The Drum's 'Unsung Heroes' series is a celebration of the people in the industry who slog hard behind the limelight for their companies, brands and clients.
As they are seldom in the spotlight for their contribution to the success of campaigns, this is their time to shine.
Dan Tham is a producer on the CNN Vision team, which is the global creative production unit for CNN International, who explains that working in television is not glamorous all the time as producers have to cope with stories falling through, guests not showing up and bad weather, in addition to language barriers, jetlag, and working on tight deadlines.
Why is your job important?
Last year we produced more than 1300 hours of original programming for CNN International including long-form series, documentaries and specials for TV, digital and social platforms. We have a staff of 65 spread across eight production hubs in Hong Kong, London, Abu Dhabi, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Johannesburg and Miami.
At CNN Vision, we strive to combine unique storytelling with exclusive access to places and people and state-of-the-art production capabilities to create content for audiences all over the world.
What is the hardest and stressful part of your job?
One of the best parts of the job is also one of the hardest. Being on the road and working in the field is full of challenges. Stories fall through, guests don’t show up, and the weather can wreak havoc.
We travel all over the world, so combine that with language barriers, jetlag, and working on tight deadlines, it can be pretty stressful at times. You always need a Plan B and a Plan C. But it’s also why I love the job. It’s anything but boring.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love the opportunity to travel across the Asia Pacific region and meet people who are doing amazing things. It’s hugely rewarding to take on an assignment that I know relatively little about and, in going through the production process, diminish my own ignorance and hopefully tell a compelling story for our audience at the same time.
First thing that comes to people’s minds when you tell them your job?
First thing is usually “Oh! Do you work with Anderson Cooper?” The answer, sadly, is “Not yet.” But the second assumption is that I’m an on-air reporter.
How would you correct/explain to them what you do then?
I think people who don’t work in TV assume that all TV jobs are on-air jobs. It’s what you see when you turn on CNN, so the assumption makes sense. But I usually tell people that there’s an entire behind-the-scenes network of people who make TV possible. And that I’m part of that network, in working for CNN Vision.
Is there anything you want to change in your job?
I would love to continue to see and work on more flagship series, particularly stories from parts of Asia we may not ordinarily cover. We’re lucky to live in a region undergoing profound change and ever-increasing in its global influence. It would be great for us to tap into the dynamism and excitement from all corners of the region, as well as the centuries-old traditions and heritage, through on-going programming that focuses on these types of stories.
Which was the campaign that you worked on, that you are most proud of?
One of CNN’s most high-profile initiatives and something we are all really proud of is the CNN Freedom Project, which aims to shine a light on the horrors of modern-day slavery and amplify the voices of victims. CNN’s stories have contributed to changing laws and corporate policies, survivors receiving assistance, and millions of dollars in donations going to anti-trafficking organizations.
The CNN Freedom Project stories I have worked on in Asia focused on debt bondage, child labor, and child sex trafficking. While it’s one of the toughest assignments I’ve been on so far, I find that if these stories help just one person then it’s worth it.
Who is someone you want to emulate in your industry?
I am a huge fan of Ken Burns. I think the humanism and incredible curiosity that he brings to all of his projects is something I would love to emulate.
His most recent Vietnam War documentary series on PBS was masterfully researched, crafted and really tapped into a part of world history that has forever changed the lives of millions. I count my own family among them, being the child of Vietnamese refugees.
If you were not a producer, what would you be?
If I were not a producer, I would probably be teaching media literacy and video storytelling in Vietnam, my parents’ homeland.