Faces of HR

Faces of HR: How a Former Hollywood Assistant is Shaking Up HR Training

After two decades in film production, including a stint with Paramount (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and assisting Academy Award-winning Director Brad Bird at Pixar Animation Studios, Lori Richardson now produces video content for Emtrain, a workplace culture/e-learning platform, as Managing Producer of Creative Content.

lori richardson emtrain
Lori Richardson, Managing Producer of Creative Content at Emtrain

Since teaming up with Emtrain CEO, Janine Yancey, the two have become an HR content powerhouse, creating harassment + DEI training videos the company uses for its HR and compliance training courses and micro-lessons. 

“I bring to the table a love of film and storytelling, a crazy-making attention to detail, and a healthy dose of unwarranted confidence,” Lori recently shared with HR Daily Advisor.

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Lori Richardson.

How did you get your start in your field?

I have a background in theatre stage management, animation, and live action film production, as well as having worked as a classically trained chef. I worked for Pixar Animation Studios for 14 years, assisting Feature Film Producer, John Walker, and Academy Award winning Director, Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, etc.). The experience of working with these amazing filmmakers gave me quite an education in visual storytelling as well as a love of film production and management. 

How did you end up pivoting from film to HR training video production? 

I had moved back to my hometown of Sacramento after leaving Pixar, and was introduced to Janine Yancey, Emtrain’s CEO and founder. She asked me to help her produce several videos and the deadline was fast approaching. After that initial production stint, she invited me to join the team and produce and direct all our video content.

How is your current work different from the film production you used to be involved with? Which is more challenging and why? 

It’s different in many ways and similar in others. Animation filmmaking is a long process, on average taking four to five years to complete. It ramps up slowly from the fun, carefree “let’s have another crew party!”, to a fever-pitch, all-hands-on-deck finale. Live action filmmaking has more of an arc to it, from development, pre-production, principal photography, and then the editing and post-production process, often all happening within a year. So, easy-breezy, to all-hands on deck, to long days in the editing bay, just the director and editor. There are always deadlines of course, but the pacing is different. 

In my current role at Emtrain, it is of course a much shorter process. When I get a set of scripts that have been deemed “final”, then my process begins: location scout, casting, hiring crew, prop and wardrobe gathering, shoot day scheduling, call sheet, etc. Then the shoot day-we normally work an eight-hour day (by comparison, live-action production can run 16 hours long). Then our editor cuts the videos, I review and give notes, he addresses those notes and then we present for final approval. This whole process usually takes a month, sometimes less, depending on the complexity.

What have you been able to take away from film/Hollywood work and bring to HR training video production? 

The things that are similar about any form of visual storytelling – and what I can bring to my role from those experiences – are a desire to present a story in a compelling and visually interesting way. We’re not always able to hit the mark – maybe I’m using a new actor who doesn’t quite work, or we have an on-set mishap that creates an issue.  For example, we recently had an actor test positive for Covid, on-set when he arrived. I had to scramble and ask a non-actor who was present to step in. We were lucky because the shot was a one-sided phone-call (we were shooting the actors separately) and I was able to feed the (non) actor his lines just before he said them. But the bottom line is this: I want to make these videos tell the story/send the message we’re trying to convey, have them look as good as they can (within constraints) and utilize good actors and crew. We’re just making little, tiny films.

What are some of the biggest and maybe unexpected challenges you’ve experienced in your current line of work? 

Time and money. We produce a lot of videos and, of course, we have a budget to stick to, and it’s not a Hollywood budget! Sacramento has a ton of great talent – crew and actors – but it’s not endless, so casting specific actors can be challenging, too. There are only two of us, full-time, that work for Emtrain, me and our Editor, Jon Williams. Everyone else is hired per job, although we use a solid local crew most of the time.  To illustrate: I currently have four pairs of work gloves sitting in a bowl of black tea and water in my kitchen, aging them for a shoot I have in three days. So, there’s no Art Director, Props or Wardrobe Mistress working at the moment; it’s on me to prep everything.

What’s your favorite part about working in this (corporate training/HR) industry?

I love having the opportunity to learn from the training we’re producing, and I’ve learned a lot. From the legal harassment training, for sure, but mostly from our culture courses, like our Unconscious Bias and Inclusion and Belonging training. I think I’m a pretty socially aware and compassionate person, but I’ve learned so many things that I’m grateful for. For example, I recently had a friend who conducts an orchestra call to ask if I had any guidance on how to deal with introducing a new musician whose pronouns were “they/them” at the first rehearsal of the season. I knew exactly what to tell her: I suggested first introducing herself “Hi, I’m Krystyna, she/her, and we have a few new faces. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves,” giving everyone a template for how to do it. I learned that from our training.

Where do you see the training industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

I can only speak to what I see happening at Emtrain, but what I’m seeing makes me very hopeful for the future. We’re constantly evolving our “voice” and messaging, staying on top of what’s happening in the world and addressing it quickly, creating new lessons to give folks guidance. I have friends who talk about what’s happening in their companies, some good and some bad, but what I’m hearing tells me that what we’re offering is absolutely needed AND it’s helping.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

It would be easy to feel like I’ve backstepped, from working in film and animation with people at the top of their game, to working with a small team, producing training videos, but actually, it’s quite the opposite. I’m proud of what we’re doing. My advice to people creating training videos would be to constantly be on the lookout for lessons and learn from them. Try not to make the same mistake twice. Allow for the possibility to learn from the mundane. Take on outside projects that will only make you more well-rounded. Watch film and television and find things you can use to create interest in your own work. Treat each video you make like it’s Gone With the Wind – it won’t be, but if you go in with the mindset that you’re making Goonies, that’s a whole lot closer to what you’ll end up with!