‘You’ve got to use your time,’ five-time Emmy winner tells students

March 22, 2024
Neil Mandt talks at UDM.

Neil Mandt knows just how valuable time is in the entertainment industry. 

The five-time Emmy Award winner has tried to make the most of his time in the limelight, from acting in commercials and interviewing rock stars as a child to producing movies and television shows in Hollywood. 

It's advice Mandt hopes ϲʲͼ students took away from his hour-long talk on his career and the future of media and technology. Mandt spoke to more than five dozen students and employees on the McNichols Campus on Jan. 31, in an event hosted by UDM’s Department of Communication Studies and the College of Liberal Arts & Education. 

Neil Mandt talks with a UDM student after his talk on the McNichols Campus.“Time is the most valuable thing for students, and they can’t waste it,” Mandt said. “You will not get it back. There are thousands of other universities and colleges with other kids who are very serious and understand the value of their time. And there are only so many TV stations and companies that you can go to. ... There’s a reason that I am where I am, because I was doing all kinds of stuff outside of school. Life is way more competitive than you can imagine. You’ve got to use your time.” 

Mandt’s been around some of the biggest stories in American media during his 30-plus year career in the entertainment industry, including the Golden Globe Awards, the O.J. Simpson Criminal Trial, the Summer Olympics and the Super Bowl. 

But in the 1980s and early /90s, he was a UDM student in the Communication Studies program. Mandt remembers having fun with men’s basketball as Tommy Titan and enjoyed the University’s supportive environment and social life opportunities.  

UDM was the place Mandt said his career started to take off. 

He came to the University with prior experience in the entertainment industry, having acted in commercials starting at the age of 10 before producing and directing a local television show at 16. For Mandt, it made sense to pursue a career in media — he said he struggled in school with dyslexia and “was always good at talking to people. I liked storytelling. It seemed like a natural transition for me.” 

During his third year at UDM, Mandt won a college Emmy Award for his local television show, VTV Special Report: Rock Interviews, and was hired by WDIV as an entertainment reporter at 20 years old, following an internship with the television station. 

“It was a critical moment, because I had come out of doing this public access show in high school, and I still had access to the equipment,” he said. “I was kind of in this hybrid state where I was borrowing other equipment but partnering with students at the school. And so, in a couple of years, I really advanced my production significantly in making very professional content. 

“When I won that college Emmy Award, that changed everything. This was the biggest award you can win in TV, and I was only 20 years old. I think it all kind of came together as a moment that launched my career.” 

From there, Mandt left his home state for Hollywood, where he’s worked as an actor, producer and director. He started the production company Mandt Bros. Productions with his brother and has produced 10 movies and more than 3,000 episodes of television, including former ESPN shows Jim Rome is Burning and Beg, Borrow & Deal, as well as the Disney film Million Dollar Arm

Students raise their hands as Neil Mandt stands in the center of the room during his talk on the McNichols Campus. A TV monitor in the back has text that reads "What is the most valuable thing for all of us?"

When Mandt first moved to Los Angeles, he lived out of his car. Now, he told the students during his presentation, he owns the building at the end of that same block. 

“You could go to L.A. and be like, ‘I’m here,’ and that’s what I did,” Mandt said. “A lot of it was like, what’s your attitude like? Are you going to be the first guy in? Are you going to pick up the trash? Are you going to come in with the humility, which I did. I was simultaneously doing independent things, and then at some point, those merge and people recognize that you’re a hard worker, you’re showing value and you continue to do content that’s quality. It just kind of came together at the right moment in time, where people recognized the things I was doing.” 

His advice to students wanting to break into the entertainment business is to create and maintain an internet profile that showcases their best work. This helps students stand out in a highly competitive field, Mandt said, with the smartphone making it easier than ever for anyone to become a content creator. 

Over the last decade, Mandt has transitioned his career into augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence as households began to cut cords and look for alternatives to cable. He could “feel that Hollywood was changing,” and responded by launching Mandt VR in 2015. Later that year, he was the first person to produce the Super Bowl in virtual reality. 

“I could see this happening, and by 2014, when Mark Zuckerberg announced the Oculus VR headset, I was like, ‘That’s it, I’m going to do a full right turn and build a VR company,” Mandt said. “We did a lot of stuff, did the Super Bowl, got a couple Emmys for VR and then advanced into AR and now AI. I’ve been in this space for now a decade, so I feel very well positioned as these new technologies come out.” 

When Mandt reflects on his career in the entertainment industry, it’s the movies he’s created that have a special place in his heart. 

His first movie, Hijacking Hollywood, was about a man from UDM who moves to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. His 2006 film, Last Stop for Paul, led to his TV show, Next Stop for Charlie, which Mandt says “are the most complicated and elaborate things that I’ve done that I think are unique to me.” Both the film and TV show were filmed in several different countries. 

“Anybody could’ve produced O.J., anybody could’ve produced the Golden Globes,” he continued. “I had the best time ever, but my movies are very unique to me.”

— By Ricky Lindsay. Follow ϲʲͼ Mercy on , ,  and . Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.