Q&A with Jillian Apel ’18, Coordinator of Creative Content, Shondaland
In this interview with the alumni network DukeJournos, Jillian Apel ’18 shares advice for students hoping to pursue a career in the creative industries after graduation. “It's important to work hard, make connections, and create art, but also just as important to (try) not to compare yourself to others,” she says.
The following interview is reprinted from the April newsletter of the alumni network DukeJournos.
I know you can’t tell us too many details about the specifics of what you are working on at Shondaland, but can you tell us about your favorite part(s) of working there?
The people! Everyone at Shondaland—both those in the company and those working on our shows—are incredibly kind, hard-working, and collaborative. Across the board there is overwhelming passion for the material, as well as respect for the process and creatives involved. I couldn’t be luckier to be learning from such incredible executives—especially my boss, Betsy Beers, who is a legend of a television producer. Another favorite part is seeing the reaction to our shows. When you work so hard on something for so long, it is amazing to be blown away by love and positive feedback, which has been the case for both Bridgerton and Inventing Anna.
LA can be a difficult place to get a foot on the ladder. What strategies did you use and do you have any advice for others looking to enter into your same field?
I had it a bit easier, being that I’m originally from Los Angeles and most of my family and friends still live here. However, I definitely did use the DEMAN network to connect with other entertainment alumni once I moved back post graduation. LA is a sprawling and confusing place, and I highly recommend students who plan to move here reach out to young alumni about more than just career advice. Many helped me figure out where to live, how to make other industry friends, etc.—elements that are just as hard as the actual job hunt. Also, I didn’t start at a talent agency, but that is a great first job to get your foot in the door, as well as make a ton of friends from your “mailroom class”!
As a Visual Studies major with a certificate in Policy, Journalism, and Media Studies, what undergrad class has been the most useful in getting you to where you are today and why?
Absolutely any class with Professor Bill Adair in PJMS! I did journalism in high school, but had no plans to study it at Duke—until I took a class with Professor Adair. I didn’t want to go to a film trade school because I wanted a breadth of knowledge beyond the boundaries of Hollywood, and Duke/PJMS were perfect for that. The journalism classes in general are wildly underrated, and especially important now in the post-truth, “fake news” world we live in. Beyond actual classes, I worked with Amy Unell on putting together DEMAN events throughout my senior year, which definitely helped me meet alumni and get practice at networking/talking to those more established in entertainment. Amy is the best —if you don’t know her already, get to know her ASAP!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10? 20?
I hope to still be at Shondaland producing our slate of shows and films for quite some time. After that, ideally I would strike out on my own to create a television production company, using what I’ve learned working under all these badass (and mostly female!) producers. I would also love to live in London at some point—maybe I’ll go join the Bridgerton family for a while!
What’s a piece of advice you wish you had been told as a graduating student?
My mom’s favorite saying is “there’s a thousand ways to skin a cat”—no idea where that came from, or why it’s so gross—but basically it means that there are endless paths to success in anything, and especially in an industry as fickle and strange as Hollywood. It’s important to work hard, make connections, and create art, but also just as important to (try) not to compare yourself to others. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you will end up exactly where you need to be. I get coffee often with Kevin Plunkett, a Duke alumni and my mentor in producing, and he has been a huge help in keeping me calm and focused on the journey, rather than the destination.
Inside A Netflix Writer’s Room with Keely MacDonald ’12
Want to hear more from alumni working in media? This episode features Keely MacDonald, Executive Story Editor at Netflix, as she discusses her career path from Duke to screenwriting, shares insights on what it’s like to work in a writer’s room, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the process of getting a show from script to screen.
Who is DEMAN?
What advice do alumni have for breaking into creative industries? Find out through interviews with alumni in the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network!meet more DEMAN alumni