Orchestra Conductor, The Great Music Series & State of Art
By Dayna Wilkinson
“I’m already in the hot seat as a twenty-eight year old conductor, but I feel incredible joy at the insanely high level of playing and extreme responsiveness of a professional orchestra.”
“Both my parents are professional musicians,” says Yuga Cohler AB '11. “My mother’s a violinist and my father’s a clarinetist so I took up those instruments—it didn’t go well.” Fortunately, those were minor bumps in the road for Yuga, who started studying piano and music theory at age three. By age twelve, his primary instruments were oboe and piano.
“Shortly after starting on the oboe, I went to a music camp called Greenwood,” he says. “That’s when I first discovered people my age who took music seriously. It became a social thing—people I liked were also playing music, which made me like doing it more. By the time I was in my teens, I realized music was really great.”
Yuga was interested in many different musical genres. “I really got into Eminem, then the underground hip hop scene. Also J-pop, Top 40 and musical theater for a while. Plus I listened to tons of classical records from my dad’s collection.”
Author of DARK CHAPTER, an upcoming novel based on her experience as a survivor of assault
By Nicole Torres AB '11
It’s Friday morning in Los Angeles and mid-afternoon in London, and Winnie M. Li AB '00 and I meet over Skype to discuss her upcoming novel Dark Chapter. (Photo credit: Grace Gelder)
Born in New Jersey, Winnie Li was drawn to literature and storytelling from a very young age. In particular, she had a fascination with Celtic culture and mythology that she can pin down to a very specific memory from her childhood. “I traced it back to one incident, I would’ve been quite young, like 6 or 7. I was in a travel agency in suburban New Jersey at the time and my mom was booking a holiday to Florida or something like that. I remember sitting and looking at all these different travel brochures and I found these glossy travel brochures about Ireland and Scotland and there were all these crumbling castles and I was fascinated with it.”
Agent & Partner, United Talent Agency
by Daniel Gale-Rosen AB '10
It all started with Lawrence of Arabia. Michael Sheresky MBA ‘97 was lucky enough to see the re-release of the epic in 70mm at the Ziegfield movie palace, and he says that was what set him on the path to his current life, as agent and partner at United Talent Agency. Day to day, he “represents writers, directors, and producers, and helps them put their movies together.”
Prior to watching that film, Sheresky had been thinking about a life in politics, or on Wall Street. He studied political science in his undergraduate career, though he did try his hand at making some movies. However, he says, “I didn’t think I was, frankly, talented enough. I thought I could have been proficient at it, but I didn’t think I could be great.”
Novelist (The Lockpicker, Triplines) & Writer (Snowfall, Justified, Awake)
By Nicole Torres AB '11
Born in New York City and raised in Long Island, Leonard Chang largely credits his love of literature to his mother. Growing up, Chang read a majority of her English and American novel collections which she had brought with her from Seoul to America.
While his amateur writing career began at the age of seven writing long letters to camp friends, his ‘aha’ moment, the moment he knew he wanted to be a writer, came in high school during a memorable interaction with his best friend Joe. Perhaps during a conversation about their futures, Joe remarked that he wanted to be a writer and a lightbulb went off in Leonard’s head. He thought, “You can do that?” and from that point on the seed of desire to become a writer was planted in his brain. During high school, the two of them embarked on a mission to co-write a novel together, and while Leonard remembers it as “youthful, ambitious, and terrible,” he also remembers it as “damn fun to write.”
Writer & Producer (Fargo, Parenthood)
By Sara Lynne Wright
Growing up with an African American dad and a Jewish mom in a diverse neighborhood of Philadelphia, Monica Beletsky AB ‘99 cultivated the empathy she now uses as a TV writer to step into different characters’ points of view. “People who are different from me aren’t just an abstract idea. I was lucky to grow up in a unique neighborhood of ethnic, religious and economic diversity.”
This multiplicity of viewpoints is reflected in the wide range of shows on which she’s been a writer-producer, including Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, The Leftovers, and Fargo.
“The decade before my parents moved to Philadelphia, Black people and Jewish people were being prohibited from getting mortgages. But there were these special twin sister realtors in my neighborhood, West Mount Airy, who found a way to get mortgages for would-be homeowners who were discriminated against.” So by the time Monica was born, her parents’ neighborhood consisted of African-Americans, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, interracial and (later) gay families who were all homeowners or renters in the same neighborhood.
Co-Founder & Partner, Double Nickel Entertainment; Producer (The Book of Henry, Gran Torino); Former President, DC Comics
By Terence O'Toole Murnin
At a time when mere mortals may be content to rest on their laurels, Jenette Kahn AB '68 continues to tell powerful stories with words and images at a dizzying pace suggesting the best is yet to come.
In what has been an extraordinary life—in April of 2000, the Library of Congress bestowed on her the Living Legends award in the “writers and artists” category for her significant contributions to our country’s cultural legacy—Jenette Kahn has known two constants: art and basketball. So, in 2003, when Kahn left DC Comics and MAD Magazine after 27 years heading the two companies to pursue a new role as a film producer, she named the venture she founded with Adam Richman after one of the most infamous moments in Madison Square Garden’s annals.
TV Writer & Actor (Fuller House)
By Henry Johnson AB '18
Scott Weinger AB ‘98 has worked in entertainment for a long time.
When he roams the soundstage where Netflix’s Fuller House is shot, Weinger likes to joke with colleagues that “I’m so old, I remember when these were all orange groves.”
It was on the original Full House—shot on that same stage—that Weinger earned America’s adoration as Steve, D.J. Tanner’s high school sweetheart. But he had been acting long before then.
“I was always a hammy kid,” says Weinger, “and I loved putting on shows for adults.”
At age eight, Weinger mimicked Loony Tunes characters well enough to win a talent show. He realized his passion could become a profession in third grade, when an actor visited his Hollywood, Florida elementary school for career day. Weinger raved to his parents, “He does what I do, except it’s, like, his job!” They agreed to take him on auditions in the area.
Actor (The Book of Henry, Breaking Bad)
By Nicole Torres AB '11
Dean Norris AB '85 humorously recalls his earliest experience with acting as a young boy in Indiana: “I think my very first play was Richard III. I played the young prince, so I had to learn Shakespeare at age 7 or 8.”
At Harvard, Norris was heavily involved in theater, participating in at least two plays per semester, and often more. He comments, “I did so many productions I can’t even remember them all.” At that time, the American Repertory Theater (ART), now one of the country’s great regional theaters, had just moved to Cambridge. The ART served as a fantastic resource, where he could watch and learn from the professional actors there. He spent a lot of time as an understudy, and would also play small parts in the professional plays.
He recalls his time at Harvard and the ART fondly, where he was surrounded by a great group of people, some of whom also incidentally found success in Hollywood, such as Bill Rauch AB '84 and RJ Cutler AB '83.
Lisa Joy Nolan JD '07 (Co-Creator & Executive Producer, Westworld)
By Brittany Turner AB '10
For Lisa Joy JD ‘07, co-creator of the smash hit HBO series Westworld (with her husband, screenwriter and director Jonathan Nolan), writing is, and has always been, a gamble. She jokes, “I went to law school and I still re-up my bar membership every year. I’m basically like, I don’t know when this could end!”
Despite her success, Joy still admits herself to be “risk-averse,” citing her circuitous path to a full-time writing career. Born in New Jersey, she studied English and Chinese at Stanford before working in business as a consultant and corporate strategist. After a few years, she attended Harvard Law School, writing screenplays in between classes; upon graduating, she returned to consulting for a short while before a smartly written spec episode of Veronica Mars landed her a first-time staff writing gig on ABC’s Pushing Daisies.
She notes that the conventional rites of passage facing a young, aspiring writer in Hollywood can be daunting, especially without the right tools—or access—starting out.
By D. Dona Le
“You have to back your instincts in the face of opposition, especially as a producer,” says Tracey Bing MBA '01. “You might be wrong sometimes, and that’s okay. But without conviction, it’s really hard to do this job.”
Bing’s conviction in her judgment and choices as a producer and executive has certainly paid off. Her credits include March of the Penguins, which won the 2006 Oscar for Best Documentary, and most recently, Southside with You, a feature film about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. After premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Southside with You was released late this summer in the United States and garnered rave reviews from critics nationwide.
Asked to define what exactly it means to be a producer, Bing first laughs before launching into a clear and comprehensive job description.
“To me, producing is finding the story, working with the writer to develop that story, attaching the talent, and then finding the financing to make that movie.” She continues, “Then, overseeing that whole process from pre- to production to post-production until you deliver it to a distributor. Sometimes you get involved later on in things, but I like to be involved from the ground up.”