Issue 195 | April 2021

In this issue:

Message from Justin


  • Paid Internship - PopShift (Remote) 
  • Apply for the Harvardwood Writers Program - Features (HWP-Features) today!
  • Companies and Executives - apply for the next round of the Harvardwood Summer Internship Program (HSIP)!
  • Students applying to Harvard? Apply for the Harvardwood Prize! 


  • Exclusive Q&A with Ria Tobaccowala AB '10 (writer, director & producer)
  • Industry Successes
  • New Members' Welcome
  • Alumni Profile: Gerry Bryant AB '76 (concert pianist; arts & entertainment attorney)


  • Calendar
  • Become a Harvardwood member as we further engage in socially active programming, discourse, and action to help change the entertainment industry

Message from Harvardwood

Harvardwood Community,

In light of the attacks and racial injustices suffered by the AAPI community in particular in recent days, and given the additional acts of terror and crime suffered recently by various groups across North America and the world, we wanted to point to the efforts of our friends at the Harvard Club of Southern California and their Anti-Racism Committee. You can read more here

We are working diligently to do our part to improve conditions in Hollywood and beyond. Please stay tuned for a town hall event addressing many of the toughest issues both within and outside of our community. 

We are also creating a new, pandemic-proof internship program, an updated Harvardwood Writers Competition, and more -- additional information will be released soon on both fronts. 

We're excited about the launch of our Harvardwood Writers Program - both TV (underway) and Features (you can apply to Features below). 

Finally - we want to hear from you - if you have an event or programming idea you'd like implemented, please tell us about it here. If you have an announcement about your work or that of others, please detail it here (members) and it will appear in our Weekly, and/or next HIGHLIGHTS issue. 

As we continue with our expansion plan and updates to every aspect of Harvardwood, including supporting more students and program participants, providing more digital programming, website fixes, and implementing new programming for more types of artists, we ask that you please consider making a donation of any amount. Thank you so much for the consideration! 

Onward, and much more to come. 

- Justin & The Harvardwood Team 

Paid Internship - PopShift (Remote) 

PopShift believes that the world is better when stories are more nuanced and representative. To do that, we work with some of Hollywood’s most influential television writers, and bring them together with some of the country’s smartest, most insightful, fascinating minds – to develop lasting cross-sectional relationships. Check us out at

Description of Internship: We want to build out a pipeline of potential funders - philanthropic and individuals, as well as start crafting effective grant proposals that showcase the potency of our work to accelerating significant narrative and culture change.

This is a remote position, and flexible working situation. We want someone who is self-led and motivated by the cause. We want someone who is a brilliant writer, and a very effective internet researcher & investigator. You will receive a fellowship stipend for your work.

You will be the lead on finding, researching, and writing some of these proposals.

How to Apply: Send a writing sample and a cover letter which explains why this work matters to you to [email protected].

Apply for the Harvardwood Writers Program - Features (HWP-Features) today!

The HWP-Features Program returns! Application period is now open until 4/12/21. The group will meet via Zoom 1-2 times a month beginning in late April with the goal of advancing participants' projects from idea, to outline, to finished, feature-length screenplay. All Harvardwood members are eligible. APPLY HERE. Questions, please email HWP-Features.

Companies and Executives - apply for the next round of the Harvardwood Summer Internship Program (HSIP)!

If your arts, media, or entertainment company offers summer internships and would like to recruit current Harvard Students, we invite you to participate in the 2021 Harvardwood Summer Internship Program! Companies can reach current Harvard students by posting their internship opportunities to Harvardwood. More info HERE

Students applying to Harvard? Apply for the Harvardwood Prize! 

Harvardwood is now accepting applications for the 2021 Harvardwood Prize! The prize was created to recognize and celebrate the artistic accomplishments and potential of high school students who exemplify Harvardwood’s mission. The Prize is awarded annually to a high school junior (rising senior) who plans to apply for admission to Harvard College in the fall of their senior year and who has demonstrated excellence in their dedication to the arts/media/entertainment and its power to enact positive social change. More info HERE

Exclusive Q&A with Ria Tobaccowala AB '10

Ria Tobaccowala AB '10 is an Indian-American writer-director based in New York City. Her short film, Shadows, was selected for the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on HBO Max. 

Q. What parts of your upbringing in Chicago led you to becoming a filmmaker? Can you speak about any thread between childhood and now?

 My love for storytelling and filmmaking started in my early years. Instinctually, I would gravitate towards my father’s camcorders. In our home movies, I’d be jumping in front of the lens, begging him to let me use it. I remember my childhood home being full of cameras, books, and music. My parents love the arts and gave me access to different art forms throughout my childhood. They are the single most influential force in my journey as a filmmaker.

At my high school in Chicago, I had a wonderful photography teacher who inspired me. I spent the majority of my time in the school’s dark room. I also shot my first short film with a Super 8 camera. By then, I was hooked on the power of images to tell a story. In many ways, as a teenager and now as an adult, I’ve simply been nurturing the young girl within me who was born keen to film stories about life. 

Q. How did your time at Harvard play into that story? 

 At Harvard, I varied my creative interests. I was a photographer for the Harvard Crimson as well as produced and danced in cultural shows, such as Ghungroo. My blockmates would lovingly laugh whenever I edited promo videos for campus events in a baseball cap. They called it my director’s hat. Little did we all know, a decade later I’d be keeping up the tradition of wearing baseball caps while editing my films. Harvard was the beginning of an important detour from pursuing filmmaking as a career. I spent college filling my mind with new subjects and filling my heart with amazing life experiences and friendships.

Q. Can you speak about your time at Google, staying creative in a corporate setting, and maintaining your goals? 

Google surprisingly brought me back to the world of storytelling. Google is an intrinsically creative place where storytelling is required when imagining future technologies. I joined their rotational marketing program after graduation. One product I worked on was Google+. Our team’s mandate was to encourage content development on the platform with some of the most influential thought leaders and creators, as well as elevate underrepresented voices to the mainstream through social and video platforms. 



Industry Successes

Check out this article on current Harvard College student Yara Shahidi (Class of 2022) using her voice to advocate for change and what she cares about in the industry! Also check out Vogue's exclusive on Shahidi, "Inside Yara Shahidi’s Couture-Filled Critics Choice Experience"!

Netflix has picked up Parallel, a sci-fi spec script by Ben Ripley! Rideback, the production house run by Dan Lin MBA '99 and Jonathan Eirich that was behind Netflix’s Oscar-nominated drama The Two Popes, will produce! (Hollywood Reporter)

The Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello AB '86 is on board as executive music producer of Metal Lords, a coming-of-age movie produced by Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benoiff and DB Weiss! (Louder)

ABC has just released an extended first-look clip for its new comedy series Home Economics — premiering April 7th! John Aboud AB '95 is a co-writer and producer on the show, and you can read what he had to say about the new series here!

Watch the trailer for Tina Fey’s new girl group comedy Girls5eva! It’s created by Fey alongside Meredith Scardino, Jeff Richmond and Robert Carlock AB '95! A synopsis for the show reads: When a one-hit-wonder girl group from the 90’s gets sampled by a young rapper, its members reunite to give their pop star dreams one more shot. They may be grown women balancing spouses, kids, jobs, debt, aging parents, and shoulder pain, but can‘t they also be Girls5eva?

NBC News is planning a year of special reports too big for just one show! See what NBC News President Noah Oppenheim AB '00 had to say about his plans for these reports!

BET+ has picked up Birth of Cool from Macro and Lena Waithe's Hillman Grad! The dramedy centers around a predominantly Black school in LA's Compton neighborhood and the misadventures at the school. Aaliyah Williams AB '02 will be an executive producer! (Hollywood Reporter)

Check out a Black History spotlight on Reggie Hudlin AB '83 and how he has brought black narratives to the forefront of storytelling in his work!

The sci-fi thriller Reminiscence from Lisa Joy JD '07 is set to hit theaters and the HBO Max service on Sept. 3, Labor Day weekend! The thriller follows Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, who navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client, Mae. A simple matter of lost and found becomes a dangerous obsession. As Bannister fights to find the truth about Mae’s disappearance, he uncovers a violent conspiracy, and must ultimately answer the question: how far would you go to hold on to the ones you love? (Deadline)

Check out this profile on Mira Nair AB '79 and her success in light of the re-releasing of her film Mississippi Masala

Focus Features is developing Rachel Maddow’s Bag Man as a feature film directed by Ben Stiller! Bag Man is based on Rachel Maddow’s podcast about the true story of one of the most brazen political bribery scandals in American history, which played out before the country while nobody was paying attention. Is it possible for an American Vice President to carry out a criminal enterprise inside the White House and have nobody remember? Nicky Weinstock AB '91 will be an executive producer for the film! (Deadline)

Alec Mapa joins Alec Baldwin & Kelsey Grammer in an upcoming ABC comedy series written by Chris Lloyd and Vali Chandrasekaran AB '03! It follows three men — Grammer, Baldwin and Mapa — who were roommates in their 20s until their warring egos drove them apart. They reunite decades later for one more run at the lives they’ve always wanted. (Deadline)

Marshall Lewy AB '99, Chief Content Officer of Wondery, spoke about the future of podcasts in Hollywood here!

Dahvi Waller has been set by Sony’s 3000 Pictures to adapt author Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, 'Klara and the Sun'. Klara is a robot girl created to prevent teenagers from becoming lonely. This is the story of how she tries to save a family of humans she lives with from heartbreak. David Heyman AB '83 is producing through his Heyday Films! (Deadline)

Sony and Higher Ground Productions will have its Kevin Hart drama Fatherhood released on Netflix on Friday June 18, just before Father’s Day. Fatherhood, directed by Paul Weitz, is based on the book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matthew Logelin. Based on a true story, the pic follows Hart as a single dad who brings up his baby girl after the unexpected death of his wife a day after their daughter’s birth. Marty Bowen AB '91 was one of the executive producers for the film! (Deadline)

Check out an exclusive interview with Donal Logue AB '88 from Forbes! Here, Logue talks 21 years of The Tao of Steve and the coincidental companion piece Sometime Other Than Now.

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry is out now on Apple TV+! Director R.J. Cutler AB '83 spoke with MTV news about the film and filmmaking process here. Apple TV+ has also picked up Dear…, the docuseries from Cutler, for a second season! The 10-episode season will pay tribute to stars including Selena Gomez, Jane Fonda, and more. (Yahoo Entertainment)

Director Barry Jenkins is unveiling a limited series for Amazon based on the novel The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Jenkins collaborated with Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell AB '03 — see what Britell had to say about the score

Check out a Forbes exclusive interview with legendary producer Debra Martin Chase JD '81 on her success and CBS smash hit The Equalizer!

Peacock just dropped the trailer for Rutherford Falls, the newest sitcom from Mike Schur AB '97!  Helms stars as the town founder’s descendant, who’s on a mission to stop the removal of his problematic statue. But Rutherford Falls wants to get rid of the statue for a different reason than you might expect: It’s inconveniently placed in the center of the road, and cars keep crashing into it. 

Ria Tobaccowala AB '10 lands a deal with HBO to stream her short film Shadows on HBO Max! Selected for the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, Shadows is a coming of age story that follows Naya exploring her independence on homecoming night away from her watchful family. Stream the Shadows now!

New Members' Welcome

Harvardwood warmly welcomes all members who joined the organization last month:

  • Adam Estes, College, NY
  • Kevin Ferguson, College, LA 
  • Julie Phillips, GSBA, ATL
  • Nicholas Kellum, HLS, NY
  • Ana Olano, College, BOS/Campus
  • Susan Lieu, College, Seattle
  • Katherine Russ, College, LA
  • Ashley Terrell, GSBA, LA
  • Mohamad Saleh, GSAS, BOS/Campus
  • Marie Margolius, College, NY
  • Rita Kurtz, GSAS, LA
  • Phillip Michalak, College, BOS/Campus
  • Sofia Groopman, College, NY
  • Ellen Burstein, College, BOS/Campus
  • Frank Ciota, College, BOS/Campus
  • Chris Carroll, FOH, NY
  • Masum Momaya, GSE, CHI

*FOH = Friend of Harvardwood

Alumni Profile: Gerry Bryant AB '76 (Concert Pianist / Arts & Entertainment Attorney)

by Sophie Kim AB '24

At age ten, Gerry Bryant knew he wanted to be a concert pianist. More specifically, Bryant started piano lessons at ten years old, and it all took off from there. He went on to study music, graduate cum laude from both Phillips Andover Academy and Harvard, and receive both his J.D. and M.B.A. from UCLA. A classical concert pianist by training, Bryant also plays in PocketWatch, a musical group he founded, he volunteers for multiple nonprofit arts organizations, and he is also currently the Director of Legal and Business Affairs for Southern California’s PBS stations KCET and PBS So Cal (KOCE).

Bryant grew up in a self-described poor family in Cleveland, where classical music was not something he was exposed to. However, he was immediately drawn to it, describing a field trip to Severance Hall in Cleveland, home of the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra. His family didn’t have a piano, but his grandmother had an old piano. “She didn't play but she sang in church. And whenever we would go to my grandparents' house, I would sit down at the piano and, at ten years old, I’d just pick things out,” Bryant said. When they noticed his talent, his parents arranged to provide him with lessons, and it was years later that Bryant would learn about the sacrifices his family made, with his father working extra jobs, to pay for the lessons.  

However, Bryant didn’t always find an audience in his community. He recounted a story when, at twelve or thirteen years old, some adult relatives and neighbors were gathered at their family home. Someone asked his mother if he would play a song, and she told Bryant, who reluctantly agreed. “So I sit down at the piano, I open up my classical music -- it was probably Bach or Beethoven or something -- and I play my little heart out. After I finish playing, there's dead silence. And finally, one of the adults says, “Uh, okay, boy, that was great, but now play some real music.” They basically could not relate to classical music at all; they wanted to hear some blues or R&B because that's the environment that I grew up in,” Bryant said. 

Bryant always knew he wanted a career in music. However, he pursued a law degree and an MBA because he believed that understanding the music business from a legal/business perspective would be essential to building his artistic career and ensure that he could protect himself and his art. At Harvard, he majored in sociology and minored in music, with an eye towards law and business school. When not studying, he spent his time playing keyboards and accompanying singers at off-campus nightclubs alongside professional musicians and fellow Harvard students, in the process adding other musical genres to his musical repertoire, not just classical music.

Fresh out of law and business school, Bryant started working in the music division of a major L.A. law firm, becoming, along with another Harvard grad, the first Black attorneys to work there. However, looking back on his pursuit of a J.D. and an M.B.A. and his time as a lawyer first “learning the business”, Bryant called his actions “total overkill”. He emphasized that it is much more important for artists to simply surround themselves with a knowledgeable team, including a lawyer, that the artist trusts and can rely on. 

He says he never intended to be a lawyer for anyone other than himself, but nowadays Bryant utilizes his knowledge of the law to help advocate for other artists through California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA), a statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1974 that provides legal referrals, education and other services to artists. Bryant has been on CLA’s board of directors for more than twenty years. He emphasized the importance of empowering artists, and highlighted the organization’s ability to provide exceptional but otherwise expensive education and legal referral services more cheaply through grants and donations. “I've been on the board of CLA for as long as I have because its mission aligns exactly with my mission and my goal, not only for myself, but mainly for everyone else, for all other creative people. I want to empower and educate other creative people so that they can do their art, which enhances, entertains and inspires all of our lives,” Bryant said.

PocketWatch, the contemporary melodic jazz group which he founded when he went to UCLA, exclusively plays Bryant’s compositions, which are rhapsodic pieces that combine classical music and jazz elements. Bryant enjoys the teamwork and the act of striving toward a common goal that interacting with the members of his group provides. The name derives from Bryant’s love for wearing pocket watches. 

While Bryant has found success as a solo musician, playing gigs in venues large and small on both coasts, the most rewarding experiences he has had, he says, come from volunteering to play piano for patients at the UCLA Medical Center, which he did weekly for many years. Patients would often come up to him during and after performances crying or offering their personal stories around the music he had played. Why? His answer is simple: “Music is healing”. In one instance, a woman screamed and ran up to him during a performance. The song he was playing was the same one that played during her wedding, and with her husband being in the hospital at that time, Bryant’s rendition had made her emotional. 

Bryant also reflected on how COVID has affected his artistic practice. Even though he noted that many people have been going “stir-crazy” in quarantine, he says he hasn’t been as affected as others because he actually prefers working alone.  Indeed, he simply continues to “woodshed”, a musician’s term for isolating yourself to practice and focus on your music. However, he has been unable to perform live gigs and promote his music as much as he’d like to, and he dearly misses performing live and interacting with audiences.  

Bryant has released eleven CDs, many critically acclaimed, which include classical music, his own compositions, and even reimagined musical covers of other artists. His twelfth CD, “Besotted,” will be released in the near future. On it, he covers, among other songs, “California Girls” by Katy Perry, her pop hit which he reimagines first as a classical piece followed by segments of swing jazz and gospel. He is currently working on a CD devoted to Black classical composers who have been overlooked throughout history.  The CD will include works by, among others, Blind Tom, a slave who was the first Black American classical composer. You can find more about Bryant's work at

Author Sophie Kim is an award-winning playwright, performance poet, filmmaker, and author of the poetry collection, SING THE BIRDS HOME (2019, Penmanship Books). Kim served as the 2018-2019 Los Angeles County Youth Poet Laureate, is currently writing an original musical that will premiere this April, and has worked on multiple theater productions at Harvard; find Kim at

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CURED: Pre-Screening & Behind-the-Scenes Discussion - Thursday, April 8th 

The Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus is proud to partner with Harvardwood and the production team of the forthcoming documentary CURED to offer the Harvard community an exclusive preview screening opportunity and live private discussion with co-director Bennett Singer AB '86 (a longtime member of HGSC and Harvardwood) and two subjects featured in the film.

More info HERE

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Harvardwood Presents: The Hidden Tools of Comedy with Steve Kaplan - April 15th

What is comedy? How does it work? Why does it work? And, most importantly, what's going on when it doesn't work? This session moves past the myths and misunderstanding of comedy, and provides you with usable, practical tools that can elevate your comic writing, directing or performing. 

More info HERE

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Harvardwood Presents: Start Your Script the Right Way with Corey Mandell - April 22nd

In order to have success in the current marketplace, you need to do three things:

Hook the reader with your characters.
Hook the reader with your story.
Hook the reader with your premise.

The best writers are able to nail all three of those objectives in their first scene.

Learn a step-by-step process for designing and executing your opening in a way that can truly excite a reader and make them absolutely want to keep reading.

More info HERE

More Harvardwood Events Here


Become a Harvardwood member as we further engage in socially active programming, discourse, and action to help change the entertainment industry

In these unprecedented times, we are doubling down on providing impactful programming that not only helps our membership build and further entertainment careers, but create socially active habits and spheres of influence and knowledge. The entertainment industry is changing before our eyes, and our recent programming is just the tip of the iceberg. We'd love your help in furthering this mission. In various capacities, we work hard to create programming that you, the membership, would like to be engaged with. Please consider joining Harvardwood and becoming an active member of our arts, media, and entertainment community



Harvardwood does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any of the information, content or advertisements (collectively "Materials") contained on, distributed through, or linked, downloaded or accessed from any of the services contained in this e-mail. You hereby acknowledge that any reliance upon any Materials shall be at your sole risk. The materials are provided by Harvardwood on an "AS IS" basis, and Harvardwood expressly disclaims any and all warranties, express or implied.

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