When Corinne Gilliard landed her dream internship at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, she knew she was in for an amazing opportunity. She didn’t know however, was just how rewarding it would be to establish her career under the leadership of a media mogul, having her work immediately impact the lives of millions of viewers. She was able to open the door to what would become her now full time dream job. Read on to find out more on how Corinne’s hard work turned her dream into a reality.
Name: Corinne Gilliard
Current Job Title: Co-Producer, Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)
Education: B.A. Howard University c/o 2009
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Undergraduate Major: Communications and Film Production
Why did you choose the college you went to?
Going to an HBCU was the best decision I ever made. I grew up going to predominantly white schools so I didn’t have a grasp of my history or heritage and an understanding of how that story can bring you pride. I didn’t have a lot of pride in myself because I didn’t know where I came from. Taking classes in African American studies and seeing young black scholars doing incredible things, scholars with a goal of excelling totally changed the game. Also, I lived in LA and I really wanted a change.
How did you pay for college? Specific scholarships or grants?
At Howard they had Trustee Scholarships. These require that you have a certain GPA and SAT scores, and it pays for your tuition. You have to maintain your GPA, but they will increase the scholarship with high grades. I also got a scholarship in LA sponsored by Nissan and UNCF. It was a $10,000 scholarship for LA based youth going to HBCUs. I also got a few loans to cover books and extra expenses but my loans are very manageable.
What organizations did you join while in college? Were any influential to your current career?
I was involved in Howard’s film organization. I was and still am a huge film buff. Myself and other students shot short films together. I was also in the Annenberg Honors program. It was an accelerated program within the school of Communications. We had mentors through the program.
Most influential college professor and/or course?
Dr. Carr. He is an African American Studies Professor and Chair of the Department. Anyone who went to Howard will know him. He is an incredible professor who really forced his students to think. He stressed the importance of what has been going on in the African American community and society today. When I think of him it’s like the phrase, #STAYWOKE – Don’t fall into what society is telling you is right. Make sure you are thinking for yourself. He trained my mind to think a certain way. Anyone who has gone to an HBCU will #STAYWOKE.
“#STAYWOKE – Don’t fall into what society is telling you is right. Make sure you are thinking for yourself.”
Was interning helpful to landing your current position? What internships did you have?
I had a lot of internships. That was a big deal for me. I think my first internship was at a talent agency in LA. From there I interned in television, on the soap opera General Hospital. Next I was at the LA County Arts Convention, a theater. Then I interned at a movie studio, Sony Pictures. I worked on the movie ZombieLand, and Princess and the Frog. It was such a great time to be there. They scored that movie [Princess and the Frog] on the Sony Pictures lot so they had an 80 piece orchestra. It was awesome. I also did a bunch of other smaller stuff. But from there I got my internship on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
What was your first job out of college?
After I graduated from college my first full time job was working on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It was really strenuous but I learned a lot. I had some crazy hours but until this day I think it is my best internship experience. I was lucky because it was the final two seasons so she went all out. From there I got hired as a Production Assistant full time after interning for a year and a half.
So what is it like working with Oprah?:
I can’t even describe it with like a word or a phrase it’s so wild! I had to pinch myself sometimes. Not only are you working with Oprah, one of the most powerful and richest women in the world – but her shows really impacted people. Having the work you’re doing really matter to people. I didn’t realize the magnitude to what I was doing.
What is a typical workday like for you?
The first thing I do when I arrive in the morning is read the email newsletter, The Skimm. It’s a great way to stay on top of major headlines and learn the gist of every top news event happening in the world. Then I’ll browse through Twitter, BuzzFeed and The New York Times. Working in the media industry, it’s imperative that I stay up to date with current events and popular culture.
Next (depending on my project), I’ll either be pitching show ideas, booking guests, conducting research for shows currently in pre and post-production, licensing third party content, scripting or working with a video editor as they cut an episode of our show.
When shoots are booked, I’m on location in the field where I’m doing everything from supervising b-roll production, facilitating last minute changes to suggested interview questions and generally making sure that everything runs smoothly and on schedule.
Unconventional or Conventional career path?
I feel like my industry is not that conventional but I guess the path I’ve taken to get there has been conventional. I went to college, I got good grades, I had internships. You just do what you have to do to excel and I have been lucky enough to work at really cool places. I played by the rules. Growing up in LA had a lot to do with the career path I chose. My dad is an actor and my mom is a singer, and I like being in creative environments.
Does your college degree relate to the work you do?
I majored in Television and Film Production, so my major has EVERYTHING to do with my career path. I’m so grateful to be able to do what I actually studied in school.
Has being Black affected your career? If so, how?
I think I’ve had an unconventional path in this respect as well. I grew up with the mindset that you have to be twice as good than your counterpart. Working at a place like Harpo, I feel like it works in my benefit. A lot of the viewers are black. Once you have that audience, you have to think about how you’re going to cater to that audience, and who knows it. Also, being at a place that’s majority women and where the founder is a black woman, it’s beneficial. You can take that part of yourself and make it work for you. For me it’s been beneficial and has given me a perspective a lot of people don’t have.
What substantial moment marked your greatest career highlight?Working on a show that Oprah did to honor Civil Rights Legends. It was really profound and an issue that spoke to me. She honored people that were fearless and made significant contributions to the civil rights movement specifically to the voting rights march in Selma in 1965. We had amazing figures like John Lewis who was on the front lines at every civil rights demonstration in the 1960’s. Andrew Young, Sidney Poitier, Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones, they were all on the show. To have them all there and have the opportunity to shake hands with them was phenomenal. It was a lot of long hours, blood sweat and tears but worth it. It was incredible.
How did you receive insight into your career? Do you have a mentor?
One of my mentors, I met at Harpo. Her name is Andrea Wishom, she was a VP/Executive Producer of one of the shows I worked on. She really looked out for me and made sure I was taken care of while I was there. She’s also a black woman and has done amazing things in her career. She started on the Oprah Winfrey Show around the same age as I am and has been there ever since. She is a wonderful figure to emulate, seeing the way she carries herself and interacts with people is enough. The advice and candid conversations we have about what it’s like being a black woman in media and how to navigate it are really helpful. She has always been really great.
What advice would you give your undergraduate self?
I would tell myself to be more involved, go to parties and talk to people. Don’t party every night so much that you don’t do your homework, but there needs to be some balance when it comes to building your network.
“You never know who you could meet, you need to network.”
How would you describe your office culture? Happy hours, game nights?
Harpo/OWN is like a family. Between flying all over the globe for shoots, burning the midnight oil on crucial deadlines and spending several years working together in general – I can honestly say that everyone genuinely likes each other. It’s a very team-driven, supportive and trusting environment. Everyone really believes in what they’re working on, and I think that contributes to the overall positive atmosphere of the company as well.
Coffee or Tea?
I’m definitely a tea drinker, but if I’m really tired in the morning I’ll have coffee.
Favorite nail color?
I like pale colors, anything pinkish, or pale I like it.
#TeamNatural or #TeamRelaxed?
Best advice you’ve ever received?
If you find yourself at a really large company, don’t let people there tell you what you’re good at, or what you know. You have your own unique perspective to bring to the table. You know what you know and you know what you can bring to the experience so don’t let anyone tell you differently.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be?
I just finished reading Americanah and loved it. I would love to sit down with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and learn more about her experiences growing up and how she’s doing now.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I have all of the streaming accounts Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO, you name it. Right now, I’ve been obsessed with ESPN’s 30 for 30 Sports documentaries. There’s about 30 of them and I’ve seen every one.
Favorite Quote (or lyric)?
I’ve decided to quote my boss at her 2013 Commencement Speech at Harvard University.
“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. Now, when you’re down there in the hole, it looks like failure. When that moment comes, it’s okay to feel bad for a little while. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost. But then, here’s the key: Learn from every mistake, because every experience, particularly your mistakes, are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are.” – Oprah Winfrey