On Starting a Production Company

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Today my female entrepreneur is Diane Foster. Diane is an actress, singer, dancer and producer. In 2018 she started her own production company “WallyBird Productions”. Diane is committed to producing projects with diverse talent, gender equality, and creating the teams responsible for films that push the envelope with high entertainment value and substance.

I was extremely excited to interview Diane after seeing some of her work and she didn’t disappoint. In this interview, she shares her journey from becoming an actress to starting her production company. 

Diane Foster

INTRODUCTION

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED.

Diane FosterI grew up the youngest of six children in New Jersey and my parents are still married after 58 years. When I was eight years old, I won the “Little Miss Union” talent contest, and my journey into entertainment began. 

At 12, I was acting and dancing around the country and started to train professionally in New York City. In my senior year of High School, I won the Rising Star Award for Best Actress in New Jersey, given by the world-renowned Papermill Playhouse for my role as Princess Winifred in the musical “Once Upon A Mattress”. It was a sweet victory against my biggest rival, Anne Hathaway, who was nominated for the same role the same year. It was at that moment that I chose to fully pursue acting as a career. 

My first big gig was Law and Order: SVU, a standard if you’re an NYC actor, balanced with a few Mike’s Hard Lemonade commercials. After maximizing the opportunities in NY, I got the courage to drive across the country to Los Angeles, chasing my dreams and leaving the comfort of my big family behind.

Those first few weeks in LA were rough. I crashed in a Days Inn Motel and remembered eating a stale TV dinner while watching Halle Berry make history as the first African American woman to win an Oscar. 

I literally knew nothing about LA, so I signed up for a dance class in hopes to make some new friends. One night after class, a woman asked me to be in a new show she was working on that needed top of the line dancers. She gave me absolutely no information about what I was walking into. What it turned out to be was the original PussyCat Dolls, a burlesque review at The Roxy in Hollywood. We performed to sold-out celebrity audiences and it starred Carmen Electra, Christina Applegate, Gwen Stefani, Charlize Theron, Christina Aguilera, Brittany Murphy, Dita Von Teese, and little ol’ me! I was one of the 12 original girls to do all the burlesque and Fosse style choreography that included hunky sailor boys. 

It was my first job in LA and I was immediately thrust into the world of celebrities. At 21, it was not only incredible fun but an amazing experience. I had continued auditioning during this time and landed a role in the indie film, “Descendant” starring Katherine Heigl and Jeremy London where I would meet my business partner and now ex-husband.

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After the Pussycat Dolls shows, I began my foray into producing. I produced the documentary, “Dying For Meth” that followed a young girl who survived an explosion while cooking meth in a van, burning over sixty percent of her body. For three years, we followed her and her family’s addiction while watching her struggle to care for her five years old son and thirteen years old sister. We received the Prism Award in Beverly Hills for outstanding work in documentary and public service.

This led me to star and produce in my first narrative feature “Iowa,” a Tribeca Film Festival Official Selection. My first day on set, I found out I was pregnant with my son, Golden, and only twenty-two months later had my daughter, Ivy. It was, and still is the greatest achievement of my life getting to be their mother.

After “Iowa” dominated independent cinemas in NY, LA, and Chicago, we received a call from Jeff Cuban, owner of Landmark Theaters chain. He suggested that with the success of “Iowa” and its edgy, gory, and very intense subject matter, that we make a horror film. We began producing the slasher/horror film, “The Orphan Killer” that I starred in, creating a cult following of over 500,000 fans on Facebook. The idea was simple. Blood and sex sell. It became an instant cult classic with over 3 million illegal downloads of the film worldwide. We even sold the mask of “The Orphan Killer” in Sears and Walmart! I was a homeschooling mama by day and gory blood-covered slasher queen by night.

“The Orphan Killer” had us traveling to Europe, Spain and Italy to premiere at festivals to sold-out audiences. The crowds would stomp, scream and chant at the screen as if they were attending a heavy metal rock show! When we returned, to get in shape, I began boxing at Glendale Fighting Club. It was there that I trained alongside Ronda Rousey, who would years later enter the UFC. We became fast friends as the only females in an Armenian male gym. 

During this time, I started working on the sequel “Bound X Blood: The Orphan Killer 2”. Submerged in the world of MMA and boxing, we were determined to include that as a part of the sequel securing Ronda and “The Four Horsewomen” as supporting actors along with many other well-known wrestlers and UFC fighters. During filming, my marriage of 17 years began to fall apart. It was the beginning of a tumultuous roller coaster ride of divorce, incarceration, and nearly fatal car accident.

At the time, the only focus I had was survival in a now single mother world and starting my life over. I was in therapy for my PTSD and healing the years of physical, mental, psychological, and verbal abuse I went through in my marriage. It was in therapy that getting back to my roots became so important. My therapist asked me “besides having your children when were you your happiest?” Well, that was a good question. I am naturally a very happy and positive person, but I struggled to remember when I had last felt happy and free. My answer was: when I was 18 years old, doing shows, taking extensive acting, singing, & dancing classes, and had just won the Rising Star Award! My therapist suggested going back to acting class and mentioned the school Beverly Hills Playhouse (BHP). I googled it and signed up a week later.

Through BHP, I have met a huge community of like-minded people whom I’ve created long-lasting friendships and many great projects with, including “Before The Dawn” a feature I produced with writer and star, Alana DeFreitas and director Jay Holben. Then I was hired to star in rock legend Glenn Danzig’s music video for “Last Ride” and his directorial debut feature, “Verotika”. Everything was right in my world again and then it stopped at an extreme halt with the tragic accidental death of my only brother, Walter in 2017.

Wally, as we affectionately called him, was fifty-four years old and a father of four. He worked his whole life at the Sunoco gas station in Short Hills, NJ that he would eventually own. He was an avid softball player and bar fly and simply put, everyone loved my brother. Over 1,000 people attended his wake, some complete strangers who he had helped during his life came to offer their condolences and praise what an amazing man and friend he was to so many. I was angry and depressed and upset that this world took him away from us with no notice or reason. His death has had the biggest impact on my life. Since we were kids, my mother would always say, “family is first and most important”. My five siblings are my best friends and we lost a son, husband, father, brother, and friend. During this time, as I struggled to get back to my own reality, I was working odd jobs to support my life and two children on my own and continued getting producing jobs.

In 2018, I started my production company, WallyBird Productions. WallyBird has produced a two-act play, three short films, a web series pilot, and an award-winning documentary. We are currently working on two features, a web series, a guitar education series, several music videos, and a short film. We set ourselves apart for being a company of inclusion and representing stories and people that are often overlooked. I am the founder and CEO and am lead producer on the projects WallyBird is working on. We have so many exciting things ahead and are always looking to collaborate. 

WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?

Things have changed tremendously since the pandemic began and being in Quarantine, but luckily with WallyBird, I was already working from home. The biggest challenge is not being able to work on set and also having my children doing distance learning for school. They have both just finished the school year here in CA so we are looking ahead to what the rest of this year looks like. 

I try and schedule out my week on Sundays so that I know ahead every day what my work hours consist of. With producing, you are constantly checking on the projects, film fests, marketing strategies, etc. With writing, you have to designate time each day to actually write so I set those times as part of my “work hours” daily.

Typical days consist of getting up, meditating, checking and responding to emails, social media, etc. eating and making breakfast for the kids, working out in some way, doing housework, doing some more work, hanging with the kids, lunch, more work, more housework, more hanging, dinner, some playing games with kids, more work, and finally relax. 

It’s never a boring or not busy day at my house. There is very rarely a moment that I am not doing something. With that being said, I have to be good to myself and not allow the talking in my head to get the best of me starving to be all the things I want to be in my lifetime. I’m here to make a difference and now after learning and growing through all the abuse I went through in my marriage, my life is my own again. That means I want to do everything. But there is a time and a place for everything!! So I must pace myself.  Times are unlike what we have been through before and I try not to get too hard on myself when I am not being as productive as I’d like to or feel like being creative at all. 

I still have my side hustle jobs as well, because I am a single mom and it’s very expensive to care for 2 kids on your own. So the best thing I can do for myself is to be kind to me. Each and every day. It starts there. When the days are productive, great, and when they are not, that’s ok too. I am learning to be gentle with myself, first and foremost, always.

THE JOURNEY SO FAR

PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.

For many years, I wanted to start my own production company so my projects could have a banner and team of people behind them. I thought long and hard about what the name would be and in one moment it hit me like a rocket, a childhood name we called my late beloved brother, “WallyBird”. Walter was tall and lanky, with a giant smile and an infectious laugh. To honor my brother’s life that was cut too short, WallyBird Productions was born.

WallyBird Productions

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?

The biggest challenges have been overcoming the personal losses of my life and trying to stand out in a male-dominated world. As a female producer, but as a female period, the struggles to have our voices heard and seen is an uphill battle. It’s very important for my children and especially my teenage daughter and the next generation of women to keep pushing for gender equality and equality in all aspects. 

Recently, I was so taken with the film “Queen and Slim” written by Lena Waithe. I posted my feelings about how incredibly well done the film was on my Instagram and said this: “It is so important for the conscious collective of us all to support storytelling this masterfully done. I took my daughter and she so intelligently said that she needs to congratulate Lena Waithe and will watch whatever she makes. 

Ivy is the next generation of truth seekers, movers and shakers, peaceful warriors and young activists and already understands at 14 years old the value in the voices that are not afraid to tell the stories that need to be told. Congratulations and thank you to the team that created this film frame by frame, as I was intoxicated by it, inspired by it, and feel determined to make a change by it”. That is exactly how I feel about the struggles and challenges that we face to get stories heard and shift what has been not represented for historically far too long. I am determined to change the mindset and work towards having whole teams and crews of badass females, non-represented, racially diverse, and gender-fluid creatives working in front and behind the camera. 

If I had to choose one, the greatest achievement, would be starting WallyBird Productions. Knowing that I can run my own company after such a long partnership through my marriage before, especially when at first, it was really scary. Taking full ownership of my talent and believing I could do it has been the biggest game-changer for me and makes me proud of the person and creator I have become.

The proudest moment for WallyBird Productions, so far, has been receiving a 15K grant that went directly to the Immigration Center for Women and Children, from the documentary we made about their incredible work. The documentary titled, “I Am America” was produced by myself, WallyBird Productions, Nikki Harlow with Overnight Medley Productions, and directed by my longtime friend, Emily Karlsson. It was created for the XX Fund and Women Excel Project and made possible by Suzanne Lerner, Creative Visions Foundation, and the Liberty Hill Foundation. I am excited and grateful for all I have accomplished so far and hopeful for many collaborations ahead for myself and WallyBird Productions.

WallyBird Productions

WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? AND HOW?

We are still expanding and the biggest focus currently is the projects we are working on. When we have projects being made, we have teams of people that are hired to work on those films and that is always changing. It’s never the same strategy for every project because they all require different things. 

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?

We would love to collaborate with other production companies and be part of films that can change the world. Our goal will always be in diversity and gender equality giving females of every race the opportunities they may not get elsewhere to be part of creative teams. Making movies is a team effort and I want WallyBird to be at the forefront of the change in this country and the world sharing more female stories and giving them the jobs in front and behind the camera that have historically gone to men. 

start production company

RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS

ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES OR TOOLS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OTHERS THAT HAVE HELPED YOU RUN YOUR BUSINESS?

Be open to learn and realize you can learn a lot by listening. Listening to the people you work with whether you have hired them or vice versa. Everyone is valuable and can bring their own unique perspective to a project and when you allow people to express themselves, whether you take the idea or not, them being able to speak on it makes for better camaraderie and showing genuine respect. Read the trades and see who’s working, what projects they are working on, and make it a point to make sure your business has the online resources so people can find you. 

start production company

WHAT OR WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCE IN BUSINESS AND WHY?

I have many inspirations whether it be through art, music, film, books. If I had to pick someone who’s the career I truly admire and am a fangirl of, it would be Reese Witherspoon. She has seamlessly transitioned back and forth through being an actress, producer, mother, and running her own production company while being supportive of her friends. Considering those are all things I consider myself and, in fact, am, I am inspired by her and would love to create a career as diverse as hers. I am also a really big fan of women that empower other women and women making a huge impact and change like Lena Waithe and Ava DuVernay.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?

 

Do it because you love it and you can’t not do it. Working for yourself has many challenges, and if you realize that and go headfirst anyway, you will be ok! I always tell people to go with their gut. It will never steer you wrong.

Realize that every time you fail, you learn, and when you don’t make that same mistake again, you get better. Most importantly, believe in your dream and yourself. If not you, then who? You got this!!!

WHAT BUSINESS IDEA DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?

I have so many script ideas! I have a notebook of different scenarios and characters, mostly things that have gone on in my life! When they get to the big screen, you will see them all!

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?

Through any pain or struggle that you have been through, I can promise on the other side of that is freedom. Freedom for you to live the best version of you. You are unique. There is no one else like you in this world and that is your superpower. Embrace it and support others’ dreams as you support your own. There is room for each and every one of us!

Violeta Semenova

Violeta Semenova
Founder
theBizLadies

Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!

If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.

By sharing their stories, we want to inspire other women to get started.

If you are interested to share your own story on the Biz Ladies LET ME KNOW!