In this issue:
MESSAGE FROM HARVARDWOOD
- Launch of Harvardwood JOBS, a new program providing flexible, paid opportunities in entertainment!
Harvardwood seeks volunteer social event coordinators
- John Bowman Memorial Tribute
Featured Job: Executive Assistant (Lake George Entertainment/Nicholas Britell) - NY
- Alumni Profile: Ayanna Lonian AB ’99 (Amazon worldwide licensing)
- Industry News
- New Members' Welcome
- Exclusive Q&A with Marshall Lewy AB ’99 (podcast & TV producer)
CALENDAR & NOTES
- July 12 - Pitching For TV: A Conversation with Adam Fratto (AB '90) and Allison Kiessling (Ed.M. '05)
- July 21 - Crowdfunding the Dream with SHP Comics Founder Shawn Hainsworth (AB '88)
July 28 - A Conversation with Ayanna Lonian (AB '99)
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!
We hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful summer as we head into the July 4th holiday weekend!
This summer, we're continuing to provide services to support your creative endeavors in the arts, media and entertainment — and we're very excited to announce a new Harvardwood initiative. Harvardwood JOBS is a new program addressing your requests for more connections to jobs and internships in entertainment. Harvardwood JOBS is designed to provide flexible, paid opportunities to members who are undergrads, recent grads, and those making career transitions. Scroll down for more information, and complete this survey to receive more information in the coming weeks.
Later this month, we're excited to bring you more virtual events to help hone important skills and provide vital information:
• "Pitching for TV" on July 12 will answer your questions about what makes a good TV pitch.
• "Crowdfunding the Dream" on July 21 will share best practices for crowdfunding campaigns to support your passion projects.
• "A Conversation with Ayanna Lonian" on July 28 will explore how streaming services like Amazon acquire and distribute content.
Please consider donating to Harvardwood. Your donations are tax deductible!
Launch of Harvardwood JOBS, a new program providing flexible, paid opportunities!
We're excited to announce an update to an important endeavor here at Harvardwood. Over the years, we've heard your many requests for more connections to formal jobs and internships across entertainment. While Harvardwood has always provided connections to and opportunities with partner companies, we are now launching Harvardwood JOBS, a program designed to provide flexible, paid opportunities to Harvardwood members who are undergrads, recent grads, and those making career transitions.
We are hard at work growing the availability of a range of positions with our partner companies -- all are paid positions, but range from part-time to full-time, remote to in-person, from rolling work to formal internships.
We're working with Harvard itself to provide companies the ability to view Harvardwood members' profiles, resumes, availability, etc. in real time, in order to create matchings to their listed positions.
If interested, please fill out this survey linked here (you will be required to upload your resume) and be on the lookout for more information in the coming weeks.
We ask for your patience and participation, as this program will grow each month, year-round!
Rick Bernstein (Director) & Justin White (Director, Harvardwood JOBS)
Get involved with Harvardwood!
Want to work with us? We are currently looking for Social event coordinators.
Now that we're resuming more in-person events, we are looking for volunteers to help pitch, plan and coordinate monthly or quarterly social events that can help bring the Harvardwood community together. We are primarily looking for someone in Los Angeles, but if you live elsewhere and want to help coordinate social events with your local chapter, let us know, and we can get you in touch with them. Interested? Email [email protected] with "Social event coordinator" in the subject line.
John Bowman Memorial Tribute
Earlier this year we said goodbye to beloved John F. Bowman (AB ’80, MBA ’85), a valued leader in his role as Vice-Chair of the Harvardwood Board amongst many other things.
The memorial tribute video from the Writers Guild of America can be viewed by clicking here.
Job Description: This is an open position working with composer Nicholas Britell and Lake George Entertainment LLC. It is a hybrid of in-person work at Lake George Entertainment in Manhattan and remote when necessary due to COVID safety. The duties include assisting in all aspects of administration of Lake George Entertainment LLC in addition to personal assistance to owner/composer Nicholas Britell. Lake George Entertainment is a growing entertainment company focused on all aspects of business supporting Nicholas's endeavors including his composing/producing work, Lake George’s music publishing catalog, soundtrack album catalog, and more. Click here for more info!
Alumni Profile: Ayanna Lonian AB '99 (Amazon worldwide licensing)
by Connor Riordan
At one point in her career, Ayanna Lonian AB ’99 was weighing job offers from three major media companies: a job in corporate strategy at The New York Times Company or an executive role at either ESPN or HBO. She decided on the Times Company position because it offered her something the others didn’t – the opportunity for intellectual expansion. “I'd had research data experience and financial transactions seemed like it was something that would be unique,” she said. “I've always thought of my career in that way ‒ what functional skills am I going to add… [that are] going to sort of round me out a little bit?”
It’s an attitude that has defined the course of her impressive career. She currently serves as the Director and Head of Worldwide Major Studio Licensing Strategy at Amazon Prime Video. She’s in charge of managing the teams responsible for evaluating, negotiating, and closing complex, global streaming licensing agreements with third-party major studios and TV networks. She also manages Prime Video Direct, a service that, Lonian explained, “has allowed independent filmmakers to publish content in our catalogs in the way that our company allows independent authors to publish ebooks.” When I asked her about her day-to-day operations, she said to me, with a bit of a smile, “I won't really say house on fire, but… I spent the better part of this morning thinking about content – whether it's coming from Nigeria or South Africa, or parts of Sub-Saharan Africa – how do we optimize that licensing activity? And how do we think about constructing those deals?” Her afternoon was slated for organizational management. “We're going through our own staffing planning process at Amazon… Then tomorrow I'll spend a chunk of the day focused on sub PVD.”
Even before beginning her career in entertainment, Lonian was used to carving her own path. “I ended up deferring my first year of college and spent the year in Ghana,” she said. She taught math and science at a junior secondary school and spent time traveling before taking an international relations course at the University of Ghana. She then enrolled at Harvard, but her life took an unexpected turn her sophomore year when her parents divorced. “That changed their economic circumstances, and I didn’t qualify for student loans at the time,” she said. “I ended up leaving, not exactly sure when I was going to go back.”
During her time away from Harvard, she joined a startup called Africana.com as a channel manager working on product development. The company was sold to Time Warner just before it was acquired by AOL, and Lonian decided to move on from the company. “I got a little bit of money for my stock units and decided to go back and finish my last few years of college.” She changed her major to social anthropology and wrote a thesis focusing on cyber ethnographic research studying online communities of color.
After graduating from Harvard, Lonian aspired to launch her own business. “I actually had a dream of going to New York and working in retail and starting a cosmetics company for men,” she says. Instead, she interviewed to be a retail analyst with Forrester Research and was told she was overqualified for the job. “Then the recruiter called me back the next day,” Lonian exclaimed, “and she said, ‘Look, I know this is going to sound crazy, but the head of our media and entertainment practice really liked you. Will you come back in and interview for a job as an analyst on our media and entertainment team?’”
Lonian initially said no because she didn’t understand how she could be overqualified for the same role with a different focus. Then, her mom weighed in. “She was like, ‘Are you crazy? Do you have a job?’ And I said no. And she said, ‘You need to call those people back and go interview for that job!’” Lonian landed the role and ended up working with several Harvard Business School alumni, which inspired her to pursue a business degree. “Two years into Forrester, I knew I wanted to go to business school,” she said. She completed her MBA at Kellogg, becoming the first in her family to earn the degree.
After graduating from Kellogg, Lonian stayed at The New York Times Company for two years before moving on to work in affiliate sales at ESPN with the content distribution team responsible for distributing both ESPN and the Walt Disney Company’s TV networks, cable companies, and other properties. Sales provided another opportunity for Lonian to expand her skills. She notes that in business school, there were no classes focusing on sales. “Folks look at you as if you're talking about selling used cars, like something's kind of unsanitary about selling,” she said. “But the reality is, all professional services are effectively selling something.” After seven years the job at Prime Video beckoned. It was a difficult decision to switch over. “It was mostly because I wanted international experience, and if I had stayed at Disney, as much as I loved it, I knew I wasn't going to get that,” she explained.
Lonian balances her responsibilities at Amazon by practicing ruthless prioritization, something she suggests all media hopefuls do. “Leaders, we always encourage folks to ruthlessly prioritize your focus, because the one commodity, the biggest, most precious commodity that we have is our bandwidth,” she told me. She also believes that teamwork is paramount. She points out that being a rock star is of limited value when the team is struggling. Strong teams also attract high-quality work. “The reputation of the team is like a rising tide that lifts all boats,” she said.
What other advice does Lonian have for entertainment hopefuls? “I would say, first and foremost, don't give up,” she told me firmly. “It does take a degree of fortitude where if you're interested in the industry, you just have to stick with it and be self-motivated.” On a more concrete level, Lonian recommends scheduling informational interviews to build a professional network. “If you just say, ‘Hey, can I just have 30 minutes or an hour of your time to talk?’ in my experience, most executives will probably say yes.” That opens the door to building relationships. In business school, Lonian tracked all her informational interviews and followed up consistently. “Some of these folks have become friends of mine for life. Treat it like building your network and cultivate it.”
Informational interviews can also provide invaluable intelligence should you want to work for their company. “A person might say, ‘Oh, this is strategy—but hey, this other team over here has a track record of getting people promoted.’ That hiring manager is able to get their people in the room to get you exposure within that company.” This kind of inside information can also help people avoid managers who she says might stunt your growth rather than cultivate it. “Use the information that you're gathering through these informational interviews to become more focused in your efforts.”
Reaching out to people is also something that resonates with Lonian when it comes to licensing strategy, something she revealed when I asked her about her proudest career moment. At the end of 2016, shortly after she was hired by Amazon, she helped the company expand globally across 240 countries in one fell swoop. “It’s wild to me that it’s one o’clock here on the West Coast, but it’s inevitably morning in some part of the world,” she mused. “And there could be a little person, a two-year-old… their orientation for consuming premium content may literally be a mobile phone. And they’re interacting with a service that I helped launch. And that's just wild to me, that somewhere – transcending countries, boundaries, languages… that little person is watching Prime Video, and I helped make that happen.”
Harvardwood presents A Conversation with Ayanna Lonian on July 28. Click here for more info!
Connor Riordan '23 is a rising Senior at Harvard studying History and Literature and Film. In addition to being involved in Harvardwood programs like Harvardwood 101 and the Harvardwood Writers Program, Connor has performed in numerous productions on campus and has written, acted in, directed, and produced his own projects. He's grateful to be a part of the Harvardwood community.
From creators Jonathan Steinberg (AB '97) and Robert Levine comes a new show The Old Man, now available on FX and Hulu. The cast features alums John Lithgow (AB '67) and Amy Brenneman (AB '87). (Primetimer)
Rutherford Falls fans, wait no longer! All 8 episodes of season 2 are now available to binge on Peacock. Rutherford Falls comes from creators Mike Schur (AB ‘97), Sierra Teller Orneals, and Ed Helms. (Variety)
Westworld is taking on a whole new look for season 4. Who knows what showrunner Lisa Joy Nolan (JD ‘07) has in store? (Esquire)
Fan-favorite part-time director, part-time showrunner Alan Yang (AB '02) grants an exclusive interview with The Straits Times. (Straits Times)
From co-creators (and college friends) Alan Yang (AB ‘02) and Matt Hubbard (AB ‘00) comes an exciting new Apple TV+ series Loot, starring Maya Rudolph. (Variety)
New Members' Welcome
Harvardwood warmly welcomes all members who joined the organization last month:
- Joseph Bertagna, College, NY
- Sahab Aslam, Ext., NY
- Julie Geller, College, Other International
- Thomas Wolf, GSE, BOS/Campus
- Caitlin Dick, FOH, NY
- Ahmed Badr, GSE, NY
- Ayrton Little, College, BOS/Campus
Exclusive Q&A with Marshall Lewy AB ’99 (podcast & TV producer)
Marshall Lewy AB '99 is the current Chief Content Officer at Wondery, the largest independent podcast publisher and home to Dr. Death, Business Wars, The Shrink Next Door, American History Tellers, Dirty John and many more. Before his time at Wondery, Marshall wrote and directed the feature films Blue State and California Solo and was nominated for an Emmy for producing HBO’s TV series Project Greenlight featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
Q: Your show WeCrashed, similarly to that of Hulu’s The Dropout and Showtime’s Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, focuses on a story of failed tech startup founders. Audiences seem ravenous for more of these true-life miniseries dramas. What do you think it is about these types of narratives that are so gripping to watchers? How much artistic liberty do you feel can be taken when adapting these stories to the screen?
A: We've told a lot of these sorts of true stories about bad actors in business across our various Wondery podcasts, from many seasons of Business Wars to our investigative miniseries like WeCrashed and The Vaping Fix, which was a series about the rise and fall of JUUL. They always have such fascinating characters, with stories of hubris and usually the perversion of the "American Dream." I think people respond because they tap into some deep vein that we all relate to, and they also are very of-the-moment for some of the challenges we're all going through collectively right now. I think we’re living through a period in time where lots of us are having trouble comprehending the larger realities happening all around us (e.g. pandemic, land war in Europe, domestic political upheaval, etc.), so we looking for an anchor of “truth” even in our fiction. And when it comes time to take these true podcasts and turn them into TV series, we recognize that the TV show is now a fictionalized drama, not an investigative series – we want to support the vision of the writers, showrunners, actors, and directors who are working to bring the series to life. We share as much of our research and reporting as we can, but we also want them to make it their own, and hit the themes and truths they want to explore.
Q: Both WeCrashed and Joe vs. Carole are miniseries which originally played out as podcasts. How do you bring a podcast to life onscreen? How do you decide which podcasts could make compelling visual retellings in TV format?
A: We never make a podcast for the sole reason of turning it into a TV series – we are attracted to these stories because they’re fascinating stories and we think podcast listeners will respond. But I think we've found success in bringing them to TV because the narrative, character-driven way we create our podcasts attracts visual storytellers. And in many cases, we’ve had actors want to play certain roles just from listening to our podcast, which was the case with Kate McKinnon signing on to play Carole Baskin (which was six months before the Tiger King documentary ever aired on Netflix!), as well as Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell for our podcast The Shrink Next Door.
Q: You said in an article for The Hollywood Reporter that “listeners are growing more accustomed to podcasts that push the limits of how stories are told” in light of Wondery’s groundbreaking decision to release several podcast series in Dolby Atmos. This makes Wondery the first podcast streaming service in the US to deliver podcasts in the immersive sound format. What do you find unique about the further possibilities of the podcast format?
A: I started as an avid listener of podcasts before I got into making them. I loved the purity of the writing and the production – compared with television and film, there are a lot fewer moving parts, production-wise. I also loved the intimacy and authenticity of them. Even though podcasts have been around in some form for almost twenty years now (and radio long before that), it’s still so early in the evolution of on-demand spoken-word audio and audio storytelling. Spatial audio, smart speakers, interactivity ... there’s still a lot more to explore.
Q: Early on in your career, you accrued credits both as a writer and director, but for years your primary focus has been producing, especially podcasts. What led you to where you are now? What influenced you to pivot into producing, or was that always the goal?
A: My dream from the time I was a kid was always to be a film director. I went to film school at Columbia after Harvard and got an MFA in Film Directing. When I started film school, there wasn’t Youtube, podcasts, video streaming, etc. So my dream was to make thoughtful films that played in movie theaters on the big screen! But in the years after film school, I kept finding myself attracted to all the other ways that were proliferating around visual storytelling. So about a year after I wrote and directed a film that premiered at Sundance called California Solo, I started working more on the producing side, working with creators across all different types of media: film and TV, but also digital short-form, audio, book publishing, etc. I found it moved so much faster and allowed me to exercise so many different muscles than working on just one or two projects at a time. After that, it would be hard to go back to making just one movie at a time. At Wondery, I directed our first scripted audio drama Blood Ties, which just launched its third season, and that's been a great way to get back to directing scripted content.
Q: In what ways did your time at Harvard influence the path you have taken since graduating?
A: Well, I spent many, many nights during college watching old and obscure movies at the Harvard Film Archive and the Brattle Theater, and I took a bunch of film courses. I also created a “sitcom” at HRTV, the Harvard television station that had its headquarters in the basement of Pforzheimer House in the Quad. They had all kinds of video cameras and rudimentary digital editing systems back when you could only hold about 30 minutes of video footage on a single hard drive. We never got any audience because none of the houses at Harvard actually were wired for cable, but it was still a good way to practice making things.
Q: In a 2020 interview, you mentioned that you hadn’t noticed an increase in podcast listeners due to the pandemic at that time. Now, over two years later, do you find that statement remains accurate, or has there been a tangible COVID impact on the podcast industry in the wake of months-long quarantines? How about in terms of the creation, rather than the consumption, of podcasts?
A: It's hard to delineate what growth over the past few years came from the podcast boom that had already begun pre-pandemic, with what got accelerated by the pandemic. We did see a pretty steep dropoff in podcast listening during the first few months of the pandemic, but listening bounced back quickly as people found new times of day and activities to do while listening to podcasts. For example, maybe they started listening to podcasts while walking the dog instead of driving to work. So the pandemic has been a time of listener growth, and I think of podcast creation, too. One of the best examples of a very successful podcast that was born out of the pandemic is Smartless, which we now distribute and have a major partnership with at Wondery and Amazon Music. We launched a show in March 2020 called Even the Rich which seemed very ill-timed when it first launched and got off to an extremely slow start, but it has since become one of our most successful ongoing shows.
Q: What do you think is most essential to crafting a successful podcast?
A: A passionate connection to the subject matter, access to something or someone (or a point of view) that no one else in the world has, and a good microphone.
Q: Do you have a favorite podcast (or podcasts) you’d always recommend? What about TV shows, movies, or other go-to favorite pieces of media?
A: I’ll stick with podcasts only so the answer doesn’t go too long, but you can’t go wrong starting with some of the greatest episodes and stories from This American Life.
Q: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?
A: I used to love running and cooking, but now I have 4 kids ages 10 and under, so it’s mostly work and family these days.
Wondery's extensive catalog of podcasts can be found on their website at wondery.com. The TV show WeCrashed is available to watch on Apple TV+, and Joe vs. Carole is available to watch on Peacock.
Pitching For TV: A Conversation with Adam Fratto (AB '90) & Allison Kiessling (Ed.M. '05)
July 12, 5-6pm PT - click here
What makes a good TV pitch? What are execs really listening for? What are common mistakes? And how does one distill an entire series or movie into 15 minutes?? Join us as Adam and Allison swap questions and discuss pitching from both the executive’s side and the writer’s side. Plus time for an open Q & A.
Adam Fratto has listened to hundreds of pitches in his roles as VP of Scripted Series at History Channel and A+E Studios, SVP of Series at Reel One Entertainment, and Head of Drama Development at Pukeko Pictures LP, among others.
Allison Kiessling is a comedy writer who has sold and developed TV pitches with ABC, ABC Studios, TV Land, DC Comics, Warner Bros and Millennium Films.
Crowdfunding the Dream with SHP Comics Founder Shawn Hainsworth (AB '88)
July 21, 5-6pm PT - click here
Join us for an exclusive seminar! Crowdfunding provides a unique opportunity to bring your project to life. But, the market is crowded. On Kickstarter alone, there have been over 80,000 film projects with a success rate of under 40%. So, how do you run a successful campaign? From setting realistic expectations, creating a good story, fulfilling rewards, and building an audience for your work; managing the full lifecycle of a campaign is a lot of work. In this seminar, Shawn Hainsworth will walk you through the process, providing real-world advice to help you manage a successful campaign. Shawn's primary focus will be on project-based campaigns, such as those run on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but he will also touch on creator-based campaigns such as those run on Patreon.
Ever wondered how streaming services acquire and put out content? Come find out!!
Ayanna Lonian is the Director of Content Acquisition and the Head of the Worldwide Major Studio Licensing & Strategy Team for Amazon Prime. She leads a content program management team which is responsible for all of Prime Video’s worldwide SVOD (streaming, subscription on-demand video) licensing agreements with major studios and TV network groups. She is also responsible for managing the dedicated team of content acquisition executives who acquire locally produced and US/Hollywood content on behalf of Prime Video’s service in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya etc.).
Prior to her current role at Amazon, Ayanna was on the content distribution team for The Walt Disney Company’s Disney and ESPN Media Networks (DEMN) division, responsible for ABC Entertainment, ABC News Now, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Freeform, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD and ESPNU content on linear TV and digital platforms. Prior to The Walt Disney Company, Ayanna was a member of the Corporate Planning team at The New York Times Company where she performed valuation and due diligence analysis to support corporate acquisitions, including NYTCo.’s $33M acquisition of ConsumerSearch.com.
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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.