Exclusive Q&A with Director VALERIE WEISS MMS ’97, PhD ‘01

By Dayna Wilkinson

The Archer, from director Valerie Weiss, MMS ’97, PhD ‘01, premieres at SXSW on March 11th. Recently Valerie was tapped for the Fox Bridge Program. Photo: Courtesy of Mar Vista Entertainment.Weiss.JPG

Q. Your first feature was a romantic comedy (Losing Control) about a female biochemist who wants scientific proof that her boyfriend is “the one.” Was that autobiographical? 

A. It was inspired by my time at Harvard Medical School. I met so many wonderful and quirky people there who ended up on screen in different ways.

Q. Your next feature in 2015 (A Light Beneath Their Feet) was a different kind of medical story. What attracted you to that project?

A. In the script, the portrayal of mental illness felt personal and sophisticated—very different from what you often see. I wanted the audience to live in the uncomfortable place between the bipolar mother and the 18-year-old daughter who wants to go far away to college. The mother-daughter story is full of love and felt so real. I’m very close to my mother and I have two young daughters so I empathized with both characters.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with Past HWC Winner & HWP Alum JAMIE MAYER

By Dayna Wilkinson

JMayer_WIF_headshot.jpg


In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


Jamie Mayer AB ’90 won the Harvardwood Writers Competition for her TV pilot Tomorrowland. She was one of eight television writers recently selected for the Women In Film/Black List Episodic Lab, and a short film she directed based on her feature script Crowbar Smile will be released this year by Conde Nast Entertainment. Her debut YA novel Painless will be published on February 14th.

“Always be writing. Make things, even on a small scale, because it keeps you agile and can lead to unexpected things.”

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A. I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, and that stuck pretty much until halfway through Harvard when I realized “hey, if I don’t take Organic Chemistry now, it’ll be too late!”  So I decided I should probably major in the things I was really being drawn to, which were photography and film.

I wrote and directed several short films and left Harvard with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. I was inspired growing up by writer/directors like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers—filmmakers who generate their own material and have a voice.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 Alum ALEXANDRA ZIMBLER

Zimbler.jpegBy Henry Johnson AB '18


In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


Alexandra Zimbler AB '10 is currently the VP of Film & TV Development at Michael Shamberg's MAS Production. She's also a Director and Producer whose short documentary Gisele et Georges won Best Short Documentary at the Independent Filmmakers Showcase. While a student at Harvard College, Alexandra was a VES concentrator and attended the Harvardwood 101 Wintersession program.

Q. How did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in film and television?

A. Here is a true, roundabout explanation. I have always loved storytelling, starting as a performer. During my childhood, my family lived in Russia where I figure skated with the Russian Ballet on Ice. We traveled around Russia and Poland performing winter shows like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. This was both exhilarating and terrifying. My favorite part was playing different characters, dancing to beautiful music, and getting lost in magical moments of make-believe.  

Eventually my family moved to England where I got into competitive ice dancing, skating with a male partner. We performed to classical music, and tried to convey emotional depth with our performances while giving the audience a great show. Inspired by films and theater such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Phantom of the Opera, we used their music in our skating programs.

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Exclusive Q&A with ANDY BOROWITZ AB '80

By Nicole Torres AB '11

borowitz.jpgNew York Times best-selling author and comedian Andy Borowitz AB '80 has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He is the creator of satirical news column The Borowitz Report, for which he won the inaugural National Press Club award for humor. His books include The 50 Funniest American Writers and a memoir, An Unexpected Twist.

Q. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since we last profiled you for Harvardwood! Throughout your career you have worked in an impressive number of mediums spanning television, journalism, political satire, social media, stand up comedy, teacher, musician, radio host, and author.  How have you managed to transition between and work in so many different arenas?

A. It's all been one long happy accident. Opportunities to do different things, like radio or standup, have presented themselves and I've said yes to them. It's the classic improv lesson of saying "yes, and..." to every proposition. Not everything you try will work out, but it's always interesting to try.

Q. Of all the different mediums and work you’ve done over the years, do you have a favorite?

A. Not really. They've all been fun at the time. I'm really enjoying the mix I have now—writing for The New Yorker, some live shows, some radio—but that mix will no doubt change in the years ahead.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 Alum MATT BOHRER

By Henry Johnson AB '18


 In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


0098-Final(WEBonly).jpgWhile at Harvard, actor Matt Bohrer AB '10 also studied acting at the American Repertory Theater, performed with the Hasty Pudding, and sang with the Krokodiloes, Harvard's oldest a cappella group, at Carnegie Hall and on a world tour of six continents. He is a program alum of Harvardwood 101; his credits include Goliath (Amazon), Masters of Sex (Showtime), General Hospital (ABC), and hit horror film Unfriended.

Q. When did you begin acting?

A. My first time acting was as a 5-year old in an elementary school talent show doing Groucho Marx’s “Tattooed Lady.” I was hooked ever since. But I still wasn’t sure it what was what I wanted to do. In high school, I did a lot of debate and government activities, Model UN—things a lot of Harvard kids do.

My first week in college, I signed up at common casting and at the IOP. I ended up getting cast in a play and did theater at Harvard thereafter, with a little Kroks in between.

Q. At what point did you realize you could do this as a career?

A. Well, in 8th grade, like many young Jewish actors I did a part in a regional production in San Diego with the role of “Jason the Bar Mitzvah Boy.” Being part of the company made me realize I could do it professionally. Throughout high school, I did more regional productions in San Diego and a lot of productions at a youth theater called the San Diego Junior Theatre. It was a great way of meeting a lot of like-minded people. And getting to be on the Old Globe Theatre stage was a great window into how the process might work at a later date.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with HWP Alum AVA TRAMER AB '09 (My Friend 50, Angie Tribeca)

By Nicole Torres AB '11


In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


Ava Tramer AB '09 was a participant in the Harvardwood Writers Program - TV Modules, and her credits include TROPHY WIFE and ANGIE TRIBECA. Most recently, she developed her single-cam spec comedy MY FRIEND 50 at Fox with executive producers Will Packer (Truth Be ToldUncle Buck) and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (Power), and is currently staffed on an upcoming Netflix comedy.

Q. Can you tell us how you got started in writing? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do or was it something you gradually fell into?

A. When I was young, I was interested in historical costume design and the hotel industry, like most kids.  Which was a good thing, because growing up in LA my parents discouraged me and my brother from careers in Hollywood.  They’re extremely supportive of us, but they also knew how unstable and stressful it can be and wanted us to avoid that heartache. 

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I didn’t have a job lined up.  I got Greg Daniels’ email address from a family friend and wrote him the most embarrassing email ever explaining why I’d be the perfect intern on The Office, listing every random skill I had that might possibly come in handy.  A highlight (and very desperate) sentence includes “I used to work at Angelina’s Frozen Yogurt, so if you need someone to serve you frozen yogurt in a beautifully swirled way, I’m your girl!”  Miraculously it worked, and I spent my summer there as an intern with the writers.  Everyone was so welcoming and I loved every single second of it.  I returned the following summer as a PA in the production office.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with Past HWC Winners BRIAN POLK '09 & KATHLEEN CHEN '09

By Nicole Torres AB '11


In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


Polk___Chen.jpgPast Harvardwood Writers Competition winners, writing team Kathleen Chen AB '09 and Brian Polk AB '09, are staffed on upcoming NBC comedy Great News! The single-camera comedy is executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock AB '95.

Q. Did you always want to pursue careers as television writers? Tell us a bit about how you got started with writing.

KC. I never thought I’d be a TV writer, I just knew I liked to write and figured I’d wind up being a copywriter at an ad agency or something. After graduating, I moved to San Francisco to work in tech, and did a very different kind of writing—first I wrote help center articles at Google and for YouTube, then marketing and product copy at Pinterest. It wasn’t until I saw some of our friends start working in TV that I started believing that it was a real job that people could have.

BP. I was mostly a performer and did a lot of theater growing up, which drew me to improv, which drew to sketch, until one snowy NYC December I wrote a packet for a ten-week job at MTV2 and got it.

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Exclusive Q&A with DERRICK N. ASHONG AB '97 & LUCIA BRAWLEY AB '99

By Henry Johnson AB '18

Lucia_Brawley_Headshot.jpgLucia Brawley AB ’99 is a producer, actor, and writer. In addition to appearing in movies and television shows such as World Trade Center and ER, she has written about arts and education for The Huffington Post. Lucia currently serves as the Vice President of Communications for amp.it, a digital media company founded by her husband, Derrick Ashong AB ’97, PhD '09 (photo below by Jane Feldman). Derrick is an artist and entrepreneur who has hosted programs on SiriusXM, Al Jazeera English, and Fusion. He recently created Take Back the Mic, an interactive hip-hop show that airs on amp.it. The show, hosted by Derrick and produced by Lucia, was an Emmy finalist in 2015.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for Take Back the Mic?

DNA_Headshot_by_Jane_Feldman.jpgDNA. I was at a cypher at a place called Bus Stop in my hometown, Accra, Ghana. Everyone is taking turns freestyling—I got up did my thing, all is good. Then this one kid gets up, and does a rhyme in English, no biggie. All of a sudden he flips it and starts freestyling in Twi. Then he switches it up again and starts flowing in Ga.

It’s hard enough for most people to improvise in one language and this guy just did it in three. That’s when it hit me that the most interesting stuff happening in Hip Hop is not necessarily happening in the US. And I thought it would be so cool to have a show that highlights the best of the best in Hip Hop from around the world. That was almost 12 years ago.

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Exclusive Q&A with BECKY JAMES '07 (Animator)

By Nicole Torres

Becky_James.jpgBecky James AB '07 uses humor, violence, and fragmentation to explore the fringes of narrative. She has exhibited animation and installation at galleries including James Fuentes, Recess Art, Venus LA, and Primetime. She has also participated in dozens of film festivals including SXSW (three-time award winner), Slamdance, Animation Block Party (audience award), Newport Beach, and International Film Festival Rotterdam. A native New Yorker, James graduated from Harvard in 2007 and received her MFA from Bard in 2014.

Q. How did you get started with animation?

A. I got started with making animation at Harvard. I had gone to Harvard doing science and math. I was very committed to science, and much to my parents chagrin, took an animation class my freshman year and felt like it changed the way I saw everything at all times and it felt really empowering. Suddenly everything had the possibility to behave in a surprising way, and it felt really exciting. It also felt like there was so much territory to cover.

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Campus Updates | CONCENTRATION: SPARKING CREATIVITY & INGENUITY

By Sean O’Rourke MAT ’68

Harvard_University_Widener_Library.jpgAt Harvard, engineering and information technology are thriving as never before. To remind us that the arts are just as important as the sciences, the Harvard Campaign sponsored a symposium on Friday, May 6, 2016. In his remarks, incoming Dean of Humanities Robin Kelsey discussed creativity in terms of historicity, boundaries and ingenuity.

Professor Martin Puchner and Lecturer Jill Johnson reviewed the status of the new concentration in Theater, Dance and Media (TDM), which at this point remains a very flexible undertaking. This year the program enrolled thirteen concentrators and  65 freshmen—numbers which bode well for the future.tdm.jpg

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