We're excited to kick off our 20th Anniversary Season with a special series of posts that bring you stories of Harvard alumni working in the arts, media, and entertainment. These snapshots, spanning careers from entry to senior levels, reflect the diversity in both talent and perspective of our membership.
Enjoy these snapshots from the lives and careers of Nick Baker AB '07, Ryan Halprin AB '12, Ruiqi He AB '19, Gregg Hurwitz AB '95, and Valerie Weiss MMS '97, PhD '01.
I wanted to say thanks again for how life-changing my Harvardwood experience was. Not only was Harvardwood 101 a fabulously-run program with an amazing director, but it shed light on the career path I'd now like to pursue, which I was so confused about before. I feel incredibly blessed and thankful every single day for the Harvardwood 101 week, as well as my internship at MRC Studios. If it weren't for either, I wouldn't have found out what [is now] my career goal, which is to start out in investment banking and use this finance and valuation knowledge to use my MBA as a pivot into producing and financing films in Hollywood. Forever grateful for Harvardwood, which basically changed and shaped the rest of my life.
- Ruiqi He (Analyst, J.P. Morgan)
Becoming a film and TV producer all started with an internship. Having only been to LA to visit Disneyland before graduating college, I knew almost no one and tried the strangest of ways to get put in touch with someone who would take a chance on a neurobiology major with a theater hobby. Since my first internship, I have always been grateful for the very-present Harvard community in LA for being so generous and proactive on a mentorship and networking level. And with Harvardwood in particular, whether it's a masterclass on how to write late night jokes or an event during the January term to meet the undergrads who are on the fence about making the leap, it's been great to know so many people work hard to make the industry a more inclusive community. I get to be a creative leader every day, and I hope Harvardwood continues to grow to help more kids with that itch find that same fulfillment.
- Ryan Halprin (Senior Vice President of Production, Rideback)
The most challenging aspect of entering the entertainment industry is the amount of patience (and resources) you need while breaking in. I think I speak for most Harvard grads when I say we are generally Type-A and we expect hard work and talent to lead to results, success, and jobs. Ed Zwick AB '74 spoke to us when I was at Harvard about how important it is to not compare yourself to others in terms of how long it takes to break in. Everyone is on their own path. The most important thing you can do is work on your craft every single day, whether you are employed to do it or not. That said, I found my experience as a scientist to be invaluable in this pursuit. In science, as in directing, there are no guarantees that you will get the result you want and you have to use an incredible amount of creativity to navigate the discovery and investigation of something novel and note-worthy.
... [M]entoring is a huge part of the success for the future generation of Harvard artists, and it also has wonderful benefits for us. I am still in touch with several amazing alumni who interned for my company, PhD Productions, right after they graduated. One alum, Tiffanie Hsu AB '09, is pursuing her own directing career now and is about to break out in a big way. It is extremely satisfying to see such hard-working, insightful young people stick with this challenging and unpredictable business—a business that is the antithesis of a stable career where being a good student at a top school almost guarantees success—show tenacity and have it rewarded.
I recently directed an episode of The Resident (Season 2, episode 13) and it was written by another Harvard Medical School alum, *Eric Lu AB '09, MD '14. Eric was actually a mentee assigned to me through Harvardwood. It was a total coincidence that Eric was the writer on my episode and it was an unforgettable experience. I left science so I could reach a broader audience with my unique point of view informed by science. It was so satisfying to have a writer who wrote authentically from experience and be able to bring it to life. I think it deepened our episode and we certainly had a shorthand both for the medicine and the culture of medical students which we based on our common experience at HMS.
- Valerie Weiss (Director, Suits, The Resident, Chicago Med)
*Eric Lu was named to Harvardwood's Most Staffable TV Writers list in 2017 and was a participant of the Harvardwood TV Writers Program in Los Angeles.
Almost eight years ago, I joined my first Harvardwood writing group. That was back in Boston, under the excellent leadership of then-chapter head Matt Weinberg ALM '09. Our group was an eclectic quintet, made up of various ages and backgrounds. We met on the Harvard campus, first in Sever Hall, then in the new Queen's Head Pub under Sanders Theater. I had yet to finish a full screenplay, but the group welcomed me regardless. Soon my meandering hobby morphed into a real passion. I could hardly wait for those bi-monthly weeknights when we would meet, read, and learn from one another. I finished one screenplay, then a second, then a third. Fast forward to present and I'm in Los Angeles, working as a staff writer on an acclaimed episodic drama, constantly in awe of how I got from there to here. It all began with that one very special writing group in Boston, but along the way Harvardwood has proven time and again an incredible resource and invaluable community. Through all the writing groups, events and board meetings, I've made true friends. Thank you to everyone at Harvardwood, especially all my writing group mates past and present.
- Nick Baker (TV Writer, Homeland)
In addition to serving on our Board of Directors as the head of the Harvardwood Writers Program - Features, Nick was previously a winner of the annual Harvardwood Writers Competition in the TV Pilots category.
While at Harvard University -
I remember Jordan Peterson looking me in the eye in my sophomore year and telling me that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to elevate my writing time above all else and guard it selfishly or else more pressing concerns would interfere with it every day. I had to make that time sacrosanct.
How Gregg's early experiences in entertainment informed his narrative style -
My narrative style got much less pretentious quickly. I learned that everything I put down on the page had to be in service of story or character, not an illustration of some abstract intellectual idea. That all the depth had to come from the story engine itself.
On how our alumni can support the next generation of Harvard writers -
By reorienting them toward their craft and their work and their fundamental creative values, not just functioning as a network of professional contacts. We need to have more artistic conversations.
- Gregg Hurwitz (Best-selling Author, Orphan X, The Nowhere Man)