Rising Star Shauna C Murphy On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry

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Lift others up. Don’t be afraid to celebrate others’ work! Strong people lift others up and are also happy to be celebrated. Promote your colleagues’ work and be curious about them, and you’ll shine. When you appreciate their strengths it silently gives you permission to be strong yourself. I always gravitate toward people who are approachable and assume positive intent in those around them — and I think having that sort of powerful, kind presence goes a long way for someone.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Shauna C. Murphy.

Shauna C. Murphy is a producer and writer for young adult content. Her recent award-winning documentary film, Worldbuilding, examines children’s imaginary worlds, as well as the worlds authors create in fiction, and the overlap between them. She is passionate about fictional worlds that are crafted with an understanding of young people’s imaginary perspectives. She has an MS in multimedia journalism and a BS in publishing and writing.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me — yes, I grew up in Los Angeles, and I spent my summers in the country, surrounded by nature, so I’m a bit of a cultural hybrid. I was constantly in plays and productions and I fell in love with theatre. Often the cast and crew of whatever group I was part of became my family and I felt so at home there. I think being so young and traveling with performance groups instilled something in my bones which I still draw on today.

I’m the youngest of four girls and my mother gave me the nickname Coco, after my middle name, and I often go by that name still today. My father was a TV director for NBC Universal and my mother was the nurse on the lot at Warner Bros. So sometimes I went to screenings and events and it all felt normal to me. Looking back I’m glad I had that in my periphery because it made me think, “Sure, I can make stories like this.” There was a child-like innocence to my idea of it all. I’m also thankful I had a mother who allowed me to be myself as a child. She let me write for hours, and she made me dance in the kitchen with her. She never smothered my little spark.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Stories have always helped me have perspective with life’s challenges. I had a vivid dream life and often wrote my dreams out into a narrative — looking back now, I think it was a type of superpower I didn’t fully understand. Eventually, I realized I could use stories to string together emotional realities like a map and share them with others. I was hooked on it.

A story that really influenced me back then was The Hunchback of Notre Dame — I so loved Esmeralda and Quasimodo. And people say that story is too intense, but as a child, it resonated with me — I needed to hear those important, intense themes for the situations that I would go through in life. Books like that have inspired my own work, and likewise, I want to put stories out there that have a level of depth and resonate with young people.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Sure. I have a kind of silver-lining memory from the first government lockdowns of 2020. I was working with a virtual reality lab at that time, the lab closed, and I had a ton of new time to start my own work again. That night, I dreamed about this snowy fantasy world, and when I woke up the next morning — like my dream — it was snowing! I was elated. It felt like it had snowed just for me. It was February or March, and where I was living at that time it never snowed then, but for days it snowed and I outlined the most amazing story about my snowy dream. My best ideas come from strange moments like that.

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?

When I first started I would chat with people about my various projects, then word spread and the narrative morphed from person to person — it was like the telephone game. People came to me with all kinds of sideways ideas about my project. I laughed it off and learned to stay quiet about my work after that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I just finished a documentary, called Worldbuilding. It’s about the perspective of a child’s imaginary world, as well as a writer’s craft perspective — and the overlap between them. As part of my research for it, I studied the surprising worlds that children created for themselves, and I realized I had only scratched the surface to learning the potential of the craft of worldbuilding. I dug into the psychology around the craft and discovered that the real potential lies in the unique imagination and interpretation of the reader. I found that the best worlds allow us to superimpose our own imagination into the larger perspective of the story, and that perspective allows us to become who we truly are. The art and psychology of worldbuilding can be so powerful for both the writer and reader. I am so blown away by it.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I’ve had heaps of well-meaning advice from people whom I admire, telling me not to pursue this career. So yes, working in this field felt daunting to me, too — we’re afraid of failing when we don’t know if we’re doing something wrong. So my tip is to be practical — learn as much as you can about the craft, the business, the types of stories you want to put out there and the market for them. And treat yourself with dignity, too. Professionalism and success, I think, is more of a way of being, than reaching some standard. So even if you’re making something that’s unpolished or just a little indie project, represent it with professionalism, because it can still make an impact.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Fictional worlds expand our perspective, our imagination, and empathetic abilities. Part of my research for my documentary, Worldbuilding, involved studying any potential benefits children would have from creating their own imaginary worlds. Children who had imaginary worlds tended to score higher on tasks that involved creativity. They also tended to score higher on tasks involving making friends. There is a lot of research that the more fiction you read, then the better become your empathy for other people. So in giving, especially young people, the stories which will collectively inform part of their perspective on the world, then yes — it’s most important that the stories cultivated for and by them are an authentic, diverse, heartfelt, wonderful collection in every way. And in terms of my own work and the stories I’m passionate about bringing into the world, I want to inspire hope.

Diversity of thought, also, is hugely important in the craft of worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is the process of creating both a paradigm and place, so the reader experiences a new paradigm and characters that think differently and may have different values — and that diversity of thought is something to celebrate. It’s part of the wonder of it all.

I also researched the content of the worlds and characters that young people imagine for themselves, which is very diverse. Imaginary friends are not necessarily similar to the children who imagine them, they often think and behave differently. A shy girl had an imaginary friend that was kind of like a villain — blowing things up around the house and chopping people’s heads off. Children sometimes incorporate aspects of their favorite fictional worlds into their imagination play, but usually, children come up with their own original ideas, which I think is cool. Children create imaginary characters with diversity in personalities, in appearance, in culture, in the things they wear, and so on. So it satisfies their interests and meets the market’s need to have diversity in both the character design and the worldbuilding they read. Sometimes the characters they created made me laugh — like one girl who described her imaginary friend as a unicorn with a bad attitude. They’ll have a tea party with Princess Jasmine, the little mermaid, Moana, the Grinch, and several monsters from their own imagination. They’d all have tea together.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Create from the deep place. This is key and I wish I’d known it sooner. As much as possible, when drafting or coming up with concepts, I try to draw from a deeper place inside myself. Think about the structure and mechanics later, but allow yourself the freedom to actually discover what it is you’re trying to say, first. Some of my favorite work has come from the scraps of freewriting I’ve done, allowing myself to try new things and think abstractly. I’m still learning to do this, but the more I practice it, slowly it becomes easier to create from this place.
  • Lift others up. Don’t be afraid to celebrate others’ work! Strong people lift others up and are also happy to be celebrated. Promote your colleagues’ work and be curious about them, and you’ll shine. When you appreciate their strengths it silently gives you permission to be strong yourself. I always gravitate toward people who are approachable and assume positive intent in those around them — and I think having that sort of powerful, kind presence goes a long way for someone.
  • Train your eyes to see goodness in yourself and others. Appreciate your work for all of its quirks and differences, not in spite of it. Those quirks may just be your selling point and the thing people love most. It’s so easy to see flaws where someone else would see the character. Our stories are all so different — I think the more we can own what makes us unique, the more we come off as relatable. It’s important for me to see the goodness around me in order to stay inspired, so I try to remind myself to take up hobbies, an art project, a musical instrument, take trips, anything to keep the wonder alive.
  • Know your audience. So often I’ve seen that people will have a great idea, so they get excited and start the creative process without fully hashing out their market, adjacent audiences, partner organizations and stakeholders, etcetera. Projects that are crafted with an understanding of the audience always have an edge.
  • Have a plan for success and implement it before the opportunities come. New opportunities aren’t a gift if you don’t have the capacity for them, so create a system for handling new tasks, and you’ll be better equipped to operate with other success-minded individuals. Actually, draft out practical ways you’ll handle the responsibility when it comes. Don’t fall into the trap of “that’s not my job” or “I only do the creative part,” be a team player, put yourself out there, and champion your work in all aspects.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

  • Boundaries. In so many ways it’s harder for creators now, because there’s instant access to them online. For me, I have to take breaks from social media and the world’s various eyes which distract me. I previously took a year off social media, and often months at a time. If I didn’t take breaks, the pressure of that looming presence — the constant access of the world would prevent me from being as creative and focused as I can be. I try to remind myself not to measure my success by superficial metrics, but rather people’s lives who might have been touched by my work. So I try to know when it’s time to disconnect from the world — and when to connect again.
  • Manage the creative genius. It’s hard for most creative people, but it’s especially tough for me because I’m one of those people that will get swept up in some type of flow when I’m working, and go without thinking about consequences or myself at all — and I do burn out sometimes after I’ve finished a big project. I’m still learning to make more room in my life for things that refresh me and build me up.

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 would inspire a trend that would encourage an understanding of young people’s imaginations in fictional worldbuilding. So whether it’s worldbuilding for a game, a VR concept, or a book, having a mechanic that allows for wonder is so important. I think many writers conceive of worldbuilding as ludos (a set of rules) instead of paidia (which is like sandbox play), but the way young people imagine and play with fantasy worlds is much more like paidia. They want agency in imagining possibilities in the world, the systems of the world, and so on.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Years ago, when I was starting out, I applied for mentorship through a non-profit. I submitted my best work and won mentorship with an award-winning editor. She was this uplifting, wise presence in my life. Looking back now I’m surprised I followed my little instincts and knew to apply for that. Having someone present with me, who would review my ideas — was enough to keep me working on my craft through the tough years. One day, I’m going to give back and mentor, as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Les Brown has this speech where he says, “Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” It made me think about how others’ expectations can restrict us and limit the possibilities in our lives if we let them. At that time, I asked myself, “is my idea of what’s possible for me based on a social group, the news, the current trends?” So I had to set myself free from others’ opinions that felt like they were strangling me into conforming and reacting certain ways. It was a big breakthrough and after that, I felt like I didn’t see anything as impossible for me.

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. :-)

I think my breakfast would be with Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli films are my favorite. There’s an inventiveness in his art I admire so much. I hope I can, in some small way, carry that mantle and create work that will also inspire wonder. His stories have a way of making you feel like your own day-to-day life can be enchanted.

More realistically, in the United States, that’s also tough — maybe Veronica Roth. Not for any specific reason, I can put my finger on, I just like her style and presence. I think we’d be friends.

How can our readers follow you online?

My Instagram is: shaunacmurphy_

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

To you as well, thank you!

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Edward Sylvan, CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Specializing in acquiring, producing and distributing films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subjects