Based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Alisha East is currently working as a DGA 2nd Assistant Director for film and television productions in the state. She has worked on over 60 productions in Los Angeles, of which her credits include “The Mandalorian”, “Modern Family”, “Good Girls”, “12 Strong”, “The Dark Tower”, and “Pretty Little Liars”. East is a member of the DGA, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and the OKC Local 886 Teamsters.
How did you get started in the film industry?
I moved out to Los Angeles in 2012 and began contacting any production service I could find for PA jobs, emailing alums from the University of Oklahoma for connections, attending events to network with people in production, following location signs to random sets in order to meet crew, shadowing people and buying coffee for anyone that would give me advice. After emailing the same 1st AD for four years and picking his brain over coffee, he finally gave me a shot as an additional PA on his ABC show called “The Neighbors”. I did a good job and picked it up quickly, and he hired me for the next several years, and the rest is history.
Did you have any formal education or training related to the film industry before starting?
I didn’t really have any formal education or training related to the film industry prior to my first day on set. At that time, there wasn’t really any type of training course that could teach you about what actually happens on a set, the lingo or the types of positions. I googled things, but nothing can really prepare you for on-set work. There are training courses now in the state of Oklahoma that can really help you before getting on a set so that you’re not completely lost, but you learn mostly by hands-on activity once you get there. I actually currently teach an AD class at the Oklahoma Film and Television Academy and I truly enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with students wanting to learn more about the industry, and more specifically, the AD department. I truly wish I would’ve had that kind of opportunity to learn before moving to LA.
What are some of your most recent successes (credits or accolades) related to your career in the industry?
A year ago when I left LA, I had just finished working as a set production assistant on “Modern Family” and “The Mandalorian” to finish my qualifications for the Director’s Guild of America (DGA). Since getting my production days, I’ve been able to work in Oklahoma on several features as an Assistant Director – the most recent being “American Underdog”, the true life story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, starring Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin and Dennis Quaid.
What has your career in the state’s film industry taught you?
My career thus far in Oklahoma has taught me to relax a little bit more. I came from filming at all of the big studios on the top shows in LA, with some of the top crew and cast members in the business, and the stress levels were typically high. I think most of it comes from the environment of the city, but also when you’re dealing with many personalities and egos, huge budgets, and major networks, pressure can be immense. It’s interesting that while in Oklahoma we also have big actors, big studios behind projects, big money, but the pressure and overall vibe is not the same. It’s hard to describe, but I love that working in Oklahoma has reminded me of what I’ve known and believed all along, which is we’re making entertainment, not performing brain surgery, so we should be professional and work hard, but have fun, laugh and relax in the process.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
Everyone reading this will most definitely laugh at my response to this question, especially considering all of the shows I’ve worked on and people I’ve met, but for me, the highlight of my career is when I got to work on the set of “Pretty Little Liars”. It was my favorite show at the time, and we filmed it on my favorite studio lot, Warner Brothers Studios. I was obsessed with the show, and so to work on it and see the sets, meet the actors, drive the pink PLL golf cart – it was a dream come true. Some might say, “Alisha, what about when you worked the red carpet at the Oscars, or worked with Matthew McConaughey, or stood next to George Lucas at video village when filming season one of ‘The Mandalorian?’”…nope, it was Pretty Little Liars! Haha!
What is your favorite aspect of working in Oklahoma’s film and television industry?
My favorite thing about working in Oklahoma’s film and television industry is the family mentality here. People are very kind to each other, they work well together, and the stress level, compared to LA, is astronomically low. After living and working in the LA industry for eight years, I’m so thankful that I can live and work back in my alma mater state and do what I love and have an incredible quality of life. People actually try to help others here, and the competition is much less than LA, which I enjoy! Haha! A unique thing about the Oklahoma film industry is that you don’t have to just do one thing for work. If you don’t get a job as an electrician on a film, someone in the props department might hire you to help them out. Seeing that is not something I was used to, because in LA you must choose one path and that’s what you’re known for. It’s almost frowned upon if you choose to do multiple things there; however, in Oklahoma, it’s encouraged and welcomed, and I quite enjoy that mentality. I sometimes drive a passenger van in the transportation department, because it’s a very calming break from the crazy, stressful job of Assistant Directing. I also used to stand in for actors on set in LA to take a break from PAing. I can see how the diversity could cause some challenges and confusion, but overall, I think it’s very healthy to have different avenues of work.
How does someone in your field/department best promote/market themselves to those hiring in your industry?
Well, in LA it was all word of mouth. It took me two years to get in, but once I was in, I was in. I never had to submit a resume or anything – I just got calls and texts. But now that I’m the new person here in the Oklahoma industry, it’s a little like starting over. I still get a lot of calls and texts from word of mouth, but I also reach out to others I’ve met in the film industry here and I stay connected with what projects are going on and ask if they have heard of any jobs. I also check the Oklahoma Film + Music Office website for any crew calls. It also helps that I’m on the DGA Qualifications List and there aren’t many people who do what I do in our state. When DGA projects come through and they’re looking to hire qualified local ADs, I’m one of maybe three people, so that helps me a lot. I think the biggest thing is to stay connected. It’s all about networking in our business, and not burning bridges.
Are there any local film organizations, resources or events that have been beneficial to you in your career?
I really appreciated the events in LA that the Oklahoma Film + Music Office would host that would help connect the OK/LA industries. It was a great way to stay connected and informed on the growth of the industry in Oklahoma, while also meeting people who were from Oklahoma but lived and worked in LA. The opportunity to network should never be lost.
What’s the one item you can’t live without on-set and why?
I cannot live without my walkie caddie. It’s a little pen holder that fits around your walkie and it has saved me so many times! Before I discovered it, I lost probably ten pens and sharpies a day, and now I always have a red sharpie, a black sharpie, two G2 pens and a highlighter on me at all times. It sounds so trivial, but if you’re a PA or an AD, you know how important that is.
Would your career be impacted without the state’s film incentive program? If so, how?
My career would be severely impacted without the state’s film incentive program. The only reason I’m getting to live in Oklahoma City right now and have my career is because of the incentive program; otherwise, I’d still be in LA doing production assistant work, or I’d have to live in another state like Georgia or New Mexico to be able to do AD work. In fact, I wish the incentive program was even greater here or even stricter on hiring Oklahoma locals. I presume that will change in the next several years, but I’m grateful for the incentive that brings in big budget, higher level films that allows me to get some DGA work while living in this great state.
Where do you see yourself – AND – Oklahoma’s film industry in the next five years?
In the next five years, I’m hoping to be steadily working as a DGA AD in the state of Oklahoma, and I would also like to travel for work. I truly enjoy sharing my personal experience and knowledge in the business with others, so I hope to continue teaching a training course on TV and film production and Assistant Director work, or possibly hosting my own workshops. I believe within the next five years, the Oklahoma film industry will be a mini Atlanta. While living in LA, I was keeping a constant eye on the industry in Oklahoma and hoping for the day that I could move to Oklahoma City and make a living doing what I love to do. I decided to take that leap last year, and I’m so thankful I did. Our industry is truly taking off, and I’m so proud of the legislators in the state that are advocating for our industry. It not only helps the people like me working in this business, but concurrently helps bring more economic growth and opportunity to the state.
What are you working on now or next?
I just wrapped “American Underdog” as the Additional 2nd Assistant Director. It was such a fantastic project that I am so grateful I got to be a part of. I’m now looking for my next job, and am hoping to get some AD days on either “Killers of the Flower Moon”, “Reservation Dogs” or the next Adam Sandler movie in New Orleans.