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Meet Kristen Tepper of 3 AM Thoughts Production

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristen Tepper.

Kristen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I founded 3 AM Thoughts Production (www.3amthoughtsproduction.com) in January of 2018 with my friends Ashley Lackinger, Coco Fernandez, and Paige Johnson. A nagging 3 AM thought is truly what forced me to commit to the idea. Since then, we’ve produced a short film, two web series (a third is in development), two commercials for local nonprofits in Chicago, and co-produced four sold-out live educational events called TAKE TALKS. And are ramping up production on a few projects in LA now as well. It’s been an amazing year and a half.

I’ve always loved film and TV and storytelling. I was a huge Nancy Drew and Harry Potter nerd as a kid but I think at large, it took me a long time to really own and admit what I wanted to do because ya know, you can “fail” at this creative endeavor stuff. In high school, you could not have PAID me to join a drama club, I was very focused on having fun and being “cool” which meant I spent most of my time partying and laughing with some of the most memorable humans in the world. Our teachers would exchange the word “memorable” for “nightmare” but you get it.

I headed off to Mizzou for college, studying communications *aka* the I have no idea what I want to do major. Mizzou was huge and amazing and the most wonderfully “true” college experience I could have ever asked for. It was also the place where I was able to figure out who I wanted to be vs. who I had been. My friends in college were so unabashedly themselves, it gave me confidence to do the same and embrace my nerdiness. I started writing scripts, taking theater classes and helping out on sketch and skit teams.

When I came back to Chicago, I dove in. I lived at home and was fortunate enough to work at my dad’s company so I could start classes at Second City. I fell in love with improv and writing. I was not the smartest, funniest, bravest or wittiest in my class but it lead me to find a group of friends who helped me become a better writer and improviser than I could have ever imagined. Soon after, one of my favorite teachers, s/o JAY SUKOW, introduced Ashley and I and we knew instantly we were of the same mind, we both worked in the “business world.” and understood the value of those skills for producing content and I began working on her web series. We were doing everything I had always thought about; writing sketches, taking classes, getting on stage, doing shows to 10 people and 50+. It was a dream but I knew I wanted to be in LA, learning from the best of the best and I was off.

And here I am, In LA, I do freelance social media campaigns and web design jobs, THANK YOU BUSINESS SKILLS. The freedom of freelance means I have time to work on my own creative projects and I was able to wait till I found the perfect job to balance those and work + learn within the industry. And I found it, I now work for a producer and his wife who is a writer/director. They are the antithesis to everything anyone has ever said about this industry. They insanely kind, thoughtful, full of advice and wisdom and somehow always chill. They genuinely want to help and do. They are who I think everyone should aspire to be, in and out of this industry. I learn something new every day and it’s all I could ask for.

The “freedom of freelance” sounds like a book title!  Thanks for sharing that insight – I think there are a lot of creatives who could learn from your experience with freelancing to help cover costs and provide you with the freedom to work on your own projects. Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Haha, I can’t say it’s been smooth but it’s been fun and it’s ever-changing. There are some days when I think I’m going 90 on a highway and nobodies in my way and there are other days where I can’t get my “car” started.

I tend to think we create a lot of our own struggles. I know at least for me, I’m in a constant battle of wondering if anything I create is “good enough” or if I’m “creative enough” and just assuming I’m not, which means I rarely share standalone work. But at the same time, for every doubt I’ve had I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by extremely motivating and positive people in LA and Chicago, that strip them away constantly. They are so supportive, we are each other’s hype men, we give pep talks, we laugh a lot, we brainstorm, we are very comfortable with failure now and I think that’s helped me at least become a little less precious with work. I think having a core group of people to tackle this makes all the difference.

For 3 AM specifically, I actually think money is one of the biggest “bumps” in our road. We are driven, we’re organized, we’re creative and we’re hardworking but we’re not rich and we wanted to make content. We didn’t want to wait though and we didn’t want to ask for permission and I think when you wait around for money from someone, you get permission and you even get a stamp of approval on your idea but you could spend months waiting around for it.

We really took the DUPLASS route. We rounded up a lot of creatives in Chicago and asked if they were down to make more content and not wait around for other people to say we’re good enough for a specific role or opportunity. We asked what their specialties were and what were their goals were, what equipment we could all scrounge up and we started taking some of scripts and matching people up to each project.

It’s been the coolest transformation to be around because now we’ve helped creatives meet other creatives and be inspired to make their own work and own projects and we help connect people where we can and join in on other projects as well. We’ve also seen some success with our projects which has felt really nice to know that we don’t need $20,000 to make a project if the idea is strong and the people creating it are passionate and innovative.

Please tell us about 3 AM Thoughts Production.
3 AM Thoughts Production is a film production company founded in Chicago, with a branch in LA. Our goal with 3 AM is to create meaningful, relevant, thought-provoking, and personal content with a focus on empowering intersectional and marginalized artists.

We want to tell the stories we wish we were seeing more of and give artists a chance to learn and grow together. You don’t have to be a professional or an expert to work with us – we’re all learning from one another and helping one another get better.

Anyone is always welcome to shadow on our sets, and if you’ve always wanted to try something (for example; sound, directing, etc.), you have our 100% support.

We want to create an environment where everyone has a creative seat at the table and feels comfortable sharing their ideas.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Oh my. This is hard. I’m a super butterfly effect type of person. I think everything happens for a reason so I’m not sure if I’d do anything differently, I maybe would have started earlier in writing and improv but then where would I be?! That’s a rabbit hole that I don’t know if I’d ever come out of.

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