Jackie Perez is the Executive Assistant to the Chief Innovation Officer at Creative Artists Agency. In her free time she writes and directs short films with the goal of one day making a feature. Her favorite genre is horror. She is on the board of advisors of Veterans in Film and Television, a member of the WGA Foundation Veterans Writing program, founder of CAA Vets, and a Lieutenant in the Navy Reserves. She grew up in a Navy family, has an environmental engineering degree from MIT, loves to travel, play the banjo, and has the most adorable hedgehog named Pickle.
Jackie recently attended the WGF’s Veterans Writing Retreat, and so I thought it would be great to share her experience with the program and in the industry overall.
Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to share your experience, Jackie. Before we get into the details, what did you do in the military?
Jackie Perez: I was a Surface Warfare Officer (Nuclear) in the Navy. I earned my warfare qualification on the USS CHOSIN (CG 65) and managed Reactor Controls division on USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75). Now I serve in the Navy Reserves as the Training Officer for Expeditionary Port Unit 114.
JS: At what point did you plan on making the move to Hollywood, and what have you done to make yourself stand out?
JP: I had zero contacts in LA but was always interested in the movie business. While I studied for a degree in engineering at MIT I was also making short films on the side for fun. Coming up on the end of my active duty service I did not have a solid plan. I wanted to take a chance at Hollywood but with no contacts in LA, my high school stomping grounds in NE FL seemed like a reasonable choice. The city had a small film festival and I had kept in touch with some creative types so it seemed like a safe place to begin figuring things out. I was literally asking every single person I knew if they had any contacts in LA or the movie business. My bombardment of contacts landed me a phone call with ABC’s VP of Studio Drama Series Cheryl Bosnak and an email exchange with Producer Dana Brunetti. Cheryl said if I wanted to make it in the industry to forget FL and move to LA. I made up my mind right on that phone call. Dana wrote: “meet as many people as you can, and start working on as many projects as you can no matter how small and in whatever position you can get.” I began my “plan” with literally zero contacts and now two very successful people had taken the time to talk to me. I was going to listen.
I moved to LA the same week I left active duty and jumped right in. Scanning the UTA Joblist and sending hundreds of resumes landed me 2 internships that I started as soon as I arrived in town. My enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge made me stand out. I didn’t just go to my boss with questions about the industry (though I had a lot of those), I also sought their advice on other personal things like my resume and potential career paths. They invested their time in me and what did I receive in return? Not only did one of those internships lead to my current job at Creative Artists Agency but also the partners I worked for are a wealth of advice I still seek out. Relationships are extremely important in this industry.
JS: Do you have a career plan?
JP: It’s not like the Navy where I know exactly what type of job to expect next, and that is frightening to me. There is not a precise timeline or promotion schedule. I can’t control it. I just hope that every career decision I make will lead to the best outcome for me and try not to stress too much. I’m extremely passionate about the entire filmmaking process, so whether I build a career writing, directing, or producing, I’m just thankful I’ve found something that I wake up excited to do every day.
JS: Focusing on the WGF’s Veterans Writing Retreat, how did you hear about the program and what were your preconceived notions going in?
JP: I saw someone post about the retreat on the Veteran in Film and Television’s Facebook page. I scoured the Internet for more information and applied through the WGA Foundation website. I had never taken a writing class but I had read a lot of screenwriting books, listened to podcasts, and written shorts, so I didn’t think of myself as someone totally green. I honestly had no idea what to expect and wondered how just one weekend could make a difference, but I knew that I’d at least be meeting some like-minded people and again receiving advice from successful writers in the industry.
JS: How was the actual experience? Can you tell us about some of the speakers and attendees?
JP: Well I was wrong about it being only one weekend. The program continues for an entire year and it has been invaluable in helping me to understand screenwriting and establishing a solid foundation for my writing. The speakers were incredibly candid, which was one of my favorite parts. My breakout group focused more on lessons learned in the business than writing exercises. Here again was a chance to ask any and all questions to successful creatives in the business. There was no doubt that the speakers were genuine in their want to help us achieve our writing goals and mentor us. The “us” was everyone from me, someone who moved to LA less than a year ago and had never written any script longer than 10 pages, to people who had written and developed their own feature films. After the initial retreat weekend the program continued with a follow-on crash course in screenwriting and monthly table reads and guest speaker programming.
JS: Did you feel it directly helped your career? Indirectly?
JP: Oh definitely. I’m a much stronger writer because of the program and more confident about my work. Tim, Ken, Marie, Phil, Saul, and Karen have all been incredibly supportive mentors, and when they spend their Tuesday nights with us I can only hope they know how grateful I feel for their time and advice.
JS: How will you continue to use this experience to the advancement of your Hollywood career? Did any of the veterans agree to stay in touch in any way? Help each other out?
JP: My class will always have each other to reach out to for advice or bounce ideas back and forth. I know a lot of people who talk about writing, but to be surrounded by a group of friends who are actually doing it makes for outstanding encouragement and motivation. We created a Facebook group to keep in touch and I have no doubt that some of us will be in close contact for many years to come.
JS: Have you come across any other resources for veterans? How about your role with the Veterans in Film and Television?
JP: I’m actually on the board of advisors for VFT. I joined when I was onboard my ship searching for online networking groups. By the time I moved to LA, the website was just launching and I uploaded a profile. At the same time my internship was referring me to the big five agencies, I received a phone call from CAA HR saying they had seen my profile on the VFT site and would I be interested in coming in. The rest is history. So I definitely believe VFT is a great resource and I am proud to work with them. There are lots of opportunities for veterans and VFT makes it easy to find them all in one place. To paraphrase Dana, meet as many people as you can and always be open to new experiences (aka no job is too small)!
JS: Would you like to see more programs of these types offered, and if so, what else could someone offer to help military veterans who aspire to work in entertainment?
JP: I think some of the best things we can do is to help each other. I founded a veteran employee committee at CAA called CAA Vets and our mission is to enhance veteran presence and engagement throughout the entertainment industry. We do this with screenings and panels and invite not only veterans but also friends throughout the industry at large. I am always happy to help a fellow veteran whether it be giving advice, connecting them with a colleague, or crewing their film.
JS: Thank you again, Jackie. Before we sign off, do you have a last piece of advice for my readers?
JP: People want to see you succeed in this business. Hard work is a given but enthusiasm and relationships go a long way. I cannot stress that enough.
These interviews will appear in an upcoming book on military members and veterans in the world of entertainment. As you wait, please read my book Creative Writing Career, on Amazon.
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