Degree: Communication Studies
Current location: Los Angeles, CA
Year graduated: 2008
Student Organization Involvement: President of MACS (The Michigan Association of Communication Studies), Chi Omega Fraternity (Recruitment Chairman), The Detroit Project
Additional jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: M.F.A. at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts – Peter Stark Producing Program; assistant to the co-chairman of Universal Pictures; executive assistant to the President of Production at the Mark Gordon Company; associate producer, Live by Night; coordinating producer, The 89th Annual Academy Awards (the Oscars)
Brittany Hapner currently works at Pearl Street Films, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s production company, in development and production of feature films and television. In 2016, Brittany was an associate producer on the Warner Brothers film Live by Night, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.
Brittany served as a coordinating producer for the Emmy-nominated 89th and 90th Annual Academy Awards with Jimmy Kimmel.
She previously served as the Los Angeles brand ambassador for Six Degrees Society, a national female-focused networking organization, as she is committed to empowering women in every aspect of their lives. Brittany is currently an M.B.A. candidate at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and expects to graduate with her second master's degree in June 2018. Brittany also holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and an M.F.A. in Motion Picture Producing from the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California. Brittany is originally from Marietta, Georgia and currently resides in Los Angeles.
KC: Tell me more about all of the things you’re juggling right now in your career.
BH: In September 2015, I started the FEMBA Program (the fully-employed Masters of Business Administration) at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, so I attend classes at night. I’ve also been working at Pearl Street Films for the past few years while in school, so it’s been a bit of a balancing act. My company has been incredibly supportive of me and my education, and I am so grateful for that! There are a lot of companies that may say they’re supportive, but at the end of the day when you need to leave work early to get to class, that may not be the case.
I’ve certainly been juggling a lot, but somehow I’ve managed to make it work. Last November, my direct boss was approached about being one of the executive producers of the Oscars. When she and her partner for the show signed on to produce, they brought me on to work on the project as well – I had worked on the Producer’s Guild Awards with them a year prior as well. Last year working on the Oscars, I didn’t know what to expect every day. I had that novice, bright-eyed enthusiasm, but didn’t-know-what-was-going-to-hit-me type of mentality. This year I at least knew what I was doing.
KC: What made you want to go into the M.B.A. program?
BH: Before deciding to go get my M.B.A., I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I started to question whether what I was doing was what I wanted to be doing long-term. Did I see myself 10, 15, 20 years from now doing the same thing? I wasn’t positive. At that time, I didn’t know what else to do because I had only ever worked in entertainment doing development and production. When I started to look into marketing and other possible areas, I was sometimes told that I didn’t have the necessary skillsets that they were looking for in those roles, which can be frustrating and disheartening. For me, deciding to get my M.B.A. was about broadening my education and skillset as well as arming myself with a tool that would provide me with the information and knowledge to better compete in the marketplace. I believe no education is wasted and deciding to get the M.B.A. was undoubtedly the right decision for me.
Once I was in business school, I was determined to learn “what else is out there”, so I spoke with fellow classmates about their careers and what their daily lives were like. Through these conversations, I realized that I didn’t want to leave the entertainment industry as a whole, but that I wanted to pivot the path I had been on. While in school, I’ve taken the time to figure out what exactly I’m good at and what I enjoy doing. In those years, I’ve also had some great opportunities come up at work, both in being an associate producer on the feature film, Live by Night, as well as a coordinating producer on the Oscars. Working on the Oscars opened up an entirely new arena of production for me and taught me that live television is a space I really enjoy working in. Lately, I’ve focused on being flexible and seizing opportunities as they come my way – you really never know what or who you might meet that will alter your path or introduce you to something you never knew you enjoyed. For now, I’m focusing on creating opportunities for myself and seeing where they go!
KC: What has your career timeline been like since you graduated from U-M?
BH: I graduated from Michigan and moved to Los Angeles to go to USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program, which is a two-year master’s program focused on film producing. In my second year of the master’s program, I got my first job working for the co-chairman of Universal as one of her assistants. In just under a year at Universal, I moved on to the Mark Gordon Company, where I began working for a producer and was my boss’s only assistant. This definitely had its pros and cons; cons being that everything fell on me, but I was working for the president of that production company which gave me a lot of great exposure. While working there, I also had the opportunity to work on my first two feature films, Celeste and Jesse Forever and The To Do List.
I left the Mark Gordon Company with my boss – she took another job, and we both moved over to Pearl Street Films. Once at Pearl Street, I had the opportunity to wear several hats because we were building the company from the ground up. I handled things for my boss’s desk (being her assistant), served as an office manager, and then worked as a creative executive reading scripts, providing notes, and developing our film and television slate. Being forced to wear a lot of hats and solve problems in various capacities helped me understand that I enjoy flexing different muscles in my job. I’m resourceful and a hustler and like to hit the ground running - anything that I can do to make something better, I’m happy to take on.
KC: What could you say to students who are hoping to get into entertainment about the necessity of “starting in the mailroom”?
BH: I actually did work in the mailroom! I was an intern at a talent agency one summer, and I learned so much from it. Entertainment is interesting… everyone starts as an assistant. That’s just the way it is. The reason why? Working as an assistant is actually more of an apprenticeship. Yes, you’re answering someone’s phone; yes, you’re handling his or her schedules and whatnot, but you’re learning how the business works while you’re sitting on those phone calls. And you start to understand the dynamics between different roles within the industry and how you would approach different situations. I think that going to an agency or management company will give you the best training ground, even though it might seem daunting to some people. You build your network there; you meet SO many people who will be helpful to you throughout your career.
KC: How do you feel that your experiences at Michigan have influenced your career path?
BH: Freshman year, I went to the Career Center and met with a woman whom I ended up working with for the rest of my time at Michigan. She helped me with my resume and pointed me to the “Princeton Review Internship Bible,” which was a monstrous book that had hundreds of companies with descriptions of what internships they hire for. This is how I started applying to my first internships – by printing my resume and mailing them to all of these places!
Being involved in clubs at Michigan, especially career-oriented clubs, was so important for me to learn more about the field I wanted to pursue. I joined MACS (Michigan Association of Communication Studies) and eventually served as the co-vice president of public relations and then the co-president. In MACS, we brought in speakers from all over to talk to students about careers in media and entertainment. Michigan also has the Entertainment & Media Forum, which I actually spoke on a few years after graduating. All of these things that Michigan laid out for me – the opportunities, the panels, and the network – really helped me get to where I am today.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
BH: Favorite is that no two days are the same. (I could probably also consider that as a least favorite aspect, in that there’s often a lot of unexpected things and unknowns.) Every film or TV show brings something new and exciting to the table.
My least favorite is that the development process can be extremely long at times. There are some projects that may take only a year to develop before we get to go make it, which is an incredibly quick timeline. For film, studios have libraries of material that they own, including scripts that they bought years ago and scripts that they’re buying today. It’s only when all of the stars align that you’ll be off to the races producing a movie. The movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for example, was in development for 20 years! That’s an extreme case, but it just goes to show that development can take a really long time due for a variety of reasons (casting, technology, finances, etc).
KC: What advice would you give to current students interested in pursuing a similar career path?
BH: Don’t be too strict on your career timeline. You know, Oprah didn’t become Oprah until her 30s! Know what direction you want to go in, but also be flexible to potentially pivot or explore a new direction if a new opportunity comes your way. If you’re not in a certain place at a certain time like you thought you would be, that’s okay - don’t be too hard on yourself! You’ll get there if you want it, so stick it out. Entertainment is a marathon, so you need to be in it for the long haul. But it’s an exciting space to work in, so if this is the only thing you can ever imagine yourself doing, then move to LA and jump right in!