Latia Curtis is the Swiss-army-knife of Greenville entrepreneurs. She’s done hair and makeup for weddings, worked her way up in the Greenville film community as a production manager, and even worked as production assistant for Lebron James during a Nike commercial. This is the story of her journey.
She is a self-proclaimed army brat that grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“My mom hasn’t been in the picture,” she told me. “The last time I saw her I was 9. My dad wasn’t the best dad. My siblings and I were passed around family members a lot. I think the longest I lived with a family member was with my aunt. We never went without, never were hungry. I was raised by friends of the family. Aunts, with kids of their own, that worked really hard. I think that’s where I get a lot of my workaholism from. I’m painfully neurotic about my work.”
Eventually she moved to Greenville about 13 years ago and has been here ever since. For 5 years she was a single mom, working where she could, usually 2 or 3 jobs at a time. Salons, a bridal company, bars. Waiting tables and working in cosmetics, scraping by to get to where she wanted to be.
She started as a makeup artist. Aware that there was makeup artists for movies, but never thought there was a way for her, from Spartanburg South Carolina, to get on a movie set. In her mind, with cosmetics, she had to work at the mall and puff and powder people. Eventually she got onto the cosmetics counter at Belk. And that’s where she credits her customer service training. “It’s the best training anyone could get,” she said. “retail is so challenging.”
“Somehow,” she said, after working on various jobs on commercial and film sets, she landed a role as project manager on a set. “I got paid more doing bridal work,” she said, “but my heart is working on film sets. I love all of film. From the pitch, script writing, building characters, all the way to post-production. If I break my arm tomorrow I couldn’t do makeup, but I would be in production, and I would be perfectly happy, because I’m on set. Today I still love bridal because the elements of a wedding day are similar to that of a production set. Both will have 1 or a few VIPS, last minute changes, tight timelines, and only once chance to get it right! No redos!”
There wasn’t one particular moment that clicked in her head that made her realize what she wanted to do. It was the summation of several different events. For example, during a spec commercial, a no pay gig, she scheduled and prepped the order of 35 different outfits, makeup, and hair for their model. “I made it so much more time efficient, they ended up throwing out their schedule and used mine. I had to do it all myself.”
One day she received a text from a connection who asked “Hey, I need someone who is really good with people. Would you want to work with LeBron James on a Nike commercial as the production assistant?”
She laughed and said, “And I replied back, you know you’re texting me right?”
“A couple weeks into the set they asked ‘who wants to be with LeBron today?’ I said, “me!” All that day I was with him and the Cavs. I’m not a crier, but I cried.
The execs from Nike are there. The agency, writers. All in the same room. Standing there watching the rough cut of stuff we had filmed. I felt my face getting hot, thinking I was getting sick, I started tearing up and biting my lip. Every single thing that I had worked for had got me to that point. Loving people, being kind to people on set. I was literally breathing the same air as greatness, the greatest athlete on earth.”
“All of the jobs I’ve had were opportunities to mold and shape me into the kind of person I am today and the type of person that I am today,” she said. “I’m someone that’s defined by my work and the work that I’ve done. Some people say that’s a bad thing, but I like the idea of independence. I credit all of that to Greenville and its collaborative spirits.”
“Growing up with not much of a family might have something to do with my attachment to my film family. I take it to heart more than most people. All of them are super talented. It’s cool because I never have to have the awkward conversation with a friend about how they suck. They’re always punctual, and even though we may not have access to giant sets and budgets, we find a way to make projects work.”
She continued, “There is so much talent here in Greenville. People sleep on us. Why would I go to Chicago, LA, or New York? The community here in Greenville is warm and welcoming. It’s so easy to partner with boutiques to get them exposure, same goes for coffee and restaurants. I try to only hire and cast local talent.”
She told me the story of someone who had recently moved from LA back to Greenville. “I asked why people don’t come Greenville She looked at me and said “nobody in Greenville knows what they’re doing.” And thought ‘I’ll show you, lady!’ How dare you come to my city talking shit about it. We choose to stay and work in Greenville because we love it here.”
“There are so many locals or people who have come to Greenville with skills,” she concluded. “None of us should settle for mediocrity. Challenge yourself. Challenge others. Be different. I love my crew family here, we take care of one another. It’s competitive in Greenville, but I don’t see anybody being ugly to each other, it’s not a cut throat in this market like it is in other places. If I see someone who really wants ‘it’ and needs that little push, I want to be that to them — because the people around me in this city did the same for me.”