Justin Walker White AB '10 is Harvardwood's new Director of Programs and Business Development! Justin started his career in management consulting, before pursuing his passion of acting more seriously and receiving his MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, Justin maintained his consulting career while acting in television and theater, and works on a myriad of projects today.
Q. What childhood experiences—whether you recognized it at the time or not—influenced your passion for acting?
A. I certainly didn’t recognize it. I had a few opportunities to act as a young kid and rejected them. Later, a friend at Harvard even asked me to audition for a show, and I shunned that too. I recall saying to them, “why would I memorize lines for no class credit?!?” Funny that I’ve easily spent hundreds of nights up late memorizing lines since 2014. Life's crazy.
My experiential connection was certainly through watching stand-up comedy. I vividly remember wanting to be a stand-up as a kid — never an actor. I made a (false, some would say) distinction in my head. I also remember being entirely too scared to try it. I finally tried in 2013, just as the acting bug caught me. I started with a stand-up class on Groupon, which should tell you all you need to know about how that went down.
My deep connection to—and passion for—acting, both dramatic and comedic, became apparent to me as a grown man, swimming around in corporate America.
Q. Why did you choose Harvard? Did you do any acting on campus?
A. I chose Harvard for the challenge. I knew the environment would impact me greatly. I visited on my own, and was ready to be done with what I felt at the time was a rough process.
I did no acting at school whatsoever. If you would’ve told me before my senior year that I’d be an actor 10 years later, I’d have laughed it off. It just wasn’t on my radar. Strangely, though, I wanted to be a sportscaster at the time, even interning at the NBA in Live Production. I didn't pursue it seriously enough, feeling I "had to" go into business. Part of the reason I’m so involved with Harvardwood is because I want to enable young grads and their networks to enter the entertainment industry and truly be set up for success. Or, at least, meaningful exposure, or even informed failure. I’ve experienced all three.
Poet Eleanor Boudreau AB '07 is a Kingsbury Graduate Fellow at Florida State University, where she is currently completing her Ph.D. Her first book, Earnest, Earnest?, will be published on September 8th; the book has also won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Boudreau's work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Tin House, Barrow Street, and other journals. Follow Boudreau on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!
Q. When did you first start writing and then decide to pursue writing as a career? Did your experience as an undergrad at Harvard factor into that decision?
A. I took my first poetry writing workshops at Harvard. I had wanted to take classes like that in high school, but they hadn’t been offered. The only problem was, at Harvard, you had to apply to get into the creative writing classes—you had to submit a number of pages of poetry—and I didn’t have any poetry to apply with. What I did have was a notebook where I’d written down images. It was mostly filled with things I’d seen while driving. I would drive with the notebook open on the passenger seat, then when I saw something I wanted to record, I would describe it in words in the notebook without ever taking my eyes off the road. I’m righthanded. Had I been lefthanded, this likely would not have been possible. Even so, my handwriting was atrocious. But I could read it. I typed up a few pages from my notebook and inserted line breaks, and it was good enough to get me into the beginner poetry workshop with D. A. Powell my first semester at Harvard (fall of 2003). I learned a great deal in that class and I wrote a few things that could more properly be called poems. I used those poems to apply and get into more poetry workshops.
By Woojin Lim AB '22
Joey Siara EdM '14 is a screenwriter who has worked on series for ABC, CNN, and Discovery. His short fiction, “The Last of the Goggled Barskys,” was recently featured on Slate Magazine. Before receiving his Master's in Education from Harvard University and MFA from UCLA, he played in indie rock band, The Henry Clay People, performing at Lollapalooza and Coachella. He is a writing instructor in the School of Theater, Film, and Television at UCLA.
Q. Your latest short story on Slate “The Last of the Goggled Barskys” tells of a Black Mirror-esque dystopian science fiction about smart goggles that project user tasks for optimal satisfaction. When and why did you decide to tell this story?
A. I had never written short fiction prose before but got the opportunity to pitch a few stories to Slate, and they were all supposed to revolve around how we will navigate potential future technologies. I remember doing a a call with their editors, and I think there were even a couple legit scientist-types in the meeting, and then I started pitching a story about smart goggles leading to this embarrassing moment where one of the characters publicly poops their pants. I immediately felt the shame of pitching what amounted to an extended poop joke to a bunch of credible literary folks, but was relieved to hear some laughs on the other side of the line. Pairing a social critique about how we navigate technology with the lowbrow of bodily function humor hopefully made an interesting read.
While writing the story, I was nervous about my abilities in prose fiction since I had only ever written scripts and a few nonfiction pieces. Part of this insecurity came from being a fan of writers like Ted Chiang or Jennifer Egan or Tom Perrotta—it’s hard to feel competent writing anything when you’re a superfan of other writers who operate at such a high level. I had to cut myself some slack and eventually made peace with writing something that was just entertaining to me. Though I struggled to get moving, I ended up having a ton of fun writing it— once I was able to get out of my own way.
By Lucy Golub AB '20
Carly Hillman AB '15 is a segment producer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Originally from Pennsylvania, her interest in news led her to an internship with The Colbert Report. Since graduating from Harvard, she has worked on The Late Show.
Q. Let’s start with an introduction. Could you tell me about your background, where you’re from, and what you’re doing?
A. My name is Carly, and I grew up in Pennsylvania, and I went to Harvard obviously, which is why I’m doing this interview! I now work at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as a segment producer for the guest interviews.
Q. Could you tell me more about your current role as a segment producer for The Late Show—what does that entail?
A. I work as a segment producer specifically on the guest interviews. Once a guest is booked on the show, I’ll get assigned probably a few weeks out. And there’s basically two parts of producing a guest interview. The first part is the actual substance of the interview, so we’ll do a pre-interview with the guest on the phone where we talk about the interview with Stephen, what’s going to happen. Then we have a meeting with Stephen to talk about it with him.
By Woojin Lim AB '22
Renee Zhan AB '16 is a director and animator who uses dark, visceral images to explore the ugliness of beautiful things. She has participated and won awards at numerous film festivals, including the Jury Award for Best Animated Short at Sundance Film Festival. A native of Houston, Texas, Zhan received her Master of Arts at the National Film and Television School in London.
Q. Let’s talk about your background. How did you start out in animation and what made you stay?
A. Growing up, I started out by doing paintings and drawings, and watching a lot of movies. I felt that animation was the perfect marriage. In college, I took a freshman seminar on animation run by Ruth Lingford. It was so different from what I expected it to be. In our first class, I was expecting to watch Finding Nemo, but we watched these crazy old Russian shorts, such as Hedgehog in the Fog. I was so confused, but I loved it. It just felt like magic to me—drawing a bunch of things in a row and suddenly they’re moving.
I also liked how much time animation took. When I started, I liked things that I can just draw while watching TV for hours and not think, doing a repetitive process. I no longer enjoy that because it takes so long. I’m considering my next move into live-action. I did a stop-motion film at the end of NFTS, and I was just in a dark room by myself for 7 months. So I definitely have a love-hate relationship with animation.
Join us in congratulating Luke Gardiner, currently a junior at The Hotchkiss School! The aim of the Harvardwood Prize is to recognize and celebrate the artistic accomplishments and potential of high school students who exemplify our mission. Given Harvard University's robust arts communities and arts education opportunities, the Prize is meant to encourage high school students to apply to Harvard College and is awarded annually to a high school junior (rising senior) who will apply for admission to Harvard in the upcoming fall and who has demonstrated excellence in their dedication to the arts, media, and entertainment and its power to enact positive social change.
By Joel Kwartler AB '18
Sean O’Keefe AB ‘95 is a writer and producer who most recently wrote Netflix’s Spenser Confidential, an action-thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg. It premiered on Netflix March 6th and was the #1 most-watched US Netflix film the week after its release.
Q. You worked as a producer before becoming a feature writer. How did you make that transition?
A. It was just a delayed awareness, unfortunately, because I wish I'd gotten an earlier start writing and had been able to bear-hug it sooner. When I moved to L.A. after college, I wrote two terrible scripts, but then I was on the producing executive track for an extended period of time. Eventually, I started my own production company.
At that time I started writing again, really out of tortuous necessity. There was this one project in particular that I knew only one writer could sell as a pitch, and we wouldn’t get him for a thousand years. So I started writing again, because as a producer, I needed a script to produce. I kept writing for features after that, and I finally acknowledged that I was a writer.
This month, we are catching up with Harvardwood Writers Program alum Michael Robin AB '08, who was selected to participate in the 2019-2020 WB Writers' Workshop! The Workshop is extremely selective, accepting only up to eight participants out of thousands of submissions yearly. Michael is repped by Zadoc Angell AB '03 of Echo Lake Entertainment.
Q. Did your Harvard experience play a role in your decision to become a writer?
A. When I was sixteen years old, I saw Charlie Kaufman’s Adaption and it blew my damn mind. I knew then that I wanted to become a screenwriter. But for years, this was a secret dream—I was scared that I wasn’t good enough to make it as a writer. During my junior year at Harvard, I finally enrolled in a playwriting class with Sam Marks. Sam’s encouragement, and the following year, the encouragement of my creative thesis adviser, Christine Evans, gave me enough confidence to believe that maybe I didn’t suck, and that maybe this writing thing could actually go somewhere.
By Hyejee Bae AB '20
Ben Zauzmer AB '15 is a Baseball Operations Analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers and also the author of Oscarmetrics: The Math Behind the Biggest Night in Hollywood. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Zauzmer studied Applied Math at Harvard with a focus in government, where he nurtured his trifecta passion for math, movies, and sports. During his freshman year at Harvard, he devised a statistical model that could calculate the chances a nominated movie would win the Academy Awards. When he’s not on the road with the Dodgers, he is busy utilizing his mathematical approach to forecast Oscar winners and sharing his statistical predictions on Twitter. In 2018, Zauzmer correctly predicted 20 out of 21 of the Oscar nomination winners.
Q. Let’s begin with a brief introduction. Starting from where you are from, to where you are now, could you give a short history of your life?
A. I’m from the Philadelphia area and I graduated high school in 2011. From there I went to study Applied Math at Harvard with a focus in government. My Oscars work got started my freshman year during the 2012 Oscars, and I graduated in 2015. Shortly thereafter I moved out to LA to work for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Q. What does your work at the LA Dodgers entail?
A. I work in Analytics. I was in the research and development department my first four seasons from 2015 to 2018. This means I did statistical modeling, trying to predict which players will be good, and then communicating this information to the general manager and other decision makers. This past season in 2019, I transitioned into the Baseball Operations department, which is the liaison role between the research and development folks and the players and coaches. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve always been a huge baseball fan and obviously, I’m a math fan as well. So, I’m very lucky that I was able to find a job that combines them.
Jack Riccobono AB '03 (The Seventh Fire, Killer) is a documentary filmmaker who produced upcoming feature Afterward, to be released January 10, 2020. Seen as a victim in Germany and a perpetrator in Palestine, Jerusalem-born trauma expert Ofra Bloch takes viewers on a deeply personal journey in order to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See #Afterward in select theaters. afterwardthefilm.com/screenings. Be sure to catch a screening of Afterward in New York City or Los Angeles this month! (Photo by Helena Kubicka de Bragança)
Q. How did you become involved with Ofra Bloch's documentary, Afterward?
A. Ofra is a psychoanalyst whose work focuses on the transference of trauma between generations. She made several short films about survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants, including one about her husband, the artist David Bloch, who is a child survivor. In 2012, Ofra realized she was passing down her fear and hatred of Germans to her own grown sons and felt compelled to confront that reality. She decided to make a feature documentary about 2nd and 3rd generation Germans — the descendants of perpetrators — and engage with how they learned to deal with the legacy of WWII. She was looking for a filmmaker who could help her realize the project and got referred to me through two different sources. So we met for a coffee and Ofra struck me as someone whose background, life story and professional experience put her in a unique position to explore this terrain on personal terms. At first, Ofra did not imagine herself and her own story being included in the film. But over time, and with encouragement from me and our editor Michael Palmer, Ofra embraced a hybrid personal documentary form, which ultimately led us to expand the scope of the film to examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and trace her personal history back to her childhood in Jerusalem.