Produced by Conference 2015: MBA Application Takeaways

The Producers Guild of America held their annual Produced By Conference in Los Angeles last month. As a PGA member, I snagged a free ticket to attend the second day of the conference, where I met some new friends and attended sessions about pitching feature films, creating brand partnerships, Tyler Perry (and his empire), and (speaking of empires…) Empire.

As I went from session to session, I couldn’t help but think about how much content and advice would be valuable for MBA admissions. So here it is, hot off the presses (or cold off the notebook?). Get your Hollywood-approved admissions tips about pitching, passion, and more right here!

Session 1: A Conversation with Tyler Perry

Confession: I’m a fair-weather (read: post-Gone-Girl) Tyler Perry fan. I never really loved Tyler Perry…until now. The man is fantastic. This was a conversation between him and Ava DuVernay (she’s my hero — more in a future post), and it was a great glimpse into what makes Tyler Perry tick…and what makes him so successful.

Here are Tyler Perry’s MBA tips for you:

  • Build a great support team. Tyler Perry has about a thousand projects going at any given time. How does he handle everything? With a support team that he trusts with his life (and piles of money). It’s essential to have support during MBA applications, between emotional support from friends and family and application support from coaches, prep programs, and fellow applicants.
  • Step into the risk. If you have a dream, go for it. Commit fully, have faith, stay optimistic, and bring your dream (slash MBA application) to life.
  • Tell me what you can do for me. At the end of every entertainment panel Q&A, someone will inevitably awkwardly try to ask for a job. But it shouldn’t be about what Tyler Perry can do for you; it’s about what you can do for Tyler Perry. Remember this in your applications — think of the resources you’ll create at business school, not just the resources you’ll consume.

Session 2: Pitching Feature Films

Featuring Mark Gordon (Grey’s Anatomy, Saving Private Ryan), Marshall Herskovitz (Love & Other Drugs, The Last Samurai), Stephanie Allain (Dear White People, Hustle & Flow), and Graham King (The Departed, Argo).

Here are their notes on what makes a great pitch (and a great MBA application):

  • Who is your protagonist? Great stories have great protagonists, and audiences need to know why characters behave the way they do. Make your motivations clear and make sure that you explain to the adcom who you are — what your values and motivators are and how they tie in to your MBA narrative.
  • The concentric theory of pitching. First tell your story in one sentence (overview), then in three sentences (protagonist, goals, stakes), then in ten sentences (plot, theme, characters). This ensures that you know your story back and forth and that it’s easy to follow — key for when you tell your MBA application narrative as well!
  • Get your head game straight. This gem is from Stephanie Allain. Reframe the pitch — you are going in to share your passion and ideas about your amazing project, not just to sell some movie to whoever will buy it (lord willing). In your application, you’re sharing your unique passions and strengths, not just trying to be whatever you think schools want.

Session 3: Building Meaningful Brand Partnerships

Featuring Ian Bryce (Transformers), Lou Fusaro (Ray Donovan, Californication), Mark Owens (CRO, Corbis), and Shannon Pruitt (President, Storytelling Lab) talking about integrating brands into screen content:

  • Integrate into the viewing experience. Brands are shifting their focus away from commercials so the viewer can have a more pleasant brand interaction. You should integrate your message and background into the adcom’s reading experience, making their jobs easier by translating your non-traditional experience into language they’re familiar with.
  • Great partnerships are made when partners meet one another’s needs. As you research schools, take note of what topics and stories they emphasize in their marketing materials and news. Find a way to link your goals with what they’re selling, and make sure their offerings fit your goals as well!

Session 4: Empire 360°

Empire. So great. Just so, so, so, so great. Cookie is another one of my heroes. More on that now:


Yes you do, Cookie. Yes you do.

What was I saying? Oh right, the PGA conference. This panel was with the show’s producers: Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brian Grazer, Ilene Chaiken, and Francie Calfo.

  • Find talent in unorthodox places. Empire has done a great job of this, recruiting writers from the feature film world and even casting actors off of Instagram! If you feel like part of your application seems weak, look for diamonds in the rough. Did you manage a budget as part of a volunteer engagement? Include it! Demonstrate your capabilities, even through unorthodox means.
  • Thou shalt not be boring. This is Danny Strong’s big rule, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be a cookie cutter applicant — make sure that your voice comes through in your essays and that your recommenders touch on what makes you unique!

One Last Bit of Advice

Put pencil to paper. When Brian Grazer started out as a legal clerk at Warner Brothers, he met Lew Wasserman and asked for advice. Lew told him to grab a pencil and a pad of paper, then told him: “That pencil and paper of yours have more value together than they do apart.”

So…what are you waiting for? Put that pencil to paper!



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