The successful story of Elaine Del Valle
One of the best ways to learn how to negotiate in your career is to ask those who have done it successfully. Enter Elaine Del Valle. Award-winning actor, writer, producer and philanthropist.
You think you can’t have your cake and eat it too? Think again. When you are multi talented like Elaine Del Valle, it’s not really about how to negotiate for the roles you want but how to create them. And these roles are not only on stage or on screen but also as a writer and producer of the material she really cares about.
Trained as an actor under the legendary Wynn Handman, Elaine wrote and developed her multiple award winning off-Broadway one-woman play “Brownsville Bred“– her true coming of age story set in the tough neighborhood of Brownsville Brooklyn NY. She’s been featured on films such as “Elliot Loves”, in comedies such as the web series “Los Angeles” and in the short film “Stereotypically Me.” Recent television appearances include CBS’s Blue Bloods opposite Donnie Wahlberg Elaine. She has hosted the Annual Hispanic Choice Awards taped for broadcast on CBS. And she also enjoys a long, lucrative voice-over career. Most recently, she licensed the series “Gran’pa Knows Best” to HBO. As a philanthropist, Elaine has raised over a million dollars for children with autism through the charity cycling event she founded The Mansion Ride for Autism Charity Cycling Event.
Having a career as an actor is not easy. When did you learn how to negotiate your roles?
I learned that being an actress, especially an ethnically ambiguous, commercial-looking Latina Actress, yielded little power. It wasn’t until I took on the role of writer that I yielded power. The question for me was not so much how to negotiate a role but how to create a role that fitted my interests and talents on the stage and on screen, and also behind the scenes.
I am best known for writing my autobiographical one-woman play, “Brownsville Bred.” The play has led me down more paths than I can state and is still creating inroads for me. Because it was my true Latina coming of age story, my audiences were privy to me and my life philosophy. It created powerful connections between me and those who saw it.
One such connection was with the Multicultural Media Forum and Time Warner Hispanic Employee Group, Viva. The groups invited me to perform my life story several times…I had the gift of being seen by network people and later being able to call them my friends.
I learned that my Latino community was hungry for a voice, especially a female voice telling a true story. I also learned that the voice was so strong that people remembered it.
I knew that I had to continue to write and so I created a web series, “Reasons Y I’m Single”. Writing, producing, directing and acting in the series became an impressive feat that marked me as a proven player in what we, in the NY Latino Entertainment inner circle, call “The Latino Media Mafia”. I built my reputation with hard work, fairness, helping others, appreciation and a very Latina Point of View. And getting to that point enabled me to negotiate projects that were always close to my heart.
These days I wear the hat that I need to in order to accomplish my to do lists. Every morning I wake up and say “I run my own studio. Del Valle Productions, Inc.” It has many divisions, and I act on the needs of each division as they arise. It also means I’m constantly negotiating.
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Where did you learn how to negotiate larger and larger contracts like the one you just signed with HBO? Did you have mentors and coaches that guided you through the process?
When I was going into the negotiation for HBO to license “Gran’pa Knows Best” I did my homework on the network and how to negotiate with it based on its past negotiations. I spoke with three people who had had former dealings with them. They acted as my mentors and coaches. I felt this was important to get a foundation, so that nothing would take me by surprise.
I was reassured each time that HBO was the very best network to deal with, especially for first timers. I went into the meeting with a basic trust. The dealings were never adversarial. We all wanted the same thing: For the series to air on HBO. I didn’t bring in an attorney until the very end, because I learned long ago that attorneys make money when there is conflict and I didn’t want anyone to mess up a relationship that I worked so long to cultivate. I went to the attorney with the contract that I was happy with and consulted with her to ensure that I understood the legal language correctly.
In a way HBO held my hand through the process. They spelled out what they needed and I worked my way through to the fulfillment of their needs. It was a great example of how to negotiate by focusing on the outcome both parties want rather on what only you want.
Read more about coaching and mentoring here!
Tell us a little bit about the series. It’s a first of its kind on HBO, right?
Yes, it is. I am currently in production of Season 2 of Gran’pa Knows Best—A comedy web-series starring a 4 inch 3D printed likeness of our Director/Creator, William D. Caballero’s 87 year old grandfather, Victor Muriel. Originally from Puerto Rico, Muriel voices the character and offers his real advice on various subjects. The series offers viewers an interactive experience as advice seekers. The questions that grandpa answers.on each episode are selected from social media users who post tweets tagging @ask_granpa and using hashtag #GranpaKnowsBest. Those whose questions/topics are selected get featured in an episode by way of their first name and social media profile photo.
The Gran’pa character poses are modeled by Chang Kim, using the computerized Zbrush program, and are printed in polymer resin using 3D printer technology. Each one is hand painted by Amy Yamashiro and Kate Keisel. They are then placed in a miniature model home designed and 3D printed by Seth Burney. Graphic design and text animation by Chris Cookson accompany the voice and real advice of Gran’pa Victor Muriel. William D. Caballero directs the series, filming in macro perspective, alongside dozens of miniature and life size props. B roll is added to enhance the visual and comedic effect.
Were you nervous about meeting with HBO about how to negotiate with a large media company?
As anyone could imagine the idea of sitting in the offices of a huge, respected network such as HBO could be intimidating. While I was nervous, my years of stage performances afforded me the luxury of being able to work through the nerves. Of reaching a relaxed center that gave me the ability to focus and more importantly, LISTEN. I think listening is the most important thing you can do in any meeting. Active listening allows for organic reaction. Knowing what you want to accomplish in a meeting is important. But being overly rehearsed, can make you anxious to get your point across and never leads to the openness that the best working relationships are built on.
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What were some of the lessons that can help others learn how to negotiate with a much larger counterpart?
Listen to the needs of the company. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. For a licensing deal, there are insurance requirements, deadlines you have to be able to make, Trademark and copyright, clearances, etc. It is a long and arduous road that I learned a great deal from accomplishing. And I’d add that if you have never negotiated anything important before, seek mentors and coaches who can guide you on how to negotiate.
For many women it’s hard to negotiate salary and contracts. Particularly difficult for women who are in the arts and social sciences. Do you have any suggestions for them?
Research. In my case, I reached out to a friend whose attorney had many negotiations with the company, another colleague who had a deal that did not reach fruition and a friend who had successfully licensed a film to HBO. I learned from listening to all those experiences.
You can connect with Elaine Del Valle at:
Tweet her @BrownsvilleBred or @Ask_Granpa
Instagram users can follow her on @DelValleProductions. Follow her on Facebook @DelValle Productions & Casting and @GranpaKnowsBest
And Best of all WATCH GRAN’PA KNOWS BEST on HBO Latino, HBO GO, and HBO NOW! New episodes are on every Wednesday at 7:55pm and also air in between programs on HBO Latino.