How This Hollywood Producer Empowers Women Behind The Camera

Hollywood producer, Laverne McKinnon, partner at K&L Productions, encourages creative professionals to use their stories to derive outer accomplishment from inner meaning through leadership coaching. For over two decades in the entertainment industry, she has been an activist in supporting women empowerment and breaking down barriers that exist for women working behind the camera. During the #TimesUp movement, she was one of the leaders that hosted the pilot program for the Time’s Up Workshop, which was a leadership training program for women in the entertainment industry. She and her partner, Kay Cannon, writer of the Pitch Perfect franchise, launched K&L Productions to tell underserved stories in comedy and drama.

“With #TimesUp,” she explains, “there’s an entertainment portion, and there’s a subset of Asian, API women [Asian American Pacific Islander women] in entertainment. We were sitting around and we were brainstorming and dividing up into want do we want to do and what we want to accomplish. I pitched to a group of women, about 12 of them, that we need leadership training because we are exclusively going to be confronted with challenges and obstacles that require leadership ability on a small and large scale.”

As the entertainment industry prepares to reopen, McKinnon helps individuals positively use their voices to invoke change. “Storytelling during this time has even greater stakes in terms of making meaning not just of the impact of COVID-19 but with Black Lives Matter,” McKinnon states.

Before launching K&L Productions, McKinnon served as the former executive vice-president of original programming and development at EPIX and the senior vice-president of drama development at CBS. Her extensive background in production and development encompasses comedy, drama, animation and children’s programs. 

“I worked my way up the ranks at CBS,” McKinnon explains. “I started in children’s programming back when CBS had a Saturday morning day programming for kids. I moved into prime time current programming where I would oversee shows like The Nanny and Early Edition.” She then transitioned into drama development, where she was part of the team at the CSI franchise. She played a role in assisting with the network’s advanced achievements because of the success of all those procedural shows.

A pivotal moment in McKinnon’s career came when she was unexpectedly fired from CBS. At first, she felt like she lost her identity; she was used to having a title attached to her name. However, while working with a life coach, she realized that she had more of an entrepreneurial mindset. It took close to three years for her to feel comfortable enough to reframe her story as an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry. “I reached a point in my career where I felt confident enough to start my own company,” McKinnon shares. “I moved into producing, even though there was great uncertainty about how I would make money. I felt like I had enough of a foundation in terms of my experience and my relationships that I could take that leap, but it was scary. It was really, really scary. I think being an entrepreneur is there’s so much uncertainty.”

During this time, she met Cannon, and they began production on the Netflix comedy series Girl Boss, where she served as an executive producer for the show. “Kay had a reputation of selling every single project she developed in the room,” McKinnon states. “When we originally took that project out, we took it to broadcast networks. We were anticipating that people were going to say yes. We got no after no after no. We had decided to pivot and develop the show for streaming and for premium cable. When we took our pitch into the studio prior to Netflix, they literally stopped us in the middle of the pitch and said no…We went ahead and we built a pitch for Netflix and somebody bought it.” 

Having experienced a series of rejections, and having gone through the foster-to-adopt program, she now approaches projects from a different viewpoint. “I always feel bad about saying no to people, especially on the buying side…A couple of years ago, I went through the foster-to-adopt program. We’ve got two kids and our youngest child is adopted through L.A. foster care. One of the things that they taught us when we’re going through the orientation and education process is that if you go through the process and decide afterward that fostering is not for you, that is a positive outcome. You wouldn’t want to adopt or foster kids if this is no longer right for you. That really helped me understand as a producer and also putting into context my work as a buyer is that no is a positive outcome…If we’re saying no, it means that we’re just not the right people to help somebody across the finish line.”

As McKinnon transitioned throughout her career, she focused on the following essential steps:

  • Understand what your values are. Are you pivoting out of fear or do you believe in the transition you are about to make?
  • Hone in on your life’s purpose and the value you bring to the table. Don’t make the pivot if it doesn’t align with your purpose or else it will take you longer to achieve your goal.
  • Develop patience. Pivots don’t happen overnight. It can take months or even years to fully pivot. Believing in why you’re pivoting will keep you on course. 

“I strongly believe that as women, we are natural leaders,” McKinnon concludes. “We have a natural ability to take the worst situation and find something positive and good.”