May 2013 | Harvardwood Founders' Spotlight

Harvardwood Founders' Spotlight: Stacy Cohen '89, Adam Fratto '90, & Mia Riverton '99

By D. Dona Le '05

In terms of academic manpower and resources, Harvard students ordinarily want for nothing. But as recently as 15 years ago, before Harvardwood was founded, many students wondered how to best go about pursuing careers in the arts and the entertainment industry—more specifically, in Hollywood.

Founders.jpgOne of those students was Stacy Cohen '89, who concentrated in the History of Architecture and finagled the department into letting her write its first film-related thesis. While at Harvard, Cohen had no idea that Adam Fratto '90, just a year behind her, was interested in a similar career path in the moviemaking industry.

And even after Cohen and Fratto connected in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and began hosting informal mixer events for Harvard alumni, it would be years before they were put in touch with Mia Riverton (AB ’99). Together, the three of them would combine their contacts and form Harvardwood.

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April 2013 | Elizabeth Frascoia '00

Frascoia.jpgElizabeth Frascoia '00 (Trombonist, Singer, & Composer)

By Cristina Slattery '97

Elizabeth Frascoia '00, who was known as Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen in college and in the years prior to getting married, is a trombone player, singer, composer, arranger and jazz educator. She says that she finally "admitted that she wanted to play music” in her mid-twenties after having worked in the dot-com sector in the early 2000s. After this realization, Frascoia attended Queens College, where she earned a graduate degree in music; she has been teaching, touring, writing songs and playing in venues in the New York area as well as internationally, ever since. This Vermont native’s love for music was kindled in childhood. Her father is a jazz musician, her grandmother taught piano, and her mother is also musical, so growing up in the family home in Woodstock, Vermont, Frascoia was exposed to the sounds of some of her now-favorite musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Ray Anderson, a trombone player.

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March 2013 | Dick Sheffield MPA '81

Dick Sheffield MPA '81 (Journalist & Author, LASSO THE MOON)

By D. Dona Le '05

Sheffield.jpg"If you’re a glutton for punishment, take up writing,” says Dick Sheffield MPA ‘81.

Sheffield has done just that. Despite working as a full-time journalist covering politics for ABC News (since 1983), he has also nurtured a writing career, dividing his time between New York and his home state of Texas.

Born to two public school teachers in Fort Worth, Sheffield attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied Finance and got his first taste of politics during the time of the Vietnam War. Following graduation and living in Dallas, Sheffield frequented a neighborhood bar named the Stoneleigh P, where he regularly read the Sunday editions of the New York Times and Washington Post that arrived every Wednesday.

However, reading about the news was not quite enough and in 1975, Sheffield packed his car and drove to Washington, D.C. Armed with a handful of letters of recommendation, he rented a small apartment behind the Supreme Court and gave himself a thirty-day deadline to find a job.

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February 2013 | Ben Weeden '98

Ben Weeden '98 (Music Executive, Live Nation, House of Blues Entertainment)

By Sara Melson '90

Weeden.jpgBen Weeden '98 seems to have been born under a lucky star. His story is one of being in the right place at the right time, combined with the talent and skills to deliver on the opportunity.

After graduating Harvard in 1998 as an economics major, Ben was working in finance at Bear Stearns in New York. One of their clients was SFX Entertainment, which was rolling up many of the regional concert promoters, amphitheaters, theaters, and clubs in the US and was starting to do the same in Europe. "What SFX was doing seemed so much more fun.” Weeden went to work for SFX in Business Development, and after two months in the New York office, he was transferred to the London office, which at the time was a very small operation, consisting of only a couple promoters.

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January 2013 | Jim Latham '84 - '85

Latham.jpgJim Latham '84 - '85 (Film & TV Composer)

By D. Dona Le '05

Film composer Jim Latham ‘84/’85, a Quincy House resident, didn’t initially plan to select Music as his concentration when he first entered Harvard. He played guitar and sang in bands throughout high school, but Latham’s parents were academics, and "showbiz was not on the menu.” So freshman year, Latham took numerous math and physics courses, in addition to classes in the Music Department.

When it came time to declare his concentration, Latham’s advisor asked, "Why don’t you do what you like?”

Music was the clear choice. Latham played in several bands with Harvard classmates throughout college, including one called COMMISSIONER GORDON. Because of his strong reputation as a guitarist, songwriter, and composer, several Visual & Environmental Studies concentrators asked him to score their student films during their senior year.

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December 2012 | Mikael Södersten

Mikael Södersten '84 (Director & Dramaturg, FISSURA, FIVE FEELINGS ABOUT FOOD, THE OTHER WOMAN)

By D. Dona Le '05

Director and dramaturg Mikael Södersten ‘84 does not take the word "happy” lightly when describing himself.Sodersten.jpg

"For a Swede, that’s a word we rarely take into our mouths; not that we are not happy, but to say you’re truly happy — that’s something you might say when you hold your firstborn in your arms. It’s a very special word.”

Despite having lived in the United States for the last ten years, Södersten remains closely in touch with his Swedish heritage. Since graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, he has worked extensively with leading Scandinavian directors, producers, and actors, including Tomas Alfredson (TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY) and Thomas Vinterberg (CELEBRATION).

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November 2012 | Doug Mankoff HBS '95

Doug Mankoff HBS '95 (Producer, TSOTSI, THE JONESES, ROMEO & JULIET)

By Cristina Slattery '97

Mankoff.jpgIn the final scene of the 2006 film, WATER, a train filled with supporters of change agent and political leader, Mahatma Gandhi, pulls out of a crowded station. A seven-year-old child, Chuyia, is handed to an educated young man who has decided to leave his own city and follow Gandhi. An adult widow who shares her living space with Chuyia – who, despite being only seven, is also a widow after a childhood marriage – desperately hands her to the man on the train in order to free Chuyia from a life of poverty and prostitution. This final scene offers a glimpse of hope for the child’s future and for the future of Indian society, and exemplifies the theme of redemption that is prevalent in many of the movies that Doug Mankoff HBS '95 has helped to bring to audiences worldwide.

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October 2012 | Valerie Weiss PhD '01

Valerie Weiss PhD '01 (Writer & Director, LOSING CONTROL)

By Dayna Wilkinson

Weiss.jpgWriter/Director Valerie Weiss PhD '01: "I decided to go to Harvard Medical School. If at the end of my PhD I was more in love with science than the arts, then great. But if I wasn’t and still wanted to do film, then I’d never have any regrets.”

After graduating with a PhD in biochemistry, Valerie hung up her lab coat and never doubted her career choice. Still, it’s appropriate that her movie, LOSING CONTROL, is about a female scientist, and that it was filmed in part at the medical school.

Her film also reflects her early influences. "I loved Pedro Almodovar’s WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, which I saw in my 10th grade Spanish class,” Valerie says. "Everything that happens in the film is very real to the characters, even when it’s absurd.” Valerie had started acting lessons at 9, and she continued to act through her high school years.

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September 2012 | Jonathan Alter '79

Alter.jpgJonathan Alter '79 (Journalist, Author, & Political Pundit)

By D. Dona Le '05

Journalist, author, and political pundit Jonathan Alter ‘79 was already interested in writing as a young boy. He attempted to pen his first book in second grade and also published a personal newspaper that was distributed in his Chicago neighborhood. However, despite working on his high school newspaper, Alter didn’t decide to pursue a career in journalism until after graduating with honors from Harvard College as a History concentrator.

"When I graduated in 1979, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. My vague intention was to apply to law school but it slipped my mind,” he jokes, "and I never got around to taking the LSATs.”

Instead, Alter saved enough money to travel around Europe and the Middle East for a few months. Upon his return to the United States, he moved to Washington, DC and stayed with college friends who were working on Capitol Hill. Alter then began freelance writing for a variety of publications.

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August 2012 | Lauren Kunze '08

Lauren Kunze '08 (Novelist, THE IVY YA series)

By Cristina Slattery '97

The ten-year-old Lauren Kunze ‘08 was already devouring books and "pretending” to work, brush her teeth, eat vegetables and to sleep in order to make her parents happy.  She remembers attempting to read PARADISE LOST, rehearsing for her acting debut as Puck in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and attending soccer practice.  Kunze grew up in the Bay Area and a she conveys a certain Californian breezy optimism over the telephone that seems the antithesis of the brooding "serious writer” persona that one sometimes encounters. But, Kunze is, in fact, a serious writer.  At age twenty-four, she is about to publish her fourth and final novel in THE IVY young adult series – a series that she began writing her senior year in college.

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