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Betting on Yourself: Leaning into Scary Things with Director Dawn Porter

Erin: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, where we uncover the unconscious rules we've been following, we break the rules that aren't working, and we find a new path to being freer, happier, sexier, and more self expressed. I'm your host, Erin Keating. Today, I talked to documentarian Dawn Porter about how she got into filmmaking after being a lawyer, and she says she was not an unhappy lawyer.

We talk about what it took for her to actually be willing to call herself a director, what it was like to work with the one and only Oprah, and so much more inspiring stuff. Here is my conversation with Dawn.

Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, Dawn.

Dawn: Thanks for having [00:01:00] me.

Erin: So excited to have you here. Dawn Porter is an award winning documentary filmmaker.

Her latest film, The Lady Bird Diaries about First Lady Lady Bird Johnson just premiered at South by Southwest. She has had a busy decade. She made a great ESPN doc series, 37 words about Title IX, the civil rights legislation that gave women the equal opportunity to play sports, and her mental health series, The Me You Can't See, which she made with Oprah and Prince Harry, premiered on Apple TV.

You may have also seen her films, John Lewis, Good Trouble, about the legendary congressman and civil rights leader, or The Way I See It, about photojournalist Pete Souza, who served as chief official White House photographer for President Barack Obama. Incredible films. Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, Dawn.

Dawn: So nice to be here.

Erin: It's wonderful, and there's so much we could talk about. I wanted to start by talking about your career, because [00:02:00] you have a really great story about betting on yourself. And I love to talk about the moments that changed the direction of our lives, where we sort of took the power into our own hands and actively chose what we wanted, even if maybe it seemed crazy to other people. So I don't know if that's your story, but maybe you can tell us where you started professionally.

Dawn: Yeah, I am a lawyer. I say M because every year the Bar Association sends a prompt for do you want to renew your dues? And every year I say should I and then I send in that check because you never know a girl's got to have a backup plan.

So I my father was a photographer. And I grew up in New York city. He had this cool studio on the far East side near the river. And I'd love going there. It was like, it used to be a carriage house, really tall ceilings, cobblestone floors, great place for a photo studio. So I used to go there a lot. I loved, I could still [00:03:00] smell like chemicals developing pictures, but my father also wasn't like the best family man, I would say. Mm-hmm. and life with him was artistic but a little bit chaotic for my taste and so I was like, I'm gonna be a lawyer. . But I did two girls Practical solution to life. Be a lawyer. Exactly. Exactly. So I went to Georgetown Law School, I practiced for five years.

with a firm in DC. And I was not an unhappy lawyer. A lot of people will say, Oh, I couldn't wait to get out. That was not me. I liked it. It was neat and organized. I had a favorite pen. Like I had like good stuff. It was very quiet, smart people, thoughtful work, thoughtful work. It was fine. And I was like, I'm this very.

Certain career path and I had just gotten married, married a year living in Washington, D. C. We both were working for law firms and then my best friend died. [00:04:00] My best friend at the firm and she was in her thirties. She had cancer and she got sick and died very quickly and it was just shattering. It was like that Chili Peppers song: "This life is not a run through" and literally it just kept going through my head. Oh, my gosh, like tomorrow is not promised, literally. And so I, I just challenged myself and I said, the next scary thing that comes my way that I'm interested in, I'm going to say yes to, I think the scary thing for me was anything that was going to be leaving the firm because I was quite comfortable there.

I was supported. I had as decent a work as you can get. I knew what that life was going to be. And so to me, scary was not having that security, not having everything all planned out. And so the next scary thing that happened was a partner that I did work [00:05:00] for moved back to New York. He was going to be head of litigation at ABC. And he was like, do you want to come with me? And I was like, yes. And then all hell broke loose, right?

Erin: You had a husband. You had a whole life.

Dawn: I had a husband. My family lived in DC, like we want to have a baby. We had spent all these years buying our first house and getting our amazing friends and living in a neighborhood. We lived on Capitol Hill. We loved it. And just all of that just blew up. It was like moved to New York city. We couldn't afford to buy anything. So we went from being new homeowners to like renting again. And he had to find a new job. He had to turn down a good offer that he got right after me. How did that work?

I mean, how did you get to be the priority? We, your, your life choices. We had a deal. We both knew we were interested in doing something else and we had [00:06:00] discussed it. And we said, okay, whoever's thing comes first, that person is, is what we'll do. First, both of us thought he was going to get his job first.

And certainly we did not think that it was going to involve selling our home, moving away from friends and family. Going to a city that was way too expensive for us. First, we were going to try and commute back and forth. And then I'll never forget the big boss, like the general council. I had a meeting with him.

I think it was my first and last meeting. And he said, well, does your husband think of this big move? And I said, Oh, well, he's not that happy, but it's fine. We're going to commute. And he looked at me and he said, don't do that. And he said the fabric of a marriage is really built in those early years. I didn't know it at the time, but he was getting divorced and I think he.

He gave that advice and I went home and I was like, we're not commuting. I want to stay married to you. And I think it's going to be hard. And I don't want to be [00:07:00] separated. So how old were you when you left DC? Um, I think I was 30. So I leave DC. And we rent this shoe box of an apartment and we're just looking at each other all day long.

There's nowhere to go in the shoe box. There's a tiny little bedroom and a tiny little living room in a galley kitchen.

Erin: Did you keep looking at your husband and go, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

Dawn: You know what, that was the deal. And and I was like, if you had gotten your job first, that would have been the deal for me too. We both were like, we're not going to go back on it. So it actually didn't take him long at all to get a job. It was the. Late nineties. It was like, everything was booming. I think very quickly. We realized, you know what, we're kind of lucky. This is kind of an adventure to be doing this. And then we didn't really look back from there.

Well, I didn't, he might've [00:08:00] might've looked a little, he might be still peeking over his shoulder a little bit, but he's fine. So then I went to work for ABC and in the legal department. And then I did a project for the news division. And the person I was working with was hiring what she called a deputy.

She was a new standards and practices. The new standards was. It's really a kicking the tires on the journalism job. So it was anything that was an investigative story or a long form piece. And I would do the background research to kind of see what the story was. I would talk with the producers. We would read scripts, we had scripts and tapes, they would come in a little cart and I would pick up like the little script and watch the, the rough cut with the script and make notes about, was there a study?

Was the study actually valid? Just kind of do some background research stuff that producers would do, but sometimes producers are busy or, or we just needed to make sure we weren't biased or using a biased source or something like that.

Erin: Well, that's a [00:09:00] wide, that's an interesting range of things to be doing as an attorney.

Dawn: A hundred percent. And now I was not an attorney anymore. So I got to say, Oh, you're going to have to ask the lawyers. Which was quite joyful right away. Did it feel joyful?

Erin: Oh yeah. You, so you shed that identity pretty quickly.

Dawn: That is a very interesting question, Erin. I did not. And I think if I fast forward to when I started directing projects, when I first started becoming a director, I didn't know what to call myself.

Because as I have henceforth described, I am a person who likes structure. I like to earn things. When you're a lawyer, you have a degree. You know what that means. If I say to you, I'm a lawyer, you understand what that means. Right. Yeah. If you say you're a director, you're like, what is that? What the fuck are you talking about?

If you direct what? Like [00:10:00] traffic? Like, what are you talking about? Well, producers even worse producers, literally people are like, I don't know what that person does. Right. Because it could be anything. It could be anything. And so I didn't feel like I had earned that moniker film school. I hadn't gone to film school.

I hadn't made anything. I hadn't followed a rule. And so I did not call myself that. For the longest time, even when I actually made a film, I was like, hi, I'm Dawn. No, I just tried to avoid it. Isn't that amazing? It is the girliest, stupidest thing to do. And when I just say girliest, because I think because it's very girly, it is, it is completely gendered.

And when I realized that I was doing it, I. Asked a couple of people who I respected and I was like, do men do this? And they were like, a hundred percent. No, a guy I'll pick up an iPhone and shoot a pigeon and be like, I am a director. [00:11:00] I need violence right now.

Erin: It's so true, but we won't claim anything without. But without having the sort of checked boxes.

Dawn: I had a movie that premiered at Sundance, was sold to HBO, and got a Spirit Award nomination. I still didn't call myself a director because I was like, is this, was that just a one time thing? Oh, this is a fluke. It's a fluke.

Erin: I think that's amazing because you're still adhering to some sort of code in your head that you learned when you were really young and probably not explicitly, right? Just implicitly, you learned some sort of, I need to be validated by certain criteria.

Dawn: A hundred percent. And those unwritten rules that were in my head that I didn't know I had. We're reinforced by all my previous [00:12:00] experiences and that also there's a little bit of race in there There's not a lot of black women Directing that I could point to at that time.

They're still not enough No, and and people question you I go on shoots and I would have Guys, it's always a guy be like, are you sure you want to do that? Just like kind of Leaning into that self doubt and it took a while to, to figure out what's the right appropriately assertive way to be on my own. Shoot.

Erin: God forbid you should be assertive and in charge of the thing you're fucking in charge of.

Dawn: Exactly. Of the thing that I raised the money for. I had the idea of, I scheduled, I did, I, I, I, I, I, I. Wouldn't exist without you. That's right. I'm like, I am hiring you. What's unclear here. And the first time I sent somebody home [00:13:00] because they were disrespectful on set, not to me, they were disrespectful to the project.

We were filming in an abortion clinic. And if you've never filmed in an abortion clinic, it's really intense. And you're there and you are with people on a really difficult time in their life. Nobody who's getting an abortion is. Skipping into that clinic, whether they want it or whether they have an unplanned pregnancy or they have a pregnancy where there's a health issue or any myriad number of reasons that are none of my business, nobody is happy.

They're relieved, but that's not happy. Relief that they are going to get what they need. The care they need is not the same as being happy about it. And so when you're in that situation, you have to be insanely respectful. We don't ask people twice. We would ask people if they would be interested in telling their story.

If they said no, that's it. I would need to make eye contact with them. And [00:14:00] this person was just checking his watch and what time is break and lunch is over too soon. And I was just like, you know what? I don't think that this is a good fit. And I sent him home and he was like, what? I was like, yeah, I don't think it's a good fit and you should leave.

Erin: What did that feel like? Amazing.

Dawn: I was like, I am a director. No, you know what I felt like? Maybe this is just me, but I felt like it's a lot easier for me to advocate for others. And so I didn't have any hesitation doing that. And then I kind of really started to think I need to use that same energy for myself. It's not an accident and we all feel like imposters. And I, I'm doing fine.

Erin: Yeah, even more than fine. I mean, you're doing important work and people should be respectful and happy to be there serving the project. Can [00:15:00] you talk, just mention the name of, of that film?

Dawn: Yeah, that film was called Trapped. It came out in 2016. It was also at Sundance, also won an award for social justice filmmaking and it was released on PBS.

Which we were insanely proud of because we wanted it to get to every home in America. And so that was the first big round of challenges to abortion legality in America. For three years, I followed abortion providers in the South as they tried to comply with the maze of abortion restrictions. Because at that time, the game was to try and regulate abortion out of existence. Right.

Because the court was not in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. So we were there for that whole time until those clinics stayed open. And sadly, I just finished a series about the Supreme Court and we had, we went back to those same [00:16:00] providers because those clinics are now closed. Yeah, those clinics in Texas and Alabama. And I, I think all the time of all those women that we saw.

Erin: Yeah. It's a really dark time when it comes to women's rights and women's bodily autonomy. Maybe this is a good segue into sort of what drives you? What, why are you so ambitious? You take on these, The A word.

Dawn: Huge. I love it.

Erin: I love ambition. You take on these meaningful stories. Your films are becoming part of the historical record of our country. That probably makes you feel shy. If it doesn't, I'm glad because that's a huge thing to own. You are contributing to the cultural conversation in a meaningful way. Where did the civic mindedness come from? Where did the sense of social responsibility come from in you?

Dawn: That's a good question. I think certainly it's in my family. [00:17:00] DNA. My mother's family is descended from Robeson's who were like Paul Robeson, who was the activist in the thirties, forties and fifties. He was one of the first black actors on Broadway, but he also was a civil rights pioneer. My great grandfather was the pastor of a very influential church that did a lot of civil rights work.

So those were kind of like stories in the background. But I, I actually think that growing up in New York city. I was exposed to a lot. I was exposed to a lot of art and culture and people who we were encouraged to think outside of the box and I was kind of a geek and I love to read. I went to Bronx science and I used to, we used to cut school and go to the history museum.

Oh my God, wow. Rule breaker, rebel. Exactly. My friend Dylan Foley used to take me, he was like, we're going to go see [00:18:00] This film, it was very specific. It was like dust boot. I was like, that's what I'm cutting school to go see dust boot. But you know, when you see that, you think people are doing wild things. It just kind of opens up your mind to things.

And then I loved photography. That was like my big window into the world. So I was like into photography for a while. And then I was like, wait, I could make the pictures talk. I think that's a thing. What about that? And then really. Being at ABC news, there's a lot that we forget about how important news coverage is.

There was this meeting, the nine 30 meeting, and they would talk about what was going to be on the six o'clock or six 30 news that night. And you would see journalists taking these incredibly difficult topics and then compiling these pieces that were visual and well written and informative. And I just thought it was the most [00:19:00] elegant thing, like taking something really complicated and making it understandable.

And if you could make people feel something on top of that, I thought that's what I want to do. And then I definitely felt being a black person, there was a brief period where there was a lot of optimism about race relations improving. And which doesn't mean by any sense that there was equality or there weren't like big problems, but it wasn't like now and I think I just sent some possibility and I thought I should be like in the mix, you know, kind of giving some other people voice. I could do that. I'm attracted to that. I think I could be helpful here.

Erin: Right. So it's, you had your own personal ambition, but it also is tied to service somehow.

Dawn: I think it's more tied to creativity. And I, I, I deeply wanted to have [00:20:00] some kind of creative life. And the only reason I kind of reject the service label is because John Lewis did service, you know, or these abortion rights activists do service. I also say, I'm like, I'm not an activist. I'm recording activists.

Erin: I'm going to challenge you on that.

Dawn: I know people are always like, yes, you are. I'm like, I'm not, I swear I'm not.

Erin: So is it not, is not being a source of amplification and clarification of your subject's message? Is that not also being of service? Yeah. Okay. Why don't you, why don't you like that? Because you don't want to compare yourself to your subjects.

Dawn: Because I see the full throated whole body sacrifice that they make. And I feel like I'm not doing that. I'm proud of my work. I think a lot of it is important. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Yeah. You're not suffering enough. I'm [00:21:00] not suffering enough. I need to suffer, Erin. Oh my God, you're such a good therapist.

Erin: It's another one of those qualifiers that we give ourselves, right? Like we. We're not going to define ourselves in a certain way, because in our minds, being a person who is truly of service or an activist, that looks like a different thing. And we couldn't possibly be that because X, Y, and Z. And it's interesting.

Dawn: It is interesting. I had the opportunity, I made the film about John Lewis, to travel with him over the course of a year. And it was this really tough year. It was 2018. We were going into the midterms and that's the period of time that we were filming with him.

And if you remember, Trump had been in office more than a year and a half. He was trying to still build the wall and rile people up and kids were in cages. There was an assault on women's rights. It [00:22:00] just felt so dark and I'm filming with John Lewis and he's going around and he's campaigning for other candidates because he's running on a post he's almost 80.

He's on the campaign trail. And so we're following him. And I would say, Mr. Lewis, I'm so worried about kids in cages, border wall, Supreme court, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And he would be like, well, that's why we need to. And he just kept saying these optimistic things. And I thought, I don't even understand this and I said it to my husband and I said, I think John Lewis is your life coach because he just was this was real.

I spent a lot of time with him. I saw him with family. I saw him at work. I saw him in public and he was always. the same. He literally believed in people. He believed John Lewis defaulted to people are good. You had to show him that you are not good. It was just very funny. He would be like, well, if he [00:23:00] can't say something nice.

Erin: It's amazing, especially given what he saw and what he experienced and the violence against him in his own activism as a young man.

Dawn: We watched him. Literally reintroduce the Voting Rights Act, the same act that he had worked to pass in the 60s. And here he was in 2018, having to reintroduce it to protect the vote.

So when you're near people like that, I just I did this interview today. And someone says, I see a lot of optimism in your work. He said it like a question. Is that right? I was like, is that the right abortion film? Does that make you optimistic? Where's my mother says another, another comedy. It's like, I will tell you another.

Person who makes me optimistic is, is Oprah Winfrey. People have no idea how she is so smart. First she would [00:24:00] call and my kids would make fun of me. Cause like it flashes on the screen, Oprah on your phone. And so my teenager was like, Oh, it's Oprah. I'm like, it actually is Oprah. It's Oprah. It is actually Oprah.

And she, she'd be like, I read this thing. I read this book last night and she meant she read the whole book. I was like, yeah, me too. Oprah. And she just would be like, have you read this? Have you read, heard this podcast? Have you seen this in a nice way? Not like a challenging way. She just soaks things in and she actually reads all those books.

So I learned a lot watching her. I don't know how she juggles so many things, but she does. And what I learned from her is she's decisive, which doesn't always mean she's right, but she lives with the consequences of her decisions. And I really took that to heart, which is whatever I'm going to be, I'm not going to be wishy washy about it.

I'm going to know what I like. I'm going to know what I want. I'm going to ask questions if I don't understand something. And then I'm going to [00:25:00] live with the consequences of my choices. And I'll be peaceful about that.

Erin: Is that new for you? Were you someone who equivocated a lot?

Dawn: I didn't equivocate, but I don't think I...was this quick to declare that I had decided, you know, what I also have learned people usually like it when somebody steps forward and with calm decisiveness, very much because a lot of times you just want to know that you're following a reasonable plan and people are happy to join in. And so I got very, I got a lot more comfortable claiming the title director and then saying, okay.

I don't edit. I don't shoot. I've always like, I don't do anything useful, but I can make decisions and I, I really, really like working with people who are really good at what they do [00:26:00] and being like, I don't need to know what that F stop is. That's your decision. I'd like to feel like something like this.

Can you help me get to how we want this to look or with a composer. I love working with composers. That's magic what they do. How do you write a song? How does music come out of your head? I don't know. And you don't have to know. And you don't have to know. And that is so freeing.

Erin: So when you started directing, you were a lawyer for A& E. Is that right?

Dawn: Yes.

Erin: After ABC News, you went to A& E. Yes. How quickly after that were you pursuing directing jobs and how did the first one happen? Since you, quote unquote, have no skills.

Dawn: So the A& E folks were insanely supportive of my desire to produce. Something at the time I was like, I'm going to be a producer because no one knows what that is. So I [00:27:00] might as well be that right. We'd be not qualified if nobody knows what it is. Right. And the first three years of my job, I actually did my own job. And then I was like, I kind of want to do this other thing too, but I don't really want to quit. And I watched like all those production companies coming in to pitch them.

And I heard how the ones that they liked. They were organized, decisive, they came in on time, on budget, it wasn't necessarily the most out there, whack a doodle creative idea. Some of them were, but some of them were just like, they'd rather know they were going to get it delivered than that it was going to be like everything, everywhere, all at once, all the time. Right. So that made a big impression on me. I'm like, Oh, I can do that. I'm a, I'm a lawyer.

Erin: My qualification for being a director is unreliable.

Dawn: And so then I started seeing what the process was and I learned a lot. I [00:28:00] guess I can say this now. So I might have produced a whole show while I was working for Annie. It was a chefography about Alexandra Guarnaschelli who was on Chopped and my friend Beth Burke was working at the Food Network.

And I used to harass her to give me something to produce. Give me something. Give me something. And she finally did. And then once you do it, it's like breaking the seal. You're like, Oh, okay, I can do that. And then after that, I started developing Gideon's army, which was my first film while I was still working at A& E.

I went part time and I was. And, you know, when I went part time, they were like, Oh, that's so nice. This is corporate, not my creative friends. They're like, Oh, you want to be with your kids? And I was like, I didn't say that, but they said, I do like my kids, but actually what I'm doing is starting a production company.

So, so I worked three days and I was off two days. And in those two days I packed in as much as I could, like just, I would go to conferences and festivals and study the business and see, and figure out like. [00:29:00] At that point, reality television was getting really big. And I was kind of like, there's a lot of stories about people who look like me.

I'm black and there's a spoiler. And there's not a lot of stories by people who look like me. And so I was like, wait a minute. Why is that the case? So I eventually through some networking came upon this group of young lawyers. And this woman I knew at the Ford foundation at the time, she was pretty new.

And I was just starting. And she introduced me to these lawyers and I went down to Alabama in the summer and I started filming and I just was so captivated by these young people and they were, they were talking about the constitution and they were talking about helping people and I just like burst into tears and I was like, this is what people think lawyers are, but they're so misunderstood.

So anyway, so that became my first film, Gideon's Army. And I think. For me, because it was a second [00:30:00] career, what was very useful and helpful was leaning into the things that I was really good at. I'm a really good strategic thinker. I'm really curious. I'm very good with people as a litigator. My job, I did a lot of depositions, depositions or what they're listening.

And I wrote a lot of briefs. A brief writing is just making a compelling argument to people who don't know what you're talking about, who don't know the facts of your case. So I had a lot of experience taking something complicated and making it comprehensible. And then you couple that with, I had a decent eye, I was a photographer and I had a, but I think like I have an empathetic ear and, and I, I respect people.

That certainly comes from my mother, but my mother was a really, a person who really listened and, and tried to find the way that she could help other people just naturally, [00:31:00] instinctively. And then I think the other thing is, I didn't pretend to know what I didn't know. I didn't try and fake it. I was like, no, I don't know this, but I know, I know what it takes to go to law school.

I know what it takes. It's to stand up in front of a judge at a jury. So my second film was a film called Spies of Mississippi and it was really hard. It was a historical film and nobody wanted to buy it and it took forever. I finally got my money from Germany and I went. to this conference. And there was a session called meet the Germans.

And I was like, I want to meet the Germans go to the session. What I didn't know is it was only for German production companies, but the Germans are very polite. So they didn't kick you out and they didn't give you the information. I walk in and I'm like, hi, I'm here for meet the Germans. And they were, they all just looked at each other and they were like, Okay.

And they just, it was like one of those where you go table to table and you pitch your project. Oh, like a speed dating. Yeah. Yeah. So I go to the [00:32:00] first table and they're, they're looking at me, they're very polite. They're blonde and they're not nodding. And they were like, this is not for us, but you should be good. And I was like, okay, I get to table two. This is not for us, but you should be good. I get to table four. And he's like, I am good. I'm like, good.

Erin: What?

Dawn: I'm told I should meet you. And he listens. And he was like, yes, yes, I like this very much. I am from East Germany. We, we like spies. They do like spies. And he got the first money for the film from Germany. So it was all a mistake.

Erin: You walked into the wrong room, but everybody knew you needed to meet Gunna. And there's a Gunna in everybody's life, right? All roads lead to some person whose name you hear over and over and over again.

Dawn: And by that time I had done a film, I had been working for four years in the business.

And [00:33:00] so what I realized is. You just never get over that feeling of uncomfortableness. You have to push yourself more than you are comfortable. If you want to be comfortable, you should stay in your direct deposit job for a corporation. Yeah. The thing about, that's very satisfying when you work for yourself, because a lot of it is terrifying.

But the thing that's satisfying is when you do get something, you're like, I built this with my people, but we built it. And I always will say, like, if it fails, it's me. And so that feels really good. Like sometimes you feel exposed, but sometimes you feel really free.

Erin: But how do you get to a place where fear is a, is a positive indicator? Like you can't have felt totally comfortable talking to Oprah for the first time.

Dawn: Oh my God, that was terrifying. Are you kidding? No, it's even really bad. It's actually a good story. So the first time I met her, [00:34:00] I was interviewing for the job and I was in New York City. I lived in San Francisco at the time I had flown into New York City in May.

And it was warm when I got here at the beginning of the week. And then the day I met her, the temperature plummeted like 30 degrees and I only had one dress that was appropriate for that kind of meeting. Everything else I planned that was adorable was warm weather. So I couldn't wear my warm weather plotted dress that was perfectly planned outfit for Oprah.

Oh, this dress. Oh, what do you mean? Oh, you like this? Oh, I just threw this on. This whole thing. Picking this thing. So I wear the outfit that's perfectly fine, but not. Great. And I was staying in a tiny little New York city hotel. And so, and it was dark because you know, New York city hotels, like they're just dark.

So I get in the taxi, which is light. And I looked down and down the front of my dress is our spots. A bottle of lotion had exploded in [00:35:00] my suitcase, all up and down the dress. And I hadn't seen it before because it was hot when I got there. I just threw this in. Well, you weren't going to wear it. I wasn't going to wear it.

I'm in the taxi with a dirty dress going to meet Oprah. And I start sweating. And it was the meeting was at 1030. And I was like, could I go to the gap and get like a dress? That would be my first thought. Like what's open? I was like, then I will be late. Right. I was like, I can either be late. Or I can go in the dirty dress.

So I was like, I think I'm going to go in the dirty dress. She seems like a person who would understand. So I get to the meeting and the person greets me and he's like, do you mind if we're all in the screening room? And I'm like, screening room, that is great. Screening rooms are dark. So I get in and I'm, I'm like putting my hands in front of my, Body to try and cover up all the stains, the lotion stains.[00:36:00]

And I, they sent me right next to her. That's also good. But then I just, because I was trying to hold my hands in front of my dress, every time I talked to her, I would lean in and then she lent in too. And I was like, this is fabulous.

Erin: We're best friends.

Dawn: And I think she felt, I think she felt it too. And so I got hired.

Erin: I love a happy accident. I love all of these happy accidents. I mean, this is, this is, you know, the universe at work.

Dawn: Yes. So I get the job and she says, well, you should meet Harry. And I was like, I should, and she's I'll pick you up and we'll go see him. And I was like, Oh, okay. I was thinking like, Oh, Harry's, I was going to be in LA or something.

And Harry's going to be there. And you're where she lives. And what she meant was like, go to Chicago. And she was going to pick me up in her plane. And we were going to fly to England to meet the prince.[00:37:00]

Erin: Was your heart just like pounding out of, in your throat? I would be like, uh,

Dawn: I told my husband, I'm like, I'm like, Oprah's taking me to meet Harry. And he's like, what? What are you talking about? And I was like, she's, yeah, we're going to meet Harry and he's like, no, she's not. I was like, she is. She said it.

He was like, you must be mistaken. He must, she must be like, come to it. I was like, no. So I get to this little airport, private airport, and I'm waiting there. And then like her plane swoops in Mrs. Claus coming out of the air and she gets off the plane. What is she wearing? She's wearing a lovely cashmere like pants, pantsuit because we're flying to England from Chicago.

Yeah. And her bodyguard gets off. And who's this gorgeous woman. And it's just like the three of us and Oprah's Butler on the plane. So we get in this time. My dress was clean because I [00:38:00] was prepared. I bought a change of clothes just in case we get on. And it's just me, her and her. The bodyguard goes discreetly to her little area.

The pilots go there. The Butler's doing his thing. What Butler's do. But when, so I sit there and we're just sitting across and I was like, Oh my God, what am I going to talk to her about for six hours? So I had my little pad. And like a pencil in case she wanted to work, she wanted to give me notes and she goes, well, I'm very, very excited.

And I lean in to serve you the soup. And I was like soup. And she was like, and a crab cake. And I was like, I go, well, Oprah, I kept saying, well, Oprah, like all the time, because that's how you say, right. I just couldn't believe I was actually talking to her. So I was like, well, Oprah, I go, I'm from the East coast and I, I know my way around a crab cake.

And she's not going to be good. This is the best crab cake you've ever had. And I go, I go, well, we'll see Oprah. So that first the [00:39:00] soup comes out and it's. You put your face in it and then her butler comes out and he's truffles and I was like, yes, thank you.

And then he comes out with the crab cake and it was like the heavens opened up and she just sat there watching And, and I was like, it's a very good crap about all the best things she knows about all the things. So, and then we talked about work a little bit, but then we just talked about just life. And she said we were going to have the meeting and then she's like, Oh, and then I'm going to go see the baby.

And I'm like, The baby, like Archie, the royal baby, and I'm thinking to myself, please, please, please take me, please take me, please take, please, please. So anyway, we met Harry. He's very tall. He's also very gracious. And at the last minute, I was like, do I have to like curtsy or something advice, but I don't want to be a rude American.

So I like Googled it and it was like, [00:40:00] Americans do not have to curtsy. It's the queen only. And I get up there and you could tell this has happened in before because he immediately lands in and he's like, hi, Harry. And I was like, hi, Harry. And then you know what? The two of them are just like. They're like regular people, except. Bullshit. Except. That is not true. It's not true. It's not. It's not true.

Erin: Unbelievable. And now she calls you and your kids make fun of you.

Dawn: That's right. As it should be.

Erin: As it should be. Dawn, I have two last things. You're a lawyer, still. And one thing I'd like to talk to people about on this podcast is the contracts in their lives. So, we have these kind of unspoken contracts that underlie everything. Is there anything, any contract in your life that you would rewrite or a deal term you'd want to change?

Dawn: I [00:41:00] think I would change the contract with myself. I think I put a lot of stock in setting up a structure for myself. That would make me feel secure. And I really think that that has sometimes limited me from doing things. And so as much as I've been able to change careers, move places, there's still more things that I want to do. And when you have success at something, people want to keep you in that box. And so I'd like to change the contract with myself that says if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'm looking. And thinking a lot about what is that next scary thing. There's that ambition again.

Erin: Yeah. [00:42:00] Well, I know you'll do it. Whatever it is, you'll do it. You have a track record. I mean, you can look back and go, what are the things I've wanted to do? Did I do those things? How did that go? That's one of the great benefits of being older is like, I think I have evidence that when I do X, Y happens.

Dawn: I think things are certainly difficult, many, many difficult, like you feel like you're on the precipice of a cliff difficult in particularly in my work. And yet I am most of the time so happy. There's this moment when. You have a conversation with somebody on film or when you record something beautiful or when something unexpected happens and you feel like that is exactly what I wanted to say.

It's exactly what I wanted to do. It's so satisfying and it's more satisfying. Um, because [00:43:00] it wasn't supposed to be and because I had to, to take so many risks and challenge myself so much. And so there's more challenges to come.

Erin: I love it. I love it. I think that's a great place to stop. Thank you so much, Dawn.

You inspire me and can't wait to see your lady bird. Documentary. Where can people see that?

Dawn: Lady Bird will be on the Paramount Plus and Showtime this fall.

Erin: Fantastic. Fantastic. Thank you so much, my friend. I'll talk to you soon.

Dawn: Thank you. It's really fun.

Erin: Thanks for listening to Hotter Than Ever. We want to hear from you. What did you think of this conversation? What did it bring up for you? DM us on social media and share your reaction. or your own story of a career pivot. We're @hotterthaneverpod on Instagram, Facebook, and all the socials. We may even share your message on the show.[00:44:00]

Hotter Than Ever is produced by Erica Girard and PodKit Productions. Our associate producer is Lina Reibstein. Music is by Chris Keating with vocals by Issa Fernandez.


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