February 22, 2024

From USC Film graduate to Vice President Ryann’s Inspiring Journey – Part 1

Judson Jackson

Ryann Lauckner loves designing, building, and scaling companies, product lines, and partnerships with amazing creators. She is an Army Brat through and through, loves new challenges, and thrive in diverse dynamic ecosystems. She is the Chief Strategy & Operations Officer at Fulwell 73 Productions

Q: How did it all start for you; please share your journey and the initial days in the entertainment industry.

Ryann: My journey in the television industry started in a boring way. I went to USC film school, where I learned quickly that I did not want to work in film. I love film, and I am a super avid film enthusiast, but I learned that film works at a pace that I can't work at. I think sometimes television works a little too slowly, too – especially scripted. For me, it's why I landed in unscripted, or I'm fortunate that I landed in unscripted because it has a pace to it that I find attractive. After USC, I applied to many job advertisements like many people back then. I worked on more music videos. I was a PA runner on anything I absolutely could. I didn't come from any background in film or television. I had no real industry connections outside of what I developed at USC, which actually wasn't very many because I really spent my time at school producing for my friends. I didn't do the internships that would have netted me more network contacts. It was probably not the most brilliant move, but it was fun, and I learned a ton of film/TV problem-solving skills.

Q: What happened after graduating from USC? Was it an easy journey, given the college's brand name?

Ryann: After USC, I applied to many job advertisements like many people back then. I worked on more music videos. I was a PA runner on anything I absolutely could. I didn't come from any background in film or television. I had no connections outside of the industry, and what I had was what I was able to tap into when I was at USC, which actually wasn't very many because I was one of the only people in my USC class who wanted to be a producer. I couldn't have told you then what an Executive Assistant was; I can tell you now that I know what an executive assistant is, that I would have been terrible at that job. But I showed up for it. The interview was at CBS Radford, and I had no idea who I was meeting with or what they worked on – the ad provided no tangible information. To my surprise, I met with Arnold Shapiro, whose work I knew because he did a fantastic documentary called 'Scared Straight.' He'd won an Academy Award for it, I knew his work, and I was just really, deeply curious and asked a million questions – probably too many questions. He asked me what I wanted to be eventually, and I said I knew I wanted to be a producer. He explained that his desk was not the right place to start that journey. He said, "Let me walk you downstairs. I'm going to introduce you to our head of post-production, Scott Schwartz." He introduced me to Scott and said, "Scott, this is our new Big Brother Post PA." That was my first real job in television, and it was a fantastic job; I met so many people there, and probably my next two years' worth of jobs I got from that PA gig.

Q: How did a job in post-production advance your career?

Ryann: Post-production, especially on a series like Big Brother, which is three shows a week, and one of them is live, is the nucleus of the show. I had an opportunity to get to know editors, producers, and directors to see them working, and I've always been the kind of person who if I see someone doing something, you know, I want to be right over your shoulder and learning. I would ask all the producers, hey, can I find that cutaway shot for you? I'll look through all these tapes and see what you need. Basically, I'll figure out a way to help you make your job easier so that you can use that additional bandwidth that I just gave you to teach me.

I was fortunate enough to do that with several producers who then went on to shows like Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, and The Bachelorette, and they really took me along with them. I worked in post-production for a couple of years, and then I made a lateral move into physical production management, where I learned how to coordinate and manage productions. Then, I made a move over to creative producing and ultimately stayed in that lane until I was a showrunner for a company called Asylum Entertainment.

Q: How did you move to and executive role?

Ryann: My first executive role was VP, Current Production for Asylum. After I ran a show for them, I went back to produce on a show I'd done a couple of times before while we waited to hear whether the show I ran would come back for a second season. Asylum CEO Steve Michaels reached out to me to check in and ask how I was doing. I told him I was a little bored because the show I went back to just wasn't challenging in the same way. He wrote back to me immediately and said, well, I have a job where you will never be bored again, and he offered me a current executive role.

Just like I could not tell you what an executive assistant was, I could not tell you what a VP or Executive role entailed. In all honesty, I couldn't really have told you how production companies worked at all. Sadly, that isn't rare. Most people can't tell you how it works, even when they work for production companies.

I think when I was a showrunner, I made a lot of assumptions that turned out not to be true. Still, because I've always been a curious person and because I'm always willing to try just about anything for a year or two, I told him I would be happy to be his Vice President of current programming.

Q: A VP of Current Programming is a huge responsibility; how would you describe your time at Asylum?

Ryann: The role of a current executive is a tough one. It's generally filled by people who are creative producers, and that's the skillset they have. A lot of times that means they lean into that skill set in their role as current executives, and it can result in micro-managing and focusing on the wrong challenges. It's initially tough to really absorb the idea that there is a showrunner who has been hired to do that job, and your job isn't to second guess all of their decisions but to support and boost them as well as the myriad other stakeholders within the different departments in the company. It's an internal juggling act, and you also need to be skilled with managing clients, balancing creativity with the bottom line, and helping to ensure that the idea and vision the company initially sold is what's delivered. Once I figured out that was the job – there is no manual, but there definitely should be – I became pretty good at it. I learned how to lead and coach in that role, and it really sharpened my business instincts.

The other thing that sharpened my skills was Asylum's acquisition by Legendary Entertainment. Before that, Asylum was a thriving company, but the system was fairly mom-and-pop, like most indie production houses. When Legendary bought us, we suddenly had to professionalize and grow up a bit. There were parts of that that were really frustrating and challenging, but I came to see it for what it was: a magnificent opportunity to learn, especially on the finance and operations side. I would go into these finance meetings, and it would be just like drinking from a fire hose. I didn't know any of the acronyms. And to be fair, I wasn't expected to know them right away, but I was expected to catch up. I learned a ton, and I made the transition from my current production to a broader, more business-oriented role.

We were with Legendary for about four years before Legendary was bought by the Wanda Dalian Group out of China. At that point, we saw an opportunity for our CEO, Steve, to buy Asylum back and launch a new business model. We relaunched as Asylum Entertainment Group and The Content Group and rolled out a partnership strategy for producers. I was the President & Chief Strategy Officer at the company for about four years.

Ryann’s journey to be continued in Part 2

The Revolution Team

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