Helenna Santos is an actor/producer/writer and founder and CEO of Ms. In The Biz, an online destination for women in entertainment. To find out more about Santos and her work, follow her on Twitter here or check out her book, “Thriving in Hollywood,” here.
How did you get your start in the Industry?
I started off as a singer. I was actually a jazz voice major my first year of college and then transferred over to a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting.
What inspired you to launch Ms. In The Biz?
I was writing weekly for another blog and thought that there was a need for a collaborative blogging community for women in the entertainment business. I emailed about 100 awesome women I knew and asked if they would come on board to write for the site and a ton of them said yes! So I launched the site in May of 2013 with 80 writers, and now we’ve had over 150 women contribute to the site, 40 of which are regular contributors; and we now have over 1,000 articles and are read in 184 countries.
The book Thriving In Hollywood! Tenacious Tales and Tactics from Ms. In The Biz is a compilation of 25 of the pieces from the site. Alexandra Boylan (who is my partner on the book) and I designed it to be like chicken soup for the “women in entertainment’s” soul. I always feel like I’m having coffee with my girlfriends hearing about their journeys and getting great ideas to help me with my own career when I read through the book.
Hollywood isn’t a stranger to progressive ideas and forward-thinkers, and workplace gender equality has long been a hot topic, so what is taking Hollywood so long?
Well, I think it’s because the people running the networks and studios have an old way of thinking and as they say, old habits die hard. It’ll take time for the Hollywood of yesteryear to catch up to the way the world really is now. It’s slowly getting better bit by bit, but my hope is that with sites like Ms. In The Biz and great organizations like Women in Film and the Geena Davis Institute, we can help change come a lot faster!
Why do you think there is still such a significant gender gap when it comes to the names that roll in the credits?
It all comes down to opportunity. Alexandra Boylan, my partner on the book and Ms. In The Biz’s outreach coordinator, and I talk about this a lot. Women need to be creating their own work as much as possible. We need to be getting out there and hiring other women for the jobs that would traditionally go to men. We also need to be encouraging men to hire more women on their sets. In addition to that, it’s also important for women to be partnering with men so that we are collaborating to raise the bar for Hollywood as a whole.
All this is exactly why we’re starting the #HireaMs database as a part of msinthebiz.com so that when someone is looking for a female editor, DP, writer, producer, gaffer, location sound person, etc… they can come to our database and scroll through all of the skilled ladies there. We are just starting to roll that out and are asking for people to send their info to us so that we can list them on the site.
That being said, it’s our responsibility to support all women in this business. I think with some women because there is so much competition for the minimal jobs no matter what side of the camera you are on, there is a stepping-over-each-other mentality that prevails. But Ms. In The Biz is all about raising each other up and all finding success together. There is no need to tear each other down when we are all working towards the same goal. And if we do step No. 1 of hiring more women, then No. 2 of competing for minimal opportunities won’t need to exist as much.
We also need to be educating the younger generations and encouraging them to pursue their goals and dreams in the film business, and we need great role models for these young women to look up to. That’s part of what the Ms. In The Biz community is all about because some of my greatest mentors are the women I work with side-by-side every day.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” It’s from a Goethe quote that I read on a pamphlet for the first acting studio I found in Vancouver, BC Canada, Crichlow Actors’ Studio.
I have part of that phrase tattooed on my foot to keep me always moving forward.
What piece of advice can you offer young women who are just starting their careers in Hollywood?
As we say in the conclusion for the book:“Find your tribe. Be tenacious. Be helpful. Be loving. Be kind. And most importantly, be YOU. There is only one of you, and this industry needs to know the authentic you because what you bring to the biz is more powerful than you realize.”
For more information about Helenna and Ms. In The Biz and to purchase a copy of “Thriving in Hollywood!” go to msinthebiz.com