Issue 29 | June 2007

  • Message from the Membership Directors
  • Message from Mia
  • Member Profile: Michael Roiff '01
  • Industry Successes
  • Pencil Me In

Message from the Membership Directors

We kicked off the summer season with a well-attended get together in Cambridge - great to see so many of you over Reunion Weekend! Look out for more local events this summer, and let us know if you have any ideas for your Harvardwood chapter.

In the meantime, enjoy this month's profile on Michael Roiff and thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue. Our 'Industry Successes' section is getting lengthier with each newsletter - congratulations to all of you and please continue to share your stories, as your participation is what Harvardwood is all about!

Happy July 4th!

Angela and Kibi

Message from Mia

Congrats again to the winners of the 2007 Harvardwood Screenplay Competition: 1st Place ($500 prize) - John Unger Zussman and Patricia Zussman with ORIGIN; 2nd Place - Broderick Fox with ONE DEGREE; 3rd place - Danny Passman and Ben Sahl with THE INNOCENCE LIST. Thanks to those of you who joined us for the awards mixer in LA on May 30th! The finalist scripts are now available on request:

More summer events are in the works, so stay tuned to the website for details... Next up is a TV panel in LA on July 17th in conjunction with our friends at Yale in Hollywood:

Happy Independence Day!

Member Profile: Michael Roiff '01

by Kim Bendheim

Michael Roiff is ambitious in a “gee whiz, let’s put on a show” kind of way. The class of 2001 grad is upbeat, and he has reason to be: WAITRESS, his first feature as a producer, went to Sundance, where Fox Searchlight bought it for a reported 4 million dollars. The film has opened to overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and a great response from its target audience: adult women. So far, since its May opening, WAITRESS has grossed over 15 million at the box office. It was the number four movie during the Memorial Day weekend. “We’re just thrilled to still be in theaters. No one’s ever seen such a crowded summer in terms of big blockbusters," said Roiff, whose aim as a producer is nothing less than "creating magic." Talking about his films, he is cheerful, proud and pleased at the same time.

At Harvard, he majored in government and mostly did theater as an extracurricular. He wrote and acted in the Hasty Pudding show for three years and became vice president the year they roasted Drew Barrymore. While in college, he acted in and directed so many other plays that he “can’t remember them all.” When he became a consultant in Boston after graduating, Roiff admits, “no one could understand the decision-making process.” During stints at CIBC World Markets and The Parthenon Group, a boutique advisory firm, Roiff continued writing and performing improv. After a disappointing meeting with a nascent comedy troupe in Boston, he decided it was time to leave. Sitting in his apartment alone on a Sunday night, he bought himself a ticket to LA for the following Thursday. He called his mom and told her he was moving to Los Angeles. Since he’d spent his whole life in Boston, she was skeptical.

Roiff has now spent the last five years in LA, and apart from a few annual visits back east, he’s stayed there. He loves what he does. “Every day I’m allowed to go on set is a lucky day.” After WAITRESS, his first producing credit, other projects snowballed. What they have in common is that Roiff feels passionately about each script. He’s picky. Roiff had started his production company in 2004 and didn’t like any of the scripts he got. Then, at the end of 2004, he got the screenplay for WAITRESS. He read the script that night, decided he wanted to do it and met with writer/director/actress Adrienne Shelley the next day. Sadly, Shelley was murdered last year at age 40 in her Greenwich Village apartment. The tragedy only makes the success of WAITRESS (her third feature, and her first to be accepted at Sundance) all the more poignant. Starring Keri Russell, the film tells the story of three waitresses who work at a southern diner. Much like the women in “Sex in the City,” the bonds of friendship between the three women keep them going in unexpected ways. Keri Russell plays the lead: a dreamy baker of imaginative pies. Stuck in a bad marriage, she bakes her way out with the help of her two friends (one of whom is played by Shelley). To tell more would be to give away the story. Shelley draws a rich, nuanced performance from Russell, bringing another dimension to a script that could play out like a wacky sitcom, but instead slips down easy as pie. The script clicked with Roiff because he was looking for a story that "anyone could relate to, one whose characters had a lot of layers."

Shelley, best known for her work as an indie actress, specifically her roles in the films of Hal Hartley, wrote the script while pregnant with her first child. That fed into the story. Shelley’s daughter Sophie, a toddler, came to the set while Shelley was working. Sophie is also featured in closing scenes as the heroine’s baby, another melancholy detail, because the much-loved child no longer has a mother. “[Shelley] wrote the film while she was pregnant. She showed women they don’t have to choose between work and a baby, they can have both,” said Roiff. On the WAITRESS website, in interviews, Shelley talked of wanting to show that women could be as scared of having a baby as they are excited. WAITRESS shows that such ambivalence can be real, but it doesn’t mean the woman’s going to be a bad mother.

After Shelley’s 2006 murder, her widowed husband Andy Ostroy started the Adrienne Shelly Foundation to help other women achieve their filmmaking dreams. With WAITRESS, Shelley turned out a good story with vivid characters, making it a critical and audience favorite. Roiff is on the board of the foundation and in typical upbeat fashion said, “I wish the reason the foundation exists hadn’t happened, but it’s nice to have something good come out of it.”

Coyly, Roiff refused to disclose how much WAITRESS cost to produce, saying only that though sold for some 4 million, it cost much less than that to make. His goal with his production company was to make a film “for a low price that looked like it cost 15-20 times more.” He believes the key to high quality is getting top actors in addition to a good script, perhaps because Roiff moved into film production from theater. He’d produced a play in LA, “Three Years From 30” by Mike O'Malley. Neither he nor anyone else on the production team was able to sell tickets. Roiff then reasoned that if theater was what he really wanted, he should do it back east, closer to his family. Since he had moved to LA, he decided that film and TV should be his focus for the time being because they were the focus of the whole city. Roiff started Night and Day Pictures in 2004 with the goal of creating high quality motion pictures with an emphasis on story and character.

Next up for Roiff is BALL DON’T LIE, based on the popular book of the same name, a favorite of librarians, which tells the story of a foster child bounced from home to home like a ball. A skinny white kid, this fish-out-of-water hero ends up finding his real surrogate family among African-American ball players. Rap star Ludacris, Nick Cannon from DRUMLINE and Rosanna Arquette star in the ensemble. “Grayson Boucher, who plays the lead, is an actual street ball player,” said Roiff. Roiff’s enthusiasm is contagious. He’s equally fired up about another feature he’s producing with Danielle Renfrew. AMERICAN SON, written by Eric Shmid, is being directed by Neil Abramson. Set a few days before Thanksgiving, the movie follows a young marine (Nick Cannon) on leave in Bakersfield, CA before he’s deployed to Iraq. “In my opinion, this is the first film that deals with what that generation of soldiers deals with.” Roiff hopes that what WAITRESS is to adult women, AMERICAN SON will be to twenty-somethings faced with the grim reality of fighting in Iraq. Roiff believes that “we can watch things that make us think; instead of dumbing down entertainment, we get to smarten it up.” So far, his record’s great: one for one.

Industry Successes...

Sid Holmes MPA '92 was one of five finalists in the ninth annual San Francisco Black Film Festival screenplay competition.

Maria Petringa's '80 recent book, Brazza, A Life for Africa, the biography of a humanitarian explorer, was a nominee (finalist) for the French Colonial Historical Society's prestigious Heggoy Book Prize, 2007. The prize is awarded annually to a work dealing with the French colonial experience. This is a great honor for Maria, as all other nominated authors are professors of French History specializing in colonial research. Check out Maria's first print review of the biography in Italian America magazine, as a National Sons of Italy 2007 Book Club Selection:

Ethan Gold '93 produced and arranged the acclaimed debut album from Elvis Perkins, "Ash Wednesday." It's just been given full worldwide release on XL Recordings. Reviews in Filter (highest rating of the year), Spin, Rolling Stone, Stylus, and a whole lot of blogs. Ethan is at home finishing his own albums.

Guitarist / songwriter / vocalist Kate Schutt '97-'99 recently signed a deal with the New York City record label ArtistShare. Label-mates include such legendary jazz artists as Jim Hall, Maria Schneider, and Chris Potter, to name only a few. ArtistShare will release both Kate's new jazz/vocal album "No Love Lost" (August 1, 2007) and her next album "Telephone Game" (August 2008). A place where fans fund the projects of their favorite artists in exchange for the privilege of "participating" in the creative process, ArtistShare takes advantage of the latest developments in technology to allow artists and fans from all over the world to connect with each other directly.

Jonathan Dorf '93 has just had his play, Thank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet and other rarely used expressions, published by Playscripts, while three other plays, Leapers, Sudden Death Debating League and Supermodels in Jeopardy, are being published with Brooklyn Publishers.

Comedian James P. Connolly '88 is hosting a brand new show on XM Radio Channel 154 (National Lampoon Comedy) called "Live From Here...with James P. Connolly." Show segments began airing every hour in June as well as on National Lampoon Radio affiliates across the country. For more info go

Broderick (Brody) Fox '96 won first runner up for his script ONE DEGREE in the Harvardwood / Circle of Confusion Screenplay Competition, and his second script, MIGRATION, won first prize in the Arizona Screenplay Challenge. He was also a finalist for the 2007 Film Independent Director's Lab.

Lara M. Hirner '05 was featured in the "Who Got the Part?" column of the May 31-June 6 issue of Backstage for her role as the teacher in a staged reading of a new musical.

LAPSES by Dan Aibel '98 began a month-long run at the Detroit Rep in late May, and was directed by Charlotte Thesinger.

Congratulations to alum producer Lucy Fisher, who was recently elected to Harvard's Board of Overseers.

Jordan Winer ALB '94 has a new blog called Cooking My Ass Off that weaves together several interests of his. Not only is it about his adventures finally taking the cooking classes he's always dreamed of, but it is also a way for him to build material for a book and one man show about these fantastic and difficult things he's learning in a crash course at Berkeley's open-to-anyone night cooking school, Kitchen On Fire. Check it out here:

Antje Clasen's GSA '96 book manuscript IVY LEAGUE SHAMAN is now represented by a literary agent who has edited nine New York Times No. 1 Bestsellers, Paul D. McCarthy. Thanks for support by members of this list. The story has a Harvard angle: a young white woman, Cambridge graduate and Mellon Fellow in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, is told about posessing an exceptional shamanic talent and learns from several north and south American shamans how to cure illnesses in ophthalmology, orthopaedics, internal medicine and psychiatry.

Pencil Me In...

September 8, 15, 22, 29: Harvardwood Seminar Series - Have a topic in mind? A speaker you'd like to invite? Let us know!

Calendar Programs Jobs & Career Development