Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/12/20- Dawn Robinson is a Producer-Writer in Television and Theatrical Film, recognized for producing and writing music biopics, television specials and non-scripted docuseries, most notably HBO’s The Monster Ball for Lady Gaga, The CW’s America’s Next Top Model, A+E’s Beyoncé and Guns N’ Roses: The Story, Vh1’s Behind the Music, E! Channel’s Married To Rock series, as well as Universal Pictures’ theatrical release Gunners.
Known for being well connected and delivering the goods earlier than most and on budget, Dawn has forged the way for over 25 years of successful spark and hustle in advertising and entertainment. Robinson recently segued from non-scripted programming to original scripted series, partnering with Executive Producers Tim Gibbons (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Real Husbands of Hollywood) and Kathy Landsberg (Jett, Looking, Scream, Conan, The Nanny). Robinson has packaged, produced, and written multiple scripted series including Blindfold and Out of The Blue (based on real-life memoirs she penned). In 2019, she formed an incubator fund with partners KK, Jeff Howard (The Haunting at Hill House, Oculus, Gerald’s Game) and Hanelle Culpepper (Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, The Flash, Gotham).
When did you discover your love for entertainment?
I began my entertainment career in High School in the office of Mike and George at L’Amour nightclub in Brooklyn. At first, they asked me to create graphics for fliers and ads, which led to answering phones and eventually to administrative duties. It was through this that I discovered my gift of gab and got to know all the key players in the industry. Realizing I had a knack for connecting people and making things happen, I transitioned into talent buying at venues like Limelight in NYC. It was by promoting in NYC venues that I was able to assist Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Rob Zombie, Type O Negative and Marilyn Manson – all bands led by personal friends of mine – to get gigs and connect with labels, managers, bookers, promoters and publicists. Everyone has a motivation for why they are called into a specific vocation, right? I came into entertainment from a pure place… helping my friends make their dreams come true and knowing I could help. I gave them a gift, one I wish someone would do for me as a creative myself. I decided I was going to help make my friends rockstars… I did. And, I haven’t looked back since.
Have you always been a creative?
Yes, I was enrolled in private after-school art lessons studying with an artist when I was 7-years old after I drew a picture of a hyacinth that was so detailed my mom felt compelled to encourage my abilities! I excelled at any blackwork shaded life studies and loved doing portraits of glamorous movie stars from Hollywood’s silver screen era (my portrait of Vivien Lee as Scarlett O’Hara is somewhere in my archives). My dad was an Independent Film Producer and Director from a young age himself, mainly focusing on psychological thrillers, spy espionage, and detective stories popular in his era. He was a huge influence on us as kids, even when he shot family films on his little super 8 (he also taught me the accordion and keyboard). Me, my siblings and cousins were always encouraged to creatively express ourselves, and we constantly made up dramatic stories we would record on cassettes together, playback and perform for our parents.
Share your journey.
I developed as a Talent as a Rep then ventured into the advertising and business sector professionally (with the invaluable guidance from a mentor, Telecom head Matt Epling). At the time, I really made the decision for survival reasons; as a single mom, advertising provided an interesting and lucrative way to support my family while the talent agency was the passion hustle. My experiences in advertising and branding contributed to how I successfully promoted Artists and their product and came in handy when I bridged those skills into establishing Artists as brands and influencers. And, vice versa, repping talent also opened opportunities to strike fashion deals for Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson. I became a trusted source and honed in on the true core of product positioning and dealmaking, and was a groundbreaker in my field at that time. Working in branding allowed me to express how to personalize the experience for the audience in a way they’d relate to, and tell stories in small, consumable bits that are intriguing and compelling. It was useful in talent management and branding, and it’s even more useful now as a writer and producer developing my own stories for film and television.
What does it take to be a great Talent Rep? Who did you enjoy working with?
It’s instinct. An almost bubbling, tingling, guttural feeling, like the butterflies you feel right before you perform anything you know is going to be big. Whenever I get that feeling about talent or about one of the projects we’re working on now, I know that by pushing past any uncertainty or fear, I find victory on the other side. That’s exactly how I felt about Gaga, who I met in her early days through her Producer who knew a former client of mine. We connected on a whole other level. She’s always open to hearing my ideas, trying new things and going out of the box with me on brand partnerships (and later on television), especially when it came to the techie or edgy stuff. And like me, I knew she’d keep upping the ante. And of course, success isn’t just a feeling. It requires having foresight, knowing how to identify an Artist or a project’s potential and value before anyone else does, believing in it, and raising a structure of delivery on that so you can leverage it in a business setting.
Can you share a pivotal moment in your career?
I’ve had many pivotal moments as my career has developed over the years. Transitioning Dark Moon from live events to branding by applying corporate acumen to brand talent at a time when social media was beginning to disrupt the music industry made me aware of how the principles of elevating a product applied to everything. Getting the Guns N’ Roses movie going taught me how to covertly gauge audience interest, leverage the millions of fans that responded into a theatrical release via Universal Pictures, all while ensuring that the band (who are good friends) and my long-time mentors Gary W. Goldstein and Steve Swartz got on board for the ride. DME’s changeover to film and television production, for that matter. Pitching to ABC Disney last year demonstrated my ability to get in the door using my abilities and connections instead of relying solely on representation. Right now, the big pivot is creating an amazing incubator for film and television, which is being designed to disrupt how we develop and create entertaining and impactful stories. Along with my partners at Electrical Room, we are aiming to create content with mass appeal that elevates and educates, while supporting minority and women-driven Producers, Writers and Directors, and which I’ll be able to talk a lot more about in the near future, as we have a ton of exciting projects in various stages of development (a pipeline of over 33 television and film projects on the DME slate and 11 more through the new fund).
Share your career in TV.
I began in TV below-the-line when I was still a film student at the School of Visual Arts and NYU, where I worked as an Editor, Writer and 3D animator for CBS, HBO and Blue Sky. As a single parent doing it all on my own, I learned pretty early on I’d have to grow into areas with more upward movement to manage my bottom line, which is when I was also moving into advertising and talent representation. I returned to Television above-the-line about a decade later in 2004 when I began developing, writing and producing docu and reality series which served as a media vehicle to position artists like The Beckhams, Gaga, Susan & Duff Mackagan, and Beyoncé, as celebrity influencers on networks like A&E, CW, HBO and Viacom, and via production companies like Fremantle and Bunim Murray.
What are you most known for?
Can you share your proudest moment in television?
Making my segue into scripted after partnering with my long-time mentor Tim Gibbons! He has been a huge resource and really guided me in a profound way, and every time I think I figure it out, I discover more. Building my production company with all the awesome partners I have now, I’m really lucky and grateful, it provided the opportunity to pitch to ABC Disney, HBO, Viacom and more. I’ve written and we are now producing several dramedies and multi-layered epic dramas that have a music element to them, and we’re in talks with a few distributors who sourced us for launching Television divisions. A multifaceted background of experiences over what feels like many career lifetimes equips me to tell cool and interesting stories in the narrative space that entertain my closest and dearest and beyond. Everyone asks me when I’m writing my own life story, and I tell them I’m still busy making it!
What surprises you the most about women in television today? What changes would you like to see?
I was really lucky to have fantastic mentors – both men and women – in the business who helped me on my climb, and I do my best to pay it forward and back when I can. I remember what it was like to start out in entertainment, as one of the few women trying to integrate into a boys’ club and how much resistance I encountered. And, even though I had many men in my corner (like Rob Light of CAA and John Branigan at WME) who helped me along the way, it meant so much having women like Tammy Taylor, Stormy Shepherd and Sharon Osborne who showed me the ropes and encouraged me through those years. Or I’ll never forget how much I learned from Beyonce when we worked together on the A&E biopic that was designed to help launch her solo career. It was one of the first television jobs where I was in a very “hands-on” role and she helped me learn how to prioritize and focus on what was important when we ran into production challenges. When I moved into television more permanently, I experienced the same kind of support and motivation from incredible women like Kathy Landsberg, Maggie Molina and Farnaz Farjam Chazan who welcomed me among their ranks and backed me up when I needed the support. I’ve learned so many lessons and earned the respect of my peers over time, which is great. It surprises me when I still encounter men and women in the industry who play into these dumb power and sabotage games instead of helping each other to succeed and get the job done. The time-wasters and deadlocking of good talent that exists is mind staggering. That energy can be used in a better way by creating great stories and products. There are so many people that talk the talk, I’d like to see more that just do it and commit. It’s a collaborative art. Let’s elevate each other and make great things happen together!
You are known for being well connected and delivering the goods earlier than most and on budget. What is your secret?
Yes, I am completely self-driven. I pride myself on bringing in projects on-time and under-budget, while still surpassing even the highest expectations. In that sense, I am limitless when it comes to getting the job done. Thanks to my track record and positive relationships, I have always been able to reach out to a colleague or connection, and together we find a way forward, or a way finds us. But no matter what, I am always open for a solution where everyone can win.
You are a strong champion of women’s rights and LGBT issues. Please share your work.
I have experienced my challenges in this space; it resonates for me on a much higher level, especially when it comes to violence. I believe humans across the board have to learn to communicate better and more effectively, and seek to really understand and respect each other. I organized seasonal events, discovery workshops, and wellness retreats through non-profit organizations throughout New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to help empower women, kids, and the LGBT community to arm them with tools to help them find balance in their own lives and careers and defend themselves. I’ve counseled people suffering all kinds of abuse, physical and mental maladies, and helped them find peace and healing through creative workshops and storytelling.
Who is Dawn Robinson in one sentence?
I am a rare gem: a Writer, Creator, Showrunner, and Producer with a great vision who senses the bigger picture, takes everyone (and everything) into account and intuits the result when making important strategic or creative decisions.
Tell us about the non-profit Columcille.
A healthy mind, body, and spirit all go into being able to get the best out of yourself and bring out the best in others – being a producer and a storyteller requires a connection to the universe and working on mindfulness and wellness only helps amplify that ability. It’s a magical place, an ecological land preserve of one of the few Megalith parks in the country. You can feel the energy, it’s really special. I discovered it thanks to assistant Erin when we were helping Loreena McKennitt scout places to shoot a music video. I was friends with the owners and volunteered, to organizing spiritual events, workshops and seasonal retreats. They’re always open to volunteers to continue its conservation.
What advice would you give women in television today?
It’s ok to push the envelope and encourage growth and change in our industry. Ignore haters. Don’t “stay in your lane” or “color in between the lines” simply because someone else tells you to do it a certain way and “it’s always been done that way”. Find what works best for you and your partners, and what will help elevate your project to its highest possible level. Like fashion, one size doesn’t fit all, a custom suit is always better than off the rack. Also – be truly collaborative – for the sake of all parties involved and for the increased product quality that comes from a positive cooperative environment.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
Disrupting the status quo of how we do things as creators in the industry and the world is a good thing – it means growth, and that’s how we innovate. Working on this incubator is the most exciting news for us at the moment and offers promise for continued conversations on the future of Television and Film. My dream is for the incubator to open the possibility of elevating, empowering and educating people by creating powerful and entertaining series stories that lead up to a crescendo the audience expects for their investment. I think of it not only as an end product, but the beginning of my next big accomplishment, which in turn will make the industry better in a way that will change how and why we create.