Excellence in Action
Nikki Stier Justice, M.F.A. ’12
Interviewed by Monique Beals • March 3, 2019
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
While attending UCLA, I took on two different internships; one at DreamWorks Animation and the other at 20th Century Fox. Fox turned into a full-time job where I became an Executive Assistant to two Vice Presidents in the Motion Picture Department. I stayed there for two years working on projects including Maze Runner and Independence Day: Resurgence. I realized that I did not want to be in the studio system and that I thrived in a much more entrepreneurial environment, which allowed for more creative freedom. I was looking for a new opportunity and I found Good Deed Entertainment which was very much in its infancy at that point. I met with the team and it felt like a great fit, with excellent growth potential and I’ve been here ever since.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I went to undergrad for business and entrepreneurship, but I definitely thrive in a creative environment. I was looking for a career that allowed me to balance my business acumen and creative proficiency, which is how I discovered Producing.
With no film experience, I began looking into graduate programs at USC and UCLA for producing specifically I worked as a Production Assistant on set and was an extra in a couple of movies in an effort to beef up my resume. I interviewed for both programs, but chose UCLA, because they had such a strong screenwriting and development program which for me was an area of weakness. I had a well-rounded background in business already, so UCLA felt like a really great fit.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
It was first and foremost my foundation in filmmaking. As I mentioned, I really didn’t have any sort of background in film prior to graduate school. To be able to go over the basics and dive deeper into specific areas of the entertainment industry was really helpful. The biggest advantage I had going to UCLA was the built-in network of instructors and students. In fact, it was through my UCLA network that I first heard about the job at Good Deed Entertainment.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
The alumni network, particularly in the film department, is an area that we can continue to strengthen, but when I was at Fox and looking for new career opportunities, the assistant director of the UCLA Producer’s Program told me about the job at GDE. It wasn’t listed on any career sites, and they were interviewing based on referrals from their network. Because of his input, I was able to get my foot in the door and get started at the company.
Also, there’s a strong network of instructors willing to help and mentor students. I was fortunate enough to be a TA and got to work with and pick the brains of several amazing professors who were actively working in the industry. .Lastly, as an executive now, I still look to UCLA for screenwriters and talent, especially on our lower budget films. We have actually hired several UCLA screenwriters on our projects in the past.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
The hardest part of working in the industry is getting your foot in the door with your first job/internship. Prior to moving to the west coast, I applied to every single job I could find and didn’t get a single response back from any job application. I realized just how important it was to build that network in the entertainment industry, and for me, the best way to do that was going to UCLA. Once I had my foot in the door at UCLA, I knew I couldn’t let any opportunities pass me by. I took advantage of internships, conferences, networking events, courses – really anything that could help me excel in film. I learned early on that like everything in this industry, you get as much back as you are willing to put in.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?
First, take a step back and try to immerse yourself in every aspect of filmmaking. A lot of times, you think you know what area you want to go into, but without a thorough understanding of the big picture, you may miss out on carving a niche for yourself that you can really excel in. That’s where the background at UCLA is great, because you are able to take as many courses as you want whether it is in film, business, or even Imagineering to discover where you truly excel. The internships are another great opportunity to get a taste for work environments and job opportunities at companies you are interested in being a part of. As I mentioned before, when I started at UCLA, I thought I wanted to work my way up in the studio system and only make commercial films. That changed after I took a job at one of the studios and realized that what I really wanted to do was produce independent cinema. My best advice is to keep an open mind and be flexible as you explore new opportunities.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
I just recently moved from Los Angeles to Ohio where our company headquarters are based, so I was definitely more involved when I was in Los Angeles and could come to campus. I was a frequent guest speaker in the Producer’s Program and a thesis judge for the graduate producers. I also was an instructor at UCLA Extension in Low Budget Filmmaking and Story Development. I’m hoping to continue supporting the program in other ways as an alumni and mentor to incoming classes.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I really enjoyed being a part of the Bruin TFT family and I loved the diversity in my graduate program. We had students from every country, and they all had incredibly different cinematic tastes. It really opened my mind up to different types of film and television, allowing me to appreciate more than just my own personal tastes.
And finally, what’s next?
We have seen exceptional growth at GDE over the last couple of years which is really encouraging despite a somewhat stagnant marketplace. I originally started as Director of Development and worked my way up to COO of the company, so my goal is to continue working with my fantastic team to grow the company and our presence in the marketplace. I want to create opportunities for independent filmmakers to see their films theatrically and provide them with full transparency throughout the distribution process.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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