even the most basic film terminology, she felt like they literally spoke a different language. Almost a year into the two-year program, she was miserable and feeling no closer to-or clearer about-having a career as a producer.
“I was confused everyday,” she recalls. “I had always been able to make whatever situation I was in work. I had been raised to believe I could do anything. Here I was, as close to failure as I had ever been. And I still had no idea what a producer did.” Mashariki began to rethink her decision. “The truth was I didn’t have a plan,” she says. “It had never occurred to me that I would need one.” She considered dropping out.
Then she heard about another student who was going to direct a short film in Cameroon and needed a producer. Mashariki signed on. “I still didn’t know what a producer did, but it was spring break and I wanted to produce something, so I went.”
If Mashariki thought she couldn’t get any more miserable than she already was, she was wrong. “It was two weeks of total hell,” she says. “I was a woman in a world where men don’t take direction from women well, I had no idea what I was doing, and the schedule was really tight.”
Mashariki was used to managing people but the film crew either spoke thickly accented English or French, so basic communication was difficult. She also had no idea how to manage the elements, like the weather, which at times interrupted shooting and transportation, causing them to fall behind schedule. She encountered every possible type of challenge-financial, logistical, physical, even racial (“The mostly Cameroonian crew was more eager to take orders from my white cinematographer than they were from me,” she says)-but Mashariki pushed through them all.
“I cried every day. But, in the end, I figured out what a producer does and, unlike most of my classmates, I had produced my first film.”
She arrived home to find she also had her first job offer-for a $300-a-week summer internship with Fox Searchlight Pictures. She was thrilled. Her fianc├ę, given the meager salary, was not. They agreed that after the summer she’d go back to law.
The internship was hectic. The company had a new president and was aggressively pursuing new projects. She spent her days doing every manner of administrative work, from fetching coffee and answering phones, to reading scripts and sharing her opinions about them in meetings where she was sure that no one noticed or cared what she said. “It was discouraging,” she says. “At the same time, I was getting a bird’s eye view of what the film world was about.”
As the internship wound down, the president of the company offered Mashariki a job as his second assistant. She was floored. Her new husband was not and she had already been offered a position with a Los Angeles law firm, so she turned Searchlight down.
Then Searchlight came back with an offer she couldn’t refuse. It was