Dispersing ‘golden nuggets’

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WIF guest speaker Laraine Gregory and WIF leader Candace Bowen. Photo by Michael Aushenker

Every month, the Malibu Women in Film Networking Breakfast unites and empowers women in all stages of their entertainment career.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

They came from all walks of life, all facets of the industry. One woman, a former Queen Latifah crony named Conscience, delivered her introduction in a rap. Another, of Chumash heritage, led everyone in a coyote song. Mhairi Steenbock sold herself as “the only Scottish singing mime.” Two of the members were even male. As Women in Film Malibu Networking Breakfast organizer Candace Bowen says, the group is a diverse one.

Last Friday morning, some 40 entertainment professionals of every stripe–some active, some trying to return, many aspiring–gathered at the Chart House restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway to glean wisdom from a visiting established professional on how to break in to the biz, how to stay current and how to advance one’s career in a down economy. This month’s guest: commercial producer Laraine Gregory.

Gregory explained to a room rapt with note-taking attention how the division of labor worked within her production company. She handles the post-production duties after her husband, Lou La Monte (a Malibu City Council member), shoots the footage. Lately, their biggest accounts have kept them in New York.

“There’s really not that pure producer anymore,” Gregory said. “You really have to sell yourself with a particular talent, also.”

Past Networking Breakfast speakers have included producers Gale Anne Hurd and Jon Avnet, TV showrunner Linda Bloodworth Thomason, David Gersh of the Gersh agency, musicians Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (of Prince and the Revolution), and actors such as Lou Gossett, Jr., Martin Sheen and Jane Seymour.

“We use a lot of our local celebrities because they give back to the community,” Bowen said, adding Michael York, “Forrest Gump” screenwriter Eric Roth, Arthur Penn, and father and son Leo and Sean Penn to the illustrious list. Attendees, she said, “want to know if there was any point they [the successful professionals] wanted to throw in the towel, and what made them stick with it.”

During the meetings, everyone introduces themselves and then articulates the career help they are seeking. This is a Bowen tradition, meant to get to the brass tacks. It also works. A woman in the room who heads a voiceover agency said she wanted to hear from the Scottish singing mime afterward.

A young blond actress, who calls herself FOTB, from Georgia, announced her one-week anniversary living in Los Angeles. Now employed by Marty Katz Productions (Martin Katz is another Malibuite), she had everyone laughing when she said, “I’m really into writing but I’m also noticing that so is everyone else!”

Others in the group: Colette Brandenberg, a stage choreographer who moved back to Los Angeles from Detroit to segue into movies; Harmony Jupiter, an actress who attended Cannes this year with a short film; and Brandon Hunsinger, brought here by his interest in directing and camerawork.

There was also an editor, poster designer, colorist, animator … every branch of the industry had an ambassador here.

Even Bowen’s assistant, Christina Gabrielle, a tall and mature-looking 12-year-old, had headshots ready. (Gabrielle evidently gets her entrepreneurial spirit from her older sister, Brie Gabrielle, Miss Teen Malibu 2007 and current Miss Malibu candidate.)

The morning’s take-away: in a business with many ups and downs, only the adaptable will survive. Bowen, a former actress whose credits include “Starsky & Hutch,” repurposed her passion into producing.

“Nobody ever goes away,” Gregory said of the decades of industry people she’s encountered. “They just kind of stack up.”

In addition to the ins and outs of her field, Gregory also spoke about her Hollywood lineage and how she sidestepped acting, the metier of her uncle, James Gregory, who played the role of General Ursus (the soldier ape with the giant vase-like helmet) in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” She remembered taking trips to California to visit her uncle at his Brentwood home, how impressed she was (“We would visit him a lot on the set.”) and how that costume in the closet “freaked me out as a child.”

After years working for New York ad agencies and residing in Connecticut, Gregory and her family relocated to Malibu. Now her 20-year-old son has the acting bug, playing in Theatricum Botanicum productions in Topanga Canyon. Bowen started the WIF Malibu Networking Breakfast about 21 years ago at what was Alice’s Restaurant on Malibu Pier. It now convenes once a month, every second Friday at the Chart House.

“Candace Bowen does an exceptional job running the networking events,” said Maria L. Valdez, a producer who has worked on the Latino Grammys and the Choice Awards.

Each month, Valdez makes the trek all the way from Covina to attend.

 “It’s important to go to where the opportunities are and if that’s in Malibu once a month, then I will be in Malibu once a month,” Valdez said. “It really takes a collaborative effort to bring a project to fruition, and the networking breakfast gives you an opportunity to meet super talented and passionate women.

“The great thing about the speakers is that it’s not one particular person who makes a difference. It doesn’t matter what career your pursuing, everyone has a gold nugget of information they can offer you that will elevate you to the next level.”

Tickets cost WIF members $15 and non-members $20; a nominal fee that includes light breakfast.

More information about the WIF Networking Breakfast can be obtained by contacting Candace Bowen at candace@malibuonline.com.