HBO’s Sieu Nguyen ’17

How Vassar and its Alum Network Produced a Dream Career in TV
Person standing at the front of a room speaking with display screens in the background that reads, "Warner Brothers Discovery".
Photo courtesy of HBO

Since graduating from Vassar in 2017, Sieu Nguyen has held a number of jobs in the entertainment industry, launching his career on the Brand Creative Team at Paramount, where he helped to promote and edit promotional videos for shows such as Younger, Yellowstone, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Wife Swap, and Battle of the Fittest Couples. In December 2021 Nguyen joined HBO, first as an associate producer and now a writer/producer of promotional materials for the network’s series and films. In a recent conversation, Nguyen talked about his career and the role Vassar has played in his success.

You were born and raised in Vietnam. How did you learn about Vassar and why did you choose to enroll here?

I had always dreamed of going to the U.S. for higher education. When doing my research on American colleges, I learned that Vassar was an open-minded, progressive liberal arts institution that had an interesting multidisciplinary Media Studies Program, a field I was passionate about. I immediately applied on Early Decision. Truth be told, I did not get in on that very first try, but I wanted it badly, and upon the news of my deferral wrote a four-page handwritten letter to the Admission Officer detailing how much a Vassar education would mean to me.

Did you have a major in mind when you first arrived, or did your interest in the entertainment field evolve during your college experience?

I came to Vassar with a deep interest in media studies, but I discovered my passion for film studies and production during my college experience. I took World Cinemas with Professor Sophia Harvey, whose vast knowledge and immense kindness inspired me. I learned so much in the courses she led—about the French New Wave, Italian neorealism, film phenomenology and so on—and fell in love with film, which led me to my decision to declare a double major in media studies and film. In my junior year, I also took Filmmaking with the late Professor Ken Robinson. I learned to write short screenplays and shoot with the Krasnogorsk 16mm film camera, which was a super interesting experience as analog productions weren’t that common anymore. Ken gave us the best editing tips, which still benefit my job nowadays, and he made us laugh every time we went to class. I still remember the all-nighters my friends and I pulled in the soundstage shooting pick-up scenes, or our time in the editing room trying to get our films done by the morning deadlines—experiences that brought us closer together and made me realize film/video production was a calling.

Once you decided you wanted this career, what resources did you use in the Career Education office and the alum network?

Everyone in the Career Education office was so kind and helpful. I cannot thank them enough for reviewing many versions of my resume, advising on internship searches, and talking me through tough times. I was lucky to be selected as a Tanenbaum Fellow in 2016, which afforded me an opportunity to work more closely with them. Thanks to the fellowship, I went to Los Angeles and interned at Blumhouse (founded by Vassar alum Jason Blum ’91) for a summer. That was my foot in the door in the entertainment industry. I read feature scripts and wrote coverage, which was then read and reviewed by the company’s development executives. It was an amazing experience finessing my writing skills, acquainting myself with industry materials, and getting my voice heard by industry veterans. I also got to meet [1991 alum] Jason Blum at several company screenings and events. I admire him and his brilliance so much. I wouldn’t have been able to experience that summer without the help of the Career Education office.

Thanks to a panel hosted by the office, I was also able to meet [award-wining film director and screenwriter] Martha Pinson ’70, who has had an incredible career journey and is one of the sweetest people on earth. Throughout the years, we have met up for dinners and she has shared with me many of her Vassar memories and given me precious career advice. I also connected with Jeff Frederick ’91, who at the time was a Design Project Manager at Nickelodeon. He gave me such great insights into the company and helped me land my internship with MTV (part of the same company), which subsequently led to my first job in the professional world.

In 2015, I participated in the inaugural Sophomore Career Connections as a student. As someone with perpetual curiosity, I felt incredibly inspired chatting with our alums in the media industry. Their career stories gave me a sense of, “If they can do it, I can do it, too!” That weekend solidified my intention to pursue this path. That’s why I was super excited to return to campus this past January to participate in the 10th annual event, now as a mentor. It was a full circle moment.

Three people sitting at a desk in a classroom. One person is talking while the other looks on. There is a blackboard and window in the background.
Nguyen served as a mentor during Sophomore Career Connections 2024.
Photo by Karl Rabe

What’s the most fun thing about your job? What are some of the more challenging aspects? Can you list some projects you’re most proud of?

What I love most about my job is I get to be creative every day and experiment with new ideas. I am encouraged to swing big and try out fresh approaches. Freshness is important, as I believe a good marketing creative needs to break some comfort zones and make people surprised.

When I worked on the Season 2 marketing campaign for Euphoria, I produced a behind-the-scenes featurette for the fifth episode, called “Enter Euphoria.” This video explores the key themes of this episode and the cinematography behind it. When screening the interviews with the cast and crew, I heard Director of Photography Marcell Rév say that a lot of his inspirations came from photographer Nan Goldin. I spent days researching Nan Goldin’s body of work, read the stories behind her photographs, and found two whose style Euphoria embraced the most, called “Self-portrait in my blue bathroom” and “Clemens underwater in tub.” I then edited this piece and folded in these photographs, creating side-by-side comparisons that shed more light on the making of this HBO phenomenon.

Earlier this year, I produced another behind-the-scenes featurette for the Max Original series The Girls on the Bus, called “Story Behind the Story.” As this series was loosely inspired by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, I cut this piece to explain real-life events that had influenced its storyline. Once again, I tapped onto research to widen its scope. I worked with journalist Amy Chozick, a former New York Times political reporter and the creator of the show, to source anecdotes and secure photographs of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, as well as those of other political figures such as Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren.

The research process was arduous but fun. It made me feel like I was doing journalistic work myself, which isn’t too far from the work of a video producer if I may say! I’m incredibly proud of how this creative work turned out.

I think the common thread throughout these projects is the benefit of research skills, for which I have the liberal arts education at Vassar to thank. Vassar taught me to dig deeper, to read more and to always ask questions, which is a guiding principle whenever I begin producing a video. At Vassar, I also learned how to write a coherent essay, which isn’t very different from cutting a cohesive behind-the-scenes featurette. You need a good hook as your opening. Your body paragraphs/segments need clear-cut arguments and supporting examples. Your ending needs to leave people with a question or a feeling. Vassar helped build the writer in me, which made me a better video producer in the professional world.

July 9, 2024