Meet the Graduates: Brennan

Major: Journalism
Certificate: Digital Studies


What have you been up to since graduation?

Right after graduation, I hung around Madison, had some quality family time, and worked on little YouTube sketches and footage videos (memes!). I had generous friends who were willing to house me for a short period, so I arrived in New York on June 15th without a full-time job. Ever since I’ve been reaching out to people, applying for jobs cold and continuing to create my own content.

What made you decide on New York as your destination post-college?

I interned with The Daily Show as well as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert while I was in college and they were both invaluable experiences. It’s really just because those shows and all the best ‘comedy with an impact’ is produced here in New York. People I met from both internships told me that I should just get to New York after graduation so that I’d be ready to work right away, that something would turn into full-time.

That sounds stressful. How has the transition from Madison to New York been?

It’s been tough. I think the toughest thing is how my day is structured. When you’re unemployed, you have all the time to do projects but no inspiration or motivation. When you’re employed, you have structure and wish you had more time. I really appreciate that (paid) day to day routine where you’re in an office with people. Right now I still don’t have any sure leads. I interviewed for one job here in the city before I graduated and I depended too much on thinking that would work out and didn’t set myself up for other options. Adjusting to having a lot of freetime (and no steady income) has been really tough.

I also thought my lease was going to be ready when I arrived, but it wasn’t. So by the generosity and support of others, I’m able to crash with friends and family while I wait for my place to be ready. People are everything in SO many ways.

So what are you doing with yourself while you’re looking for full-time work?

Right now, I have two meetings set up with connections from my time interning in New York. The only way this is possible is a combination of me having kept in touch with them via email and social media and them being awesome people. These meetings are what I really earned during the internships.

I also have a few freelance things I can depend on week per week. For example, I’ve had a few jobs at the Daily Show transcribing footage for field pieces, some freelance fashion Production Assistant stuff (yay cash!) and I’ve even moved a wardrobe company from one part of Manhattan to another. I got that particular gig by connecting with an alum in NY (by way of an introduction from Erik Gunneson) whose wife (also a UW alum) is the wardrobe coordinator for John Oliver’s show. I’m very grateful for the UW network out here in New York.

Making connections with alumni, especially in a big city like New York, can help you really quickly feel a sense of community.

It’s awesome! I have a lot of friends that went to NYU and they’ll reach out to alumni and that enthusiasm and level of shared experience just isn’t the same. That: “Oh, no way, you’re a Badger?” and followed up conversation about classes/the terrace/sports/madison is the best and never gets old. Other schools don’t share that same connection and Badger love. It’s pretty fantastic.

Has Digital Studies been helpful for you so far?

Absolutely! In many ways. I immediately think of Com Arts 155 with Prof. Hoyt and how that shifted my mindset. I went from making a cool movie poster for the class to realizing how useful Photoshop is. Skills I used in the making of that poster are the same skills I use to make memes and content of my own today. In turn, that content is seen by individuals I meet in the late night world through my social media channels.

The people aspect of the program is huge too. Prof. Hoyt connected me to an alum who went from interning at Daily Show to Fallon then Colbert. Without his mentorship, I wouldn’t have been able to get my start in this industry.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about making the move to New York after graduation?

Yes! First, especially if you’re a maker/creative, make sure you’re posting stuff that you’re proud of on your social accounts. You need to be seen. It’s just like any other medium, you can drive results from an audience you are constantly building. Even if the result is just passive, keeping in touch is huge. During my internship with Colbert, a mentor who works at the show has been able to see some of the stuff I’ve put out on Instagram and he recently replied to one of my posts which led to us catching up in person and talking shop.

Second, while you are in school, take those four hours you have free on Friday or that time in-between class to make something and submit it places. You will never get this time back. I used to look at the news during my breaks and try to make a short video in that time. Don’t get stuck in the mindset that you can “always do it later” or “this weekend”. Again, you will never get this time back. Use the energy and time you have to get a project or piece of a project done and have something you can be proud of. This will be true in your career as well, where your main hustle (job or classes) will be as important as your side hustles (creative work in your free time). You can absolutely enjoy yourself as a college student while also making stuff that you’re passionate about.

Third, use your network and connections, make sure to check in and say hello. I’ve applied for eleven jobs that I thought were very possible and was excited about, but even with The Daily Show and The Late Show on my resume, I did not get a single interview with any of them. Right now what’s working for me (and what always has) is people. Value, appreciate and learn from the ones who see your success as their success. What is more valuable than any experience, especially starting out, is people’s trust. Earn that and maintain it.

Fourth and finally, SENIORS, lock down an internship and housing right away. It’ll help provide structure to your day and you will be learning and meeting people right off the bat. It is easier to get employed if you are currently employed, even if that’s an internship.

What’s new with you since we last talked?

I have a job! I’m working as a Digital Production Assistant on Showtime’s ‘Our Cartoon President’. I’m also finally moved into my apartment in Brooklyn so I have a bed! And more importantly a place to dance to Lil Wayne’s Carter 5. Things are great!

That’s fantastic! Tell me more about how you got the gig with Our Cartoon President.

I have to preface this by saying that I would not have gotten this job without exhausting all my resources and all my options. What was key here was some help from two former colleagues that I’d been keeping in touch with since my time at Colbert.

Here’s what happened… I was applying for a lot of jobs, and got two interviews. One was an interview for a position working with talent at Our Cartoon President. The same week I had that Our Cartoon President interview, I had an interview with a recruiter for what I thought was an associate producer job for CBS news, but the recruiter ended up referring me for a production assistant job at the Rachael Ray show instead. While I was interviewing for these jobs, I was doing a two week contract job with an ad agency in lower Manhattan.

My last week at this contract job hits. I received a job offer from Rachael Ray but I had not heard from Our Cartoon President yet. After calling a million mentors, family members and friends for advice, (anywhere from ‘JUST HAVE A JOB, TAKE IT’, to ‘I don’t know, maybe you should wait’), I decided to ask Rachael Ray Show for an extra day to consider the job offer. Our Cartoon President was definitely my first choice and I needed to know if I was still in the running for that position before I made a decision. Rachael Ray gave me one more day and Our Cartoon President finally got back to me saying that they couldn’t offer me anything, but they were glad I had another offer. It sounded like that route was for sure doomed so I started thinking that I’d have to accept the Rachael Ray offer.

At 5pm the same day I had to give Rachael Ray my answer, I got a call from a New York number that I did not recognize and I instinctively pulled out my phone, answered, and ran upstairs to the roof of the building that I was working in. It was a producer from Our Cartoon President telling me she kept coming across my resume, but that she just didn’t think I was a good fit for the talent role. At this point I wondered what was going on, thinking to myself (are they just rubbing it in…? What is this?). But then she went on to say that she kept hearing ‘digital’ when she looked at my resume. Digital. Digital. All the digital stuff on my resume, the YouTube work, the Colbert experience, my Adobe skills. It was then that she asked if I wanted to be a part of the team as a digital production assistant. I didn’t hesitate in the slightest bit before I answered with a VERY emphatic yes and maybe a little dance on the roof after I hung up. I started the following Monday.

That’s amazing! So what does a digital production assistant for Our Cartoon President do?

I’m more of a technical PA, which means I help a lot with IT stuff, like onboarding new artists, making sure they have functional Adobe software, making sure they have the right organizational programs, stuff like that. There’s also a lot of tasks to be given and a lot of assets to keep track of and move to different departments, so I help run software to make sure everyone has what they need when they need it. I also do administrative stuff (the backbone of the office!) like stock the fridge with soda, order dinners for people on later nights and go on runs for milk and coffee too.

The show is in its first season, right? Do you know if it’s been picked up for a second season yet?

We don’t know that yet. I’m guaranteed work until November so there’s the possibility of more work if the show gets picked up for a second season. There’s also the possibility of being right back where I started. But not exactly where I started, this time I’d be unemployed knowing more people, knowing more Adobe and way more about how to make an animated show. This job insecurity and bouncing around is one of the realities of working in television.

This is why I’m making sure I have options. People are also starting to send me job opportunities now when they see digital, content or design jobs. For example, a good friend that works at the Daily Show recently asked me to help him create some videos for startups. So he’ll shoot or be an anchor and I’ll help produce, edit and do graphics. It’s so appreciated when people notice when you’re good at stuff and actually cultivate it – be good to these people!!

Do you still feel that moving out to NY was the best decision for you?

Part of me wishes that I had done an extra semester to focus on a podcast I had been doing and make more of my own videos. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the, “what if I had done more of this, what if I had just finished that” mindset. I think the best choice for me was to just get to NY, to physically be here where the best jobs exist. Jobs that I genuinely love (they do not exist in Madison right now), in line with that I needed be ready to work at a moments notice, not a months or two planning away. A lot of people in the Business school will have accepted an offer by winter break but that’s not how entertainment works. Another huge part of it was I couldn’t have passed up an amazing opportunity to live with one of my best friends. I think just getting to New York and real life dream chasing was and is the best use of time for me.

What do you want to say to students who are struggling to figure out what the right move is for them after college?

Enjoy the place you’re at right now because you will never get this time back. I imagine my future self being nostalgic about my present self just as my present self is starting to become nostalgic for the ‘good ole college days’ *starts ranting about how good spotted cow and the terrace are*. I feel like I spent so much time trying to get out of college to get to NY that I didn’t spend a lot of time just being present. So I’d say plan it out, literally pick out which company/place/show/job/country/etc. No matter how unrealistic it may seem, do everything in your power to get there. Put the work in, meet the people already there, but be present and don’t feel bad about going out on a Monday (…or two…). Don’t feel bad about staring at the lake for an afternoon. You will never get this time back.

How have things been going? Did Our Cartoon President get picked up for a 2nd season?

Things are going really well! It’s looking like Our Cartoon President will be renewed for a 2nd season, though we haven’t gotten the official word on that yet. It’s been interesting to learn about how all this works – it’s a very strange process and everything seems to be up in the air until the last minute.

Now that I’ve been working for the show for a while I’ve managed to learn a lot. This learning all comes from observation and asking people how things are done. I’ve learned a lot about how animation works by getting my administrative type tasks done first. Making other people’s lives easier was my priority with this job and it has really paid off.

Because I had gained so much trust through competency and initiative I was able to pitch content for social media. During the course of the job I actually taught myself how to create a Snapchat filter, so I created a filter that would allow people to see an AR character from Our Cartoon President dancing on their screen and showed it to someone who trusted me who showed an even higher up person! Again, without hitting the basics and taking initiative I never could’ve learned the Snapchat studio that could be useful in other jobs.

Wow! That’s super cool! Are there other things you’re working on right now?

The morning we’re having this call where I actually pitched a digital strategy and research plan to the producers (that trust me!) at Our Cartoon President. The pitch included a lot of examples for topical content. I made concrete examples of content we could create and then the strategy behind it – when to release it and what kinds of people we’d be reaching. They’re going to forward my ideas to the showrunner and hopefully I’ll hear soon if they want to move forward with the plan.

That’s really exciting!

Yeah, I’m really excited for the possibility get to work more with the creative side of the show. One thing I will say is that the only reason I might be able to do more digital stuff for the show in two weeks is because I took initiative to show the producers my ideas, who I’ve gotten to know and earned their trust over the last six months. Trust first. Then initiative. I was able to show them my strengths by creating as polished product as I could create, not only to show that I was really serious but with the intent that we could actually ship this stuff if we liked it.

And another thing, back when I interviewed for the Daily Show before graduation, I had created a pitch packet and I ended up repurposing that to use for this pitch. So it just goes to show that even though I didn’t get that job, I still made use of that stuff in the future. If you get down on yourself too and see something as a failure you will actually fail in utilizing what you can from the experience.

Great advice and fingers crossed that works out for you!

Thanks! One other thing I’ve learned through this process of watching the show try to get picked up for a second season is the way hiring works. Now that we’re likely getting picked up for a second season, I’m helping to source talent for the show. Everyone who has gotten an interview for entry level positions are people that know people at the show. For the ones I know I only thought of them because they’ve kept in touch with me.

People are busy as hell and they want someone to come in as soon as possible. It’s easier to trust and hire someone that someone else at the show already knows and can vouch for. It’s rough to see how rash and quick these decisions are made about hiring, but it’s clear that keeping in touch with your contacts is your best bet if you want to move to a new show.

So it’s important to maintain that balance of staying in touch, but not being annoying. I feel like I’ve developed my skills in this area even more since I’ve been out here – just pinging people on Facebook or sending them videos or articles or even just responding to people’s Instagram stories. People like likes. It all comes down to salience and perceived fit for the position.