A successful stint at 20th Century Fox was set into motion for Isaiah Scales when he was a University of Iowa student—by a fellow Hawkeye.
Sara Epstein Moninger
Clarity Guerra
Clarity Guerra and Matt Jansen

Every morning as Isaiah Scales pulls into the parking garage at work, he smiles as he thinks about where he is headed: Fox Studios.

Inside the entertainment hub’s 50-acre backlot in West Los Angeles, beyond a row of palm trees, sits a reproduction of a residential New York City street, and looming above its soundstages and office buildings to the north is the high-rise featured in the 1988 action thriller Die Hard.

Scales, who grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa, and took communication studies classes at the University of Iowa in the early 2000s, is exactly where he knew he could be. As manager of post-production for Fox and FX Entertainment, he makes sure that operations run smoothly for some 140 audio mixers, graphic designers, and video editors, whether it’s making sure edit bays are available to get promotional spots completed on time, scheduling repairs for faulty equipment, or even offering an empathetic ear to employees anxious about the company’s recent acquisition by Disney.

“My job really is to make sure that everybody’s able to do their job,” he says. “I’m a people person, and I love having the opportunity to interact with a variety of people, from those just starting in the industry to high-level executives, who are all here for one purpose: to create great television content.”

Scales says he knew from a young age that he wanted to work in entertainment.

“Well, actually, I wanted to be a professional wrestler. I was going to be the next Hulk Hogan,” he says. “As I got older, I realized that I love television and film, and that drew me to entertainment.”

He enrolled in television and film studies classes at Indian Hills Community College in his hometown before joining a friend on a visit day at the University of Iowa. Scales immediately fell in love with the Iowa City campus and transferred. He says UI professors in communication studies and journalism encouraged and challenged him in his writing. A last-second decision as an undergraduate ended up being a fateful one.

UI alumnus Tom Tyrer (BA ’85, MA ’87), at the time a senior vice president at Fox, had returned to campus to visit with students, including one of Scales’ classes. Scales says he was so focused on a test he had following class that he didn’t pay as much attention to Tyrer as he would have liked. Later, while taking the exam, he regretted it and ran back to the classroom.

“Luckily, Tom was still there, talking to my professor,” Scales says. “I introduced myself and told him I wanted to work in television. He gave me his card and we exchanged a few emails after that. Then, out of the blue, he called and said he wanted me to come to Los Angeles because he had an internship for me at The Best Damn Sports Show Period. I’d never been to Los Angeles. I packed everything I had into two suitcases and left Iowa. It was an amazing opportunity. Working as an intern there was so informative, and it helped me build the relationships that got me to where I am today. Guidance and mentoring from a fellow Hawkeye meant the world to me.”

“Hearing from working professionals like Isaiah about how they landed jobs and navigated the twists and turns of their careers, and then relating it back to their time on campus, is invaluable to students.”

Paul Jensen
internship and placement coordinator in the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Scales has held various roles with Fox ever since, from on-air coordinator to production supervisor. He spent two years as an assistant director for live programming on Fox, including work on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and the Emmy Awards.

“The entertainment business is one in which you have to make connections—and you have to recognize the opportunities around you,” he says, noting that he later learned he had been the only student to approach Tyrer during his visit. “Sometimes people get caught up thinking they need to have a certain skill set to succeed, but sometimes it’s just about who you are as a person. You want to make sure that people value you and look at you as someone they want on their team. The producers at The Best Damn Sports Show Period saw my work ethic, and opportunities came my way after that.”

Hawkeyes and Hollywood

In 2018, University of Iowa graduates shattered records at the box office and, with the lauded documentary Saving Brinton, heard buzz about their work. Hawkeyes are not outsiders in Hollywood; after all, UI grads have been making an impact since the days of Willy Wonka and the Starship Enterprise.

Although Scales has found his niche on the West Coast, he has not forgotten his Midwestern roots. He is president of the Los Angeles Iowa Club, organizing game watches and other events to unite UI alumni. He also returns to campus several times a year to speak with students, something Paul Jensen, internship and placement coordinator in the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says is much appreciated.

“Isaiah is candid about his own story and has a knack for helping students—not only talking to them while he’s on campus, but also coaching them in their careers,” Jensen says. “Hearing from working professionals like Isaiah about how they landed jobs and navigated the twists and turns of their careers, and then relating it back to their time on campus, is invaluable to students.”

Scales says it’s important for him to do for students what Tyrer did for him.

“I think about how different my life may have been had this man not taken the time to come to my classroom and talk about his journey,” he says. “I see myself in a lot of the students today, and I want them to know that it doesn’t matter where they’re from. It’s about where they’re going. And I tell them that I don’t want them just to go where I have gone. I want them to go above and beyond, every step of the way. It’s all a dream until you make it a reality.”