Quinta Brunson, who rose from an Instagram sensation to a television writer, producer and actress, has shaped her career around telling funny stories. Her latest project is the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary, which chronicles the experiences of determined teachers at a Philadelphia public school who’ll stop at nothing to provide a good education for their students. But the valuable lessons Brunson has learned from her own professional journey are also worthy of the spotlight. She gives her top tips for navigating a cutthroat industry, including the investments she recommends that aspiring creatives make early on.
You’ve had an extensive career. How have you maximized these experiences to bring you closer to your ultimate professional goals?
I kind of always veered toward what seemed creatively appealing to me throughout my career. At one point in time, it was being on stage. At another, it was making content for the Internet. Then, eventually, that grew into pursuing my childhood dream of writing for television. I also wanted to fulfill the part of me that wanted to act, and that involves both being on screen and doing animated voice work. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to follow my creative passions of the moment and just always try to go where I was feeling fulfilled creatively.
With your new show, Abbott Elementary, how do you want your work to affect viewers?
I just want people to watch the show and have a good time. I want them to laugh. That was my main goal. It might not seem that impactful or revolutionary, but I loved sitcoms growing up and still do and think the ability to tap into something for 22 seconds and laugh is so special and important for so many people. A lot of the comedies—the newer ones that were coming out specifically geared toward Millennials—were on the darker side. I thought there could be an opportunity to give people that lighthearted feeling again. Anyone who watches the show [knows] it’s about teachers in an underfunded school. Part of the goal, at the end of an episode, after people have had a good time, is for them to also think, “Man, how can I support teachers?” and it feels so far as if our show has been able to have that impact.
Can you talk about the ways in which you’ve partnered with ABC to support teachers since launching the show?
We sent a bus around to different schools—we started in Philadelphia and then toured the northeast area—to give teachers supplies as well as some Abbott Elementary gifts to show our appreciation. That idea was just everything to me because I mentioned early on in the process that I wanted to do something special for teachers, and it was so fulfilling. It’s exactly how I want to spend that money. I hope that during the run of the series, we can do it again. We want to do that with teachers across the country and continue to connect with them
What do you suggest early-stage creatives do now to invest in their professional future?
I think that it’s important for anyone who wants to do this kind of work to remember to learn the whole landscape. One thing I’m really grateful for is that I went to college for communications and advertising. Just knowing all of that—knowing how TV works, knowing how ratings work, knowing how advertising works, knowing the behind the scenes of what makes a show eventually work [is really important]. It’s one thing to just create a piece of art, but there’s so much more that goes into the process. I always think that if newer creators learned the entire landscape of the industry—television, film, whatever it is—they’d have a better leg up in actually making something for these platforms. It’s making the investment—reading and studying these industries, especially as they’re ever-changing.
As your career journey continues to elevate, how do you make sure you’re still staying true to yourself and your values?
While having a show on TV is so great—I’m not downplaying that at all—I just try to remember that what is most important and valuable is my family and my friends and my life that would still remain if all this were to go away. That helps me stay grounded. That feels like work I did for myself before anything took off. And that’s important, too. I think people often believe they can do it in reverse. But try to make yourself a nice firm rock before you get in here because it’s an industry that, unfortunately, will chip away at who you are if given the opportunity. So it’s best to make sure you’re a nice firm rock, because you’re going to get chipped away at sometimes. I do think it’s important to do that work before you get in the door.
Photography by Jen Garcia