By Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18
Reginald Hudlin AB '83 is in production with upcoming Disney+ feature, Safety, a drama based on the life of football player Ray McFirathbey. A writer, producer, and director, Hudlin has been nominated for an Academy Award and was the President of BET. Hudlin is also a Harvardwood Advisory Board member.
Q. What was your family life like growing up?
A. I grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois. There’s St. Louis, Missouri, then the Mississippi River, then it’s East St. Louis, Illinois which is a small town where I grew up. My dad was an insurance agent. My mother was an educator. I had two older brothers. You know, it was a small town, virtually all black, economically very depressed, culturally very rich. I had a wonderful childhood.
Q. How did you become interested in film?
A. We come from a family of story-tellers. All my uncles—I had five uncles on my dad’s side-- they all had different careers: some were military, some were businessmen, some were academics. We would get together at family gatherings and they’d tell stories and argue about politics.
Me and my friends, in addition to playing baseball and football, we would play “laugh in,” basically you would stand there and try to make the other people laugh, and you couldn’t sit down until you made the other people laugh and they would have to take your place. It’s a brutal comedy training process, because they’re trying hard not to laugh so you've got to overcome their willpower.
And what we found out after I was an adult, after I had entered the movie business, I actually had an ancestor, Richard Hudlin, who was a filmmaker at the beginning of the 20th century who made movies on the same mission as me and my brother would a century later. We just wanted to show a nuanced and realistic portrayal of black life.
To get you in the mood to celebrate Harvard's community in the arts, media, and entertainment, read these personal stories from five Harvardwood members—Kevin Boyle JD '00, Madeleine Dorroh AB '19, Eric I. Lu AB '09, MD '14, Kelley Nicole Purcell AB '02, and Julie Wong MPP '97. We're lucky to have them—and YOU—as part of the Harvardwood community.
It only makes sense when I look back on it. While growing up in Taiwan and then Texas, I discovered my love for storytelling through drawing comics. Things took a turn in college at Harvard when I majored in social anthropology and wrote ethnographies about drug addicts after living with them. My interest in addiction led me to matriculate at Harvard Medical School. At the same time, I started a Youtube channel with a mission to make videos for a good cause. To my surprise these videos went viral, amassing over 300 million views and giving me conviction that films and stories have potential for social impact. So upon graduating HMS, I decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue filmmaking full-time. That's when I discovered Harvardwood and joined their TV writing program, where I met some incredible people, wrote a pilot, and was named onto Harvardwood's Most Staffable TV Writers List. One month later, I was staffed as a writer on a Fox medical drama, THE RESIDENT, and signed with a manager and agent. I am grateful for Harvardwood and proud to be a part of this amazing community.
- Eric I. Lu (TV Writer, The Resident)
Madeline Dorroh AB '19 attended the 2019 Harvardwood 101 program in Los Angeles. Hear what she had to say about the exprerience!
By Joel Kwartler AB '18
Adam B. Stein AB ‘99 is a writer-director-producer who broke into directing as a contestant on FOX’s On The Lot, a reality-style filmmaking competition produced by Steven Spielberg. There, he met his collaborator Zach Lipovsky. Together, they co-wrote and co-directed Freaks, which hits theaters on September 13th. They also co-directed Disney’s live-action Kim Possible and received an Emmy nomination for directing Disney’s Mech-X 4. Adam has an MFA in directing from USC, has had his screenwriting recognized by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Humanitas Prize for New Voices, and has directed commercials for multiple Fortune 500 brands.
Q. Harvardwood profiled you in 2007, when you had just finished film school and starred in On The Lot. Looking back, would you do film school again? Did it lead to On The Lot?
A. I probably wouldn't do it again. On The Lot wasn't related. The two best things I got [from film school] were the practice making films and the peer group. I started doing these 48-hour competitions, making films in 48 hours. I learned so much, because you have to solve problems on the fly—there isn't perfectionism. I did that to forge a community. You don't really need film school, but my parents were on my back, so a grad program seemed more official. If I did it over again, I would just make lots of films and form a peer group of people who were making films.
Five more Harvard folks and Harvardwood program alumni—Helen Estabrook AB '03, Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18, Allison Kiessling EdM '05, Emily Oliveira AB '18, and Eli Russell AB '20—have thoughtfully shared their experiences in the arts, media, and entertainment with us. We hope you enjoy reading these as much as we did!
It took me a while to finally figure out (or admit to myself?) that I wanted to be a writer. But that was a great day because someone immediately wrote me a check and my career was launched!
No wait. In fact, what I quickly discovered was that a career in the arts can be lonely and shitty. It’s an endurance game. And what keeps you in the game is community—a place where you belong, where you can learn, and commiserate, and connect, and grow with other people who are trudging that same, long path. For me, that community was Harvardwood. My first internship, learning from mentors, workshopping my first script, the first time I heard actors read my work—all of that happened with Harvardwood. Even now, almost every day, I talk to a friend that I met in the writing modules, or get advice from a Harvardwood mentor, or a colleague that I served with on the board.
I participated in Harvardwood 101 during winter break of my senior year, feeling like my degree in Comparative Literature could lead to a host of different careers. The program gave a hands-on look at what living and working in L.A. would be like, and what would entail finding the first industry job. I really enjoyed interning for a writer/showrunner who genuinely took stock in us college-age interns’ opinions on material he was seriously evaluating. Native to New Jersey, I was pretty sold on the novelty of mountains next to city, ocean, and palm trees, so I found an internship at Heyday Films through the Harvardwood Summer Internship Program and moved out a month after graduation.
We're excited to kick off our 20th Anniversary Season with a special series of posts that bring you stories of Harvard alumni working in the arts, media, and entertainment. These snapshots, spanning careers from entry to senior levels, reflect the diversity in both talent and perspective of our membership.
Enjoy these snapshots from the lives and careers of Nick Baker AB '07, Ryan Halprin AB '12, Ruiqi He AB '19, Gregg Hurwitz AB '95, and Valerie Weiss MMS '97, PhD '01.
I wanted to say thanks again for how life-changing my Harvardwood experience was. Not only was Harvardwood 101 a fabulously-run program with an amazing director, but it shed light on the career path I'd now like to pursue, which I was so confused about before. I feel incredibly blessed and thankful every single day for the Harvardwood 101 week, as well as my internship at MRC Studios. If it weren't for either, I wouldn't have found out what [is now] my career goal, which is to start out in investment banking and use this finance and valuation knowledge to use my MBA as a pivot into producing and financing films in Hollywood. Forever grateful for Harvardwood, which basically changed and shaped the rest of my life.
- Ruiqi He (Analyst, J.P. Morgan)
By Joel Kwartler AB '18
Tiffanie Hsu AB ‘09 is a writer-director whose recent award-winning short, Wonderland, led to her selection as an HBO APA Visionary, and she’s currently developing it into a feature. Her short film Sutures won awards at both the Asian American International Film Festival and in AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women showcase. She also directed the feature documentary Waterschool, which premiered at Sundance in 2018 and is available on Netflix. Hsu has an MFA in screenwriting and directing from UCLA, where she was a recipient of a Soros Fellowship, and is also an alumna of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and Sony Pictures Television’s Diverse Directors Program.
Q. In prior interviews, you’ve mentioned that you started college as a premed; how did you end up as a writer/director?
A. So my brother and sister are both doctors—medicine had been the only real path that I knew. But violin and piano were a huge part of my life until I was 18. I knew I wasn't going to be a professional musician, so when I got to college I stopped playing, and that left this huge vacuum in my life. So I took a photography class freshman year and I loved it. At the end-of-semester show, someone had done a comic-book-style project with pictures, and I was like, "Telling stories with pictures—that's amazing!" I didn't know anything about film or theater, so I clung to the premed as a stabilizing thing as I jumped off the deep end with all this other stuff.
José Olivarez AB ‘10 is a poet and author from Chicago, IL, whose debut collection of poems, Citizen Illegal, was named a top book of 2018 by NPR and the New York Public Library, in addition to winning the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. Last year, Olivarez was awarded the Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and more. The son of Mexican immigrants, Olivarez is currently based in New York. (Photo by Marcos Vasquez)
Q. When did you first start writing poetry?
A. [High school] was the first time that I started writing beyond school assignments. We’d have a poetry unit and I might write a poem, or a short story unit and I’d write a story, but once I was introduced to the poetry slam team in high school, I started pursuing writing on my own time. I developed a lot of close friendships with writers and we traded poems even as we started to go in different directions.
But I did not know that I wanted to be a poet. Frankly, I did not know that it was possible to be a poet as a career. Up until 2005, 2006, I had never met a living poet. So if you had told me that all the poets had gone extinct like all the dinosaurs, I would have believed you.
It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I realized, “Oh, there are pathways to having a career in literature right now.”
This year's celebration of Commencement and Reunions in Cambridge is extra special because it's also Harvardwood's 20th birthday! We recently caught up with Mia Riverton Alpert AB '99 and Adam Fratto AB '90, two of Harvardwood's three founders, and President Allison Kiessling EdM '05. They shared their thoughts on Harvardwood, then and now—and twenty more years into the future!
2018 Holiday Party, L to R: Adam Fratto, Mia Riverton Alpert, Joey Siara (Board member),
Dona Le (Executive Director), Stacy Cohen (Co-Founder), and Allison Kiessling
Q. You have all remained deeply involved with Harvardwood! What are the most exciting or standout changes you've seen the organization undergo in the last two decades?
Mia: I am most excited about our evolution into an organization that works toward positive changes in our industry and our society—by providing resources to bolster the talents of our wonderfully diverse membership, by using our network and platform to amplify traditionally underrepresented voices, and by engaging in programs designed to support people who are making a difference in communities in need.
Adam: The hiring of paid staff has made a massive difference.
Allison: I came in through the Writers Program, so it is really moving to me to see all the new writers come through and the motivated, amazing volunteers that have taken on each successive iteration of the program. It’s very difficult for an organization to not get entrenched in its own ways, but our volunteers have kept the program nimble—it keeps evolving and getting better every year.
Q. Does Harvardwood today match the vision you had for the organization's future when you founded it 20 years ago?
Adam: No. It is way bigger, better, cooler and smarter than I ever imagined.