Disrupting the Status Quo with Lara Wickes, VP of Creative Marketing at Disney

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We sat down with Lara Wickes, Vice President of Creative Marketing Production at Disney, overseeing marketing shoots for ABC, Hulu Originals, Freeform, and Onyx Collective.

Symbonic: Lara, you have a background in production, can you expand on that just a bit and share how you got to where you are? 

Lara Wickes: Sure! I started in longer form and independent features. Well, I really started in producing theater way back in the day and did shorts and specs, then fell into features. During the webisodes boom, I shot a few episodes, which led to opportunities at an ad agency for TV promotions where I was there for seven years. Then I just kind of climbed up the ladder there and ended up heading their production arm, shooting 360 marketing campaigns for TV networks. The 360 campaigns include key art photography, on-air broadcast promos, and social and digital shoot - anything that you would see advertising a TV show was under my purview.

Then my mom died...and I say that not in a sad way, because if you've ever lost a parent,  your perspective and awareness shifts about your life, and what you're doing, and you just start dreaming bigger and thinking bigger. I thought I should open up my own company - so I did. I took a leap of faith, opened up my own company, and took an enormous chance. I worked back-to-back shoots until COVID hit. We had four years of successful boom and made it through the pandemic.

Then in December 2020, which was eight months into COVID, right?  I got a call from the Head of Marketing who was a client of mine for 10 years. He called me and asked, "would you ever think of coming over to the other side?" I had been on the vendor side and he was on the client side. I thought, well, I've had sleepless nights for the past six months trying to keep my company afloat during COVID, yeah, that sounds really good about right now - let's talk about it. We talked about it for about six months and I wholeheartedly decided, "Okay, here's another leap. I'm gonna go."

So here I am now! I head up an extraordinary production team overseeing marketing shoots for 4 great brands under Disney: ABC, Hulu originals, Freeform, and Onyx.

S: That's a great segue! Are you the only female in a leadership role at that level? 

LW: Definitely not, I am very fortunate to work with a group of incredible female leaders in this space.

S: Do you have any advice, especially for women and underrepresented individuals, for how to be a disrupter like yourself?

LW: I am a big believer that it comes authentically from what you love to do. Because no matter who you are, if you are sitting and rooted in full joy with what you're doing, be your most extraordinary self in that space. That will inspire or give permission to others to do that same or just want to work with you, regardless of what you look like, what color you are, or what race you are.

As women, I feel like there was such a movement where the mentality was "I'm going to be like a man" because that's the powerful way to be. I think that there's so much power in femininity and passion. Think about how you inspire humans, as women, especially diverse, who have a different perspectives. People get to open their eyes and say, "oh, wow, I never thought about it like that."

It actually ignites people to say, "this is me too." It's great. So, I say, find your most amazing, authentic voice and scream it from the rafters.

S: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Onyx Collective? We know Hulu and Freeform, but Onyx seems to be something that's on its way to becoming a household name.

LW: Yeah, it's incredible. There are voices like Kerry Washington and Natasha Rothwell who are changing the narrative and storytelling from the point of view of underrepresented voices. But Onyx also includes those all around the work, not just in front of the camera. Embracing diversity and inclusivity with our crews on set.

S: Since the Time's Up and #MeToo movements we've noticed characters like Ruth from Ozark and Beth from Yellowstone who are very powerful women in charge and are themselves no matter the situation. Do you think we're gonna see more characters like that in development?

LW: Oh, absolutely. I think it shines a light. I think it opens up to more than just women. I think it opens up to anyone who has experienced any form of disservice, disrespect, or dishonoring abuse, whether you're a woman, man, or child of any age. I just feel like that movement is a beautiful thing.

These women have now been given a chance to have a voice safely. They've been in hiding. Not that they didn't exist before, but that their forum was smaller because it was such a terrifying time to even speak out. Now that we've made this safe space that's why I say, women, children, boys, girls, older women, and men of color, please have a safe place to come out and say "us, something's not good here" or "protect me". Protect our fellow humans.

S: We're going to wrap up soon, do you have any final thoughts on being a women in film?

LW: We just talked to my team about this yesterday. And it's the zone of being uncomfortable, right? A lot of speakers talk about this. For women, there have been times when we've been uncomfortable for so long. Right? We've just withstood it and stood by and now with these movements, we say we don't need to, we want to find more comfort and just be ourselves while not feeling judged or held back or being paid equally.

I invite women not to get too comfortable. Please find your zones of discomfort. We break through and have incredible transformational experiences on the other side of discomfort. Well, don't get comfortable and just sit back now and not grow anymore. You know, you can do it.

There are a fair amount of uncomfortable places in life where you need to zone in and "do the thing you think you can not do” as Eleanor Roosevelt says. Find what scares you. That feeling of discomfort you have is far less than the reward you're going to get if you actually just do it. The thing you're trying to avoid, you're missing out on something even greater if you don't conquer it.

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