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MENTORING MATTERS: Who's Your Guru? Half The Battle Is The Courage To Ask The Right Questions

Posted By Bhavani G. Rao, Monday, January 4, 2016

After 15 years in entertainment, I took a three-year sabbatical. A lot of that time was spent having long talks with my dad in hospital rooms. One day he asked what my ultimate career goal was. "TV drama showrunner/producer,” I said without hesitation. Dad gave it some thought then offered me a piece of advice: "Go find yourself a guru.”

Three years later, after my dad’s passing, his words stuck with me, especially after the PGA mentoring program came to my attention. Where better to find a guru? After a great interview with the Mentoring Committee, I received the news that I was matched with mentor Shannon Gaulding.

Not going to lie—I did a happy dance.

Shannon had worked on some of my favorite movies, including Immortals, 30 Days of Night and Spider-Man, and had held several executive positions. Her extensive background in production made her the perfect mentor. Above all, Shannon knew drama! Most of her movies involved complex characters, and it takes a strong producer to bring them to life on the screen.

At our first meeting Shannon didn’t flinch when I said my goal was to become a TV drama showrunner. For our next meeting, she asked me to prepare a list of everything I was working on. After getting all my ducks in a row, I went in for our second meeting. Shannon listened in earnest to all the projects I brought in, and spent a couple of hours giving me real feedback about what on the "Bhavani Entertainment” slate (which was what I started calling it after our meeting) was working and what needed more attention. The next steps involved creating a "pitching road map” to production companies as well as finding more writers, who had worked on similar shows.

Finding credited writers to work with had not been easy for me, but Shannon knew just how to help, and referred me to a colleague who had come to see her at her office recently. The key lesson: The only way to get something is to ASK for it. Some doors will open easily and others will take time, but the essential first step was to swallow my fear and to go out and ASK. My current slate of pilots is a direct reflection of her advice.

Shannon has been a great mentor, wonderfully encouraging and never once telling me "it can’t be done.” At the end of our mentorship period, Shannon sent me an email letting me know that I can reach out to her at any time and she would be there.

Dad was right. After so many years in entertainment, I needed a guru … not necessarily a spiritual guide, but someone who could translate the world in a way that would lead their students to their ultimate goals. Thank you Shannon, for being a true mentor and guru to me. I hope that one day, I can pass that knowledge along to others.

- illustration by Christine Georgiades

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