Betsy Schechter is President of Storyville Entertainment, a New York based full-service production company dedicated to creating top-tier content for television, film, branded and multimedia outlets. With nearly 20 years of television experience, Schechter has produced over two dozen projects across all genres including five seasons of the breakout hit “Paranormal State” (A&E), the nationally syndicated dating show Shipmates, and the scripted series “Warren The Ape,” as well as the Emmy-nominated “Miracle at Trapper Creek”(ABC).
Betsy is unique in that she’s both a producer, business woman and a yoga teacher. Betsy is proof that it’s possible to create a successful business without sacrificing health or piece of mind and that a healthy bottom line can go hand in hand with a happy, healthy workforce. Betsy offers everything from weekly yoga classes for her staffers, encouraging employees to bring their pets to work and invites special guests to lunch to reflect on their careers. It’s a very progressive and mindful approach for a production company (most of which operate like robot shops!).
Q: How did you get started in entertainment?
BS: I interned which is why I implemented an internship program here at Storyville Entertainment. My first internship was at CNN in Atlanta, which opened my eyes to the world. I saw firsthand while I was in school what was happening at CNN and that got me interested in storytelling. It was exciting to me.
Q: Your experience as an intern was so great that you ensured your company had one?
BS: Yes. We have a program at Storyville for our interns where we have speakers come in and they get to talk to each one of them at the beginning of the program.. We want our interns to have a well-rounded experience with us and instill in them that what they’re doing is important and how it’s helping our company. When they leave they are appreciative that they were able to actively participate. I recently hired one of our interns who just graduated to be my assistant.
Q: How do you feel about the New Media landscape with people being able to create their own media companies or the potential to and jump onto an MCN?
BS: I think it’s great when you have creativity and the ability to do things. Good things rise to the top. It makes more opportunities for everyone, so I think it is very positive.
Q: How do you feel about the new way to produce content that is being created by non-traditional entertainment studios, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios?
BS: I love it because it gives us more opportunities. As a company I’m constantly thinking outside of the box and how to approach my business in a non-traditional way. To have opportunities to go to companies like Netflix and to be able to have other sources and other ways of telling stories is fantastic. You still have to have a great product though.
Q: You are approaching entertainment in a different and creative ways. What is your process?
BS: First and foremost, it has to be something that we’re excited about developing. Development is a long process, so regardless if anyone buys the project, you need to feel satisfied that you are happy with the end result. You can put a lot of your heart and soul into these things. Then, I take it and say what is the best format for it? For example, we had a non-scripted project with a great character. We actually wound up using the character as inspiration for a scripted project and we wound up getting a writer attached to it and now it’s morphed into a scripted show. We looked at it from all angles and realized a story can lead you more places than one. You look at the actual idea, person or personality from a 360 perspective and slice it up to see where it could fit.
Q: What is the future of television?
BS: I think it’s going to be a lot of different places, but the definition is going to change a little. There’s a lot of great programming out there and really high-end things and people taking chances. It’s an exciting world and maybe it’s shifting a little, but it’s still out there and people are watching it. You see more opportunities and shows that come out on television in different ways, like “Mad Men.”
Q: Women breaking the glass ceiling is difficult in most industries. Do you think there have been significant improvements in the industry?
BS: There have been improvements. There are a lot more women running networks now and there are more women decision makers and even more writers. Though I don’t think there are enough yet. Women themselves have to take the chances to be motivated and not be afraid. Women have to have a fearless kind of approach. There are a lot of organizations that are helpful, and women helping other women is also helping to break through. I think that more women should take the risk of starting their own companies and not be afraid of reaching even higher.
Q: What was your experience when you decided to launch Storyville Entertainment?
BS: I had a lot of support from friends in the community and I had other experiences to draw from. I’ve been in many working environments, so I had a solid idea of what I wanted Storyville to look like and how I wanted to create it. I took all of the things that I’d learned from other men, women, and other companies. The biggest challenge was not having everything happen all at the same time. I had to just relax and realize I couldn’t achieve everything on the first day, and that the journey was going to be a part of the process.
I reminded all of my first employees that pressure drains creativity. I made it clear that our goal was to create a great product. And, you’re only as good as the people around you. My mom is in human resources and she instilled in me a strong team effort approach to management – it’s important that your team feels like they are part of something.
Q: When producing content how much is it emotionally driven vs. data driven?
BS: It depends on the project, however, there always has to be a little bit of heart in what we produce. If it’s a documentary, you do have to be a fly on the wall. But, we create programing from feature documentaries to comedies to science shows. No matter what the genre, we put a lot of heart and soul in our projects.
Q: What do you look for when you are looking for new talent?
BS: Authenticity and someone who has as much passion about whatever you become passionate about. It’s like those great teachers who taught you and made you interested in subjects that you thought you wouldn’t be interested in – it’s the way they expressed themselves. I look for worlds we haven’t seen, and even common places but taken into through a different approach.
I also look for good stories on both sides. It’s like a marriage – you’re going to be spending time with these people and you want to make sure it’s enjoyable for everyone. It’s a mutual decision and you have to be respectful of their time. Nothing is always going to go perfect and you want to ensure that everyone is going to communicate. If you’re trying to do something great and everyone gets on the right path together it makes the ride much easier. We have a lot of great people that we work with and that work here who are passionate, but we try to keep a balanced environment so that everyone has the time and energy to do the stuff that we’re doing
Q: Tell me about your exciting co-production deal with Converge Media Group (CMG).
BS: As the company is starting out we’re looking for different partnerships and different ways we can create film, television and branded entertainment. Converge Media manages a lot of exciting talent and Rick Dorfman (Partner, CMG) and I have known each other a long time. It’s a nice, symbiotic relationship that we’re developing and we’re already off to the races with fantastic projects.
Q: Why is it that we only have a handful of women like you, who are owners of production companies?
BS: I think that many worry that they won’t be able to have a life outside of the company. There is fear that you can only have one, not the other. However, this next generation graduating from college now will see more women as CEO’s than my generation ever did, and so they perceive it from the beginning that they can have their cake and eat it too.
Q: What advice do you have for young women trying to create their own path?
BS: Look at where you want to be and create that path because it’s possible. And, create strong and supportive relationships with women who are in the business. Even to this day, every few months I get together for dinner with a close group of women that are in entertainment. We laugh, vent, share stories. It’s all part of the process and the camaraderie is a big part of our successes. And, with anything that you want to do you have to believe in yourself. Don’t worry about failure and never be afraid to ask for advice!
Q: What would you like people to know about Storyville Entertainment?
BS: We’re about telling great stories, both visually and literally, across all genres and topics. That said, we’re constantly thinking outside of the box, albeit a different way to approach a topic or a new method of producing with an outlet.
Q: You actually practice what you preach about putting into place Work Life Balance. Many companies talk about it but fail to embrace it in their organization.
BS: I really wanted the workplace to be a mindful experience. I’m a trained Yoga Instructor so it’s important to me that my staff knows that there needs to be a balance between work and life. We have a Yoga Instructor that comes into the office once a week and the class is open to anyone who wants to join. Additionally, I make it a priority to have guest speakers from all walks of life for lunch seminars. Past examples include the General Manager of A&E, a Stress Relief Instructor and a NYC film/TV Professor. It’s a small, casual environment for our guests to share their paths, and it gives my staff an opportunity to not only take a break but also be inspired and learn from others.
I am also an advocate of animals, so we allow pets in the office. And, we even have bake offs! In the end, it’s important that my staff feel like that they can enjoy themselves at work – the more balanced they are, the better the employees and the better their work.
Q: Are there any shows in development that you can share?
BS: We’re excited about all of our relationships with the networks. Currently, we’re producing a 10 episode series called “The Ride” for MTV International that gives fans intimate access to some of the biggest names in music like Linkin Park and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. We’re also producing non-scripted projects for H2, truTV, Oxygen, SyFy and National Geographic as well as a scripted series with Jason Blum, the producer of the successful movie franchise “Paranormal Activity.”
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