On this week’s podcast, Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chatted to Emmy-nominated producer and fellow podcaster Carolina Groppa about her journey.
Carolina grew up in Brazil and was mesmerised by The Wonder Years. “It was dubbed in Portuguese. It’s such an all-American show, but there was just something about it that felt romantic and nostalgic. And I think that was my first exposure to that kind of storytelling and to characters.”
Carolina’s focus has always been on the story. She admits that she gets absorbed into films, going on the journey with the characters, and often needs time to ‘catch her breath’ after the film has ended.
“I remember I would sit in the theatre and be like, I’ve got to find a way to do this. And for me, at the time, I thought that was acting.”
Her introduction to the arts and filmmaking was through theatre, and her move to Los Angeles was actually in order to pursue an acting career. It was during this period of her career that she “found producing as a means to create opportunity” for herself.
“I loved acting, but I hated the actor lifestyle. If I could do it on my own terms. Awesome. But if not, I didn’t want to be at the whim of someone else’s value of me. So producing came calling and it all made sense.”
Becoming a Producer
Carolina moved to LA in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2009 that she started moving toward producing. It was “not the best year to be in Los Angeles. We had a writer strike and then we had the housing crisis.”
After years of auditioning, she was considering moving back home. But after a conversation with her mum, she realised that she’d not tried producing her own work.
“I wasn’t really a writer and I didn’t really understand cameras but I loved the theatre”.
Carolina decided “to find a play that’s been written. Find a small cast, and I’m going to play the lead, and I’m gonna raise $20 000, and I’m just going to do it.”
Not knowing much about producing at this point, she decided on the amount because it sounded right. “Someone had told me that stages in LA cost about this much. And so I did the math.
But, it was one of those serendipitous things. I have this metaphor where acting had felt very difficult and challenging, like boarded up houses in a horror movie that say: ‘Get Out’; producing became like a Wonderland with lush green lawns, where everybody was like: ‘Welcome, Carolina, we’ve been waiting for you’.”
At the time, producing had felt comparatively easier than acting…
“And when I went through that experience, I was like this is producing. I’ve been doing this my whole life. This is just who I am. And so I just started learning by leaning into every opportunity that came my way.”
If a friend had a short, I would do it. If somebody had a commercial and they needed a PA, I would go. I said yes to literally everything while juggling other jobs. And that paid off.”
Autism in Love
A few years later, she was working for a doctor who specialised in autism “and he knew I had this passion for producing. And one day he was like: ‘I want to do this thing with the adults on the spectrum, in romantic relationships. You think you could produce a doc?’”
She didn’t know much about autism “but it turned out that that combo is actually really great for that particular project because neither myself nor the director had an agenda because we didn’t really know anything about autism.
We just were curious about the subject, and that project went on to become Emmy-nominated and we sold to Netflix.”
When you’re starting out, Carolina says that it’s important “to lean into what is accessible, what is around you, but also being mindful to periodically check in with yourself. So you’re not just getting swept up in someone else’s version of your life.
You might be very good at something but you need to remind yourself of what you want in order to move forward.”
She also said that it is important to remember that “it’s a stepping stone, you constantly have to be leapfrogging, and you constantly have to be asserting yourself.”
But while being assertive, she says that she doesn’t subscribe to the belief of ‘faking it till you make it’ because “it creates this idea of being disingenuous. I think it’s more about knowing when you’re ready to make a jump, knowing when you’ve mastered some part of the process, where you go ‘I’m comfortable here and I need to get uncomfortable again’. And that’s the leap.”
Carolina’s Final Words of Advice
You need to “start where you are.” If you can’t get to the cities where the industry is, or where it is happening, you need to find things that you can do where you are.
“I refuse to think things aren’t possible. I see opportunity and possibility everywhere I look. If you plopped me anywhere on the planet within a month or a year, I’d be like running something there because that’s just how I’m wired.”
You also need to “really understand if you have the kind of personality type that is required to thrive as a producer. Be honest with yourself – there’s no shame in saying I don’t want to always spearhead my own projects and effectively be an entrepreneur. I want to work in a team, I want to work in a company, I want to be in a more structured environment.
But unless you’re independently wealthy or a trust fund baby, you’re going to have to do that while doing jobs, to pay for your life, until those worlds can collide.”
To hear more brilliant advice from Carolina, listen here.