From Escapism to Glorious Reality: Alum Brittney Sherman’s Path to Producing
As a young child all too familiar with hospitals, surgeries, and chronic illness, Brittney Sherman ’08 longed for an escape. There was a world out there, she knew, distant places with friends she hadn’t met yet and adventures to be had that would open her mind and ignite her passion for life. But here she was—recovering from yet another surgery in yet another sterile hospital room.
That’s where film and television came in. “[They gave me] the ability to be taken away to France and fall in love with beastly Prince in Beauty and the Beast. Or [to] hang out on the couch drinking oversized cappuccinos with [my] best friends while leaving pain and illness [behind],” Sherman remembers. From those early days, she knew she wanted to work in the entertainment industry so that she too could be a content creator helping other sick children find joy in their lives.
Even though Sherman knew what industry she wanted to join from a young age, she wasn’t quite sure, for a long time, how to shape her many creative and organizational skills into one career. “Initially, I wanted to act,” she said. “Then I wanted to write. Then it was cinematography because I loved photography. Then came directing. Then, finally, in my second year at Columbia I was heavily involved with the Student Organizations Council, and I loved it! I planned campus-wide events, managed budgets, [and] organized student groups, among other things, [and] I wanted to find a way to parlay that type of work into film, so I found producing.”
Producing stuck. With the help of mentors and Columbia College Chicago instructors, Sherman found guidance that helped her carve out her own path and who nourished her love for learning. Today, Sherman speaks fondly of her experience at Columbia: “To be able to learn through very analog means, (16mm crank black and white film cameras, razor blade and tape Moviola editing) and advancing to color film, telecine, ADR, and digital non-linear editing, it felt like we were navigating through time at warp speed.” Her instructors’ fire-hose pedagogical strategy may have been daunting at first, but it paid off—fourteen years after graduating, Sherman is still making interpersonal connections with other Columbia alumni over their shared experience of learning how to shoot on 16mm Bolex film cameras, all the while sitting at the top of an industry creating content using new technologies.
Sherman’s experience learning emerging digital technologies through the Cinema and Television Arts department set her up for success in a competitive field. She remembers an early job where she worked for a VFX and 3D-conversion company. “I learned a lot about animation, VFX and post-production. I worked on the most amazing movies, got my first screen credits and had a lot of fun,” Sherman recalls. She also made an impression on her boss, who recommended her for her current job at Mattel.
“In my current role, every day is different,” Sherman says. “And that’s what you want in a job. Working in a management role, my day is a lot more budgeting and scheduling than you might think or than might be exciting. However, I also get to review color correction passes, sound design, and do quality control. I create the tech specs for all content produced at Mattel and spend a lot of time researching emerging technologies and specs to ensure we stay at the forefront of tech specs and deliverables. I even get to edit from time to time.”
Though she is poised to continue to lead in her current trajectory, she begs students to remember that the path before them is anything but straight and narrow. Sherman points to the multiple internships she held before landing her first full-time industry job, her early work in marketing that “wasn’t something I was remotely interested in, but it was a foot in the door,” and the daily struggles of attending to her familial responsibilities and her personal goals.
In the end, she advises other Columbia students to “Be relentless and go the extra ten miles because one mile may not be enough. You will be told many times that there are 1000 people standing behind you willing to do your job. That's true. But be genuine and it may take a while (as in years) but your hard work will pay off and you will get noticed.” Sherman’s illustrious career and current leadership role is evidence of this. And she’s just getting started.