Courtesy of Fay Harvey and @wimucsb on Instagram

UC Santa Barbara’s Women in Media organization held its eighth annual spring conference on May 18 and 19 at the Interactive Learning Pavilion. Women in Media (WIM) is a professional development organization specializing in uplifting women in media fields. This year’s spring conference brought together over 35 professionals, hosting nine panels discussing topics ranging from film production to marketing.

Day one began with catering from Yetz’s bagels, a local Isla Vista restaurant, and the inaugural panel, first few years, which features recent graduates and their journeys breaking into the entertainment and film industries. This year’s panelists included actress Erica Mae McNeal, Hollie Collins of TV Santa Barbara, Keana Alden, a creative assistant at Universal Pictures and Mitchka Saberi, a producer at Echobend Pictures. 

Giovanna Andreassi, third-year communication and sociology double major and WIM president, welcomed attendees to the conference before bringing out panel moderator Sofia Shin, second-year communication and economics double major and WIM events co-chair. Shin asked a mix of individual and group questions, asking Saberi about the difference between working on a music video set versus a short film one, along with asking the panelists about a project they were proud of. For Collins, this was a media literacy program she conducted with Santa Barbara youth in which she brought kids and teens into the TV studio. The discussion soon turned to the ills of post-graduate life.

“They say you’re gonna get 100 ‘no’s’ for one ‘yes’ … unfortunately, it’s true,” McNeal said when asked about the greatest challenge of her career. Each panelist stressed the importance of persevering through rejection, especially when pursuing careers in the media and film industries. Alden regaled a story where she was certain that she secured a job following a particularly great interview but was ultimately turned down. However, getting passed on that job led her to Universal. The message of the panel was clear, and put simply by Collins in a final word of advice: “It will be fine.” 

The second panel of the day was the journalism panel, moderated by third-year communication major and WIM general member Amanda Marroquin. The panel featured four journalists from various publications and in various mediums: Chloe Hall, head of brand and creative at Julie Products Inc., Deputy Editor at Reserved Magazine Delaney Willet, Jessica Black, a digital host at the National Women’s Soccer League and New York Times Reporter Nicole Sperling. Each journalist brought their own unique perspective, but Willet’s was interesting because she got her start in journalism before eventually transitioning to fashion and modeling. Usually, she noted, this happens the other way around. She sees journalism as a way to give a voice to those in front of the camera. “I kind of had those tools before I was put in a space where so many young models are stripped entirely of their identity.”

Black’s niche also began unconventionally. She described the importance of putting one’s work out there to be consumed — it was how her YouTube channel, “She Knows Arsenal,” got its start. Since then, Black has continued to bridge the gap between her various interests through journalism. Sperling echoed this sentiment when describing her troubles following getting laid off from Entertainment Weekly. Writing freelance taught her to keep persevering and writing. “You have to rely on the work you’ve done in the past and your willingness to keep going to continue that trajectory.”

Hall described a similar moment in her career — when she chose to leave Elle Magazine where she had been the beauty director because she wanted to raise her child in California. Hall continued by writing freelance while working at Julie. The emphasis on writing and continuing to write despite employment was not lost on any of the audience members. 

The panel ended with each of the panelists describing their favorite projects that they’ve worked on throughout their careers, Willet’s being an interview with Nadia Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, Sperling’s was a sit down with novelist Judy Bloom and Black’s was the opportunity to attend the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But for Hall, nothing can hold a candle to a print cover. “To feel in your hands something that you created from idea to execution is just … there’s nothing like it,” Hall said.

After lunch from South Coast Deli, third-year biopsychology and film and media studies double major Aria Mahmoud, treasurer of WIM, brought out the panelists for the third panel of the day: production. The panel brought together production designer and creative director Haley Appell, first assistant director Liz Tan, and editors Mindy Elliott and Sandra Lena

The greenest of the panel was Appell, who has worked as a creative director and production designer for various projects, including brand campaigns for Louis Vuitton and award-winning music videos. Appell described the cycle of creativity in these various roles, saying, “The inspiration for those projects really came out of a need to experiment.” 

Editors Lena and Elliott were extremely insightful when it came to the different creative and technical aspects of the editing process, Lena doing more post-production editing and Elliott doing a lot of the groundwork. But Elliott’s shining moment of the panel was in addressing the greatest challenge of her career — equal pay. 

“I’m constantly challenging myself to ask for what I want, for what I think I’m worth,” Elliott said. She cited the lack of pay transparency in American culture as part of the reason that women are undervalued for their work. Lena echoed this sentiment, describing her experiences being discredited not only as a woman, but for her nationality, personality and age. Though most industry fields are male-dominated, production may be the most overtly so — thus, it was inspiring to hear from four female voices in the industry. 

The second to last panel was the music panel, moderated by fourth-year film and media studies major and outreach lead of WIM Irie Aburto. This year’s panelists included artist and DJ Gloria Kim, singer Tei Shi and viral musician Tiffany Day. In conversation with Aburto, each artist emphasized the importance of having a sense of self when making music. Day recalled the beginning of her career when she had tried to adopt a mysterious, alternative persona for her music, saying, “It just feels right to be genuinely myself.”

Kim described her own journey with self-identity a little differently, finding that cementing a strong sense of identity prior to entering the music industry worked for her. The pressure to conform and indulge in microtrends makes maintaining individuality difficult. For Shi, this was done through exploring her own intersectional background. Being Colombian and Canadian, leaning into the multidimensionality of her cultures helped her maintain inspiration and a sense of self. The vulnerability with which the three young musicians approached the panel echoed the emotional maturity that creating music necessitates. 

The last panel of the day was perhaps the most highly anticipated — content creators. Moderated by fourth-year communication major Fay Harvey-Urbina, this year’s panel showcased four creators, TikTok comedian Alexia Del Valle, celebrity marketer and creator Andrea Casanova and veteran YouTube duo the Merrell Twins, Vanessa and Veronica Merrell

Content creation is a notoriously slippery slope; it’s easy to fall in and out of relevance, in and out of favor.  Del Valle discussed the difficulty of living a public life. “You’re opening up for the world to comment on everything, comment on your physical body, your looks,” she said. Vanessa Merrell discussed how even when videos are performing well, it was the small remarks that affected her. “[There was] a comment from like, five years ago about my eyebrows that I still think about today,” she laughed.

But creating content obviously has its perks — Del Valle recalled a moment where Will Smith said he liked her videos and Casanova remembered her first VidCon. Veronica Merrell emphasized that meeting fans was the best part of being on the internet. Luckily for the Merrell twins, attendees filed into a line to meet the seasoned internet stars the moment that the panel ended, officially concluding day one of the conference.  

Courtesy of Fay Harvey and @wimucsb on Instagram

The WIM conference continued onto the second day with panels in screenwriting, marketing, film executives and the final panel featuring the leading lady. 

Attendees made their way inside the Interactive Learning Pavilion conference room for the screenwriters panel with Aburto as the moderator. The screenwriters consisted of writer and producer Katrina Mathewson, television writer and filmmaker Kerry O’Neill and playwright and television and film writer Sofya Levitsky-Weitz. Levitsky-Weitz is most notably known for her work on FX’s award-winning show, “The Bear.”

Moderator Aburto started the panel by asking the screenwriters to take the audience through their writing processes. They all agreed that the writing process is mainly problem solving, critical thinking and developing pitch ideas before the actual writing can even start. Levitsky-Weitz added that she thinks of the process as splitting your brain between the editorial brain and the creative brain. 

The panel consisted of helpful advice for future writers on finding constructive notes when it comes to criticism and the importance of having a thick skin. “Often notes aren’t the best or most helpful, so it’s really about finding the note behind the note,” Mathewson advised. Both O’Neill and Levitsky-Weitz emphasized the importance of developing yourself as an artist and building the tools through experience in order to better understand where the criticism is coming from rather than putting yourself down.

The following panel featured marketing specialists in the industry. Moderator Samantha Dailey, a third-year environmental studies major and the WIM marketing assistant, asked individualized questions about each panelist’s marketing strategy. 

Alexia Bregman, Director of Logic and Magic for The Bureau of Small Projects, an agency dedicated to helping small businesses, nonprofits and startups, spoke next. She talked about the importance of finding the magic that’ll inspire and elevate the logic behind marketing. “It’s that sort of drive to always go a little bit further than where you’re sitting right now that makes things magical, and I think that makes the difference,” Bregman said. 

Dailey then spoke to Becci Casas, Director of Marketing at The Hollywood Reporter, who expressed the many avenues and opportunities in her marketing career through which she highlights, amplifies and elevates diverse stories of underrepresented communities. She emphasized that as a first-generation woman of color, she’s inspired to empower underrepresented communities in the entertainment industry. “My assignment on this earth is to get people to care.” Casas said. 

Lisa Buckley, a seasoned marketing and advertising leader who’s worked with brands such as Teen Vogue, discussed how her 20 plus years of experience lead to developing an empathic and servant approach to leadership. Dailey enthusiastically confessed she’d love for Buckley to be her boss. 

The final panelist, Olivia Cheng, Senior Director of Marketing and Brand Engagement at LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games, encouraged hustlers to be satisfied with their best, channeling the hustle mentality “in a way where it really allows you to get bigger and better in whatever industry that you guys end up being at.”

After lunch catered by IV Pizza Pub, attendees settled back to their seats anticipating the next panel: film executives. Moderator Nicky Martinez, fourth-year sociology major and WIM head of marketing, began by asking the panelists to walk the audience through their diverse journeys in the entertainment industry. 

Carolina Alvarez, co-founder of Femme Regard Productions, revealed that her career began with her musical theater degree from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, serving as a foundation for her work in production. Piggybacking off of Alvarez’s response, critically acclaimed music video and commercial director Roxana Baldovin agreed.

“Being multifaceted helps you in whatever you want to do in the future, especially in an industry like ours where everybody wants you to be able to do everything,” Baldovin said.

Haviland Stillwell, actress, singer, director, producer and voice of Raquelle on Netflix’s “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse,” sees her career as having begun at eight years old by working as an assistant for her casting director mother. As she began producing and directing projects, she was thankful for her early introduction to the business side of the industry. 

In a similar vein to the other actresses on the panel, award-winning writer, director and producer Emily Aguilar expressed that starting off as an actress led to her desire to produce films she could also act in. The process of writing, directing, editing and producing short films made Aguilar realize that this was her true passion. 

The final panel, moderated by third-year film and media studies major and events co-chair Francesca D’Agata, introduced the leading lady: award-winning brand builder and creative executive Michelle Lee, the founder and principal of beauty brand consultancy Monologue. She served as the editor in chief of the magazine Allure for six years before moving to Los Angeles to be Netflix’s Vice President of Global Editorial & Publishing. 

D’Agata began the panel taking Lee down memory lane, to when she first began her journalism career at the University of South Florida. Lee recalled that it wasn’t until her sophomore year that she decided she loved storytelling and writing. “I think back to when I was in fifth grade when I created a magazine for a class. That’s when the stars started to align [that] I did always love writing,” Lee said. Straight after graduation, which she skipped, Lee flew to New York City to intern for Glamour. As her writing career started to take shape, Lee noticed that she wrote fluidly, never sticking to one topic but instead exploring the culture, politics and business of beauty and wellness. 

Now serving as editor in chief of Allure, Lee’s interests in seeing beauty and wellness through a cultural lens helped the magazine develop rich stories full of representation and diversity. Some of her work with Allure has truly changed the editorial world in terms of diversity and representation. Stories include “The Beauty of Diversity,”  interviewing 41 women of color and “This is American Beauty,” featuring Halima Aden in a hijab. 

Lee’s dedication as editor in chief and her team’s willingness to challenge the world of magazine journalism paid off. In 2017, Adweek awarded Lee the Editor of the Year award and Allure the Magazine of the Year. Lee recalls receiving the phone call while healing from a painful scratch to the eye from her cat. 

“The worst moment in my life [had] turned into this outpour of emotions,” Lee said. 

With conversations in navigating the digital landscape of magazine journalism, being an active entrepreneur and honing in on communication skills, Lee proved to be a well-diversified woman in media.

Courtesy of Fay Harvey and @wimucsb on Instagram

As the conference came to an end, there was a palpable sense of community and empowerment. The panelists from each category left behind invaluable information and advice for future women in media. Ixchel Hernandez, fifth-year writing and literature major, said she valued seeing how human each of the panelists were. 

“When they’re sitting here, they’re just girlies trying to help out other girlies, and that was just so refreshing,” Hernandez said.