By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LA Downtown News Executive Editor
Downtown LA resident Dinh Thai’s broken heart worked well for him.
He spent his 20s smoking weed and watching movies. The magic he felt whenever he saw films was something he longed to replicate.
“Being intoxicated and watching the same movies, I had this cloud of confidence,” he said. “The magic I felt when I watched those films was really interesting to me. I was just inspired. I wanted to try to chase that magic and that feeling again. I had an addiction to that feeling.
“I was brokenhearted in my 20s, and I was looking for something. Film and TV spoke to me.”
An alum of NBC’s Emerging Director Program, Thai directed an episode of the network’s “New Amsterdam,” “Harmony,” which aired Nov. 2. It is available on Peacock and NBC On Demand. This is his second go-around with “New Amsterdam.” He directed episode 218 nearly two years ago, and NBC asked him to return.
With “New Amsterdam,” Thai had the pleasure of working with executive producer/writer and former 1970s teen idol Shaun Cassidy.
“He’s a dream,” Thai said with a laugh.
“He’s great. He’s full of heart. He has a lot of feelings. He and I get along really well. We became fast friends. I teased him about the white leather pants he wore back then. He’s very collaborative in between takes and setups. He had notes about what we thought worked, what we thought we could improve on. He’s very close to the characters and all the emotions of the characters. He’s very insightful.”
A Vietnam native, Thai moved to the United States at age 7 in 1980. He grew up in Temple City and attended the Arts Center in Pasadena and Pasadena City College for about 10 years.
“I became an American kid in two months,” he said with a laugh. “For my family, it was pretty tough. They were older. My mom still has a hard time with the English language. Half of my family moved back to Asia. We’ve gone through a lot of issues. The post-war trauma is real, and we all suffer from it, whether we want to admit it or not.”
His commercial clients include Adidas, Beachbody, T-Mobile, Toyota and the U.S. Navy.
Thai’s narrative work has been featured on HBO, Cinemax, Amazon, Short of the Week, and Omeleto. Specifically, “Monday,” a short film he wrote and directed, has garnered more than 50 festival awards, including first place in the inaugural HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries competition; Outstanding Director, Outstanding Actor and Next Generation Filmmaker Award at the prestigious NBCU Shorts Festival; Best Direction at the New York Television Festival and the One Screen Festival; and Best Short Film at Catalyst. He was also recognized as Best New Filmmaker of the Year by NFMLA.
Thai was mentored by American cinematographer and TV director Michael Slovis, best known for his work with “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” and “Game of Thrones.” He serves as executive director on “New Amsterdam.”
“He’s a great human being and a great filmmaker,” he said. “He’s a legendary guy. He’s such an artist. I’ve learned a lot from him. For the crash site in (episode) 407, I had to stage where the crash would be. He was invaluable in helping me with that. I had only seen the location for 10 or 15 minutes. He was asking me where the wreck should be. I didn’t really know.
“He had more time with the location. He had been there before, and it made things better. I’m very thankful.”
Next up, Thai will direct an episode of “The Good Doctor” on ABC. Recently, he wrapped up two episodes of “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” on Hulu. His goal is to work his way into film. He’s also awaiting word on an Asian American pilot he co-wrote for Freeform.
“I’m lucky to be working in this field,” Thai said. “I graduated from film school in 2002. It took me a long time to figure it out and get here.
“My first episode was ‘New Amsterdam’ last March, and then last April, I got COVID. I got better, then the pandemic hit. There was almost a year off between the first episode and the second episode of ‘Wu-Tang.’ It’s great to be back on ‘New Amsterdam.’ I have very fond memories of everyone.”
Jocko Sims (Dr. Floyd Reynolds) and Ryan Eggold (Dr. Max Goodwin) were especially welcoming.
“I snuck on the set one time, and everyone was wearing masks,” he said. “Jocko and Ryan were doing surgery and they were wearing their masks as well, but because of surgery. Still, we all recognized each other and they welcomed me with big hugs. It was nice to be appreciated and be a part of the family.”