Recently, through the #BetaIn campaign and BETA the series, I have come in contact with a woman named Lori. Lori joined one of our Beta talks as a viewer and reached out afterward to say she has been in the process of rethinking her career, but after watching our talk and feeling inspired with enthusiasm and encouragement, she was finally “off and running.”That was definitely a moment that got me choked up. I have been so grateful to receive such strong words of affirmation and encouragement from the women in leadership positions who have given their time to participate and support our Beta Real Talks, as well as the strangers who have reached out with gratitude for our honesty and openness on these subject matters. It’s pretty rewarding and keeps me grounded, reminding me always why I’m here.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Adriana Leonard.
Adriana Leonard deems herself a content creator and storyteller. She is an actor and can be found in film and television projects including Chicago PD, Empire, and a number of studio and independent feature films, as well as a writer and producer of a number of independent projects. Her passion is providing a voice and artistic medium to facilitate content that evokes progressive change and inspires higher level consciousness. Adriana has a deep love for adventuring in the great outdoors and feels it helps keep her grounded and always conscious of her tiny existence in this grand universe.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
I have been immersed in the performing arts from the moment I could walk and talk. From a young age, I coerced my brothers into costumes and directed them in shows for anyone that would watch, danced in recitals and on any hard surface I could find, and wrote journals full of stories. I feel lucky that my parents always supported a creative household. My mom could transform the garage into a castle with cardboard, Burger King crowns and paint so we could pretend to be medieval characters and she would write scavenger hunts that we’d go on for hours to find “buried treasure.” I balanced sports with theatre and dance during school years and found an adrenaline rush in entertaining people. As that manifested in youth and early adulthood, I came to develop more of an awareness of what entertainment was about. Watching movies felt different and as a viewer I came to understand the purpose of art and the effect it has on people. I started to recognize how good stories made me feel heard and understood, or fueled me in a way that shaped the kind of person I wanted to be. I started to embody characters from the stories I loved. I realized I wanted to represent what young girls could become. I remember during my freshman year being asked to fill out a career questionnaire and when I put “actor” as my dream career, I was called into the guidance counselor’s office to discuss a more “logical career path.” After that, I transferred to an Arts & Sciences Academy for high school and was fortunate to be surrounded by incredible artists in all mediums. I went to the University of South Carolina for undergrad and spent time abroad studying theatre in London. Once I graduated, I headed West to LA and haven’t looked back. I never saw another path for myself. I knew I would find my way in the entertainment industry and I’m proud of my conviction in that.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I was in Toronto in 2015 at a festival for my short film Signing Out. The last day, I ended up sharing an uber with a stranger on the way to the airport. That stranger today is one of my best friends, my writing partner on multiple projects in development, and interestingly enough also from the Carolina’s. It was fate! Now that I think of it, there’s also the story of a flooded dishwasher that created quite the bubble party on our last day of shooting on Signing Out, but we left no evidence behind at that location so I’ll just leave it at that. 🙂
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I love people and I love getting to know strangers’ stories — from subways to traffic light corners, red carpet events to film sets, to airplanes or that person I happened to be in line behind at the grocery store. People will fascinate you and can change your life. I have been so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet a plethora of people in my life and each one of them has taught me something — to the street musician playing violin at the tube stop in London who told me “things are never as bad as they seem,” to the homeless man I shared a sandwich with in Chicago who reminded me to live a life filled with forgiveness, and to everyone in between, I’m grateful for the chance encounters that have saved me when I needed it most, inspired me to be better and work harder, and shaped me into the human being I am today.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I might be biased, but I’m currently working on a digital series that I think it pretty epic. The series is called BETA and we are running a campaign leading up to the release of the series called #BetaIn.
BETA is a story about an oddball pair of women who come together to rise in the tech industry. Our mission with the series is to change the narrative about “who” and “what” is worth funding. BETA is a comedic fictional story that can bring conversations of women’s partnerships and economic contributions to the forefront.
As part of the #BetaIn campaign, we have brought together fiction and reality by hosting weekly #BetaIn Real Talks. Each week we join with a female founder or a group of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and have critical conversations about the journey of women rising to take an equal seat at the table. These talks have helped give our audience a deeper understanding of the Beta cause, and also highlight real life women who inspired the two leading characters in our story, Lini & Delta. Our live streams have helped provide real life connections and cultivate conversations between men and women of all ages across many technology sectors and skillsets.
Stories are one of the most important ways that we mold and shape society. We attach to the heroes we love and strive to be like them. The fact that there isn’t a story on a mainstream network or streaming platform about women leading business ventures and the stories of their partnerships and leadership is something we need to change. And with support, BETA can be a part of that change. This style can enhance our audience experience and allow the series to have an ongoing, lasting impact for upcoming generations.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I realize this question is probably asking for famous, recognizable names of historical figures that have helped bring about change in our world over time, but the older I get and the more I observe and live in the world as a woman, the people that inspire me daily are women. The wives and moms, the working woman and the stay at home woman. The way we are wired to balance so many things, take care of so many people, and maintain empathy and compassion and patience. My Sitty (my Lebanese grandmother) raised six children while running two businesses and caring for my grandfather who spent two years in bed suffering from depression. Women from the beginning of time have had so few rights and so little independence and still survived. And some not only survived, but broke barriers and rose within their home lives or careers against all odds. I’m inspired by the women of today who continue to fight for a society that values us for all we are and believes in all we can be and supports us in whatever the journey we choose may be. Those are the people that inspire me. I think women are superheroes. End stop.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
There are two social impact causes that I am working on in this moment. The first, a series called BETA. Inspiring more women to shine in tech, own their unique way of leading and empower each other as they rise, BETA the series & the #BetaIN campaign seeks to help women process a challenging cultural landscape through a relatable, character driven comedy. BETA is an opportunity for upcoming generations of women to envision themselves leading in entrepreneurial ventures and being change makers in industries as massive as technology. It not only tells them “we value you,” it tells them “we need you.” As we know, change starts with stories and we are coding HER future…the future…with the stories of now.
Unrelated to filmmaking, I’m also working on a book called the I AM book, to raise awareness and inspire conversation around addiction. With the book, all profits will go to a clinic called Anonymous Hands that exists to provide advocacy and assistance to those needing alcohol and drug treatment. Addiction is a disease that is close to my heart, and one that I’ve struggled to speak openly about for years. I hope that opening conversations can help remove the taboo that has darkened those conversations for so long and help save lives along the way.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I promised myself when I was 10 that I would never say I was going to do something that I wasn’t willing to follow through with. I’m not saying I haven’t failed… I have big time! But that’s part of the journey. I’m a strong believer that you can only manifest things by being in motion, so I try to always keep moving. And I strongly believe in the power of stories, so I keep telling stories with the hope that they make an impact. I’ve written and made films about causes including bullying and pistol violence, fighting to normalize LGBTQ love stories, racial tensions in the south to my current project BETA, with a mission to highlight women’s leadership contributions and empower them to shine in entrepreneurial ventures. I wouldn’t say there was a trigger that set me off to embark on any of these, but a need to express the compassion I felt on a certain subject matter. When the Sandy Hook shootings happened in Colorado, I dove into a project about pistol violence. When my friends were being discriminated against and bullied for their sexual preferences, I wrote about love. Now, as a woman seeing the world through my adult lenses and recognizing the gross disparities my gender has experienced, I’m fighting for a shift in cultural mindset. I’ve been able to find outlets for my pain and compassion for others through filmmaking with the hopes that my voice brings other people peace and understanding in some way. I can’t change the whole world, but I can try and re-write the stories in hopes of a better tomorrow.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I hope many more than I’m aware of! Recently, through the #BetaIn campaign and BETA the series, I have come in contact with a woman named Lori. Lori joined one of our Beta talks as a viewer and reached out afterward to say she has been in the process of rethinking her career, but after watching our talk and feeling inspired with enthusiasm and encouragement, she was finally “off and running.”That was definitely a moment that got me choked up. I have been so grateful to receive such strong words of affirmation and encouragement from the women in leadership positions who have given their time to participate and support our Beta Real Talks, as well as the strangers who have reached out with gratitude for our honesty and openness on these subject matters. It’s pretty rewarding and keeps me grounded, reminding me always why I’m here.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Well since you asked… YES!
-It starts with us…the individuals of society. Parents, tell your daughters they can be whatever they want to be! Shift the language around interests in STEM subject matter away from “nerdy,” and encourage knowledge and exploration of their innate curiosities. In families and in homes, I urge you to support ideas of businesses at young ages, involve girls in conversations of business enterprise and funding strategies and bring them to observe a day of work in IT industries! If we could shift our educational infrastructure to integrate more teaching and education of these skillsets as young girls and young women, we could give upcoming generations the exposure to subjects not otherwise traditionally learned. We open the realm of what’s possible by educating our youth on all their options.
-Time to show up for the women in the room! And if they aren’t there…time to bring them in! We need to support and fund more female founded businesses. Venture capital companies and government leaders can provide more grants, business loans directed towards female founded companies, and financial support to start ups and companies being run by women.
-The greater the audience that we can reach with our series, the more impactful we can be. We have the heroes our media needs and we’re ready to share them. If Beta can be made by a mainstream major network or streaming platform, we can extend our reach. Representation in stories matters because if you can see it, you can be it. This story will explore the real issues within this subject matter and display the real value and contribution that women have made and will continue to make. We can encourage women to be more proactive in their entrepreneurial ventures. Joining together with a television network would be an incredible way to collaborate with and support that network and their individual mission as a brand. Beta is here in a critical time. As companies continue to face backlash for their lack of involvement in being part of the solution to normalize a woman’s role at the helm of decision making and leadership in so many industries, Beta is an opportunity to join the change. This series will break down the traditional paradigm of women being threats to women and look at a more beta culture, encouraging collaboration and the sharing of ideas and the forging of bonds. The entity that purchases and develops the Beta series IP can propel our cause forward and be a leader in advocating for that change with us!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
-Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. There are no rules for this path and you will drive yourself crazy trying to “get it right.” The best thing you can do is let your individual passion drive you to keep working hard, learn all sides of the industry so you have a deeper understanding of the team it takes to make it happen and don’t let failures and roadblocks tear you down along the way.
-Don’t wait until “you’re ready” I always had an obsession with learning and thinking I had to study and learn every part of the job fully before I could execute. As a filmmaker, especially an independent filmmaker, you’re wearing a lot of hats. Often times, you’re the writer, the producer, the casting director, the wardrobe stylist, the meal coordinator, etc. But you can’t be perfect at all those things. What you can do is surround yourself with smart driven people who do some of those things well. You learn to delegate along the way. You fail, and that is the biggest way to learn how to do something “the right way”. Most likely you’ll never feel completely ready — do it anyway.
-Don’t let other people’s bitterness determine your state of mind: Look, this is a hard industry. And people always say if there’s anything else you can do and be happy, you should. I don’t know if I necessarily think that’s true. I think anything worth working towards in life, any big dream, is going to require effort and include a good amount of failure. I think if this is what you chose to do and you really want to do it successfully, then you have to do it all the way. You have to be realistic and know that it’s not an “overnight success story” and it’s going to be a long road. You have to find fulfillment in telling your stories to the world in a way no one else can, whole heartedly, raw and unafraid. Keep believing. Keep hoping. Keep going.
-I wish people had looked at me and said “Yes you can.” I don’t mean I didn’t have support from loved ones and friends- I did. But the reality is when you’re young and you tell people around you that you want to direct like Stephen Spielberg and act like Meryl Streep, they hear a childhood dream. What I wish more people said to aspiring actors and producers and writers and directors is yes, you can. Go do it. Do it the best you can and love it and believe in it. There’s enough darkness and rejection and doubt in our industry that we will encounter along the way… be the light.
-You are your own business! This is SO important. We dive so deep into being great in our art, but our projects can’t be as impactful if the world never sees them. Find a team that believes in you and your vision or mentors who can guide you along the way on the business side of things. Things like brand and marketing matter and can help you have a clear, specific approach when pitching projects. I read a lot of books, which I find very helpful as well.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We are the future. We have to bring empathy and kindness and selflessness to the world to ensure there is a “tomorrow” worth living for. Energy is contagious and by doing good, we encourage more good around us. You don’t need big success to make big impact. Every major global movement starts with one single action. You are enough and you can positively change the world. I also think this it what life is about. When you do good by the world, you find purpose and fulfillment and gratitude. And from that place, you learn to love yourself more. When you do that, you’re able to give more love to others. And the world needs more love right now… wouldn’t you agree?
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
How do I pick just one!? Ok…let’s talk Hollywood. I think it would be an incredibly fun journey to collaborate specifically on my BETA project with Amy Poehler. It’s important that women in Hollywood are having conversations of gender equality and being a part of actionable change. Amy’s dedicated, out loud interests to this subject matter along with her comedic heart would make her an outstanding part of the BETA team 🙂
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The world will always give you reasons to look down… But you’ve gotta keep looking up baby.” This quote is the life advice credited to my Dad. Every morning before I left the house as a child, he’d say that to me and put his hand on my chin and lift it up. Then he would make me demonstrate if someone was pushing my head down, how I would fight to lift my head back up. It was annoying as a kid, but man if I don’t think about it every time I’m feeling down. That simple act of lifting my head up physically does something to make me feel more empowered. It’s a great metaphor.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thanks for asking! I’m definitely the most active on Instagram: @adrianaleonard ! You can always see all updates on all things life & career here there as well as find the link to my website.
Be sure to go towww.betatheseries.comand subscribe to our email list for updates on the Beta series premiere!
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!