November 2018 | Milan Popelka AB '01

COO of FilmNation & Producer (ArrivalLife ItselfThe Space Between)

MP_FN_headshot_2016.jpegBy Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18

In high school, Milan Popelka ’01 wanted to pursue a career in movies. He recounts watching marathons of James Bond movies on TBS as a teenager, remarking that “if I could watch the same movie shown three times a week and still love it, there must be something to this media.”

That captivating nature of storytelling through film stuck with Popelka throughout his undergraduate years at Harvard and remains ever-present today in his professional life. Now COO of FilmNation, a powerhouse in the financing, production, and distribution of independent films such as Arrival and The Big Sick, Popelka revels in the creativity required to put movies together from conception, to financing, to production, and beyond.

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October 2018 | Tayari Jones RAE '12, RF '12

Author (Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, An American Marriage)

By Dayna WilkinsonJones_Tayari_credit-Nina-Subin_rgb_2MB.jpg

“I was driving in Las Vegas when the call came. She said ‘hi, this is Oprah.’ I pulled the car over in a not-so-great part of town. People were tapping on my windows, and I was like ‘Go away, I’m trying to have the biggest moment of my life.’”

Before she wrote An American Marriage, Tayari Jones RAE '12, RF '12 had never been in the running for a major literary prize. “I never thought I would be, and that didn’t bother me,” she says. Now, An American Marriage is a New York Times bestseller, a 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Selection and a longlist selection for the National Book Award.

“I had a neighbor in Las Vegas who spoke very little English. We liked each other but communicated mostly with gestures,” Tayari says, “but after she saw the photo in Oprah’s magazine, she was banging on my door saying, ‘You know Oprah?!’ Part of the joy of being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club is that it’s an honor that’s legible to everyone.”

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September 2018 | Sam Shaw AB '99

(Co-Creator & Showrunner, Castle RockManhattan)

Low_Res_Sam_Shaw.jpgBy Adrian Horton AB '17

When Castle Rock premiered on Hulu in July, it was familiar ground for Sam Shaw, its co-showrunner, along with college friend Dustin Thomason AB '98. Castle Rock weaves together characters and plotlines from Stephen King’s multiverse in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine—a place Shaw imagined long before he dreamed of a career writing for television.

Writing in some form, however, has been a recurring theme in Shaw’s life since he scrawled story ideas on the cardboard backs of his dad’s dry-cleaning pads. Growing up in Brooklyn Heights, New York, as the son of two lawyers, Shaw was drawn to creative output at an early age. His parents "had a lot of big yellow legal pads that they'd bring home, so I spent a lot of time when I was a little kid writing what I could call novels, but were basically the scrawlings of a six- or seven-year-old lunatic," he says.

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August 2018 | Amy Aquino AB '79

Actor (BoschWhite OleanderWorking Girl)

Aquino.jpgWritten by Nicole Torres AB '11

Amy Aquino’s love for acting began in junior high and high school. When it came time to choose a career path, she was passionate about acting, but feared it was no way to make a living. Amy also loved science and medicine, having interned in the emergency room growing up in Philadelphia, and decided that might be a more practical career path. With this pragmatism, she chose to attend Harvard, although it did not have a theater department and offered only one theater class. But her love for acting was ever present.

As she recalls, “Actually, the essay that I wrote for my [Harvard] application was all about acting and what it meant to me.”

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July 2018 | Kayla Alpert AB '91

Writer & Producer (Code Black, LAX); Series Creator (False Profits)

Written by Cristina Slattery AB '97
Edited by Dona Le

kalpert.pngSeries creator finds comedy in multi-level marketing in upcoming ABC show False Profits

Kayla Alpert AB '91 says Harvard taught her that “everyone has a special gift,” and that it is important for each student to find out what that gift is for him or her. The writer-producer of False Profits, a new comedy that will air on ABC this fall, Alpert studied English in college and knew she wanted to be involved in the humanities when she graduated.

"I always loved reading and writing, so I had a vague idea about pursuing a career in the humanities (no med school or law school for me)—but it wasn’t until the end of my senior year that I specifically wanted to try my hand at screenwriting in Hollywood."

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June 2018 | Emily Carmichael AB '04

Screenwriter (Jurassic World 3Pacific Rim: Uprising)

By Nicole Torres AB '11

Portrait of Emily Carmichael - by Jen Maler-MedIt is the morning of the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as I sit down to write this profile, and as my email inbox continuously pings and fills with various news outlets reporting on the royal wedding, I cannot help but think of the parallel between Meghan and Emily’s stories. As Meghan Markle went from “commoner” to royalty, so too Emily Carmichael AB '04 has gone from an unknown “commoner” to Hollywood “royalty,” working on some of today’s hottest blockbusters with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow. Photo to the left by Jen Maler.

Born and raised in New York City, Emily has been writing since her high school days at Stuyvesant High School, where she graduated as the top-ranked English student in her class. During those early years, she had already received recognition for her writing, contributing two essays to Ophelia Speaks, a collection of works by adolescent girls that spent numerous weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.

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May 2018 | Mandel Ilagan AB '99

VP, Live-Action Development (Unscripted) at Nickelodeon

Ilagan.jpgBy Adrian Horton AB '17

In retrospect, it’s almost as if Mandel Ilagan’s career in unscripted content was, well, scripted. When other kids at his school in Cooper City, Florida, sought the playground at recess, Mandel would lead classmates in an impromptu version of The Price is Right. When friends came over, they’d spend hours playing board games or watching game shows. And by the time he arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1995, after having studied humor and screenwriting at a Harvard Summer School course the summer before, Ilagan knew that he wanted to work in television.

“That being said, we know that there's no real sort of TV division at Harvard,” he recounts one afternoon in March. He took the lack of plotting as an opportunity for growth; to give himself “as broad an education as possible,” he opted to concentrate in economics.

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April 2018 | David Madden AB '76

President of Original Programming for AMC, SundanceTV, & AMC Studios

By D. Dona Le

madden.jpgDavid Madden AB '76 has been a screenwriter, a producer, a director, and a studio executive. Today, Madden presides over the network that boasts three of the most popular shows on air: The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and Better Call Saul. He received an Emmy Award in 2004 as Executive Producer of TV movie Something the Lord Made; during a particularly frigid Chicago winter, he was on set with Julia Stiles for the filming of Save the Last Dance.

Few industry veterans can boast a list of credits and TV/film experience as expansive and varied as Madden’s (photo above by Alex J. Berliner / Fox).

But Madden originally aspired to become the next great American novelist.

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March 2018 | Elizabeth Claire Walker AB '11

Soloist Dancer, Los Angeles Ballet

By Nicole Torres AB '11

Elizabeth-Walker.jpgElizabeth C. Walker AB '11 was first exposed to ballet in the way many young girls are—she took ballet classes as one of the various activities her parents had her explore growing up. Her older sister was taking ballet, and like any younger sibling, she too begged to be placed in a ballet class. She recalls, “I started creative movement at three; it's what they put preschool-age kids in. You'll do some ballet, but it's not formal ballet class. It's skipping in a circle and pretending you're a fairy. So it was one of my activities that I did once or twice a week growing up.”

Although Elizabeth connected with and enjoyed ballet early on, it was not until she was thirteen that she really began to take the possibility of a professional career more seriously. The turning point was an experience she had with her mom.

“I remember going to see a New York City Ballet performance with my mom; that was the company she always took us to. We would [usually] go to The Nutcracker, but we went to see something that wasn't The Nutcracker—it was much more modern pieces. I had never seen dancers moving that way, and I really loved it and wondered, so how do you become one of those people?"

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February 2018 | Amy Chu MBA '99

amy_chu_portrait.jpgComic Book Writer (Red SonjaPoison Ivy)

Amy Chu may not have followed the stereotypical Asian-American woman's career path, but this self-confessed soccer mom is enjoying a life that features lots of coffee, whiskey, and Comic Con panels

Terence O'Toole Murnin AB '84

We catch up with Amy Chu MBA '99 at Wizard World in New Orleans, where the renowned writer of comics including Red Sonja, KISS, and X-Files Deviations has just delighted her fans as a guest panelist at this convention celebrating the magnificence of the ever-expanding geek universe. And while Chu’s followers may know her as co-founder of Alpha Girls Comics and recognize her work for industry heavyweights DC and Marvel, including Poison Ivy, Ant-Man, Deadpool, Sensation Comics Wonder and Wonder Woman ’77, what they probably don’t know is that Chu possesses an MBA from Harvard Business School, as well as a joint S.B., IV Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Wellesley.

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