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- The Producer
Michael Swanson ’93 is the man behind the curtain.
As a studio production executive for Universal Television, he oversees a handful of shows across several networks, ensuring they stay on budget without compromising their artistic visions.
That means everything from juggling meetings with crew members, writers, and producers to spotting cost overruns and negotiating creative fixes to handling a wide range of personalities without getting ruffled.
“If there’s this big pressing issue or fire that needs to be put out, I can assess a situation and come up with a very wise way to handle an issue without becoming flustered or frantic,” he says. “And I think producers have to have that quality because you will always have something that takes you off track. Production is really about problem-solving and executing.”
Swanson likens himself to a backstage fixer watching a symphony orchestra. If he notices a problem with a violin’s sound, it’s his job to get it tuned properly or replace the violinist so that the conductor—and the musicians—can focus on delivering a great performance.
Swanson’s education at Notre Dame helped prepare him for this role. He majored in Film, Television, and Theatre, where he learned to make films for class. Outside of the classroom, he received an excellent education in navigating relationships, living in Dillon Hall and serving on a multicultural executive council.
“I came to Notre Dame from the south side of Chicago and made friends with people of different experiences and backgrounds from all over the world,” he says.
“In production you must learn to adapt and work together with different personalities. Everyone does not have the same background and experiences, but you still have to work together to reach the goal.”
Now, when he sees a writer sending scripts that would take a show over budget, he draws on those experiences as he suggests how to massage the scripts rather than simply nixing the writer’s ideas.
“I try to make it work financially first before saying no to creative,” he says. “I want them to feel that they are creating the best show possible.”
Those skills allowed him to produce “The Wayman Tisdale Story,” an Emmy-winning documentary that chronicled the life and legacy of the late NBA player and jazz musician who courageously battled cancer. And it’s enabled him to work on shows like “Community” and “Parks and Recreation,” which finished its seven-season run in February. These days, he works on and upcoming Netflix comedy series and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a comedy series set in a fictional New York City police precinct.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the one shows that I have been a part of since the very beginning,” he says. “To be so involved from the pilot stage and then to see it get ordered into a series, and then a few months into production to receive the news it was nominated for best comedy, that was mind-blowing for us.”
He and his wife, writer-director Christine Swanson '94, live in Los Angeles. The couple, who have four children, founded Faith Filmworks as an outlet for creative storytelling that draws on their values.
“We wanted to tell stories that had moral resonance but at the same time would do well at the box office and have good love stories, family stories, and character-driven themes,” Swanson says. “Compelling content that would be an extension of who we are as creative people of faith.”
No matter the project, Swanson loves his work, and enjoys becoming a part of a bigger team working toward a common goal.
“Production is such a collaborative effort,” he says. “There are so many different moving pieces and everyone has to do his or her part. And everyone, to me, is equally important.”
"Whether you are the star of the show or the production assistant, your role is important and necessary to keep the show moving forward.”