We had the good fortune of connecting with Vondell J. Burns and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Vondell, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I established my career on the strategy and brand team at an investment bank, so when navigating creative circles, I felt a bit out of place when asked “what do you do?”
I’d been producing creative content for the bank’s employer brand team, funding film projects like TASTE of The Mecca which was screened at AfroTech World 2020, executing events like the TORCH Presents showcases in New York City and lending strategy to several creative teams. That said, I didn’t own the title of producer.
I came up with Thankless Production LLC while on set of a short film project.
I thought to myself, “Wow, a lot goes into this work and the people behind the scenes are seldom acknowledged for their contribution.”
My second thought was…”luckily, I love the work so much, I don’t require acknowledgement to feel fulfilled.”
This is a thankless production, but I don’t need thanks to do it.
I roll up my sleeves because I have a passion for it, and there is a need in the creative space for people like me who take pride in being the engine behind the visionary.
The business behind the arts.
There is also a need to empower my tribe of Thankless Pros with resources on how to advocate for themselves and their work. I realized this was a need after consistently being asked to “help with a project” yet feeling like an imposter when calling myself a “producer/project manager” and seeking payment for the work.
The reality is, when people pay money, they pay attention. When the business behind the arts is invested into, it can save years of time (strategy) and thousands of dollars (execution) in the long run. A visionary HAS to be down to invest in their team (i.e. themselves) and their team HAS to know what that investment is worth and meet the need.
Now, I’m a champion for navigating conversations around rates and budgets, teaching my tribe how to monetize their expertise and encouraging them to be okay with saying “no” to projects that aren’t at minimum mutually beneficial.
I can be a visionary in this space while fueling others.
When I thought about the areas I’d tackle within my business, I immediately thought of the fact that a producer is only as good as their crew. I dedicate myself to CREWS.
Community: Creating opportunity for collaborative projects and networking
Resources: Knowledge sharing and resource creation
Encouragement: uplifting the unsung heroes that often go overlooked
Wellness: Mental health resources and reminders for self-care
– Production: Film/Video (virtual/live)
– Project Management: Creative Project and Event Management (virtual/live)
– Promotion: Marketing Strategy and Brand Consultations
Through these channels, my tribe of Thankless Pros will be seen and my community of visionaries will be serviced.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I’m a black woman 90’s baby from a low socio-economic background.
Straight out of college, I ended up at an investment bank that I’d never heard of prior to my first informal interview.
That interview took place during my sophomore year at the Howard University School of Business and I was only meeting with the bank to meet the requirement of obligatory office hours mandated by the honors program..
I had recently switched my major to marketing but the recruiter pushed my ignorance about the firm aside and instead probed for intellectual curiosity, integrity and leadership and motivation.
That’s what set the firm apart.
Fast forward 6 years, I’ve developed a skill set in communication, strategic thinking, functional expertise, client focus and more. I was able to cultivate myself into the creative entrepreneur I am today with the help of incredible colleagues and peers.
I made the difficult decision to leave the firm mid-pandemic in an effort to level up on my skills. I was ready to manage a team, be trusted with a budget, make judgement calls and more. My tenure didn’t say so. So I started on my own.
That’s probably the biggest risk I’ve taken to date, especially given my low-socioeconomic background. However, I thought to myself, if I can save this much money only working 4 years at entry level pay, I could likely make it all back after one year operating confidently on my own or returning to corporate at a higher clip.
Getting to that point took a lot of conversations with God and leaning into the unknown. But I’m a firm believer that sometimes He doesn’t give us the full picture because it’s too big to fit into our narrow view. Instead, I’ve taken the approach of following Him on my daily walk and being guided by opportunities presented readily. All coloring in the outline of a vision He provided me years ago where I was creating a space of my own that helped people feel seen and serviced.
My latest resource for creatives is the Paid to Produce course. It’s for aspiring and full-time creative entrepreneurs who may be allowing imposter syndrome and the illusion of time to keep them from launching their creative projects. It teaches how I overcame imposter syndrome and used my unique story as the fuel for my craft. Participants learn how to OWN their positioning, enhance their strategy and brand, self-produce relevant creative content that aligns with their mission, and build a creative portfolio that positions them to generate leads.
The waitlist is open, and I’m hoping to work with more dynamic creative entrepreneurs through it.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m from a small town called Belleville in Illinois. It’s right outside of St. Louis (STL), Missouri. We could bar hop right downtown Belleville or get in the car to drive 20 minutes across the river and visit some of my favorite spots in STL. Before crossing the river, we’d make a stop in East St. Louis to grab some fried rice, shrimp St. Paul and peach Vess at the orange rice house. If you know you know.
With rice in hand, we’d go across the river to the landing and walk to the Arch so you could get a few flicks off at our staple monument.
We’d stop at Calico’s for some toasted ravioli and then head to Fit’z in Delmar to get a root beer float and shop.
Depending on the vibe, I’d take you to 360 bar for some rooftop views and cocktails or to Ball Park village for some beers and sports.
If it’s nice outside, we’d head to Forest Park to walk around and if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday we would catch Twilight Tuesday music fest at the History museum or the Whitaker Music festival at the Botanical Gardens.
Who doesn’t like live music? We’d hit the Broadway Oyster bar to see who’s playing and get some of that bread pudding.
I would make sure you get some BBQ ribs and I’d send you home with some Old Vienne Red Hot Ripplets.
There’s so much more to do and see, but these are a few of my favorite things.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would be remiss not to shout out Imani Ellis and the Creative Collective NYC for creating BRAVE spaces for creatives of color to show up, learn, encourage each other and level up. Working among such a powerhouse of talented professionals #Avengers has fully helped me break out of my imposter syndrome and own this space.
Dante Corbett (IV BTS) Mignon Hensley (RTS BTS) Alexandria McFadden (TORCH BTS)