Exclusive Q&A with Lillian Yu (Writer, POWERLESS, SINGLES DAY)

Lillian_Yu_Headshot_1.jpgThis past summer, Lillian Yu AB '11 sold her spec feature, a romantic comedy entitled Singles Day, to New Line! In addition to being staffed on NBC's sitcom, Powerless, Lillian was also part of the writers' room for upcoming series Warrior. The period drama is set to premiere on Cinemax in 2019. Photo credit to Ashleigh Cahn Photography.

Q. What inspired you to become a screenwriter? Did you already plan on becoming a writer when you were at Harvard?

AI've been extraordinarily lucky in that I kind of always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was in high school when I decided to pursue it for real. I was an enormous nerd back then (and still am)—my favorite show was Futurama—and after some light internet sleuthing in ninth grade, I found out that most of the writers had written for the Harvard Lampoon. I thought, "Huh, maybe I can do that too." Before that point, my hypothetical career path was a bit more first-generationally binary: doctor or lawyer. It was mind-blowing that there might be a real, blazed trail to get to where I wanted to go. So anyways, I got my academic act together, made no friends in high school, and was fortunate enough to get into Harvard and the Lampoon.

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Exclusive Q&A with Tracey Bing (Producer, NAPPILY EVER AFTER)

Bing.jpgThe latest movie from producer Tracey Bing MBA '01Nappily Ever After, will be released this month on Netflix! Starring Sanaa Lathan, Ernie Hudson, Ricky Whittle, and Lynn Whitfield, the film is adapted from a novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour. Stream it on Netflix beginning September 21st! (Harvardwood also caught up with Tracey to talk about her career previously—read her full alum profile!)

Q. Congratulations on the upcoming release of Nappily Ever After! This project was previously in development by Universal Pictures fifteen years ago, before being revived more recently. How did you first become involved with this project?

A. In 2005, when I was VP Production and Acquisitions at Warner Independent Pictures, an executive from Marc Platt Productions at Universal submitted the project to me. At that time Halle Berry was attached to the project as both an actress and producer. I fell in love with the material because it so resonated with my own experiences. As a little girl, I was never happy with my hair, and having been influenced by European notions of beauty that proliferated society through advertising and images that were prevalent (and one blond-haired Barbie), I begged my mom to straighten my hair. My hair was never the same. And this issue continued throughout my life. We didn’t end up making the film at WIP, but the story always stayed with me. And now and again, I would ask what happened with the project and whether it was made.

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Exclusive Q&A with Marielle Woods (Director, DO NO HARM, SPIN)

Woods.jpgMarielle Woods AB '08 is a filmmaker from New Jersey who concentrated in Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. Right after graduation, Marielle first worked as a director and producer for docudrama shows on Discovery, History, A&A, and Animal Planet. Marielle has since transitioned into scripted and directed award-winning shorts Mi Corazon and Do No Harm. This year, Marielle was selected to participate in the AFI Directing Workshop for Women.

Q. When did you decide to become a director, and did your experience at Harvard play a role in that decision?

A. I actually came to Harvard planning to be a Classics major (I took 10 years of Latin and still love it) but taking a few VES classes solidified what I already knew deep down – that filmmaking was my future. I had previously directed some theater (including a rousing stage rendition of 101 Dalmatians one summer) and growing up I would often try to convince teachers to let me make a movie in lieu of writing a paper, which led to some hilarious early work. So on some level, I think I’ve always known I wanted to direct but I didn’t have the tools or verbiage to say so until I got to college. 

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Exclusive Q&A with Christian D'Andrea (Author, TOUCHING THE DRAGON)

By Terence O'Toole Murnin

CD_headshot.jpgWith a name as quixotically cool as Christian D’Andrea AB '94, it’s no wonder that this documentary filmmaker and writer lives a frenetic-paced life dedicated to telling stories that uncover the best moments of humanity. His latest project is Touching The Dragon: And Other Techniques for Surviving Life’s Wars, a book co-written with former special ops Navy SEAL James Hatch, and it has been profiled by CNN’s Anderson Cooper! Christian was previously a literary agent at ICM and VP of Production for Lawrence Bender and Quentin Tarantino at their Miramax-based company, A Band Apart.

Q. Touching The Dragon is such a cool title for a book. Can you tell us what it means? (Spoiler alert!)

A. (Laughs) The book presents a set of tools and techniques to deal with darkness and pain—something we can all use, not just members of the elite SEAL Team Six. It’s really cognitive behavior therapy. If something in your past gives you grief, it becomes a dragon in your mind, and the dragons will kill you, especially when we ignore them. Touching The Dragon means that if you can “walk up to it and touch it,” you’ll ultimately find that the dragon won’t incinerate you.

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Exclusive Q&A with Diallo Riddle (Writer, Producer, & Actor, MARLON, SILICON VALLEY)

By Brittany Turner AB '10

Riddle_2.jpgDiallo Riddle AB '97 is a writer, producer, and actor, currently appearing on NBC’s Marlon alongside titular star Marlon Wayans. He has also had recurring roles on Silicon Valley and Rise. His writing credits include Chocolate News, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Last O.G., and The Maya Rudolph Show; he has also developed two original pilots for HBO. Riddle is the co-creator (with Bashir Salahuddin AB '98) of Sherman’s Showcase, a musical sketch comedy series that will premiere on IFC in 2019. Photos by Leslie Alejandro Photography.

Q. What was your Harvard experience like? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

AThere were parts about being there that I absolutely loved. Everything that I did before Harvard truly was childhood. As much as I succeeded academically growing up, I don’t think I really grew until Harvard. I did the radio station, the Harvard Black Register, and gave tours. Freshman year, I played in the band and served on the undergraduate council. I campaigned on how to pronounce my name. All my posters said “Diallo: it’s like Diablo without the b.” That was a winning slogan.

But I’m kind of a weather wuss. Both Harvard and New York were hard for me. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a writer until much later.

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Exclusive Q&A with Shirley A. Rumierk (Actor, RISE, COLLATERAL BEAUTY)

By Nicole Torres AB '11

W-9.16.SHIRLEY.R-036_(1).jpgBorn in New York, Shirley Rumierk is an actress known for Rise, Collateral Beauty, and 11:55. You can watch her most recent work on the NBC show Rise, in which she stars as single mom Vanessa Suarez.

Q. What inspired you to pursue an acting career? Tell us about your acting journey.

AActing started out as a hobby for me. Starting when I was 10 years old and all throughout high school, I was involved in a children’s theater program called The 52nd Street Project in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. This was before Hell’s Kitchen became known as Clinton and there weren’t many extracurricular opportunities available. It became my second home. The after-school program’s mission wasn’t (and still isn’t) about cranking out future actors. It was through exposure to different art forms and working side by side with theater professionals that The 52nd Street Project not only became my outlet for artistic expression; it was where I improved my writing skills and learned that my words really matter.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with HWP & HMP alum Julie Wong

In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood!

IMG_6074.jpgJulie Wong MPP '97 is currently staffed on Grey's Anatomy, though after attending Harvard Kennedy School, she first worked in campaigns and government at the local, state, and federal levels. She was selected to be a CAPE ("Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment") TV Fellow and a participant of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program. In addition, Julie has participated in the Harvardwood Mentorship Program and the Harvardwood Writers Program, in which she led multiple TV modules.

Q. You used to work in politics. What inspired you to shift career gears to TV writing?

A. I’ve always loved to write and I’ve always loved television, but I grew up in a small Northern California suburb and never really thought about being a TV writer as a career. Instead, I went into politics and helped elected officials and candidates tell their stories. But then I realized that I had stories of my own that I wanted to tell.   

Q. How do you think your years spent as a political communications director impacts your TV writing?

A. In politics, I worked with my bosses to write speeches, craft responses to media inquiries, and even answer constituent questions, so I’m comfortable writing in someone else’s voice. That’s been very helpful to me, especially joining a show with such established characters. I’m also pretty good about accepting notes and rewriting—I don’t get attached to my own words.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 alum Tomi Adeyemi (CHILDREN OF BLOOD & BONE)

By Adriana Colón AB '12

In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 

2.jpgTomi Adeyemi AB '15, a Harvardwood 101 alumna, is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. Her debut West African YA Fantasy novel is Children of Blood and Bone (Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan). The Children of Blood and Bone movie is in development at Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions with Karen Rosenfelt and Wyck Godfrey (Twilight, Maze Runner, The Fault In Our Stars) producing!

Q. You share a wealth of information online with aspiring writers about yourself and your process. So I’m curious: do you see yourself as a teacher or as a leader in the community? Does that fuel your writing practice at all?

AI actually started that blog when I was a junior in college, because I was told having a blog—having a platform—would help me get published. “I’d do anything to help me get published. Getting published is really hard!” Blogging doesn’t help you get published for writing fiction—it’s all about the book, I didn’t know that then—but I was getting a sense of gratification. Knowing that things I had worked hard to learn I was making accessible to other people to understand.

At that time, I was working on my first book, and that whole process from starting from a blank page to being rejected enough to know that book wasn’t going to get me published was three and a half years. It’s really long, looking at the thing over and over again. Whereas with writing a blog post, it’s a lot shorter and it’s something I could check off my list. It was helping me feel that I was moving forward and it was helping other people and that was making me feel good.

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Exclusive Q&A with Roberto Patino (WESTWORLD, SONS OF ANARCHY)

By Michael Robin AB '08

Patino_Head_Shot.jpgRoberto Patino '06 is a writer and executive producer on HBO's Westworld. He has written and produced Prime Suspect, Sons of Anarchy, and The Bastard Executioner. His feature Cut Bank, starring Michael Stuhlbarg, John Malcovich, Liam Hemsworth, and Billy Bob Thornton, came out in 2014.

Q. How did your experience at Harvard inform your path? Were there any professors or instructors who pushed you to pursue writing?

A. Brighde Mullins, who was teaching Screenwriting in the English department when I was an undergrad, was the first person to take my scriptsand me as a screenwriterseriously.

The first thing she read was my application to write a creative thesis when I was a junior. I had written a couple scripts by that point but I'd never really shown them to anyone. For the application, I took the first ten pages of one of my scripts, and reworked them obsessively. Submitting that was the first time I took something I'd written for me alone, as opposed to, say, a class assignment, and showed it to someone. It was the first time I put myself out there and said in some kind of official way that this is what I really want to do. I was terrified.

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Exclusive Q&A with Michael Colton (A FUTILE & STUPID GESTURE)

By Henry Johnson AB '18

Michael Colton '97 is a humorist and screenwriter, most recently of A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which tells the story of National Lampoon’s founding. The film will be released on Netflix on January 26 following a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. With writing partner John Aboud ’95, Colton also scripted Penguins of Madagascar and The Comebacks, as well as episodes of Childrens Hospital and Newsreaders. He has appeared as a commentator on several VH1 shows, including Best Week Ever and I Love the ‘90s.


Q. When did you realize you wanted to go into comedy?

A. Like almost every comedy writer I know, I wrote a humor column in my high school newspaper. (Our faculty adviser, paranoid about lawsuits, insisted the column be called “Just Kidding,” which is a horrible name for a column.) I fell in love with crafting jokes and getting a reaction from people. But it was a long time before I thought I could be a screenwriter. I interned at newspapers all through college and wrote for the Washington Post for a couple years after graduation. It was a fantastic job and I was lucky to have it. And I will always be a newspaper addict (print subscriber for life!). But I realized that what I loved about journalism was the writing aspect, not the reporting. I wasn’t a great investigator and didn’t care about landing scoops. I wanted to tell stories and make people laugh. So being a screenwriter was ultimately a better fit.

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