Coffee with Cool Women showcases writer/producer Elizabeth Massie

Elizabeth Massie landed her first job with the TLC network, worked on the first episode of “Toddlers & Tiaras” and had her career foreshadowed by Diane Sawyer.

Writer/producer Elizabeth Massie spoke about her career last week as part of the Women's Studies program's Coffee with Cool Women series. Photo by Kari Williams

Massie, who worked as a freelance producer, writer and director until being hired as a writer/producer for Discovery, spoke to a small group of students last week as part of the Women’s Studies’ Coffee with Cool Women series.

Massie said production is a “really terrific career for women,” though feature film is “still very male dominated.” Her career began in acting, but after being involved in a master’s thesis production, she said she found “the life of the set.” Since that time, production has become one of Massie’s great passions.

“You have things you think you want to do and find out you were wrong…,” Massie said. “[It] really is this process of discovery… For me, I wanted to have a lot of adventures, and I did find my career through these adventures.”

And Diane Sawyer foretold where those adventures would bring Massie. Massie met Sawyer through a relative, and Sawyer told Massie TV is a much more welcoming environment for women. But at the time, Massie said she did not care about or watch television, and asked to also meet with Sawyer’s husband, director Mike Nichols. Massie went on to work with Nichols for four years.

“I found my way back to television,” Massie said. “[Diane Sawyer] was right all along.”

Massie also said “knowing people is really helpful” and developing a network is easy to do.

Former classmates have “come to be [her] professional network,” according to Massie.

“These people you’re working in the trenches with are very important,” Massie said.

Massie landed her first non-independent job – director/producer for TLC’s “Personal Story” – through the wife of a man who worked at the American Film Institute, where Massie earned her master’s degree. “Personal Story” was about women undergoing different forms of plastic surgery.

“They suffered and didn’t go outside and enjoy life,” Massie said.

Many of the women featured on the show “really felt better” after the plastic surgery, according to Massie.

“I didn’t know how to process that,” Massie said. “…[On a personal level] I didn’t feel right judging whether or not they felt better.”

As she gained more experience, Massie said she had more choice in which jobs she took and which she did not. However, Massie said she does not think people can be “picky” with their first job.

Massie also discussed reality television and, though she has not worked on the show, explored the concept behind shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

“By keeping a camera on them long enough… you must confront their humanity,” Massie said.

“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” Viewers are forced to come to terms with the fact that though they may laugh at the mother, June, and Honey Boo Boo, the ‘characters’ are who they are.

“There’s an unapologeticness to it that the viewers are confronted with,” Massie said.

Sociology graduate student Yesenia Juarez attended the lecture though she said it is “not really [her] career field.”

“It’s a very interesting field and I’m really glad she’s here to talk to the students about it, especially with her experience and just the woman presence in that career field,” Juarez said. “I think she has really a lot of good things to say and hopefully she can talk to some people and really share her experience…”

Catherine Seltzer, women’s studies program director, said she was thrilled to have Massie participate in the Coffee with Cool Women series.

“She’s so accomplished and has so many experiences and her willingness to share them with us, with such humor and really thoughtful analysis, was terrific for all of us,” Seltzer said.

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