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  • published September 2023 | Jeff Melvoin AB '75 in Alumni Profiles 2023-09-03 11:57:47 -0700

    September 2023 | Jeff Melvoin AB '75

    Join us for a talk with Jeff here!

    by Laura Frustaci

    Jeff Melvoin AB 75 has worked on over a dozen primetime series and was showrunner on eight of them. In all, he’s been involved in over 470 hours of produced television, most recently as an executive producer on season three of KILLING EVE. Other executive producer credits include DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, ARMY WIVES, ALIAS, and PICKET FENCES. 

    He was supervising producer of the CBS series Northern Exposure, for which he won an Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. Other writer-producer credits include the NBC series HILL STREET BLUES and REMINGTON STEELE.

    Melvoin is also founder and chair of the Writers Guild of America West’s celebrated Showrunner Training Program, now in its eighteenth year. In February, 2015, Melvoin received the Morgan Cox Award, the WGA’s highest recognition for Guild service. He has taught at USC School of Cinematic Arts, UCLA, Harvard, and the Sundance Institute. Jeff has also lent his experience to the European Showrunner Programme, leading sessions at the inaugural edition in 2022 and will be returning in 2023.

    Jeff Melvoin has always had a history of helping young showrunners develop the skills that it takes to succeed in the entertainment industry. And now, after years of drafting and planning, he’s published a book detailing every aspect of it. RUNNING THE SHOW: TELEVISION FROM THE INSIDE was released today, and within its pages lies a wealth of information, experiences, and anecdotes about Jeff’s time in the business working on shows ranging from KILLING EVE to DESIGNATED SURVIVOR to ARMY WIVES.

    Almost twenty years ago, Jeff was the driving force behind the WGA Showrunner Training Program, which he created in response to his observation that there existed dwindling learning opportunities for future showrunners to learn their craft. Jeff recalls: “Before you were allowed to pitch a series in the old days, you had to have a considerable number of years in the business, because the studio’s assumption was that if they picked up your show, you would have enough experience to run it.” No longer is that the case. “At the turn of the century, the networks realized they needed more original material,” Jeff explains, “and so they started to look at less experienced writers. Suddenly freshness was an important thing. And very often that translated to younger people, newer people, people coming from outside of the traditional television path. As a result, you had more opportunity for writers, more originality, but you also had shows that were getting onto the schedule and then failing—not because the writers didn't have talent, but because they didn't have the experience to run a show.”

    So Jeff and then-president of the WGA John Wells created the six-week Showrunner Training Program to train 25 young showrunners each year. But demand far exceeded the program’s capacity, even after raising the number of spots to 30 and sometimes even higher. “TV in the last twenty years has become such a hot field,” Jeff reasons. “There are so many people who would like to be part of it, but the knowledge is hard to come by. All of this was on my mind over the last five or ten years when I began making notes for a possible book. With each show I was working on, I would take time to write notes to myself: ‘Be sure to include this.’ The impulse was to get things down while they were still fresh in my head and provide a book that speaks directly and personally to the reader about the business.”  

    As it turns out, writing a book wasn’t quite so different from other entertainment mediums. “I found that editing the book was very much like editing film, when you have to take your writer’s hat off and put your editor’s hat on and ask yourself ‘What is the film telling me? How long does this scene want to be? Why am I losing interest?’ And I found I was able to transfer that discipline to my writing.” After 18 months of drafting—and cutting over 100,000 words, Jeff sold the manuscript one year ago to Applause Books, which specializes in books about the performing arts.

    Jeff notes, “Being aware that the business is changing dramatically and might look very different six months after the strike is over, I tried to write a book that was more about principles than specific systems or formulaic ways to do things. We're always going to need stories; what format those stories take, how they're presented, the platforms, the economic models, those are going to change. But what's really important to understand is how to organize a show under virtually any circumstance. Resilience and resourcefulness will be key components of the showrunner’s skillset moving forward.”

    The book consists of three parts: the first—and shortest—is a mini-history of the business for the last 40 years. The importance of this section for Jeff was to use the prism of his own experiences to illustrate how TV has changed, where new forms come from, and how these forms have grown and transformed the industry. The second section, “Breaking In,”  informs readers about everything from how to become a writer in television to becoming a showrunner for the first time. The third and final section, “Running the Show,” covers much of what’s discussed in the WGA’s Showrunner Training Program. By increasing access to the information through the book, Jeff hopes to arm the next generation of successful showrunners.

    Asked to name one of the skills necessary to be a successful showrunner, Jeff’s answer is “the art of compromise.” “The most professional showrunners are the ones who have a good give-and-take with executives,” Jeff says. “They don't cave in, they know when to make a stand, but they also know when to concede.” As Jeff has learned, experienced writers and showrunners are more likely to be open with their ideas, whereas newer writers harbor the belief that they have to defend each and every idea in their scripts to the death. “You only have so much capital to spend with studios, and you have to be careful about how you spend it,” Jeff recommends. “You've got to choose which hill you want to die on.” Another crucial piece of creating good television? Quality scripts on time. “You have to be writing quality stuff,” Jeff states. “But if it's not on time, then it doesn't matter how good it is; you're going to lose influence and won’t get the show that you want.” Procrastinators, take heed!

    This is just a taste of the wisdom scribed within the pages of RUNNING THE SHOW: TELEVISION FROM THE INSIDE. Jeff concludes, “I’ve always like the proverb, ‘Give someone a fish, they can feed themself for a day; teach someone to fish, and they can feed themselves for the rest of their life.’ No matter how the business is changing, I hope that the ideas and approaches and principles in the book will help writers get their vision across.”

    Jeff’s book is available for purchase now at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

    Join us for a talk with Jeff here!

  • Exclusive Q&A with Elisabeth Sharp McKetta AB ‘01

    Elisabeth Sharp McKetta AB '01 is an award-winning writer, a writing teacher, and a mother of two. With a PhD on the intersections between fairy tales and autobiography, as well as a seven-year streak of writing weekly poems for strangers, she teaches writing for Oxford Department for Continuing Education and for Harvard Extension School, where she won their highest teaching award. She has authored thirteen books across genres, most recently the novels SHE NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE OCEAN and ARK, the essay collection AWAKE WITH ASASHORYU, and the personal growth guide EDIT YOUR LIFE, based on her experience living three years in a 275-square foot backyard guest house with her family of four (five, if you count the Labrador). She co-edited the anthology WHAT DOESN'T KILL HER: WOMEN'S STORIES OF RESILIENCE, which Gloria Steinem described as stories that “will help each of us to trust and tell our own.” Elisabeth’s work with myth and memoir, which she began studying at Harvard College (B.A. 2001), has been spotlighted in HARVARD MAGAZINE.

    Q: Your newest novel, ARK is an uplifting middle-grade story about relying on family (including pets!) during tough times and the challenges of isolation. This was inspired by your own experience living in a 275-square-foot tiny house with your family during the pandemic. Can you talk about that experience and how it morphed into this wonderful book?

    Of course. My husband and I wanted adulthood to feel simpler, so in 2017 we simplified house. We moved as a family—6-year-old daughter, 3-year-old son, two Labradors, and us—into a backyard guest house that we called “The Shed”. Living there meant that we had no living expenses and very little housework, and so had the freedom to spend more time doing the things we like best: interesting work, deliberate parenting, fun adventures, and lots of travel. It was one of the best choices we’ve ever made. COVID-19 threw everything into disarray for everyone. It was fascinating to try to figure this new life out. Though in many ways it was scary and uncertain, it was also interesting and creative. It felt like we were living on a very small planet with only four people! My books always have fairy tales, myths, or very old stories at the core, and in the spring of 2020, I found myself thinking a lot about the ark story and its theme of withdrawal from life as it had been. Starting in lockdown, I gave myself the assignment of writing five short poems each day—they could be really short, or they could be prose poems, or anything at all—inspired by our family’s experience. Quickly the poems morphed into fiction, and us into composite characters, and then ARK the novel was born. It was born from life-writing, but quickly flung itself into fiction. I loved writing it. 

    Q: What do you hope that younger audience members take away from reading ARK?

    What a wonderful question. Two things above all. First, I hope it engages young readers’ “can do” spirit. In ARK, 11-year-old narrator Arden has the hardest time accepting three major changes in her life. When the story starts, she’s scared about the pandemic, miserable about her family’s move to a tiny house, and desperate for a dog. Only when she realizes that she can use the ARK to give a home to dogs who have been turned out does she begin to see her own problems with a fresh perspective—which is often how it works. When we’re stuck, changing one thing (anything!) with an eye for helping someone else (anyone!) can get the water moving again, and can help more people downstream. I would love for young readers to reflect on how they might engage their own powers of kindness and creativity to effect real change. Second, I’d love for young readers of ARK to reflect on their own relationships with and responsibilities toward animals. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum observes in Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility, “No non-human animal escapes human domination. Much of the time, that domination inflicts wrongful injury…” Therefore we owe animals “a long-overdue ethical debt.” In ARK, I have tried to write about this ethical debt in a way that is joyful, loving, and hopeful. I hope young readers can think about ways to act toward animals and the natural world in that same spirit. 

    Q: You’ve authored thirteen books, ranging in genre from poetry to middle-grade fiction to nonfiction memoir. How did you come to have such a diverse body of work as such a versatile writer, when many authors tend to pick one specific genre and stay with it for most of their careers?

    I keep thinking I’ll grow up and pick a genre! But that hasn’t happened yet, and I doubt it will. I mostly write what feels exciting or necessary during a given life season, as ARK felt for the pandemic, and SHE NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE OCEAN felt in my early days of motherhood, and AWAKE WITH ASASHORYU: ESSAYS felt as I looked back at my twenties from age forty. Often, I write a book as a way to solve in writing a feeling or fear, or to lay something to rest. Other times, a fun and challenging project is offered to me—like my grandfather’s biography Energy, or collaborations with artist Troy Passey, or my Boise picture book, which my local bookstore asked if I’d write. I believe a writer grows a psychic inch or two with each challenging project, and I like to take on projects that will help me grow. Each new genre feels like facing a vertical rock wall and wondering, “where do I put my foot?” But through the climb, the writer gains strength, and in the end gets to see things from a new perspective. 

    Q: Your Ph.D. dissertation was about the phenomenon of writers (usually female) using fairytales to map onto a description of their own lives, which you coined the coin “asymptotic autobiography” to describe. Myth and memoir continue to be strong features throughout much of your published work. Can you talk about how your work and research as a doctoral student impacted your storytelling path?

    In every single way! Though my genre is all over the place, my use of fairy tale or myth as narrative seed or spine is the common denominator of nearly everything I do. There are shards of these wonderful old stories buried in the language and the plots of all of my work—including the bedtime stories I make up for my children! I recently developed a course for Harvard’s Writing Program called “Mythic Memoir”—it's been a dream to teach. I owe this obsession/intersection to two exceptional teachers who I learned from in college: Maria Tatar for fairy tales, Hope Hale Davis for memoir. They left their mark. I love how both fairy tales and memoirs engage what feels like the only question worth asking: how do we become?

    Q: What’s your process like for starting, writing, and finishing a story? What are the challenges, and what comes easiest to you?

    I think of the writing process as a trio of concrete but very different verbs: Create. Craft. Connect. Of these 3 writerly Cs, I love the first one most—the freewheeling “write anything” messy generative part. I love waking up into a project. During the “Create” phase, I write sentences and stories the way my kids make cardboard apartments for their stuffed animals. It’s pure play. Pure discovery. No expectations of greatness. Just the fun of an art project. Then the “Craft” stage starts when I’ve got enough written to ask what this project IS and what it needs to be—to start shaping and editing it. This part takes the longest and is the least orderly—but it is the most satisfying stage, because it’s here that the writer learns the most (and discards the most!) In this second “C”, the piece—whatever the genre—identifies its ideal form. At some point, after weeks or months or years of (often haphazard-feeling) craft decisions, a project becomes 92% perfect—or good enough to get feedback on and send out to wise, big-hearted readers. The “Connect” stage—polishing, publishing, marketing—is the one that feels the most vulnerable, because it’s fraught with opportunities to fail and to hear “no.” Once I got over my fear of hearing no, I started enjoying this stage too, especially when I think about the collaboration that comes with publishing, and how cool it is to have readers, and the many ways an author can think of the work in a “yes &” way. This is the stage where the work meets the world.

    Q: How did you know you wanted to become an author? What did you do early on that set you down such a successful career path?

    think a lot of writers know early. The evidence is pretty easy to find: all you want to do is read and write! The trick is always creating a “floor” for the writer to safely stand on while starting and finishing projects. Sometimes that’s a financial floor; other times it’s a floor of trust in roommates or family members to support and encourage the writer (often by leaving them alone during certain hours!) A writer’s floor is the ability to trust that there is time and space to complete the project here, now. To take it as far as it can go. In my twenties, I took on every odd job I could find, from selling hats to reading college application essays. But I tried to write as often as I could. I failed. I tried again. Also, I stayed in school for a PhD, because I knew that becoming a better reader would certainly help me become a better writer—and I also knew that I’d love teaching. When I turned thirty, teaching adults became my financial floor, and writing in the mornings became my creative floor. Both still are. Moving to the Shed helped immensely, because it edited our life and bought me writing time. It also taught my family to communicate well and fairly over shared resources—time, space—which is really useful. But there’s no denying that setting up a career as an artist can be a really fumbly thing, because unlike so many careers, there’s no clear road to it—you’ve just got to crash through the woods and find your own path. 

    Q: Which project are you most proud of that you’ve worked on, and which one taught you the most?

    I am always proudest of the most recent project, because it’s the highest rung on the ladder of my growth as a writer. Always, when I start on a project, my ambition for it outstrips my skill. But in working on it, and learning new ways to approach it, my skill grows and the project changes into something I can do. So I come out of each project feeling like a better writer than I was before. The book that “grew me up” most was definitely my first novel, SHE NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE OCEAN. I had written and abandoned five novels before I wrote it. I knew how hard the revision would be. I wanted it to be the biggest thing I could possibly write, a mythology about mothers and daughters, birth and death. It would be four intertwined stories about how we face fear, and the ways women ferry each other through hard times. It took ten years and received over 300 rejections. During those ten years, I wrote other things too, and each one developed different writing muscles. But OCEAN felt the hardest to get right. I wasn’t sure I could even get it right until my publisher finally sent it to print. 

    Q: What’s your biggest tip for aspiring authors?

    I have three. 1. Just write! Set a weekday writing and reading practice. Give it a daily dose of your best energy, rather than just leftover time. Claim your role as writer through your regular attention to it. 2. Say yes to projects that come your way, for each one will add to the creative fermentation that will be your weird, wonderful, surprising career. 3. Starting immediately, resolve to be a writer who helps writers. Participate in that generous chain, thinking creatively about what skills and kindnesses (great and small) you can offer. You will be glad you did. Each of these three investments—writing and reading, taking brave leaps, nurturing relationships—will pay forward a thousand times.

    Q: Finally, which project have you both been most proud of being involved with?

    The membrane between writing and life for me feels really permeable. I like to spend most of my hours teaching, writing, and loving on my people, especially my family. These three intersect; I like that they do. While I like having a writing schedule, I determined early on that in order to be portable, I’d be willing to work flexibly (meaning not mind working early mornings, weekends, and vacation days) so that I could take my work anywhere. This has worked well. I like to distill my work into short “pods” of focus, and spend the rest of my days with family, friends, and students. I have two children (age 9 and 12) who still like spending time with me, and I love to take them on adventures out in the world, even just to a cafe or a bookstore. But I also love to walk, read, talk, and cook.

  • Exclusive Q&A with Eric d'Arbeloff MBA '93 and Howard Cohen AB '81


    Eric d’Arbeloff MBA ‘93 and Howard Cohen AB ‘81 are the Co-Presidents of Roadside Attractions, a specialty film distributor based in L.A. Roadside has released over 150 films in its near 20-year history, with combined box office exceeding $500 million. Their films have garnered numerous Oscar® and other award nominations and wins. Roadside is partially owned by Lionsgate, who distributes Roadside films in aftermarkets such as VOD and television. In 2022, Roadside announced a three-year deal with Hulu for the post-theatrical streaming window on its theatrical releases. Roadside’s recent releases include MOVING ON starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, SOMEWHERE IN QUEENS starring Ray Romano, and the Independent Spirit Award winning EMILY THE CRIMINAL starring Aubrey Plaza. Upcoming releases include RETRIBUTION starring Liam Neeson. Notable releases in recent years include BENEDICTION from director Terence Davies, THE COURIER starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Matteo Garrone’s double Academy Award® nominated PINOCCHIO, Academy Award® winner JUDY, and the number one independent film of summer 2019: THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON. Also in recent times were the highest-grossing independent film of 2018, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, the Spirit Award-nominated BEATRIX AT DINNER, and double Academy Award® winner MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. 

    Howard Cohen is the Co-President and Co-Founder of Roadside Attractions, which devises innovative theatrical release strategies for outstanding specialty films. Before running the show with Eric d’Arbeloff at Roadside Attractions, Cohen was also an Executive Producer on Mira Nair’s film VANITY FAIR and was head of the Independent Film Department at United Talent Agency. Cohen’s early career included executive positions at HBO, Paramount, and TNT. Cohen is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), in the Executive Branch. Cohen has a B.A. from Harvard College.

    Eric d’Arbeloff is the Co-President of Roadside Attractions. His other credits include TRICK, which premiered in Sundance, LOVELY & AMAZON, which premiered in Telluride; LIFETIME GUARANTEE: PHRANC'S ADVENTURES IN PLASTIC, which premiered at Outfest and is currently available as part of the Masc curation on the Criterion Channel; and ALL IS LOST, which premiered in Cannes. He has a B.A. in Modern Studies from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from Harvard.

    Q: You’re both producers on the soon-to-be-released film SHORTCOMINGS, Randall Park’s hilarious feature directorial debut based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine. What drew you to this film? What are you most excited for audiences to see when it hits theaters?

    SHORTCOMINGS is a wonderfully wry and poignant work of literary fiction from author Adrian Tomine that was way ahead of its time when it was originally published, and named a New York Times Notable Book, in 2007. We admired the book’s unflinching honesty and its astute, often hilarious, observations about identity politics, sexual mores, and the impact of racial representation in pop culture. We felt like the broader culture has caught up to it, and we immediately saw its potential as a feature when our head of development, Ryan Paine, presented it to us. Like many of our favorite independent features, it’s told from a perspective that we hadn’t seen on screen before.

    Adrian wrote the script for the film, and he and Randall Park worked closely together to update SHORTCOMINGS’ story and setting to the present day. We’re excited for audiences to get to know Randall as a director and for audiences to experience this story and get to know Adrian’s razor-sharp comedy and writing voice, since this is his first produced screenplay! Likewise, we’re excited for audiences to see our phenomenal, funny cast in action.

    Q: We’re in a really exciting era of increased representation in Hollywood, specifically with regard to Asian American representation (with last month’s release of JOY RIDE in particular and LOVE IN TAIPEI coming out this month). What can you say about where this film fits within the current industry landscape?

    Asian Americans have historically been underrepresented in Hollywood, on camera as well as behind the camera. This has been true even in the independent film sector, though were both old enough to remember the defining impact of Wayne Wang’s early films. While it’s exciting that the past few years have brought an upsurge in Asian-American representation in Hollywood, it’s also frustrating that it’s taken so long for this to happen. Thanks to decades of work by the Asian-American Hollywood community, there’s now a proven track record for a variety of commercial films with Asian characters. But we’ve seen fewer stories that feature flawed, funny, and complex Asian-American characters like our leads, Ben, Alice, and Miko. Our hope is that filmgoers will agree that our creative team has made a film that both leans into Asian-American identity and transcends it. Romantic confusion and the journey toward self-discovery are universal human experiences. They are themes explored in many of the films we love, and in particular, films we love to see with other filmgoers in a movie theater!

    Q: Your company, Roadside Attractions, has released a lot of very unique, engaging, and acclaimed films, including THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, JUDY, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and WINTER’S BONE. What do you look for in films when you’re considering becoming attached to them? What really makes you feel like a film is going to be successful?

    We try to approach every movie on its own terms, i.e. does it succeed in what we judge to be its intentions? And then we ask how it affects us personally: Is it memorable, moving, and/or funny? We also try to gauge how we think critics will respond if we’re seeing it in a setting without reviews. If we’re seeing it at a festival where it gets reviewed, we read all the reviews carefully—and ask ourselves not just are they positive reviews—but are they motivating reviews that would get you off your couch and to a theatre? And then we ask ourselves who the audience is in terms of demographic (e.g. age, ethnic group, etc.) and psychographic (e.g. arthouse, commercial) that might actually go to see it in a theatre. Our financial model for movies is still theatrically driven, though we also consider how it might play in home entertainment. We get input from partners to assess that. We go through this exercise on each film, with the goal of seeing both the rewards and the risks. It’s great to stretch for films we love, but we also want to live to fight another day. So it’s a tricky dance between personal passion and business judgment.

    Q: Can you talk about your paths to where you are now in the industry? As partners both in work and life, are there challenges or times when you don’t see eye-to-eye creatively? Or do you find yourselves to be very in sync when it comes to creative decisions?

    Howard had history as a creative exec at a few companies—HBO, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, and notably running the early indie film dept at UTA in the late ’90s. Eric started in early reality TV and became an indie producer of such notable films as TRICK and LOVELY & AMAZING. We made a decision in the early aughts to join forces and start a company.  There have been challenges here and there being partners in work and personal life but two separate careers had challenges too! We are in sync creatively far more than not, and we’ve learned to politely disagree when we’re not. It’s actually easy because the one who doesn’t like something always says, ‘well if you really love it, even though I don’t, then we should do it,’ and that raises the bar pretty high! We use comps a lot when we assess risk, and every once in a while we drag out the comps that one of us championed that either didn’t work or did work but we didn’t buy. Luckily, we use those sparingly, usually at about 3AM in Sundance!

    Q: Eric, you were quoted in a Vanity Fair article a few years ago: “From the very beginning, we really wanted the company to be the antidote to elitist, New York-based entertainment. We wanted to be more populist, to make movies that have what we call a willingness to entertain.” Do you feel like this still rings true for Roadside and your approach?

    To some extent the theatrical marketplace has shifted since Eric said that, no question populism has continued to be a North Star for us. We’re not in a position to release tentpoles, so it’s not populist in that way. But we’re interested in films that play different niches out in the world that are not all driven by what happens for indie films in NY and LA and Sundance. Our biggest box office success to date, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, which grossed $83 milllion in 2018, is a film few Hollywood executives have even seen. We’re proud of that, though we love our coastal elite films too!

    Q: How did your time at Harvard play a role in your career paths, if any? And what’s the biggest lesson you each learned early on in the industry?

    It sounds kind of pat, but Harvard played the biggest roles for both of us in shaping who we are as people: having confidence in our taste, and bolstering our characters in how to deal with the industry and the world. We both still have close friendships formed at Harvard which are indeed priceless. But there have been ironies too: Eric has an MBA, but he learned one of his most valuable business skills, how to create and manage a budget, in the shabby production offices of the Roger Corman Studio in Venice. That’s a reason to bounce around a bit early in your career—you may learn something real-world and useful!

    Q: Of course, I have to ask, what piece of advice do you have for aspiring directors/producers/creatives?

    In moving forward with any of your content ideas for film, TV, or any other media, think about whether the film or show is something you yourself would pay to see (or go out of your way to make an appointment to watch it at home). It’s such a simple threshold and yet we find people don’t consider this. If the answer is YES I WOULD, ABSOLUTELY, with little hesitation that’s so meaningful. If the answer is very qualified, well, if it were playing within 6 blocks from my apartment at my favorite theatre (or it was fed to me on an app during the credits of another show) and it had over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s cast with my favorite actors…DUMP THAT IDEA NOW. If you’re not totally excited by it at its core you have to assume it will have trouble exciting others. And you might be surprised how powerful it can be to dump an idea or put the brakes on a project. Reason being, you can learn a lot working on someone else’s idea and on someone else’s dime! One of the challenges of being creative and going to a great school is that the expectations get set so high. There are many aspects of entertainment that can lead to a creative and rewarding career. Film is about great teams as much as it is about grand individual statements.

    Q: How do you both spend your free time? Any particular media you’ve been enjoying lately?

    We have both played tennis (not with each other though)! We have a son who just graduated high school (and going to Harvard, Class of 2027!) so he has been a huge focus for the last 18 years! Eric is on the Board of Film Independent and Howard has sung baritone in the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles since 2002. We are avid theatregoers with a subscription to the Pantages and we travel to Broadway a few times a year. And we pay to see movies in the theatre almost every week. Even during the pandemic, we drove to Orange County when they reopened theatres before LA in June of 2020—we needed our fix.

    Q: Finally, which project have you both been most proud of being involved with?

    That’s a bit like asking us which one of our children we love the most (luckily we have just one!). What’s fascinating is that our feelings about our films are inextricably bound to our feelings about the process of releasing them. There could be a great poster, a memorable PR moment, or a unique idea from a member of our team that we tried for the first time. If you’ve ever adopted a pet, you know your love blooms from the journey, not just the pedigree.

  • published August 2023 | Marc Resteghini AB '99 in Alumni Profiles 2023-08-01 17:30:36 -0700

    August 2023 | Marc Resteghini AB '99

    by Laura Frustaci

    Marc Resteghini AB '99 in 2023 established his own production company – Jack Tar Pictures – at Amazon Studios, with an overall deal in television and a first look deal in film. Previously, Marc spent more than eight years helping to build Amazon Studios, most recently serving as the US's Global Head of TV Development, where he led an organization of approximately 50 people and oversaw the development and production of all new US/Global scripted, unscripted and animation television content for Amazon's Prime Video Service.  Prior to assuming this position in February 2021, Marc served in various capacities at Amazon, including Head of Drama television, Head of Current Drama Programming and as a senior executive in the Drama department.  During his tenure as an executive at Amazon, Marc developed and oversaw hundreds of hours of content, including such shows as: THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, Tom Clancy's JACK RYAN, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, REACHER, SWARM, DEAD RINGERS, THE TERMINAL LIST, OUTER RANGE, DAISY JONES AND THE SIX, THEM, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, GOLIATH, PATRIOT, Lizzo’s WATCH OUT FOR THE BIG GRRRLS, THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY, THE LEGEND OF VOX MACHINA, SWARM AND DR. SEUSS BAKING CHALLENGE. Marc’s programming has been the recipient of 25 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, and countless other nominations and awards. He has worked closely with some of the most significant and innovative talent in entertainment, including Josh Brolin, Donald Glover, Barry Jenkins, John Krasinski, Jonah Nolan, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Plan B Entertainment, Chris Pratt, the Russo Bros., and Billy Bob Thornton. Prior to joining Amazon Studios in 2014, Marc shepherded more than a dozen feature films over the course of 15 years, serving as an executive at 20th Century Fox and as a producer with DreamWorks based Parkes/MacDonald Productions and Warner Bros. Marc graduated Cum Laude from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in English Literature.

    Marc Resteghini AB ‘99 has played the role of both producer and executive for both film and television, most recently as Head of US Series Development at Amazon Studios. After stepping away from the executive ranks, he’s now excited to be delving back into producing with a film and television deal at Amazon. But let’s back up to the very beginning of Marc’s career. Marc became interested in development the way many college students discover their passion: by doing an internship. “I was really interested in entertainment, I watched a lot of TV, but I was not aware of or well-versed in career paths in entertainment,” Marc recalls. “I didn’t understand what went into the filmmaking process. But I found my first internship with the Princeton Review through the Television Academy (The Emmy Organization) and it’s still offered today. They partner with host companies in Hollywood, across a range of categories, including screenwriting, directing and development. I read the blurb of what development was: look for story ideas in magazines, read books for adaptation, work with screenwriters. That sounded really interesting.” 

    With a degree in English from Harvard, Marc was poised for success. He enjoyed his internship so much he moved to LA right after graduation and got a second internship through a Harvard connection. Although, as Marc puts it, “There wasn’t corporate recruiting for entertainment at Harvard,” the school still aided his career path in more abstract ways. “As an English major, understanding storytelling and literature and writing and being a good succinct communicator was helpful,” Marc explains. “The interactions with peers and professors were great preparation to work with artists who are really intelligent and have strong opinions. And there’s a curiosity that pervades the Harvard culture that is also really important to success in the entertainment industry. It’s always about thinking around the corner.” 

    After his second internship, Marc worked as an assistant for several years, before becoming a creative executive for Denise Di Novi (who, among other things, produced HEATHERS and numerous Tim Burton films, including EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). Then Marc moved on to 20th Century Fox as an executive, and later he oversaw film development and production for husband-and-wife producing team Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who helped found DreamWorks Films. After such success in film, Marc found a new challenge in television. He started at Amazon Studios when there were just 30 employees, and helped build it into the entertainment powerhouse it is today. His work at Amazon culminated in overseeing all of U.S. and Global TV development. 

    While at Amazon, Marc helped push through Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show THE MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL, of which he says he is the proudest. “It was a joyful show that also had a really resonant message,” Marc says. Marc is also particularly proud of OUTER RANGE, a science fiction western, which he calls “incredibly innovative and imaginative and unique”, as well as Barry Jenkins’ excellent adaptation of Colson Whitehead AB '91’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.  

    Throughout his career, Marc has gone back and forth with experience acting as both producer and executive. “I’m back now on the producing side, which means I have fewer projects but I’m more hands-on,” Marc notes. “From his time in the industry, Marc has collected some wisdom that he generously shared: “I’m a firm believer that the best entertainment has some element of risk to it, and has to innovate, and yet you have to make sure you’re offsetting those risks. I’ve learned the importance of taking calculated risks.”

    But what makes good television, that’s worth taking those risks, in Marc’s eyes? “I look to answer a few questions,” Marc says. “Why this show now? What is it about a show that has some resonance to the current world that we’re living in? And it doesn’t mean the show has to be issue-oriented. It can purely be escapist, because post-pandemic that’s valuable to audiences.” Marc also asks himself why the creator or filmmaker is the right person to tell that particular story, and why at this point in their career is it the right time to tell it.

    Of course, there are also certain skills that make Marc so successful in his work. “Communication is really important– with talent, being able to be direct and succinct and clear in expressing your point of view, but being respectful as well,” Marc explains. “Communication internally, when you have people working under you, being able to communicate a vision, express the needs of the company. Problem solving is also really important because as producer and executive, you’re putting out fires constantly. And conflict resolution is really important. Artists and studios can have really strong, and differing, opinions and sometimes you have to reconcile those.” And the final, most important thing? Marc had just two words to conclude: “Creative passion.” 

    Having all of those skills will certainly set one up for success in the industry, but Marc had additional words of advice for those seeking to follow a similar career path. “If there is anything else that you see yourself doing, do that instead,” Marc laughs. “You have to really want a career in entertainment because it is daunting and hard. There is no set career path. As I look at classmates and friends and their journeys, there are much more linear career paths. In entertainment, you could do A and B and never get to C. It will depend on luck, relationships, and being at the right place at the right time. There will be a lot of highs and lows, and oftentimes, the success you have or the feeling of achievement is not always in your control.” So, accept controlling what you can and relinquish trying to control what you cannot. And, above all, make sure you really want it. And in classic English degree fashion, Marc imparted this last piece of advice about development in the entertainment industry: “As equally important as watching movies and watching television shows, is reading great literature.”

  • published Issue 223 | August 2023 in HIGHLIGHTS Magazine 2023-08-01 17:30:34 -0700

  • published Harvardwood Summer VIP Lunch Auction 2023 in News 2023-07-13 13:06:24 -0700

    Harvardwood Summer VIP Lunch Auction 2023

    The Harvardwood Summer VIP Auction is now live!

    Bidding is open until Thursday, July 27th, 2023 at 12pm PT.

    Lunch with TV Producers Mark Goffman (The Umbrella Academy) & Lindsay Goffman (The Good Doctor)

    Bid here!

    Mark is currently Executive Producer for the NBC series, The Irrational, and EP of several series slated to shoot in a number of countries around the world. Recently, Goffman was an executive producer and writer on the Netflix series, The Umbrella Acadamy. Goffman has also executive produced and showrun the hit series about trial science and the American judicial system, called Bull, on CBS, which ran for six seasons, and Sleepy Hollow, for Fox, which ran for four seasons. He also served as an executive producer for Limitless on CBS and USA’s White Collar. His pilot Victor, starring John Stamos, was produced for NBC. Goffman first started on The West Wing, where he wrote for several seasons. Afterwards, Goffman ran the writers' room for Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

    Lindsay is the founder and head of Gratitude Productions. Gratitude has projects set up with Apple, FX (3 projects), FOX, Perfect Storm (Justin Lin), The Roots, Rideback, Day Zero (Trevor Noah), Get Lifted (John Legend), Jon M. Chu, MGM, Universal Television, and is most recently producing The Company You Keep, based on the Korean format she acquired the rights to and packaged for 20th / ABC. Starring Milo Ventimiglia, the pilot has just finished shooting and has opened their writers room targeted for midseason. Previously, Lindsay helped start-up and head 3AD, Daniel Dae Kim's production company. While at 3AD, she sold 8 projects to broadcast networks and premium outlets. One of the projects she found the format for and championed is the hit series, The Good Doctor. The show became ABC’s #1 new series and was awarded the Humanitas Prize.

    Lunch with Grammy-Nominated Former President of Fox Music Robert Kraft

    Bid here!

    Enjoy an exclusive 1 hour lunch or Zoom with award-winning songwriter, film composer, recording artist and record producer Robert Kraft! As president of Music at 20th Century Fox from 1994 to 2012, Kraft was in charge of scores and soundtracks for over 300 feature films, as well as dozens of TV shows. Highlights during his tenure at Fox include the record-breaking scores and soundtracks from Titanic, Avatar, Moulin Rouge!, Garden State, Walk the Line, Once, Slumdog Millionaire, and Life of Pi. As a songwriter, Kraft has earned nominations for an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, and two Golden Globes. In 2014, Kraft started Kraftbox Entertainment, which produced the award-winning Score: A Film Music Documentary, achieving the top spots on both Apple and Amazon’s Music Documentary charts. Kraftbox is currently in production on projects across several platforms, including the feature film Rapper’s Delight at TriStar Studios with co-producers Paula Wagner and Stephanie Allain; Jazz Ambassadors with Quincy Jones at Blumhouse Studios; and Ray Charles: Keep My Name Alive with producing partner Frank Marshall and director R.J. Cutler. Kraft currently hosts the premiere film music podcast, Score: The Podcast, now in it’s 5th season, as well as the live series Cue The Music: Composers Live At The Broad Stage.

    Lunch with Filmmaker & NYT Bestselling Author Abigail Hing Wen (Loveboat, Taipei)

    Bid here!

    Abigail is a filmmaker and the New York Times bestselling author of Loveboat, Taipei, a Barnes and Noble YA Book Club Pick which is being adapted for film starring Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why) and Ashley Liao (The Hunger Games). The novel follows 18-year-old Ever Wong from Ohio to Taipei, where she discovers a summer free for all and an opportunity to connect with her heritage. The companion novel, Loveboat Reunion, follows two fan favorites: girl-in-tech Sophie Ha and the heir to a tech empire Xavier Yeh as they team up to take control of their own lives. In her career in tech, Abigail has negotiated multibillion dollar deals on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, worked in venture capital and hosted Intel’s Artificial Intelligence podcast featuring leading industry experts. "With a knack for trying and succeeding at new things," according to Forbes, Abigail has been described by Pop Culturist as “one of the voices of her generation.” She and her work have been profiled in Entertainment Weekly, Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, NBCNews, Bloomberg, Google Talk and the World Journal, among others.

    Loveboat, Taipei launches on Paramount Plus August 10 in the US and August 11 in the UK, with additional territories through the month. See the first look in Entertainment Weekly!


    Lunch with Comedy Writing Duo Emily Halpern & Sarah Haskins (Booksmart, 80 for Brady)

    Bid here!

    Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern wrote the BAFTA and WGA-award nominated 2019 feature Booksmart. They received an Emmy nomination for their work on Blackish and have written for numerous shows including Good Girls and The Real O'Neals. They also created Carol's Second Act for CBS and Trophy Wife for ABC. Halpern and Haskins are currently under a development deal at CBS Studios. The latest movie they wrote, 80 for Brady, was released through Paramount Pictures this February, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field.


  • 2023-24 Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship Winners

    Mia and David Alpert Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship Winners


    Read more

  • published Harvardwood AAPI Artist Fellowship in Fellowships 2023-03-08 05:27:52 -0800

    Harvardwood AAPI Artist Fellowship

    Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Harvardwood AAPI Artist Fellowship


    Harvardwood is pleased to announce the inaugural Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Harvardwood AAPI Artist Fellowship for artists who are Harvard University alumni (or students expecting their degree in May 2023) and identify as Asian American Pacific Islander. The purpose of the Fellowship is to develop, elevate and amplify AAPI voices and stories. The gift, generously donated by Angela Chao (AB ‘95, MBA ‘01) in honor of her mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, will support one or more artists as they pursue their creative projects over the course of a year.

    Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao was a philanthropist, mother of six daughters, and lifelong advocate for equitable education. Like her namesake, Chinese folk heroine Hua Mulan, Mrs. Chao faced adversity with extraordinary grace, courage, and determination. In 2016 she became the first woman and Asian American to have a building named in her honor at Harvard University.

    Angela Chao, Mrs. Chao’s youngest daughter and CEO of Foremost Group, states: "My mother was an inspiration to my sisters and me. She worked very hard and made many sacrifices to support her daughters' educations and potential in life. It is my hope that this fellowship will help honor her legacy and inspire others to embrace her values and generosity.  She would have been proud to support a cause that provides opportunities for AAPI students to make their voices heard and break down barriers as an important step toward celebrating and protecting our heritage and the Asian American Pacific Islander community.”

    The inaugural Chao Harvardwood Fellow(s) will be announced by May 31, 2023, and the Fellowship will run from June 1, 2023 through May 31, 2024. The total amount of grant funding for the year is $10,000 (more than one Fellow may be named, and individual award sizes may vary). Grant funds can be used at the grantee’s discretion in support of their creative work for the duration of the Fellowship period. Applicants may be at any stage of their career, and there is no restriction on the artistic discipline; musicians, dancers, visual artists, actors, comedians, writers, filmmakers and artists/creators in all mediums are encouraged to apply.

    Each Fellow will receive additional guidance and assistance through Harvardwood via programs, resources, and access to the wider Harvardwood network during their fellowship year.

    Harvardwood Founder Mia Riverton Alpert (AB ‘99) said, "Angela Chao has long been a champion for the arts and the AAPI community. This generous and impactful Fellowship in honor of her mother, Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, continues a legacy of extraordinary leadership and demonstrates a deep commitment to supporting AAPI artists, bringing their rich and diverse stories to global audiences."

    The Fellowship selection committee is comprised of Harvardwood board members, other industry professionals, and/or Harvard University staff with expertise in various artistic disciplines.

    2023-24 Eligibility

    To apply, individuals must identify as AAPI, be Harvard University alumni or expect to receive their degree in May 2023 (i.e. in their final few months of an undergraduate or graduate program), complete the application form, provide a resume, a work sample or portfolio, an introductory video, an artist statement (in written, audio, or video format), a letter of recommendation, a creative plan with an overview of envisioned projects to be completed or substantially developed during the term of the Fellowship, and a projected budget indicating how grant funds would be used for the term of the Fellowship. The finalist round may include a virtual interview. Individuals who have previously been beneficiaries of Harvardwood grants or scholarships or have participated in Harvardwood programs are eligible if they meet the other terms of eligibility.

    Applications will be accepted starting on March 1, 2023 and will be due April 30, 2023, with the recipient(s) announced in May 2023. Unless Fellowship funds need to be utilized at a particular time for project-related expenses, funds will be distributed quarterly to the Chao Harvardwood Fellow(s) beginning in June 2023 and ending in May 2024.


  • published VANAS in Our Affiliates 2023-03-07 05:49:25 -0800



    VANAS is a leading educational institution educating aspiring artists in the diverse disciplines that form the Animation, Visual Effects, and Video Game industries. We empower the artists to empower their art.

    Our Manifesto
    We believe in education for employment, in teaching innovative skills that lead to creative careers resulting in personal and professional fulfillment. As a result, we developed a fantastic school with strong educational programs that welcome you, work for you, and care for you.

    Our Faculty
    Industry teachers working at studios like Disney, Pixar, Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and others at the time of teaching.

    Harvardwood x VANAS


  • published Exclusive Q&A with Bennett Singer AB '86 in Alumni Profiles 2023-03-01 17:03:18 -0800

    Exclusive Q&A with Bennett Singer AB '86

    Bennett Singer AB '86 is an award-winning producer/director/writer whose films have been screened at The Smithsonian, The United Nations, The British Museum, and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. His latest documentary, Cured, directed with Patrick Sammon, opened the 2021–22 season of PBS' acclaimed documentary showcase Independent Lens and has garnered more than 20 awards and accolades, including a 2022 Emmy nomination, the American Historical Association's John E. O'Connor Film Award for best historical documentary, the Jonathan Daniels Award, and a $50,000 award in the Library of Congress Lavine/Burns Prize for Film. A feature film based on Cured is currently in development, and a classroom edition is being produced in partnership with History UnErased. Singer previously co-directed Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, a "potent and persuasive piece of historical rediscovery" (Los Angeles Times) that premiered at Sundance, aired nationally on PBS' POV series, and won the GLAAD Media Award; and Electoral Dysfunction, a "frightening and enlightening documentary" (WBEZ Radio) that "lives up to its title" (New York Times). Hosted by political humorist Mo Rocca, the film aired nationally on PBS and won the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award; a classroom edition was distributed free of charge to more than 20,000 educators. Singer won a duPont-Columbia Award for his work on Eyes on the Prize II, the landmark PBS series on the history of the civil rights movement. The former executive editor of TIME Magazine's education program, he has written curriculum materials to accompany dozens of film projects, including The Laramie Project and Band of Brothers for HBO and The Diary of Anne Frank for PBS Masterpiece. Singer is also the author or editor of five books, including 42 Up, the companion volume to Michael Apted's documentary series; and The Student Body, a "wry, insider thriller" (Village Voice) that he wrote with three Harvard classmates. Learn more about his work at

    Q: You are currently in the process of working with History UnErased to produce a “Classroom Edition” of your most recent documentary, Cured, for use in high school social studies and psychology classes. You’ve done this before for your documentary Electoral Dysfunction. What is that editing process like? How do you decide what to keep and what to cut? As the former executive editor of TIME Magazine's education program, how do you think that influences what you do now?

    The first step is to talk with teachers — and students — to hear their thoughts and questions. Based on their very helpful comments, we then move into a ruthless editing process in which we cut the film down from feature length to about 30 minutes so that it can be shown and discussed in a single class period. Stripping away everything that’s extraneous to the central story and themes results in a streamlined version of the narrative. One thing I came to understand during my eight years at TIME is that teachers really appreciate access to primary-source documents. In the case of Electoral Dysfunction, we created a 128-page curriculum guide that includes literacy tests, a range of ballots, political cartoons, and excerpts from the constitutions of other countries (along with four short videos that we produced for the New York Times Op-Docs series). We raised $200,000 in grant money to be able to give free copies of the Electoral Dysfunction teaching kit to more than 20,000 teachers, and we partnered with several organizations, including the National Council for the Social Studies, on distribution and professional development sessions for teachers. It has been immensely gratifying to visit classrooms and to see the kinds of discussion, reflection, and engagement that these materials spark.

    Q: Your film Electoral Dysfunction, which aired nationally on PBS and won the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, is hosted by political humorist Mo Rocca, also a Harvard grad. You also co-wrote The Student Body with three Harvard classmates. Do you find yourself often collaborating with fellow alums?

    I do! Mo Rocca ’91 is a national treasure, and it was a joy to work with him on the voting film, which was structured as a road trip in which Mo sets out to discover how voting works (or doesn’t work) in America. I also loved co-authoring The Student Body — a thriller, published by Random House, about a prostitution ring at Harvard — with Faith Adiele, Michael Melcher, and Julia Sullivan, three friends from the class of 1986. (As Harvard Magazine put it in a racy review, that book “gives new meaning to the idea of getting into Harvard.”) Victoria Bassetti ’86 wrote the excellent companion book to Electoral Dysfunction; and beyond that, I had the pleasure of working with Ellen Reeves ’83, Carol Cashion ’83, and the late Lisa Quiroz ’83 as colleagues at TIME’s education program, and with Ellen Reeves on several other projects, including Garda's Lieutenant, a theatrical work that received an A.R.T. Alumni Lab/Harvardwood grant to support its development.

    Q: Speaking of co-writing, in addition to all of your remarkable documentary work, you’ve also written/edited five books. How do you find that medium as functioning differently from the visual medium of film/TV?

    After my freshman year, I worked with Diane Wachtell ’83 as assistant editor of the first edition of Let's Go: California and the Pacific Northwest. Diane went on to become Executive Director of The New Press, and I’ve done several book projects for her. She commissioned me to edit an anthology for LGBTQ young people and to edit the companion volume to Michael Apted’s 42 UP; more recently, my husband David Deschamps and I co authored LGBTQ Stats, an almanac of facts and figures on the ongoing LGBTQ revolution. We really strove to cover a lot of ground with that project, and it meant a lot when Professor M.V. Lee Badgett of UCLA’s Williams Institute described the book as “the most comprehensive portrait of LGBTQ life around.” I think I have finally come to understand that as a general rule, films have the strongest impact when they are visceral, emotional, and sparing on facts and narration; books, on the other hand, are the ideal medium to convey copious amounts of information — in the case of our Stats book, more than 10,000 facts, all lovingly footnoted.

    Q: Do you feel that your work has thematic elements, or messages, that you’ve consistently tried to either consciously or subconsciously incorporate? Both in documentary filmmaking and as an author?

    While my films and books address a broad range of topics — including civil and human rights, voter suppression, and LGBTQ equality and visibility — they are united thematically by their focus on activists striving to bring about systemic change. Cured is a good example of that: it’s the story of a surprising and unexpected David-versus-Goliath victory that transformed the social fabric of America. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled that a feature film based on Cured is now in development.

    Q: In what ways did your time at Harvard influence the path you have taken since graduating?

    As a sophomore, I took Diana Eck’s Core class on Indian civilization and followed that by spending the summer of 1984 on a program in India that brought together 20 Americans and 20 Indians to explore the legacy of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. That was a life-changing experience, and looking back, there was something miraculous about having the opportunity to be part of the team that created Eyes on the Prize (a 14-hour PBS series on the history of the civil rights movement). I started at Blackside, the Boston-based production company that produced Eyes, as an intern during the spring of my senior year (after seeing a posting at Harvard’s career office); what was supposed to be a two-month internship wound up becoming a full-time job that lasted for nearly five years and became my version of film school. I think that summer in India and that study of Gandhi’s revolution played an overarching role in motivating me to tell stories about activists who speak truth to power.

    Q: What’s one documentary you think everyone should see in their life?

    The Times of Harvey Milk, by Rob Epstein and the late Richard Schmiechen. I clearly remember seeing that astonishingly moving documentary when it came out in 1984. It was that film — along with Eyes on the Prize — that made me want to become a documentary filmmaker.

  • published March 2023 | John Meigs JD ‘95 in Alumni Profiles 2023-03-01 17:01:26 -0800

    March 2023 | John Meigs JD ‘95


    by Laura Frustaciamanda_micheli_cropped.jpg

     John Meigs JD ‘95 became a name partner at his firm Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush, Kaller, Gellman, Meigs & Fox at the start of 2022, becoming the first person of color there to achieve that status. Heading into the year, he busied himself with what earned him that position: making deals. He set Kaley Cuoco to star in the half-hour Peacock series Based Upon a True Story, Winston Duke to join Amazon’s Marked Man, Sherri Shepherd to topline her own talk show (Sherri), Steven Caple Jr. to direct the Lionsgate adaptation of the YA thriller Thieves’ Gambit and Betty Gilpin to play the lead in Peacock’s Mrs. Davis and the co-lead in Showtime’s Three Women. Meigs also optioned Leila Mottley’s bestselling debut novel, Nightcrawling, to Amblin and closed a deal for Michelle Buteau to co-write and star in a Netflix series based on her book Survival of the Thickest.

    Born and raised in South Central LA, John Meigs JD ‘95 loves what he does for four reasons: he’s a self-proclaimed “deal nerd” and a “Papa Bear” towards his clients, he believes in the cultural impact of media, and he has the opportunity every day to change the lives of his clients.

    John grew up with a mother who was an elementary school teacher and a father who was a war veteran, engineer, and ultimately a trial lawyer (and later, a judge). John’s father was one of his biggest inspirations for going to law school. “I remember him going to law school at night while working in the day,” John recalls. “I saw him taking the bar exam, and I saw him become a public defender. And I realized being a lawyer means you go to court and speak on other people’s behalf, and I thought ‘Wow, what a cool thing.’”

    Although he began Harvard Law School with the intention of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a trial lawyer as well, in his first year John took the elective ‘Harvard Negotiations Project’, and everything changed. He fell in love with the class, doing mock negotiations under the supervision of ​​Roger Fisher, author of the bestselling novel Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. John then went on to become a teaching assistant for the course for his next two years of law school.

    After graduation, John started down the BigLaw litigation route at Kirkland & Ellis in Los Angeles. Following that, John did a clerkship on the Federal District Court. “The judge had a bunch of entertainment litigation cases,” he says “One was involved in a movie called Anaconda– it was a copyright infringement case. As clerks, we would come up with an opinion and present it to the judge. And I thought, ‘This is really cool, the briefs for this case are like a comparative literary analysis between this screenplay and this movie.’ I could marry my love for film and television with legal argument.” It was a huge moment of realization for John, so after his clerkship, he pivoted and moved to a firm where he could do entertainment litigation.
    However, it wasn’t exactly what he expected. “After three years of that, I started to realize the joke was on me because I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and in the entertainment context, there were key players doing deals over and over again, and when they get mad, they sue each other, but before it even goes to trial, they’re going to make a deal to settle. You could be planning for a three-week trial, and doing 18-hour days, and then it gets canceled. That was soul crushing. I either needed to get out of entertainment litigation and go to trial, or I had to double down and go over to the deal side because that’s what entertainment law is about.”

    John decided to join 20th Century Fox, worked there for a year, and gleaned as much as he could. Then he joined his current firm, and has been there now for 22 years. “I was made equity partner two years ago and a named partner one year ago, and as of last year, my understanding is that our firm is the highest grossing entertainment boutique in the business. I love what I do, and a lot of what I do is informed by what I learned at the Harvard Negotiation Project all those years ago.”

    In a groundbreaking achievement, John was the first person of color to be made a named partner at his firm. “The first thing I did after I became named partner was to hire an amazing Black woman to work for me. She’s from South Central LA like me--she wants to support creatives who advance marginalized stories, also like me,” John says. “We work really, really hard. If you’re really going to have the sleepless nights and time away from your family, and pour yourself into your clients, you have to believe there’s a greater good. Storytelling is the way that we translate culture. It has the power to change hearts and minds, and the most powerful means of storytelling is television.” In terms of diversity at his firm, John confirms, “I want our firm to look like America. We’re working on it. I’m working really hard on it.”

    In his everyday practice, John explains what he feels has made him such a strong and effective lawyer for so many years: “I find that I approach things differently from my counterparts, with deep research and planning, and combine that with my trial experience, it’s a unique approach for my clients. One example of that is, I represent Kaley Cuoco. I’ve worked with her since before Big Bang Theory. When we got to the big negotiation, when we reached $1 million per episode, I dusted off these old boxes and pored through the  Friends re-negotiations. I created a chart adjusting the Friends payments for inflation and noting that Friends was a bigger ensemble.” During the negotiation, someone from Warner Brothers claimed John and Kaley were asking for even more than the Friends cast asked for. John turned around and said, “Actually, we’re not” and pulled up his research. And they got the deal.

    Making life-changing deals for his clients is what he’s truly passionate about. “I’m a deal nerd. At my core, I’m a deal nerd and I fight for my clients, particularly when I feel like they’re being undervalued, underpaid, or mistreated in any way, particularly if that coincides with race, gender, sexual orientation bias, I go super hard… I love being a part of the change of someone’s life. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.” Being a lawyer holds a deep significance and purpose for John. “We’re advocates,” he explains. “We’re representatives. I take the word representative seriously. Re-presenting. I’m not going to make a negotiation about me or my ego, I’m going to make it about that client. If you’re looking for a shark, that person leaves blood in the water and everyone hates them. And then everyone hates you, and also hates the client vicariously. You do not want that. You want to have the best utility for the most people, in terms of your approach… honest, fair, and reasonable. Have facts and data. Forging good relationships means people will do you favors. That’s not unique to me, but it’s something I feel is very important.”

    For anyone considering law school, John had some wisdom to share. “Don’t go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer,” John states. “Don’t go because you don’t know what to do with your life. You really have to want to practice the profession and take it seriously. It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world. If you want glamor, be an agent or manager or studio executive.” And what would he tell himself at the start of his career? “The advice that I would give to my younger self: The ‘lone wolf’ mentality is very limiting. There’s an old African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go in a group.’ Establish a cohort and allies. It’s really hard to do it by yourself.”


  • December 2022 | Desta Tedros Reff HLS '13


    by Laura Frustaci

    “Entertainment is the most effective form of advocacy,” says Desta Tedros Reff, HLS ‘13. Most recently, she’s been executive producing the Amazon TV series A League of Their Own. The show has seen really positive reviews, especially with regard to its LGBTQ+-centered content. “We’re infusing both queerness and Blackness into this classic American film,” says Desta. “I was a lover of the film. As a queer Black woman, I’m very excited about putting myself into a narrative I always had to imagine myself in.” That’s part of what makes the show so resonant with audiences right now. Desta explains, “This was the first show I’ve ever been on where the room was so diverse in so many ways - queer writers, writers of color, trans writers, and non-binary writers. More than just the writers’ room, across the spectrum of the show, it was a supportive and safe space that translated to the screen.”

    This is too infrequently the case in Hollywood spaces. “When I’m trying to translate my experiences, there's usually a communication barrier being surrounded by the straight white male as I try to explain myself to them,” Desta says. But, on A League of Their Own, Desta and the rest of the team have discovered, “We’re all speaking the same language, so we can have more nuanced and specific portrayals that people don’t usually see.” 

    Desta didn’t always intend to go into TV writing. She attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 2013, then pursued social justice work, most notably in a small town in Mississippi (where she earned a Community Public Health Award, one of her proudest accomplishments). “They don’t give [the award] to outsiders very often, but I worked hard to be accepted into their community,” she smiles. And Desta continues this legacy in her work in the entertainment industry, citing a self-imposed “advocacy mandate” in everything she creates. 

    Desta has certainly found television, film, and media to be extraordinarily effective advocacy resources. “I’ve done advocacy on multiple levels, and the hardest part is getting people to show up and listen,” Desta explains. “There’s much less convincing in entertainment. People come to you and they want to see what you have to say.” So, it’s been a rewarding career shift for her to be able to continue focusing her talents on helping people, but using television to appeal to a much broader and more willing audience. “We’re shaping culture and the way people see the world, so it’s the highest opportunity for advocacy. There’s opportunities in everything we create, and for me I’m always looking for that.” She parallels law and entertainment: “[TV] is not that different from what I do in the legal spaces. I’m working with smart, interesting people with diverse backgrounds trying to build something, whether that’s an argument or a story. It’s the same skills: I have to convince you, either to be on my side or to emotionally invest in the story I’m telling.”


    Desta also points out that, “Advocacy exists on different shows on different levels. When I was a staff writer for Shooter, I wrote this scene in the show, and the leads drive by a confederate flag, the white lead and Black co-lead, and they have a semi-critical conversation about the confederate flag, and on that type of show with that type of audience, that can lead to tremendous change.” 

    What does she like best about TV? Well, “What’s nice about television is that it’s really collaborative, which is what I enjoyed about law school. You are all the time creating with really cool people with really unique points of view and they bring pieces to a project that make it better and make you better…The strength of your collaborators elevates your skill.” How is this different from film?I like the idea of film,” says Desta, “Most people who are writers start writing features, but it’s different in film because there’s so much time. [TV] is more think-on-your-feet in a way that I find really engaging.” 

    When asked what advice she had for aspiring writers and creatives, Desta replies, “Don’t lose your point of view because that’s what makes you special. Your POV can be a lot of things, for example, mine is a deep empathic storytelling - I always have to figure out what motivates people and the way people work, and I can’t help but empathize with them.” She continues, “What is your unique lens? Finding ways to show that is what will set you apart. A lot of scripts don’t jump off the page; there are good bits and pieces, but it still doesn’t jump off the page. What jumps off the page is pieces of you, as many pieces of you that you can put on the page, it makes a difference.” She also says to never stop creating. “The more you do things and put out into the world, it will help you be seen and it will help you get better.”

    Desta also emphasizes the importance of living life in order to feed creativity. “You need to write and have interesting experiences. I’ve lived a full life, and it helps me balance the stakes of the career which can feel completely all-consuming. It’s so high stakes and so low stakes at the same time, so having a life helps you be a better creator and helps you weather the storm better. And it was the same thing when I went to law school.” Finally, she recalls, “Another writer gave me this advice once: 'Listen to your life, and it will actually guide you.' It’s not a race. If you put enough effort into something you will be successful you just can’t control when.”

    Her success in the entertainment industry has come at the perfect time for her. Looking ahead, Desta is excited to be co-writing a pilot for HBO and hoping for a second season of A League of Their Own. In this industry, Desta says, “You’re always doing 50 things and nothing simultaneously.” In the time between that, Desta enjoys finding low-stakes, tangible creative projects with a beginning, middle, and end (like building her kids a playhouse) and then playing with her kids (in said playhouse).  

    Desta Tedros Reff is a writer and director that has written for a variety of different shows, from character dramas (Sorry for Your Loss, The Last Tycoon) to action (Shooter) and then some (The Purge, Grand Hotel). Currently, she serves as an Executive Producer on Amazon's television reboot of A League of Their Own. Before transitioning to entertainment, Desta had a former career as a lawyer and spent several years in the Mississippi Delta working as a social justice advocate. Desta loves to tell stories from a place of empathy and is driven to bring marginalized perspectives into the mainstream, specifically through authentic portrayals of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC characters and stories.


    Dayna_Wilkinson_headshot.jpgLaura Frustaci ('21) is an NYC-based actor and writer. She recently completed a yearlong Harvard Postgraduate Traveling fellowship in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she wrote her first full-length play. While at Harvard, Laura studied English and performed with the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the HRDC, On Thin Ice, and  the American Repertory Theater.

  • donated 2022-09-24 20:19:29 -0700