After becoming the first woman to ever hold the title of Vice President of Visual Effects and Post Production at a major movie studio, Amy decided to leave that world behind and start working with Nancy. Together they founded The Passionistas Project to share the stories of strong and empowered women who are following their passions to inspire others to do the same.
Read more about The Passionistas Project.
Sign up for the mailing list to learn more about The Passionistas Project Pack — a quarterly subscription box launching this fall.
Passionistas: Hi and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast. I'm Nancy Harrington and today I'm interviewing my business partner, sister, inspiration and best friend Amy.
Amy left home right after college to follow her passion in Hollywood. She quickly rose through the ranks to become the first women to ever hold the title of Vice President of Visual Effects and Post Production at a major movie studio. After years in the film world she left all that behind to join forces with me to create the Passionistas Project where we share the stories of strong and empowered women who are following their passions through our podcast and our upcoming subscription box.
So please welcome to the show my very special guest, Amy Harrington.
What are you most passionate about?
Amy: I'm most passionate about fulfilling my sense of curiosity and trying to learn something new every day. When I had my first job on the TV show Matlock, my boss at the time, John McClain told me as long as I learned something new every day, I feel like I had a good day and I've always carried that with me.
Passionistas: So how does that translate into what you do for a living and with the Passionistas Project specifically?
Amy: Well, when we started working for the Television Academy, 10 years ago at this point, and started to do interviews with people, I realized that that's what I love to do more than anything else. And it really fed into that sense of curiosity that I have because I love to talk to people about what they like to do and what their experiences have been. And I love, in the middle of an interview, when someone says something that triggers a question in my head that we hadn't prepared before. So for me, being able to do that with the Passionistas Project and to use that skill and to focus that passion on women who are following their passions and are really empowering and really inspiring, just brings that all together for me.
Passionistas: So, let's talk about your background a little. You spent the summer of 1990 in Los Angeles at the Television Academy as an intern. So talk about what you learned from that experience.
Amy: The first half of that summer I had been in New York and I worked at MTV and had an internship there. And that really made me even more excited to get into television because it was fun and energetic and everybody was young and it just felt like you could do anything cause you were, everybody was your age. The executive producers were probably late twenties early thirties so I felt like, okay so this feels doable.
And then when I came up later in the summer to California for the Television Academy internship, I really felt like, okay, I am getting my foot in the door. I'm meeting other people my age and people who have experience who have been doing this for a really long time. And as long as I work hard and do a good job and prove myself, then the possibilities are endless. This is not just some crazy dream, a kid from the south shore of Massachusetts was having, but that, I could really move to California.
I could really work in television and I could make it happen, you know? And if I hadn't had the Academy internship, I don't know that I would have believed that and I wouldn't have met the friends that I made who helped me get my first job when I moved back the summer after I graduated.
Passionistas: Talk about what that first job was and what your path was that first few years of your work in Hollywood.
Amy: So when I first came back to LA, I had a roommate lined up, Amy Toomin and she brought me back into a circle of friends that we had made the summer before. And one of them, Carolyn Koppel, who is going to be a Passionista soon, worked on a TV show called Matlock. She suggested I interview for the job of post-production assistant, which I at the time had no desire to be. I wanted to be a sitcom writer and TV producer.
And I luckily had a professor in college who had told me, don't be so sure of what you want to do when you go out there, you know, keep your options open because you don't know what you actually are gonna like. And so I started working on Matlock and got into post production and one day my boss, at Matlock said to me, if you could be doing anything in Hollywood, what would you actually want to do? And I said, you know, if I could do anything I would probably want to be in what I thought at the time was called special effects and you know, build creatures. And you know, the Star Wars influence from my childhood was, was still very strong. And I thought like, I would really want to do that. And then coincidentally, my second year on Matlock, I was looking for a summer job and I got hired to be the visual effects coordinator on the feature film Coneheads.
And that was how I got into the visual effects industry. So from there I went with that boss John Sheeley to Warner Bros. Where we worked on Louis and Clark and then ultimately helped... I was one of four founding members of Warner Bros. Imaging technology, which we called Wabbit. We actually did hands on visual effects for Warner Bros. projects like Batman Forever and The Adventures of Brisco County on TV. And then after I worked at Wabbit for a couple of years, um, the head of post-production at Warner Brothers proper, the studio proper, Mark Solomon hired John Sheeley and I to come over to the studio and actually be production executives basically dealing with visual at Warner Bros.
Passionistas: Talk about your years at Warner Bros. And some of your best memories there.
Amy: So John, Sheely and I went over to Warner Bros. And ultimately he left the studio and I was promoted to Vice President of Visual Effects and Post Production, simultaneously. I was the first woman to hold the job of a visual effects executive at a studio. What that meant was with Mark Solomon, who was my boss, we oversaw all of the teams who were doing the visual effects on all of the feature films at Warner Bros. And we oversaw editorial. So that was the editors and music supervisors and post production supervisors.
And we basically saw every movie from development through final delivery for the six or seven years that I was in that position at studio. So I worked on movies like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and uh, the Matrix trilogy and Perfect Storm and You've Got Mail. Because we worked in development and because we worked all the way through delivery, we basically touched every movie that came through the studio in the time I was there. So I probably worked on about 200 to 250 movies when all of a sudden done. Obviously some more actively than others, but had at least a hand in seeing a lot of movies through.
Passionistas: So in 2004 you and I started working together. So why did you decide to make that leap of faith and do that?
Amy: By 2004 I, like I said, I had worked on hundreds of movies in one form or another, and the studio itself had changed significantly. When I started at Warner Bros., It was very old Hollywood. Bob Daly and Terry Semel were still the studio heads. And Lorenzo Di Bonaventura was the head of the creative production. And the film and the filmmakers and the, the movie came first.
And by the time 2004 rolled around, the AOL Time Warner merger had happened. Everything was very budget driven. The climate at the studio was very different. And frankly, I remember being in a meeting on the third Harry Potter movie and the creative executive asking me how we were gonna make Harry Potter fly. And we had already made Harry Potter fly into other movies. And I just thought, if they don't understand this by now, am I really gonna spend the rest of my life explaining the same thing to everybody. And there was politics involved.
And at the same time you, Nancy, were, you were ready to leave your job. And our friend Lisa Karadjian had an idea for a cable network and it was a great idea. And you and I both had the same time thought, well let's do it. Let's leave the jobs we don't like anymore and do this together. So even though that cable network never came to fruition, it was the stepping stone to moving on.
Passionistas: In 2010 we founded Pop Culture Passionistas, and in addition to doing interviews and creating content for our own website, we've worked for a number of clients like the Television Academy and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So what do you think was the most significant work that we did for those clients that led us to the Passionistas Project?
Amy: Meeting Karen Herman and starting to do interviews for the Television Academy and what was called the Archive of American Television at the time was the most significant moment in our path. I think of it Pop Culture Passionistas. We had obviously done a lot of interviews before Karen let us do an Archive interview, but they were phone interviews with other bloggers or they were not very high pressure or they were, you know, okay, you can ask a few questions and, and that was it.
And then with Karen it became, this is how you sit down with someone for three or four hours and really go deep with questions and really get to know someone. And she just taught us how to do research and she taught us how to structure questions so that there was a flow to the interview. But she also gave us the freedom to ask a question in the middle of an interview if something came up that seemed like it should be followed rather than feeling, you know, tied to every word that was on the page.
And I just fell in love with that process. And if we hadn't done the Archive interviews it would never have led to the Passionistas Project because the other interviews we were doing weren't that satisfying to me. They were fun and oh cool, we get to talk to this person and ask a couple of questions. But when you're actually get to sit down with someone and stare them in the eye for three hours and talk about their childhood and talk about those moments that you've seen on TV your whole life that meant so much to you, that was really life changing.
Passionistas: We started the Passionistas Project in the advent of the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movement. What was your personal motivation for starting the podcast?
Amy: We had wanted to start a podcast for a while. We'd probably been talking about it for a year or so and we were talking about doing a pop culture podcast and we couldn't figure out how to do it differently and make it interesting. And we'd certainly didn't want to do the kind of podcast that was us giving our opinion about pop culture and talking for an hour. You know, we wanted to bring our interview skills into it. So for me, the moment when we, when it came to us to do the Passionistas Project, it just felt 100% like what we had been searching for two years. And for me the idea was just, we were hearing all of these really incredibly important stories from the #MeToo movement about women who had been put in horrible positions and who were being really strong and coming forward and telling stories that absolutely needed to be told and almost everyone we know has experienced in one way or the other.
But we also knew in our heart that there were a million stories of women who have had good experiences and have worked really hard and built something or been a part of something that was really positive and so in light of all of the darker stories that were being told, and again, they needed to be, I personally felt like we need to also have a platform or women are showing other women that there's a way to do this. You can do it. You can have a positive experience. You can build your own environment to make a positive experience and that was why I personally wanted to do it.
Yes, I had ups and downs at Warner Bros., But I had an incredibly positive experience there. I was the only woman most of the time I was promoted very young. I was given access to everything. I got to work with the greatest directors of the time and the best visual effects people and editors and I was welcomed in to a certain extent, even though I was a woman and I wanted other women to know. It doesn't all have to be the negative side of things. You can follow your passions.
Passionistas: What has the podcast meant to you personally?
Amy: Now that we're over a year into it? I think the thing that surprised me most about doing it is how connected I feel to the women that we've been interviewing. You know when we do the archive interviews for example, you feel by the end of it, like you have a connection with Julia Louis Dreyfus, but you don't, you know, you're going to see Julia Louis Dreyfus again and she'll say hi cause she's polite but she's not gonna know why she's saying hi to you. I have become used to the fact that I have this intimate experience with someone and then we are strangers. Justifiably.
So from that point on. But with the Passionistas Project, I have felt like there's a connection with these women and even if they're not people we're staying in touch with every day or you know, some we seem more than others. I feel like we've got a bond and there's a connection that is really special. And every single woman that we have interviewed has talked about their desire to help other women.
And not to bring everything back to Warner Bros. but when I was there, I was the only woman most of the time, or maybe one other woman in a meeting, you know, studio executives. And it was never a real sense of camaraderie with the women. You know, I had my team of women that worked with me and my department and we were close, but the other women in the studio, we were nice to each other, but we didn't bond really. And everyone out to drinks with any of them.
I'm finding with the Passionistas Project that women, I think especially in light of the #MeToo movement, women are looking out for each other. Women are trying to figure out how they can help each other and are trying to move each other's agendas forward in a way that I have never experienced before. I don't think it's unique to what we're doing, but I'm experiencing it first hand in a way I don't think I would be if we weren't doing the podcast. And so that's a selfish answer, but my hope and, and I think what we've already showing that we want to and can do is taking that and connecting people. Oh, you know, we interviewed a woman who has a farm. We interviewed a woman that has a mill, let's introduce them so that maybe they can help each other in some way.
Passionistas: What have you learned about yourself from interviewing these women?
Amy: I think I've learned that even though I consider myself shy and an introvert, that whether it's because of the project itself or just where I'm at in my life, I am way more determined to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people and open up more about myself than I might have before. Because again, I think the women that we're meeting have made me feel comfortable that flaws are okay in the midst of the positive stuff. And so I feel embraced by them. And so it's letting me, I think because I'm being more open, I'm getting more openness back from them.
Passionistas: I'm Nancy Harrington and you're listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and my interview with my business partner, sister and best friend Nancy Harrington. Join our growing community of women supporting other women who are in pursuit of their passions on The Passionistas Project Facebook Group. And go to ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list and get 10% off our upcoming subscription box. Now here's more of my interview with Amy.
Do you ever feel unmotivated and what do you do to get past that feeling?
Amy: I don't feel unmotivated very often. I usually wake up feeling behind in what I wanted to get done for the day, so it's rare that I wake up and go, I don't want to work today. Especially because I love what we're doing so much that it's not like some jobs I've had in the past or it's like, ah, I don't want to. But when I do feel unmotivated, honestly, I just figure out like, okay, but what can I do right now? That's not the least favorite thing that I have to do and if I can get that done, then that'll probably lead me to something else and I try and get the things I want you to do least out of the way first so that I have the carrot of something that I really want to do dangling out there. So it's like, okay, if I get through this, then I will be able to do the thing that I really want to do.
Passionistas: Is there one lesson that you've learned on your journey so far that really sticks with you?
Amy: I think the thing that I've learned that sticks with me is that I can do anything I set my mind to. And I don't mean that in like a cocky way. I just mean every job I've ever been given or every job I've ever chosen to pursue on my own. I have never known how to do it. When I started to do it, I've never been given a job that was like, oh, we see that you have 10 years of experience in this particular thing, so we want to hire you. It's always been like, well I know you can do this, but now we need someone that can do this and we're going to give you the job. I remember when I Mark Solomon decided to make me Vice President of Visual Effects and Post Production at the same time at Warner Bros. He had already asked me to do the visual effects job and then he said, will you do the post production job too?
And I said to him, I don't know how to do that. You realize that you're offering me this very like important position that I don't know how to do. And he said, yeah, but I know that you'll figure it out. I know you can do it. And I've been very lucky that a lot of people have thought that of me and it used to be that I didn't necessarily understand why or believed them when they would give me those jobs and now I feel like, okay, I can't, I can do, I can figure anything out, I can Google it. And I think that feeds, this feeds back into my original answer. What I'm most passionate about is like I want to learn new things all the time. So the more opportunities I get to do things I don't know how to do, that's what keeps me interested in working and living. So I feel like I'm finally at a point where I'm more confident in myself that I can take on anything than anybody throws at me.
Passionistas: What's been your biggest professional challenge and how have you overcome it?
Amy: I think my biggest professional challenge has been confidence in myself. I think when I was at Warner Bros., I was so young to have the job that I had that everybody else believed everything I was saying and I was right about what I was saying. Or I would bring in the right person to answer a question if I didn't know how to answer it. But I think the whole time I felt like they're going to figure out that I don't really. I don't think they should have given me this job even though I was doing a great job. So I think my biggest challenge has always been trusting myself and believing in myself and having the confidence that I belong at the table and that I'm good at what I do when I set my mind to it.
So I've learned over the years to have more faith and, and the job at Warner Bros. I think was what taught me that. Like that feeling lasted for a little while and then it was like, oh wait, I have everybody sitting in this room. I actually am the one that knows what the answer to this question is. Once I get over that feeling of being a fraud and realizing I belonged there and that I had earned it since then, I've felt pretty confident and like, especially when the chips are down and I feel like I can really kick in if there's a crisis and take charge of the situation. So, but that was, that was probably my biggest challenge along the way.
Passionistas: What's the most rewarding part of your career?
Amy Harrington: Where I'm at right now is the most rewarding part of my career because I'm following my passions, I'm doing it with my best friend and I feel like what we are creating with the Passionistas Project is really important and there's so many elements to it that we haven't even started to explore that are going to give a platform for women and a voice to women and build a community. And so for me, getting to do this every day is so rewarding and I just want to throw all of my energy into it.
Passionistas: Looking back on your journey so far, is there one decision that you think was the most courageous that changed your trajectory?
Amy: Leaving Warner Bros. Was the most courageous thing because I thought I was going to work there my entire life. I thought, I thought I'd worked there till I was 65 and I would retire and I was making a very good salary. I had a very comfortable life. It was my entire life. During that period, I didn't really have much of a social life because I was so focused on what I was doing. I was the quintessential career girl. So the decision to actually leave all of that, especially because we were working on a cable network, but it wasn't a paid job and it wasn't okay, I'm going from this steady position to another steady situation. It was, I'm basically taking early retirement and figuring out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. It was very scary, but it was the best thing I ever did.
Passionistas: When you were a girl, what lessons did your mother teach you about women's roles in society?
Amy: Our mother was the greatest mother anybody could ever have. She was incredibly loving. She gave up everything she may have wanted for herself, for her husband and her children. She had studied to be an art teacher, but after she got married, she stopped doing that and she just raised a family, which was a very important job and she was, again, she was the best mother ever. But I remember throughout my life asking her like, will you draw something for me? You are an art teacher. You clearly loved art. You must have loved to draw, which she said she did, but our father was such a good artist that she would not draw because she said he was such a good artist. She didn't want to. Knowing my dad, I believe she didn't want to draw because I think she was probably a really good artist and she didn't want to steal any thunder from him, which was her way and made her as lovely as she was.
But it also was an example to me that that's really not the way to live your life. By the time I got to high school, my sisters and brother were older. And I didn't date much in high school. I rarely had a steady boyfriend, but I would say to her, you know, I wish I had a boyfriend. She would say, don't worry about that, you know, don't focus on that. She basically would say to me, follow my dreams and that will come when it's supposed to come. If it comes, you'll be happy. And if it doesn't come, you're still going to be fine.
But the most important thing is what do you wanna do and go out and do it. And I think if she had lived in a different time, she would have been an archeologist or she would have been an art teacher or some kind of teacher and she would have done something that she wanted to do. Because she was such a curious person. And I definitely got my sense of curiosity from her. So I know when she saw me come out here and do what I wanted to do and was around long enough to see me do well at it, that she got to live vicariously through me in a way.
Passionistas: What about professional mentors along the way?
Amy: In terms of what we're doing now and the Passionistas Project, without a doubt, Karen Herman was the biggest mentor that I could have had. She, again, we had some experience doing interviews, but I will never forget the day that she came to us and said, do you want to do an Archive interview and let us interview Melissa Gilbert, who was like the actress I was compared to constantly as a child because I had long hair. And Karen had no idea of that. And really taught us how to do what we're doing and again made it really fun and gave us opportunities like interviewing Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander. And the crown jewel of it all — Laverne and Shirley — partly because I know she trusted us that we would do a good job, but also partly because she knew it meant something to us. She knew that we would have fun doing it together without Karen. I don't know where we would be right now.
Passionistas: Who are your favorite cultural heroines?
Amy: All my cultural heroines growing up were TV characters. So I would have to say Laverne DeFazio, certainly Mary Richards, not Mary Tyler Moore because she was the go getter career girl working in television. Rhoda because she was the sassy neighbor who said what was on her mind, always made fun of herself so no one else could first. Those strong female TV characters that had a sense of humor and a little bit of an edge and were really super independent.
Passionistas: What's your secret to a rewarding life?
Amy: My secret to rewarding life is having balance, which I never used to have. So it's getting to do what I want to do for a living with the people I want to do it with and having a really nice home and boyfriend to go home to. And knowing that I can have both of those things even though it's not always easy to balance them. Knowing that I don't have to pick one or the other.
Passionistas: Is there a mantra that you live by?
Amy: I would say there are two. One comes from one of my favorite movies of all time. The Sound of Music, which is "Mother Superior always says, ‘When the Lord closes a door somewhere, he opens a window.’" And I do believe that as hard as it can be sometimes and you don't think that it's a good thing. Sometimes the universe pushes you, actually pushes you out the door. And slams it behind you so you can’t go back in and you gotta climb back into something else or a window. That's that a huge mantra in my life. And the other is something our mother always used to say, which is "everything happens for a reason." And again, you may not always know what that is at that moment, but it always ends up being true.
Passionistas: What's your proudest career achievement?
Amy: Well, I think I have two, because I feel like I have two, I feel like I have two parts of my career. The first part, which is the Warner Bros. part, I would say I'm proudest of being a woman that accomplished so much, so young and worked so hard to play on that level and to get to work on movies like the first Harry Potter, and A Little Princess and to work with directors like Alfonso Cuaron and Tim Burton and Nora Ephron. To me, I get to, I get to work at these the studio that was at the top of its game and it pushed me to be the best I could be. So for that part of my career, that's my proudest achievement.
But now, and forever, I think my proudest achievement is going to be what we're doing right now. I think we've only seen the tip of the iceberg of what we're going to build and with the plans that we have to expand it into different areas. I think we are creating something that's going to last forever and be our legacy and carry on after we're gone. And I think it's to help women tell their stories that might not otherwise be heard and to hopefully inspire other women to do the same thing, which is just to follow their passion, whatever that is. I just think being able to do that is a true blessing and I already am proud of it, but I think I'm only gonna become more and more proud of it as we go on.
Passionistas:What's your definition of success?
Amy: For me, success is just following your passion and being able to sustain the lifestyle that you want to sustain. You don't need to be a gazillionaire. You need to be able to pay your bills and you need to decide what that comfort level is for you in terms of what your finances need to be. But if you're making money, doing something that you love, then you really, really lucky in this life.
Passionistas:What does it mean to you to be a female entrepreneur in 2019?
Amy: I feel like it's a good time to be a female entrepreneur and I feel like it's an important time for a woman to be an entrepreneur because on the tail of the #MeToo movement, it feels like doors are opening for women. And women are being more supportive of each other. But I think it could very easily slide back in the other direction and just be a moment. So I think it's really important that at this point in time we all do what we can to help each other be as successful as possible so that we build as strong a foundation as possible for women to build upon in the future. So I think what we are, I know what we're trying to do is help spread the word, you know, we're gonna have a subscription box. We're going to help get the product out there. You know, we're going to have an, we have an online community where we're inviting women to help each other. And I think now is a critical time for there to be as many female entrepreneurs in the game and supporting each other as possible.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and my interview with my business partners, sister and best friend Amy Harrington. Join our growing community of women supporting other women who are in pursuit of their passions on The Passionistas Project Facebook Group.
And go to ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list and get 10% off our upcoming subscription box. While you’re there, check out the gallery of our childhood photos as ThePassionistasProject.com/blog.
And be sure to subscribe to The Passionistas Project Podcast so you don't miss any of our upcoming inspiring guests.