Issue 24 | January 2007

  • Message from the Associate Membership Directors
  • Message from Mia
  • Member Profile: Hans Canosa '93
  • So you got the job, hey...
  • Industry Successes...

Message from the Associate Membership Directors

Even with uncharacteristically cold weather this past month, Harvardwood has been out on the town. A group of members welcomed HBS students who trekked to Hollywood for a first-hand look at the entertainment industry. At the beginning of Harvardwood 101 (going on right now!), visiting students and members met and mingled in West Hollywood. And finally, Angela and I had the distinct pleasure of representing Harvardwood at the Harvard-Radcliffe Club dinner with Jack Reardon, President of the Alumni Association.

This month's profile is of Hans Canosa '93, a filmmaker with a very unique career arc and, consequently, a very unique cinematic vision. This month Harvardwood Highlights is on hiatus. Please email your tips on where to go and what to do for inclusion next month.

Thanks to everyone that contributed this past month. This issue includes MIZERY, gams, and Spider-Man.

Please continue to share your stories, successes, and insider tips. Your participation is what Harvardwood is all about.

Angela and Amit

Message from Mia

The fifth annual Harvardwood 101 career exploration program is underway, and our two dozen visiting students are having a fantastic time in LA; many thanks to all of the hosts, guest speakers, and everyone else who has contributed to the success of the program! Hope to see some of you at Sunday's screening of alum Hans Canosa's film CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN (see for details).

Congrats to all of our alums with Academy Award-nominated projects this year: Ed Zwick with BLOOD DIAMOND, David Frankel and Aline Brosh McKenna with THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, Anne Preven with DREAMGIRLS, and Al Gore with AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH... Mazel tov!


Member Profile: Hans Canosa '93

By Kim Bendheim '81

Hans Canosa's first feature, CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN (starring Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham-Carter), just came out on DVD. The film offers an unusual double perspective on the characters of the two leads. They are in every scene. You can see each of them, their reaction to one another, at the same time on a split screen. That gives their brief, amorous encounter at a NYC wedding another dimension, one that lingers on in the viewer's mind after the closing credits have rolled.

Canosa is used to looking at the world from multiple perspectives. His parents are Seventh-Day Adventists. In order to attend Harvard, Canosa had to split with his parents, who wanted him to stay at Atlantic Union College, the religious school where his two missionary parents had met. Canosa, unlike his parents, isn't a believing Christian. Despite the schism with his parents, he decided to give Harvard a try. He drove up to Cambridge. It was the week before the dorms had opened. Since his parents had disowned him for his decision to go to Harvard, he wound up living out of his car for a week.

Canosa knew he was different from his family and his peers from early on. As a child, he realized that he didn't have the same religious beliefs as his family and their community. Seventh-Day Adventists don't believe in dancing, film or art, unless it has a religious component. When he was four, Canosa’s parents were told good and bad news: he was extraordinarily intelligent, and he had the makings of a sociopath. The doctor who diagnosed him was wrong about the latter and right about the former. Canosa overheard his parents talking, which is how he learned that he was unique. Aged ten, in his grandparents' attic, he happened on a book about the making of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Fascinated by the book on filmmaking, he decided that’s what he wanted to do: become a filmmaker. From then on, he was extremely focused and figured out how to give himself the education he would need to grow up and make films.

At school, Canosa was taught by his father. Rules were strict. Movies weren't allowed, except for religious films like THE 10 COMMANDMENTS. Canosa offered to edit religious videos for his Seventh Day Adventist community. If an actress' dress was too flimsy, or if there were sexual undertones to a scene, his community wanted those images cut, calling it "unsuitable content." Canosa learned how to edit by connecting two VCRs, backing tapes up and deleting the offending material, cutting out "the racy stuff." He explains, "I learned editing by not having precise tools with which to edit." In high school, Canosa became editor of the school newspaper. He had an office. In the privacy of that office, he copied and made a library of 600 films. The videos of his growing collection were hidden in the ceiling above his office. By the time Canosa transferred to Harvard from Atlantic Union College, he had considerable familiarity with countless movies.

The first few months of college, feeling himself alone, Canosa read many self-help books and also discovered theatre. His passion to be a filmmaker was a constant, but chance played a role in his sudden immersion in theater. The American Repertory Theater wasn't locked at night; it was open, and before he could move into the dorm Canosa slept on cots in the dressing room. He made friends with the actors, saw his first play and was hooked. He plunged himself into the world of theater, and from his voracious reading cobbled together a self-help philosophy that sustained him. In college, Canosa again distinguished himself from his peers by making enough money to pay his tuition.

Canosa had no money and no support from his parents. He got a secretarial job at his uncle's residential real estate firm. During his two years at the firm, he discovered a zoning loophole that allowed construction firms to build in areas that were usually off-limits for housing. To capitalize on his discovery, Canosa started another real estate venture with his uncle and his uncle's partner. As Canosa explains it, "I didn’t do anything that hurt anyone. I took advantage of a silly oversight in zoning." The new firm was so successful that legislation was eventually enacted to close that loophole. The partners had already profited handsomely. That meant Canosa could quit worrying about money for college.

Another seminal college experience for Canosa was meeting his partner and collaborator Gabrielle Zevin, with whom he still lives on the Upper West Side with their pug named Mrs. DeWinter. Zevin is a prodigiously gifted writer. Her young adult novel "Elsewhere" was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux two years ago, when she was 27. She began to write and option screenplays in college. The two first met when Canosa was doing a TV show at Harvard and he cast her in it. She was a writer who wanted to learn more about writing by acting. Canosa recognized her talent as soon as she showed him a play she had written. A student project the two did together became a feature. In the year that they produced the movie, Zevin sold her first two novels. Also multi-talented, Zevin edited the rough cut of their first film. That first collaboration between the two has stretched out into eleven years. "We create worlds together," said Canosa.

CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN is just the start. If they had known how their partnership would develop when they first met in college, they could have stolen a line from Casablanca. As Rick says to Louie, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." If CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN is any indication, the Zevin-Canosa collaborative will continue to bear fruit, and their work will be seen by an audience hungry for good cinematic stories.

So You Got the Job, Hey...

Sasha Mervyn '98-'00 was tapped as Creative Executive at Laura Ziskin Productions. She started at LZP in June '05 as an assistant (finding the job on the UTA job list!) after completing the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. LZP is currently producing the Academy Awards Telecast and gearing up for the May 4 release of Spider-Man 3 as well as developing several TV series and other films.

Roxanna Myhrum '05 got her foot in the door working as a PA on the PBS special America's Ballroom Challenge. Airing for five consecutive weeks at 8:00 starting January 31st (check local listings to confirm), the series is an old-school made-for-tv-event filled with glam, gams, and gravity-defying lifts. If you liked the dancing on ABC's reality show, tune-in for a crash course in what real professional couples can do!

Industry Successes...

Carmen Oquendo Villar, a visual artist and curator, is currently completing a PhD at Harvard. At the upcoming festival "New England Women in Film and Video: Chicks Make Flick," she is screening two films MIZERY and BOQUITA from her series of film portraits about members of the Boston Latino transgender community. The festival will be at 7 pm on February 8th at MIT (77 Mass Ave. Room 6-120) and is free and open to the public. Check out the website for more information:

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