By Sunjin Chang
Students at Emerson College often hear about the power of the Emerson alumni network. Recently, some students at Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) experienced the power of that connection firsthand.
During the school year, students in the ELA program are required to have an internship, accompanied by an internship course, to fulfill their program requirements. For the Spring 2023 semester, Tayla Dixon ’23, a Business of Creative Enterprises major, joined a team under Cisco Henson ’87 at the Nacelle Company. As president of production for original programming, Henson oversees teams from pre-production to delivery for multiple shows, feature films, and promo videos that the company produces for a variety of networks, including Netflix, HBO, and Hulu.
Henson long knew he wanted to get involved in production. After taking a media class in high school, Henson went to take more media courses at a community college in Florida. A professor encouraged him to continue his education at Emerson, and after doing some limited research on the College, Henson decided to apply.
“I was so naïve, I thought that just by putting in an application people would take me, so I really applied to no other place but Emerson,” Henson said. “Emerson taking me was sort of a miracle, and it changed my life, because I would’ve never left Florida.”
After transferring to Emerson his junior year, Henson studied Communications with a focus on Television Production. Throughout his time at the College, he worked on several shows at Emerson Independent Video (EIV) and was one of the executive producers for the EVVYs.
“I remember the EVVYs was hosted in a ballroom because we didn’t have any theaters yet,” Henson said. “From day one [at Emerson], I was involved in everything I could be involved in.”
The Emerson connection helped Dixon as she navigated her internship at the Nacelle Company. Working remotely 24 hours a week, Dixon logged onto Zoom meetings and assisted the team with background research of talent, as well as building initial questions for interviews. Her primary project this semester was working for a show called Icons, a docuseries that highlights several movies and TV franchises. Working alongside Henson and the team, Dixon stepped outside of her comfort zone as she reached out to different team members to learn more about their positions.
“My biggest takeaway is learning how to get work for myself and advocating for things I’m interested in,” said Dixon. “I think because Cisco went to Emerson, he knows we came from the same place, so he’s like an uncle to me and to everyone.”
Henson started his career in LA freelancing for live concerts and award shows. Over 27 years of freelancing, he built a portfolio and connected with others.
He didn’t initially see Los Angeles as a forever home. He was interested in international media and wanted to learn the fundamentals of the industry in LA and gain skills he could take elsewhere. But as he spent more time in the city, he fell in love with the sheer number of opportunities that were available.
About a decade ago, Henson found one of those opportunities in the Nacelle Company. It started as a production company focused exclusively on comedy shows, but has now expanded its content library as it develops, produces, and distributes travel and entertainment features and documentary films.
“It’s an evolving business, and what’s great about the Nacelle Company is that they didn’t just stay doing the thing they were doing; they transitioned as the market needed other types of programming,” Henson said.
Throughout his career, Henson realized that as a person of color in the industry, it’s hard to find people to mentor and advocate for you. Hoping to be that resource for others, Henson reached out to ELA staff a few years ago, and has since mentored multiple students.
“For me, it’s like a mission [because] there are so many people who are talented and so deserving, but they might be overlooked just because of their language skills or the color of their skin,” Henson said. “I’m not going to be able to serve everybody 100 percent, because I can only expose them to what I can expose them to. But even if I’m not a conduit to the exact spot they want to be in, maybe I can be a conduit to a greater network for them.”
Serge Ganthier ’22 remembers having an immediate connection with Henson. Ganthier, who studied Communication Studies with a double minor in Media Studies and Music History Culture, interned at the Nacelle Company in the summer of 2021 as a part of the Emtern program. The Emtern Summer Experience is a program that offers rising juniors and seniors the opportunity to pursue a summer internship in either Boston or LA.
Ganthier picked up screenwriting at Nacelle, as he helped write, direct, and produce Mr. Microphone, a show about a microphone struggling to make its way into the industry. Having never done comedy or screenwriting before, Ganthier took on the challenge with an open mind.
“I was able to put myself in an area that I wasn’t used to and learn,” said Ganthier, who worked remotely due to the pandemic, with a few limited days onsite for production.
During the days he wasn’t interning, Ganthier was working on a musical passion project. Under the artist name Serge Alex, Ganthier produces alternative R&B, and is advancing his music career with his most recent release, One Night. As a musician, Ganthier finds his time at Nacelle helpful, both to his artistic development and his networking skills. Ganthier introduced Henson to Dixon, and is continuing to build a network as he introduces his peers to the Nacelle Company.
“Be open-minded to opportunities because you never know where it’ll take you…because without this opportunity, I wouldn’t be here,” Ganthier said. “If you want something, let people know and go for it.”
For Henson, his naivete in applying to Emerson helped him find a strong community that always looks out for each other.
“I love the connection Emersonians provide [because] it’s an instant connection, since you know where they’ve been, their experience, their focus, and their passion so you’re already on the same page. And it’s an automatic friendship with so many of us out here,” he said.