In this issue:
Message from Justin
- Creative Content Development Specialist - OOMLA (remote)
- The Harvardwood Summer Internship Program (HSIP) is live!
- Exclusive Q&A with Shirley Chen AB '22 (Actress)
- Industry Successes
- New Members' Welcome
- Alumni Profile: Carolyn Strauss AB '85 (Television executive & producer)
CALENDAR & NOTES
- Become a Harvardwood member as we further engage in socially active programming, discourse, and action to help change the entertainment industry
Message from Harvardwood
As we barrel towards summer, we have many exciting projects underway! Our first virtual HSIP program is now open, our TV and Features writing programs are in session, and we are working diligently to provide more access to more members, which we have further emphasized and leveraged due to circumstances caused by the pandemic.
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!
- Justin & The Harvardwood Team
Creative Content Development Specialist - OOMLA (remote)
● Create original content, including shooting and editing videos and photos and creating graphics
● Lead the development of marketing content, including advertising, social media, website, and blog posts
● Assist in maintaining a social media calendar
● Schedule and develop content and promotional posts on all social media channels
● Optimize growth through social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok
● Keeps current of social media and industry trends relevant to OOMLA brand
● Assist in management of community outreach and engagement by responding to comments and messages
● Assist in maintaining and creating relationships with influencers
Skills & Competencies:
● Proficiency in social media platforms including but not limited to, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook
● Must be well-versed in various social spaces/communities, and brand/customer focuses of fashion and pop culture
● Excellent time management and organizational skills, ability to prioritize under tight and changing deadlines
● Strong communication skills including ability to work in a virtual environment, give honest, direct feedback and is a solid verbal and written communicator
The Harvardwood Summer Internship Program (HSIP) is live!
Harvardwood is offering opportunities for virtual entertainment industry internships once again this year! If you are a current undergraduate student and a full member of Harvardwood, and are interested in one of these opportunities, please visit our site!
Also, if your arts, media, or entertainment company offers summer internships and would like to recruit current Harvard students, you can still apply! Companies can reach current Harvard students by posting their internship opportunities to Harvardwood. More info HERE
Exclusive Q&A with Shirley Chen AB '22
Shirley Chen stars as the female lead in Beast Beast, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2020, opened in select theaters on April 16, and will be available for streaming on May 4. Shirley is a junior at Harvard pursuing a joint in Theater, Dance, & Media and History & Literature with a focus in Asian American Studies.
Q. When did your interest for theater and acting first begin?
A. When I was in elementary school, I would go to every one of my older brother’s high school theater productions. Back then, from the audience, I remember thinking that collaborating with friends on stage looked absolutely electric. I began to take acting classes in Seattle and fell in love with acting as a way to connect with others— whether that be a scene partner, director, crew, or the audience. Then, in middle school, my mother moved with me to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time. I’ve realized that when that connection feels authentic and every part of the creative team works to produce great art together, it feels like pure magic; that’s the feeling I love when acting and always try to chase.
Q. Do you think starting your acting career at such a young age has informed your perspective on the career or the industry more broadly?
A. Definitely. The more experience I’ve gained through working on projects, the more I have been able to see directors, writers, and producers as collaborators, rather than as an intimidating pressure, which has allowed me to develop stronger relationships and work more freely in a professional environment. Growing up as an Asian American child actor has particularly allowed me to more deeply appreciate recent industry conversations on “diverse representation.” As a kid, I often viewed other Asian performers as “competition” because of the scarcity mentality surrounding such limited opportunities, but as conversations have shifted in the past few years, I have been able to see the types of roles I’m considered for opening up in a new and exciting way. There’s still work to be done, but starting out in the industry at an early age has ultimately hardened my sensibilities so that I now have a clearer perspective when approaching the industry as a business.
Q. What compelled you to apply to Harvard and to continue your acting journey there?
A. Harvard was actually a far-off dream of mine— I never thought of it as a real possibility! I was a theater major at a public performing arts school, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and was originally planning to apply to conservatory programs in Los Angeles so that I could continue my education while auditioning. At the end of my junior year, my guidance counselor recommended that I try applying to a school like Harvard, where students gifted in both the arts and academics would fit well into its new theater program. I applied to Harvard on a whim and, to my surprise, I was accepted early! Compared to other programs, Harvard has such a rich, unique history in the arts and humanities— both academically and extracurricularly— and I found the prospect of auditioning for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals during its first year of women on cast to be a particularly exciting opportunity!
Although DuckTales is done as a TV series! It’s set to revive itself once again as a Danny Pudi-fronted podcast, This Duckberg Life. Josh Brener AB '07 from the DuckTales cast will return for the podcast as well! (A.V. Club)
A new study finds that the undervaluing of Black-led projects costs Hollywood $10 billion annually. McKinsey collaborated with Franklin Leonard AB '00, founder of the Black List, to produce the analysis. Read more about the study here.
Elle Fanning has been cast in Francis and The Godfather — the project about the making of The Godfather! Doug Mankoff MBA '95 will be a producer via Echo Lake Entertainment. (Hollywood Reporter)
Michael Imperioli and Alec Berg AB '91 are developing an HBO Series with Imperioli set to star! The untitled project is described as a meta blend of fact and fiction loosely based on Imperioli’s experiences as a practicing Buddhist. Both Imperioli and Berg will serve as executive producers in addition to co-writing. Amy Solomon, who runs Berg’s production company, will also serve as an executive producer. (Variety)
Jack Reynor is set as a lead opposite Chloë Grace Moretz and Gary Carr in The Peripheral, Amazon’s upcoming original series from Lisa Joy JD '07 and Jonathan Nolan's Kilter Films! (Deadline)
Vera Farmiga has been tapped as the lead in Five Days At Memorial, Apple TV+’s limited series from John Ridley, Carlton Cuse AB '81 and ABC Signature! The project, which chronicles events in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, reunites former Bates Motel star Farmiga with the Psycho prequel’s co-creator/executive producer Cuse. (Deadline)
Andy Garcia has been tapped to star in Warner Bros. and Plan B’s reboot of Father Of The Bride. Dede Garner and Jeremy Kleiner AB '98 will produce for Plan B Entertainment! The film will tell the story of a father coming to grips with his daughter’s upcoming wedding through the prism of multiple relationships within a big, sprawling Cuban-American family. (Deadline)
The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) has launched the 2021 CAPE New Writers Fellowship! This year's mentors and speakers include Harvard College alum Melinda Hsu Taylor (Showrunner/EP, The CW’s Nancy Drew)! (Deadline)
Rising stars Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Tosin Cole are in negotiations to lead New Line’s reimagining of the 1990 cult comedy House Party, produced by The SpringHill Company. Reginald Hudlin AB '83 will be an executive producer! (Deadline)
Check out this exclusive Q&A session with Courtney B. Vance AB '82 on tackling a complicated father-daughter relationship in Genius: Aretha!
Management 360 has promoted managers Kelli Alick, Melissa Breaux, Adam Marshall, Jill McElroy, Clifford Murray AB '10, and Priya Satiani to partner during the company’s staff Zoom meeting today! Congratulations everyone and to our Harvard alum Clifford! (Deadline)
A new podcast from Conan O’Brien AB '85, Conan O’Brien Needs A Fan, has launched! Every Thursday, he and his co-hosts Sona Movsesian and Matt Gourley will take questions directly from fans live via zoom each week! Read more about the podcast here.
Check out this Forbes piece on the new sit-com, Home Economics! Here, executive producers Michael Colton AB '97 and John Aboud AB '95 explain how they came up with the idea.
ABC Signature has acquired the TV rights to Cole Brown’s critically acclaimed debut book Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World! Yara Shahidi (Class of 2022) and Keri Shahidi will develop the series and exec produce via their 7th Sun Productions! (Deadline)
The non-profit organization American Documentary, which supports the acclaimed PBS series POV, has hired Erika Dilday AB '90 as its first Black executive director! Congratulations, Erika! (Hollywood Reporter)
Check out this interview with The Good Place creator Michael Schur AB '97 on tackling sports, race and politics as a Meadowlark media advisor! (Variety)
Janina Gavankar has joined Eli Roth’s feature take of the Gearbox and 2K video game Borderlands at Lionsgate! Strauss Zelnick MBA '79, chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive, is an executive producer for the film! (Deadline)
Yo-Yo Ma AB '76 talks COVID, hope and anti-Asian hate in this USA TODAY opinion piece!
Check out the Harvard Crimson's Women Director Spotlight on Mira Nair AB '79! Nair who divides her time between three countries — her birthplace India, Uganda, and the United States — is a world-renowned independent filmmaker.
The long-awaited Blumhouse sequel, The Forever Purge, moves up from July 9 to become the lone Independence Day weekend release from Universal! Couper Samuelson AB '02 is an executive producer for the film. (Deadline)
Natalie Portman AB '03 is set to star and executive produce HBO Films’ The Days of Abandonment, based on Elena Ferrante’s best-selling novel! Written and directed by Maggie Betts, The Days of Abandonment revolves around Tess, played by Portman. When Tess, a woman who abandoned her own dreams for a stable home life, is in turn abandoned by her husband, her world is thrown off its axis. (Deadline)
Dave Burd’s record-breaking FX comedy Dave returns for seconds this summer and will feature a slate of notable guest stars ranging from Lil Nas X to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Marty Bowen AB '91 is an executive producer for the series! Jeff Schaffer AB ’91 is also executive producer, and creator.
Congratulations to Andrew Sachs AB ’97, a supervising producer on Two Distant Strangers, which just won an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short Film! The film examines the deaths of Black Americans during encounters with police through the eyes of a character trapped in a time loop that keeps ending in his death.
HBO Max has ordered a competition show called The Real Magic Mike, where 10 men compete for a cash prize and a chance to perform at the Magic Mike Live stage show in Las Vegas. Harvard alum Reid Carolin will executive produce for the series! (Hollywood Reporter)
The new book by Liang Luo PhD '06, The Global White Snake, will be released by the University of Michigan Press in July 2021. Please find the book page on the Michigan press here.
New Members' Welcome
Harvardwood warmly welcomes all members who joined the organization last month:
- Jeanie Barnett, KSG, Other U.S.
- Lowry Yankwich, HLS, NY
- Bradley Riew, College, NY
- Penelope Alegria, College, BOS/Campus
- Alycia Cary, College, BOS/Campus
- Aissata Bah, College, BOS/Campus
- Sophia Higgins, College, BOS/Campus
- Marco Carnes, College, BOS/Campus
- Karen Swain, EXT, NY
- Rebecca Cadenhead, College, NY
- Alexandria Ankai, College, LA
- Esha Gupta, FOH, LA
- William Dunn, College, Other U.S.
- Dash Chin, College, BOS/Campus
- Michael Perusse, College, SF/Bay Area
- Ryan Morillo, College, BOS/Campus
- Ashley Masci, College, BOS/Campus
- Kelcee Everette, College, BOS/Campus
- Jesse Friedman, ART, NY
- Cassandra Snipes, FOH, SF/Bay Area
- Jimmy Biblarz, College, LA
- Daniela Lamas, College, BOS/Campus
- Allison Scharmann, College, BOS/Campus
- Kaitlin Wheeler, HDS, LA
- Steven Tompkins, GSAS, LA
- Divya Navani, College, BOS/Campus
- Joshua Gauthier, ART, Int'l
*FOH = Friend of Harvardwood
Alumni Profile: Carolyn Strauss AB '85 (Television Executive & producer)
by Connor Riordan AB '23
When I asked Carolyn Strauss AB ’85 about her proudest career moment, I could hear her smile through the phone. “I’m the worst at answering that kind of question. I don’t know!” she laughed. “I love when stuff that I love gets recognized, I think that’s always great… and when you have a show that’s very difficult to do, and then you turn it around. And it’s not me turning it around but the group involved… I think that’s always a really satisfying moment and something I’m always proud of.”
Her humble nature shone through the entire interview. She continuously emphasized the contributions of the artists she’s worked with and made sure to emphasize how fortunate she feels to have her career – which includes 34 years with HBO, being an executive producer on shows like Game of Thrones and Chernobyl (for which she has won five Primetime Emmy Awards), as well as the upcoming TV adaptation of the popular video game The Last of Us.
Coming out of Harvard with a degree in History, Strauss had no idea she would end up where she is today. In fact, going into entertainment wasn’t even on her radar. “I was trying to figure out, after I graduated, what I was going to do,” she told me. “Maybe I’d apply to law school or whatever. And then I got [a temp job]. And I liked it!”
For a time, she temped for several different workplaces in financing, marketing, publicity, and other areas. Eventually, she found her way to being a temp in the documentaries department at HBO in 1986. In her charming and enthusiastic way, Strauss exclaimed that at HBO, “The people who worked there were really impressive to me, and smart, and it was stimulating… I just thought, this place is kind of cool!”
Strauss’s time at HBO has clearly worked out well for her. From her temp job, she would take on more positions, like Senior Vice President for original programming in 1999, Executive Vice President for the same department in 2002. Just two years later, she assumed the position of HBO Entertainment President before segueing to a producing deal in 2008.
Strauss’s career is the stuff of legend. She has both green-lit and developed some of the most successful shows on television, including Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood and its film continuation (which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award), Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The Wire, along with the aforementioned GOT, Chernobyl, and The Last of Us.
But Strauss doesn’t like keeping the focus on herself and took every opportunity to praise her collaborators. “As producers, you don’t write the shows, you don’t direct the shows, you don’t do any of that, but you find the people who do.” She attributes her success to “…being able to hitch my wagon to the stars, you know, being able to find really talented writers who have a voice, who have something to say, and with great directors, and being able to be part of a team that’s really trying to be excellent at what they do, with a lot of attention to detail, and who are really interested in telling compelling stories about complex characters.”
The coronavirus has had an enormous impact on the entertainment industry, and the development and production process on Strauss’s shows are different than they used to be. Even so, she tries to look on the bright side. “In a weird way, it was fortuitous – I mean, not fortuitous, it was far from it,” she said, letting out another laugh. “But we could take advantage of that, the fact that everything was so shut down, to get scripts in shape and do the kind of work that we could do without shooting.”
Of course, there are a number of things she’s had to adapt to. “Now that shooting’s going to happen, it’s complicated – foreign teams, set restrictions, and you know everyone is having to do things a really different way.” But she takes comfort in the fact that sprawling, insightful, and challenging art continues to be produced during this time, a tribute to the tenacity of creators everywhere.
At this stage in her life, Strauss has turned her focus to the future. After 34 years at HBO, Strauss has moved her producing deal to Sister, an independent studio. Strauss met Jane Featherstone, the co-founder and COO of Sister, on the set of Chernobyl and the two hit it off. “It was a really excellent experience for me, and my favorite thing about being an executive at HBO was the collaboration, with a team, and I knew at Sister there was an excellent team to collaborate with.”
Like many people, Strauss is an avid fan of The Last of Us, and she told me she was “wildly excited” about the show. She praised its cast (which includes Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie), the writing, the directors, including Kantemir Balagov (Beanpole), Jasmila Žbanić (Qo Vadis, Aida?), Ali Abbasi (Border), and the “great artists working on prosthetics and the visual effects.”
Our conversation ended when I heard over the phone that she’d be pulled into another meeting in two minutes. After I fumbled through a thank-you and our call ended, I took a few moments to sit with our conversation. I kept coming back to one thing she said, a statement that perfectly described her career’s trajectory: “I always get a little bit flummoxed when people come to me for advice, because I feel like I can very rarely help them… it’s a business with so many different paths in it, and it’s hard to say this is how you do it. For me, I had a very particular path, and I was very fortunate, and I think I had the awareness to take advantage of my good fortune.”
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Our Harvardwood Lowdown: Tuesday, May 4th @4pm PST / 7pm EST
The Harvardwood Lowdown is an open Q&A for members to pick our brains about anything on your minds -- career questions, creative questions, or questions and suggestions about Harvardwood's programming. This Lowdown call is open to ALL Harvardwood members. Confirmed panelists include Harvardwood Co-Founders Adam Fratto and Mia Riverton Alpert, as well as President Allison Kiessling.
*We have an amazing Guest Panelist: writer and director Eric Lu! Eric is a Taiwanese-American TV and movie writer. He is currently writing on THE RESIDENT, a medical drama on FOX. Prior to that, he was a Youtuber with a channel that now has over 6 million subscribers. He went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School, but decided to pursue filmmaking instead with a mission to make films that heal.
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Harvardwood Toronto Presents: She Never Told Me About The Ocean Book Reading with Dr. Elisabeth S. McKetta: Friday, May 7th @ 3pm PST / 6pm EST
Harvardwood Toronto welcomes Harvard and Oxford instructor and author, Dr. Elisabeth Sharp McKetta, who will be sharing excerpts from her latest book She Never Told Me About the Ocean and will be answering questions about the writing and publication process.
RSVP & MORE INFO 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.