Plot twist: Alumna Elizabeth Franco goes from law school to television producer

March 28, 2023
Elizabeth Franco

Elizabeth Franco ’15 has been telling stories for as long as she can remember. A Double Bruin, she majored in communication studies as a UCLA undergrad and earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law. Today, Franco remembers that her dual role as legal advocate and storyteller clicked when she was a law student interning with the ACLU.

“The lawyers were doing phenomenal work there, but it was also their communications department that was very instrumental: They would publish an opinion piece and expose an injustice – and that’s when things really changed,” she says. “And that moment brought me back to the power of media, the power of storytelling.”

After graduating from law school, Franco set out determinedly to start her next chapter in motion picture storytelling. She landed a role at a talent agency and received early-career boosts from two prestigious fellowships: Women in Film’s INSIGHT Fellowship and Film Independent’s Project Involve Fellowship. With the support of Film Independent, she executive produced the short films Black Boy Joy and The Terrorist. Black Boy Joy won an NAACP Image Award in 2021 and is streaming on HBOMax.

These days, Franco is a creative executive at Netflix, where she is a manager of original documentary series, including Street Food: USA and Last Chance U: Basketball. Previously, she worked at CNN – where she produced United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell and This Is Life with Lisa Ling – and at William Morris Endeavor, Vox Media Studios, NBCUniversal and Escape Artists.

Here, we chat with Franco about her storytelling experience and the responsibilities that we have as storytellers.

You have had a varied career in storytelling as a producer and creative executive. Walk us through what storytelling means to you and why it's important to you.

Storytelling is a big part of all our lives – whether it’s through film, TV, the internet, our jobs or day-to-day conversations. I believe it boils down to sharing narratives that evoke emotion – ranging from happiness and laughter all the way to sadness and tears. Stories can provoke the imagination. They can raise awareness and build empathy. Storytelling is vital, as it allows us to see the world around us in distinct ways, learn about others and even discover more about ourselves.

How did your experience at UCLA Law impact or influence your journey as a storyteller?

The power of crafting a strong story was reinforced in my law school courses and through my work outside of the classroom. I was also fortunate enough to take classes at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television while I was in law school, which had a big impact on my desire to pursue a career as a storyteller and inspired me to work at a talent agency after graduation.

You’ve produced some incredible series! What’s it like to be a producer and to be behind so many popular series?

It's a really rewarding process, and I truly cherish the opportunity to collaborate with phenomenal filmmakers, producers and talent. With the development process, it's thrilling to see concepts grow and evolve into full-fledged series. In production and post-production, there is a lot of problem-solving and finetuning of the narrative, which keeps each day varied and interesting. Each series takes years to make so once they're released, it's incredibly satisfying to see the collective effort of all involved reflected on the screen and it's amazing to see the stories resonate with people around the world.

In medicine, there is the Hippocratic oath, and for lawyers, there are various creeds. All of them outline the responsibilities and ethics of those fields. Do you feel that storytellers have certain responsibilities as well?

I do believe storytellers have certain responsibilities, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all creed. The most resonant stories tend to share some things in common, which include multifaceted characters, authenticity, vulnerability and narratives encompassing universal themes that many can relate to, despite their walk of life.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I am inspired by so much! I do find a great amount of inspiration from music. I started to collect vinyl records because listening to an album from start to finish is an immersive experience, similar to watching a movie or reading a book, and good music can both lift my spirits and help get my creativity flowing. I’m also endlessly inspired by my family and ancestors – their resilience, humility and passion fuels me.

Do you have one piece of advice for law students – or anyone – trying to find their path?

Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Know your “why” and have that be your North Star.

Be inspired by Elizabeth Franco's talk at the 2022 LEAD Summit

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