Although Marta Fernandez is now a senior vice president for original programming at Starz Entertainment, responsible for the critically acclaimed Boss, Spartacus, and Black Sails, the Kearny native didn’t always know what she wanted to do. Fernandez was actually working as a girls’ toy developer in New Jersey when she got involved in television production almost by accident.
The toy company began producing its own promotional spots and, suddenly, Fernandez found herself creating television commercials. Something clicked. She realized that she enjoyed making the commercials for the toys she developed more than she liked designing the toys. So she decided to study broadcasting and production and found Montclair State.
Fernandez credits the University with giving her the tools to succeed in an industry where success can be elusive. In particular, she says, Patricia Piroh, associate director of broadcast and digital media facilities in the School of Communication, pushed her beyond the confines of the campus and her own comfort zone. “Patty really drilled into us the importance of networking, of knowing who the players are, of making contacts,” says Fernandez. “She forced me, kicking and screaming, to join a number of off-campus networking organizations, like HRTS [the Hollywood Radio and Television Society].”
Attending those networking sessions and hearing the stories of people who had taken a leap of faith in order to pursue a career in broadcasting gave her courage. “People who picked up and left the Midwest, people who were past 40, women who were just fearless and who took these huge chances to pursue their passion,” she says.
“That resonated with me.”
But that wasn’t all that helped jump-start her career in broadcasting. First there was her obvious talent. Her senior project, a documentary about the first female radio station owner, won the prestigious Gracie Award for best student documentary in 2002. The award, presented by the Alliance for Women in Media, recognizes exemplary programming created for women, by women and about women.
And then there was her tenacity. After Fernandez graduated, she held a number of production positions in New York and New Jersey. But she knew that she would have more opportunities on the West Coast. She answered an online ad for an entry-level position and flew to California for an interview. Her new employers didn’t realize that she wasn’t already living in Los Angeles and wanted her to begin immediately. Rather than risk losing the opportunity, she packed her suitcase, arranged to stay on a friend’s couch, arrived in California on a Sunday and began her new job that Monday.
Fernandez’s resume includes stints on Fear Factor, Monk and Criminal Minds before she landed at Starz in 2007. In addition to Black Sails and the now-cancelled but critically-acclaimed Boss, Fernandez also oversees DaVinci’s Demons. “[Black Sails] is sort of the true account of Pirates of the Caribbean, and [film director and producer] Michael Bay is serving as the executive producer.” The show is being filmed in Capetown, South Africa, so Fernandez travels there frequently to oversee production. More recently, her new drama Flesh and Bone, set in the world of ballet, is set to start shooting in New York City this spring.
Getting and keeping her dream job, for the most part, she says, comes down to her training at Montclair State. “I was so well trained that once I started working in television, it almost seemed easy.”