In How She Got There, Her Campus interviews the professional role models you look up to most about what it’s like to be in their shoes. This month, Entertainment Journalist Sadé Spence shares everything you need to know about freelancing in the entertainment sphere.
You’ve surely seen Sadé Spence pop up all across the internet as of late, from your TikTok FYP to interviews with your fave, Chris Evans, to the AMA red carpet to headline after headline about the hyper-sexualization of Black Widow (more on that later). She works in front of the camera just as often as she does behind a screen, brainstorming the best questions for the little time she has with her interviewees, shooting red carpet footage and sparking discourse (again, more on that later) – but it’s all in day’s work (literally).
Spence graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s in international development studies and from Syracuse with a master’s in broadcast and digital journalism. Today, she shares all of the nitty gritty with us about her journey from student to entertainment journalist, from the worst piece of advice she’s ever received to what she’d like to see come next in her career and all that falls in between – and she does it all with the utmost enthusiasm, and the best shade of red lipstick I’ve ever seen (UOMA Beauty’s Sade).
Her Campus: What was your dream job when you chose your major?
Sadé Spence: My [original] undergraduate major was pre-med, and I feel like I always knew I wanted to do reporting or work in communications or something in that realm, but I wasn’t sure – and then you have that pressure from family – so I started out as pre-med. When I changed my major it was a little too late to get into comms, so I changed it to international development studies. I learned a lot about culture and policy, and took classes in econ to kind of understand the world, and then when I became an entertainment reporter I was covering more of the culture side of movies and TV. It was a windy path, but it eventually made sense.
HC: What was your first entry-level job in your field?
SS: When I was an intern at KTLA-5 – which has an entertainment department – one of my producers was an editor on a show that they would film after the news was over. One of our anchors hosted it and they needed someone to edit while she was on maternity leave so I got hired for that. Halle Berry came in, Amber Rose, and I got to say ‘Hi’ and edit the show, which was so cool.
HC: What does a typical day in your job entail?
SS: There is no typical day! It looks pretty different, but [for example] if I have a junket coming up – which usually takes place in the morning or afternoonish time – usually the night before is when you see the movie. So if I’m freelancing, maybe I’ve been writing an article or doing something for someone else, I prepare for that and then I go see the movie. Then I stay up and write my questions for the next day, go to set and sit in a room with other reporters and wait for my pod time, and then I have to take it to the producer and then they’ll chop it up. So that’s like one kind of day. Sometimes things will be stacked since I work with different outlets, so it’s all about being organized. I’ve had days that are almost 12 hours, where I was writing for this place on shift, and then I left and went to a red carpet, and then you watch the film and go to the after party, and then you get the next day started.
HC: What are you currently working toward?
SS: I would say hosting, I think, on another level. Like red carpets and the junket space is super fun, but it’s only one part of the vast industry of entertainment hosting. So I’d really like to venture more into having my own digital show, because I do like having a dialogue and sometimes it’s really hard to have that when you only get two questions on the carpet. Junkets, you have your three–four minutes – which still isn’t a long time – but you have a little bit to build rapport, so I’d love maybe like eight or 10 minute segments in a show where you can really talk to someone.
HC: What do you look for when hiring?
SS: Somebody who shows dedication to their craft, is good at communicating – even in the early stages of contacting someone, even just email or text, do they follow up? Do they follow up in somewhat of a timely manner? Are they someone you can work with? Are they okay with taking criticism, like if I have to say something, like an adjustment, can they do it quickly without making a fuss or being combative? A willingness to learn, and that doesn’t matter if you’re an intern versus a videographer, if I’m like, ‘Hey, I need the shot this way,’ can they be like, ‘Okay, cool’?
HC: What are the best and worst pieces of career advice you’ve ever received?
SS: The best advice was to say yes to everything, for the beginning [of your career]. Obviously, don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with, and don’t get taken advantage of. In the entertainment industry, people like to have you work for free in the beginning – which I totally understand – but they should still be showing you your worth somehow. Critiquing your work, buying you lunch, paying for your parking.
The worst piece of advice somebody gave me [was actually] recently and I thought it was weird: If somebody takes credit for your work, you should be flattered. And I remembered that I had heard that before, but it’s an old way of thinking. You know, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? But no, we’re not doing that!
HC: Not in 2021!
SS: Yeah, like with my Black Widow article, there was this whole thing around it where I asked a question – and it became the headline – about Black Widow and the hyper-sexualization of her character. I asked ScarJo that on the set of Black Widow in 2019, and even though it was a group setting, one outlet decided to list everyone’s questions and put it as a Q&A. Their lead-in was like, ‘We spoke with Scarlett Johansson about the hyper-sexualization of her character’ and I was like…. we’re not going to let you get away with that! In group settings, it can be a little weird because there are people who will try to say everything’s fair game, but I think ethically, you’d say, ‘…said this to reporters,’ which implies that you didn’t ask the question. So I think they were trying to straddle the line, but that line, I say, is unethical.
HC: What’s a career mistake you’ve made, and how did you learn from it?
SS: In the beginning, being in my head too much. If you’re in your head too much your personality doesn’t shine through, you look really stiff, and it comes off on camera. So I would see that a lot at first, clamming up for no reason. I’m a really outgoing person but I think just being in my head, like, ‘Don’t forget you want to do this,’ ‘Make sure you turn on the mic,’ and ‘Do all this stuff.’ It’s easier said than done, but it’s a huge thing. Just be where you are and take that in.
HC: So how did you learn to get out of your head?
SS: Seeing how stiff I looked on camera, I was like, ‘Ugh! That’s me?!’ Just realizing that you’re getting to do what you want to do, regardless of whatever level it’s at, so have fun when you’re there! If you’re having fun the other person can have fun. You should also remember as the host, or as the reporter, you have just as much authority as they do. I remember a professor driving that home: ‘Remember, you’re just as important as whoever you’re interviewing. You have something important to say, just like them.’ And that was another thing I would tell myself all the time, kind of fake it til you make it. Even though you can be confident, it can still be a little intimidating, so it’s like, ‘Wait. I’m supposed to be here, too. I’m part of this industry as well.’ And that helps me to relax, chill and have fun. The more you do it, you just get better.
HC: What’s been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
SS: Even though we just talked about it kind of being taken from me, seeing a question I asked actually became headlines across the board was really cool. In this field, it’s always cool if it’s like, ‘I got to ask them this, I got to ask them that,’ but if something actually gets picked up enough where it’s everywhere? That was awesome to see. It meant a lot, too, because I like to focus on culture, and with superheroes women often get over-sexualized, and we know that yes, Black Widow, that’s part of her arsenal. But in Iron Man 2, some of the things that were said to her were a little over the top. Being able to ask something that I think a lot of women were wondering about – how it was going to change over the course we’ve seen this character in over 10 years, and now in a standalone – what’s that going to mean for women superheroes? Because women are demanding a lot more everywhere, across the board, so hearing her talk about that and how it affected the character, and how they wanted to approach this movie, and see it actually make headlines – and people having discourse around it – was really cool.
HC: What advice would you give your younger self?
SS: Chill out! I’m an overthinker. Really a lot of people who work in media tend to be overthinkers, who think about every thing and every aspect, so I would tell myself earlier on to just chill. Everything’s going to work out. I wouldn’t change anything, because I think everything sort of impacts where you end up, but I’d be like, ‘You know you don’t have to overthink everything.’ I used to have a lot of anxiety – I still do – but when I was younger my anxiety was so bad I actually had to take medication for it. When I look back I’m like Sadé, what are you freaking out about? You’re in elementary school, you’re in middle school, it’s okay, you’re gonna be fine. So yeah, chill out earlier on. It’s all gonna work out.
HC: Who do you look up to?
SS: My mom is one person I really look up to. My family is from the Caribbean, and when my mom was younger she stopped going to school before high school because they told her, ‘Oh, well, you know, you’re not as smart as everyone so you have to stay home and cook.’ So when she was older and she moved to the US with my dad and they got married and everything, after she had us she went to school. She went and got her GED, and now she has a master’s. She’s worked in counseling, and that’s really inspiring. I get tired and I don’t have any kids, so.
You know, to be able to overcome that kind of stuff, where people literally are to your face – like family! – being like, ‘Oh, well you’re dumb, you need to be in the kitchen,’ it’s like… what? Back then, you hear about that older mentality where it’s like women should be in the kitchen period, and all that kind of stuff, and it’s like they don’t know any better, I think, but still it’s like not okay. It’s so hard.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.