by James Delhauer
Our culture is one that places a high value in legacy. As we walk this earth in search of purpose, we often reflect on questions about our impact or how we will be remembered. We build little empires in our own names in the hopes that our legacy will be a positive one and that when it is time to move on, it will be handed down to the next generation. The divine right of kings saw empires passed from father to son with an expectation that that which came before would be preserved. But times have changed and so must we all. Today, as we strive for things like liberty, equality, and diversity within our communities, children are no longer expected to carry on the work carried out by their parents. They are encouraged to walk their own paths in life and to discover a purpose to call their own. So when a child does choose to walk in the footsteps of their families, there is a heightened significance to the decision. No longer is it a matter of duty or responsibility but one of agency; no longer passed down from father to son but also mother to daughter, mother to son, and father to daughter.
I had the privilege of sitting down with three remarkable women, all of whom chose to pursue careers in video and engineering, like their fathers before them. Today, Cheyenne Wood, Haley Burnett, and Jillian Arnold talk about the legacy of video engineering in their families, being among the first women in their fields, and some of the challenges that women have overcome and continue to face within our industry.
Cheyenne is a Record and Playback Specialist who became a member of Local 695 in 2018 and has already landed on high-profile broadcast television shows like American Idol and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? In the short time since joining the Local, she’s already become proficient in a wide variety of platforms and can often be found behind the racks on set, building or rewiring her own equipment. This, however, should come as no surprise given her history. Cheyenne’s father has spent the better part of the last thirty years working as a Broadcast Truck Driver and Fabricator.
“It’s touching, in a very sentimental way,” she told me. “Growing up from the very beginning, my earliest memories with my dad are of my brother and me running around workshops and going to work with him. He was a single parent, so on late nights when he didn’t have a babysitter, he’d throw us in the camper and go pick up shows and drive us home. Now, he picks up my shows.”
Cheyenne went on to describe the first time she and her dad had opportunity to work with one another on set. “I was working on Ultimate Tag as a Media Manager but he had parked the truck before I got to go in for prep, so we didn’t get to see each other. But on the last day, I came out of the truck and he was waiting at the bottom of the stairs just to see me at work. It was a cool moment. And there have been a few times since then.”
Similarly, Haley Burnett grew up in a household deeply rooted within the industry. Her father also drove production trucks for several years before becoming a Comms and RF Technician. Meanwhile, her mother and stepfather worked for Viacom (now ViacomCBS) as Director of Operations and Lead Engineer respectively.
“I remember that I didn’t want to work in the industry because so many people in my family had. I was going to do dance therapy for juveniles,” Haley told me. “Then I went to [Country Music Awards] with my mom and got to go backstage. Seeing everyone and everything going on made me think, “Huh, maybe I do want to do this after all.”
When Haley received her Local 695 card in 2017, she began to develop record assist and cloud-based screener protocols that have been essential for contactless delivery and safety during the pandemic. She’s worked on broadcast tentpole productions such as the Video Music Awards and MTV Movie Awards..
Jillian Arnold is a Recording and Workflow Engineer who also followed in someone’s footsteps. “My stepdad was a Tape Duplicator,” she explained. “His claim to fame was the colorized version of It’s a Wonderful Life on VHS. And when I was little, he had five or six tape decks in the basement where he’d duplicate old cartoons for international release. And he taught me how to use those tape decks. Now, I am what I like to refer to as ‘The Artist Formerly Known as the Tape Operator.”
Since earning her 695 membership in 2012, Jillian has been at the forefront of new server-based network recording technology, as well as the cloud-based migration of large assets. She was recently elected to serve as President of Local 695 and holds dual-card status with Local 600. Her clients include Disney, ViacomCBS, Netflix, Apple Inc., TED Conferences, and the Jet Propulsion Lab.
All three of these women are first-generation card holders within their families. “My mother was from the employer’s side of things. So when I joined, she was happy about the benefits and protections that came with that,” Haley said.
“My dad did tell me that he had been approached about joining the Teamsters union many years ago. But due to having to try to find sitters to help take care of his four children and often having to leave work to take care of us on his own, he was unable to commit the time, ultimately missing out on the opportunity.”
“As a woman, I am very mindful that I have to
be on my game. I believe
I need to know all aspects of my craft well.” –Jillian Arnold
“Both of their dads thanked me with tears in their eyes when they got their union cards,” Jillian remarked. “There’s that day our fathers have when we surpass their knowledge. And it can be a very proud moment. My stepdad was also very proud. I know because my uncle—who was in Local 2—calls and tells me,” she laughed. “He was the one who really impressed the importance of unions on me. I’m really proud to be part of a collective that, internationally, has more than 120,000 members. And every level I hit, I can’t get over it.”
As engineers working to develop the bleeding edge of production workflows, these three women are pioneers within their fields. In spite of their impressive résumés, however, all three face unique challenges that present obstacles within their careers. “I’ve certainly had bouts of weird comments and things like that,” Cheyenne said during her interview. “I’ve had people staring and one guy who started following me. There was a day when I pinched a nerve in my back and the medic closed the door so he could massage my lower back. Very weird. So safety is a big concern.”
According to a 2018 USA Today survey of 843 women working in the entertainment industry, an alarming ninety-four percent of respondents reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault. The same survey, which was conducted in partnership with The Creative Coalition and Women in Film and Television, went on to report that twenty-one percent of the women interviewed reported having been asked to or coerced into performing a sex act.
“I’ve left the truck crying before because I’ve been uncomfortable,” Cheyenne admitted. “I don’t think people always realize that it can be intimidating for women to walk in sometimes but it’s nerve wracking.”
“Luckily, I haven’t experienced that too often,” Haley commented. “But sometimes when you come on the truck, you can interact with people who will give you the up and down and you can just read on their faces that they aren’t expecting much out of you.”
“There are definitely people who are shocked or dumbfounded that this easy to laugh off twenty-four-year-old-looking girl comes in and knows her stuff,” Cheyenne agreed.
“People still aren’t used to seeing a woman in our spot. It’s fun when you do know it. My favorite part is blowing them away and doing really well. Then you just look at them and see them crack a little smile,” Haley said. “That’s always pretty great.”
In Rosa Costanza’s “The Best Person for the Job,” an article published in Production Sound & Video in the spring of 2015, Jillian describes her experience in a situation that many women within the industry face. “As a woman, I am very mindful that I have to be on my game. I believe I need to know all aspects of my craft well. Therefore, I spend quite a bit of time training and studying on my days off. I often feel I can’t afford to make a mistake without it reflecting poorly upon me, and my gender. Some may say I’m too hard on myself, but I think that I have to be as good as the best.”
“But we’re put into these positions by people who believe in us,” Cheyenne pointed out. “Tech Managers, the people who hire me, they all say, ‘I have no doubt that you can do it. I’m not worried about you at all.’ I would not be where I am today without the support of so many wonderful men in my career. There are just some people who make me feel like I don’t belong here. And of course, I belong here. I worked really hard to get where I am. And there are definitely people who can see that and who have been encouraging every step of the way.”
Unfortunately, the problems that women face within the industry are not just confined to the set or normal business hours. The unpredictable nature of Hollywood can make balancing work and family life a challenge.
“I think it scares the hell out of me to think about having babies in this industry,” Haley explained. “Growing up, we were fortunate enough to have help. But I can’t imagine getting off from a show and getting home, helping us with a project, putting kids to bed, working until midnight, then getting up, and working a completely different schedule. I think it scares me because we have such an unpredictable schedule. And then there’s the fear and legitimate concern of losing your job. If you need to take time off, there might not be a job waiting for you when you’re ready to come back or someone might think, ‘She’s too distracted to do her job now that she has a kid.’ And I do think that’s something women struggle with more than men.”
“Women are exhausted,” Jillian said frankly. “As someone who doesn’t have children but wants to, this idea of being an exhausted woman is not a workable survivable tactic for me. One of the reasons I became president was to create a world where women can work and have a family. And with the number of women coming into our technical local, we are going to be forced to rethink how certain things happen like flexibility of maternity leave and paternity leave, daycare, and sick pay. My focus is on how we can improve the mental health and wellness of our members beyond just pay structures and healthcare. Because this isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s not in anybody’s best interest for women to be this exhausted all of the time.”
“I can’t imagine trying to have kids right now with this job,” Cheyenne stated. However, she was quick to agree that this is not just an issue impacting women in our field. “I know that we talk about it a lot in terms of single mothers, which is an utterly amazing accomplishment. But I do want to shed light on the fact that there are single fathers out there having to do it on their own too, often raising young women who they want to see succeed as well. I am an example of that. My dad emphasized that it did get very difficult at times and more resources and support would have been wildly helpful as a single parent.”
I would like to thank Jillian, Haley, and Cheyenne for taking the time to sit down and speak with me about these proud and difficult subjects. All three are a credit to their respective fields. As we move forward, Local 695 is committed to nurturing equality within our industry. Members who are interested in being a part of this reform are encouraged to reach out to the Local about joining the Women’s Committee or the Committee for Equity, Opportunity, & Diversity.
“At the end of the day,” Haley concluded, “we need to support women because that’s how we support everybody.”
“As a new female Video Engineer, I am so excited and proud to be supported by strong women. And I want to give credit to the men who continually back and support women in the fields, as I have experienced greatly thus far during my career. It is a very competitive field, but that is also very encouraging and enticing. And as much as it is intimidating at times, I believe that being a woman in this industry is beyond rewarding in so many ways,” Cheyenne told me optimistically.