Daniel Rogers AB '12 is an award-winning writer, producer and actor. He's currently a TV staff writer, is developing his own series, and won the 2019 Harvardwood Writers Competition.
Q. When did you know you wanted to get into writing? Can you explain the journey from the first light bulbs, to any light practice, to now?
A. I think I first knew I liked writing in elementary school. I always had a knack for telling stories, and actually won some writing competitions at my school and in some regional events. I dabbled here and there throughout middle school and high school, but fell off during college (though I did take a creative writing class about poetry!). But the real lightbulb moment came when I was in grad school and took my first screenwriting course with Ken Lazebnik in USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program. Up until that point, I knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry, and was still figuring out exactly what my niche would be. That class helped me rekindle my love for writing, and now almost five years later, I guess it’s working out!
Q. How did your time at Harvard (Acting, Glee Club, etc.) play into that story?
A. I studied English at Harvard, which obviously involved a lot of reading novelists and playwrights in the Western canon. Spending so much time with Byron and Shakespeare and George Eliot, plus the poetry writing course, definitely lends my writing a classical (dare I say musical?) bent. My time in the Glee Club inflamed my passion for music, and these days I think every other project I take on is about musicians, whether rockstars, choral singers, conductors, or whatever. In addition, being Manager of the Glee Club gave me a firm foundation in running an arts organization with a large budget and dueling creative and administrative goals. As an aspiring showrunner, that background is crucial. I know how to be creative, and I also know how to keep the trains running. You’d be surprised how rare that combination is!
Q. Can you speak about Writing vs. Producing and your MFA journey? How did you pursue both career-wise, to the point where you now produce content while operating in a writer's room?
A. People say “Film is a director’s medium, while television is a writer’s medium,” and it really is true. While at USC, I learned that most (or at least, a large chunk) of the producers on TV shows are writers. These folks have significant creative control over the direction of a series, in a way that most film screenwriters simply don’t. When I realized this, the choice between film and TV was easy. These days, as a member of a writers’ room, writing an outline or script or breaking story is basically second nature, though of course I’m always improving. But producing is its own beast. I was lucky enough to be a producing writer on set for an episode of “In the Dark” in 2019, and the hours we kept and the decisions I had to make were overwhelming. I had a say in everything from costumes to props to actor’s notes to set design to lighting to… well, the list goes on and on. That’s the kind of work I got into this business to do. Someday I’ll be able to separate the two, so I can produce the writing of younger writers I believe in. But for the moment, my focus is on producing for TV shows that I write for.
Q. The mission-driven side of you is palpable in your interactions with Harvardwood. What are the ways in which your mission manifests itself in your writing, and in your professional pursuits?
A. I’m flattered to think that I come across as mission-driven! I think for me, my desire these days is simply a desire to help other people succeed. Teaching lectures through the Jeff Sagansky Harvard TV Writing modules was a way for me to pass along some of the concepts I had to learn about the hard way. Likewise, organizing the speaker series was a way of demystifying the labyrinthine world of entertainment for aspiring writers. I wanted people to know what agents and managers look for in clients, what executives look for in writers they want to work with, and what showrunners look for in their writing staff. I think subconsciously I’ve gravitated toward characters who, like me and my module members, are very talented people with a lot of potential who have taken on demanding jobs and are just getting started. It’s funny, when I was younger they were more stubborn and didn’t ask for help. These days they’re better at accepting their limitations and seeking out mentors. I guess we’ve been learning some of the same lessons!
Q. What are the projects you are most excited about moving forward, and why? Any new ideas born during -- and inspired by -- the pandemic?
A. I’m about to start in a new writers’ room for an unannounced (as of this writing) Netflix series, which I’m incredibly excited about. Additionally, I spent the first six months or so of quarantine writing the pilot for a TV series set in the world of Broadway, which would just be a dream come true to work on. I was lucky enough to finish my research for that project right as the lockdown happened in March 2020, which included sitting in on a Hamilton rehearsal at the Pantages(!). I also am developing an art crime series, and have a few features projects percolating as well. So, yes, the pandemic has been an incredibly productive time for me. Turns out not leaving the house can do wonders for your output!
Q. What have been your greatest career challenges over time? Can you speak to very challenging situations you've overcome?
A. One of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced was being fired. In 2018, I spent a month working as an assistant to a powerful and demanding person in the industry, after nearly a year of sporadic employment. While the opportunity was incredible, I took it for granted and didn’t give it my all, the way I know I could have. However, the job itself was only tangentially related to the work I wanted to do, and being let go from that position actually freed me up to write the sample that got me staffed for the first time. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d survived that environment, if I’d given it 1000%, what doors that would have opened. But then I look at my life now, all the things I have going on, and they just bring me so much joy and fulfillment. In the end, losing that job is probably the best thing that ever happened to me!
Q. In what ways are you excited to help Harvardwood continue to bolster its voice?
A. For the past few months, I’ve been working with Harvardwood to launch even more content highlighting notable alumni in Hollywood. I’m excited about this because it’s a great way to increase Harvardwood’s visibility in the industry, and because I love talking to smart people about what they do. I have a feeling 2021 is going to be a banner year for Harvardwood, and I’m excited to play a small role in that!