When Raeshem Nijhon, Carri Twigg and Nicole Galovski co-founded the production company Culture House four years ago, they insisted that their business stand out in Hollywood as an inclusive network of creatives that advocates for “healthy competition” and a community-based approach to filmmaking.
Already, the trio’s efforts are bearing fruit. The company is producing the upcoming “Growing Up,” a Disney+ docuseries conceived by Brie Larson that profiles of 10 American adolescents, and “The Hair Tales,” an exploration of Black women’s hair featuring Oprah Winfrey and Tracee Ellis Ross that will stream on Hulu through the Onyx Collective.
While Nijhon comes from a background in cinéma vérité documentary work in India and Galovski began as a production assistant, Twigg joined the two (who had long partnered with each other) after serving as a special assistant to former president Barack Obama and public engagement director under Joe Biden. The trio bonded over a joint vision and passion for closing the “gaps” in representation, storytelling and empathy that they witnessed in Hollywood.
“We’re not about the zero-sum and even within our company culture, competition is not a thing,” Nijhon told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View, adding that she’s in a WhatsApp group with other female executives to share and receive support and advice. “I firmly personally believe that you do your worst work when you’re really insecure.”
Following a recent West Coast expansion, the entrepreneurs are working on a soon-to-be unveiled audio slate, in addition to further developing unscripted IP, doc features and series.
Read on for a conversation with the co-founders and producers, who discuss the importance of fostering mentorship among underrepresented communities and how they look for “diversity within the context of diversity.”
This interview has been edited for style and length.
Could you talk me through the founding of Culture House — what kind of gap did you see with production companies that you were trying to fill?
Raeshem Nijhon: Between the three of us, we bring such a diverse set of experiences as women and as people of color to the table, and by nature, our stories and our choices really center people of color and women and other communities that are underrepresented. There’s not a lot of production companies that are working at our level that also run production services and that are really engaged in the physical process. We think a lot about the stories that we’re putting out, but also the way in which we do it: Who are the people that we’re hiring? Who are the people that are working below the line? We felt like that was something that the industry could really use, and we’ve found that it leads to better shows. Also just building a culture that is, of course, a production company, but also a community and really a place where filmmakers and creators can feel like they have allies.
Carri Twigg: We all come to Culture House from our own really distinct backgrounds and points of view and we’re able to build around community, and how our company functions, we’re able to build something that doesn’t require any of us to conflate or shrink how we think about the world in order to fit [in]. So many people on our team bring something that none of us have. And that’s something that we really honor and cherish.
Nicole Galovski: The reason why everybody’s in this business to a certain extent is to make change. For human existence, the things that have actually changed and have moved things forward are stories and that’s what we aim to do.
What are your main goals and approaches in diversifying the storytelling landscape?
Twigg: At the very top layer, we’re really thoughtful about diversity within the context of diversity. We make that as robust as we possibly can. So we have a project that centers Black women — however, many Black women are alive, there’s that many different ways to be a Black woman. We’re not as reductive as thinking that because you visually appear some way that that’s enough for an experience or a writers room or a research team or a creative team to be diverse. We’re really thoughtful in a 360 way and that requires getting to know who you’re working with, and asking them questions, trying to figure out what their point of view is.
Nijhon: Two things that we think a lot about when we’re looking at projects is does this story go beyond what’s expected of these groups or the types of story that we’ve heard many, many times about these groups? And does it feel like it is looking ahead, looking forward? We’re not here to litigate the past; we’re looking for stories that are going to push the future forward, that are going to inform a way of being that we are hoping [for] and imagining. That doesn’t mean that we don’t focus on people’s struggles, but I think that there’s a way to do that that feels much more inclusive and three-dimensional and reflective of people’s actual everyday lives.
Galovski: From the hiring perspective, it’s actually really difficult to hire the way that we have. We’ve had to ask for more time to hire in the way that we want to hire from every network we’ve worked with.
Speaking of hiring practices, behind-the-scenes diversity has lagged when compared with onscreen representation. Why do you feel that change in that space has remained stagnant?
Galovski: Our goal would be to make our process a repeatable process for the industry. Right now, it’s project-by-project and very much within the networks that we’ve created and going out and really trying to build those experience levels. To have a woman of color editor we need women of color [assistant editors]. We have to invest now and always. If you’re working with people that don’t have as much experience, the infrastructure of support and shepherding needs to be there.
Twigg: Those people are there. You just need to know how to find them. No production company would hire me to be the head of development based on what it says about me on a piece of paper, but if you get to know me. It’s about getting to know people. There’s obviously hard skills that you can’t just immediately close a gap on, but it is about: Who are you in community with? Who are you in proximity to? What appetite [are you] willing to have for risk?
Nijhon: We have another pillar to our business, our cultural consultancy. Really we’re looking to build a multimedia company that is supportive of projects, not just the ones that we are producing, but how can we be like the [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] checkpoint for all of Hollywood? We want to be at the center of that conversation. How do we support other creators to do culturally specific world-building and how do we support them to build characters and storylines that feel inclusive and futuristic?