March 2019 | Grant Thompson AB '98

Actor, Writer, & Producer (McFarland, USAUp at Noon with Greg Miller)

By Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18

fullsizeoutput_1766.jpegThe career of Grant Thompson AB '98 is varied and broad, much like his interests. A native of Gainesville, Florida, Thompson grew up playing sports, writing and acting in his high school drama club, and contributing to sketches for homecoming. While well-rounded, he didn’t consider himself a TV or film buff, and until he took Math 21A, he was planning to study math at Harvard. Instead, he studied history.

Meanwhile, he played basketball from freshman through junior year, in addition to being a member of the Phillips Brooks House Association. Thompson recounts his first year at Harvard living on the fifth floor of Weld, where he and his roommates, with whom he remains friends, had a water balloon launcher that they'd use to fire projectiles collected from the dining hall out their window onto the steps of Widener.

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February 2019 | Nicholas Britell AB '03

Film Composer (MoonlightIf Beale Street Could TalkThe Big ShortVice12 Years a Slave)

by D. Dona Le

Photo Credit - Dominic Nicholls“If it feels good, keep going. If it doesn’t, stop.”

That is a “very obvious… but groundbreaking” lesson that film composer Nicholas Britell AB ‘03 discovered at Harvard while collaborating with friend and fellow band member, Jake Rubin AB ‘03. The two were part of a hip-hop group, The Witness Protection Program, comprised of six instrumentalists and two rappers. They were discussing a track that Britell was writing for the band—whether the track was working, going in the right direction—and Rubin’s words struck a chord that lingers with the composer today.

“There are a lot of elements to the creative process. When you’re writing a lot of music, constantly trying to feel what you think works, sometimes there’s a belief that [even] if you’re not feeling something, you just have to trudge through it,” explains Britell. “But I’ve always found that that’s not the case. If you’re not feeling something, stop and do something else. And when it’s working, just keep doing it.”

Here, Britell is describing his work process on a micro level. But even a cursory overview of his career on the macro level proves that everything is working for Britell right now. The young composer is behind the scores for acclaimed films Moonlight, The Big Short, Vice, and If Beale Street Could Talk, to name but a few. He was first nominated for an Academy Award for his score to Moonlight in 2017. He is currently nominated for a Best Score Academy Award for his work on If Beale Street Could Talk. Also the composer for HBO’s drama series Succession, Britell has been described as “the composer with a growing fan club among directors” (NPR) and hailed as “the sound of money in Hollywood” (

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January 2019 | John Bowman AB '80, MBA '85

Emmy Award-winning Writer and Producer (Saturday Night LiveIn Living Color)

By Terence O'Toole Murnin


As the world rings in 2019, John Bowman AB ’80, MBA ’85 makes a bold New Year’s prediction: “I think we’ll be hearing a lot about Trump,” he says wryly.

Another certainty is that this Emmy award-winning writer and producer will continue to explore the boundaries of sketch comedy, as he's done brilliantly for more than 25 years. If sustained buzz is the toughest thing to accomplish in any creative endeavor, this comedic master’s resume rivals that of James Brown, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business!” Bowman's IMDB profile also reads like the evolution of TV comedy: Saturday Night Live, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, In Living Color, Martin, Murphy Brown, and Frank TV, to name just a few. In fact, if James Brown were still alive today, this would be a mic drop momentand he’d be covered in capes.

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December 2018 | Danny Chun AB '02

(TV Writer & Producer, SpeechlessThe OfficeThe Simpsons)

DChun.jpgBy Adrian Horton AB '17

For some, the path to a Hollywood career is circuitousfull of left turns, doubt, and reconsiderations. Not so for Daniel Chun AB '02, a TV writer and producer who has worked for some of Hollywoods most beloved comedies, including The Simpsons and The Office. For Chun, comedy writing has always been the game (with a degree in biological anthropology on the side).

Chun, who is Korean-American, grew up in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania not far from The Offices fictional home of Scranton. He first realized his interest in creative writing around seventh or eighth grade. As a teenager, he and his school friends were pretty obsessed with comedy”—Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall"so we would write and shoot stupid little sketches late at night in my basement.

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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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