This Q&A feature article is the one of many to come for our Gals For Gals series where Geek Gals interviews a variety of women from different backgrounds and fields.
With a background that spans across entertainment, sports, and philanthropy, Ngoc Nguyen is a strategist who merges an expertise as a publicist and experience as an independent producer to impact culture through creative storytelling.
Ngoc produced Google’s Power On short films series. Actresses turned first-time directors Julie Bowen, Rosario Dawson, Nikki Reed, Ana Brenda Contreras, and Lisa Edelstein directed the short films. They came together to inspire more young girls to pursue STEAM fields and to champion equality for women in computer sciences.
Read on to learn more about Ngoc and her role in producing Google’s Power On short film series.
How did you get your start in the TV/film industry?
Both of my parents are doctors and I was on a path to follow in their footsteps, until a unique internship completely changed the trajectory of my career. As a counterbalance to my science studies, I decided to apply for entertainment internships for fun. I started in the entertainment industry volunteering at festivals in Austin, Texas: South by Southwest (a world renowned music, film and interactive festival) and Austin Film Festival. I offered to help in as many areas as I could, which ultimately led to getting job offers from both places.
Working at festivals
I worked at each of the festivals for three years, nurtured the relationships I made along the way and reached out to several of those contacts ahead of moving to Los Angeles. From strong female producers such as Elizabeth Avellan and Shannon McIntosh to my former film festival panelists Alexander Payne and Bob Odenkirk, so many people were kind to me in sharing their advice, passing my resume along or even hiring me on a freelance basis while I was finding my footing in Los Angeles.
Moving on the career ladder
I eventually got into the temp pool at Miramax Films and, after a few months, I landed a permanent job as an assistant in the publicity department where I got the unique opportunity to split my time between Los Angeles and Austin [while] working on films for the studio. After two years at Miramax, Creative Artists Agency recruited me for their corporate communications department. I spent three years there before jumping back to the studio realm, this time at Paramount Pictures.
I was a publicist for six years at Paramount Pictures and worked on films such as Star Trek, The Fighter, Shutter Island and Cloverfield among others. Once I left Paramount, fate opened a door for me to start producing my own projects and my first film was the documentary A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story followed by a few other key independent projects.
From those experiences, I was able to combine both of the skillsets I had as a publicist and a producer, and transition into a strategist who could cover a lot of ground for a project from creation to distribution. Most recently, I produced an independent TV series called Everyone is Doing Great, created by actors James Lafferty and Stephen Colletti and a short-film series for Google called Power On to inspire girls in STEAM fields — and I oversee publicity for both projects.
You’re a Texas native! Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Houston where I went to elementary, junior and high school. I lived in Austin for seven years where I went to college. Then, I worked at the local entertainment festivals before moving west to Los Angeles where I’ve been for almost 20 years. But I’ll always be a Texas girl at heart.
Can you explain more about the Power On film series?
Power On is a cinematic short film series celebrating young minds and the wonder of technology. An anthology of five short films, directed by prominent actresses (Julie Bowen, Rosario Dawson, Nikki Reed, Ana Brenda Contreras and Lisa Edelstein), Power On aims to inspire young minds to change the world through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math), while touching upon other important issues such as equality, gender, bullying, accessibility, and loss.
How did this film series come to fruition with Google?
Marisa Polvino, the co-CEO and co-Founder of Straight Up Films (a female-run production company) came up with the idea of inspiring girls through STEAM-related film narratives and pitched it to Google. They loved the idea of female empowerment in computer sciences and agreed to fund the production of the series. Marisa, knowing that I had worked with Google before in a similar capacity, reached out to me and asked if I would come on board to the project, where I ultimately served the creative director of the series and a producer, alongside Marisa.
What was it like working with first-time female directors Julie Bowen, Rosario Dawson, Nikki Reed, Ana Brenda Contreras and Lisa Edelstein?
It was incredibly rewarding to work with our Power On directors because they were so creative and committed to the project and each of the stories they told were so personal and meaningful. Julie Bowen and Ana Brenda Contreras crafted stories that were inspired by their family members (Julie’s niece and Ana Brenda’s dad) and [were] conveyed in such different ways. Lisa’s and Nikki’s shorts are beautiful reflections of how art can heal. Rosario’s short film touched on important and timely issues, such as LGTBQI, immigration, and bullying among others.
What advice do you have for women of color wanting to get their foot in the door in the TV/film industry?
The best way to break into the entertainment industry is to learn as much as possible and to nurture your relationships diligently. The more you know about the entire process of making film and television, from start to finish, the better you will be at your own job. Understanding how to budget a production will help guide you in the writing process. Knowing the value of marketing and publicity will help guide you in the casting process.
For women, for women of color, find other individuals who stand out like you, find organizations who champion individuals like you — ask them for their support and make sure you lend your support to them as well. Be prepared, truthful and grounded.Ngoc Nguyen
View the official Power On series trailer!
Featured image credit: “Power On” press kit