Ty Warren, VP of Worldwide Physical Production, talks about his role at Netflix
Working at Netflix is unlike any other production executive job I’ve ever had. The company's structure is different to other studios and networks in that we have one large production department to handle all the different types of content we produce. Be it series, films, documentaries, comedy specials or non-English language series, we handle the lot.
Our department also oversees the post-production of all that content (including international dubbing) as well as all the visual effects and studio technology and operations. So I get to look across our entire output to find ways for us to be more efficient.
My colleagues at Netflix are not only great people but they also share my passion for finding innovative ways to do things more effectively and efficiently.
I am constantly looking at how we can communicate more effectively between teams, and how we can leverage the experience and knowledge of the collective team, to ensure we support the creative vision in the best way possible. This means I have less day to day interaction with our shows but I get to be involved in larger strategic conversations across the company which I find to be a great learning experience and challenge.
When I first read the Netflix Culture Deck (its legendary manifesto on its organisational culture) I was consumed with how the culture of a company could be so aligned with my personal beliefs and the way I live my life. Netflix seemed to be the company best positioned to succeed in fulfilling customers desires of being able to watch the content they want, when they want it, on whatever device they choose. And this content is incredibly well done. It pushes boundaries and supports the producer's creative vision.
But it was meeting the senior leaders of the company that clinched it for me. I had never met a group of such smart, thoughtful and driven individuals in my career. I saw my joining that team as a great challenge to live up to that standard. My colleagues at Netflix are not only great people but they also share my passion for finding innovative ways to do things more effectively and efficiently. I’m incredibly inspired by the leadership of Reed, Ted and Cindy. They are all examples of the type of leadership to which I strive.
Every project has its own set of unique challenges, all of which are inherent to the creative process of producing content and which aren’t unique to Netflix.
There are several qualities you need to succeed, and lead, as Head of Physical Production at Netflix. You must be empathetic and have the ability to listen. I always thought that I would have been better served if I had earned a degree in psychology. So much of my time is spent with people trying to help them solve problems, guiding them in ways which empower them to make the right decisions in support of the company and our projects.
What's amazing is that for the first time, these two areas of technology (production and studio) are talking to each other.
You must have a holistic view of the entire production process. Having started out in post-production and then moving into production, plus having a creative producer background, gave me a great understanding of how everything interconnects and is interdependent. That holistic view is imperative to smooth communication and collaboration. The project will suffer if you are focused on just one part.
And you can’t afford to have an ego. Focusing on what is best for a project and for the company should be the true north for your executive compass.
It also helps that I love the content we are making – it’s inspirational, impactful and creative. Some of the most exciting projects we are working on at the moment are The Irishman directed by Martin Scorsese, The Outlaw King directed by David Mackenzie, season three of Stranger Things, season two of The OA, Maniac with Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and O Mecanismo, an original series produced in Brazil.
Every project has its own set of unique challenges, all of which are inherent to the creative process of producing content and which aren’t unique to Netflix. The amount of owned content we are producing is increasing rapidly so we have to be innovative. That is great for consumers and certainly is exciting for me. In this overall production boom, we as a team need to innovate to not only keep up with scale, but also to bring the best crew and talent to Netflix.
Our investment in this space is less about cost-savings and much more about empowering our personnel to do the best work of their lives at Netflix using cutting-edge tools.
I am also fortunate to be working for a company which is both an entertainment company and a tech company. It's all about collaboration and communication. Outside of what's been available on the market for many years, there isn't a lot of progressive technology that exists to enable us to produce at our scale. As such, we're leaning heavily into developing our own cloud-based solutions that focus on communication and collaboration across both production and the studio.
What's amazing is that for the first time, these two areas of technology (production and studio) are talking to each other. Our investment in this space is less about cost-savings and much more about empowering our personnel to do the best work of their lives at Netflix using cutting-edge tools. To succeed, we need to give technology a seat at the production table and we're doing that in a big way.
The road to Netflix
Upon graduating from Harvard, I came back to Los Angeles and took any job I could find in the entertainment industry. My first gig was as a delivery boy for Viacom Productions. I would go to LAX at night, pick up the exposed negative from shoots we were doing in Denver and take it to the MGM lab for processing. Then the next morning I’d pick it up, take it to be transferred to video tape and then I’d deliver those tapes to all the producers and network executives. Eventually, I moved into post production and worked on shows like The Perry Mason Mysteries, Matlock and Jake and the Fatman.
I was always a huge Steven Spielberg fan. While working on the Universal lot I was always trying to find a way to get in at Amblin. Eventually, I was connected to the head of production at Amblin (Gerry Molen) and I pestered his assistant for two years until she finally gave me a job. That was my big break, as she put me up to be the assistant to producer Branko Lustig, who had just produced Schindler’s List for Steven.
Branko hired me on the spot and we started working on Dreamworks’ first movie The Peacemaker, with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Then we prepped a Harrison Ford movie called age of Aquarius for one and a half years. Shortly thereafter we started prepping a movie which Branko said, “no one will make this movie.” Two months later I found myself on a plane to London to work as the production supervisor on Gladiator. I spent close to a year on the road with Gladiator and needed to spend some time at home with my family. Fortunately, I worked with Sean Daniel on Age of Aquarius and he invited me to come work with him.
They agreed to give me a shot and I spent the next four and a half years building a department that produced Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Warcraft and 42.
For the next three years I was blessed to work with Sean on The Mummy Returns, Rat Race and Down to Earth with Chris Rock. Banko called a year later and asked if I’d work with him and Ridley on Kingdom of Heaven with Orlando Bloom. I spent the next year in Morocco as the associate producer on that project. After Kingdom, Ian Bryce and Steve Saeta offered me a job on Michael Bay’s The Island for Dreamworks; after that Talladega Nights with Will Ferrell.
At the end of Talladega Nights, I was all set with my next film project when Steve Molen, the head of production at Dreamworks, asked if I wanted to come in house and work at Dreamworks. We had some amazing projects at that time, Dreamgirls, Transformers, Blades of Glory, Disturbia, Revolutionary Road and The Kite Runner. It was an amazing time. By the third year the company was going through a transition and I left to pursue other opportunities.
That’s when I connected with Netflix and found myself leading the production team here, an opportunity for which I feel incredibly grateful.
I spent about a year leading Raleigh Productions and helping them build studios in Michigan and Budapest. Then Bill Fay, the head of production at Legendary Pictures called me and asked if I’d like another executive job. My skill set of knowing how to do big movies fit very well with what Legendary was doing at the time – big co-productions with Warner Brothers and self-producing the same big films for themselves. When my boss unexpectedly left to pursue other opportunities, I thought for sure they were going to bring in another head of production over me. I proactively put together a proposal as to why I thought I should be the head of production and presented it to CEO Thomas Tull and CCO Jon Jashni. They agreed to give me a shot and I spent the next four and a half years building a department that produced Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Warcraft and 42.
After Legendary was Purchased by Wanda and seeing how the landscape of the film industry was changing so dramatically, I decided to again pursue other opportunities. That’s when I connected with Netflix and found myself leading the production team here, an opportunity for which I feel incredibly grateful.
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