Hollywood executive and alumna Emma Miller honored with 2023 College of Media Emerging Leader Award

Emma MillerWhen Emma Miller (BS ’08, media studies) graduated from the University of Illinois she wasn’t sure where her degree would take her. 

Now, 15 years later as a Hollywood executive taking on a new leadership role at Netflix, Miller can say she’s exactly where she wants to be. 

After eight years as the senior vice president of scripted development and programming at AMC Networks, Miller recently joined Netflix as director of overall deals in the series division. 

Miller’s early career accomplishments, along with her continued engagement with the College of Media including serving on the Alumni Leadership Council, have garnered her the honor of being named the 2023 College of Media Emerging Leader Award winner. She is the first media studies graduate and the third recipient of the annual award.

“The College of Media is proud of Emma Miller’s career achievements and we’re thankful for her eagerness to be a resource for students,” said Dean Tracy Sulkin. “Emma has shared advice on how to navigate the film and TV industry that has been helpful and inspiring to students who are interested in making a career in Hollywood.”

Miller, who was named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s “35 Rising Executives 35 and Under” in 2018, said she was overwhelmed and excited when she received the news that she had won.

“I have a such a love for Illinois so it’s a real honor to be recognized by a place that I care a lot about,” Miller said. 

Throughout her career, Miller has helped develop dozens of hit television series including The Walking Dead universe while at AMC, and The Americans on FX while a junior executive at Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Television. More recently, she worked on an AMC project with George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford called Dark Winds, a crime series with a majority Native American cast and crew.

But the Chicago-raised Midwesterner admits when she first set out for Hollywood after college, her path wasn’t very clear. 

Miller considered going to law school to pursue a career as an entertainment lawyer but decided to find a job first. 

After a lot of persistent if not frenzied effort on her part, Miller said she lucked out and landed her first job as a literary assistant at the talent agency William Morris. 

“I just talked to everyone and applied to everything, and I got really lucky through that method, that really chaotic method,” Miller said. “In terms of getting into the industry, my advice is to talk to everyone that you possibly know that could help. Be shameless [about it] and ask for help. That’s how I did it.” 

After gaining a couple years of experience as a literary assistant, Miller discovered the concept of development—which she said is similar to being a book editor who supports writers and gives feedback—and realized “there was a place for me here.” 

“That’s when everything became way less chaotic and way more focused,” she said. 

She has participated in two Media Career Night panels for students, one in 2020 and one in 2022, where she shared her experience and advice. (Recordings of the panels are archived online.) For Miller, it’s important to help students who were once like her and just starting out on their journey to working in Hollywood. 

“I want to help Illinois have more of a presence within the industry and I want to help be a resource for [graduates who] come out here,” she said. 

Miller originally came to the University of Illinois with plans to study English, but she became intrigued with the idea of working in the entertainment industry after taking a Women in Film course her freshman year. She signed up for more film classes and took advantage of a summer opportunity to work as a set production assistant on a Cartoon Network series produced by her uncle, which ultimately inspired her to switch majors.  

“It was the exposure to the industry, and the realization that at Illinois there was a major I could do, that kind of cut me for a potential job in the industry,” Miller said.

She’s incredibly happy where she ended up.

“My life looks like what I thought I wanted, which was just exposure to a lot of interesting things and a sense that I don’t know what the next five years will bring [professionally],” she said. “I like the idea that in theory I don’t know what I’m going to be working on in five years, I don’t know what relationships I’ll have, I don’t know what new experiences I’ll have. And that to me is what I always wanted.”

—Kelly Youngblood