On Tuesday, April 14, Pasadena resident Dinh Thai’s episodic TV directorial debut became the second season finale on the NBC medical drama “New Amsterdam.” The episode, “Matter of Seconds,” wasn’t supposed to end the series’ second season, but COVID-19 restrictions changed that.
Born in Vietnam, Dinh Thai is an experienced commercial director, having worked with clients including Adidas, T-Mobile, Toyota and the US Navy. Thai’s narrative work has aired on HBO and Cinemax. “Monday,” a short film he wrote and directed which captures the characteristics of his diverse suburban youth, has garnered over 50 festival awards and nominations, including placing first in the inaugural HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries competition, and winning Outstanding Director award at the NBCU Short Film Festival.
Thai took time to answer some questions for the Pasadena Weekly via email.
How are you and yours faring during this “Shelter at Home” period?
Thank you to the universe that everyone I know is healthy. Some of my dear friends were sick, and they have all recovered. I hope everyone has been taking this pandemic seriously, and my heart breaks for the loss people are suffering.
Tell me about your experience with NBC’s Emerging Director Program (EDP).
I have so much love and respect for the entire NBC Talent Development team: Karen Horne, Jandiz Cardoso, Grace Moss, Brenda Saucedo, Will Schnabel, Lhani Jamison, Nicole Kan, Dupe Bosu, Vanessa Pearce, Lisa Katz, and Tracey Pakosta. A few of these lovely people are no longer with the NBC Emerging Director Program, but they’ve all been very supportive and have such an important place in my heart.
This group of incredible people championed my short film, “Monday,” to a handful of show runners and producing directors on various NBC shows, which landed me a shadowing and directing opportunity on “New Amsterdam” with Michael Slovis and Peter Horton. And now, I am fortunate and honored to call Michael Slovis my mentor.
What would you recommend for people applying for this program?
I’ve heard a unique life perspective, strong leadership skills, and a thoughtful approach to people are essential aspects to develop before applying to any of NBC’s inclusion programs. I’ve been very fortunate these past several years, with the success of my short film, I’ve had to participate in Q&As, discussion panels, workshops, speak publicly as well as meet many new people. All of those experiences gave me a chance to self-improve, which I believe was part of my success.
What makes NBC’s EDP unique compared to other creative inclusion programs?
NBC’s Female Forward and EDP are the only initiatives from a network guaranteeing a TV directing assignment. That’s what makes them so highly prestigious as well as competitive. The NBC Talent Development team vets hundreds of potential directors and thoughtfully introduces their work to show runners and producing directors. If the show runner and producing directors like the potential directors’ work, then there’s an interview. This is the golden interview. This is the moment we aspiring directors showcase our appreciation and knowledge for their show. I was fortunate. Only “New Amsterdam” asked to interview me. I was already watching and studying the series. Two weeks before my interview with producing directors Peter Horton and Michael Slovis, the NBC Talent Development team set up a call with TV director Liz Friedlander, one of the program’s advisory board members. Liz spent an hour advising a group of potential directors and answering our questions. With her knowledge in hand, I confidently conversed with Michael and Peter about the nuances and big picture ideas of “New Amsterdam.”
What are the first things you want to do when our quarantine is lifted? Got anywhere you want to go? Places you want to eat (especially in the Pasadena or LA area)? Work you need to do?
I flew out to New York on Feb. 18 to work on “New Amsterdam” and came back to LA on March 14. I’ve been self-isolating since then and haven’t seen any of my family and friends for some time. So I really need to see them and we need to eat some delicious food together. We love Pho Roland in Rowland Heights. We also frequent Yahaira’s and Union in Pasadena. Hippo in Highland Park. We love dumplings from Mason’s and Luscious Dumplings. Mason’s is also in Highland Park, but Luscious has closed down. In-n-Out; Double-Double with whole grilled onions and yellow peppers, oh and the taco truck inside the Nishikawa Auto Service parking lot on Fair Oaks Boulevard. They have the best al pastor tacos. We’ve been going to that truck since high school. Class of ‘92!
I’ve been working with Natalie Chaidez (show runner/writer) on her TV project. We’ve been brainstorming and writing. Thank the universe we can still be developing this during these challenging times. I’m also developing a TV series based on my short film, but that has to wait until our world is healthier before we can move forward. And I can’t share any details because we haven’t made an official announcement yet.”