From the Tower to Tinseltown
Jennifer Kiely reveals how the Ultimo-educated film buff took an ultimate leap of faith and wrote her very own Hollywood story.
Not many people can count A-listers like Jake Gyllenhaal and Vince Vaughn among their friends. But alumna Tanya Cohen can. Jennifer Kiely reveals how the Ultimo-educated film buff took an ultimate leap of faith and wrote her very own Hollywood story.
“Movies were the only thing I was ever truly passionate about,” explains motion picture literary and talent agent, Tanya Cohen. “I grew up watching Disney and Spielberg movies on repeat and always knew that one day I wanted to work in the film business, but just didn’t know in what capacity.”
Tanya got her first taste of the entertainment world at 16 years of age when she joined the Australian Institute for Performing Arts and had the opportunity to tread the boards in local and overseas productions, including the musical Back to the 80’s at Disneyland, Los Angeles and a production of Rent in Australia. But when it came to making a call on her career, she realised she was more interested in the behind-the-scenes action.
“I was intrigued by what happened on the other side of the screen and the various roles that bring the magic of movies to life,” says Tanya.
Deciding that UTS’s Media Arts and Production degree was the best way to springboard her career, Tanya threw herself into the course, undertaking writing and production workshops as well as internships with local directors.
“It’s so important for students to do internships and work placements and to also support your fellow students’ work, because we all end up working alongside each other in the industry. When I was a first-year student, I helped the third-years with their short films, which was a great learning curve and helped me build valuable connections. For example, I’m still in contact with Takaya Honda, an actor who’s doing great things in Australia.”
Tanya’s early work experience proved instrumental in building her skill set, but it was her final year exchange program at the University of California (UCLA) in 2009 that transitioned her to America and kick started her career.
“Despite the fact that UTS had no existing program with UCLA, they were incredibly supportive and helped me structure my exchange so I could finish my degree at UCLA’s communications school,” Tanya says.
“The advice we got from industry professionals at UCLA was to begin at the bottom. If you’re not sure what part of the business you want to get into start in an agency mail room or work as an agent’s assistant. You get to see from the ground floor how movies are put together so you can figure out what area to specialise in.”
Heeding this advice, Tanya secured a job at a small agency called Paradigm within three weeks of graduation where she earned her stripes working in the mail room and doing coffee runs. From then, she moved to an assistant role for a literary agent in a movie department of a talent agency, a job she immediately fell in love with “my time spent working at an agency gave me absolute clarity that’s what I wanted to do,” enthuses Tanya.
As long as I get up every day and my heart is still fluttering for what I do, I’ll keep following my passion.
Media Arts and Production aluma
Tanya’s career has since skyrocketed, and she’s now an agent at leading Hollywood talent agency, William Morris Endeavour. But climbing the ladder didn’t come without its challenges.
“My journey was at times terrifying,” recalls Tanya. “Moving to a country where I knew nobody and having to deal with the immigration process was daunting, especially since my own family had emigrated from South Africa to Australia when I was 12 years old and now I was doing it on my own.” she explains.
But Tanya persevered, and her leap of faith paid off. In 2017, Tanya secured a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 Hollywood and Entertainment list.
An advocate for celebrating female talent, Tanya is “incredibly passionate about working with female writers, directors and artists of different nationalities and ethnicities.”
“It’s my job as an agent to ensure the underrepresented are represented so I make it my duty to ensure that the talent list of writers, directors and actors we pitch to studios reflects fair and equal opportunity,” she adds.
Tanya is especially proud of projects such as Hala, a coming-of-age drama, developed by female writer and director Minhal Baig, and produced by Jada Pinkett Smith. The film premiered at Sundance in 2019 to rave reviews and was Apple’s first feature film acquisition.
She’s also proud of the work she did to support twin screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell in getting the job to craft the story of Moana. “Seeing the incredible impact that movie had makes me so proud to have represented those brilliant creators.”
Tanya has also been a proud supporter of fellow Aussie talent, helping first-time feature filmmaker, Grant Sputore to develop his sci-fi thriller, I Am Mother starring Hilary Swank, which is soon to feature on Netflix.
In terms of forward planning, Tanya is both reflective and realistic.
“I can’t control the future and don’t know what the Tanya of tomorrow will do. But I know that the Tanya of today loves what she does. And as long as I get up every day and my heart is still fluttering for what I do, I’ll keep following my passion.”
“You have to believe that anything is possible. I’m an example of what happens when you follow your dreams. I didn’t know one person when I moved to the United States but in spite of that I’ve built an incredible career that inspires me every day. It just proves that if you work hard and never give up, you can achieve anything.”
Tanya Cohen graduated from UTS in 2009 with a Bachelor of Communication (Media Arts and Production).