Maine West 'Queen of the Geeks' rules as Hollywood producer
Carrie Lynn Certa's life at Maine West High School revolved around three activities: the speech team, the choir and the campus radio station. And she had a dream.
"I wanted to be the next Meryl Streep," she boldly admitted.
Instead, she found her calling as a Hollywood producer, creating a variety of film shorts, movies and TV shows such as the History Channel's "The Kennedy Files."
How she got there involved a scary leap of faith, some keen self-awareness and a shrewd boss who knew exactly when to fire her.
At Maine West High School in Des Plaines, she dubbed herself "Queen of the Geeks."
"Every morning I was so excited to get out of bed and go to school. We had so much fun. I had a blast!" Certa asserted.
After graduating Southern Illinois University in 1997, Certa worked as a stage manager for Chicago's Raven Theatre and as an office manager for the Adventures in Advertising company.
Going to Hollywood had been Certa's dream since she was 7. But now she had a good job anchoring her to Chicago.
"So, I quit my advertising job -- twice!" Certa said. "I marked a date down to move out there."
"I chickened out," she confessed. "Both times. I said, 'I'm not going to leave.'"
The third time she quit, her boss had had enough. He called her into his office.
"You've got a date to move out to Hollywood?" he asked.
"Yes," Certa replied.
"Then you are fired!" he said. "You have 30 days to find and train your replacement. Then you leave."
Certa stood there, stunned.
"I was heartbroken!" she said. Only later did she realize what had really happened.
"He knew the only way for me to get to Hollywood was to kick me out of the nest," she said. "It was tough love."
Once Certa arrived in La La Land, her Streep dreams quickly dissipated.
"I did not like the auditioning life at all!" she said. "The casting directors really did treat actors poorly. I'm trying to watch my language here because the things people would say at auditions were pretty horrifying."
Then came the epiphany.
"I decided I would change the industry and make it start treating actors with respect," she said. "I was 26 and determined to change the industry single-handedly. I thought I could do anything I put my mind to. I went into producing as the most effective way to change things."
She surprised herself.
"I found out that I was good at it. And I really enjoyed it. My path was definitely producing."
For the History Channel's "The Kennedy Files," for example, Certa worked as a segment producer responsible for providing research. On Disney Junior's "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," she was a line producer, in charge of every line item in the production's budget.
Her most recent venture, a live-action feature titled "The Little Mermaid," will be released sometime this year. Certa served as an associate producer on the movie, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale rather than on the popular Disney movie.
"Nothing will get me out of bed faster than knowing I'm about to go on a set to shoot," she said. "I'll have maybe two or three hours of sleep a night for 30 days straight, but I don't feel it until the end. You've got to love what you do to be in this business."
Her father, she said, disapproved of Certa's career choice. He wanted her to be a business major in college. When she opted for a theater degree, that created a rift between them that has never been reconciled, she said.
"I'm sad that he's not in my life, but I made the right choice," Certa said. "I couldn't live the rest of life as one big what-if. I had to come out here and try. It was scary. Terrifying. But worth it. I followed my dream and I'm happy."
-- Dann Gire
• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are seeking suburbanites in showbiz who would make good stories. Know someone? Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Film producer uses pizza to profile ChicagoansFilm producer uses pizza to profile Chicagoans
Call it "pizza profiling."
Des Plaines native and Maine West High School grad Carrie Lynn Certa meets a lot of Chicagoans in Los Angeles, where she works as a TV and movie producer.
"The first question we ask each other is, 'What's your favorite pizza? Uno's? Lou Malnati's? Giordano's?' That's how you gauge who they are and where they've lived," Certa said. "Pizza profiling. Yeah, that's it!"