Category: GEMA, GEMA Alumni Spotlight

Title:GEMA Alumni Spotlight – Vanessa Joyce (C‘08), SVP of Development & Production at Paramount Pictures

Vanessa Joyce has worked producing films for Paramount since she joined the company in 2012. This year she is shepherding film adaptations of Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and a sequel to Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy.

What was your first “big break”? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?

Getting my foot in the door at a film studio was my first big break. I had been out in LA for two years working as an assistant at a management company but knew I wanted to get into the development side of the business at a studio or production company. I got a job working for Erik Feig, then President of Production at Summit (which has since merged with Lionsgate). Even though I was just an assistant, it gave me this window into how studios worked and what it takes for a script to actually become a film that’s released in theaters. That experience was eye-opening and invaluable.

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part of my job is finding a script or project I truly believe in and championing it until it gets made. Sometimes this can take years, but figuring out how to overcome all the obstacles and setbacks along the way is a challenge I enjoy.

The most difficult part of my job is when I have to say no to things, which I do constantly. I always want to be enthusiastic and passionate, but a big part of my position is discerning which projects are actually right for Paramount and have a chance to be successful around the world. Each year the landscape gets more and more competitive, meaning we have to be even more selective and often turn down projects from really talented people.

What is a current project you are working on that you are excited about?

We just wrapped production on our sequel to Coming to America. It’s going to be released over Christmas in 2020. This was a hugely influential film to me as a kid, not only because it’s a great movie but because my mom is an immigrant to this country and it really meant something to my family growing up. So many other people I talk to feel similarly affected by the original, even if it’s for different reasons. I think that’s the power that a great film or TV show can have on an audience over generations. I’m so excited that we were able to bring back the entire original cast and then add other great actors like Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, and Wesley Snipes. I hope this is the movie that everyone is taking their family to next Christmas.

Are there any ways that you feel Georgetown especially prepared you for your career?

Playing for the Georgetown Women’s Soccer team was a huge part of my experience in college and it definitely prepared me for dealing with the ups and downs that come in any career. It taught me that if you continue to work hard and persevere, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll reach the exact goal you set out to accomplish, but you will find a position or a job or a team where you fit in and provide singular value. It also taught me that when you’re at the top, that’s not the moment to sit back and rest on your laurels. That’s when you have to double down and work harder, because now everyone is either looking up to you or trying to beat you.

What is your best advice to those who are starting out in your field?

Be proactive about making your own opportunities, but also be patient enough to know it will probably take many years to get where you want to go. I see a lot of people come out to LA and get discouraged if they’re still an assistant after two or three years, but that’s actually very normal. This is the time when you’re building a network of peers and mentors that will affect the rest of your career. Some of my best friends and allies in this business are the people I bonded with when we were all struggling as assistants.

How is the ever-changing media landscape affecting your industry?

With the rise of streaming – first with Netflix and now Disney+, Apple+, Amazon, Hulu, etc. – there’s now amazing content that you can get without ever leaving your couch. This has raised the bar for what it means to be a theatrical film. You have to make your movie an event that people want to experience together, and also execute the A+ version. Now whenever I think about making a film for Paramount I try to think whether or not it’s the kind of thing I would be willing to get in my car to go and see.

Best Business Advice Received:

“You’re not going to be in this job forever.” At the time it sounded like a warning that I was about to get fired. The person who gave me this advice actually meant that you should never screw anyone over just to get a job or a script or a movie. Those things will come and go but the thing that people will always remember is how you treated them and whether you’ve acted with integrity. Your character is the thing that will continue to attract people that want to work with you over the years.

Trait You Most Admire in People:

The courage to try something and risk looking foolish.

Favorite App, Website, Podcast or Social Platform (other than related to your own company):

Hardcore History podcast by Dan Carlin. It combines my great loves of story-telling and history.

Favorite Georgetown Professor:

Professor Ingebretsen in the English/American Studies Department. I ended up taking 3 classes with him and in each one he challenged us to re-examine our pre-conceived notions, both about literature and the world. He taught me how to both read and write in a way that is thoughtful, earnest and unpretentious.

Professor Glavin in the (un-official at that time) film department was also an important influence and it’s because of his screenwriting class that I first applied to and got an internship in LA.

Favorite Georgetown Restaurant or Bar:

Filomena. Some of the best Italian food anywhere. It’s where my roommate Kirsten and I would go to either celebrate a big event or procrastinate when we didn’t want to study for finals.

Favorite Georgetown Memory:

Sitting in the cafeteria with my girlfriends on a Saturday or Sunday morning, eating chicken fingers and recalling the previous night’s events. I think these are the times in my life that I laughed the most.