October 22, 2018

Nina Jacobson: How to Make a Hit in Hollywood

by Without Fail

Background show artwork for Without Fail

Nina Jacobson is a force in Hollywood. She’s behind some of the biggest movies of the last 20 years: The Sixth Sense, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hunger Games, and most recently Crazy Rich Asians. She’s had a lot of success. But also some pretty big failures: a public firing, some box office flops. Nina walks Alex through her failure resume and talks about what it takes to make a hit.

Without Fail is hosted by Alex Blumberg. It is produced by Sarah Platt and edited by Alex Blumberg, Devon Taylor and Nazanin Rafsanjani. 

Jarret Floyd, Matthew Boll and Cedric Wilson mixed the episode. Music by Bobby Lord.

Where to Listen



From Gimlet Media, This is Without Fail. I’m Alex Blumberg, and this is the show where I talk to athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, visionaries of all kinds -- about their success and their failures, and what they’ve learned from both.


The other day, I was walking home from Gimlet with my wife Nazanin. This is our routine at the end of most workdays, walk the 15 minutes up noisy Flatbush Avenue <<sirens>> to our apartment. We talk about the day. She and I work together. She joined the company 3 years ago. And she launched and grew Gimlet Creative, the division in Gimlet that makes all the ads and all our branded content. It’s on the business side. But recently she switched roles, became our head of new show development. Meaning, she’s no longer making commercials and podcasts for brands. She’s making Gimlet shows. And she’s trying to make shows that can grow into franchises, with large audiences. 

<<NAZ: it’s much more complicated. Me and everyone else who works on that team are supposed to like make hits. Like that’s what our job is? And I don’t know how to do that. I’ve never done that. I’ve never created from nothing a hit. 
ALEX: It’s also like, it’s hard to know what even makes a hit. You know what I mean?

NAZ: I know. I have no idea. Are there rules? 

ALEX: Wait you don’t know.

NAZ: If there are someone should tell me what they are... >>

I can’t tell you how many time I ask the question, are there rules, knowing full well the answer is no there are no rules. It was a shockingly long time before I realized what business Gimlet was actually in: the business of making hits. And making a hit is hard. There don’t seem to be any rules. 

But there are a few people who do manage to do it, over and over. People like movie mogul, Nina Jacobson. 

Nina Jacobson is a force in Hollywood. She was a studio executive who has worked at some of the largest movie studios: DreamWorks, Universal Pictures, Disney. And she is behind some of the biggest movies of the last 20 years. The Hunger Games, The Sixth Sense, Remember the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean. Her latest hit -- Crazy Rich Asians -- is the biggest romantic comedy of the last 20 years.

I was very excited to talk to Nina, because I thought she might have advice for me, and for Nazanin, on this, our most pressing of questions. How do we at Gimlet make what is essentially, our core product: hits. 

And over the course of our conversation we did get to that. But we started not with Nina’s success, but with her failures. Specifically, a concept that she brought up called the failure resume. 

Oh, and I should warn you, there’s some strong language in this episode.

Alright, here’s my conversation with Nina Jacobson:

Nina: Have you heard about the failure resume?

Alex: I have not

Nina: My my daughter turned me on to this. There is a professor at Stanford who has written a paper about how it is valuable for people to do their failure resume because your failures sort of define who you are and what you've learned and how you've really sort of been impacted in many respects more than your successes do. And that owning those failures and embracing them is sort of a critical component to successful people. 

Alex: Do you buy that?

Nina: Totally, absolutely. For the most part I have found that the greatest heights have always come from me after the like you're down in the dirt, you dust yourself off, you're full of self-doubt and that the greatest height always come after the lowest peaks. Every time.

Nina told me that she started adding to her failure resume very early on, starting with her first job in Hollywood, right out of college, at Disney Sunday Movies. 

Nina: And my job was to read the script do a synopsis and give my comments on whether the script or the writer was worthy of further pursuit. And I liked that job and it was great just to sit and live in stories all day which makes me happy. Six months into that job the writers strike of 1988 happened and I got fired. My mom cried and wondered was I sure I didn't want to be a doctor like I said they wanted to be when I was in high school.

Alex: Your mom cried when you told her that you got fired from your from your script reading job?

Nina: Yeah because nobody wants their kid to be sad, and it was the first installment on my failure resume.

Alex: Yeah.

Nina: And because there was a writer's strike hardly anybody was hiring. But one person who was hiring was Joel Silver keep keep in mind like say you got that fiery left leaning feminist Brown graduate. The one person is hiring is Joel Silver.

Alex: And who is Joel Silver

Nina: Joel Silver was at the time at least a very powerful producer of big action franchises like Diehard, Lethal Weapon-- 

Alex: And you and he did not share necessarily politics in common.

Nina: Well certainly gender politics. I can give you a pretty good example which is that the night of my interview with him he was personally auditioning strippers for Roadhouse the movie with Patrick Swayze and I was sandwiched in between a bunch of strippers with my glasses and my generally nerdy demeanor. And actually a couple of young women who worked for him who are sisters, they called me into a different room because the strippers were looking at me like I should fire my casting agent.

Alex: And you're there with your resume in your cover letter and like you know. Wow. Wow. What did you think when you walked into that room?

Nina: I felt like I was in a movie. I often find myself feeling like I'm in a movie. I felt like I was in a movie

Alex: Does that help?

Nina: Yes it does. It helps it helps to also just appreciate the humor of a situation. And it was hard to miss it in that situation. But I met with Joel and he asked me what have you heard about me. And he had a very fiery reputation. And I told him I have I've heard you're not a mensch. He thought that was incredibly funny and hired me on the spot. And so I managed to land on my feet. And six and six months go by and my friend says I've some bad news. I just got out of a meeting with somebody who just came from an interview for your job. And so I go to Joel and I say are you going to fire me? He's like. No, why what have you heard? Well I heard somebody just came from an interview for my job. And he's like yeah well so-and-so is coming and he has to have his own people. It's just the way it is. Don't tell people that we fucked you because you know what like we didn't fuck you. This isn't just I've been fired from every job I've ever had and I've done fine. It's just the way it is. 

Alex: Don't tell people that we didn't fuck you because we didn't fuck you.

Nina: Well we didn't fuck you because it's just the way it is.

Alex: But they did!

Nina: Well kinda! He just has to have his own people and I was like Oh so this time by the way I don't tell my mother right away because I don't want to deal with her being sad.

Alex: So at this point you've been in the business for..

Nina: 18 months

Alex: 18 months and you've been fired twice.

Nina: Fired twice.

Alex: Woah.

But, clearly because we are having this conversation now, Nina bounced back. She got another job in the business pretty quickly, and after that, continued to rise through the ranks. Moving from an  executive job at Universal pictures, to one at Steven Spielberg’s company, DreamWorks. She was so young when she became a studio executive that the New York Times dubbed her one of Hollywood’s “baby moguls.” 

And she earned a reputation of being someone who was very good at making hits. She learned to trust her instincts. If she liked a movie, she figured so would other people. That was a mantra that served her really well… almost all the time.

Nina: The only time that it didn't work financially. This goes on the failure résumé but I was blinded by my love of the Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. 

Alex: Right, that’s that Wes Anderson Movie starting Bill Murray as sort of a Jacque Costeau character. 

Nina; Yeah

Alex: Wes Anderson is sort of famous for these quirky stylish movies like Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore.

Nina: Right. And as an executive at Disney, Touchstone Hollywood pictures I'd been involved in The Royal Tenenbaums which is one of my favorite movies of all time one of my favorite movies to ever work on. I loved it. And when Wes Anderson gave me the script for The Life Aquatic it was a bigger budget and I was so in love and I was so blinded by my love that I went to battle to get considerably more money to make this movie than what we had spent on his earlier movies. Because I because I loved it and so I figured well if I love it this much and generally making it for yourself thing is working for me and I will always remember at our first big screening of the movie afterwards people would come up and congratulate me on what a brave movie it was at which point I knew that I was fucked because brave is code for stupid in Hollywood. And I was like oh God it was a brave movie.

Alex: You weren't trying to make a brave movie. You were just.

Nina: No I thought I was making a big mainstream like. I thought for sure that this movie was going to crossover and that I just thought was so funny and so original and I just I was blinded by my love for it. And it was I think probably the biggest money loser on my watch. And yet I love the movie.

Alex: I love that movie

Nina: And I loved that movie. 

Alex: Yeah, that is so interesting though because it's such an imprecise job essentially your job is to pick winners to pick hits and there isn't science there isn't a formula for it. Like there's no way to do it. And the only thing you have to go by is your gut. And the people who who do well are people who somehow can like trust their gut. And so if you're one of those people which you were and are and I am too I think I think of myself as that way. And so the the times when I've trusted my gut and my gut has been wrong. It's really, it freaks me out.

Nina: No, it's painful. It's very painful.

Alex: What was the pain?

Nina: Well I mean first of all you feel like you've let down the filmmaker. If a film fails that you were the advocate for then that person now is carrying something that didn't work financially. Fortunately, I think artistically, I love the movie and the number of filmmakers who tell me that they love that movie. It hurts because you feel like you've let the person down. It hurts because you feel like you let your shareholders down, you don't want to lose people's money. But there's something about just I still love the movie so I don't have to sit there and think why did I do it. I know why it did it. I know what my mistake was too which is that we spent too much money. Our mistake was not making the movie our mistake was deciding no it's going to become a whole different animal than Royal Tenenbaums and therefore it can cost twice as much, right?

Alex: It's about mapping your sort of your own tastes and to sort of seeing where parts of your own taste overlap with like broader swaths of people and where parts of your taste are maybe there's not as many people who agree with you.

Nina: Right. And at the same time I'll give another example on my failure résumé of where so when I was at Disney they had never turned a ride into a movie before.

Alex: So wait, I want to stop you there because this is something I really wanted to talk to you about, because I think where you are going with this is the Pirates of the Caribbean which is one of your biggest hits.

Nina: Yeah, well I’m about to get to that one.

Alex: Yeah, so I was always so curious about how that came to be, because that movie was based on a ride and the idea of taking an amusement park ride and turning it into a movie, let alone a hit movie, seems so crazy to me and I just always wanted to know the backstory of how that happened? Who’s desire was that in Disney to take a ride and turn it into a movie?

Nina: I had the desire. It was our desire. 

Alex: Where did that come from?

Nina: Because in the world of source material I guess I would say the things that I respond to are things that there's a feeling that you have about a book you love, comic book you love, it conjures a feeling. And I grew up in L.A. I went to Disneyland all the time. Not all the time, but I went to Disneyland a lot. And I can tell you for instance with Pirates I can tell you what that ride or the smell of that ride the feeling that you get before you go down that first hill. You know and the anticipation and the feelings that you feel in the ride. and I felt like that was something we had as this asset and we had the Disney brand. We have these assets. Why not give them a go.

Alex: Can I just say you’re blowing my mind right now because I, and it makes so much more sense now to hear you say that. Like the way I thought was like some crazy person at Disney had this idea we've got these rides let's turn them into a movie. And like nobody would ever do that. But somehow Nina Jacobson made it happen. And what you're telling me and now it makes sense you're telling me No no no. That's a great idea. And I had it because like rides are emotion and like you can take that.

Nina: And I'm not saying I was the only person you had it, I'm sure there were other people who would claim ownership over that idea but I was all in right. I was all in. I was like these are emotion. I know how these rides feel and if I know how it feels, I know how to make a movie about it. 

Alex: So you have this idea to take these rides and make them into movies.

Nina: Yeah let's give it a go. Let's develop some of them

Alex: And so you just had to figure out which ride then?

Nina: Yeah which rides! So we'd say let's give Country Bear Jamboree a go.

Alex: And what's Country Bear Jamboree, I've never been to Disneyland.

Nina: Well I think it might not even be there anymore. There are animatronic bears that perform and and sing and play guitars and stuff

Alex: And how did you settle on that first.

Nina: I actually think maybe we knew that it was going to close at some point and maybe we thought like you know this is sort of our chance to do it and the idea of doing a musical and a country musical and of also kind of beta testing this idea too right of you know it was like a 30 million dollar movie

Alex: Which isn't much by Disney standards.

Nina: Right, no it wasn't a lot. We had fantastic music. Bonnie Raitt is on there. We had some really great music and the idea of country music it just seemed like a fun thing to do. That was not very scientific. Like that's fun. Let's try it. And we had a good script. We are amazing puppets they were awesome is just C.G. was the sensibility and people were like that looks like guys in bear suits and we'd like to but you realize how sophisticated these bear suits are? Do you see the artistry of these bear suits and it didn't work.

Alex: Did people watch it and say you were brave?

Nina: People were just like it's cute. But it was it didn't it didn't work. Right. So one could have concluded from that that this whole ride to movie thing is a bad idea.

Alex: Right. That's what I would have. That's what I would have I would have concluded I would be like bad idea Blumberg..

Nina: But that's not what I was like that's not why it didn't work. And so meanwhile we had we were developing Pirates of the Caribbean 

Alex: Pirates Of The Caribbean is another ride in Disneyland.

Nina: Yes. That's another ride Disneyland that I love. My favorite ride Disneyland. Again I really knew like the feelings of it and what is it about. And also my son at the time was really into pirates. So and you know pirates ships are cool pirates are cool and meanwhile by the way pirates are one of those things that in Hollywood legend like pirates don't work. Nobody had made a successful pirate movie in a long time.

Alex: Got it.

Nina: Plus we had just fallen on our face with our first go at a ride.

Alex: I'm shocked that you're doing this movie. I'm shocked you just we were

Nina: People thought we were idiots. We really got a lot of grief about it. People thought we were really dumb for making Pirates Of The Caribbean. People were just like look at Country Bears. It didn't work. Is not going to work here. And

Alex: How did that come back to you.

Nina: You always hear people.. I mean first of all. Like even before the movie came out we weren't on any list of like movies that will be hit over the summer. You know and you know

Alex: Right, there was no buzz.

Nina: No buzz, zero buzz and you know when you have doubters there are doubters and there was a lot of doubt.

Alex: You feel it.

Nina: People talk about it people gossiped about it what are they doing with that crazy pirate movie. And so we developed it internally and then brought Jerry Bruckheimer on. We then brought on fantastic writers and we start to build out the idea of Johnny Depp and all of that stuff. And you know Jerry was a very formidable very formidable producer and not an easy person to say no to. And so you partner even though my, our goal is to get this movie together. You partner with somebody who you know is going to push to make a very ballsy version of it. And we. And at the same time I will say be the first to admit that when the dailies start to come in Johnny Depp in the dailies was pretty out there and I started to sweat a little and worry that like are we gonna be okay. 


Alex: Right. Because he's playing Captain Jack Sparrow in what now is like very..

Nina: Very drunken and you know kind of fay..

<<CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW: No stop! You’re burning all the food, the shade, the rum? 

ELIZABETH SWANN: Yes, the rum is gone.
JACK: Why is the rum gone?>>

NINA: But you have to imagine that's the performance that's on screen so you have to measure for the dailies what you're sculpting from is some pretty out there stuff really big crazy stuff. And I actually had to I was the one told to call him and ask like hey what are you. What's up? What are you doing, you know? And nobody else wanted to make that call. And he said you got to trust me. Just got to trust me. 

Alex: Johnny Depp said that to you.

Nina: I was like OK, okay. The first time I saw the movie went to him and said you were right. You were right. I'm really glad I trusted you. I'm glad I didn't chicken out. You know or like it. It's scary. It's scary when you're doing something that really pushes the envelope and it was scary. And I and as an executive you know you your job is to watch the bottom line and hope that something is going to resonate with a lot of people and you your goal is to surround yourself with people who actually you believe know better than you do.

Alex: Right

Nina: And you're maybe there as a voice but if you don't think they're better than you are then you've hired the wrong person. Right. So he should know better than I do. And when he said You just have to trust me I was like you know yeah that's right and I'm gonna it was a good lesson of like don't be a chickenshit don't be scared of things that are out there.

Alex: Even if you're trying to make a family movie about a about an amusement park ride.

Nina: Yeah, even if you're bringing a family movie about amusement park ride.

Alex: When do we really become clear that you had a hit.

Nina: Well what was funny is that the movie was done very close to the time it was released. So our first preview was right down to the wire. And so the first time we showed it we showed it down to Anaheim.

Alex: Just to a regular audience. 

Nina: Yeah, You recruit an audience and they tell you what they think. And they loved it. They loved it. And I don't think anybody I mean a lot of confidence in the movie. Once I saw it. I loved it. I loved it. It was a joyful fun. This is why you go to the movies, transporting, original. So I had a lot of confidence in it but I don't think that the upper brass really knew what that was going to work until our first preview which was right very close to the release of the movie. And it was great though because we weren't on any list or anything and the sneak attack is so much better than the oh everybody thinks this movie is going to be a hit and then people either are disappointed in it or it's not a big enough hit, the movie that nobody sees coming is one of the most fun things ever. 

ALEX: Coming up, one of the most not fun things ever and a big addition to Nina’s failure resume, after these words from our sponsors.


ALEX: Welcome back to Without Fail and my conversation with studio executive, producer, and hit-maker, Nina Jacobson. When we left off, Nina was an executive at Disney she presided over a string of hits at Disney. Pirates of the Caribbean, The Chronicles of Narnia, Sixth Sense, Remember the Titans... and things were going well outside of work. We’re going to pick up the story right as her wife was expecting their third child, she was due to give birth at any moment. But the movie industry was changing at this time, and Disney was in the process of reducing its headcount. 

Nina: And we were having to do one of those hard things where you have to squeeze your belt and reduce the number of people in your team and cut your budget and the night before my wife went into labor with our third child a journalist friend of mine said I hear that you're on the list. I was like what? My wife had gone into labor the next day so by the time my boss called me back we were just getting to the hospital and I said well I heard this thing and I just want to I want to not think about it one way or the other for the rest of the day. So so I don't have to think about it anymore. Can you can you fill me in? And he's like it's not a good thing to talk about on the phone. Can you come in. I was like no I really can't come in right now. And he's like ah well.. I was like OK. Can I.. let me make it a little easier for you. Am I being fired? Yes. Is so and so getting my job? Yes. I was like OK got to go. Bye.

Alex: Did you ever regret making it easier for him?

Nina: I mean not really just because it was so uncomfortable. I wanted to just get off the phone and it was actually a really crazy time. My father was in ICU at the hospital where my wife was giving birth. And so I was literally running back and forth. As you know the early stages of labor where there's a lot of waiting around and I was going back and forth between my dad and my wife during this little window of time and I really did just want like let's just pull the Band-aid off. I just don't I don't want to think about this and not knowing will be hovering over me all day. I have a place that I want to be fully present. And my life is happening right here. And I have to just compartmentalize and put the part of my life that is my job in a box and just put it aside for later. Of course I also really resented and my wife really resented that that box was anywhere near this joyous moment. And but it was also that after I was fired I had this realization of like I could either really lean into the injustice of it because I was told it is, you're not, this is not a performance issue. 

Alex: And your movies had been doing well.

Nina: Yes. I mean we had some you know there had been Life Aquatic but that wasn't it. You know in fact at one point like years ago Bill Murray called me and said did you get fired because Life Aquatic because I'd been worrying about that. I don't want to feel bad about that as like I said. But he called me I was at home and I was like no it's not your fault but thanks for calling.

Alex: Aw. Every story you hear about Bill Murray

Nina: I know. It was very sweet. But it was somebody else wanted my job and whoever that person was had done a better job of lobbying and making the case for having my job than I had of protecting my job. So when you're fired in Hollywood you're given a cover story right and you usually get to choose your cover story and it's one of two things both of which are always really transparently false which is I want to pursue my lifelong dream of producing or I wanted to spend more time with my family. Those are your two.

Alex: Right.

Nina: You got a column A column B. Disney offered me a producing deal. Then I would have had the story about how I wanted to pursue my lifelong dream of producing which was the opposite of my lifelong dream. I loved being an executive. I loved my job. And so I didn't feel excited about being a producer and if I was going to be a producer I was not going to be a producer for the people who had just fired me. I was way too proud to either go with the cover story and I was too proud to have a producing deal that would result in me pitching things to people who had either fired me or worked for me.

Alex: Right.

Nina: And so my lawyer said well what do you want, what do you want to say. You could say anything you want. They will back you up. I want to say the truth. I want to say I was fired. That's the truth. And if I lie about it it makes it seem like I'm ashamed of it or I deserved it and I don't want anybody to know. I just want to say the truth and that's what I did. My whatever statement that I had released the next day or whatever was that I had you know it was my job at Disney was a privilege not a right. And I had loved it and enjoyed it. And it's really sad that it was over. And that was it

Alex: Do you feel that that was the right decision to actually claim that story and tell, tell the truth now.


Nina: Absolutely. I mean I have this theory that applies to a lot of areas of my life. My theory is that powerful men don't wear toupees because a toupee indicates that you are not proud of who you are and how you look that you have something to hide, something you're trying to pull over on people.

Nina: And people know that it's not real and thus have something on you which is I know something about you that you don't want me to know and that you think I don't know because of that toupee. But I actually do know because it's a toupee.

Alex: Yes.

Nina: And it's a bummer that you've lost your hair but don't go with the lie. Go with the truth .

Alex: Yes.

Nina: And own the truth. And it's humbling. It's really humbling. And you do you feel a lot of self-doubt. Although I will say that I had been given very good advice when I got there which was that Jerry Bruckheimer had said to me there's two types of people in your job. People who think they'll have it forever and the ones who know they won't. So I never I never thought I would have the job forever. I always knew like sooner or later you'll go out boots first. Just the way it is in those jobs. But I just didn't I didn't expect it when it happened.

Alex: You didn't see it coming. Yeah.

Nina: Did not see it coming.

Alex: Did you did you. Did you cry?

Nina: Oh yeah sure. Yeah I was really sad. I really loved that job and I loved the people I worked with. I loved that job. I was not ready I wasn't done. I wasn’t over it. I was enjoying it still. But I came to this conclusion of like I could just be bitter and angry and feel that I was horribly wronged or I could ask myself how did this happen and what can I get from it. I ended up actually doing something I haven't done since I was out of college. I took six months off to be with my family. We had two older kids and a new baby and I wanted to think about what would be next. I knew I could be a producer but I wasn't sure I wanted to be one. So instead of taking a deal at Disney where they have given me movies and whatnot I was like yeah bye, goodbye to you and I also sold my stock in a fit of anger which was a mistake.

Alex: Oh shoot

Nina: Dumb dumb. Really dumb but I was just mad and I don't want to root for people who had fired me. Yeah. So. But I. But but I also from a from public standpoint I don't speak ill of them and I learned so much there and the boss who fired me I learned so much from him. I was given so much confidence in going with my gut and so much freedom to try different things. And I I can't I honestly can't hold a grudge like it was a heartbreaker at the time but I can't hold a grudge. I just can't do it.

Alex: Yeah. So you spent six months actually doing the thing that people say they're going to do it which is like to actually spend time with your with your family. 

NINA: Yeah.

ALEX:  And you decide to start your own company.

Nina: Yeah

Alex: And the name of your company is Color Force. 

Nina: Color Force is my company. It's a quantum physics term that is an invisible force that the more kind of the more things pull apart the stronger this invisible force becomes to pull them back together. So the color force is weakest when things are closest together or least pulled apart the greater the the more they pull apart the stronger the color force becomes to pull them together some very rudimentary. But I liked the sound of it I also thought it sounded kind of like a gay superhero unit. And the idea of this invisible force that holds things together because fundamentally that's what producers do.

Alex: Right. Hold things together. Yes.

Nina: Things that want to fall apart all the time

Alex: Which is every worthwhile project ever. Yes. Is that 

Nina: Every project wants to fall apart and every project wants to be bad. They have two instincts that you're always fighting against. Make it better hold it together. That's the job.

ALEX: After the break, what it’s like to become the thing you didn’t want to become...and how it led NIna to some of the biggest hits of her career, including Crazy Rich Asians. That’s after these words from our sponsors.


ALEX: Welcome back to Without Fail… Nina started Color Force in 2007. Came out of the gate with a bang. She optioned The Diary of a Wimpy Kid turned that into a hit franchise and The Hunger Games series, turned those into hit franchises. Her most recent blockbuster was the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians. That came about when she read the book and couldn’t put it down. She met with the writer, Kevin Kwan, and convinced him to do a different type of deal. Develop it outside of the studio system, independently with her company. That meant less money up front for both of them but more if it became a hit. It was a bet on their own success. They started filming in Spring of 2017 and this August, it was released. They made it for 30 million. It has gone on to earn 230 million worldwide. 

Alex: When did you realize that that was going to be a hit.

Nina: This was one where I always felt really confident about this movie. I just always felt like this is a fun movie. 

Alex: You just knew.

Nina: I just knew. I mean what I didn't know was how emotional it would be of an experience that the success that would mean so much to people in the way that it did. I always thought it was going to be a hit. But I didn't know how deeply felt it would be for people who felt that they had not gotten to see themselves or an aspirational version of themselves on-screen. And I never thought it was going to be just that Asian American people who would like it. I always thought I loved the book. Why wouldn't anybody else like that book. If we would do it right. If we get it right. It should work especially if the emotions are universal and anybody can relate to being bringing the wrong person home or being brought home as the wrong person.

Alex: Right. Right. So so you've you've had a pretty successful run doing this thing that you said that you never wanted to go back to doing which was producing. If you could go back now having had this experience that you've had over the last several years if you could go back and undo the firing and just like actually keep the job at Disney would you?

Nina: No way no way. There's a freedom in having both TV and film available if you love stories that I'm now completely couldn't live without. And then there's the being your own boss part of it and there's the sense of being the sense of of I know the deepness of the bond that I feel to the work and the people that I work with. So no I don't I would go back if I had to. I wouldn't really try to do it maybe the day before she went into labor or maybe after maybe a couple of months after. So I would say I wish the timing had been different right.

Nina: But that was really a drag. 

Alex: You said the being your own boss and the deepness of the bond say more about that

Nina: There is a connection that you feel when you're on a set of a movie with a filmmaker or with a team of people and you know something Like Crazy Rich Asians even something like our or something like Pose which we just did. You know it's past year you look at all of these people and they are pouring their heart and soul into their work. And there are the most talented people in all manner of jobs. Until you're with the onset of a movie you don't see just how many really gifted people do amazing work and the feeling the bond that you feel to that team and the sense of being one of them and is something that I really love. I love being one of the crew and I didn't know that when I didn't want to be a producer. I didn't know what that felt like.

Alex: Right. One last question self-serving one for me. I feel like I've had you and I have had in some ways maybe reverse trajectories. I was always part of the crew. I was always making the thing and now I find myself more of like.. we’re essentially trying to start a studio here. And we have to we have to make hits and I realize that I have no idea how to foster that. I know how to do it myself sometimes. But I have no idea how to foster that as a system. So how do you how do you make hits Nina?

Nina: Well you know what I would say is that never do anything that someone isn't really passionate about. And it might not always be you in that job. I would say right. There were times when I had to borrow somebody else's passion. If you're going to make 20 movies a year right you if you trust the people around you then sometimes you borrow their passion and a certain point like you'll get caught up in it. But sometimes there's a whole period where that person's passion and your confidence in that person is the driver. Because ideally you would be passionate yourself about every single thing but when you get to that demand for volume you realize that actually because taste is subjective and because of what you have to accomplish that sometimes you have to borrow somebody else's passion. But if there's nobody who's passionate about it. There's no way it's going to be a hit. That was my experience. The things that you do because you think you should that those are always the mistakes. Right. Somebody should just love the shit out of it.

Alex: So that's, that's one rule. Are there others?

Nina: The other thing is that like failures.. you do fail like there's no chance that you won't fail. None none. So there has to be some room for like allowing yourself to fail. 


ALEX: Next episode of Without Fail my guest is NBA World Champion Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors. We talk about what it’s like to play on a team when everyone loves you..and what it’s like to play on a team when people don’t love you so much. Like earlier in his career when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers:

<<ANDRE IGUODALA: I was with my high school teammate, and walking down the street and this dude walked past, and saw me and just f you mother-f-er like you sorry mother. He was like he was like Yo what he was like Yo man what’s really good with these people?>>

That’s next episode of Without Fail.

Without Fail is hosted by me and produced by Sarah Platt. It is edited by me, Nazanin Rafsanjani and Devon Taylor.

Jarrett Floyd and Cedric Wilson mixed the episode. Music by Bobby Lord. Special thanks to Matthew Boll.

If you think Without Fail should be a hit -- leave us a review! It helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends about it. 

As always, thanks for listening.