Five Minutes with Debra Davis, Emmy Award-Winning Producer and Native Texan

by Leean Vargas on February 23, 2024 in Entertainment,

Emmy Award-winning producer Debra Davis is a proud Austinite who just recently landed a 2024 GRAMMY® Award nomination in the Best Music Film category for her contributions as a video producer on “Live From Paris, The Big Steppers Tour,” starring Kendrick Lamar, and featuring appearances by Baby Keem and Tanna Leone.

Having been a former associate producer at the 33rd Grammy Awards in 1990, this Grammy nomination is for just one of the many notable projects that Debra Davis (founder of Debra Davis Productions) has worked on throughout her decades-long career.

Other career highlights include facilitating the start-up of MTV-Asia, winning an Emmy for NBC’s Olympics Broadcast, and working on projects that have taken place in her home base of Austin, TX, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Hulu and CMT Music Awards, just to name a couple. 

Debra Davis won an Emmy for NBC’s Olympics Broadcast. Courtesy photo.

Davis has an extensive background in creating groundbreaking media solutions at high-profile events for broadcast, mobile and IPTV. She specializes in television series, special events, festivals, live music, award shows, corporate entertainment, meetings and galas. Davis’ resume is impressive to say the least. (We would love to mention every notable career move and accomplishments under her belt, but if we did, the list would be way longer than this article!)

Davis is inspiring to many Texans out there with a dream, including myself. 

Tell us about your journey from hometown Austinite to the global stage.

In college, I majored in Journalism.  I moved to NYC just after graduation and got what I thought would be my dream job in the publicity department at Columbia Pictures. Well, turns out it was not my dream job, so I reached out to some of the filmmakers I had met and was able to transfer to working in film production. My first job entailed getting up (in the New England winter) at 3 a.m. to be on set in time to make the coffee. From there, I worked my way up the ladder and ended up working on special events and live music television. I had found my career home…. I loved it. Some examples of those shows were the Grammys, Tonys, the Olympics, VH1 concerts, Coachella Music and Art Festival, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Music Festival, music series for MTV and VH1, and much more. My goal was to learn as much as possible on each job and use that to get my next job. I made a huge effort to surround myself with mentors and like-minded friends. I lived and breathed television.

Debra Davis Productions deployed engineer and tech resources to produce Artist-at-Home shows from all over the world, including the Harvey Can’t Mess with Texas Concert and Benefit with Willie Nelson, Leon Bridges, Matthew McConaughey, and other high-profile names. Photo Charles Reagan Hackleman.

What was it like working as a video producer on Kendrick Lamar’s “Live From Paris, The Big Steppers Tour?”

I am so blessed to have been tasked with the mission to broadcast Kendrick Lamar Live: The Big Steppers Tour. First off, we were in Paris….and there is nothing wrong with that. Our creative team attended performances in Los Angeles and Europe, which we analyzed to shape plans for filming. Next, we had to come up with a budget and a plan to capture this amazing tour. There was intensive prep because we wanted to align with every aspect of the tour’s vision. Our team worked very closely with Kendrick’s creative team to make sure we captured all the choreography, visual effect, and the complexity of his lyrics.

We recorded and captured the tour on 19 highly curated cinema cameras and lenses to take the show to new heights. We used film cameras in a live environment, which is the best in breed.  There is a limited team in the world that can shoot a film live, so we hand-picked everyone on the staff and crew. We only brought a handful of crew from the States, so we brought together a large team of international camera operators and technicians to handle all the technical equipment. We hired state-of-the-art video and audio trucks parked outside the arena for multiple days to rehearse and record this event. This is live television, and you must plan every single choice because you cannot mess it up! It was exclusively released via Amazon Prime Video, and working with such a great client is a dream come true.

Debra Davis pictured with Ray Benson, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton and an Executive from CMT. Courtesy photo.

What advice would you give someone trying to follow in your same footsteps?

You must tirelessly do the work – this career is not for the weak. This is a competitive business, so you need to make yourself valuable. Sometimes, it is as easy as seeing the trash overflowing, so you jump in and empty it. See where you can help and fill a void. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for your next job while you are on your current job. Surround yourself with folks in the business and with your interests. Also, be present on LinkedIn and IMDP.

What is one habit you believe contributes to your success?

It is all about the details and organization. One thing I do that helps is color code all my emails to keep me organized – i.e., green is for virtual calls, red is an action item, yellow is a meeting or appointment, etc. Also, they say if you want to get better at tennis, then play with people better than you, so I make it a habit to seek out those folks. Often, I stop and say to myself, look how lucky I am to work with such creative, driven, and successful folks whose job it is to entertain. I try to make gratitude a daily habit.

What are some ways you manage work-related stress and avoid burnout?

Great question – I will let you know when I figure that out. Seriously, the key thing is to hire folks smarter than me and trust them to do their job. 

Debra Davis pictured with Chris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe and Johnny Cash. Courtesy photo.

You’ve done many notable career moves, is there a particular moment that made you feel incredibly proud of your achievements?

There are several – The first moment was the rush of adrenaline I got when I did my first LIVE network show (which was the Tony Awards). That was the day I became addicted to live television. Another was when I was hired by MTV to spend a year in Singapore to start up MTV.  Living in Singapore and traveling in Asia was such a wonderful education and a lot of fun.  Winning an Emmy for the Olympics and getting the Grammy Nomination are also career highlights!

What’s next for Debra Davis?

I am currently working on the CMT Awards and Coachella, both air in April while also doing a music festival in Miami, which streams on Amazon Music in February. 


Cover photo courtesy Debra Davis

Leean Vargas is the Highlight Reel newsletter editor at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honors graduate of Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She is a concert enthusiast who loves traveling, photography, good food, and discovering new hangout spots in her beloved city, Austin, Texas.