Jennifer Hutchins’ story starts as a bored teenager living in a small quirky Michigan town where the population thought they were the Dukes of Hazzard with their car chases through the woods and a jump bridge that they somehow survived.
Hutchins was surrounded by an array of personalities such as farmers, preps, introverts, extroverts and everyone from low to upper class. They were 10 miles from Ann Arbor, Michigan, but she felt like they were on Mars. She survived her time there hearing people’s stories and, somehow, attracting the weird ones.
Fast forward, and Hutchins, now an Austinite and multiple award-winning producer of over 200 TV episodes for major networks and celebrities like Dr. Phil and Priscilla Presley formed Austin Entertainment Business as a way to give back to the entertainment community.
We turned the tables on Hutchins, asking her to tell us her fascinating story.
How did your career get started?
When choosing a major in college, journalism made sense. Yet, after spending a year at network news, I quickly realized that they would not allow me to tell a real story, and if I was going to tell fake stories, it would be in Hollywood! I packed up everything I owned in my car and drove across the country with no place to live, no job and no friends. Just as I settled in, 9/11 happened. I became a full time temp until E! Entertainment offered me a full time job which I declined to become an actress/waitress.
How were those early years in acting?
I was discontented. I felt like I was being treated like an object, and wanted more. Then I met a producer who I convinced to hire me. He could only spare $300 per week, and I worked full time shoulder-to-shoulder with him learning everything he knew, while charging everything on credit cards. It was worth it! I listened while he made pitch phone calls and then had him listen while I did. I learned the business of producing rapidly.
Tell us about your milestone moments.
Every TV series and film I’ve produced brings back every emotion you can think of: love, fear, excitement, desperation, disappointment, sadness, joy, exhaustion. They have all been part of an amazing journey where I’ve made 1,000 mistakes for every success.
What is the job of a producer?
There are many layers to producing. Sometimes your job is to convince. Other times it is taking a big idea and writing it into a script or episodes and story outlines. Or, I get a big chunk of money and need to siphon it out so we can end up with a fantastic finished product while not going insane or running out of money.
What brought you to Texas?
My Michigan family had all relocated to Austin after my sister got a job at Dell, so holidays had been spent in Austin for about 10 years and it was growing on me. I was working at Dr. Phil and I had just had my daughter. I started seeing a lot of signs pointing me to Austin. Random ads, billboards, emails…it was bizarre. It culminated when I got an email from the Producers Guild saying a company in Austin was hiring producers for a TLC TV series. I applied and immediately got a call asking how quickly I could start. The contract was for six months and I thought, “Well let’s try Austin.” That was five years ago. I never found a reason to leave. I found a home.
Tell us about the Austin Entertainment Business group.
After producing nearly 60 TV series, films and branded content I formed the Austin Entertainment Business group as a way to give back to the entertainment community. The group emphasizes the business of entertainment to help people get their projects to fruition and make money so they can rinse and repeat.
How does the group work?
We want investors to be happy so we can keep growing and attracting business to Texas. I throw a monthly event, live and/or on Zoom, where I share stories from behind the scenes with the group and advice on forming relationships, offering to give first. I relay mistakes and successes while inviting respected guest speakers to also share their stories and advice during a fun conversation. Those guest speakers attract above the line CEOs, producers, investors as well as below the line camera, actors, assistants. It helps to keep it a very diverse group where it’s not just people out of work. The crowd can ask questions, offer jobs, opportunities and introduce themselves on an open mic to each other. This helps break the ice and people are able to network more freely.
What motivates you to keep the group going?
Throughout the years attendees have told me they’ve had projects optioned, met investors, got most of their jobs and more from this group. These stories motivate me to keep moving forward what’s become a 2nd full time job for me.The group reaches over 20,000 people through email and our social media channels. Then, during the pandemic, I added the name All Entertainment Business as way to connect the Texas entertainment business community globally and vice versa.
Any advice to someone thinking about making their career in entertainment?
This business is hard. It takes a lot of work. It’s important to define a path for yourself. Write down goals every morning and start to hone in on what it is you are seeking in La La land. It’s easy to get lost in the glitz and the glamor. If you wander aimlessly, you may wind up aged, heartbroken and broke. It almost happened to me. I give you this advice from the heart. You’re about to spend a lot of time here in La La land, so why not design it to be your dream rather than your nightmare. Be specific, fearless, educated and curious. Learn to love mistakes because that is how you grow.
Cover photo courtesy Jennifer Hutchins
Bob Valleau is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas.