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Meet Trailblazer Jesse Herb

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jesse Herb.

Jesse, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m a 22-year-old writer who works in animation. I feel like every time I write an anecdotal piece of myself it feels drab or stiff, so, no promises, but I will try my hardest to avoid that. I’m from the Bay Area originally but I went to Chapman University for college, and now I work at Dreamworks Animation and write for some magazines on the side.

Growing up, my mom has always been a huge cinema buff and when we were kids she would let us fall asleep to movies. Of course, her plan innately backfired because the correlation between me actually sleeping while a movie was on was negative. When I turned 15, I saw the movie Midnight Run and my perception of film was completely changed and I started writing my thoughts down. I mostly wrote down my thoughts to placate any lemming behavior, as my inevitable fear of blending in the background was at an all-time high.

Yet, the more I wrote, the more I found I sincerely enjoyed it. Film to me felt like a world all my own, where I could excavate and explore, all the while never having to pander to anyone. Amidst the amateur film critiquing, I was not only writing stories but drawing them as well. My mind became fascinated with what the characters I was writing about looked like, and what were the small nuances that made them who they were. From there, I got into Chapman film school and declared as a Digital Arts Major with an Art Direction minor. In the early years of college, I started summer interning at museums specifically for animation and cartoons in the Bay Area.

Junior year had eventually rolled around and I realized I loved art but had absolutely no interest in doing it for a career. Rather than the catharsis I originally got from it, drawing felt taxing and like a chore. I still wanted to be in animation though, so I pivoted to Production instead. In conjunction with art feeling taxing, the most emotional I have ever been was a junior year of college. I was crying every night and felt like I had no purpose. My emotions became so overwhelming I started writing them down just for release. Before I knew it they turned into poems.

By some divine miracle, I was able to land an internship my senior year. In order to graduate we had to make an animated short film as a thesis. Therefore, while working on my senior thesis, I was a production intern for two Adult Swim shows. The word tired was ingrained in my every step at this point, but even that couldn’t negate how positive I felt. I made friends with my boss and supervisor and was even hinted a job post-grad. Not to mention writing poems whenever I was completely overwhelmed was an overall positive experience.

As happy as I was, and as much as I was drawing for thesis, writing poems, and working in Television. I still never felt like I was writing for myself. Poems felt more like a necessity to cope rather than a creative expression. Lucky for me, a group of Chapman alum had started a pop culture magazine and were looking for writers. I applied and got brought on as one. I started in TV but within a short while was writing for film, podcasts, and music as well! My 15-year-old self felt validated and overjoyed to be writing reviews. I showed my thesis and graduated a couple of months later. I had submitted some poems and even applied to write for a different music magazine.

I took the summer off and ended up securing a job as a writer for the aforementioned music magazine. In my existential dread, I took an unpaid internship in Malibu for a producer. I stayed at that job for about two weeks before realizing I absolutely hated it and couldn’t stay. Thankfully for me, my boss from my internship senior year had asked me to interview for a Mike Judge show on the Sony lot. I somehow, someway got the position and thus secured my first job in animation. To this day it was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had, and I made more friends than I ever thought. During my time on that show, I was bouncing back between poems and both magazines. I thought I was fulfilled and happy until the similar feelings of not writing for myself had crept up.

By November, my job on the Sony lot was coming to a close and I had applied to an open Dreamworks position on a whim. I didn’t get that job, but after another four interviews in three weeks, I was offered a temp position. While I was working at my temp job I was coming home at night and writing screenplay ideas, and a couple of articles in between to fill that intrinsic void. Then, in December, I was offered a full-time position at Dreamworks Feature and I practically took it with tears in my eyes.

Right now, I have been working there for about five months, and a, still trying to feed the feeling of writing for myself. I’m still writing articles but also I’ve been writing an autobiographical piece. It’s been a whirlwind, with three jobs in six months and writing all through the night, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having a lot of fun.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Oh, it’s been nothing but obstacles, impositions, and people skills you never thought you had. Not to invalidate anyone else’s experience, but I question those who say it’s been a “completely smooth road”. I think one thing for me, however, that has helped me rise above the pettiness and uncertainty is self-congratulation. Although my depression and harrowing self-esteem doesn’t always allow for it, I think just taking a moment to say “I made it through another day, and I can still stand on my own two feet” has been really helpful. To put it crudely, life sucks, so do people, and nothing feels fair. Yet. through all of those notions, you managed to still present yourself to the world and say “here I am”, and that deserves some recognition.

For women, young women included, I would say never align you self worth getting a job or feeling valid in a career sense. As cliche as it sounds, the majority of opportunities that I have acquired have been because of timing and luck. Truthfully, what is meant to happen will, and trust yourself that you’re qualified enough to land where you want. Although, the converse of that is also true. It really is more than 1000% ok to say you don’t know what you want, and you feel lost. I think as millennials we’ve endowed this mentality that by not being where we want by 25, we’ve failed. I’m here to say 20 is so young! 30 is still young! 50 is middle aged and still valid! There is no timeline to achieve what you want.

Another thing is please let yourself feel, please let yourself cry. Everything you’re going through as an artist is tumultuous and difficult so please don’t suppress any feeling. Furthermore, constantly check in with yourself, your mental health is more important than any job, as guilty as it may make you feel, you can take yourself out of any situation. For context, at my Malibu job, I got groped and completely lied to about what the position was and I wish I had taken myself out of it a lot sooner. You do not have to put up with any kind of abuse, or trauma, especially in the workplace.

Last thing is never to underestimate the power of sideways networking. I reached out to half of my college friends while on the job hunt because they were all working or knew someone who was, and now vice versa. The people around you, your peers, are integral to your position. Not only have they been through what you’re going through but they want to help so reach out and maintain those relationships.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I specifically work as an Art PA at Dreamworks Feature Animation. A lot of the day to day is managing schedules, taking notes during a meeting, and working on legal clearance. The most enriching part, however, has been the artist morale. I get to work with wonderful, talented, passionate artists who make the most incredible work. They make me feel like I’m contributing to something great and my aspirations are valid.

As for my personal work, I love to write. I write poems, screenplays, articles, and most recently an autobiographical piece about my experience of “22.” I don’t know what I specialize in per se, I think I have the most experience in reviewing music and writing poems. Mostly because those are the two activities that are the most prevalent among my work. I think I’m known for my “wit” and never taking myself to seriously, Ok, maybe never say never, but at least trying to not take myself so seriously. When I’m writing articles, I just want to write love letters to other artists because truthfully it’s their work that makes me want to make my own. Whether that be film, music, novels, I cannot believe the capabilities of people’s creativity.

For fiction work, like poems and screenplays, there’s nothing I hate more than being heavy-handed. I personally think there are so many beautiful and artistic ways to articulate what you’re thinking, feeling, etc, and yet people choose to say “I was sad.” Of course, everyone’s expression is valid in its own right but to me, I just don’t resonate with it. To me, art is about eliciting a feeling and I would much rather have someone say “I didn’t really get it but it made me feel warm to read that poem” rather than like “I completely understand what Jesse is trying to say.”

I would also say regardless of the work itself, I want to write for queer people. I want queer people to read my work and feel heard in some small facet. Although I’m a queer white woman and I understand if my work can’t reach everyone, I still want to provide some accessibility to my community. Not just what cis straight people think about our community but what we think, what we feel, and to navigate trauma together.

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman just starting her career?
There’s an issue of Interview Magazine where Beyonce and Solange are interviewing each other. There was one thing from that interview that Solange said that has stuck with me and I tell people as advice often.

Beyonce had asked Solange, and this is a paraphrase, “You’re so creative, you’re constantly reinventing yourself, how do you know what’s next? How can you always tell where to go, how to express yourself, how to make such original art?”

Solange simply responded with “I trust my gut. Every time I’m making something, whenever I’m creating, I trust my gut. There is something inside me that says, do this, go for this. It’s almost like an innate feeling that no matter what, I have to do this. Whenever I have listened to that feeling I have been successful, whenever I ignore it, haven’t been as successful.”

I have noticed a parallel experience in my own art. I started writing poems because I felt like I had to. I reached out to those magazines because something inside said I need to write more and something different. Now, I’m at a place where I have wanted to write this autobiographical piece for so long and whenever I find myself not working on it, I wish I was. You know yourself better than anyone, it’s not just an inherent response, it’s corporeal. Trust that your body and mind know what to do, and run with them.

Contact Info:

  • Phone: 9257852936
  • Email: jessicaherb818@gmail.com
  • Twitter: @sinister_taint

                                    Image Credit:
Ren Hang (Head and Naked Body Image), Chris Zuniga (Dog Image), Seannie Bryan (Me and Ashley laughing), Jesse Herb (Poem), Anonymous (Stuffed Animal on Train)

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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