Issue 15 | April 2006

  • Message from the Membership Director
  • Mia's Monthly Message
  • Member Profile: Mike Reiss '81
  • Industry Successes
  • Members in the News
  • So You Got the Job...
  • Six Degrees of Harvardwood
  • Featured Member Posting: Seeking Film Editor - LA

Message from the Membership Director

We have an exciting event planned for you this coming Saturday, April 22 nd, the 2 nd Annual Harvard in Hollywood Event, Trends in Television. We have a nice size group planning to attend already, but please spread the word and encourage more people to come and experience this fun and informative event. It is so exciting to see the membership supporting our efforts to make many of the events that we launched over the past 12 months, annual activities. We will be on campus next month for our annual Arts First Panel, and we are also getting geared up to launch the second round of the Harvardwood Writers Program soon! We are also gearing up to really push forward with getting a much stronger presence in some of the other cities where we have large concentration of members (Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, London), in addition to really building up our services offerings in other areas of the arts outside of film and television (fine arts, journalism, etc.), so if you are interested in volunteering as a city chapter head or helping us to develop programming in these other subject areas, please email me at membership@harvardwood.org .

--Cheers,
Kibi

Mia's Monthly Message

Spring has officially sprung, and we’re counting down the days until our second annual “Harvard in Hollywood ” event on Sat., April 22 nd . The topic of “Trends in Television” will be discussed and debated by our fabulous alumni speakers: Paris Barclay , Rich Battista , John Bowman, Al bert Cheng, Carlton Cuse, Susanne Daniels, Becky Hartman Edwards, Jeff Melvoin, and Winifred White Neisser. Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter for cosponsoring the event! Tickets are almost sold out, so be sure to register soon if you haven’t already: http://www.harvardwood.org/events/event_details.asp?id=5052

In the spirit of collaboration and community outreach, we’re going to be copresenting two films at the VC Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May. Join us as Harvardwood Heads To…the Centerpiece Presentation of “Eve and the Firehorse” on Sat., May 6 th and/or the Closing Night Film, “Americanese” on Thurs., May 11 th . As always, details are on the website: http://www.harvardwood.org/events/event_list.asp

Member Profile: Mike Reiss '81

“The basic thing is,” laughs Mike Reiss '81 by way of introduction, “I hated Harvard. You couldn’t find someone with a lower opinion of that place than me. I hate the place, and I hate the education that I got there, and the one thing I like and that I owe my entire career to is, obviously, the Harvard Lampoon. And you’d think I could at least thank Harvard for the Harvard Lampoon. That would seem natural. Except that Harvard hated the Lampoon, and could not have been more antagonistic to it at the time. I can’t thank the Lampoon enough, but I have really nothing good to say about Harvard. I admire their selection process, and I felt everybody I met there was quite remarkable, but I think they manage to round up many, many brilliant people and then do absolutely nothing with them or for them.”

A professional comedian for two decades running, with stints penning gags for Johnny Carson and an ongoing gig consulting on The Simpsons, Reiss definitely knows how to lay the groundwork for a good joke. Which is why, listening to this mini-tirade delivered in his good-humored voice, colored by a touch of reediness and full of the chuckles that signal he’s far from the grumpy old man his words might suggest, you begin to suspect he’s setting you up for a killer punchline. That he never manages to get to it – I interrupt with a question midway through, destroying his momentum and completely ruining the effect – is the fault of this being an interview rather than one of the philosophically comedic lectures he regularly gives at college campuses through the Greater Talent Network. He manages to return to his point eventually, praising the Harvard Lampoon rather than Harvard itself as a great training ground for pro comedy, but you can detect a note of mild annoyance at the way I’ve derailed the bit. “It was always a pretty great, solid group of people who got onto the Lampoon,” he concludes, “and once we got on, all we did was sort of hang around the building and do what writers do on a TV show. We would just sit around and take a joke and kick it around the room and embellish it, and try to top each other, and it was funny. What they’d been doing at the Lampoon for a hundred and twenty five years coincidentally happened to be what TV writers on sitcoms do.”

Not that people realized this from the start. Nowadays the way Harvard grads pack the Simpsons writers’ room makes some people think there’s a trap door beneath the commencement stage that leads straight to the Fox lot, but as Reiss recalls it, when he first came out from Cambridge, “there was no Lampoon network. I was, like, the third or fourth writer to come out to Hollywood. It just was not done in those days.” He goes so far as to laugh at the idea of a “Harvard network,” noting that “when I left college, I moved to New York, and two of my best friends from the Lampoon were working for Saturday Night Live, and instead of putting the touch on them, I never talked to them. I didn’t call them because I didn’t want to look like I was hitting them up for a job, and I think that might be kind of common among Harvard grads, or at least the Lampoon grads. They didn’t want to look overeager, and they’d rather starve than beg their pals. But the Lampoon, I would say, was primarily disenfranchised Harvard students.”

With his writing partner, current Simpsons showrunner Al Jean, Reiss parlayed a lucky break getting a job coming up with jokes for Airplane 2: the Sequel – “a comedy so bad,” cracks Reiss, “it won an award in France” – into a writing position on a dimly-remembered Daily Show precursor, Not Necessarily the News. Modestly, Reiss claims that he and Jean were the first of an illustrious crew to file through that HBO news parody, creating what had to be the youngest “old boy network” in history: “The producers really liked us,” he remembers with a laugh, “and they said ‘Are there more of you at Harvard?’ And they realized that every year they could hire a new team off of the Harvard Lampoon, have them split scale – so they were working for half of the lowest you could work for – and that they would do kind of dependably good, prolific work. It was sort of sweat-shop labor, but, although nobody has ever really traced the origins of this, I would say at least ten writers on The Simpsons spent time at Not Necessarily the News.” If that trap door really exists, in other words, credit Reiss’s generation of Harvard grads with marking out the square on the ground where it would eventually be built.

“Having been one of the first guys out here,” Reiss goes on, warming to the topic of a Harvard – or rather a Lampoon – presence in Hollywood comedy, “I watched this kind of horrible boom happen, where there were so many Harvard people working, and working on cool jobs, and it was concomitant with this explosion in the number of sitcoms on TV. It was when Fox first came out, and then the WB and UPN, and UPN was almost entirely sitcoms, so there were about a hundred sitcoms on television, and so anybody who thought he could write comedy had a job. What I noticed were a lot of bozos, a lot of Harvard people – and not Lampoon people, but just general Harvard people, or Harvard Business School people – coming out here and going ‘Oh, this is the next investment banking! This is the next gold rush!’ And they stunk. And then suddenly the sitcom format died, and the networks started to collapse down, and now there might be thirty sitcoms, where there were a hundred, and all those guys who came out here sort of for the money, are out of work. It was a very sort of ruthless, Darwinistic thing how all these guys found themselves without work, and the people who are left are the people who have a real passion for this, the people who do this because this is what they would do, whether it paid or not.”

Proof positive that Reiss falls into the latter category is his current passion for writing children’s books, which he says pays hardly at all, or the hard and somewhat thankless work he’s put into the upcoming feature-length version of his animated internet show, Queer Duck. “I don’t know if anyone else is going to like it,” he muses of the Queer Duck movie, “but this is a unique experience – I’m going to say almost in the history of entertainment – which is, I wrote this thing, and they said, ‘Make it.’ Paramount Studios said, ‘Make it.’ And we shot my first draft, and I put some of my friends in it, and, you know, it’s all me. And if this thing stinks, it’s all my fault.” It’s unlikely that it does, but you can see for yourself when the film comes out on Paramount Home Video on July 17th. As for Reiss’s opinions about his alma mater, it’s always good to be reminded that it’s not about the school you come from, but about the training in your craft that you received there, whether at the Lampoon or elsewhere. “I do what I do for a living,” Reiss notes, “not because I went to Harvard or wrote for the Lampoon, but because I would do this all the time anyway. I’m always making jokes, and if I wasn’t a comedy writer, I’d be that bad lawyer who makes jokes all the time. I mean, it’s just what I do.”

-Reported by Steven Hannah

Industry Successes

Grant Thompson (98 was a guest star on the Friday, March 31 episode of 'Close to Home' on CBS. If you don't know the show, it's one of those Bruckheimer procedurals on CBS where instead of taking place in glitzy Miami or Vegas, it's set in glitzy...Indianapolis. He played Scott Birdseye, a seemingly deferential real estate appraiser who gets embroiled in some shady shenanigans.

Jennifer Fischer GSAS '03, co-founder of the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival, hosted a screening of the film "Facade," winner of Best Feature and Best Screenplay from the 2005 Festival and the Best College Film, short film "Stay Behind" on Sunday, April 9th. Both filmmakers were present for the event. On May 14th, they will host a night of "Works in Progress." This event offers filmmakers an opportunity to share their works with other artists. If you have a project you want to show, please contact us at info@scvfilmfestival.com. All screenings are held at the Repertory East Playhouse, located at 24266 San Fernando Road, Newhall, CA, just 30 minutes north of Hollywood, from 7-9:30 pm. The cost is $7.For more information, please visit our website at http://www.scvfilmfestival.com/monthly.htm.

Artist Janai-Ami has just blocked a high five-figure sale of "The Enchanted Forest (Yaqui Ima Y Erutani)" to a New York Collector by the Cambridge Art Association at a nationally juried exhibit in Massachusetts jurored by the Director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition took place at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Anthony Cistaro '97 saw his two-episode role as "Dumain" on CHARMED extended to the third and final show of the series. He was also on location in Washington State playing a role in ACTUAL FOOTAGE, a feature directed by Todd Peters (FAS '95).

The documentary feature REVERSE AGING NOW will be released on DVD, May 1st 2006 through www.ReverseAgingNow.com It's the most comprehensive look at anti-aging medicine on video, drawing on interviews with two dozen scientists and doctors from America's foremost educational and medical institutions including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UCLA and USC. REVERSE AGING NOW reveals specific lifestyle changes and cutting edge therapies that viewers can adopt to reverse the deterioration caused by aging to lead longer, healthier lives. The documentary concludes in Okinawa with the secrets of the world's longest lived people. REVERSE AGING NOW was written and produced by Paul M. J. Suchecki '76.

Brenda Ann Wong is happy to report that the 2006 HBS Entertainment and Media Conference took place on April 7-8, 2006. It was presented by the Entertainment and Media Club at the Harvard Business School and sponsored by McKinsey & Company. This exciting event brought together students from all over the Northeast to meet and learn from the world’s leading media executives.

Max R. Scharf is pleased to announce that the book he illustrated for his wife, Esther, was published in April by Xlibris Corporation ( www.xlibris.com ). She wrote the book "Beyond the Beyond; Emanations of Love", Connecting to the Devine Source of Love through meditations on the Hebrew Letters. I read her prose/ poetry on each of the 22 letters and then created a fine art painting of each letter which is shown in her book. It took 2 1/2 years to for us complete the process.

The documentary film THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL, by Liz Mermin, is now playing & coming to theaters around the country. What happens when a group of hairstylists from America travel to Kabul with the intention of teaching Afghan women how to do hair? This unique development project set out to bring the latest cutting, coloring, and perming techniques to Afghan hairdressers and beauticians, many of whom practiced their trade secretly under the Taliban. The teachers, all volunteers, include three Afghan-Americans returning home for the first time in over twenty years. THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL documents the poignant, humorous, and occasionally contentious process through which women with very different experiences of life come to learn about one another. For reviews, screening opening dates in other cities, and more information see: www.beautyacademyofkabul.com **There will be Q&A discussions with the director at the Boston & Los Angeles openings, April 21 & April 28.**

Anne Toole, currently working on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, is pleased to announce the selection of her
dramedy pilot "WeHo" as part of the Q-Me Con 2006 Talent Showcase. Q-Me Con 2006 took place at Tribeca
Studios April 14-16. For more information on WeHo or Anne, please visit http://amely.elixxr.comhttp://amely.elixxr.com//

Jeremy Rabb recently filmed the season finale of GREY'S ANATOMY, his 7th episode of the year as Ron the ER Resident. In addition, my comedy group OddSquad just began principal photography on our feature mockumentary, "Actual Footage."

ZHIVAGO, a new musical directed by Des McAnuff, with music by Lucy Simon, Book by Michael Weller, and lyrics by Amy Powers HLS '87 and Michael Korie, debuts at the La Jolla Playhouse May 21 - June 25. For tickets contact the playhouse (lajollaplayhouse.com) or amy@amypowers.com .

The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California, has acquired a Janai-Ami painting for their permanent collection. The painting is a 20x20" oil on canvas titled, All Races And Religions, and is part of the September Eleventh (3047) Series. The artist has donated all licensing rights for this work to the Museum of Tolerance and in exchange all money raised off of the sale of licensed goods will be used to directly fund programs which teach tolerance to children. For further information, contact the Museum of Tolerance, Library and Archives. The work may be viewed at www.janai-ami.net.

Members in the News

Fine Artist and returning California primitive Janai-Ami is featured in this month's April Anniversary issue of Point Magazine , Rhode Island's Leading Entertainment Resource. An in-depth interview with the fine artist, considered by many the foremost colorist working today in the U.S., is the first such interview given by the artist who is generally reclusive and whose work began in response to the events of September 11, 2001.
Members in the News...

Brenda Ann Wong's article Hollywood Visits the 2006 HBS Entertainment and Media Conference was published in the April 2, 2006 edition of the HBS Newspaper Harbus. Visit the following link for the full article: http://www.harbus.org/home/index.cfm?event=displayArticle&ustory_id=d1813bbc-7360-44be-98c4-d8912adca6a6

The documentary film THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL by Liz Mermin received great reviews: "Hilarious & Moving" -- THE NEW YORK TIMES "Warm, funny & hugely entertaining" -- TV Guide
"Warm, funny & hugely entertaining" -- TV Guide
"Spiny, puzzling, & highly entertaining... whatever you go into it thinking, you're likely to come out thinking something else” -- SALON.COM

So You Got the Job...

Warren Hsu Leonard HLS '99 just took a position in Legal and Business Affairs at Disney Feature Animation. He also moderated three panels at the Scriptwriters Showcase panel at Universal Studios last weekend. The panels focused on "legal issues for screenwriters," "writing one-hour dramas," and "breaking into Hollywood." The one-hour drama panel included Harvard alum Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr. (Exec. Producer of THE WEST WING), and the "legal issues" panel included Harvard and HLS grad Jonathan Handel.

Six Degrees of Harvardwood

My name's Karen, and I'm a junior at Harvard right now. I have two little testimonials! Harvardwood totally made my summer. First, it connected Kristen Lozada and me with Dan Punt, a fairly recent Harvard grad, who graciously subletted his beautiful apartment for the whole summer. His apartment really was AMAZING, it made my summer!

Additionally, Harvardwood got me my summer job :) I read the listing for the assistant animation teacher with Earthlight Pictures at the Crossroads School and new it was exactly what I wanted to do. John Teton, a less recent Harvard grad, was really enthusiastic about hiring me, even though technical problems kept me from getting him my reel. The job was fantastic, and so was my summer!

--Karen Adelman

Featured Member Posting: Seeking Film Editor - LA

I'm Harvard College '01 and an AFI Directing alum. I'm currently looking for an experienced editor located in the Los Angeles area to cut my 35mm short film.  We have a fantastic crew composed of multiple Sundance Film Festival winners and are now looking for that final great artist.  This will be a paid position… 

To view full posting, please visit:  http://www.harvardwood.org/networking/opening.asp?id=11670
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