2 Minutes With ... Jennifer Tomassi, Associate Creative Director at Hulu
Jennifer Tomassi makes innovative, audience-first content and experiences that win awards and earn favorable tweets and press. She's a television show creator, writer, collaborator, leader, instigator, comic book geek, green belt in Krav Maga, and one-time Jeopardy! champion with over 15 years of marketing experience in New York, London and Los Angeles. She has strong opinions on the Oxford comma, adores alliteration and believes in listing three things to make a point.
We spent two minutes with Jennifer to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.
Jennifer, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born and raised in Danbury, Conn., and after several years in Brooklyn and London, I am extremely happy to call sunny Los Angeles my home.
How you first realized you were creative.
I don't know when I realized I was creative, but I always liked being creative. When I was eight, my dad gave me an SLR camera and I loved taking pictures of my dog. I won "young authors" contests in my town and I would hold art shows of my terrible drawings and photographs when relatives came to visit.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
As someone who was pursuing both photography and writing from a young age, I was inspired by Annie Leibovitz. I was in awe of her ability to tell—in a single image—these fantastical stories by creating unique worlds and situations for her subjects. When I grew too old to pin heartthrobs from Tiger Beat on my wall, it was her work in Vanity Fair that replaced them.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
I joined the color guard my junior year of high school, and it truly changed my life in so many ways. I was academically gifted, but when it came to athletics and grace I was severely lacking. I learned about teamwork and perseverance, and that practice really does make perfect. I experienced the thrill of competition and performing in front of crowds. I kept it up for many years after high school, touring the country, competing with various groups, and I made lifelong friends along the way.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Cindy Sherman was one of the first artists I discovered in college (I was a photography major). Her Untitled Film Stills blows me away to this day—how she could create these scenes that today still seem so familiar and say so much about women's stereotypical roles on and off the screen. Her work has evolved over the years and at times is rather discomforting to view (I'm thinking of her Clown series). Even as she moves away from practical effects and is embracing digital so “late” in her career, she maintains a consistent vision and point of view.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I am so very late to the Ted Lasso appreciation party, but I recently started binging it and it’s my perfect chicken-soup-for-the-soul TV show. It's so damn funny—how does Brett Goldstein convey so much with a grunt? But it's also incredibly uplifting with its wonderful characters who actually grow and change, and beautiful life lessons in regards to leadership, friendship and resilience. If this show doesn't make you want to be a better person, then I'm sorry, there is no hope for you.
I enjoy Taylor Jenkins Reid's books (Carrie Soto Is Back, Malibu Rising, Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) so much. They're based in Los Angeles and make me re-fall in love with my adopted city. They center on ambitious and "difficult" women who are in the public eye one way or another. Reid's stories are a study and repudiation of the sexist double standards that any woman faces in her life and career, and her main characters are women who either just don't give a sh*t about how they are perceived or learn to work around it to get what they want. For me, these reads are both cathartic and inspiring.
Your favorite fictional character.
Do I have to pick only one? From literature, hands down it's Jo March from Little Women. From TV, it’s Liz Lemon in 30 Rock—if you can quote her to me we'll be instant friends. From comics, it's Chelsea Cain's Mockingbird—she's a total badass who also happens to be really funny, smart and kind.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
Alice Isaac (aliceisaac_studio) makes these wonderful, elaborate, collage-based animations that are absolutely mesmerizing. I am so impressed by her creativity and whatever patience it must take to make them.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
The bulk of my career at Hulu has so far taken place during the lockdown and WFH era, and because I worked on so many things I cared about, I did little else but work. I didn't bake bread or learn to play an instrument, or any of those other generative and restorative things people did to fill their time. In trying to figure out what a post-Covid life looks like—which I know so many of us are still doing—I've realized that burnout is real and I have to find a way to regulate my compulsion to throw myself into my work so I can also take care of my physical, emotional, and social needs. It's not just about work-life balance—most of the time I'm the one putting these crazy demands on myself. I've taken to setting alarms and blocking off my calendar so that I am giving myself permission to walk away at a reasonable hour or to enjoy the simple pleasure of eating my lunch outside and reading a book.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
As part of a larger Black History Month effort at Hulu, I helped create a docuseries called Your Attention Please that was hosted by Craig Robinson and featured animated and live-action shorts about the future makers of Black history. People today who are killing it in their fields and changing their corner of the world—like an ice cream scientist, a "plant guy," one of the first female coaches in the NFL, a chef, a brewer, and a planetary protection engineer. Along with my co-creators, I researched, casted, scripted, and oversaw production of 47 unique shorts and even wrote some jokes that Craig Robinson actually said. I met so many amazing people and got to collaborate with so many talented directors and animators, and I think together we did something that's never been done before. I can't even begin to articulate how much that experience meant to me both personally and professionally.
A recent project you're proud of.
My very favorite recent project is a content partnership with Animaniacs and MasterClass, where I scripted and oversaw development of a fake MasterClass in which the Brain teaches world domination. I loved Animaniacs growing up and it was a dream come true to be able to create something with those characters, and see words I wrote being said by the incomparable Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s "Lamp" commercial for Ikea, directed by Spike Jonez. It showed me that you can be silly and insightful at the same time. Though in retrospect I must acknowledge it's quite environmentally unfriendly.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
This is from 2019, but it stands out so much to me, and deserves to be applauded still: Mojo Supermarket's "Give Her a Break" campaign that "hacked" the Academy Awards show commercials to protest against the lack of women nominated for best director. It is an unapologetic middle finger to the industry, which has nominated directors of over 400 movies, and to this day only eight of them are women. And there wasn’t a single woman nominated this past year, so maybe Mojo Supermarket should bring the campaign back.
Your main strength as a creative person.
I would say—and I think anyone who's worked with me would say—my greatest strength is my passion. I truly care about making good work that means something to people. If I believe in an idea—whether it was mine or not—I am relentless in making it happen and making it as good as it possibly can be. Passion is infectious, and it's part of what makes me a great creative leader, too. It's painful to care about something if it feels like your stakeholders or the people who you report to don't.
Your biggest weakness.
Sometimes I can be quite literal and very much need things to be logical. This was great when I was working in UX and creating web experiences, but now, with what I do, it can sometimes get in the way of a good story. I find I need to say my concerns out loud to the brilliant people I surround myself with, who tell me I'm worrying about nothing, and then I remember I’m working on a cartoon about talking mice and in many ways logic went out the window before we even started.
One thing that always makes you happy.
Puppies. Whoever came up with the idea for BuzzFeed's Puppy Interviews has my undying love and respect.
One thing that always makes you sad.
The way cruelty and ignorance has become a badge of honor for so many people. It no longer surprises me, but it always makes me sad.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Writing comic books.