How Diane Strand of JDS Video & Media Productions Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
It’s simple — art represents life, and life represents art. Art represents love, pain, happiness, sadness, chaos, and calmness. It represents color, creativity, people of all races, religions, and nationalities. My way of promoting inclusiveness is to cross-collaborate all things. We must understand one another, not judge one another — we all have our own story.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Diane Strand. Diane Strand is the majority owner and executive producer of the multi-award-winning JDS Video & Media Productions, Inc., the studio producer at JDS Actors Studio, and the founder and executive director of the nonprofit 501c3 JDS Creative Academy. She is also the creator and executive producer of Spirit of Innovation, the first local news and information television show exclusively for Riverside County. Diane’s expertise stems from working on hit shows like Survivor, Big Brother, and Joe Millionaire and producing live events at Staples Center & The Shrine Auditorium with superstar headliners including Barbara Streisand and Eric Clapton.
She also led the live-streamed broadcasts of televised sporting events featuring legendary teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings. Diane is the founder of Digifest Temecula, the city’s annual film and media festival, which spotlights arts and excellence in digital media throughout the region. Aside from retaining mentionable local clients, including Abbott Vascular, City of Temecula, TEDx, and California State University of San Marcos, Diane is also a community leader serving on the board of multiple organizations such as the Riverside County Workforce Development Board and Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business event committee. By combining her vast industry experience with her deep involvement in her local community’s economic development, she creates opportunities for diverse individuals to gain experience and training for a career in the video production and entertainment industry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My journey to where I am in my career has been long. I went from working on A-list shows like General Hospital, Friends, and Veronica’s Closet to launching Playhouse Disney for The Disney Channel to working in Universal Studios’ creative division and producing the first online streaming broadcast of the Democratic National Convention out of Staples Center for HBO PayPerview in 2000. Then, in 2003 I gave it all up to be an entrepreneur. I now run and own a multi-award-winning video production company, an actor’s studio, and am the founder of a nonprofit. It’s always hard to connect the dots looking forward and always know where you’re going, but looking back, it’s clear to see how my mission today is what it always was, even though it looked different each step along the way.
My mission is to break down barriers to employment in visual and performing arts and digital media by creating career pathway opportunities. Today’s mission focuses on providing video production training to individuals with autism or developmental disabilities. I began developing this initiative in 2015 when Riverside County’s third district supervisor appointed me a board member for workforce development. Through this appointment, I met people involved in different workforce development areas, providing resources to those hindered by employment barriers. I was asked to meet a young man who has special needs and consider letting him work at our video production company doing any type of entry-level position I had available. He would come with a job coach, and it wouldn’t cost me anything. Well, I met him, and of course, he was a fantastic individual who was passionate and knowledgeable about audio work and packed with a lot of talent and raw skill, so I said yes!
Within five months of working with him at our studio, JDS Studios, I started writing a program design for video production training for adults with autism and developmental disabilities. Though it took six months to get approved to provide the program as a vendor through Inland Regional Center, three years later, we now have individuals ready to launch into the next phase — placement into employment opportunities in a career they’re passionate about. By working with that young man who came to us in 2017 loving audio, we saw how, with a bit of guidance and support, individuals with special needs could be trained to work on TV shows, radio shows, and other fulfilling positions within the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
As I reflect on the most interesting moments throughout my career, one of my favorite memories is my story about becoming an entrepreneur. I came home from a long day working in reality television, which can be sometimes grueling, and my husband, who was a working actor and film director, said, “What if we cashed in our chips and started our own production company?” Well, I said, “YES!” The next day, I put in my one-month notice at my job. We sold our house, packed up our three-year-old, and left the six-figure income, Hollywood, and everything we had known in our careers to become entrepreneurs.
That was May 2003, and I have never looked back. Eighteen years later, I am what’s known as a serial entrepreneur. I run a full-service video production green screen studio. I’m the president and producer of an award-winning corporate communication and marketing multimedia company. I’ve launched more than 100 actors with agents into the entertainment industry through our actor’s studio and co-founded a nonprofit for visual, performing, and digital arts that trains and enriches youth, teens, and adults. By cross-collaborating mainstream, at-risk youth and adults with autism and developmental disabilities, I truly believe our work will help make the industry more diverse and representative.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Shortly after we started our video production business, we thought it would be a great idea to jump into producing videos for real estate and try real estate investing. We went down this path for a year or so, determined to make it work, believing that real estate investment could be another viable revenue stream. One day, my husband and I looked at each other, and both said, “This is so not us.”
While we thrive in the corporate marketing and event world, real estate investment didn’t give us our ideal clients, and understanding who your ideal client is a big key to success. Thinking about the type of storytelling we do now, it’s rather funny to think we were trying to thrive and be satisfied telling stories and producing videos for real estate — plus, we are no Chip and Joanna Gaines! Looking back, we see how video and real-estate took on a whole new identity soon after we left the real-estate world. Still, we don’t regret our decision to focus on news, information, and corporate storytelling.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
I am expanding inclusivity throughout the US population, especially in the workplace, through education, training, and exposure. The arts are a great way to find common ground. Our magazine-style news and information program, Spirit of Innovation, reaches at least 2.4 million people. Our participants, adults with disabilities, are spotlighted, along with organizations and businesses that support them.
We also broadcast the participants on the radio regionally, three times a day, seven days a week, with a 2-minute news break that highlights their capabilities. We’ve created a micro version of Spirit of Innovation called SOI Update. In this program, they deliver weather, road conditions, and community events to the mainstream community, who sees their determination and talent and realize they work just as hard as everyone else, only needing some minor accommodations.
We also strive to provide a safe place for K-12 students to explore career pathways in the arts in a professional setting. We want them to see people working in careers they’re passionate about, being successful and fulfilled. The arts provide a place for identity acceptance. It’s welcoming to all races, diversities, and genders — in fact, JDS Studios has more female employees in a heavily male-dominated industry. The arts also provide a cathartic release through expression, emotional connection, and the ability to understand culture more deeply and read subtexts between the lines.
At JDS Creative Academy, we are a STEM to STEAM concept. Adding the arts provides commodity, team collaboration, and out-of-the-box thinking while also using the analytical skills needed for science and the technology and math skills needed to make spectacular discoveries through art or outside of the standard creative arts practices.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
Our actor’s studio has launched rewarding acting careers into the entertainment industry for youth, teens, and adults. Within a year of starting our actor’s studio, we had a mom come in with two twin girls. One was super excited, and the other, a timid and scared girl named Corinne Massiah, wasn’t interested at all. The mom said, “Your sister is going to be right there with you.” At the end of the class, she came bounding out, telling her mom how fun it was and how she would become a professional actor. After about four months in our classes, she performed in her first play, then signed up for our industry program, got an agent, and within a month began guest-starring on CSI. She consistently guest stars on various network TV shows, appears in major motion pictures with celebrities like Samual L. Jackson and Hugh Jackman and landed a four-year contract role on the ABC show Mistress. Despite continuing to grow her resume with work on hit shows like Fox’s 911, Corinne still takes private coaching from us here at JDS Actors Studio as her schedule allows. She also spoke live in front of more than 100 people at our annual event DigiFest Temecula in 2018. While she is still introverted, she’s no longer shy. She loves putting herself out there and sharing her talents and passion.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
It’s simple — art represents life, and life represents art. Art represents love, pain, happiness, sadness, chaos, and calmness. It represents color, creativity, people of all races, religions, and nationalities. My way of promoting inclusiveness is to cross-collaborate all things. We must understand one another, not judge one another — we all have our own story. Not everyone has to like everyone, but we must coexist, and the arts level the playing field. That was my intention in creating DigiFest Temecula, the three-day festival and competition with all the Hollywood flair of a film festival and the dynamics of a professional conference. Through this festival, I strive to bring like-minded individuals together with talents and passions of all ages and levels from several digital mediums. The collaboration of learning and sharing through entertainment creates and enriches the community and helps promote diversity and inclusivity.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
1. Practice acceptance of all
As a society, we’re going through this big awakening of acceptance right now. You can see it everywhere, whether on the social justice side, in movements that put more women forward or by learning to be more inclusive to people with adversity and challenges. In the entertainment business, it used to be that the only time you saw anyone with special needs or challenges was if you were telling a story about them as opposed to just letting them be the storytellers, letting them work, and coexist. We need to continue practicing acceptance of all to foster inclusivity.
2. Don’t give your power away, and celebrate the power of others
As members of this industry, we should never let others mistake our minority status as vulnerability. We must stand together and support one another, including ourselves, to normalize our representation. In my career, I’ve been very fortunate to have had some great women bosses that showed me how to lead. As a woman in this industry, I’ve always had a personality that allows me to be in a room full of men and hold my own. But I’ve also had moments where I felt objectified by males in the industry trying to intimidate me, make me feel weak, or exert some sort of control over me because I was in a leadership position. But I don’t give that kind of control up, and that’s the truth — you can’t give your power away. In certain situations, don’t let them see you weak, especially in the entertainment industry, even if you need to go home and scream into your pillow at night. Never let anyone run you out of a room.
3. Be Open to the New
In a subjective industry like this, you need thick skin. But there must also be guidelines, respect, and professionalism, and you must make room to open up to new ideas. Collaborate and find common ground as opposed to only seeing the differences. This industry assesses you on your looks if you’re in front of the camera and your skill if you’re behind the camera, which is fine, as long as you’re open to new people and ideas from those who may not have conventionally carried the message. For a progressive industry, we tend to still run like the old boys club, but it’s time for a change. The industry could really help address the root of diversity issues by differentiating between the skill and the subjectiveness of what you see, so there’s more room and opportunity for what’s new.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is defining the direction, devising a plan, collaborating, and motivating a group towards a goal under a culture created to translate vision into reality. At JDS Studios, we are #JDSFamily. I have always believed in hope and hard work. I was recently given a new definition for HOPE — Help One Person Every Day, and I realized this is how I strive to lead my team, helping others by guiding the way and putting in the hard work. Action equals opportunities.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t expect results quickly; success takes time.
As a serial entrepreneur, I’m motivated by producing results, but when I first started, I was expecting results fast, probably too fast. Success takes a long time; even an overnight success takes ten years. Focus on the little wins and follow the momentum to reach the big wins of success. You either win, or you learn, and you only fail if you quit. Success takes time to marinate, so don’t think you need to do something else if you’re not getting instant results. I’ve learned over time that successful results take time, and there will be highs and lows, so trust in the process and persevere. This leads me to my next point…
2. You don’t have to have all the answers.
In my early days, pushing to get results quickly meant Scott and I took on a lot, which gets very overwhelming, and as we all know, there are only 24 hours in a day. I later realized we didn’t have to do it all, or know it all, to have it all. Surrounding ourselves with great like-minded people has made the business grow faster and stronger than when we were taking it all on ourselves. Collaboration is key. There is a saying, “Work on your business, not in your business.” When I finally understood that and put it into practice, our success began reaching new levels.
3. Hire people with passion.
You can teach people skills, but you can’t teach passion and grit. That’s why I love working with people who have barriers but want to succeed. It’s a passion, a burning fire that drives you through the tough times. No one will ever be as committed as you are because it’s your business, but passionate people will jump in with you when you share the same passion. HR is hard. I’ve worked with brilliant people who are miserable to work with, and I’ve worked with people who are qualified on paper and from great schools but turn out to be lazy and expect to have your job after the first week or think if we just did things their way that things would be so much better. Someone with passion and tenacity comes in and blends into the culture and proves their worth through their actions without expecting a reward beyond a paycheck for doing the job they were hired to do.
4. Working to please everyone is a lot of work where no one is pleased.
You’re not going to be the right fit for everyone, so it’s important to find out who your ideal client is. If someone’s not the right fit for you, you’re not going to be able to do your best work. I learned that pretty early on when we took on our first client as a video production company. They had used another company for production, and when the post-production side wasn’t working for them, they came to us hoping we could fix it. Seeing that they already weren’t happy with the footage, we should have passed on the project, but, as a new company, we wanted to make the client happy, and it became a very frustrating experience. We realized this project was a struggle because we weren’t servicing our ideal client — someone who wants to work with us from concept through delivery. We were trying to make a client happy who was already unhappy with their production company and had footage we knew was not up to our standards. Since we now understand who our ideal clients are, pleasing them — and ourselves — comes naturally.
5. Find an accountability partner and keep a close inner circle who can support you.
As a Type-A personality, I can be a tough person to hold accountable, and my insatiable appetite for more makes it difficult for me to “turn off.” Now, years into my career, I’ve learned the value of having people to be accountable to, and it makes all the difference, whether that be a coach, a colleague, or a business partner. My partner in business and life is my husband, so I’m accountable to him in many ways. The initials of each of our three children’s names are JDS, our business acronym, making our company their future and legacy. I also have outside people that hold me accountable. A close inner circle of people who guide me, serve as my sounding board, and hold me accountable keeps the momentum going. These are the people who understand when I can’t “turn off,” whom I let see me vulnerable — and there’s value in that too.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I H.O.P.E. by helping at least one person every day, that I’m inspiring a movement to be inclusive by supporting and training individuals with special needs and providing them with transferable skills, so they’re empowered to break down barriers and work in their desired industry of passion. Through my work, I’m creating paid employment opportunities to earn while you learn for college students and graduates trying to break into the industry, so they don’t have to start with getting someone’s coffee. I’m normalizing, not always being perfect. People’s mess can be their message, and putting your message out there shows the world we are all humans, just trying to live our best life. I hope to inspire others to be kind because they want to be KIND, not only because someone is kind to them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One quote that moved me just this last week as I was doing some goal setting was, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” — Zig Ziglar
Another quote I love is, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are an excellent leader.” ― Dolly Parton. As someone who has always chased her dreams, today, many of my dreams revolve around making others’ dreams come true by breaking down employment barriers to pursuing a career in visual, performing, and digital arts.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are so many! Diane Sawyer, Kelly Rippa, Robin Roberts, Michelle Obama, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Tina Faye, Oprah, Jen Gottlieb — All women leaders living their best life, facing challenges head-on as powerful, dynamic, smart, talented, warm, caring women who love their work, maintain ethics, passion, honesty, and authenticity — everything I aspire to be.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram profiles include @dianestrand @jdsproductionstudios @jdsactorsstudio @soi_newsinfo @digifesttemecula and @jdscreativeacademy
Twitter accounts include @JDSProductions @JDSCreative @JDSActorsStudio @SOI_newsinfo and @DigifestTemecu
I’m also on LinkedIn, and each of our companies has its own Facebook page. Check us out!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank you ❤
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!