Talia Bella, Thunderbird Films EP and partner, talks about getting enough sleep, watching 3-4 movies a week and how Adichie, the Nigerian novelist, inspires her to keep telling stories.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I’m a film producer and a partner at Thunderbird Films. I got into the film industry somewhat by accident. I spent most of my 20s working a deluge of odd jobs while searching for my passion. In 2012, I started my first business, Closets for Causes. We were a cause-marketing agency dedicated to cleaning out celebrity closets, auctioning their items online and donating the proceeds to the charity of their choice. I was 25 years old with no background in business, kind of just winging it. The business inevitably failed, but in 2015, we hosted a gifting suite with one of our charity partners at Sundance, and I met my future boss and mentor, a producer who offered me a job after I lied and said I had experience. I figured it couldn’t be harder than running my own company — I was right.
What inspired you to follow your career path?
Although the journey was marred by countless challenges, mistakes and sacrifices; in general, the work came quite naturally to me. I had spent the better part of the last decade of my life trying to find what my calling was, and I found it. Running a production is a lot like running a mini business. You have a budget, an objective, a timeline and then a product that you must go sell. The work is fulfilling to me because I love what I do and I’m good at it. Adichie, the Nigerian novelist, once said “stories matter” — they matter because this is at the core of culture. It is how histories are passed down, how customs are shared and how traditions come to be.
What inspires you right now?
Continually seeing friends and business associates building businesses from scratch and being successful. I immigrated to the United States 20 years ago, and anything is possible here. They say the American Dream is dying, and it may be different today than it was 50 years ago — but you can still be anything you want to be.
What is the last book you read?
Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. It traces Nike’s evolution from dauntless startup to quintessential global brand, and Knight’s entrepreneurial journey as a college graduate who borrowed $50 from his father to launch a company that imports low-cost sneakers from Japan, which he sold from the trunk of his car. It’s a great story about how messy the path to success is. Netflix recently optioned the rights to the book.
What are your best tips for a work/life balance?
This is something I still struggle with. Our line of work is inherently not balanced. Long hours, high stress, crazy timelines. Having a daughter recently shifted a lot of my priorities, and I’m learning the meaning of work smarter not harder. We’ve become more selective with the projects that we take on, knowing that saying yes means not being home and not getting to see her.
What’s your best self-care advice?
Get enough sleep. Sometimes I go to bed as early as 8 p.m. I wake up every day at 5 a.m. I work hard — sleep is so necessary for me to perform properly.
What kind of networking fills you up or you find to be beneficial?
The most valuable “networking” you can do is to do an exceptional job and let your reputation precede you.
Quote you love or live by that provides motivation or inspiration?
“Fortune favors the bold” — You have to have moxie.
How do you stay motivated?
One or a thousand people might say I’m type A. I’ve always been a go-getter. It’s just how I’m wired.
How do you recharge?
My family and I love to travel, and we take long trips abroad that bring us back recharged, inspired and ready to do it again.
What are your best management tips to keep your team inspired?
I think the idea of evangelism in business is really important, and is a great tool not just for your clients but also for your employees.
Evangelism comes from Greek and means “to proclaim good news.” The term has been championed by Guy Kawasaki for decades. Kawasaki served as the Chief Evangelist for Apple and now serves as Chief Evangelist for Canva, as well as Brand Ambassador for Mercedes Benz. In his words, evangelism marketing is “explaining to the world how your product or service can improve people’s lives.” It’s not about self-promotion, but rather sharing the best of what you, your team, and your organization produce with others who can benefit.
How do you avoid burnout?
I don’t burn out. I’ve got a long wick. In all honesty, I just love what I do.
How do you stay current in your industry or profession?
My mentor once said to me that the best in the business — Scorsese, Tarantino — they all watch 3-4 movies a day because that’s the language of what they do; they study what works and what doesn’t work and this is how/why they are the best. I can’t watch 3-4 movies a day, but I’ve since committed to 3-4 movies a week.
What advice do you have for others who want to pursue your professional path?
Be prepared to work hard! I think this is true of any industry, but particularly in film. The hours are long, the expectations are high. People think producing is so glamorous. It’s a lot of unsexy hard work, long hours and doing really whatever it takes to get the job done.
You also have to love it. And be a little crazy.
What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were getting started?
Knowing your worth is everything to be a successful anything. When I was younger, I was always afraid to ask for too much, so I always undersold myself. Then I would be in rooms with the men who were my superiors and they were not more talented than me. But they knew their worth and they were unapologetic about it. It took me years to figure that out.
Is there anything else that fills you up or motivates you to be better?
Being a mother. I often think about what it means to be her role model. I hope she learns that you can have a career, plus a supportive partner and be a mom. It’s not either-or. And while it’s not always perfect, looking back I hope she knows that I got up every morning and did my best.