By Henry Johnson AB '18
In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood!
Naomi Funabashi was an English concentrator in the Class of 2012, and she will soon be the new CE at Mandeville Films. She was previously a Coordinator at Heyday Films and participated in Harvardwood 101 during her sophomore year at Harvard College.
Q. When did you decide you wanted to work in show business?
A. I've always loved storytelling—it's why I became an English major and why I was such a bookworm growing up. Books were my first love, but as I got older I also started to really enjoy being in a theater and watching films with an audience. I'm inspired by the idea that a story could be powerful enough to unite thousands of people and move them to the effort of bringing that story to life—an effort that, in turn, moves the millions more who watch it.
Like a lot of people, I never really realized that working in the industry was a path open to me, until I learned about Harvardwood and went on the 101 J-term trip my sophomore year. That trip and the people I met on it completely changed my idea of what was possible.
Q. How did you get your first job in the industry?
A. My first internship was at Walt Disney Animation Studios and was possibly one of the happiest summers of my life. I'm a huge animation nerd and grew up during the Disney Renaissance, so it was a dream come true to go to work every day. I learned about that internship through Harvardwood as well, and after I'd applied reached out to a recruiter who had a Harvardwood connection. To this day, I still can't believe it worked out.
My first full-time job in the industry was at CAA and came about after I'd interned there the summer after I'd graduated from Harvard. I was fortunate enough to have met a lot of people who graciously gave me their time and offered a lot of great advice. I did my best to prove I was willing to work hard and learn as much as I could and be someone who made the most of an opportunity, and luckily they hired me back! They repeatedly told us that internships—all jobs anywhere, really, of any kind—are essentially long-term interviews, and it's true!
Q. How would you compare working at an agency to working at a studio?
A. At an agency, it's definitely more business-minded. You get to find and connect the creative pieces to material, but you don't get to develop the package into the final product. I learned so much at my time at CAA, but in the end I definitely wanted to get my hands dirty with the story itself, so I moved to the creative side at a production company.
Q. What will your day-to-day duties be at Mandeville?
A. As a CE, I'll support current projects and identify new material to develop.
Q. What steps do you see the industry taking to include traditionally underrepresented groups?
A. I've been extremely lucky to have had bosses who were aware of how much of an uphill battle it can be for some groups to be represented in the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. So I have to say first that there are truly people out there fighting the good fight! Don't give up hope!
But honestly, before you look around for someone to lead the charge or shoulder the responsibility of breaking those barriers, or for signs that Hollywood is changing, I think it's important to realize that the person you need can be you yourself—and you can be that person for others, too, and support the colleagues you see as allies in this effort. What needs to be done can start in little ways—by being someone who is trying to succeed in this field and happens to belong to some of those groups, I'm definitely aware I add to the count. I also have to believe that intelligent people—and the industry is full of them—who understand and appreciate a good story also recognize that a good story has complex, fully realized characters, some of which will be minorities.
It might require patience, but I don't mind trying to speak up or start a conversation because every change that comes of those discussions is something I hope will one day add up. Some of the time I do feel like I have to qualify my comments or be cautious about the way I present my argument in a way others might not have to, but I think the reward is absolutely worth it.