WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with Past HWC Winners BRIAN POLK '09 & KATHLEEN CHEN '09

By Nicole Torres AB '11


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! 


Polk___Chen.jpgPast Harvardwood Writers Competition winners, writing team Kathleen Chen AB '09 and Brian Polk AB '09, are staffed on upcoming NBC comedy Great News! The single-camera comedy is executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock AB '95.

Q. Did you always want to pursue careers as television writers? Tell us a bit about how you got started with writing.

KC. I never thought I’d be a TV writer, I just knew I liked to write and figured I’d wind up being a copywriter at an ad agency or something. After graduating, I moved to San Francisco to work in tech, and did a very different kind of writing—first I wrote help center articles at Google and for YouTube, then marketing and product copy at Pinterest. It wasn’t until I saw some of our friends start working in TV that I started believing that it was a real job that people could have.

BP. I was mostly a performer and did a lot of theater growing up, which drew me to improv, which drew to sketch, until one snowy NYC December I wrote a packet for a ten-week job at MTV2 and got it.

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Exclusive Q&A with DERRICK N. ASHONG AB '97 & LUCIA BRAWLEY AB '99

By Henry Johnson AB '18

Lucia_Brawley_Headshot.jpgLucia Brawley AB ’99 is a producer, actor, and writer. In addition to appearing in movies and television shows such as World Trade Center and ER, she has written about arts and education for The Huffington Post. Lucia currently serves as the Vice President of Communications for amp.it, a digital media company founded by her husband, Derrick Ashong AB ’97, PhD '09 (photo below by Jane Feldman). Derrick is an artist and entrepreneur who has hosted programs on SiriusXM, Al Jazeera English, and Fusion. He recently created Take Back the Mic, an interactive hip-hop show that airs on amp.it. The show, hosted by Derrick and produced by Lucia, was an Emmy finalist in 2015.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for Take Back the Mic?

DNA_Headshot_by_Jane_Feldman.jpgDNA. I was at a cypher at a place called Bus Stop in my hometown, Accra, Ghana. Everyone is taking turns freestyling—I got up did my thing, all is good. Then this one kid gets up, and does a rhyme in English, no biggie. All of a sudden he flips it and starts freestyling in Twi. Then he switches it up again and starts flowing in Ga.

It’s hard enough for most people to improvise in one language and this guy just did it in three. That’s when it hit me that the most interesting stuff happening in Hip Hop is not necessarily happening in the US. And I thought it would be so cool to have a show that highlights the best of the best in Hip Hop from around the world. That was almost 12 years ago.

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Exclusive Q&A with BECKY JAMES '07 (Animator)

By Nicole Torres

Becky_James.jpgBecky James AB '07 uses humor, violence, and fragmentation to explore the fringes of narrative. She has exhibited animation and installation at galleries including James Fuentes, Recess Art, Venus LA, and Primetime. She has also participated in dozens of film festivals including SXSW (three-time award winner), Slamdance, Animation Block Party (audience award), Newport Beach, and International Film Festival Rotterdam. A native New Yorker, James graduated from Harvard in 2007 and received her MFA from Bard in 2014.

Q. How did you get started with animation?

A. I got started with making animation at Harvard. I had gone to Harvard doing science and math. I was very committed to science, and much to my parents chagrin, took an animation class my freshman year and felt like it changed the way I saw everything at all times and it felt really empowering. Suddenly everything had the possibility to behave in a surprising way, and it felt really exciting. It also felt like there was so much territory to cover.

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Campus Updates | CONCENTRATION: SPARKING CREATIVITY & INGENUITY

By Sean O’Rourke MAT ’68

Harvard_University_Widener_Library.jpgAt Harvard, engineering and information technology are thriving as never before. To remind us that the arts are just as important as the sciences, the Harvard Campaign sponsored a symposium on Friday, May 6, 2016. In his remarks, incoming Dean of Humanities Robin Kelsey discussed creativity in terms of historicity, boundaries and ingenuity.

Professor Martin Puchner and Lecturer Jill Johnson reviewed the status of the new concentration in Theater, Dance and Media (TDM), which at this point remains a very flexible undertaking. This year the program enrolled thirteen concentrators and  65 freshmen—numbers which bode well for the future.tdm.jpg

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Exclusive Q&A with RODRIGO GARCIA '82 (LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT)

By Dayna Wilkinson

Last Days in the Desert, from writer-director Rodrigo García AB ’82, opens in theaters on May 13, 2016. The film stars Ewan MacGregor, Ciaran Hinds and Tye Sheridan. Pictured below: García and McGregor on the set.

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Q. How did you conceive of this story of Jesus during his forty days of fasting and meditation in the Judaean desert?

A. I’m surprised the idea came to me at all, I wasn’t looking to make a movie about Jesus. The initial impulse was that Jesus would encounter a father and son with conflict between them, and that he would be compelled, consciously or not, to try to intervene. It’s not a religious movie particularly.

Q. Did the film turn out the way you expected?

A. I wanted the movie to examine whether you create your own your destiny, whether it’s pre-ordained or whether it’s determined by your parents and their wishes. As I wrote scenes, things became clearer—I added the character of the mother, for example. Then I realized I needed someone for Jesus to talk to who knew who he was. In the gospel, the only other being in the desert is Lucifer so I wrote him into the story. Eventually as I wrote, shot and edited the film, I discovered the things about the story that were personal to me.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 Alum NAOMI FUNABASHI (Mandeville Films)

By Henry Johnson AB '18


 NaomiFunabashi.JPGIn 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! 


Naomi Funabashi was an English concentrator in the Class of 2012, and she will soon be the new CE at Mandeville Films. She was previously a Coordinator at Heyday Films and participated in Harvardwood 101 during her sophomore year at Harvard College.

Q. When did you decide you wanted to work in show business? 

A. I've always loved storytelling—it's why I became an English major and why I was such a bookworm growing up. Books were my first love, but as I got older I also started to really enjoy being in a theater and watching films with an audience. I'm inspired by the idea that a story could be powerful enough to unite thousands of people and move them to the effort of bringing that story to life—an effort that, in turn, moves the millions more who watch it.

Like a lot of people, I never really realized that working in the industry was a path open to me, until I learned about Harvardwood and went on the 101 J-term trip my sophomore year. That trip and the people I met on it completely changed my idea of what was possible.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with HWP Alum & Past Most Staffable TV Writer TERESA HSIAO (AMERICAN DAD)

By D. Dona Le


 In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums—e.g., from Harvardwood 101, the Writers Program, past Writers Competition winners—to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


teresahsiao.jpgComedy writer Teresa Hsiao '07 is an alum of the Harvardwood Writers Program and was named a Harvardwood Most Staffable TV Writer! She currently writes on Fox's hit comedy American Dad, and she's previously been staffed on Family Guy and What's Up Warthogs!

Q. Harvard Economics concentrator to comedy TV writer—how did that happen?

A. I went into college having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after college. So I fell into economics because it was practical and would appease Asian parents. After my junior year I did a summer internship at Lehman Brothers which helped confirm that my future would not be in finance. Especially when Lehman went bankrupt a year and a half later. (From this paragraph, you should be able to figure out how old I am—surprise math quiz!)

I'd always kept this secret pipe dream of writing for TV, although I didn't know anything about Hollywood. I wasn't part of the Lampoon, I didn't have any connections, and I didn't know how any of it it even worked (you write something funny in Word, and the next day it's on the air, right?). But I bought a few books, started my own blog, and forced myself to write every day. I broke down episodes of my favorite shows to track stories. And once I let out the deep, dark secret that I wanted to write for TV—by actually sending scripts to friends, inviting feedback, joining writers' groups—it didn't seem like such a pipe dream anymore.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with HWP Alum & Past Most Staffable TV Writer EMMYLOU DIAZ (JANE THE VIRGIN)

By D. Dona Le


 In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums—e.g., from Harvardwood 101, the Writers Program, past Writers Competition winners—to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 

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An alum of the Harvardwood Writers Program and past winner of the annual Harvardwood Most Staffable TV Writers list, Emmylou Diaz A.R.T. '07 is currently a writer on the CW's hit show, Jane the Virgin. The show's S2 mid-season premiere aired just last week on January 25th—an episode penned by Emmy!

Q. What made you decide to pursue a career in TV writing?

A. In many ways, ending up in TV was a happy accident. I never formally studied screenwriting and didn’t set out to do this at all. In fact, I didn’t know that TV writing was a job you could have. I grew up in the theatre as an actress, and that was what I was most focused on as a kid. I was always doing some kind of show, whether it was a school play, or a community musical, or a one-woman extravaganza in the family room downstairs. (There were a lot of those.) I attended Williams College as an undergrad where I was an English and a Theatre double major. Then I studied acting in New York after graduation and finally ended up at Harvard, at the A.R.T. Institute. My time in Cambridge was inspirational, but after I got my MFA and moved to LA, I was really discouraged at the lack of opportunities for an actress like me, a classically trained performer of color. I also HATED auditioning.

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Exclusive Q&A with GREGG HURWITZ '95 (ORPHAN X, THE BOOK OF HENRY)

By D. Dona Le

hurwitz.jpgOrphan X, the latest novel by Gregg Hurwitz AB '95, will be published on January 19, 2016. The book is the first in the Evan Smoak series that Hurwitz is adapting for Warner Brothers, with Bradley Cooper producing (and possibly starring). Recently, director Colin Trevorrow finished shooting Hurwitz's screenplay, The Book of Henry

Read our special Q&A with Hurwitz about both of these upcoming projects below!

Q. There's been a tight lid on details about THE BOOK OF HENRY, but can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the idea and the choice to explore this dark plot with child-aged protagonists?

A. ​I can't even remember the inspiration since I wrote the first draft—literally—18 years ago. It felt like this pure, rare thing where I just thought of this single mom and her two kids stuck in a near-impossible predicament. I will say that Henry's voice (Henry is the 12-year-old prodigy at the center of the story) came very naturally. Not because I'm a prodigy or anything close to it but because sometimes my characters are smarter than I am, even in real time. I can't remember ever hearing characters' voices that distinctly right off the bat. ​

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Exclusive Q&A with JOSH BRENER '07 (Actor) & MARC BRENER (Writer-Director) of THE RUMPERBUTTS

Congratulations to the talented Brener Brothers, whose indie musical comedy The Rumperbutts—starring Mates of State duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, Arian Moayed (Appropriate BehaviourRosewater), and Vanessa Ray (Pretty Little Liars, Blue Bloods)—was recently released in theaters and on AmazonGooglePlayiTunes, and Vimeo.

brenersredcarpet.jpg

About The Rumperbutts: A married indie band duo (Mates of State) regretfully takes a job on a children's show The Rumperbutts. Despite money and success, their relationship turns to one of resentment. On one extraordinary evening, a magical man (Josh Brener) leads them on a path of rediscovery and gives them a second chance at happiness. Featuring original music by Mates of State.

Actor Josh Brener AB '07 (above, left) has appeared on MaronThe Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, and Workaholics. He currently plays Big Head on HBO's hit series Silicon Valley.

Marc Brener (above, right) wrote and directed The Rumperbutts. Marc is also known for his work on Say It Ain't Solo

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