The Producer's Toolbox: Michelle Nguyen on Leading Production at Dakota Pictures
Joey McDowell is an experienced writer and editor originally from the Dallas area. A firm believer in a well-balanced lifestyle, Joey applies this forward-thinking approach as the editor-in-chief of The Idea Trader. He travels extensively to find compelling stories and insightful individuals.
Today we're going to talk about producers, organization, and leadership.
Even on the most laid-back of sets, without these three ingredients, the demands and deadlines of pro-level productions would never be met.
But don't worry, these topics aren't as bland as they might sound.
In fact, the Coordinating Producer we spoke with to put together this producer’s guide works in comedy, so you can bet that this work never becomes more serious than it needs to be.
We hope this isn't a spoiler, but one very important lesson we learned from our guest is that you need to be able to roll with the punches. Even in the world of comedy production, it's a mix between organization and flexibility.
But first things first: let's get a few basic things out of the way for those of you out there who might not be very familiar with the production process for streaming content.
For one thing, streaming services themselves don't usually produce content themselves. So even when you see a movie or a show branded as a Netflix Original, it doesn't necessarily mean that the Netflix staff put it together.
Don't get us wrong, streaming services are extremely important to the production and distribution of new streaming content, especially when it comes to funding, but in most cases, the company behind a streaming service will hire what's called a production company to actually produce the content they want.
Production companies then use their own teams to create the requested content, which then gets sent to the streaming service for distribution.
In reality, the process has more steps than that, but this basic breakdown should give you a good idea of how it all comes together.
With that background info in mind, let's introduce our special guest and get to the core of how producers make sure that everyone… you know… produces something professional.
High-level leadership: Coordinating Producer Michelle Nguyen
Michelle Nguyen is a Coordinating Producer at Dakota Pictures. Dakota Pictures is one of those production companies we mentioned above that’s responsible for some of streaming’s most popular shows. Dakota's specialization is comedy.
Nguyen has worked as a producer on a huge number of big-name comedy productions, including Hidden America with Jonah Ray, The Brian Regan Show, The Standups, and Chelsea Handler: Evolution.
Her work has aired on NBC, Netflix, and HBO, and she even associate produced the critically-acclaimed film Writer's Block, starring comedy legend Jane Lynch.
As an industry leader in comedy producing, Nguyen is determined to take Dakota Pictures' production slate to a whole new level, both now and in the near future, as she leads multiple production teams all the way from ideation and development to air.
To accomplish this, leadership skills have been extremely important to Nguyen. While speaking with us, she noted that it takes a whole lot of experience and know-how to handle so many different things at once.
"Transitioning in between projects and producer teams means navigating this leadership role with a strong grasp of all creative aspects to move each project forward and into the next age of comedy in the streaming space."
We'll be talking a little bit later about staying flexible and giving the comedians themselves plenty of room to breathe, but leadership is key to every part of the process.
Without a strong sense of leadership, more than one production team would be left in the lurch, without a strong sense of the production's direction. There might also be gaps in resources or scheduling issues.
Either of these could sink an entire production and permanently harm the production company's reputation within the industry.
We'll be going through other skills that are important in this line of work, but try to remember that it all stems from a strong sense of leadership and the expertise to back it up.
Organization and adaptability
It's in Dakota Pictures' best interest to take on multiple projects at once, and as a result, Nguyen and her teams have to know how to juggle all those projects, and keep in mind that each project will have its own set of requirements.
It may sound overwhelming, but for Nguyen, it's simply part of the job, and she works hard to stay organized and find processes that increase efficiency and maintain quality.
"Part of making sure we efficiently balance multiple projects at once is consistently building, fine tuning, and re-organizing our day-to-day operations. I have also seen the significance of having the ability to shift strategies as we shape and reshape the way in which we utilize storytelling to film comedy."
Organization and flexibility are two very important concepts in these scenarios. One lets you go in with a gameplan, and the other lets you improve those game plans, as needed, to reduce stress and achieve the desired results.
Advancing the slate
Earlier we mentioned that Nguyen is determined to continue advancing Dakota Pictures' production slate, so what does ‘advancing’ mean exactly?
Well, it means that Nguyen wants to help Dakota Pictures continue to evolve the content they produce.
The inherent quality of Dakota's work is a given, but Nguyen sees opportunities to take things to the next level and create an even wider variety of content.
To do this, Nguyen feels that she needs to keep an eye on both the 'macro' and the 'micro' at the same time:
"In an increasingly digital and hybrid media space, understanding branding and nurturing each creative voice is key. Keeping perspective while not losing sight of individual voices has proven to be the most impactful way to advance the overall production slate in a meaningful way."
Applying this approach to comedy means that Dakota has to follow a certain set of guidelines for all productions while simultaneously letting each project be its own thing.
For example, from one standup comedy special to the next, there needs to be room for distinct aspects that allow the specials to feel different from each other based on the style and the subject matter that each comedian, or group of comedians, focuses on.
But even with those relatively small differences, there are larger aspects that should remain mostly the same.
Once again, it's about achieving a balance between two approaches that, at first, may seem drastically different.
But with talent and extensive experience, producers can make everything blend together seamlessly without the audience even noticing.
When done well, all the audience really notices is that they had a great time watching a memorable piece of entertainment.
We have no doubt that Nguyen will be able to achieve this with Dakota Pictures, and it makes us even more excited to see what she helps to create next.
Content for the world
Another part of Nguyen's look to the future involves looking well beyond entertainment that's aimed specifically at American audiences.
When we think of Netflix, it's easy to see how the company has focused so heavily on content for American audiences.
Netflix is an American company, and, when combined with Canada, the United States remains their biggest market in terms of subscribers and revenue.
But for years now, Netflix and other top-tier entertainment streaming services have been expanding rapidly into other territories all over the globe.
In the near future, international content is only going to get bigger, and Nguyen knows this.
Originally from Sweden, Nguyen already has the advantage of a multicultural perspective when it comes to entertainment.
Things are changing very quickly in entertainment, especially when it comes to streaming, and entertainment as a whole is becoming more diverse, more inclusive, and, yes, more international.
Nguyen sees this as a big chance to expand into new areas, with the possibility of establishing production teams that can create content specific to each area.
"The industry is still seeing major developments, and we're also seeing growth in inclusive content and international content. I think it’s important we care for this significant opportunity. As streaming platforms continue to expand globally, we will look to their production hubs around the world and hopefully develop local content to various global markets."
It's not that international content is going to overtake the American entertainment market in the near future, but rather that it's important to pay attention to other markets that haven't previously gotten a lot of attention from production companies or from major streaming services.
More than looking to completely change the status quo, Nguyen is hoping to expand the status quo in a way that makes things better for everyone.
With so many successful productions already under her belt, there's a good chance she'll be able to do just that.