Jennifer McCann knew she was destined to be in Hollywood. So when she was offered a job as an assistant in Los Angeles, she felt her moment had come.
But there was just one catch.
She was offered the job from Athens on Friday and was told to be in the LA office by 9 a.m. Monday.
“I packed up everything I could fit in my car and left,” McCann said.
McCann, now the senior coordinator of current programming at TNT/TBS, recalls the mad scramble for that break.
The Newton High School graduate had been interning for a production company in Athens during her last semester at the University of Georgia in 2008. As the company produced a show that became BET’s first scripted segment, McCann moved up the ranks from intern to post-production coordinator, a position she described as the person in charge of all of the ground work for production after filming is completed.
“It’s a pretty big jump from an intern, which is free, to a job where you get paid,” McCann said. “I was just so obsessed with being there I would do anything and everything they asked of me. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be in TV.”
She had to drop her last class at UGA to take the job, so she postponed graduating. After the job was finished, she said, she didn’t feel the need to stay in Athens for another semester. She was ready for LA.
So when she was offered the transfer to LA, she “drove like a madwoman.”
When McCann reached Kansas, a screw in the U-Haul she was towing came loose, immediately making the trailer drag behind.
“All I thought was I’m not going to make it (to LA),” McCann said.
She was in the middle of the state, where exits were sparse. McCann looked to the side of the road and saw a Walmart just off the ramp, so she bought the part needed to fix the trailer.
“In one hour it went from the drive being this chaotic mess to being back on the road,” McCann said.
Once she reached California, she crashed on the company’s consultant’s couch because she hadn’t had time to book a hotel or find an apartment. She arrived at 9 p.m. Sunday. Shortly after, her vehicle overheated. She had to be at the office at 9 a.m. the next day.
She found a computer to figure out the bus system. Monday morning, she woke up at 5 a.m. to take three or four different buses and finally found her way to the office.
She was 30 minutes early.
“The producers said they didn’t think I would actually make it,” McCann said.
McCann, who has been married to her husband, whom she met after moving to LA, for three years, said that first job was hard but humbling.
“They thought my thick accent, which was much worse, was endearing,” McCann said. “I was this little country bumpkin who had no idea what she was doing. I had to learn to do all these things. I had to call agencies. But I was always down for doing it. Normally someone with five years of experience would be qualified for my job.
After working at her first LA job for 18 months, a friend called her and said there may be a job at TNT/TBS. The assistant to the senior vice president of current programming was leaving, and the position needed to be filled immediately. She worked for a temp for three months before becoming an official assistant. After another 18 months, she was promoted to her current position as senior coordinator of current programming.
“The current position I’m at is the second to the bottom on the totem pole as far as rank is concerned, but it’s not a large totem pole. There’s six levels from the bottom to president,” McCann said. “On the bigger spectrum, I work at the top of the ultimate food chain in television. The totem pole I’m on is a really good one.”
Although McCann has gone from the bottom to where she is now, she said she never forgets where she came from.
“My family always jokes with me that I moved 3,000 miles away and they’re making movies here,” McCann said. “As a kid, they would film ‘In the Heat of the Night’ all over town. My mom would take me to shoots. Once I got a taste of it, I was addicted. Eventually, the persistence just kind of became inevitable. I was going to do it no matter what.”
In her six years in LA, she has also started a women’s society called Purple Heels Society. About 100 women all over the country participate in charity events and non-profits around their communities.
“If one of my girls wants to do something for abused animals,” McCann said, “we go out and find everyone we know who would get together for a party and throw a big party and sell tickets. And 100 percent of the money goes to the charity.
“We try to donate our time more than we donate our money. Money is easy. Understanding what is going on in your community is better. I try to teach them you don’t always have to open your checkbook. You have to open your heart,” McCann said.
She said Hollywood reminds her of her home town even when most people may not make the connection.
“I’ve been here for six years now, but I don’t forget where I came from,” McCann said. “Hollywood is like a big small town. Everyone has an opinion about you no matter what, everyone knows your business before you tell them. When you get past the façade, it’s the same people doing the same things, it’s just a different business. It’s comforting to be honest. It’s still real people just doing their job.
And if she ends up having to throw in the towel and move back to this side of the Mississippi, she said she’ll be coming back to a place she still calls home.
“It’s comforting to know if I wanted to come back home tomorrow, it would still be a safe place and a good place to be. Not a lot of people here can say that about their home towns.”
McCann said the hardest part about living in LA is trying to not take criticism the wrong way and trying to earn credibility while not losing who “I am as a person.”
Advice for anyone looking to pack their bags and drive across the country for a job? Or follow any dream? Do just that.
“If you want to be a musician, just go play gigs,” McCann said. “Success is not selling out a 50,000-person stadium. It’s the fact that you’re doing what you love every day. And I can say I do that.”