Colum Alum Spotlight: Ayanna Floyd MFA '98

We checked in behind the scenes of Fox's hit show Empire, where Ayanna Floyd MFA '98 works as a co-executive producer. Floyd talked to us about her responsibilities on the show and her time at Columbia. 

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Fox's hit drama Empire follows the power clashes at hip-hop label Empire Entertainment. Behind the scenes, Ayanna Floyd MFA '98 works as a co-executive producer. Floyd puts her Film & Video degree to use in LA writers’ rooms and Chicago shooting locations as she works on ideas and story beats for the show’s many characters.  She talked to us over email.  

How did you become co-executive producer on Empire?

I got my first paid writing job in television in 2001, so it's been a long journey. I've written for numerous broadcast and cable TV shows, so my agent called me about Empire and I interviewed with [executive producers] Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Ilene Chaiken and got the job!

Did you have any idea how successful Empire would become?

I came onto Empire season two. So it was a hit when I came on board

What’s the energy like on set?

Fun. Crazy. Unpredictable.

What’s it like to film back in Chicago?

Awesome! The writers’ room is in LA, but the show shoots in Chicago. Writers come to Chicago to produce their episodes, so anytime I'm in Chicago, I'm reminded of how far I've come. Back in those days, I used to get butterflies when I saw a TV or film crew shooting on a street. And now I'm a part of that crew.

What advice would you give someone getting into television producing?

Know your craft and prepare to work really hard. Don't get discouraged if you truly feel this is what you're supposed to do. Pursuing a career in Hollywood comes with lots of ups and downs.

What’s a typical day like for you?

In LA, I'm usually in a room full of writers discussing ideas for the show, putting those ideas on white, dry erase boards and breaking them into story beats for each character on the show. Writers’ hours are usually very humane. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How did Columbia prepare you for your career?

In my second week at Columbia, I was shooting short films in Grant Park. You can't get better hands-on experience than that. And although I didn't go into production but writing, it gave me a good sense of how movie magic worked—how to tell a story with images.

What Columbia professors did you really connect with?

Paul Hettel, Ron Pitts [and] Bob Enrietto. Ron and Bob passed away, but both were incredible advocates. Bob encouraged me to move to LA—actually he TOLD me to go, and Ron was just the sweetest guy ever. He always had time to answer a question, even if you weren't his student. He loved the craft. Paul was great too! Very classy man whose knowledge of film would blow you away. He had a respect and appreciation for filmmaking that I admired.

What’s your fondest Columbia memory?

Watching everyone's bad short films. Mine included. Some of the films we made were just terrible. Terrible! But it was all great, because we were learning.

What are you currently reading?

I'm currently reading my colleague's book, Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. She's a writer on the show.

What music have you been listening to?

Bob Marley [and] Buju Banton. I just vacationed in Jamaica.

When it comes to pizza, what are your go-to toppings?

I keep it simple—pepperoni.

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