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.”
Roger Neill AM '90, PhD '94 (Composer, Mozart in the Jungle, 20th Century Women)
by Kristen Strezo
Growing up, composer Roger Neill AM ’90, PhD ’94 wanted to be a rock star. But he found himself torn between his love of classical music and his love of rock. He was studying Beethoven piano sonatas, yet drawn to power pop and The Beatles.
When it came time to choose a career, this intense curiosity eventually led him to the field of film and TV scoring.
“Film music really became the obvious choice because I was able to combine my interests from all these mediums, all these different kinds of music,” he says.
Today, Neill has worked on over two hundred feature films and decades worth of television episodes and TV commercials backed by his extensive musical knowledge.
The musical process Neill uses to draw out that humanness of his characters and the emotion are just as vital as the music he chooses.
Kemper Donovan JD '04 (Author, The Decent Proposal)
by Terence O'Toole Murnin
In a world where dating now often means swipe left or swipe right, Kemper Donovan creates an old fashioned romantic comedy set in Los Angeles, one of the most unlikely places to find true love.
Kemper Donovan sounds like the name of an indie-rock band you may have seen at Coachella, and the actual guy—impossibly handsome—looks like the leading man in a Hollywood rom-com. Possessing a resume that includes an undergraduate degree from Stanford followed by Harvard Law School, he “retired” from law at the age of 25 to pursue a 10-year stint at Circle of Confusion in LA, where he represented screenwriters and comic books. Donovan is currently sporting the hat of published author, and his debut novel, The Decent Proposal, was recently named the “#2 Summer Beach Read” by Cosmo.
David Eilenberg AB '97 (President, ITV Entertainment)
By Sara Lynne Wright
David Eilenberg AB '97, the new President of ITV Entertainment, who has developed and produced such groundbreaking shows as The Apprentice and Shark Tank, loves how working in reality television forces him to come face-to-face with real world events on a daily basis.
“In general, the entertainment industry makes it very easy to spend lots of time cloistered. In nonfiction, you’re interacting with your subjects every single day, which I find exhilarating.” Beyond that, the shows David works on can immediately and tangibly affect the lives of their subjects.
A case in point is Cold Justice, a show David oversaw on TNT, produced by Dick Wolf and Magical Elves. “The unique thing about that project was it was a real life cold case series, in which episodes really helped open murder cases that had gone unsolved and in some instances helped local police solve them. There are criminals now behind bars and families who got resolution as a result of that show existing. And that’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
David H. Mandel AB '92 (Showrunner, Veep)
By D. Dona Le
“I didn’t know you could even be a comedy writer,” says David H. Mandel AB '92. “In terms of trying to engage the entertainment industry, I thought maybe I would be a lawyer, so I could be an entertainment lawyer.”
To the great relief of comedy lovers, Mandel escaped the practical clutches of a legal career. He’s currently the showrunner of HBO’s Emmy-winning Veep, and his credits include some of the top comedies of all time: Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He also co-wrote features The Dictator (2012) and EuroTrip (2004) with fellow Harvardians and frequent writing partners Jeff Schaffer AB '91 and Alec Berg AB '91.
Anne Fulenwider '95 (Editor-in-Chief, Marie Claire)
by Dayna Wilkinson
What do Harvey Weinstein, Fashion Week and SXSW have in common? Add NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Ivanka Trump to the mix, and the mind boggles—until you realize you’ve entered Anne Fulenwider’s world.
As Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire, Anne oversees all content for Marie Claire’s print magazine, website, tablet editions and brand extensions, including the partnership with Lifetime Television’s Project Runway.
“Writing was always the easiest and most natural way to express myself,” she says. “I interned at a Rhode Island magazine at sixteen and was editor of my high school newspaper. But I didn’t enter Harvard knowing what I wanted to do. My sense at the time was that other people were there because they were interested in one particular thing. I spent freshman year searching for what that one thing for me might be.
Dan O'Keefe '90 (Writer and Producer, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,
The Drew Carey Show, Seinfeld, The League, Silicon Valley)
by Nicole Torres
Originally from New York City, Dan O’Keefe grew up in a writing family. Both his parents were writers; his mother was an English teacher and his father an editor for Reader’s Digest. He was not allowed to watch television growing up, but he humorously recalls, “I was allowed to swear as long as it was grammatical.” His two younger brothers are writers as well, and all three of the O’Keefe brothers have enjoyed successful careers writing for either Hollywood or Broadway.
While he has enjoyed substantial success as both a writer and producer, his path toward a writing career was not always so clear. “For a long time I wanted to be an actor. I actually trained for years and years, and they didn’t have a major at Harvard, and I was thinking, ‘No one in this place is ever going to make it as an actor.’ And then, of course, Mira Sorvino, Donal Logue, and Matt Damon [did].”
Kurt Crowley '06 (Associate Conductor, Hamilton)
by Kristen Strezo
Kurt Crowley AB ’06 remembers one of the first times he felt the life of Leonard Bernstein collided with his. Crowley was an undergrad cleaning Eliot House on dorm crew when he discovered a small staircase and a sign that read ‘to tower and music room’.
Crowley’s interest piqued. He was studying music and comparative religion at Harvard. So, he did what any music student would do. He dropped his broom and climbed the small staircase.
Upstairs, he discovered a demure room with gratuitous sunlight, a baby grand piano and a picturesque view. Crowley walked to the piano. He hovered over it. He played the first tune that popped into his head. It was “Mambo” from West Side Story. Then, he headed back down the stairs.
Karen Olsson '95 (Journalist & Novelist, All the Houses)
by Dayna Wilkinson
Helen isn't getting anywhere in L.A. She's trying to write screenplays, but her ideas aren't great (even in her own opinion), and no one is interested in her work.
That’s how one reviewer described Helen Atherton, the protagonist of Karen Olsson’s new novel, All the Houses.
“I started with a 16 year old character named Nina, but Helen’s voice became more important,” says Karen. “Part of what keeps fiction writing alive for me is its unpredictability. Once I found Helen’s voice and decided on the backdrop of a political scandal, the story fell into place.”