As a freelance director, producer and development executive for unscripted television and digital series, Melanie Reardon ’99 looked out to the crowd of film students in front of her and offered sage advice on the world she works in every day. She shared knowledge gained from her experiences developing and working on shows like National Enquirer Investigates, Broke-Ass Bride and Chopped and for brands like VOGUE, Vanity Fair, Glamour and most recently, People.
Reardon just wrapped the first season of American Doers for People.com, with Happy Marshall Productions. She is the co-creator and executive producer of the series, and came to ComArtSci to speak with students about the business of producing, including the process of developing and pitching ideas, working with production companies and networks and the importance of people skills in her line of work.
Among the many tips and tricks Reardon shared with the students on her visit, the one item she stressed the most was the art of the coffee run. Because just like the others who came before her and those following in her footsteps, Reardon started out as a production assistant.
"Getting coffee is step one because it gets you into the meetings with the executives. It builds trust. Get the coffee and lunch orders right and then people start trusting you with more," said Reardon.
Reardon explained that menial tasks like grabbing coffee or lunch for executives shows you can follow directions, you listen and take initiative.
"Once you prove to me that you can do that, you’re going to be taking field notes, you're going to be sitting in development meetings, you're going to be producing. And that’s how it starts. You gotta take the coffee order," she said.
Reflecting Back on MSU
As an undergraduate student in the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Reardon studied advertising. She wanted to make commercials and would take any classes that would give her the skills needed to make that dream a reality. With the help of her academic adviser, Dr. Larry Red, Reardon was able to build a curriculum that prepared her for a future in production.
"He knew I was a unique student and I had a unique set of experiences, skills and interests when I came to MSU. He really dug in and made sure I was taking the right classes, I had the right tutors. I was able to pull from different parts of the ComArtSci umbrella," recalled Reardon.
She took advertising, journalism, production and law classes that prepared her for the real world. In the beginning of her career, Reardon started as an intern working for National Parks Magazine in Washington D.C., an experience that helped her realize the power of "putting yourself out there."
Building a Career
After a few years working in events, media relations and production, Reardon spent three seasons on the Food Network favorite, Chopped where she picked up industry knowledge from the strong women she worked with every day.
"A lot of the people I’ve worked with over the years have been very inspiring and influential to me. Certainly, Co-Executive Producer, Vivian Sorenson on Chopped and, Executive Producer, Linda Lee who created the series… Those women are fierce and incredible," said Reardon.
After Chopped, she landed at Condé Nast working with some of the most iconic brands in the world, meeting, collaborating and spending time with magazine editors and producers.
Reardon told us, "There is a certain tingle that you get when you walk into the Condé Nast building and you go to a meeting at VOGUE or Vanity Fair and it’s a pinch-me moment. It’s like wait, how did I get here? I’m just a girl from Mason."
Working with People.com and Advil
In her latest project, American Doers, Reardon partnered with James Marshall of Happy Marshall Productions to tell real, honest, uplifting stories of people in America. As host of the show, Marshall completely immerses himself in the lives of the people he meets, working in their businesses and walking in their shoes.
"For me as a producer, the most rewarding work is telling the kinds of stories that matter to me and I had a fantastic opportunity to do that with James," said Reardon. "We believed so much in this project, we knew somewhere, somehow there was somebody that was going to resonate with this message and care about it as much as we did. That happened for us when we met with People and Advil to pitch the series."
The first season of American Doers is available on AmericanDoers.People.com. As for other projects coming up? Reardon said she always has something cooking, but there is nothing she can share quite yet.
By Nikki W. O'Meara