You wear a ‘Be You’ key necklace around your neck. What does this phrase mean to you?
Yeah I customized this at The Giving Keys, and for me, it means to step into my identity. There are so many distractions and influences in life that you can slip into and one day you discover that you’re not yourself at all. I never really struggled with peer pressure growing up, but what I’ve noticed in my adult life is that sometimes in order to avoid insults and judgments from other people, I suppressed my real interests or personality traits so that I could be cool or professional, or whatever it is people in this industry want you to be. What happens is, you trick yourself into believing that you’re happy. When in reality….you’re not, because you’re not being your true self.
I had to make the decision to not care what people thought, to understand my true value and my worth, and be comfortable with being unique. It’s sometimes scary being who you are – especially if it goes against what society or the industry says is the norm, but you would be surprised at how much more your true self is welcomed, than your fake self.
For me, this necklace is a daily reminder in all situations to just be Alisha. To put aside all fear of rejection and fear of judgment and walk in who I am. I’m really silly and goofy, and I like to relive my childhood a lot, which some people see as immature…that’s fine. I’m obsessed with sports, Michael Jordan is my hero, and I love hip-hop swag…and I’m a 5’2” white girl. Cool. When you decide to be confident in who you are, and walk in that, you’ll experience happiness. There are so many people trying to tell you who to be. Just be you.
Have you always been confident in yourself and your ability to make it in the entertainment industry?
I have been humbly confident in the fact that I was going to work in the TV/Film industry the whole time, but confidence in myself, has wavered some throughout the process. I’ve known that I wanted to be in the TV/Film industry since I was 13 years old. I came to LA on a family vacation and I toured NBC studios. Seeing how people could take something so fake and make it a reality for others, just blew my mind. That same day I met an intern outside of the studio who took me back in behind-the-scenes and I got to see the sets and meet all the actors of my favorite show at that time. Her selfless act overwhelmed me, and I realized that I wanted to be able to do the same thing for other people. Movies were always an outlet for me in hard times. Whenever I was sad or upset I would watch a movie and lose myself in the story. I always felt better afterwards. At 13, I realized I wanted to give back and create that same feeling for other people.
I’m from Arkansas and I’m also a Christian, and this was not a normal career path, so it wasn’t well received. Kids at school made fun of me saying I would never succeed, people in my church judged me, members of my own family said they hoped I didn’t make it in LA. That was really hard for me to process, because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was supposed to be in the industry. So I decided despite what anyone thinks or wants for me, I’m going to do what I want. When I actually moved to LA, I struggled for about a year and a half before landing any type of job in the industry, and my confidence wavered heavily during that time. I didn’t understand why no one would hire me or give me a shot to prove myself. I began to question what I was even doing here or if I was even talented enough, but I remembered good things come to those who wait. Everything happens for a reason.
Your success did not happen over night. After 1 ½ years in and out of LA you made a bold statement, “This is what I want, and I’m going to do it. I’m not leaving until I do.” Where did your boldness lead?
I struggled to find work for about a year and a half in and out of LA. I was working in Oklahoma for half of the year saving money, and then I’d come to LA to try to network for the other half of the year. While still attending the University of Oklahoma, I compiled a list of email addresses. When I got to LA I kept emailing those people, cold calling production companies, passing out my resume, and buying everyone a coffee just to have a second of their time. I got great advice, but 95% of those connections were dead ends.
One of the people on my email list was a 1st AD in the industry. I emailed him consistently for 4 years, and he finally gave me a shot on set last February, and he’s hired me for every job ever since. I believe in persistence. Not annoyance, but persistence it definitely pays off. It took a while, but I just believed in myself and that I could do it despite what the facts were saying. I started day playing, which is basically a temporary position, and I worked my butt off, treated everyone with respect, and kept a positive attitude. It takes a connection to get you in the door, but you have to prove yourself from there. I’m now a set production assistant who runs 1st team (meaning I take care of the principal actors) for TV and film. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to staff several shows – most recently NBC’s State of Affairs.
I always laugh because I think of Drake’s song “started from the bottom, now we here.” Well, I started from the bottom and I’m STILL here, but I know that I won’t be for long. When you treat yourself like you’re at the bottom and you don’t believe you’re good enough for anything else, you’ll stay there. When you are humbly at the bottom, but know you were made for more, I think that’s when promotion happens. It just takes time. If you want people to respect you and believe in you, you have to respect and believe in yourself. I’m a PA, which is the lowest position on a set, but some people treat me as if I’m a producer. I think it’s because I’m confident that one day, I WILL be a producer or someone in a higher position in the industry. You are what you allow yourself to believe you are.
You were once told you would have to be ‘tough’ to make it in the entertainment industry. How does a woman who by nature is more sensitive become tough without becoming externally hard?
This is actually the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in the industry. I’ve had many people tell me I needed to be tougher! I took it as if I would have to change who I am and be rude and/or mean– which is not an option in my book. However, I’ve realized that it’s more of how you receive what people are saying to you or about you, and less of what you do to other people. You can’t change people or what they’re going to say, or how they act, but you can change the way you react to it. Some people in this industry are very jaded, and they’re not happy, so when they see a happy, positive person it makes them mad. They secretly wish they could have what you have, but they don’t know how to do it, so they just want to put you on their level and make you an angry person right along with them. People try to steal your joy, but you hold the key to that.
A makeup artist, also a friend of mine, told me, “When someone says something that’s offensive to you just think ‘out and off’ and literally grab your shirt as if you’re pulling that out and flinging it off of you. It might sound silly, but that thought and action has helped me tremendously on the job. The key in the industry is to not take anything personally. I think this is the biggest challenge for us females, because we are emotional and sensitive by nature. However, I start imagining where that negative comment is coming from, and most of the time it’s from their own insecurity or unhappiness. When I can identify that, I’m then able to brush it off, because it actually doesn’t have anything to do with me, and it’s something they’ve got to fix on their own time. Also, it’s taken being confident in who I am and understanding my value and worth, to make it easier to dismiss their negative energy.
There’s a flip side to being “tough” in the industry. There’s letting things roll off your back, but there’s also standing up for yourself. I’m still learning this one. Conflict is a really hard thing for some of us, and that usually gives people access to steam roll over you and take advantage of you. People can’t do anything to you unless you allow it. It’s like the phrase, “Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.” Most battles you can let slide, but some battles you need to pick. I once stood up to an AD in the industry after being threatened by them on set. I waited 24 hours so that I could have time to process everything logically and not respond purely on emotions. I approached this person with respect, and told them how I felt when they threatened me, and it completely shocked them, because they didn’t even realize what they had said and they apologized. By being respectful, yet bold enough to approach them, they were made aware that I’M aware, and that they can’t do that to me. They never treated me like that again, and they’re now one of my favorite ADs, and I have utmost respect for them, and visa versa. You can still be that sensitive, kind, loving person that you are, but be confident in who you are, know your worth, be bold in your identity, and understand that people don’t define you – you define you.
You can find out more about Alisha on…
Instagram: Alisha East