Ms. In The Biz is the go-to resource for female entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry. Founded by actor/writer/producer Helenna Santos in 2013, the website/community focuses on “creating career success and living a purpose-filled, passionate life.” Along with her Assistant Editor-In-Chief, Laura Hunter Drago, Helenna oversees a huge network of volunteer contributors shining lights on notable women working in entertainment and educating each other about their industry.
The content generated by Ms. In The Biz is diverse in its scope and critical in its value. The tone of the site is welcoming and inclusive, and it speaks to every aspect of both a career and a life in the entertainment industry. If you’re a woman in the industry, the site is for you and by you. If you’re a man in the industry, it’s an asset that could be invaluable to your personal growth.
I was lucky enough to talk with Helenna about the thing she’s built and the industry she serves with it. Spoiler alert: she’s rad, and the site is a gem.
Leona Laurie: What was going on in your life when you started Ms. In The Biz?
Helenna Santos: So, this was back in 2012, when I came up with the idea. I had been blogging for a couple of other platforms, and I just kept thinking about how there was no real central place that women who are sort of at my level in the industry could go to get information. There wasn’t a place to go to talk about the day-to-day and what was really happening, and the things that you have to go through just to do anything in the business.
I knew so many women who were multi-hyphenates– actors, producers, directors, writers, et cetera. They were all really talented ladies who had a lot of interesting stories to tell. We were all connected socially, and I thought it would be really cool to connect us online so we could share everything with each other. That’s how it started. I reached out to about 100 women, and 80 of them got back to me. We launched with 80 writers right off the bat in 2013 and have been going strong ever since.
We did take about a year hiatus just because everyone was really burnt out, and ironically it was right when the #MeToo movement and everything kind of exploded. It was a weird time to not be active, but also a good time, because when we did ramp up again everyone had the energy to start writing, and I had the energy to put into running it again. The content was that much stronger because of our time off. It ended up being a gift to have that time to sort of “sit and reflect.”
LL: When you started the site, were you hoping that it would lead to opportunities in the industry for you and for the other contributors?
HS: Oh sure. Absolutely. I think that anything that anybody does in the industry helps you navigate your career in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise. For instance, I had a vlog that was part of a YouTube channel back in 2008 where it followed five different performers in the industry for an entire year. Through doing that, I learned a lot and I got to know a lot of other people who then, in turn, hired me as an actor. It opened a ton of doors. And with Ms. In The Biz, the people who read the site, the people who write for the site, the special interviews that we do… all of it absolutely helps with every other part of my career. That’s just sort of a nice sidebar to the fact that I’m really proud of creating a strong community of women and men who are finding all the information useful and loving the connection that it gives everybody.
LL: When you went into it, did you have a specific idea of what the content and tone would be? How has it evolved?
HS: It’s in a lot of ways exactly what I hoped it would be. I’m somebody who loves connecting people. I’m just a serial connector, and I love sharing information. The people who come on board to write for the site are very much those kind of people. If someone is coming just to plug their thing, and they want to do a piece or be interviewed, I’m like, “You need to add value to the community.” That’s what it’s all about. It has to be a reciprocal relationship the writer has with the reader.
Having that be sort of the basis from the beginning, and having it be filled with passionate writers and women who are really, really knowledgeable about the things that they are talking about, I think that kind of set the tone off the top.
I was very careful with the branding and the way I decided to market things, and it’s so much reflective of the fact that I am Ms. In The Biz, and Ms. In The Biz is me. There’s not much of a separation there. It’s very reflective of my personality as well, my need and love of connecting community and people and doing it all with a positive, upbeat attitude– not denying that things are difficult, but learning from those hardships and sharing that information.
Over the years it’s grown and evolved because of the strength of the women who are a part of the community and who write for the site, and all of their genius. This is not something that I could do on my own.
LL: In the years that the site’s been up, are there any people, or pieces that have been especially exciting for you?
HS: So many. There are so many good articles, so much incredible information and amazing women who have been featured on the site. My number one personal favorite was when I saw Madeline Brewer in Orange is the New Black, and I was like, “This girl is amazing,” so I contacted her. We had just started to do spotlight interviews, and I did a little spotlight interview with her, and we were able to feature her really early on in her career when she was still juggling a restaurant job with auditioning. Now she’s just blown up with The Handmaid’s Tale and all the feature films she’s doing. It’s super cool to see somebody who was at the time still talking about how when she booked OINTB, she was working at Victoria’s Secret and her life was changing, and now to see where she is five years later is really cool.
It’s also fun that you can witness the journeys of the writers for Ms. In The Biz within the content on the site. To look at people’s articles from the first year (who are still writing), and how they’ve grown and evolved and changed… it’s incredibly inspiring, because the industry is all about longevity, really. And just showing up. 80% of it is just doing the thing and showing up. The women who are part of the community are literally the definition of tenacity.
LL: I’ve published more than one article about the pervasive gender disparity behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. I don’t think you would have started a community for women in the industry if you didn’t have some experience with that. Do you feel like you’ve gotten any insight in to what can be done about it?
HS: There’s a million things I could say, but one of the things I learned that was at first surprising to me, is that Ms. In The Biz is read by half men. And I’m like “yes!” because there’s tons of great information there. The number of men who support us and want to be allies, I think that’s where a big part of the solution is. I think people are realizing that more and more, that men can ask, “What do we actually need to do to help the situation and be allies?”
I think that’s incredibly important because the female talent is there on every side: the writers, directors, cinematographers, grips, sound designers. There’s so much talent. It’s just about creating opportunity, and it just takes someone taking a chance and hiring them. Men supporting women is incredibly important. And for that matter, women supporting women. If you are in a position where you can hire a woman for the job, do it! Open the door. We need to help one another.
LL: I wonder if part of the issue is that women don’t even know about some of the careers they could be pursuing– some of the behind-the-scenes things.
HS: Could be, and Hollywood in general is such a weird, closed-door kind of thing, where how would you even know what a cinematographer is unless you’ve somehow been shown that? That’s why I think what the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is doing is so important, and their “If she can see it, she can be it” slogan. That’s just absolutely integral to all of this, because yeah, if you don’t see a female cinematographer when you’re 13 years old and say, “Hey, what is that job? And what is she doing? I would like to do that or learn about it!” then you would never even think that that’s something you could do.
LL: Aside from the Geena Davis Institute, are there any other organizations you think are doing something special towards narrowing the gender gap?
HS: Yeah, Write Girl in LA is phenomenal. Oh my gosh. They’re one of my favorite organizations, and all they do is support young female writers. That is what they’re all about.
Interested in getting involved with Ms. In The Biz? Helenna says they’re always looking for people to conduct spotlight interviews. Use the contact form on her site to learn more. You can also follow them on Instagram (highly recommend), Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their newsletter.