Creative Executive, Tahirah Gooden, discusses her role in making Netflix Original Films go from script to screen, the importance of representation, and what's on the horizon in the film space.
Creative Executive, Tahirah Gooden, discusses her role in making Netflix Original Films go from script to screen, the importance of representation, and what's on the horizon in the film space.
Lyle: We are making films now; we call them Netflix Original Films. You’ve probably watched one or two and enjoyed them like Bright, The Christmas Chronicles, Roma or Bird Box, big films. And have you wondered how we make these? How we choose what to produce and how we create them? Well, I have and lucky enough for us, I happen to have a podcast at Netflix where I can go and talk with anybody across the company about what they do.
Welcome to We Are Netflix, I’m Lyle Troxell, my co-host is Michael Paulson. On this episode creative executive, Tahirah Gooden joins us remotely from our LA office to talk about creating our Netflix Original Films from script to screen. And in the second half we’re joined by Talya Sharps who partners with Tahirah in the hiring process to find amazing people to help produce our original films. I start out by asking Tahirah Gooden about her journey to Netflix.
Tahirah: So, I guess just to start, I came out to California and I did the USC Peter Stark Producing Program. And this is one of the top programs in film and in particular for producing. So, it’s a two-year program where you kind of learn a little bit about the business from all different aspects and you kind of decide which avenue you want to go into. And I knew I couldn’t direct and I knew I couldn’t write because my creative skills did not lean in that direction. So, I was like, okay, let’s give this sort of executive/producing avenue a shot. So, from there the path to do what I do now is really one of apprenticeship.
So, I started off my career as an assistant at a company called New Regency working in the story department. And then, I knew that I needed to really be a desk, which is just for an executive, at the moment executive, sort of one-on-one to really learn sort of the ins and outs of what it means to be an executive.
Lyle: Oh, interesting, so does that mean that you kind of look at that role as almost an intern for that person’s position, you’re kind of like learning everything they do?
Tahirah: Yes, exactly. Basically, listening to all their calls, transaction. You are also, depending on if you have the right boss, afforded a lot of creative input into the projects that they are developing themselves. So, I was fortunate enough to work for a few great executives in my time.
Lyle: So, you learned well how to do that role and then you moved here and started doing that. Let’s talk about what that coordinator position looks like here. And you specifically focus on Original Films at Netflix. So, we have different kind of areas that we focus on and Original Films are not the Documentaries, are not—like we have some classifications. Can you describe a couple of the titles that actually fall in that bucket of Original Film at Netflix that we’ve released?
Tahirah: Sure, and specifically I focus on bigger films. So, Bright recently would be one of them, we just launched The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix.
Lyle: Totally fun move by the way, loved it.
Tahirah: And something like 22 July which is Paul Greengrass’s recent film, would fall into that bucket.
Lyle: Okay. Could you kind of walk through what you do on these films? What are you coordinating?
Tahirah: Sure, so just to let you know, at Netflix the titles are a little bit different then what you would find outside of Netflix and that really is because we fall in line with the rest of the company. So, a coordinator on sort of the Original Films group would be akin to a creative executive or director of development elsewhere, at another studio. So, it is an executive job. So, you are really with the project from inception. So, it’s anything from, you know, sourcing the material, talking to agents or producers or writers and hearing the idea, whether it be a script or a pitch or even like more of a kernel of an idea. Making the decision to buy the idea for Netflix, developing it and then once you read your stage where you’re like, “Okay, this is sort of the framework of the movie that we want to make.” Working with the filmmaking team to decide who the right director is, who the right, you know, cast is and really working to come up with a production plan of when we want to start shooting it, where we want to shoot it, when we should launch it. And then, working with our internal teams on, you know, best way to market it.
Lyle: So, Tahirah, it sounds like when you hear the pitch and then you’re like, “Okay, I like this.” Maybe some talk a bit about why it might work and stuff. You talked about being responsible for whether we’re going to make that film. How does that whole process work? Like how do you go from, “Yeah, this makes sense”, how do you make that assessment of yeah, it makes sense enough for us to go forward and make a full production?
Tahirah: Well, you know, obviously we have an overall strategy that’s Scott Stuber and Tendo Nagenda have come in to help shape, so it starts with that. Is this a film that is meeting a need here at Netflix? And then, you know, it’s also about—couple that with, is this creatively something that we think that our viewers would want to see? So, it starts there. And then you start evaluating, is the execution of the idea at a place such that we think that it’s either ready to go or with, you know, some strategic development we can get it to a place where it will be best in class of whatever the idea is for our viewers. So, it really is about assessing, will this bring about, you know, kind of a moment of joy for our viewers?
Lyle: For our audience, yeah. And, of course, you have a whole bunch of team members across the company that are helping you make those assessments and decisions, right? So, there’s analysis people that kind of say, “Well, we definitely want a Christmas movie coming out in December.” There’s analysis aspects there that bring you numbers and abilities to make decisions. Are you making that decision to green light the Bright or something? How many people are involved in something like that?
Tahirah: You know, the great thing about Netflix is that it’s a great group of individuals who are working as a team. So, yes, we do have people in, you know, our content, planning and analysis team who will bring us great information about what viewers are watching which seems to indicate that maybe they may want more of that sort of material. And we have great colleagues who will help us strategize on, is there a real need for this in the market place? I would say the ultimate decision on whether or not we want to buy something is on an individual basis, done in conjunction with, you know, Scott and Tendo but at the end of the day it’s all about each individual executive taking a swing on, “This is what I believe in and this is what I want to help bring to the audience.”
Lyle: How do you balance knowing what you want today and the future with this? Because if what we see a need for today changes, like how do you make these long one, two-year decisions to actually meet those needs affectively?
Tahirah: You know, it’s definitely tough. So, it is about, you know, working with the different teams who are very skilled at not only planning, but, you know, ultimately, I think it starts with a great story and a great story doesn’t change that much. So, if you can build a really great, relatable story, I think whether it’s now or two years from now, it’ll still work. But in terms of strategy, I think it is about working with the different teams to sort of build that long lead strategy or, you know, the overall slate.
Lyle: We’re described kind of in the public space, in the film industry and television industry as a creative, friendly studio. And we kind of promote that idea that we’re friendly to the creatives. You know, somebody can come here and make a movie that they want to make. You’re the one that kind of represents the company at some level with the creatives that you’re teamed up with even though you are also part of the creative process. Does it feel different to them, do you have to kind of convince people it’s going to be different? What does that look like comparative in the outside versus inside, once a creator starts working with us?
Tahirah: I mean, I hope it feels different. I think it feels very different to me who, like you said, I’ve had a number of different positions outside of here. To me it’s much more collaborative, it’s much less, “Do this because we said so and we’re the studio and we hold the purse strings.” It’s much more, you know, “We have this concern and we do have notes but let’s talk about the best way to address those notes and to come to a decision mutually as opposed to it being, you know, an edict from the top down.” We really try and extend, you know, freedom and responsibility to our partners as well with the sort of caveat that we all want the best film possible for our audience. And we go into that with everybody starting from that page and that everything that we do will always be with that goal in mind. So, I think that, you know, our creative partners have really responded to that and have really realized that, you know, we have the best intentions.
Lyle: So, you seem to travel a lot for the role, go to the set. What’s the intention of all this travel?
Tahirah: Yeah, so we definitely do set visits. We like to go and we’ll see how our productions are doing. And we love to go and, you know, support our filmmakers on site, so there is a lot of travel.
Lyle: Are you doing that because it’s fun or are you doing that because it’s important?
Tahirah: Doing that because it’s important.
Lyle: The fun’s just a benefit.
Tahirah: As fun—fun is a side benefit. As much as I love visiting all of our filmmakers, you know, some times there are, you know, reasons to go that are, you know, business reasons. Whether it’s we’re capturing a really important scene for film and we want to go to make sure that everything is going smoothly. Or maybe there are, you know, certain challenges on set that we need to go and help mediate. We tend to also go in during the pre-production phase to sit and meet all the teams on site. Because it’s really important to get that, you know, face time in, that one-to-one sort of relationship going as opposed to like—
Lyle: You’re going to be working with all these people for the entire process, right? You need to meet them and know them and all that, yeah.
Tahirah: Exactly and we want to—instead of just being like a voice on the phone, form real relationships with everybody on the crew. So, it’s not just us talking to the directors or the producers, its’ going and meeting, you know, the first AD or the camera op or the sound guy. So, it’s not just big Netflix from afar, it’s really, you know, getting a, you know, touch and feel for everybody there.
Lyle: Yeah, that seems important. You came here partially because of an interest in diversity in film. Can we talk a bit about that?
Tahirah: You know, I just felt like other studios weren’t as progressive as what I was seeing Netflix sort of engage in. I have a real desire to see more diverse voices and faces both in front of the camera and behind the camera. And I came to Netflix because it is built into the bedrock of what Netflix is about. It’s in, you know, the culture memo, it’s more than just lip service. Like it is sort of at the forefront of what at least I know my team thinks about every day when it comes to contact. So, that was really important for me.
Lyle: Yeah, it’s a topic that touches quite a bit in Silicon Valley, of course, because in Silicon Valley we have a high density of white dudes and it’s a challenge throughout the Silicon Valley, you know, tech industry space. And trying to make it more inclusive and make it more available for other people to join and participate. That’s important in every aspect of creation, I would agree. I think in production making it even more so because, of course, we’re trying to make films that are applicable and interesting to the planet. And surprise, surprise, there’s lots of different types of people here.
Tahirah: Exactly, we’re a global company and we want to make, you know, films and content that reflects our audience and our audience aren’t just, you know, white male from the West. So, that’s, you know, very important to—it’s part of our strategy, to examine all different kinds of content and to really be authentic in that. And so, these stories aren’t just about, you know, putting one or two actors of color, it’s about finding stories that are diverse at its inception.
Lyle: Yeah, so you saw from our culture deck and everything that we intend for it to be a diverse culture and supportive culture of lots of different people. Have you seen that in practice? Have you been surprised at all by it? And if you haven’t or if you have, have you actually had to push to help us be better at diversity?
Tahirah: I wouldn’t say that I was surprised by it, I would say that it confirmed everything that I hoped and wanted out of coming to Netflix. So, I was overjoyed I think by it. At least definitely in the films that we have done on the Original Films team. There was a film called, you know, Always Be My Maybe that we shot with Nahnatchka Khan as director and she created Fresh Off the Boat and this was her first feature. And being able to have the project that is her first feature, where a lot of people outside of, you know, Netflix maybe wouldn’t have “taken the risk”. Although I don’t like that term because I don’t think it was a risk.
Lyle: Embraced it, embraced the project?
Lyle: Did you hear Nahnatchka Khan’s pitch about her movie and then, were you helping that process?
Tahirah: So, the inception of that, it was me and a colleague, Racheline Benveniste, it was Ali Wong who is a comedian, who has two Netflix specials here, wrote a screenplay with Randall Park, that was basically their version of like a Harry Met Sally. We first heard about that and we’re like, “We have to be involved in that, we have to be a part of making that come to fruition.
Lyle: Because it was a good script.
Tahirah: Yeah, so we went after that pretty hard core and we worked with them to develop it and when we’re looking for director’s we knew that we wanted to bring no somebody who shared sort of our vision for it, and Nahnatchaka was definitely top of our list.
Lyle: That’s awesome. Were in production is that film?
Tahirah: We wrapped production and right now we are in post. So, we’re just working on editing it and it should be coming out on Netflix next year.
Lyle: So, you heard the pitch, you liked it, you helped find a director that could take that script and make it work. Even though it was her first directorial thing, I’m assuming you’re happy with it at this point, I hope you are.
Tahirah: Yes, very happy.
Lyle: And it’s in post and so, did you visit set and did you work with the people? Where was it filmed?
Tahirah: Well, we filmed it in Vancouver and San Francisco. It is loosely inspired by where Ali grew up which was in San Francisco.
Lyle: Right, what’s the title of the film again?
Tahirah: It’s called Always Be My Maybe.
Lyle: Okay, Always Be My Maybe, I’m looking forward to it. So, what’s the timeline for that coming out on the service?
Tahirah: It will be in 2019.
Lyle: Cool, all right, that’s awesome, look forward to it. As a project owner for something like this, how attached do you get to the films as like—you know, emotionally attached to them? And are some of them—
Lyle: Okay, that’s what I was—I was thinking that would be the case. How do you know that what you’re doing is going to be a good film? How does that aspect work?
Tahirah: I mean, I think, you know, everybody goes into this process wanting to make a great film and you give notes along the way just trying to make it as good as you can. And you kind of feel it in your bones whether or not it’s working or not. Obviously, we do some audience testing once we have wrapped. But the audience testing is mainly for creative reasons. To help the filmmakers decide if certain aspects of the cut are working.
Lyle: Are you saying that because sometimes companies use that as a, “Oh, now we have to have a dog in this show.” Or something like that, right? Where it’s like complete outside force.
Tahirah: Correct, all the studios use it as a test of, you know, whether or not audiences are like responding to certain things and they’re going to have a power in their hands. We really use it as another creative tool for our filmmakers to figure out, are certain narrative choices working? Or are certain things of the story coming across? Or is it confusing? Or is the comedy working? So, it’s really a tool as opposed to, you know—a tool for them as opposed to for us.
Lyle: Do you find that more experienced directors, when this occurs, are surprised by what they can—do they like it?
Tahirah: I think, I mean, I think it’s always nerve-racking going into it. But they like it, once they understand that it’s for them, they really embrace it.
Lyle: Yeah. What has—we’ve been growing a bit; we’re doing more films and more films. What’s it like right now with the teams growing, with more people coming on board? I mean, one of the reasons why you’re chatting with this is because we actually want more coordinators to be hired in the originals film and throughout our different productions. So, what does it look like in growth? How are we making sure we get good people? All those aspects, what does it feel like right now?
Tahirah: It’s exciting. When I started about two and a half years ago, I think there were five executives, now we have 13, I think and looking to hire more. So, it’s definitely a challenge keeping sort of a core sort of team spirit and culture if everybody’s like running in different directions. But it’s something that we work on because culture is so important to us. So, it is about making culture and the culture of the team, sharing each other’s successes, top of mind and as important as anything else. So, on the whole, it’s exciting getting to work with more and more individuals and getting more perspective to our team and more ideas and more diversity.
Lyle: When you got here, obviously, the culture had to be somewhat different then where you came from. How did you adjust to this change? Or do you feel like those changes were already—you were prepared for them and you just kind of landed more at home?
Tahirah: I think you never really understand what the Netflix culture is, as many times as you read through the culture memo, until you get here. But I think it’s really quite refreshing once you understand the ins and outs of it. There are definitely some adjustments that you have to make.
Lyle: Can you give us an example?
Tahirah: Sure. Like for me, I think feedback was something that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with just because outside of these halls feedback is viewed as something negative. So, reorienting my mind to realize, no, actually it’s something positive, was a hump that I had to get over. But once, you know, I realized that, you know, I love Netflix, this is where I want to stay and I want to do everything in order to excel and be a stunning colleague, feedback became a tool for me, an aid for me. So, asking and giving feedback, you know, I leaned into that pretty heavily and it has changed not only my work relationships but, you know, personal relationships as well.
Lyle: Can you give us an example, some feedback you took that was hard to hear and how you might have changed because of it?
Tahirah: Yeah, I think, you know, in the early days, communication was very key. Especially as coming into a place where communication is important to keeping, you know, the trains running on time. So, even if it’s overcommunicating and not seeing that as like bothering people. Whereas, in previous jobs, less information until you’ve gotten the job done is probably safer for you. Whereas, at Netflix, overcommunication is definitely the way to go and that was definitely some feedback that I got early on. That I was like, “Okay.” You know?
Lyle: “Talk more, tell me what we’re doing.”
Tahirah: Exactly, “Let’s talk about this, let’s discuss this, let’s, you know, socialize it with everybody and like see how we can figure this out together.” So, you know, like I said, it’s hard when you get feedback because you immediately go to, “Oh, my God, like I’m messing up. This is like I’m going to—I’m doing something wrong.” But instead like I need to reframe it as, “No, they’re actually just trying to help me succeed.”
Lyle: Right, have an opportunity so they do better.
Lyle: What, at Netflix, looks like innovation to you in filmmaking? You talked about diversity, right? We talked a little bit about diversity and making diverse films and making sure there’s a lot of people being included in our production process so that we represent our audience in some way and we have different types of stories being told. But what other things are we doing that are innovative here at Netflix with regards to filmmaking?
Tahirah: I think the things that we do that are innovative are definitely giving filmmakers the room to really make a great film, whether it’s through not really having hard and fast launch dates and really deciding, you know, what the launch date is once we think the film is close to being ready.
Lyle: I didn’t know we did that. We’ll like slow down a launch just to make sure the film is good and that the creative people are happy with it?
Tahirah: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t say we’d slow down a launch but if we think that a filmmaker could really make a film great by perhaps pushing a launch date by a little bit, we will. So, I don’t want to give the wrong impression, that it’s like loosy-goosy because it’s not, like we definitely have, you know, slots that we want specific films for. But we, at the end of the day, we do ultimately what’s best for the film. So, we take that all into account when it comes to releasing a film on Netflix because, like I said, we want to bring subscriber’s joy so we want to put out the best content possible. So, you know, all of our—the decisions that go into when is the best launch, all comes back to that.
Lyle: All right, well, I’m glad you’re there making this work for us, making films, it’s awesome. I’m jealous of your role because it seems like that creative process is a pretty wonderful way to wake up in the morning, to think about how you’re going to make movies.
Tahirah: Every morning I wake up and I’m like overjoyed to be doing what I’m doing.
Lyle: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.
Tahirah: And I’m doing it at Netflix.
Lyle: Yeah. You keep on saying the term executive but I’m calling you coordinator. Do we call your position an executive here at Netflix or is that a different role?
Tahirah: Yes. At Netflix because, as I mentioned, we fall in line with sort of the common titles. That’s why we don’t have sort of a creative executive or director of development title here. So, we classify that all under coordinator.
Lyle: So, you’re using the term executive because in the industry that’s the role that has the creative vision that you are here?
Lyle: Got you, yeah, it makes sense to have the internal or the industry lingo at some level. It makes sense, yeah. So, you’re hiring a whole bunch of coordinators which are really like creative executives at other companies, we’re hiring them all the time. And I’d like to invite Talya Sharps on to join us for a second. Hi, Talya, welcome.
Talya: Hi, happy to be here, thank you for having me.
Lyle: So, how do we find awesome people like Tahirah to work at Netflix? How do you do it?
Talya: We find people through two main ways. So, one is, people who are referred and maybe come in with one or multiple glowing recommendations from folks who already work here. And then, the other one is kind of what I specialize in, sourcing. And so, figuring out where these candidates live and how we find them. And so, those are the two primary ways that we start interviewing people.
Lyle: Is this growth, this rapid growth we’re going through make your job hard?
Talya: It definitely does. It makes it challenging but exciting because you have to really, you know, be able to think quickly on your feet and pivot. And especially in these growing teams where the teams are really still fleshing themselves out and sometimes figuring out what the needs look like. And so, maybe things change in terms of, we might think we need one person but that becomes two. Or maybe we think we need a specific type of experience but after we talk to a couple of folks that have that, it becomes, you know, we need something a little different. Or maybe it’s even a change in the immediacy of the need. Like we think we need someone in a couple of months and then some projects role in and it’s, actually we need them tomorrow. So—
Michael: With all these people that you’re looking at what are some of the common things that you look at? What are the most important factors that your kind of checkbox when you’re researching who to hire?
Lyle: Are you talking about prior to reaching out to them or are you talking about after getting them?
Michael: As prior to reaching out, like how do you know what looks right? Because it’s obvious when you talk to someone if they have the experience but how do you know that they have this?
Talya: Well, normally if I am—I’m looking at, you know, the companies, I’m looking at titles, I’m looking at LinkedIn, I’m looking at film credits. But oftentimes I lean more into just hopping on the phone. Because, you know, if I think someone looks interesting but I can’t figure out exactly what they do, I’ll reach out and, you know, for a quick chat. Because what I don’t want to do is make assumptions about, you know, maybe the work someone’s done or what they want to do as a next step just based upon, you know, a resume or whatever limited information is out there.
Lyle: So, that’s the recruiting researcher role is really getting on the phone, talking to people and finding out if there might be a right fit to move forward. Do you also work with the hiring teams? Like have you guys met before?
Lyle: Okay, what’s the—
Tahirah: We’re working together right now on hiring—
Talya: … people for the team.
Lyle: And Tahirah, what does that process look like from you?
Tahirah: For me it’s, you know, sitting down with Talya and really talking about the role that I’m hiring for. An outline of the background of the type of person that I’m looking for and what slot they will have to fill in the team.
Lyle: Okay, so let’s talk about those slots for a second. We’re making Originals Films and you mentioned, we’ve talked kind of about three different films today in this interview process. They’re all really quite different in their style and scope. So, are you trying to hire coordinators that are interested in a certain type of genre of film or is it different then that?
Tahirah: It’s not so specific as genre, though that can play a role into the person’s background. It’s about finding, at least for this particular go around, finding somebody who can complement sort of the perspectives that we already have on the team. So, it can be, if they are somebody who really loves a particular genre that we don’t necessarily have somebody on the team who like leans into already. That could be an additive component, but it doesn’t necessarily disqualify anybody who doesn’t talk about that genre. And we’re looking for people, you know, with a diversity of perspective. So that, you know, was really important to us on this go around as well.
Talya: Yeah, and I think when I’m speaking with someone for the first time, I’m really trying to evaluate candidacy from a couple of different perspectives. One, of course, is experience and thinking about how their background and the work they’ve done would align with what they would—would align with the way in which they would operate in this role. And thinking about, what has their role been on projects? Has it been more of, you know, supportive or as a creative lead? How does that translate to the need of the team? And then, kind of what Tahirah talked about, someone’s taste and kind of how do they approach story? What types of stories do they want to tell? Because I think that’s what we use to decide who’s not just going to be a team fit but who’s going to be a team add. And again, you know, give a—reflect a perspective or have a point of view that maybe isn’t already captured on the team.
Lyle: What do you mean “a team add” versus “a team fit”?
Talya: Thinking about what makes candidates unique in terms of the experience that they have, the projects that they’ve gotten to work on, you know, the role they’ve played on those. And then, also, what their taste is, like what’s important to them in story.
Lyle: And do you mean unique as an individual in the world? Like all of us are snowflakes, all that. Or do you mean like, has different qualities then the current, existing coordinator group?
Talya: The latter, yeah. Someone who has different qualities, yeah.
Lyle: So, you’re assessing all of—Talya, you’re assessing all of Tahirah’s team, you’re looking at all of them going, “You know what they don’t have?” And then you’re trying to find that person?
Talya: Not necessarily, I really rely on Tahirah to kind of help guide me in the way in which I’m evaluating, you know, people. And so, I think when we have an initial meeting, when a need comes up it’s really just asking a bunch of questions of, you know, what will this person be doing? Talk to me about what the day to day looks like. And then, you know, Tahirah can add more color as to what she’s sees as the specific gaps, certain things she’s looking for. And, of course, that can kind of evolve and transform as we talk to different folks.
Lyle: Tahirah, what kind of gaps do you have on your team right now?
Tahirah: Definitely when we’re looking for coordinators, we are looking for like somebody who leans into different types of stories that, you know, aren’t necessarily covered by our—
Lyle: Okay, so what’s not covered? Yeah, I mean, come on, tell me.
Tahirah: I mean, so basically, we have a strategy and we are looking for movies that do work really well on Netflix. So, it’s comedy, it’s Sci-Fi, it’s thrillers and it’s, you know, family, live action family films. So, we are looking for, you know, people who may have, you know a real love of comedy or somebody who may have a real love of live action family films.
Lyle: Like Christmas Chronicles?
Tahirah: Like Christmas Chronicles and, you know, somebody who is really strong at identifying, you know, what are the needs and going out and figuring out how to fill those needs.
Lyle: Yeah, and of course, I know I put you on the spot there and what you don’t want to do is just list a whole bunch of things and someone go, “Well, that’s not me.” You’re not covering everything, right? You’re not covering everything on some levels. So, I’m sorry to put you on the spot there.
Tahirah: No problem. And just, you know, the great thing about Netflix is that at other studios people are really pigeon holed into, “Well, you only do comedy or you only do, you know, Sci-Fi.” And at Netflix one of the great things, at least on the film side, is that we aren’t, you know, put into those boxes. So, like, for example, I have a, you know, quite a breadth of like interests, so this year alone I’ve worked on—you know, around magic, comedy, a family film, a drama. So, it’s not necessarily that the person needs to like only one thing, it’s about realizing what makes sort of Netflix special. And, you know, that we do have a strategy and that they’re job will be to work on a lot of different films. But if it so happens that they, you know, have a proclivity on a certain genre then, you know, that’s a plus.
Lyle: Yeah, you want people with passion.
Lyle: Yeah. You know, as we’ve been talking about this, we’ve been talking a lot about passion and then making these calls and not trying to influence really the filmmaking process, end to end, in a like getting your perspective in there. How do you balance judgement and passion? Because often they kind of go at odds with each other.
Tahirah: The philosophy is always Netflix first, so that is sort of the first thing to be considered. So, the judgement is, will this be good for Netflix? And as we become, you know, a bigger team—and, you know, experience also comes into it. Like you can see something that, you know, like this will be a killer film for the service. It may not be my passion film but I understand that this will work and I know how to make it work. So, as an executive it’s your job to engage in that. Or, you know, say, “Hey, you know, this is not something for me. But hey, colleague, I know this is your area, I think this is something that could work for you.”
Lyle: It seems like earlier you were talking about this loving this movie that you’re working on, right? Like really having a passion for it. When you have that passion for a title that you’re working really tightly with, you’ve saw the clip, you’ve seen it come to fruition, you see the first cuts, you’re like, “This is fantastic.” Do you use your colleagues as a sounding board? “Am I too committed to this?” Do you do that kind of thing?
Tahirah: Absolutely. I often go to my colleagues and ask them for that check. You know, and you asked me a question about, what was one of the things that I had to learn coming to Netflix? And gut checks and really being comfortable with people interrogating your choices and poking holes in your dec—not necessarily your decisions but your, you know, the decisions that you want to make in order to test, is something that I had to get used to and really embrace as well and see as a tool. Because, you’re right, sometimes passion can cloud your vision so I think that’s a really useful thing that I learned and really rely upon when I think that maybe, you know, something—I’m getting way ahead of myself on something.
Lyle: Hey, Talya, we have a couple more minutes so I’m just going to ask you this. You probably get a lot of like frequently asked questions from people that might be interested in working here, answer a few of those right now.
Talya: One of the values I always like to highlight in the memo is curiosity. And so, I think to start off, you know, especially when it’s maybe your first time connecting with someone over here, ask the questions you want to know, you know? It’s okay to be really honest because I think sometimes what people forget is the interview process is one of a mutual evaluation, meaning that the candidate should really be trying to determine, “Is this place a fit for me? Can I be successful here? Do I see myself here?” Just as much as I’m trying to access the same thing on my side. I think another question we often get is, especially for the folks we’re talking to for coordinators, “How can I contribute here? Will my voice be heard? Will I have a seat at the table?” Because I think oftentimes—and even outside of film there can be limitations just based upon your title. And it might not accurately reflect the knowledge you have of the work you do and the years that you’ve been doing it. And I think Tahirah could attest to this, that you really do have a voice and that’s why we try to determine what your point of view is, what your taste is when we’re having these initial conversations.
Tahirah: And can I jump in?
Tahirah: I think if I have one advice to perspective, kind of it is to have a point of view and be able to express it and, you know, back it up. And like Talya said, be curious and ask questions and like figure out is Netflix a place for you? Not just any studio but Netflix specifically and the more specific you can be about that.
Talya: Definitely and I would say, don’t even shy away from getting a little personal. For example, if you have experience that say, doesn’t directly corollate to film, like maybe you taught a broad for a couple of years and then came back and got a job at an agency, like let’s talk about that for a few moments. Or the meaningful conversations you’ve had that have transformed the trajectory of your career. Or maybe it’s even the genuine relationships you’ve formed or the traveling you’ve done and immersing yourself within other cultures. Because all of that contributes to finding and developing that point of view.
Lyle: Tahirah Gooden and Talya Sharps, thank you so much for joining us here on We Are Netflix.
Talya: Thank you.
Tahirah: And thank you for having us.
Lyle: This has been the
We Are Netflix
podcast, I’m Lyle Troxell and my co-host is Michael Paulson, thanks for listening