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Portraits of Hollywood

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around Hollywood.

Arnav Shah

My journey started early in my school days when I used to take part in elocution competitions. As a 5th grader standing in front of an audience of 200 kids, it felt like the world was my stage. I was not intimidated by the eyes on me. Instead, it felt exhilarating to be able to grab and hold the audience’s attention like that. I reckon that’s when it began and I have not looked back ever since! I got into short films during my undergrad and made a bunch of them. They were definitely not the best, not by a long shot, but it was a good start. I worked my way into small film competitions and won a couple of awards too. In those moments, it felt like I was working towards something bigger. Eventually, I ended up at a good production house in Bombay where we shot numerous commercials for big brands. Read more>>

George Landress

I came out to Los Angeles in the early eighties seeking an opportunity in the music business as a studio musician. Like many struggling musicians I held down odd jobs as well as teaching at a local and very popular music school, the Dick Grove School of Music. I made many friends in the business along the way who helped guide me on my path. There were many tech developments going on in the music business at that time, especially the introduction of the first music computers, Apple and the Atari computer. Although it all seemed exciting, many musicians realized that they were being replaced by computer samples. Like them, I also wondered what my fate would be in the business. Read more>>

Corey “Ice Meez” Byrdsong

I first started pursuing a music career after my mother Gail Byrdsong entered me and my brother in a Black Expo talent show in Indianapolis, Indiana when I was about six years old. Ever since then, I was hooked. It has been relatively smooth but I struggle with the same issues that most artists do. Finding new creative ways to market my music to reach a bigger audience is always difficult. I am a hip-hop artist that has a growing cult-like fan base. Not only do I write my own music but I am also a ghostwriter, Video Director, Graphic Artist and Music engineer. I am most proud of my consistency over the years and the growth I have shown through my craft. Read more>>

Mallory Molinski

To make a long story short, I studied law in college and wanted to become a sports and entertainment attorney. After working with a few attorneys, I quickly realized I needed more creativity and socialization in my career. Through a friend, I fell into a job at Tory Burch (retail) and became a PR intern at the company. After years of working with the company, I became a VIP assistant and absolutely loved the brand! From there, I went to a start-up called Sonix, specializing in fashion-forward tech accessories – I developed a PR program and loved the team there – but after four years I knew it was time to branch out on my own. In 2018, I took a huge risk leaving my 9-5 and creating Beverly Bond PR. With one client on my roster, I began operations out of my home, and here we are six years later! Read more>>

Hongbin Xu

Since I was a kid, I have always loved to perform but I started to study music professionally at the Musicians Institute and pursue my career as a musician in 2018. I’ve been lucky enough to have had opportunities to play keys for many different artists and even produce or co-write with people. One of the biggest struggles for me is that I was introduced to contemporary music pretty late and I have to learn and pick up the music faster just so I can keep up with the people around me. It has been a tiring journey yet very satisfying. I’m a session musician and produce for artists in my own free time. I love to listen to different people’s perspectives and their approaches to music just so I can have a better understanding of how to blend my sound with their music. Read more>>

Andi Elloway

I’ve taken photos my whole life but ended up having a couple of opportunities to assist when I was in college. It was cool to see how to take photos from a career perspective and what that looked like for different people. I loved taking pictures but also really liked how customizable photography was as a job. It’s always something new and you can really set it up however you want. There were so many ways to make it work and keep it interesting and that element really hooked me. Plus there’s the opportunity to expand into film, creative/art direction, post-production, etc. Lots of room for growth if things get stale. I’ve always tried to follow the opportunities that are interesting to me or will teach me something. I know I will be learning and experimenting and trying new things forever. I enjoy pushing my photos in different directions and working with great people who make that possible. Read more>>

Jazmine Valencia

I’m the founder of JV Agency, a marketing agency in West Hollywood. With artist-focused marketing and a culture-building savvy approach, we implement key branding strategies and sponsorship campaigns while culling from a strong industry network. Innovating continuously in a relentless, changing digital landscape, I have handled over 2000-plus album launches, guiding and advancing the careers of an eclectic roster of top-selling artists, including The Killers, Fall Out Boy, Avicii, Max Frost, American Authors, and Shawn Mendes, among many others. At JV Agency, we handle every aspect of marketing for a single, album, or video release for all levels of musicians and genres, we pride ourselves on being connectors and culture creators.  Read more>>

Xue DiMaggio

I’ve been living in LA for over a year now. It’s been a delicious ebb and flow of life and learning, discovery, and growth. I’ve always been a crafty, creative human and being back in LA has been a warm embrace of creativity, exploration, and pure, unadulterated expression. Painting and the yummy textures paint provides is my first home but I am always expanding into different forms of creation such as digital art (thanks Procreate), aquascaping, knitting and baking! Currently, I am working on a mental health project that aims to reframe our relationship(s) to the ‘monsters in our minds’. The question “has it been a smooth road?” makes me think about how we conceptualize time, ‘progress’, and movement. I’ve always had difficulty with gauging time (aka time blindness). This difference in how I perceive has led me to examine the way we line up our lives in a linear way, despite the circularity of all the processes around us. Read more>>

Leisan Valieva

Leisan is a DJ artist from Russia, currently residing in Los Angeles, California. She started as a DJ throwing underground raves for Post Soviet community in Los Angeles. She also often played at various independent desert festivals in California. Currently, you can see Leisan playing disco house in popular local bars and music venues: Sound Night club, Pinky’s, Roosterfish, Clinic Wednesday, Bathtub Gin, Off Sunset, La Messa e.t.c. As a natural dancer and raver herself she enjoys bringing joyful sounds that uplift your spirit and make you want to dance all night. Despite her bright personality, as a truly Eastern European soul, her favorite genres are house, disco, and tech house. She enjoys exploring unique sounds and implementing that energy into her sensual and melodic house sets. Read more>>

Janae

My mother was a stay-at-home but also attended city college. Most times she was dressed very understated, no makeup and she had a really big Afro. One night she was in a fashion show for her school and her two of her friends dressed very pristinely straightened her with a hot comb the kind that you heat on the stove, then pulled her back into a slick bun. She had makeup on and black fitted pant and a shirt. This was the first time that I had ever seen her look like this. Her transformation had my attention and in my five years old mind, I thought I wanna look just like my mother. She was a beautiful. By the time I was 13 years old, I had become acquainted with electric blue eyeliner, 521 lipstick by wet & wild, and Maybelline mascara in the pink tube. I graduated from that to practicing on all my friends. Read more>>

Jen Benitez

I’m Jennifer Garibay Villaruz Benitez. I am a settler of Chumash territory and am a descendant of the Philippine diaspora with roots in Alaminos and Balinao, Pangasinan, Philippines. I am a multi-disciplinary artist, creative entrepreneur, energy healer and founder of a nonprofit organization for Filipina-American youth creatives called PINAYSPHERE (pin-eye-sphere – Pinay colloquial term for Filipina girl). Our mission is to amplify youth voices within the creative arts to provide support through mentorship, art programming, & local events / workshops using a decolonial framework. From my early 20s and now into my late 30s, I have taken part in several organizations & nonprofits such as Black Lives Matter, GABNet, Lighthouse for Women & Children in Oxnard, The Women’s Empowerment Network, The Human Nature Center, Carnegie Art Museum and many others. Read more>>

Daniel Sahlberg

I started up my own business in Stockholm, Sweden, after assisting different photographers in Europe and New York. Before starting up on my own, I was booking freelance assisting jobs from a few agents. It was an educational experience for me to learn firsthand how different people worked on set. I was working for Swedish Photographer Mikael Jansson, among other great photographers, and was fortunate to be on shoots for Vogue, Vogue Italia, Interview, and L’Uomo Vogue, to name a few. Along with assisting, I was also working on my own personal photography project. It was called “Rockabilly Rebels” and was a series of rockabilly portraits. This was a big deal for me because it was shown at one of the most famous exhibition halls in Stockholm, The House of Culture (Similar to The Centre Pompidou in Paris). Read more>>

Dr. Maritza Bollain

At a very young age, I ardently claimed my desire to pursue the study of medicine. I began my path as a pre-med student during my undergraduate years at The University of Chicago whilst completing a B.A. in Biology. At this time, I worked in cerebellar ataxia research at the Chief of Neurology’s Research Lab. This led to the realization that I wanted to work with people as I hold human connection with great value. Upon completion of my undergraduate studies in 2014, I shifted into working at a psychopharmacology research unit where I immediately gained the awareness that this was not the medical paradigm I wanted to partake in.During this short-lived time period, I observed how the allopathic medical system failed: a) to address the root cause of symptoms and b) compassionately practice the art of humanity. Read more>>

Giann Oliveras

I started photography back in 2011. I remember wanting to create conceptual/storytelling photographs. I was really drawn to the eerie/dark fine art photography style and growing up in Ohio allowed to me to have every scene from foggy creepy woods to abandoned vintage houses and buildings. And for years I would work my main job (I worked at a bank) and went to college at the same time so whenever there was any free time at all I would make sure to have shoots set up with my little sister who was the perfect model for the style I was going for. I eventually started shooting friends and anyone whose looks inspired me. I slowly started finding my place in the photo community and started hosting photo meet-ups in my town with my good friend Nicole who was also a fine art photographer. Read more>>

Yulia Kirillova

I started modeling when I was 19 and it opened the world to me. I was able to travel and lived in cities like Tokio, Bangkok and Paris. Eventually, I moved to Paris and continued my modeling career along with studying acting at Le Course Florent. Music and parties were always a part of my life though, I was going out a lot. Nine years ago I came to Los Angeles and stayed forever. Nightlife is different here compared to Europe, less clubs and more private events and house parties. At least for my taste and experience. Also, I discovered a whole world of festivals like Burning man and so on. I was never a big drinker and I don’t do drugs but there’s something so freeing about going out, being in the dark and listening to some good deep house or dancing your ass off with nice hip-hop beats. Read more>>

Nancy Paloma Collins

I’ve been in the mental health field for over ten years now. I’m the clinical director and founder of Paloma Therapy, a group practice in the State of California. As a Mexican American cis-gender, gay woman that was born and raised in LA, it was not what I grew up thinking would be my career or passion. As a matter of fact, my first college degree and career was in the fashion industry, at age 21 I opened my first retail store and had twelve employees. At some point, I realized that I wanted to make a difference in my community, I have always been intrigued by human development, sexuality, and relationships. I decided to get myself back to school and dive into a new career. In the beginning, I worked in non-profits and other large entities, always with the idea of establishing my own practice. Read more>>

Jackie Thornton

I’m originally from Memphis Tennessee, born and bred. Far from Hollywood as a person could get. I always liked telling stories, embellishing for dramatic effect. As an African American woman, I never thought it was possible or even feasible to want to tell stories for television and movies. I came to this conclusion early in life. Growing up, I loved television, but that love was definitely one-sided. The more time I spent watching television, the more I noticed I was invisible. I had to be content watching white girls having fun and adventures. For a while, I wanted to be the Black female David Sedaris so I wrote essays and stories to try to break into the lucrative (for David Sedaris) world as an essayist, writing for the New Yorker and chatting it up on NPR shows. Read more>>

Tara Tatangelo

If I go back far enough, I fell in love with dance at age four when my mom ensured I had access to classes. Without understanding until years later, I was holding more than I should have been at a very young age, and dance was, and is, really the only way I come back to me and feel what I’m feeling, but also alchemize and move through whatever I am holding. Dance became my therapy. Fast forward to age 17, and being out on my own, I detoured from dance and put myself through beauty school. Several years later, I was called back to dance in my mid-twenties through an erotic movement pole dance class. I grew up in a space where there was little space for the feminine to be expressed, seen, respected, or honored. Read more>>

Megan Sousa

The journey begins in the year 2017. What began as an idea grew into a full-blown vision. As co-founder and Executive Producer, I knew I wanted to start a stand-up comedy show of some sort. It was at Flappers Comedy Club I would meet Jamel Dotson at the open mics. I approached him to join forces with me to start this show that was merely an idea. The mission was simple: develop a diverse comedy show that represented truth and the human connection where we could feel a little more united. Read more>>

Theodore Dudley

I started out as an intern for the commercial wing of Jesse Dylan’s production company Wondros. Over the course of my academic career, I ended up interning there for over six months total and kept coming back for the incredible company culture and the opportunity to work alongside their incredible roster of creative talent. Read more>>

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