Alumni spotlight: Vin Nucatola ’09

by Jiaman Peng

June 24, 2019

Creative producer Vin Nucatola ’09 on charting your own path to creativity.

Vin Nucatola '09 Courtesy of Vin Nucatola

If you’re one of the 150 million people who watched the 2016 viral prank video “Old Man Strength,” you’ve seen Vin Nucatola’s work. Nucatola, a 2009 graduate of the television, radio and film program, has worked as an executive producer assistant for "Justified" and "Mad Men"; development executive at Warner Horizon Television Inc.; creative producer at Thrillist; and now he is senior creative producer at Group Nine Media.

“There's no straight road to get to where you'd like in your career,” he said. “A lot of times you need to take detours, get re-routed, make pit stops, you get ‘lost’ but don’t ever forget your destination.”

We chatted with Vin about the detours he took to get where he is now.

Did you always know what you wanted to do after college?

I knew early on that I wanted to just create, be the person who creates something, comes up with an idea and sees it all the way through. When I got to L.A., instead of just [applying] to the sought-after jobs… I took anything I can get. [The] summer after college, I worked as a production assistant for almost two months, 12 hours a day for zero dollars.

What is your advice for students on internship?

Don't stress if you don't get an internship at a big firm, studio or company. Make the best of whatever internship you can get. I took two situations and tried to make the best out of it. I worked in sales at a radio station, befriended an on-air personality and somehow worked my way into the creative side of that job. Interning at another small documentary production company, I probably learned more [about filmmaking] doing hands-on work that one summer than I would have at a big studio.

What made you take on freelancing and all the side projects?

I always knew that no one was going to just hand me a producing, directing or writing job, so I created my own side projects as often as possible (short films, music videos, spec commercials, show sizzles, et cetera) so that when it's time to get that big opportunity, I wanted to make sure I had a portfolio ready. I don't want to wait for permission to make stuff.

What’s the story behind the runaway success of “Old Man Strength”?

One of the first branded content pieces I had to do at Thrillist was with a beer company, Smith & Forge Hard Cider. It was going to be a sponsored video so I had to make an advertisement for a beer company without showing the beer. It was early at my time there and I really wanted to prove myself. We came up with the idea focusing on their branding and I pitched, “Hey, what if we took a 25-year-old CrossFit professional, who's really strong and have him prank people by Muscle Beach?” I hired three SU alumni: Peter Sestina, to direct it; producer Adam Reynolds; and Allison Baruck as an editor.

How would you describe your career path?

You have to create your own path. Keep your mind on the prize, but there's no way you can take a path that someone suggested and follow that completely. At this point in my career, I have project goals rather than career title goals. The end goal isn’t this one specific thing or title, it’s more project goals. It’s not that I want to have a business card that says “feature film director,” but more like I want make these movies and these TV shows.

What work are you proudest of?

More recently, "Island Hoppers" for Carnival Cruise Line with James Van Der Beek where I was the executive producer and director. It was the longest, most ambitious project [I’ve done]. We shot seven episodes, almost an hour and a half of content in four countries in five days.

What was your favorite class at Newhouse?

Comedy writing with Professor Richard Dubin.

Tell me something you’ve had to learn the hard way.

Nothing will ever be handed to you because of your résumé alone. Just because something appears on paper doesn't mean you're entitled to opportunities.

Jiaman Peng is a junior advertising major at the Newhouse School.