We had the good fortune of connecting with Thien A. Pham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Thien, how do you think about risk?
I used to think about risk differently. Now, I see life as a continuum of risk. At any given time, everything we do carries a degree of risk. In the past, the word ‘risk’ invoked an automatic negative connotation, and I approached it from an opportunity cost perspective. When assessing risk, I used to make decisions based on what I considered the optimal choice at the moment — essentially, the choice that would reduce my exposure to risk as much as possible. Now, I no longer see risk as something ‘scary’ that teeters on the opposite end of the see-saw. Instead, I’ve shifted my mindset to embrace that life is a continuum of risk, an inextricable part of life. In decision-making, whether for personal or business, I focus my energy on clarifying my key priorities, and if meeting those priorities outweigh the perceived risks. This fresh mindset has allowed me to direct my decisions and actions more purposefully towards my life goals.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
For me, life is a series of never-ending plot twists. During my first year of film school, I was certain my career path would be somewhere in Hollywood as a film editor. Then during an internship at a local TV station, an opportunity came my way to produce and direct in-language Vietnamese commercial spots for a national company. I hadn’t done anything like it in the past, but I didn’t hesitate to take on the project. After all, carpe diem, right? I guess I should have realized then that at any given moment in our lives, the next moment is always an unknown variable. The trajectory of my career path changed course from Hollywood editor to independent producer-director. Now at 3388 Films, I work on multilingual TV broadcast spots, live events, music videos, industrials, mini-docs, web series, and producing and distributing independent feature films. Within my journey, I make a conscious effort to champion independent content creators and initiatives that give authentic voices to underrepresented communities. I’ve been fortunate to be an active independent producer-director for over 15 years now, and coincidentally, have had the fun opportunity to produce and direct works in over 15 different language markets, like Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, Greek, Tagalog, Romanian, and Vietnamese. I get asked a lot if I speak all those languages, and the short answer is an emphatic No. Although aside from English and Vietnamese, I am currently learning Mandarin Chinese and hope to learn Spanish, and maybe Esperanto, in the future. This unique experience of directly working on different language projects helped me appreciate the depth of commonalities we share across cultures and communities. Another question I’m asked often is how am I able to direct a talent if I don’t understand what he or she is saying? Well, body language is a language on its own, and facial expressions can tell us the story of emotions very well. As humans, we really are more similar than we may think. And ultimately, those emotions – love, fear, anger, excitement, joy, nostalgia, calmness, boredom, anxiety, amusement, etc, etc – they all live within each and every one of us. Has the independent road been challenging? Yes would be an understatement. How to overcome the challenges? For me, it really is about one foot in front of the other. I like to have a clear goal in mind, and then work like my hair’s on fire towards it. I’ve always enjoyed plot twists on-screen, and through the years, I’ve learned to enjoy them in my real life, as well. When I said Yes to my first project all those years ago, I didn’t imagine that I would one day get to distribute foreign-language films theatrically into major U.S. theaters, or experience an international theatrical release for my own film. Nor could I have imagined I would one day co-create and co-organize VIMO Awards, the first-of-its-kind awards show in the U.S., celebrating achievements of Vietnamese filmmakers and elevating global awareness of the Viet film industry. 2020 is a great reminder that life is a series of never-ending plot twists. But it’s like at the movies: we gotta ride it out till the end. And all the better if we do it with a limitless mindset.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
So many choices! Orange County, California definitely has great beaches and nature trails to activate your body and mind. To fuel up, or replenish, Vietnamese food in the Little Saigon area always hits the spot. From grilled pork spring rolls (nem nướng cuốn), to steamed rice cakes topped with shredded shrimp (bánh bèo), to broiled catfish (cá nướng da giòn), to Vietnamese crepes (bánh xèo), it’s definitely a foodie’s heaven here.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I believe who I am now has been shaped by every person that has been, or is, a part of my life. I believe who I will be in the future will be shaped by the mindset I choose to embrace moving forward. So I’m going to give a shout-out to a couple of books that helped shape my current mindset. Jo Boaler’s “Limitless Mind” painted the lines that allowed me to understand what it means to have a growth mindset, and the limitless potential of my mind. Harry Lorayne’s “The Memory Book” definitively colored in those lines and showed me how to ‘learn how to learn’ and make my mind work for me towards success.