Many students dream of packing up their bags and moving to Los Angeles or New York City after graduation to work in the entertainment industry. For Sara Ray, this is her reality as she currently serves as the assistant to the Showrunner of the CBS hit show, “Madam Secretary.”
Growing up in Royston, it was a given when the time came for Sara to choose a college that she would attend Emmanuel.
Majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in English, Sara had an instant interest in journalism.
“I was the editor of the newspaper my junior year, Emmanuel Columnsm” Sara said. “I also edited The Montage my senior year, which is the English Department’s Literary Magazine, so I was very involved in all of the student publications that I could get my hands on.”
One of her Communication professors and the newspaper’s faculty supervisor, Paula Dixon played a big role in Sara’s life, encouraging her always to dream big and bring her big ideas to life.
“She was a big influence my entire time at EC,” Sara said. “She was my advisor and was always very encouraging to me. I had this crazy idea to expand the newspaper from four pages to eight and she encouraged that, even though she knew it was going to take a crazy amount of work. She was always empowering us as students to take the lead on projects.”
For Sara, Emmanuel was a place where she gained ample hands-on experience in her field.
“It was a great place for me to really get involved, take the lead, and become a part of projects,” Sara said. “As a smaller school with small class sizes it was easy to jump in and get a hands on approach to learning at Emmanuel.”
She graduated from Emmanuel in 2008 as the Class Valedictorian.
After Emmanuel, Sara completed her Master’s Degree in Mass Media Studies from the University of Georgia and went onto work with LifeSprings Resources, where her interest in television and working in the entertainment industry was sparked.
“When I first started working at LifeSprings they were producing a show for the Inspiration Network called “Faith Café”,” Sara said. “This gave me the opportunity to try my hand at video production, which I didn’t think I was interested in. The show filmed in Nashville a couple of times per year, and I got to go and work on the show and write some of the content.”
Sara always thought she would wind up working in print journalism, however her experience with “Faith Café” steered her in a different direction and was invaluable in her decision to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
With her decision made, Sara turned to fellow Emmanuel alumnus Jenna Nicholson Grieb, who worked in the industry in Los Angeles for support and advice.
“It was nice to know, not having spoken to Jenna in years, that I could pick up a phone and call her and ask for advice,” Sara said. “She was very happy to give it, and she introduced me to people when I first got here and helped me find a community. We’ve been close friends ever since.”
Through Jenna, Sara was able to find an unpaid, six-month internship in Hollywood and boost her resume with actual Hollywood, entertainment experience.
“From there, I went on to work at a talent agency, and I was an assistant to a talent agent for about a year and half,” Sara said. “A lot of assistants in Hollywood take that route because it’s a good introduction to the industry. Different people choose different routes, but that was the door that opened for me.”
Afterwards, Sara had the opportunity to go to work for CBS and was there for a little under two years.
“That was fantastic because I actually got to see the process from a studio and network level of how television is made,” Sara said. “I got to know people that worked on different shows and study a variety of different shows because we worked on dramas and comedies, and that ultimately led me to the opening on “Madam Secretary”.”
Currently, Sara serves as the assistant to the Showrunner of "Madam Secretary," a CBS drama that airs on Sunday nights.
The showrunner, in this case Barbara Hall, serves as the show’s head writer, executive producer, and oversees all production aspects of the show.
“It’s a great opportunity for me because my goal is to be a writer on a prime time television drama,” Sara said. “It’s a chance for me to get in there and see what it takes to make a TV show. My job before coming to work for the show was assisting creative executives at CBS who oversee all prime time dramas and comedies for CBS Television Studios and CBS Network, and “Madam Secretary” was one of the shows I worked on.”
What advice would Sara give to someone looking to enter the entertainment industry? It’s all about who you know.
“What I wish I had known when I was a student is that going into any form of the media industry. whether it’s journalism or television, is that it’s very important to network,” Sara said. “I see it all the time, so much of it is about who you know to get into the door and interview, or to get into the room and pitch your ideas.” And college, according to Sara is the best time to begin developing those connections, through internships.
“I was able to come out here, having already graduated, and get an unpaid internship,” Sara said. “But now the laws have changed, and you have to be enrolled as a college student to get any reputable internship. While you’re in college, that’s the time to intern in New York or LA. if you don’t want to go that far, intern in Atlanta. Those are the opportunities you have to get good experience on your resume. Those are the connections that can help you further down the line. They’ll get you in the door of the next place. Be aggressive in your search. Don’t be afraid to look companies up on the internet and see what their openings are. Cold call and email over and over until you can get in the door somewhere. Take advantage of those opportunities while you can.”