B.S. in GeoScience
Certificate of Broadcast Meteorology
Christine Clayburg loved acting, but didn't consider herself "pretty, thin or rich" enough to make it her career. So she pursued another love: science.
But when TV station managers came searching the earth sciences department for "weather girls," Christine had the chance to combine her two interests. She went on to build a career with more than a decade of experience as a meteorologist and science reporter at top-rated stations across the country, including KABC in Los Angeles, WCCO in Minneapolis and WHDH in Boston.
Today, Christine's work is still a hybrid of both. As a producer for her company Clayburg Creative, she does media coaching, on-camera interviews and oversees production of positive news-style stories for small and mid-size companies, organizations and non-profits who don’t have a chance of getting traditional media coverage. On top of that, Christine also acts in commercials, films and television including seasons three through eight of "Desperate Housewives", "The Closer", "90210" and TV movies for Hallmark and Lifetime. She's even producing a screenplay.
For Christine, all this work has meant forgoing marriage and children, weekends and even Friday nights out, but she says those choices have been incredibly rewarding: "To choose is to sacrifice. To sacrifice is to begin to live. I am so at peace with my choices."
To sacrifice is to begin to live.
How did you discover your current job?
I'd always loved acting and was pretty successful at it in high school, but I wasn't pretty, rich or thin. So I went for my other love: science.
I was a geology major at Sacramento State University when TV station managers started adding a token weather girl to their all-male teams. Not long after that, the TV edict came down to smarten up the hot girls, so they sent them to the earth sciences department. This didn't go so well. Meanwhile, I was actually taking meteorology as an elective at the time (nerd city, I know), so the head of the geology department suggested putting makeup on me.
This led to a part-time TV job at the CBS affiliate in Missoula, Mont. (and me thinking I could finish my geology degree there). Four months later, I was offered a job at NBC in Spokane. Three years from the day I’d started in Missoula, I was moving to NBC in Boston and still trying to figure out what to wear.
What I do now is a hybrid of both. Good storytelling is, at it's heart, good engineering. There's structure to every form on this planet and every good story as well.
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
I've booked a nice smattering of TV shows, commercials and films over the years, but any non-famous actor who tells you that's their full-time work is probably married to money or lying. Frankly, it's the real world stuff that makes my acting better and better, which is both a curse and a joy.
As a producer, no day is ever the same. I primarily do media coaching, on-camera interviews and oversee production of positive news-style stories for small and mid-size companies, organizations and non-profits who don’t have a chance of getting traditional media coverage. In short, I finally get to cover GOOD NEWS instead of what's quick, cheap, shocking or live. Good news is much harder to cover than bad news, but it's extremely rewarding.
When my agent calls for a TV or film role, I'm sometimes able to submit reporter scenes directly from my studio. But if it’s something big, I usually have to drop everything to make the audition. This makes me a little crazy, but I believe in strong, smart women from all walks of life appearing on camera, so I stay at it. Working on-camera is, in some ways, comparable to landing a plane or reaching the summit of 20,000-foot mountain: so many variables have to come together at exactly right moment and a LOT of people's work hinges on your performance. It's tremendous pressure and tremendous responsibility, but also a huge rush when it all comes together.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
I’ve studied more than 20 years as an actor, but without an acting degree from a top 10 school, there are many doors quietly closed to you. You exhaust yourself trying to open doors, never knowing if someone is holding them closed on the other side. So, there never really seems to be time to enjoy the craft I've studied for so many years. I hope to have that luxury someday, but mostly it’s about positioning, marketing and handling the crushing weight of having to be very, very, very good for the few moments the cameras are rolling. Luckily for me, marketing and courage are my strong suits.
As a reporter and producer, you have to become a tremendously savvy manager of a wide range of personalities. I love bringing talent together. There's a true magic and power in capturing moments on camera. The downside is that people can get weird when cameras start rolling. I try very hard to keep the focus on the story, but it’s not always possible. One person with an ego issue can destroy an entire project. Sometimes you just have to take your lumps, make the best of what you got and try to do better the next time.
What I love about interviewing good people is that when you give them a little time, space and security to relax and be themselves, the interviews can be amazing. This is something I never had the time to do as a news reporter. It’s tremendously rewarding to give good people a chance to shine. I really believe when you give good people a voice - i.e., the ones who don't chase the limelight - you send out ripples that make the world better.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
I think for most women the idea of not having children or getting married (oh and, sleeping in a cave and later a homeless shelter to stay in college) would seem like a big sacrifice, but for me I just wanted to do work that I love so much, I always saw it as a clear choice rather than a sacrifice. I can’t imagine anything else being possible with the pace I’ve kept over the last 20 years. I don't think it would have been fair to marry someone unless they had exactly the same dreams. I know moms who are tormented over how much they're at work vs. how much they're at home. I'm glad I don’t live with that agony.
I have a passion for mentoring, so I do my mothering that way. And yes, a lot of people try to make it out like you’re not a whole woman if you don’t make your own children. To them I like to say, 'Some people go through life without arms or legs; are you telling me their lives are less than yours?' To choose is to sacrifice. To sacrifice is to begin to live. I am so at peace with my choices.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Mean people are just scared of you.
In all my years in weather, I've never had a single female colleague. There were some men who were kind, but many more who were so bitter and angry about having a woman around, ruining their clubby atmosphere. It was so insidious and vicious at one station that I had recurring nightmares about women being beaten for more than a year after I'd moved on.
What I've learned is that a lot of men are just scared that if we get one of their jobs, they won't be able to provide for their wife and (ironically) daughters. Those guys are so scared, they can’t think far ahead enough to realize that they're perpetuating a culture in which their daughters will be sabotaged, too.
You can't just be mean or nice with men like that. You must be powerful, benevolent and confident enough in your own vision that they'll eventually feel ashamed of their behavior. And no, it's not fair, but we owe it to the next generation to suck it up and inspire change.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
TIME and SAFETY and SISTERHOOD. Women have to support women, because I guarantee you, the guys will watch out for each other.
Even without kids or a spouse, I had so much more on my plate than my male colleagues. In news, I could do everything they did to put together a forecast, plus hair, makeup and wardrobe and still get a voicemail box full complaints about my outfit, makeup or hair.
Meanwhile, the better you look, the more predatory viewers can be. I’ve had the sheriff's department call me about rape threats and have been intensely stalked numerous times over the years. I’ve had someone else check my voicemail for over 10 years now, because there will inevitably be some guy saying violent, scary and X-rated things, and no matter how fast you hit delete, their words eventually make you feel afraid.
The gift of this experience is that it really opened my eyes up to all the things we don't give ourselves credit for as women; all the things we don't feel it's okay to ask for. And from that came a positive story about who we are, what we can (and should) ask for and what our future can look like if we take responsibility for seeing the big picture.
Who are your role models?
Amelia Earhart, Katherine Hepburn, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher and Lynn Hill (the world’s best climber).
What are some of the rules you live by?
Be kind. You don’t know what others are going through.
Be honest. You don’t have to be a doormat to be kind.
And I’m swiping these from the Air Force: Integrity, service before self and excellence.
What advice do you have for women who want to be in your industry?
Be smart first.
Pretty is a temporary function of time and money. Smart is forever. Get smart first, then worry about pretty. That way, you're equipped to handle all the problems that being pretty brings up.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Giving people a voice, one positive story at a time. There's this screenplay titled Minneapolis that I'm hell-bent on producing. It's a love letter to the city, it's way of life, it's weather and the next generation of women. I wrote it with a lot help from some great guys, to be sure it was fair. And I was offered a decent chunk of change to hand over the script to be made in Vancouver with the ending changed (so it'd be cheaper, sexier and easier to sell), but I really believe the message will resonate as is if we make it at home.
Everyone says a fun, positive story about men, women, weather and Midwestern values is a bad investment, but I'm not going to let that stop me. I’ve always accomplished the things I could see in my mind's eye and I can see this film more clearly than anything. (I’d love it if you like it on Facebook, too: MinneapolistheMovie.com. There's strength in numbers!)
What are three things you love aside from your job?
Mountain climbing, winter in Minnesota and flying.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I noticed that Linnea Mohn is on your list of actors and I'd like to say a few words about her.
We acted together in a short film once. And as that brave little film struggled to get made, the young director and crew toyed with the idea of having her sneak in an onscreen kiss with me (unbeknownst to me) "to give them a few more options in post-production." I was working for a major network-owned station at the time, and had that happened, well, you can imagine all the potential benefits for getting "girl on weather girl kiss" buzz for a short film. However, it would have also sacrificed the original intent and power of the story, not to mention my professional agreements with the network and my personal choices as an actor.
As an actor on camera, you have to be so open and committed to the other performer that it would've been easy for her to pull off enough of a kiss for them to cut and use before I had a chance to decide whether I was okay with that and how the message would be used. Well, she didn't do it. And I know she thought about it, because she called me the night before to say how much she respected me as an actor.
You've got lots of girls out there getting rich and famous because they made a sex tape or exploited the same-sex relationships of many good folks I know just to create buzz. And then you've got incredibly talented women like Linnea who respect a good story, a decent actor and refuse to take that shortcut to the top at someone's expense. Mark my words: when you witness her act, sing or speak, you will be moved. And I hope that someday, the work I'm doing makes the world a little easier for women like her.