Shani Black and John Baldivia ’05 dish on their entertainment industry careers before their appearances at CAAN Connect: LA.
Shani Black and John Baldivia ’05 both keep the Hollywood gears turning. After more than 10 years of experience in television, digital development, branding and casting, Black is now a senior production consultant at Netflix. Baldivia is an entertainment attorney who works primarily with independent filmmakers across all platforms. Both will appear at CAAN Connect: LA, a night of fast-paced industry networking open to Columbia College Chicago alumni. (Register today!) They both talked to Columbia Connection about making it in the entertainment industry and tying it all back to the Columbia experience.
What would you like an alumni audience to know about you?
John Baldivia: I graduated Columbia College Chicago in 2005, and moved to Los Angeles after participating in Semester in LA. I did everything that I possibly could to get into the music industry by meeting artists, producers, and engineers whenever I could. I spent most of my early career hanging out in studios. I eventually began working in digital distribution with a small independent music distribution company named BFM Digital. That eventually turned into me fulfilling the same role for Universal Music Group right around the time that Spotify and streaming music became a viable platform.
While I was working for Universal Music Group, I attended Southwestern Law School at night and obtained my law degree. I have been practicing law in the areas of copyright, entertainment, and labor and employment ever since.
Shani Black: Once I started going to Columbia, I feel like [the school] honed my skills. I learned how to actually complete projects, work as a team. [Columbia] instills a type of confidence in their students so that when you graduate, you are very secure in your skills and your abilities.
Over the course of my career…there’s always been a “Columbia moment” that’s come to mind. I have fond memories of the school, classes, and my instructors. I’m in a position now where I am able to hire interns from Columbia, because I’m a production manager. I always try to make sure that no matter where I go, it’s like, “Who from Columbia can I bring in, and who will benefit from where I am now?”
Shani, you’re a consultant at Netflix. John, you work as an entertainment attorney. How would you both describe your roles in the entertainment industry?
SB: Right now I’m a consultant with Netflix, but I am also a casting director for a new project for We TV, so I do multiple things—I do producing, I do casting. It just depends on what the show is. Again, it’s part of the Columbia experience: they teach you how to do multiple things; you don’t have to limit yourself to one thing.
JB: Most of the work that I do is litigation. The typical cases that I get involved with have to do with copyright infringement, breach of contracts where a film deal goes wrong, or labor issues between the talent and the producers. I do negotiate talent deals on the music side, although we have others at Pierce Law Group LLP who handle deal-making for film and television projects.
Why is it important to reconnect with Columbia alumni?
JB: Like most Columbia graduates who moved to Los Angeles after graduation, I didn't know many people in this city, didn't know who to trust, and it became overwhelming. Staying connected with Columbia alumni who were going through the same experience as I was helped keep me grounded and reminded me that I was not alone. I want to give back by sharing with other Columbia alumni my experience so that others can benefit from having a network of people to talk to like I did.
SB: I had a great experience at Columbia. You know that whole, “I found myself” cliché? I think I actually did find myself at Columbia.
Working in this industry, a lot of times I see people getting hired from UCLA and USC, but I wouldn’t see any Columbia hires, and I thought that was ridiculous. The main reason I joined the alumni board is that I get emails, phone calls, and text messages saying, “I need to hire a PA” and I’m sure that there’s someone from Columbia who can fill this position. I wanted to provide a mentorship program, so I can figure out how to get [Columbia alumni] through the door. The ultimate goal for me—which may be selfish—is to get as many Columbia people into the industry, because you never know when I may hit a slump and I need to reconnect with those people. But really, it’s about giving back and appreciating Columbia overall.