‘I felt like I was in a zoo without the fences’

Wild Geese: Ita Kennedy, Los Angeles

While a large chunk of the world's population has been stuck at home in recent months, Ita Kennedy has been experiencing life in a bubble on an undisclosed Caribbean island.

"I'm working as an executive in charge on a reality TV show called Below Deck – the Netflix TV series, which chronicles the lives of crew members who work on super yachts during charter season.

"We've moved locations each season from the Mediterranean to the Carribean. Last year, during the lockdown we were in Croatia for five months – also in a hotel bubble – then came Antigua, so I've had quite a different year to many people in terms of travel."

But life in paradise locations is far from sunshine and relaxation. “We regularly work 12-hour days. You often hear about shoots going on beyond that, with production staff working up to 20 hours, but I don’t think it’s productive to work more than 12 hours. You don’t want to kill your crew.”

The producer and executive is well versed in working long days since leaving Dublin in the late 1980s.

"I'm dyslexic and, back then, that meant you didn't go to college, so I left school aged 16 and went to London to be an actor at Rada. The only thing is, I didn't even know where it was geographically. At the time we didn't have Google Maps," she laughs.

"I ended up getting a job as a waitress at Pizzaland, and worked my way up to head waitress, then head chef and I was area manager when I was 19."

While putting herself through art college, Kennedy spent summers in Greece selling jewellery. But in her early 20s she decided to spread her wings and ended up in Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

“It was a random decision. Flights were cheap and you got a car hire for two weeks thrown in for free,” she recalls.

Once her miniscule funds ran out, she got a job doing door to door sales, but soon got a stall selling T- shirts, which she hand painted. “I started making good money and, by pure chance, ended up working with a streaming company at the beginning of the internet age.”

Her job at E Entertainment saw her develop shows for seven channeled programmes catering for the English and Hispanic community.

She also worked with Osiris Entertainment making corporate videos and in-flight entertainment. "I was working in a building on South Beach, with a jacuzzi in my office in the 1990s. It was a great time to be in Miami. "

During her time in Florida, her daughter was born and she navigated a successful career in entertainment as a single parent. “It was hard and hours were long. Back then it was frowned upon to have children around . . . All that has changed thankfully.”

A brief stint back in Ireland followed in the early 2000s, but when a phone call came from the Hallmark Channel in Los Angeles to make films, she was back on a plane to the US.

“I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and started working straight away. My objective was to make enough money to get good health insurance. I had previously been ill, and was floored by how much it would cost me. A visit to the doctors was $1,000, a hysterectomy was $125,000.

“I ended up returning to Dublin for surgery, but was so paranoid about losing blood and taking morphine in case it cost me money. I couldn’t believe my surgery was just €7,000 with no hidden extras,” she says.

“The US is tough in that the poor get medicare, but those on low wages can be screwed when something happens. So I’ve always worked really hard, working on projects back to back, forgoing holidays and getting promoted so my daughter would have a good life.”

After working as an accountant for the Hallmark Channel for two years, Kennedy went back to producing, working on shows including The Amazing Race.

“It’s an American adventure reality game show, where teams race around the world, travelling by various means and undergoing physical and mental challenges along the way. It was pretty intense, relentless filming but good fun.”

Kennedy says she also enjoyed working on Animal Planet on the Discovery Channel, where she could spend 10 hours on a canoe surrounded by anacondas and piranhas in the middle of the Amazon. "It was incredible. I felt like I was in a zoo without the fences."

When she was offered the chance to produce a reality TV show in Dubai in 2017 about a local star called Huda Kattan, a beauty blogger and entrepreneur, Kennedy couldn't say no. "It was an amazing time. It is fun to travel, and to learn new cultures and go off the beaten track."

Though she travels regularly, Kennedy owns a property in Manhattan beach, not far from Los Angeles LAX airport. “I don’t spend much time there, but it’s right by the beach, which is wonderful.”

Whenever she was home for a few months, Kennedy decided to write a fiction novel, based on her childhood in Ireland.

“I can’t say too much about it, but it was a very cathartic exercise. As I suffered from dyslexia, I always thought I didn’t have it in me [to write]. But sitting down every Friday till 4am was a great process and I’m getting good early feedback.”

Although Covid-19 is happening, Kennedy says her phone has been ringing.

“I’m lucky, especially in this industry.” But she sees change coming down the line. “I do features and a lot of reality TV, which I think will change. There is a demand for things to be different now during Covid-19 and looming climate change. The world doesn’t really want to see more wealthy people on their TV screens anymore,” she says.

“I take on projects, which take many months to plan and produce and then there’s post-production. It means you never see me or many producers around, because we always work. So if you come to LA to network in bars and restaurants, you may not see people, you want to see, because they are behind their desks.”

She says LA is a great place to be but, in the future, Kennedy would love to work on more projects in Ireland.

“I think Ireland has a wealth of talent and I can’t wait to tap into it again, when the opportunity comes. My daughter is studying in Dublin and I look forward to coming back and see friends and family. In the meantime I’ll made do with my hotel bubble in the Caribbean.”

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