Employee Spotlight – Tessa Wilson

“I really fell in love with some aspects of production you don’t really learn about in school – namely script supervising and producing.”
If you know her, you love her – Tessa Wilson, our resident weirdo and May Employee Spotlight. Tessa lives every day with an open mind and a warm heart, both very evident in her work as a video and broadcast producer. She’s an exceptional addition to Mills James and always makes time to give credit to her team, it takes a village and we’re so thankful to have Tessa in ours.

Check out Tessa’s full interview below!

How long have you been at Mills James?

My career with Mills James started as a freelance Project Manager on an education product in April 2021 (on my birthday, actually!). At that time, Holly said I would likely be hired sometime that Winter. Fast forward to the end of July that year, when an Associate Producer position opened, and I signed on full-time.

What did your life look like before Mills James?

Without getting too in the weeds, I was feeling directionless in my professional life. I had a job I loved at McGraw Hill, having had been there for four years, but was part of the second of several layoffs in 2018. I had poured a lot of my identity into my role there and even considered going back to school to get my Master’s in Learning Sciences at OSU.

All of this, along with some curveballs in my personal life, led to an existential crisis. If 2018 wasn’t a rough year, 2020 was the roughest – as it was for a lot of us. MJ came into my life just when I needed it, and I was ready for a positive change.

When did you first know that you wanted to pursue a career in this field?

I wish I could say something profound like, “The first time I saw [Enter Movie Title Here], I knew I wanted to work in video production,” but the truth is, I started in music. Throughout high school and part of college, I was a classically trained vocalist who took every music theory class available. I was also involved in the local music scene promoting bands and booking shows, so I decided to shift my focus to music production, with the end goal to be an A&R Representative with a little extra knowledge in her pocket.

I went to Kent State University for my undergrad program, which was Electronic Media Production, which meant all your introductory classes focused on audio and video. It was during one of those intro classes when I realized I enjoyed the video side of the business a lot more, and with encouragement and affirmation from my professors, namely Dave Smeltzer (who was later my mentor), I stuck with it.

From there, it because A Full-Blown Thing™ – I made up for several-decades-worth of movie-watching in three years, worked on-campus in our master control unit and learned how to splice film, dub various media types, set up A/V equipment for professors, and even had the stereotypical job at a movie rental store.

I moved to New York and interned for a now-defunct independent film company called Plum Pictures, and during that time really fell in love with some aspects of production you don’t really learn about in school – namely script supervising and producing. I had full intentions on becoming an Editor after graduation, but after realizing I’d have to spend my days essentially in a dark room getting harped on by directors and producers, I decided that wasn’t the life for me. Oh, the irony.

What is a project that you’ve worked on that sticks out to you?

My favorite projects to work on at Mills James are those for education companies and non-profit organizations. I’ve been heavily involved in both of those areas for most of my adult life, so I bring an extra level of knowledge and experience to the table.

If I had to pick one project as my favorite, though, it’s the Stonewall Columbus Pride project each year. I have a bit of a love story with the organization, as I volunteered as their front desk person a couple of days a week when I first moved to Columbus and was finishing grad school. I worked my way up to volunteering on an unofficial steering committee for Pride that focused on the festival layout, eventually becoming the Festival Layout Co-Chair in 2014.

Jumping ahead to 2022, and MJ found the Pride project without a Producer. I made a case as to why I would be the perfect fit, and here I am producing the project for the third year in a row! The folks at Stonewall are always open minded, game for collaborating, and usually have a good budget to work with – a dream trifecta for a producer! It also makes it extra special that I’m helping make media for my own community.

What is your favorite part of being a producer?

It’s hard to pick just ONE favorite thing about being a producer, so I’m going to break the rules and pick a couple. I really love project management, so the Producer role really satisfies that side of my brain. I’ve been called things from “wicked efficient” to “bat out of hell” when it comes to producing, and I wear that badge proudly.

I also love being in a role that gets to dip a toe in every aspect of the production pool. From putting together project scopes, scriptwriting and storyboarding to helping on shoots, sitting down with Motion Graphics, Edit and Audio, and giving the go-ahead to traffic spots, a Producer is involved in every step of every project at Mills James.

Finally, what’s not to love about a job that’s truly different every day? Take this week for example: Monday I was in pre-light for a virtual production, Tuesday was the actual shoot, Wednesday I held a kick-off meeting with the Motion Graphics team for an upcoming project that’ll wrap in early-2026 and later sat in on a storyboarding meeting for another project, Thursday was largely making production schedules for a couple of projects we’re gearing up for as well as some time in Edit, and today – Friday – I’ve ended my week with a lot of back and forth conversations with the Creative Director on how to set ourselves up for success on the aforementioned Motion Graphics project, nailing down some styling for the videos we shot on Tuesday, and answering these LOVELY questions.

Tell us about a professional success story that you’re proud of.

I’m lucky enough to come away from most of my projects with a sense of pride, but I’ll tell you about a few that really stand out. My first job out of undergrad was writing for a movie review website called Spill.com (which is sadly shut down now). While I wasn’t paid great, I essentially got paid to watch Netflix and go to free movie screenings and write about whatever I watched. I was the resident horror critic, going by the moniker Broad of the Dead, and one of the articles I wrote made it to the New York Post.

During grad school, I had the option to take the standard thesis route or take a few extra classes to meet graduation criteria. I went with the latter, but found myself writing a thesis “for fun,” later having the honor to present it at a symposium on Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change in London, England. I’m now using that “thesis” on the 90s Riot Grrrl and Queercore movements to emphasis this year’s Pride theme – “Live Out Loud.”

Since I’ve been at MJ, not only was I nominated for a regional Emmy® as an Associate Producer on the 2021 Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Spectacular, but most recently I directed my first big project at MJ for this year’s Stonewall Pride project. It was a nearly perfect shoot, and the videos are already turning out SO great! Not to sound like an acceptance speech, but I truly could not have had such a great shoot without the encouragement and guidance of such great teammates. Extra special shoutout to Holly Berger, Sean Mundy, Florian Butterhof, Lou Kestella, Alberto Viglietta, Cory Martin and my Pride partners-in-crime, Colin Adams and Patrick Hewitt.

Describe an interesting hobby or pastime that you have.

Ohh, where to start! Where. To. Start. I’m essentially the resident weirdo at MJ. In addition to being a horror movie aficionado, I’m also an unofficial bat conversationist and educator as well as a curiosities and oddities collector. I am particularly fascinated by Victorian-era pseudo-sciences like palmistry, phrenology and herbal tinctures.

I do also have regular-person interests. For example, I have three dogs – two of whom are pitbulls. I have and will continue to make that a large part of my personality. I enjoy getting tattooed and going to comedy shows. I’m also an active concertgoer. Despite my body’s constant reminder that I’m nearly 40 and disabled, you can usually find me at some sort of punk or indie show as well as multi-day festivals like Riot Fest in Chicago or The Fest in Gainesville, Florida. It’s worth the pain.

What are you looking forward to in your future?

Professionally, I would love to make more activism-centered or call-to-action videos for non-profits. I would also love to make something that’s positively centered on, but not tokenizing of, disability or the disabled community.

Personally, I aim to stay soft and weird. I try to live my life with an open mind and a warm heart, all the while cackling and enjoying the strange and unusual. It’s a balance that’s suited me well my entire life, and I don’t plan on changing that any time soon. I blame my parents and Pee-Wee Herman.