"(Out of) Office Hours" Part 13: Creative Problem Solving with Mykim Dang of America's Test Kitchen
July 29, 2020
On the 13th episode of (Out of) Office Hours, Mykim Dang, Executive Video Producer of America’s Test Kitchen, joins Chris to share how her video team at ATK is tackling remote production with new creative processes. From teaching their talent the fundamentals of shooting by themselves to mitigating problems with media management and being mindful and inclusive around the content they create, she had many profound learnings from her experiences over the past few months. Here’s a recap of what went down and some helpful links for you to dig deeper!
In this exciting new segment, Chris unboxed a HDMI to USB 2.0 Video Capture Card 1080p HD Recorder. This thing was only $15.65 shipped! Can you believe that? If you know anything about Chris, you know that he loves converting HDMI to USB. As he says, “It’s a hobby. It’s a passion at this point.”
Q&A with Mykim Dang
America’s Test Kitchen has been on YouTube for 10 years, and they just reached a huge milestone — one million subscribers! Located in Boston’s Seaport District, more than 60 test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists have been testing recipes over and over again for all of the curious cooks in their community in 15,000 square feet of kitchen space with multiple photography and video studios. But, the ATK team has had to switch gears and adapt to creating content remotely.
Here to talk about the video team she leads at ATK and the other exciting projects she’s got her head, hands, and heart wrapped up in is none other than Mykim Dang.
Before getting into the meat of this episode, Chris wanted Mykim to talk about what other projects have her splitting up her time with ATK.
Mykim is working with a meditation startup based in San Francisco helping them get set up with live streaming infrastructure to broadcast their classes with multi-stream cameras, different set designs, and ideal sound environments for their different instructors and experiences. This has been fun for her because it’s taken her back to her roots at Brightcove, which is when and where she got into live streaming.
She’s also working with another startup called Pencil. They’re working on injecting artificial intelligence (AI) into the creative process. Basically, they have a self-service software platform she’s helping train right now, which will allow anyone to input a bunch of different assets into the system and generate creative across platforms.
What does Mykim’s responsibility include as the team lead of video over at ATK?
Her team is about 10 in-house producers, shooters, and editors. Like many folks, they were primarily based in the studio prior to COVID. In March, they transitioned to working from home 100% and really had to figure out the same question we’re all dealing with — how to produce quality content across all of these different locations and across all of these different folks with individual circumstances and needs.
It helped push how her team thinks about video into a new space. Her team is responsible for all of the content you see across ATK’s digital channels — YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and most recently, TikTok. They’re trying to figure out how to build new models for production and they’re realizing what they’re capable of now that they’re not 100% in the studio.
How is she training folks to be scrappier in their production?
When she’s working with people who have never touched a camera and don’t understand the basic principles, she’s meeting them where they are. Not only do they establish a greater appreciation for how much work it takes to make a single video, but she gets really excited by learning what aspects of the process appeal to them. She’ll have many one-on-one conversations to figure out if people have a background in photography or if they use their iPhone to shoot personal stuff. Then her team will make sure they pair up producers with certain strengths with collaborators and talent so that they can be a functional team. She thinks it’s been really cool because it’s helping people understand they all have creative potential and they’re not alone in the process, even though we’re physically removed from each other.
“She thinks it’s been really cool because it’s helping people understand they all have creative potential and they’re not alone in the process, even though we’re physically removed from each other.”
Are they sending people any specific gear? How are they navigating that piece?
At ATK specifically, they developed iPhone at home kits. They assessed what phones people were using (because not everybody is using an iPhone), what software, what their internet connection was like, and then they did location scouting in everyone’s kitchens and spaces to understand if they needed supplemental lighting. For audio, they streamlined that by adding shotgun mikes and lavs to the package to take the production value up a level.
Her team was also committed to using FiLMiC, and there was a lot of pre-work with the talent shooting themselves to take them through basic fundamentals like up stop and shutter speed. Then they’d troubleshoot from there.
There was a lot of collaboration over FaceTime calls and Zoom calls in their pre-production process. Stuff went wrong inevitably, but their phones became attached at the hip during production days to make sure people felt really supported by phoning a friend.
How have they been dealing with footage and media management while everyone has been remote?
What is that to anybody who’s not actually dealing with production on a daily basis? Everything from using the Google Drive app or the Dropbox app to sync files directly from their camera roll to creating iCloud-shared albums. She said it’s been such a case by case basis, and there have been many instances where someone will set it and forget it.
Now, they understand that it’s inevitable that something will probably go wrong with file sharing, so they’ve been building their schedules to accommodate for that. In worst case scenarios where they know phone transfer isn’t an option, they’ll actually ship hard drives and have people ship phones directly. For the holidays, they’re getting ready to do another big push of at-home production. They’re probably going to have standardized kits. Instead of individuals shooting on their own phones, they’ll have a kit of a dedicated phone and pass it around to try and mitigate some of those inevitable issues of media management.
They understand their talent is also now responsible for cooking and prep. Sending a DSLR, even though it would up-level the production, it just didn’t make sense for the specific collaborators they were working with. And for their television show, which they’re now filming exclusively at home, that’s a higher-end set-up similar to what the folks like Sandwich have been doing. It’s a much, much larger-scale production with more controls in place.
One thing Mykim mentioned to Chris in an earlier conversation was the fact that she rehearses and preps her production crew, which he thought was profound. What are these tech rehearsals like?
They have been trying to complete a production they’ve been working on for a while. They had a crew of four on set with three cameras, audio, pretty complex lighting, and now, they’re trying to condense that down to one person remote.
So they did a whole gear run-through dry run to make sure all the gear worked as expected to make sure they could fire up the Zoom to be able to do remote directing. You basically need to do a whole tech scout and tech rehearsal just to make sure the tech is working the day of, and to ensure one or two people on set aren’t running around like crazy trying to figure this stuff out. Anything you can do to get ahead of technical issues, the better.
“They did a whole gear run-through dry run to make sure all the gear worked as expected to make sure they could fire up the Zoom to be able to do remote directing.”
Some of the more difficult stuff to navigate during these times has been around the social climate of our country and trying not to contribute to the noise, but also be mindful and inclusive in the content that we’re creating. Mykim had some really insightful thoughts to share. How has she been focusing on inclusivity and thoughtfulness in thinking about her content, but also what is ATK doing to think about their content from an outsider’s perspective?
She said, in this whole process as creative people who make content and tell stories, there are questions that you have to ask yourself around “Am I the right person to be telling this story, who am I telling it to, and what is that lens?”
In the last couple of weeks, she’s seen that people have been in their heads about it. What she encourages is opening up that conversation and doing more listening, as opposed to only being responsive. At ATK in particular, they think about how they frame the way they even talk about and present recipes. Then there’s a partnership with their editorial and content in terms of the ingredients, the native recipe title, the process that they go through to test recipes, and then package and deliver them, all the way over to the spectrum of on-screen talent teaching the recipe or technique.
She thinks the sort of responsibility that they have now at reaching a million across their platforms also gives them a way to include more outside voices in the food space and give them their platform to tell their stories because food is such a universal thing that can bring people together. Instead of focusing on what makes ATK different or sets us apart, they’ve been working really hard as a team to look at outside inspiration, bring it back to food, and be honest about where they do well and where they need help.
“She thinks the sort of responsibility that they have now at reaching a million across their platforms also gives them a way to include more outside voices in the food space and give them their platform to tell their stories because food is such a universal thing that can bring people together”
Another piece is owning when you make a mistake and not shying away from the fact that you were wrong. That’s sort of the humility piece Mykim really, really believes in and tries to encourage and push her collaborators and teammates to understand. It’s better to put yourself out there and try and fail than to shy away from the conversation altogether if you are the person telling a story or facilitating a conversation.
And it’s also a long-tailed process. She explained how everything feels really heated and reactionary right now. Some initiatives at ATK are getting more resources and support now than they have in the past, but it’s that balance of not wanting to feel performative or beating your chest about something because of what’s happening in the current moment around you. Lifelong learning is another way she’s heard it put, but she knows they have that responsibility in working with such an impactful medium.
How can we help?
That about wraps up this episode recap! Enjoying the topics we’re covering? We want to know how we can be genuinely helpful moving forward. Let us know what challenges you’re struggling with when it comes to video lately by hitting up Chris on Twitter @crlvideo or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach out to Wistia directly on Twitter @wistia. We hope to hear from you soon! See you next time.