Editor’s Note: The Reel Black List is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity on a daily basis. Today we celebrate Sheila R. Brown.
Sheila R. Brown is the Executive Director of the CineCares Division of Cinespace Film Studios. There, she developed the Mirkopoulos Inclusion Program. The program allows young adults from traditionally underserved communities (with little to no production experience) obtain paid job training opportunities on network television shows.
Her former trainees have worked on TV productions like Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, Empire, The Chi, Batwoman, Lovecraft Country, Power Book IV: Force, Michael B. Jordan’s 61st Street, Jordan Peele’s Candyman, and more.
Sheila began her career in broadcast television in 1991. She had impeccable timing as this allowed her to work alongside the Chicago Bulls during their six championship seasons. At age 26, Sheila became the youngest person appointed to the broadcast advisory board for a professional sporting league – the NBA.
A year later, she founded Freedom Entertainment, Inc. and enjoyed a diverse list of clients in broadcast television, event management, and marketing/public relations. Her clients included some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB), TNT, ESPN, MSNBC, Lifetime Television, The Oprah Winfrey Show, People Magazine, Proctor and Gamble/Gillette, and the M.K. and J.B. Pritzker Family Foundation.
Let’s celebrate Sheila:
What’s your origin story?
I was born and raised on the West side of Chicago and was always a go-getter. I convinced my mom to allow me to get my first job at the age of 15 (she did impose a requirement that I keep my school grades up)!
How did you get into the film industry?
Growing up, I knew that I wanted to be in a creative field. I thought I would pursue professional photopraphy so I ran around as a kid blinding everyone with my Kodak camera with the flash bulb on top! Later in life, I decided on television production. My first paid job in television came in 1991, just before my 22nd birthday. I took a job at SportsChannel Chicago. In professional sports, they broadcast the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Blackhawks games. I started as the Programming Assistant in ’91, was promoted to a Production Coordinator in ’92 and became the Production Manager for the station in ’93. I left there in ‘97 to start my own production company, Freedom Entertainment, which I ran for 20 years.
Who were your mentors?
I was inspired by other women who excelled in the world of sports production. Debra Zouvas worked for Trio Video here in Chicago and was a badass! She was there for me as I started to build a solid career in TV production. I had others in Chicago like Kim Fields (WGN) and Cathy Karp (KTLA & SportsChannel) who were in the business before me, poured into me and had my back. Of course, I had theirs too!
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
I joined Cinespace Chicago Film Studios in 2016 to lead their family foundation, CineCares Foundation. After being in the TV/film industry for 25 years, I came in with one mission. That mission was to create a job training program that would provide access to this industry for those who are often marginalized in the business. The president of the studio, Alex Pissios, and the Mirkopoulos family agreed that it was the best way to contribute to the under-resourced communities on the West and South sides of Chicago. We partnered with NBCUniversal, Wolf Entertainment, and IATSE Local 476 (Motion Picture Studio Mechanics) to pilot the job training program in 2017 and it has grown to be a premier job training program in this industry with more networks and labor unions joining in. To help change the professional trajectory of people who look like me will always be my greatest achievement!
What drives you?
The thought that when I close my eyes for the very last time, I want to know that I did my part to leave the world a little better than it was when I arrived.
ALSO READ: The Reel Black List on REEL 360
What is the biggest challenge to Black people in your industry?
Getting a fair shot. There are so many talented people who have the same credentials (often times more) as their non-Black counterparts who will never get a shot at doing the work that they are fully capable of doing. That’s why I work so hard to provide access to this industry and into the right rooms.
How has having the superpower of your Blackness helped you?
It has often allowed me to provide a perspective that many of my colleagues, neighbors, and community members have never had to consider.
If Black culture is your superpower, what is your kryptonite?
Procrastinating on some of my personal goals!
When you’re not working, what do you do in your off time?
Spend time with those who I love the most. My work requires me to interact with different people every day. Spending time with those who know me, my heart, what makes me laugh, etc. is priceless.
Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?
In five years, I predict that I will have strengthened my work by opening additional doors in TV/film and by growing this meaningful work across additional industries and locales.