Taking The Leap! An Interview With Aida Bernal Of Spellbound Entertainment

"What I do isn't just help people get jobs, I'm helping people's dreams come true. That's something that I honor and take very seriously."

This from the mouth of the woman who my best friend and client of Aida, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, calls Mama Shark. The woman knows the entertainment business like the back of her hand (her experience in the industry is mind blowing), she's incredibly passionate about her work and her clients, and has a heart bigger than the size of Texas.

I first met Aida a few years back through Natalia when she joined Natalia's efforts to spearhead the industry in Hollywood. Natalia's intention was to eclipse the overtly sexualized stereotypical roles that the industry so quickly throws Mexican women in, which in regards to the culture of Hollywood, can unfortunately be no small feat. I remember being in awe of the team they had created; They were on a mission, hand-in-hand, to find roles that represented a strong and empowered Latina. With pitch after pitch, Aida was getting Natalia in rooms that took her talent and intention seriously. Cut to Natalia most recently wrapping season 5 as the first Latina superhero on television (or any other medium, for that matter) on Marvel's Agents of Shield, I would say this team has broken through a glass ceiling.

This is Aida. This is her mission for each and every one of her clients.

Photography by Cammy Kinney

Photography by Cammy Kinney

So how did Aida get to the point of Taking The Leap into becoming manager extraordinaire? "Since I was young, working at the cash register at my parents store, I knew I would have my own thing. I didn't know what exactly, but I had the feeling." I can detect a deep sense of appreciation she has towards her parents for modeling what it looked like to be an entrepreneur, having their own store on the historic Olvera Street in Los Angeles. The love they shared between each other and for their business started the fire, and as she grew older, she knew she wanted to work in entertainment and work with artists.

When her first entertainment job as a stylist's assistant got her to music video sets, her fire grew bigger and the vision started to narrow. Every single job that followed, she says, led her to where she is today (be prepared for this killer resume): Queen Latifah's music management company Flavor Unit/West Coast (this wet her taste buds for management), MCA Records (where she heard the advice of a lifetime from an A&R executive, "Look at this like college - you're getting paid to learn. When you leave here you'll know what you want and what you don't want"), then finally, several years at the production company for one of the superstars of our generation, Jennifer Lopez.

As I experienced myself, taking the leap from a regular job to work for yourself is a spiritual experience. After collecting information and insights, the wisdom bubbles up out of no where that it's time to leap, and for Aida, though she considered herself a linear person who would have things more planned out (SAME HERE), the insight smacked her upside the head in the shower one day that it was time to go and she had to listen. It was time for her to step two feet into her own company...

Aida: I had friends and acquaintances tell me I was crazy, but when you know, you know! If I can share one thing with the world that I learned from that process: We need to be better supporters of each other. If someone is telling you their ideas for a big move in their life, whether it be writing a cook book or going out on their own in business, it is your job as the listener to empower them instead of fueling the embers of fear. You don't know where they are in their process - you don't know where on the ladder they are. If they're further down the line and are grounded, then it may not matter, but if they're a baby chick beginning to hatch and you come at them with your 'logical' fearful thoughts, you've just crushed their spirit.

AMEN, sister! Speaking to Aida about her work now, you can feel every bit is coming from her guts. Her passion is immense and so inspiring.

Aida: I feel very blessed to be able to run my own company, work from my gut, my intuition, and though I've always done that in every entertainment job I've had, being on my own, there's no politics or bureaucracy between me and the client or potential client.

Jessie: You're able to run your business from your wisdom, no holds barred! The core of your business, the ground that you stand on, because you choose people from that heart connection, from that gut instinct, it's inevitable for everything to blossom - from your clients careers to your career as a manager/producer. I feel like you can see the potential in your clients before they can see it for themselves.

A: Yes! It's all about listening to their story, listening to their history. When they demonstrate their drive and passion for whatever it is they want to do, that's what makes me engage. Those are the kind of people I look to work with, the ones that inspire me. Not just because they're great actors, but because they're good people going after their dreams. It's really not that complicated, it's really quite simple.

J: Do you find yourself getting emotionally invested in your clients since you're so involved in the day to day of their dreams?

A: I can't manage at a distance. I've been told by industry and non-industry people that you shouldn't become too attached to your clients because this business is brutal, this business is ruthless - I didn't get into this business to have that mentality. I came into this business for the love of what I do and the passion for seeing something through from beginning to end.

J: I can see the connection here to your music days.

A: Yes, very similar to A&R (Artists and Repertoire) in the music business. They sign the band then see them all the way through. The recording, the marketing, the release of the album, the music video - there's all this process that happens before that act becomes what they become. For me with talent management, because I've done some developing (which a lot of reps don't want to do), I will meet with someone and when there's that spark on a human to human basis, and the cherry on top is that they happen to be brilliant artists, to me, that's what matters. You sign the human being behind the actor. For me, it's not just about these really talented people, it's about having a real, personal connection.

A: (cont'd) When it comes to the relationship, I'm the one that has to process the 'no' before I speak to my client. It can be difficult especially when it has nothing to do with my client. I have to make sure I'm in a place where I can deliver that info so it can be received well. There are times where I've had to deliver three 'no's' in one day, and that's just a fragment of my day (due to meetings, submissions, pitches, etc), but then there's times I get to deliver three 'yes's' - I have to be ready for all of it. I deal with the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. Learning how to manage the lows is the real key because being an artist is one of the most vulnerable things you can be. I'm known to be protective of my clients because when you're putting your artistry out there, everyone is going to judge (especially in the age of social media), there's no way of getting around that. So it's so important that those of us who work with talent whether it's agents, managers, publicists, even attorneys - to have that in the back of our brain. Knowing when you need more heart and less business.

Whew! What an incredible human, and what an advocate to have on your side as an artist on this roller coaster of an industry. What I love most about Aida's story is that she has literally followed her wisdom her entire career. Through each endeavor, without hesitation, she did the work, managed the ups and downs and moved on to the next step when her insides prompted her to. Now, I'm sure she would agree that she's human and every twist and turn felt overwhelming at times, but in hindsight, she was being guided from the inside-out. As she said, she is very blessed to be able to run her own company. From my perspective, because of her bravery and surrender to the process, even if she wasn't fully aware of the magic at the time, is why she is where she is. And guess what? Whether you're in the industry or just trying to figure out your next step in life, know that you can have a journey like Aida's the moment you choose to. The answer is inside, just allow it to bubble and it'll smack you upside the head in the shower one day too, I guarantee it.

Aida wanted to share some parting advice for incoming artists:

Do everything you can to be the best artist you can be, {hone your craft} as a musician, painter, actor, etc because that is all YOU. {And YOU are who the world needs!} As SNL's Michael Che says (not verbatim), "Don't put your goals into something or someone (in my actors cases an example would be a hiring 'body' like a Network or studio), because it can be taken away. Make your goals ABILITY based." Tune out the noise, and keep going.

And finally, the gem she left me with in all of her Mama Shark glory...

"I color outside the lines, and so do all the people I work with. We are the disruptors, we have something to give to the world. I already know how talented my clients are, the rest of the world just needs to catch up."

May we all have an Aida in our corner.

All my love to you and see you next week,


Spellbound Entertainment is a management and production company. You can see Aida's clients in Agents of Shield, Mayans MC (Sons of Anarchy spin-off), Narcos, Sense8 and more. The first film produced by Spellboud Entertainment called STARFISH is in post production. It's written/directed & produced by UK client Al White and also produced by Aldo Jovan.

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