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Producers discuss work in television

Abi Hoverman | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Students interested in film and television must be willing to do whatever it takes to get into the industry, award-winning producers Kevin Fortson and Antonia Ellis said in a lecture Wednesday evening.

“Having hired interns, it’s very clear who is a star and who isn’t … it shows who’s willing to do the work,” Ellis said. “If you have to make coffee or copies, do it.”

Fortson said it is important for students to make themselves visible and reliable as a good worker and a part of a team.

As senior vice president of production for Warner Horizon Television (WHTV), Fortson oversees the production of many scripted shows for cable and reality TV, including “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Bachelor.”

When contemplating a career in Hollywood, one could either do freelance work or take a steadier job at a studio, like Fortson.

Although freelancers have the chance to make huge profits, this type of work is risky, he said.

As for knowing when producers have a hit, both Fortson and Ellis said sometimes it takes shooting the pilot or even airing the series before a television show really takes off.

Fortson said he was skeptical of “The Bachelor” after hearing the original pitch.

Ellis, who has produced numerous shows including “Royal Pains,” “Sex in the City” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” got her start in the music industry working on music videos during the advent of MTV.

She said finding the perfect job is a confusing process.

“I had wished someone had given me clues about how to get from point A to B,” Ellis said.

Her career has taken her from Los Angeles to New York City and back again, and as a result of these demands, Ellis said she has not started a family.

“You have to do some soul searching to figure out what makes you happy,” she said.

Ellis also said she was optimistic about the status of women in Hollywood — both in production and in front of the camera.

“I’ve never felt from a work standpoint that it was harder,” she said. “In films and TV there are a lot of strong women today and I’m excited about that.”

Although neither Fortson nor Ellis attended Notre Dame, they both emphasized the value of a Notre Dame education.

Fortson said having a degree from Notre Dame prepares students for whatever they want to do.