Treat everyone equally with respect and kindness. The people you see on the way up in your career, are the same way you see on the way down.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chris Wagner.
Chris Wagner is an Executive Producer and EIC with 20 years of experience in all genres of television across all platforms around the world. As Founder & CEO of White Label Productions, Wagner has overseen high-profile series such as The Masked Singer for FOX, Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party for TruTV, Celebrity Show-Off for TBS, Miss Universe 2019, Savage X Fenty Show (Vol. 1 & 2) for Amazon Prime Video, and Encore! for Disney+. Over the last year, Wagner’s White Label Productions has produced Can’t Cancel Pride 2020 for iHeart and Hulu, Unicorn Hunters, and HBCU: Meet Me On the Yard for YouTube, and this year will produce Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 3, Miss Universe 2021, and Can’t Cancel Pride 2021. His work has received Emmy nominations for Season Three of The Masked Singer and the syndicated edition of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
Wagner has overseen more than 2.5B dollars in TV budgets and has helped run companies as well as starting three of his own, focusing on production services. Chris has offered his partners a competitive deal structure at an unbeatable price point for the networks. He built these companies from the ground up, providing the infrastructure that includes office space, legal, insurance, accounting, negotiating all deals, all union signatory entities, overseeing the key staff and crew hires from a crew of 50 to 3,000, all while being a liaison within the network.
Prior to forming White Label Productions, Wagner co-founded Eleven Eleven Media Group where he provided full-scale production services from the ground up — from the initial pitch, to locking in the final budget, to managing staff and crew, and overseeing the final delivery. Previously, Wagner co-founded The Roush Wagner Company, a full-service production company focusing on production services in the unscripted market. Prior to that, he co-founded Capital Production Services where he had an exclusive deal with DirecTV and produced half of their original scripted and unscripted slate.
Earlier in his career, Wagner served as Senior Vice President, Production at All3Media America where he oversaw such projects as Chrisley Knows Best, Undercover Boss and The People’s Couch. Prior to that, he served as Senior Vice President, Production at ZOO Productions where he led all production, legal, finance, human resources and operations for the company while shepherding such series as Buckwild, The Joe Schmo Show, World’s Worst Tenants, Twintervention, Are You Normal America?, and Family Game Night.
Wagner started his production career serving as Line Producer on several hit shows for FremantleMedia and Mark Burnett Productions, including The X Factor, Rockstar: INXS, Rockstar: Supernova, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader, Shark Tank, How’d You Get So Rich? and American Idol.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in Manhattan Beach, a small beach town just south of LAX. My dad was in finance and my mom stayed at home and raised my sister and I. I grew up surfing, playing volleyball and soccer. I went to Le Lycee Francais De Los Angeles, a private French school for most of my youth, before transferring to a local Catholic school, American Martyrs, where I finished up grade school. I then went to Loyola High School, an all-boys catholic high school in Los Angeles. I focused on volleyball and ended up getting recruited around the country, ultimately ending up at UC Santa Barbara.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father was in finance, a career I knew early on that I didn’t want to pursue. My grandfather, my idol, was an attorney, so naturally, I wanted to follow in his footsteps, majoring in political science and planning a legal and possible political career after college. After 4 years in Santa Barbara….I scratched all of that. Staying in Santa Barbara and becoming a fireman was my dream. I called my dad that June day, ready to tell him I’m staying up there for the summer. When I called him, it clearly caught him off guard. My neighbor at the time, Bob Bain, had just left FOX and started his own shingle and created a new show called “The Teen Choice Awards”. He told my dad to relay to me that I should come work for him for the summer. I thought why not learn about Hollywood before my final year of college.
I became a production assistant in the summer of 1999, the inception of The Teen Choice Awards and at the height of the boy band/pop music boom. I got crushed….working 20 hour days, running for coffee, tapes to executives’ homes, and everything in-between. Armed with only a pager, a Thomas Guide, and no air conditioning, Hollywood captivated me. I loved being a PA. I had the opportunity to see every part of the business, albeit on a minion level, and I loved it.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most amazing time in my professional life was being a part of American Idol from Day 1 to when I left on Season 4 (I later came back to help out on Season 7). I got to see and be a part of something historic — the real driving force behind what my generation will remember as the birth of reality television as we know it. It was truly being a part of a family on that show, even with the original talent, and we have such a bond from it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Gosh — too many to count lol. The dumbest thing I went to email a friend about someone else…..and I sent it to that someone else. It was harmless content, but nonetheless, I never did that again. Lesson learned — never put anything in writing you don’t want everyone (including the person you’re talking about) to see!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m really excited right now — White Label is producing a bunch of different projects in various genres. I’ve just finished “Can’t Cancel Pride 2021” (raising money for LGBTQ+ causes) “Unicorn Hunters” (which democratizes pre-IPO investments); “Savage x Fenty V3” (Rihanna’s fashion show); a big network competition show pilot; a network variety Christmas Special; Miss Universe 2021 and some exciting projects already for 2022!
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
I’m so incredibly grateful for what I’ve been able to do in this business. I believe in following your gut. Sometimes, at least in my case, it takes a little more digging to see what your gut, what your heart are saying. But I’ve never regretted following what I believe in. And as cliché as it is, I believe in two quotes, both in life and career:
- FDR’s quote “The only thing we have to fear….is fear itself”
- Henry Ford’s quote “Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can’t, You’re Right”
The fear of failure has driven me to consistently work harder — what I won’t do is pass up an opportunity if I believe fear is driving me not to take it. It takes a deep introspective look, but any decision where I’ve followed my gut, I have never regretted it. I only wish I did it earlier in my career, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and timing is part of that. And what comes with that, is perspective — where Henry Ford’s quote kicks in. Everyone has an opinion, and they’re all happy to share it with you. But at the end of the day, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and now we are being true to ourselves and following our hearts and gut feel. I truly believe we can do whatever we put our mind to, and I’ve been fortunate to experience that.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think it’s imperative, in this business and all business, that our labor force and vendors represent our country and our world. My three reasons are:
- Increased productivity. With a broader reach, processes and ideas get questioned and new ones are born, making my company or the show more efficient.
- Increased creativity. Along the same lines of productivity, it allows ideas to be challenged, ultimately ending up with the best one at the end.
- Increased acceptance. It’s crucial for the people in the business now, and the ones coming up, to work together as a team, communicate with each other, all to achieve one goal. Achieving that goal, going through that experience, brings people together.
I think it’s good that people are more aware of the need to be inclusive and prioritize diversity, but I believe we still have a long way to go and feel fortunate that I now get to be in a position to hopefully be part of the change.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I grew up in a time where you were treated like you were lucky just to have a job in this business. And you believed it and felt that way because it was hard to break into the entertainment business unless you knew someone.
- Treat everyone equally with respect and kindness. The people you see on the way up in your career, are the same way you see on the way down.
- I have worked with countless assistants and PAs, who are now running networks and agencies.
- Ask questions. People love to teach, and the more you can learn in this business the better.
- Be honest. It takes years to build up your reputation, and one or two lies to bring down everything you’ve worked for.
- Be accountable. When you make a mistake, own up to it. We all make them, on all levels, and it exemplifies your character.
- Work hard. Nothing replaces a strong work ethic.
- Be grateful. I get the opportunity to work in an amazing business with some of the most creative people in the world, enjoy it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Establish personal boundaries from the get-go. Work hard, do your best and have a good attitude, but this business has the potential to go 24/7. It’s imperative you take time for yourself and find that work/life balance.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I actually asked my 8-year-old daughter this last year, and how she responded inspired me. She said she wants to help others who are less fortunate and set up a movement to give homeless people in Los Angeles food and supplies. It’s called “Humans For Homeless” (@humans4homeless on IG). We take children out once a month with pre-packed bags. So this has been a huge inspiration in my life — to help those who can’t help themselves or who are less fortunate. We learn and appreciate the time we have when helping the homeless, as they are grateful for the food, clothing and supplies we bring.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I will forever be grateful to Bob Bain, who opened the door for me into this business. It all happened because my dad was on his balcony having a phone conversation with me about life and career while I was in college, and Bob happened to be on his balcony and suggest I come work for him.
There’s a lot of people I am grateful for who taught me how NOT to do things, and helped steer me on the correct path in this business. But the one who I always felt I could call anytime for anything, personally or professionally, is Greg Sills. He’s a legend in this business and I’m fortunate to call him one of my mentors and friends.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Henry Ford’s quote “Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can’t, You’re Right”
I heard this two and a half years ago, and it has changed my perspective on life. In a world that you have very little control of, it reminds that we are truly limitless and can do anything we set our minds to. It’s helped me prioritize my life and truly listen to my gut.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
My mom. I don’t spend enough time with her, so would love to take some time to just sit with her and talk. When we do, there are usually kids or pets running around LOL.
How can our readers follow you online?
White Label Productions website is www.wlp-tv.com or on Instagram: @whitelabeltv
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!