Issue 203 | December 2021

In this issue:

Message from Justin


  • Harvardwood Holiday Party 
  • The Harvardwood Holiday Auction is now live!
  • Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship
  • Harvardwood on Campus (HOC)
  • Talent Department Agent Assistant (UTA)


  • Exclusive Q&A with Sean Presant AB '93 (Writer, producer, director) 
  • Industry Successes
  • New Members' Welcome
  • Alumni Profile: Lance Oppenheim AB '19 (Filmmaker, documentarian, producer)


  • Become a Harvardwood member as we further engage in socially active programming, discourse, and action to help change the entertainment industry
  • Want to submit your success(es) to Harvardwood HIGHLIGHTS? Do so by posting here

Message from Harvardwood

Harvardwood Community,

Happy Holidays to you and yours! 

Firstly, we hope to have the privilege of seeing you in person at our Holiday Party on Tuesday, December 7th in Los Angeles!

Next, in the giving spirit, and as we continue to improve and expand Harvardwood's team, reach, and add programs, we ask that you please consider making a donation of any amount. Thank you so much!
Additionally, for current students, we are gearing up for another great 101 Boot Camp session in January, in addition to our J-Termship session. If you've applied, stay tuned for more on both! 

As always, 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. 

Last but not least, we are grateful for the work we are able to do, expanding creative and professional opportunities for our Harvardwood family. We could not do it without the support of our donors, volunteers, staff and membership.

Justin & The Harvardwood Team 

Harvardwood Holiday Party

More info HERE

The Harvardwood Holiday Auction is now live!

'Tis the season! Here's your chance to bid for a private zoom experience with Literary Manager Zadoc Angell '03, Director Andy Cadiff '77, Emmy-Award winning showrunner Dave Mandel '92, Emmy-Award winning Executive Producer Jeff Melvoin '75, and Screenwriter Massy Tadjedin '99!

Bidding will remain open until midnight December 31st!

Our auction proceeds are a huge part of our year end fundraising efforts, so please bid and share among other Harvard alumni. All proceeds benefit Harvard student programs including Harvardwood 101, Summer Internship Program and Harvardwood HIGHLIGHTS writer stipends.

More information and other exciting items are available! Thank you for your support of Harvardwood this holiday season!

Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship

Harvardwood is pleased to announce the Mia and David Alpert Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship for graduating seniors or recent Harvard alumni working or seeking to work in the arts, media, and entertainment fields. The multiyear gift, generously donated by Harvardwood Co-Founder Mia Riverton Alpert ’99 and her husband, producer and media entrepreneur David Alpert ‘97, includes a $24,000 grant, awarded annually, to support one recent graduate from the College for one year as they pursue their artistic projects. 

The application can be found here. The deadline is Jan. 10th, 2022! 

Harvardwood On Campus (HOC)

Calling all current Harvard College students interested in arts, media and entertainment careers! We invite you to join HOC (Harvardwood On Campus), a newly formed on-campus chapter of Harvardwood that serves as a community for current students looking to break into the industry — a place to meet like-minded peers, share challenges/success stories, and make friends with folks interested in entertainment. Over the course of the school year, we will be hosting panels, guest speakers, and workshops, as well as to connecting current students with mentors and industry professionals. Fill out our interest form here!

Talent Department Agent Assistant (UTA)

Job Description: UTA is looking for a Senior Assistant to join our Talent Department. Candidates must have the ability to proactively function under tight deadlines in a fast-paced working environment and experience managing daily schedules/calendars, as well as preparing for meetings. Qualified candidates must have precise, detailed-oriented organizational skills, as well as excellent communication and writing abilities. The Talent department is synonymous with award-winning cinema, from groundbreaking independent film-makers to Hollywood legends. UTA represents actors, writers, and directors; production designers, editors, and cinematographers; and other renowned and emerging artists. The ideal candidate is knowledgeable about the movies and the entertainment industry as a whole.

Responsibilities Include:

  • Manage phone, calendar, and research for meetings; schedule virtual meetings and calls, internally and externally 
  • Maintaining spreadsheets, and drafting correspondences
  • Strong task management skills, used to proactively build processes that benefit the business
  • Liaise with internal staff at all levels and external clients & partners
  • Expense reports - prepare monthly reports for review & submit to accounting for approval
  • Prepare press kits and materials
  • Track and review contracts, client calendars and payments through a series of detailed grids


Exclusive Q&A with Sean Presant AB '93 (Writer, producer, director) 

Sean Presant AB '93 is an award-winning writer, producer, and director whose work spans film and TV, comedy and drama. A firm believer that stories can change the world, Sean also co-founded Writers Action, a messaging organization that teaches effective storytelling and connects Oscar and Emmy winning writers with political candidates and non-profit humanitarian groups.

Q. What did you study at Harvard, and how did that inform your career?

A. I started Harvard thinking I wanted to be a journalist. I wrote for The Crimson and Harvard Magazine and I interned at The LA Times. That was going to be my path. I wanted to take film classes, though, and, at the time, that meant you had to be a Visual and Environmental Studies concentrator. So I concentrated in History and Literature and Visual and Environmental Studies. My diploma has a ridiculous number of 'and's on it. The big discovery for me, though, was that as much as I loved the written word, I loved the combination of the written word and visual imagery more. If I went into journalism, I had to choose between the two. Film let me do everything I loved. There was something else about Harvard, though, that was more crucial. Harvard, in any concentration, really pushes its students to look for the bigger picture. This is crucial in film in TV. I can’t tell you how many times on every project we’re asking, “What is this project really about?" It's a question of thematics, and it's often the most difficult thing to pin down. Harvard was excellent training for that, even if it does occasionally make decisions about which sandwich to order into an existential questioning of our place in the universe. 

Q. You won the Harvardwood Writers Competition for your scripts Mental Case and A Situation (Comedy). Can you speak about what happened with those projects next?

A. Mental Case went into development with a production company at Warner Brothers, and both of those scripts helped me get other writing work. A Situation is a script I still love. It’s floating around out there looking for a producer who wants to do a political parable that’s also an accidental musical. 

Q. What projects are you working on now? What are you most excited about?

A. I have a movie coming out hopefully next year that I did with one of my Harvard classmates, Sumalee Montano, called The Deal. I'm excited for people to see that. It was a special film, both in subject matter and because It was a collaboration with a close friend I’ve known since sophomore year. We shot it in Serbia and there were a lot of times on set when I would look over and remember us all hanging out in the Winthrop House dining hall and think, “would any of us have imagined back then that someday we’d be making a movie together halfway around the world?” She’s fantastic in the film, by the way. Her performance is heartbreaking. Besides that, there’s a big disaster film and a couple new series in the works. Stay tuned. 

Q. How was your experience writing for ‘Instant Mom’ and ‘Happily Divorced’ which addressed modern family dynamics within the traditional sitcom structure? 

A. Amazing. I love doing multi-cam sitcoms. That's the kind with a live audience. It's like putting a play up once a week, and, for a writer, especially in comedy, it's gratifying to see people react to your words in real time. I’ve had a strange career in that I’ve now been in every genre, and if anyone asks what the most fun format is to produce, I’ll say, without question, it’s multi-cam sitcom. It’s also a great format for addressing modern family dynamics because it looks so familiar. The shows feel comfortable and traditional, so you're able to speak about things that are not comfortable or traditional and your audience will go along for the ride--provided you're being funny. If the jokes don't land the audience will want to do you physical harm. You also have to be emotionally truthful. Audiences can sniff out dishonesty. In both shows we were talking about less traditional family structures, but showing that, at the end of the day, family is family and love is love. Instant Mom is one of those little gems of a show. We did 65 episodes and now, whenever I see people I worked with there, it’s genuinely like seeing family.



Industry Successes

Sean Presant (AB '93) has an eclectic resume that includes features, shorts, and TV in ALL genres from multi-cam sitcoms, to reality competition, to prestige crime shows. So how has Sean managed such an impressively wide variety of work? Listen as he is interviewed by industry professionals Meg Lefauve, writer of Inside Out, and former Pixar exec turned writer, Lorien McKenna. (Apple Podcasts)

Bollywood hit
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge goes to Broadway with top talent attached, Nell Benjamin (AB ‘93) to write book and lyrics. (Variety

Mike Schur (AB ‘97) & Shea Serrano comedy Primo ordered to series at IMDb TV. (Deadline)

Ghost book to be developed as a stop-motion series by Jim Henson Company, executive produced by Lisa Henson (AB ‘82). (The Bookseller)

Neil LaBute’s Out of The Blue rounds out its cast with Chase Sui Wonders (AB ‘18). (Variety)

Tom Morello (AB ‘86) On Pivoting From Rage Against The Machine Tour To His New Album With Springsteen, Chris Stapleton And More. (Forbes)

National Treasure: Lisette Alexis to headline Disney+ series directed by Mira Nair (AB ‘79). (Deadline)

Scenic designer Derek McLane (AB ‘80) discusses the new Tony Bennett Ballet which incorporates the legendary singer’s hand-drawn artwork. (Architectural Digest)

Works & Process at the Guggenheim continues with an inside look at Matthew Aucoin (AB ‘12) and Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. (OperaWire)

Check out the Official Trailer for Pixar's Ciao Alberto Short Film, written by Jesse Andrews (AB ‘04) and Mike Jones. (FirstShowing)

Daniel Dae Kim joins Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action series, executive produced by Dan Lin (MBA ‘99). (NBC News

Documentary on “Fifth Beatle” Billy Preston in the works from director Paris Barclay (AB ‘79). (The Wrap)

Miracle Workers, originally created by Simon Rich (AB ‘06), renewed for Season 4 on TBS. (Collider)

2021 Second Stage Gala will honor Lynn Nottage and Debra Martin Chase (HLS ‘81). (Playbill)

Tatyana Ali (AB ‘02) talks new Lifetime movie A Picture Perfect Holiday. (BlackFilm)

Love, Victor Season 3 begins production, with Executive Producer Marty Bowen (AB '81). (What’s On Disney Plus)

Cyrano Movie Musical Pushes Up Theatrical Release for Awards Season, featuring Bashir Salahuddin (AB ‘98). (Playbill)

Mira Sorvino (AB ‘89) is ready for her next act. (Vanity Fair)

Olivier Martinez joins Maya Rudolph Apple Comedy, written and created by Alan Yang (AB ‘02) and Matt Hubbard (AB ‘00). (Deadline)

Authors Jason Mott and Tiya Miles (AB ‘92) Win National Book Awards. (Ebony)

Kathy Busby (AB ‘84) has been named president of original programming at Starz originals. (Variety)

Racheal Seymour (MMP ‘97) recently finished writing a feature for Universal and was just staffed as an executive story editor on a Paramount + drama series. 

Henry Lynch (AB ‘21) will be playing the role of Bill in three episodes of Dexter: New Blood in the month of December. 

Jonathan Kells Phillips (AM ‘00) will be playing a series regular role as Volk, a high-ranking Russian spy on "Condor" Season 2, U.S. Premiere on EPIX, November 7th, 2021.

ModernIconRecordings/Ropeadope Records released Debbie Deane (AB ‘86)'s  jazz/soul infused, piano-based album of 12 original songs entitled Red Ruby Stars on Sept 17th, 2021. Available on all music platforms. (Ropeadope)

Kerstin Roolfs (EDM ‘07) has a solo show at Stride Arts Gallery of her abstract watercolor series and newest works inspired by the pandemic. (Stride Arts

Composer Susan Kander (AB ‘79) and husband Warren Ashworth wrote We, the House, published by Blue Cedar Press. Her opera dwb (driving while black), written with soprano/librettist Roberta Gumbel, out on Albany Records, will receive its third production in January at Birmingham Opera.

New Members' Welcome

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

  • Matt Beck, College, LA
  • Shirley Chen, College, LA
  • Stephanie Ashkar, College, BOS/Campus
  • Phillip Wilson, Ext., LA
  • Susan Garell, GSBA, LA
  • Petros Paranikas, HLS, Chicago
  • Nicholas Tsang, College, NY
  • Catherine Wang, KSG, BOS/Campus
  • Cynthia (Rusty) Hoover, KSG, LA
  • Naomi Oliver, Ext., LA
  • Scott Malloy, Ext., NY
  • Dixie Morrison, HLS, LA 
  • Sam Eisendrath, College, LA
  • Laureen Smith, HDS, Washington D.C.
  • Nikhil Kamat, College, NY 
  • Joan Dans, College, LA
  • Susan Kander, College, NY
  • Ara Parikh, College, BOS/Campus
  • Lenna Minion, Ext., BOS/Campus
  • Madison Pankey, College, BOS/Campus
  • Teddy Sevilla, College, NY
  • Sophie Garrigus, College, LA
  • Esther Xiang, College, BOS/Campus
  • Richard Ross James, FOH, NY
  • Laurie McKinzey, GSBA, BOS/Campus
  • Kate Rachesky, College, NY
  • Michael Evans, College, BOS/Campus
  • Alexander Walsh, College, BOS/Campus
  • Jovanni Candia, College, BOS/Campus
  • Riya Kapoor, College, NY
  • Simone Chu, College, LA

*FOH = Friend of Harvardwood

Alumni Profile: Lance Oppenheim AB '19 (Filmmaker, documentarian, producer)

by Sophie Kim 

Lance Oppenheim is a filmmaker from South Florida. His feature film, Some Kind of Heaven, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Oppenheim was a 2019 Sundance Ignite Fellow, and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film 2019.” He is also the youngest contributor to The New York Times Op-Docs. Oppenheim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University. 

Oppenheim first started making films in his early teens, and was drawn to documentaries because of how many interesting real-life stories were out there; a case of truth being stranger than fiction. “Making documentaries [seemed] almost like making science fiction films, because the kinds of behavior that I would see in my neighborhood, in my backyard, were bizarre,” Oppenheim said. 

Oppenheim knew he wanted to make films before coming to Harvard, and his experiences at Harvard further helped him on that journey. He decided to concentrate in Art, Film, and Visual Studies, or AFVS (formerly called Visual and Environmental Studies, or VES). Oppenheim credits the AFVS program with teaching him the vocabulary of film, and helping him to form artistic and mentorly connections. He was able to access the resources and time to shoot and edit films for classes, as well as benefit from critique from professors and fellow classmates. Oppenheim’s first feature film, a documentary called Some Kind of Heaven, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, actually started out as his thesis film. 

Oppenheim spoke about his inspiration behind Some Kind of Heaven, which is about a Florida retirement community called The Villages. He was fascinated by the way that entering The Villages felt like entering a different time and place. “I’m very interested in people who decide to cocoon themselves inside of a fantasy world, a world that they can control,” Oppenheim said. Oppenheim lived at The Villages, without a camera, in order to immerse himself in his subjects’ lives and gain their trust. He emphasized the importance of staying true to his subjects and the risk of exploitation. “I feel like, sadly, the most popular way that people make documentary films reminds me of a mosquito. It's a mosquito that, you know, bites someone and sucks their blood, and then paints a portrait of them with their blood, and then basically asks, at the end of the process, how do you like it? I'm always trying to kind of not do that,” Oppenheim said. 

Oppenheim described how acknowledging the construct of filmmaking allowed him to get closer to his subjects and produce more honest work. He was aware that, as a non-resident of The Villages, he “stuck out like a sore thumb,” because of both his profession and his age, and leaned into that. For example, he would occasionally tell his subjects to repeat a routine for the camera, or show them rough cuts of scenes. “It was like they were actors playing versions of themselves, being themselves for this movie. It's a magical realism, in a way,” Oppenheim said. He was also interested in the theatricality of the world of The Villages, describing it as “like a movie set”.

Oppenheim also spoke about his experiences with artistic block. He acknowledged that procrastination is “part of [the] process” and noted that absorbing inspiration from other sources can help jump-start the artistic process. “I think it's important to know how you work, trust how you work, you know, and don't beat yourself up, if you're, if you're not feeling it, you know, for a long time,” Oppenheim said. 

Oppenheim discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his work. Although the news cycle caused him to struggle to produce artistically at times, he was grateful that it forced him to take a break from working and spend more time with his family, which included the birth of his niece. 

Lastly, Oppenheim advised aspiring student filmmakers to foster relationships with professors and mentors in the arts, and to take advantage of Harvard student grants to fund their artistic projects. He also emphasized the importance of not just creating work, but publicizing it. Finally, he highlighted how being surrounded by driven, like-minded individuals at Harvard inspired him to create. “If you’re stressed about thinking about finding a crew, or finding people to work with, just shut those feelings down. See who's in front of you, and see who's around, and embrace what you have in front of you,” Oppenheim said.

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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List of All Upcoming Harvardwood Events Here

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Want to submit your success(es) to Harvardwood HIGHLIGHTS? Do so by posting here

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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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