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.
That's a wrap on 2019, and it has been a joy to connect with Harvardwood members from over the years and spotlight 20 Alumni for Harvardwood's 20 Years. In case you missed the first three newsletters featuring Harvard alumni in the arts, media, and entertainment, you can revisit them here: 1 | 2 | 3
In this final installment, we're thrilled to feature several past Harvardwood Heroes—Athena Bowe AB '15, Shaun Chaudhuri AB '15, Megan McDonnell AB '14, and Rodney Sanders EDM '13—as well as our personal Harvardwood hero, Advisory Board member Jeff Melvoin AB '75 (Executive Producer, Killing Eve, Designated Survivor, Army Wives, Alias).
Happy New Year!
Perfecting Gifts is a 501(c)3 performing arts organization that gives talented youth a safe space for creativity. In June 2019, we held our annual Summer Camp, where we faced a host of challenges and successes.
Memphis is a music city. It’s the home of the Blues. The city was made famous by such musical luminaries as Elvis and Issac Hayes. So, the talent within the city is abundant. However, Memphis is also the poorest large metropolitan area in the nation. Therefore, many talented students who desire to participate do not have the financial means to pay for camp. Moreover, for some poor families, transportation is an issue. This year, we had two sisters who rode the bus two hours each way so that they could participate in camp that started at 9am each day. There’s always a balance between trying to serve as many students as possible, while having the funds to pay staff members, facility rentals, etc.
We are so grateful for the Harvardwood grant this year. We were able to accept approximately 35 students into Summer Camp, up from 30 students the previous year. Moreover, we were able to pay for costumes, lighting, and choreography. We were also able to have on-site musicians play while the students performed. For the remainder of the grant, we look to re-engage the same musicians but to perform for the students affiliated with social service organizations.
Our positive reputation and brand are growing. The true testament to our success is our student testimonies.
- Rodney Sanders (2019 Heroes grant recipient)
For the past four years we've had the pleasure of leading the Harvardwood Writers Program - TV Modules. During that time, we've had approximately 150 budding Harvard alum writers participate in weekly peer-review workshops (aka "modules"), various writer/exec/showrunner panels, mock pitching opportunities, and post-panel drinking hangs at our favorite watering holes, Stout and Trejo's Tacos. We always like to say HWP-TV provides two things: deadlines and community. The latter is what has meant the most to us—we've truly made lasting friendships and know that others have too. We can't stress enough how much we love our community and hope that it continues to expand and bring folks together.