a stressful problem it was a great catalyst for how the rest of the film shoot would go. Whenever a problem came up, Zack, Chris and I always put our heads together to solve it. This was vital to the success of the film and I was really grateful to be respected and supported by them throughout the filming process.

What have you learned from this project?
I am so incredibly grateful for the experience I had with my thesis film. Not only was the content and production something I was passionate about, but I also gained great friends and a big partnership from the process. Throughout the process, Zack and I leaned on each other so much and we were really able to do this together. I felt so respected and appreciated by him. He valued my opinion in all creative decisions and I never felt that this was only his film, he always treated it as our film. For me, my thesis experience really rounded out my time with the program at Columbia. I feel so thankful for all that I’ve learned throughout the program and for all that I’ve  learned throughout my thesis process. The film not only challenged me to grow as a producer, but it made me grow as a team player. It taught me what I should hope to gain from a film and creative partners.

What were your goals heading into the project? Did they change?
My only goal throughout the project was to create a solid environment for everyone to thrive in while also having fun! That really didn’t change for me while filming. If anything, the film allowed me to grow and establish new skills to make the next project I work on that much better.

Given the messaging of the film, what’s something you do for self-care/relief?
Self-care is really tough and it’s something that I honestly work on every single day. I try my best to forgive myself when I make mistakes and to let things go when they are bothering me, but it’s a lot easier said than done. To get relief from anxiety and bad “self-talk” I exercise and I also try to see a musical/play at least once a month. Seeing shows really makes me happy and exercise makes me feel good. Like the film says, I think all we can do is take things one day at a time and be thankful for who we are and all that our bodies and minds can do. There’s only one you and you are enough!

Note: Taylor and Zack went on to win Best Comedy at the 39th College Television Awards, we caught up with Taylor for an exclusive acceptance speech!

College Television Award Winners: Zack Morrison and Taylor Ortega!

On Nickelodeon:

What does your job at Nickelodeon entail?
Currently, I work at Nickelodeon in the Live Action department in development and production for both scripted and unscripted series. Every day is different which is awesome! Most days I am reading or taking pitches, giving notes on scripts, watching and responding to cuts, meeting with various internal departments, like programming, marketing, production management etc. and external production companies or creatives as well. No one day is ever the same, which keeps it refreshing and I get to work on hilarious kid content all day which is the best!

What’s an actionable way that women in the workplace can fight imposter syndrome or feelings of insecurity the workplace?
I think the ability for women to fight this in the workplace really comes from within. It’s up to us to realize our worth and to fight for ourselves both professionally and personally. And of course, if anyone is every dealing with any kind of harassment or detrimental behavior, then the individual has to come forward and protect herself. I also think as women continue to rise in the ranks and have the ability to hire others, we have to be cognizant of those we are hiring and ensure that we are bringing respectful people into our work place.

What are ways you feel that you’re able to bring your creativity to your corporate job?
Every day I am analyzing pitches and giving creative notes on scripts. Almost everything I do in my job requires me to be creative, which is great! For me, working at a network is like being another kind of producer on our projects and not just the “studio entity”. We constructively give notes to benefit the creative and support those we’ve hired to partner with us on any given series.

Going forward:

What advice would you have given your teen self?
It will all be okay. Just enjoy the time you have now and work hard on the things that you love. Don’t waste your time on things that make you unhappy or insecure. Oh, and you will meet the love of your life you just have to love yourself first!

What’s one lesson you will always carry with you?
Be nice to everyone you meet. Don’t forget how small our industry is! You never know how paths will intersect in the future, so make good impression and reputation for yourself by being honest and working hard. People will be more willing to put you up for a job or refer you for one if they know you are a good and dependable person.

We asked Taylor who her dream Hollywood diner guests would be- here’s her picks!

Any final words?

Just remember there’s not a singular right way to do life. We all have our own paths and that’s okay! Our goals and wants WILL change and that’s okay too. Do what’s right for you in the moment, take one day at a time and remember EVERYTHING’S FINE! Thank you for taking the time to read through these! Hopefully the conversation helped in some way. I am always happy to meet with and help anyone that is seeking advice. Feel free to reach out on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn!

Here’s where to find Taylor: