Index of Alumni Profiles

Browse a comprehensive list of all Harvardwood Alumni Profiles below, and find out who our regular Member Profile writers/interviewers are!

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Exclusive Q&A with Gene Pao HBS '97

Join us for an event with Gene here!

Gene Pao HBS '97 is currently EVP, Strategy and Digital at Shout! Studios, an independent film and TV distributor, where he oversees overall company strategy, production, marketing, distribution, and digital operations. Over the past several years, Shout has expanded its business to indie film distributionhaving released a number new films this year including LINOLEUM (Jim Gaffigan), THE MAGIC FLUTE (F. Murray Abraham), WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? (Shazad Latif, Lily James, Emma Thompson), and hitting theaters on 9/29, THE KILL ROOM (Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Manganiello). Prior to Shout, Gene spent 12 years at Disney, Fox, and NBCU in cable distribution, digital media, and live sports broadcasting/livestreaming. In 2022, Gene was named one of the Top 40 Most Important People In Streaming by Media Play News.

Q: We’re so excited to be hosting you for a virtual event later this week! Can you talk a little more about your experience in film distribution as EVP of Strategy and Digital at Shout! Studios? What does your day-to-day look like?

I have highly experienced and capable leaders running the departments under my purview—distribution, marketing and product management, production, creative srevices, operations, and digital. As a result, I see my role as “connecting the dots” and making sure that all parts of the organization are running well together. I spend most of my time in meetings, reviewing materials, and analyzing data, but there is also the fun stuff, such as evaluating the viability of new film and TV acquisitions and projects. I always look forward to the weekly “projection” meeting, where we talk about the merits of potential acquisitions and the revenue potential across various distribution platforms including streaming, television licensing, and 4K. We take into consideration the genre, cast, awards potential, and other factors that affect the revenue generating capability of a film or TV project. We also look at projects in all stages of developmentfrom scripts and TV pitches, to finished titles and classic film and TV.

Q: What about your background prior to your time at Shout? How does your time at Harvard Business School impact your work today, if at all?

Prior to Shout, I spent 12 years working at studios, 6 years at Disney/ESPN, 4 years at Fox, and 2 years at NBC Universal. I had the chance to work with incredible properties and amazing people, and my experiences there have set me up for success at Shout. At Disney, I played a major role in launching the first VOD and interactive television services. At Fox I got involved in live production of action sports events (surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, etc.). One of the most exciting (and exhausting) experiences is being in a production truck with a crew producing a live sports event for broadcast. Working in live production is not for the faint of heart! At NBCU, I worked at the Golf Channel and later with the show THE BIGGEST LOSER learning many of the ins and outs of producing world class sports and entertainment television programs.

I think Harvard has had a profound effect on my career in two primary ways: 1) the HBS experience gave me a new perspective on my professional career and expanded my career options, and 2) the HBS and Harvardwood network has opened up opportunities that I would not have otherwise had, and the relationships have given me the guidance and inspiration to do more.

Q: What’s your favorite part about your role at Shout, and what challenges you the most in your role?

The favorite part of working for Shout is being able to work at the intersection of business and “professionally produced” audiovisual media. I’ve grown to appreciate all types of video media, from TV to film, scripted to unscripted entertainment, sports, and news. I’ve come to appreciate the different delivery platforms such as streaming, television, theatrical, physical (DVD and Blu-ray), as well as the different business models from transaction, to subscription, to ad-supported, and the various flavors in-between. To me, the greatest challenge is how to take advantage of new technologies to develop programs and enhance the video viewing experience. A great example is the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 TURKEY DAY MARATHON, now in its tenth year, where we run a livestreaming event on interactive platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. We’re creating online viewing parties with over 100,000 MST3K fans and thousands interacting with each other through chat and other means.

Q: A lot is changing in the entertainment landscape, especially with the advent of AI. Do you see this impacting the distribution process or market at all, or have you already seen it starting to affect the business side of the industry? Similarly, have streaming services impacted viewer trends in any significant way with regards to distribution of content?

There is a lot of hype around AI and fear around its potential to eliminate jobs. AI will never replace humans—it will allow us to do our work better and help in many mundane ways to open up new revenue sources such as translation and subtitling. Streaming services have created new ways for content producers to reach their intended audiences. While business models are still being sorted out, the result will be a larger and more robust market for professionally produced video content.

Q: As of 2023, Shout! Factory controls the rights to many iconic brands in TV and film, such as MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, THE JOHNNY CARSON SHOW, ALF, POINT BREAK, LONESOME DOVE, Studio Ghibli, Aardman, and LAIKA titles, to name a few. What partnerships or collaborations have been instrumental in Shout! Studios' successful film and media distribution, and how do you evaluate potential distribution partners?

Shout has been successful because the company understands fandom and how to create new products and experiences that fans appreciate. Our ability to manage these franchises allow us to deliver more value to our licensors than other distributors.

Q: Several of the companies that Shout! maintains partnerships with focus on international media: for example, GKIDS, Eleven Arts, and Toei are all primarily Japanese media companies, namely anime, with Toei being based in Japan. ITV Studios and Aardman Animations are both British companies. Does the distribution strategy change at all depending on if the media is international, and are there specific strategies you employ that have been effective in reaching wider US audiences for content from places like the UK and Japan?

We’re finding that there is considerable interest among US viewers for foreign content, especially Japanese and British content. Japanese anime is extremely popular and we’re leading that market through our partnership with GKIDS. We also launched TokuSHOUTsu, a digital streaming branded service catering to tokusatsu fans (think GODZILLA and POWER RANGERS and you get the picture) and have close relationships with Toei and Tsuburaya. While we distribute a large number of UK-based ITV titles in the US (THE SAINT, THUNDERBIRDS, SPACE: 1999, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE PRISONER), we recently entered into an agreement with Aardman to distribute their content in the US, and we are looking to license plenty more.

Q: What do you believe sets Shout! Studios apart in the film and media distribution landscape, and how do you maintain a competitive edge?

Shout specializes in fandom around cult and classic TV and film. We trace our roots back to our music days and Rhino Records. Rhino was a pioneer in reissues—creating new versions of existing content to satisfy the needs of superfans. What started as music CDs has expanded to video, and across all media—physical, television, and digital.

Q: And finally, we’ll round it out with this: what do you like to do in your free time? What media have you consumed lately that’s really stood out to you?

I watch a lot of TV and digital video—across all genres and formats, from sports to news, to broadcast TV, YouTube, and Twitch. I like figuring out what makes a program work with its intended audience and how Shout can replicate that success with the content we control.


October 2023 | Samuel Baum AB '98

Join us for an in-person event with Samuel here! Limited spots available; reserve tickets by Tuesday, October 3rd.

by Laura Frustaci

Samuel Baum AB '98 is a playwright, screenwriter, and producer. He is thrilled to be collaborating with Geffen Playhouse on the West Coast premiere of his play, THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY, directed by Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak. The play was originally produced at Hartford Stage, where it received four Critics Circle Awards, an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation. As a screenwriter, Baum was nominated for a WGA Award for the Emmy-nominated HBO Film THE WIZARD OF LIES, starring Robert DeNiro. Previously, Baum created and executive produced the Fox television drama LIE TO ME, which ran for three seasons. He also co-created and executive produced the ABC series THE EVIDENCE, as well as television pilots for Amazon, Netflix, Showtime, and CBS. He is currently an executive producer of the NBC series THE IRRATIONAL, inspired by the work of behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely. Originally from New York, Baum is a graduate of Harvard College.

Samuel Baum (AB ‘98)’s newest play THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY is having its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse this season (join us for an evening at the theater to see the show and a meet and greet with Sam here!) Despite what his long repertoire in television and film might cause you to believe, Sam actually has a history in the theatre, so we talked with him about returning to his theatrical roots with this play.

“As an undergraduate at Harvard, I was very fortunate to study playwriting with Adrienne Kennedy in a seminar class. She taught us to really go for it, as she does in her own work,” Sam recounts. He then went on to write a screenplay for his senior thesis, which received, in his words, “the lowest grade in the history of the university, ‘Not Worthy of Honors’.” He laughs. “The first line of evaluation read ‘This work constitutes utter failure’,” Sam muses, “and about a year later the screenplay got optioned as a feature!” It just goes to show, don’t give up on your script.

Sam graduated and moved back to New York City, working as a playwright and a theatre actor. He attended the Williamstown Theatre Festival at age 24, a rite of passage for any young actor. “That summer I met this young up-and-coming director Darko Tresnjak,” Sam recalls, “who is now directing THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY at the Geffen.” Another serendipitous moment in Sam’s career, and a reminder that bonds you made twenty years ago can remain crucial to future work.

“In my twenties, I was writing plays in New York and having readings, and then another Harvard graduate, Jeff Sagansky, read one of my plays, and suggested I create television shows,” Sam smiles. “I didn’t know anything about television and had never contemplated that, but I went to Los Angeles for a week of meetings. And I got a job. And then I ended up staying and continuing with television writing for a long time. I was so excited to be a working writer, I followed the opportunities. It just happened that I had more opportunities in television.”

Sam credits his television career partially to his theatrical background. “The great thing about starting in theatre is that any ability to earn a living by telling stories just seems like an absolute miracle to you,” Sam laughs. “If your definition of success is that a couple hundred people per night see your work, and suddenly you move to LA, and not only can you earn a living but also millions of people are seeing your work?” That’s a huge jump for any creative, and one that provided Sam with an alternate perspective from what his theatre background had taught him. Ultimately, though, theatre and playwriting continued to be important to him, even as he found commercial success in television and film. “The thrill of getting to sit among a live audience watching a play of yours in real time is the most exhilarating experience.”

Glad to be returning to his theatrical roots with THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY, Sam is looking forward to a continued exploration of secrets and lies in this piece of work, which is a common thread through some of his screenwriting, particularly LIE TO ME and THE WIZARD OF LIES. “Lies are the lifeblood of drama,” Sam says. “At the heart of any lie is some piece of us we're terrified of sharing. It creates a set of immediate stakes.”

Immediate stakes for the eight characters of the play, five of whom are Harvard graduates, keep tensions running high onstage. The 80-minute performance takes place over the course of a single evening, so keeping the action lively and the dialogue sharp throughout the show was crucial for Sam. Darko was the man for the job partially because of his background in musicals. Having won the Tony for directing A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER, Darko has a sense of timing, rhythm, and precision that are absolutely key in making the play run smoothly.

After this endeavor at the Geffen, there’s lots in store for Sam. He’s teamed up with Dahvi Waller (creator of FX’s MRS AMERICA) on a gripping WWII thriller based on a true story. Sam also has an ongoing streaming series in the works  an imposter story that’s half propulsive thriller, half psychological drama. And he's developing a half hour comedy focused on society's absurd misconceptions about disability. Finally, in partnership with another Harvard grad Mark Goffman (KSG '94) as Executive Producer, Sam developed and Executive Produced the new NBC series THE IRRATIONAL, starring Jesse L. Martin (RENT), about a behavioral scientist loosely inspired by Dan Ariely. It's streaming now on Peacock.

So, with all of that work in the pipeline, what advice does Sam have to offer aspiring multi-hyphenate creatives? Plenty! “Ignore the marketplace and write what you care deeply about. Find a story that cuts deep with you, and stay with it.” He laughs: “Oh, and whatever it is, it’s twenty minutes too long.”

Sam expounds on the first piece of advice, saying, “It’s not just that the story will be better because you care, but if and when it’s successful, you will be asked to tell more stories like that. So it’s really best to break in with the kind of storytelling that you would be thrilled to repeat. I’ve seen people break in with a piece in a genre they don’t particularly care about, they’re asked to do the same, and then they’re trapped.”

And Sam’s last piece of advice is one that any writer can never hear too frequently: “It sounds simple, but if you’re a writer you have to make time to write and rewrite. There’s so much noise to distract you from doing what you need to do. Finish the script.” And he notes that if you're a fairly new writer, it’s much more important to have one incredibly polished script rather than jumping from project to project. “You should be writing,” Sam says, “until you feel it really cannot be improved any more.”


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.


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.”


Exclusive Q&A with Sabrina Wu

Sabrina Wu AB '20 is an actor, writer, and stand-up. They star in the upcoming movie JOY RIDE, directed by Adele Lim and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Sabrina has written for the Disney+ show DOOGIE KAMEALOHA M.D. and two other unannounced shows for FX and Netflix. Their stand-up has been featured on the Tonight Show. In 2022, they were named a New Face of Comedy by the prestigious Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. Most recently, Variety listed Sabrina as a Top 10 Comics to Watch of 2023.

Q: Congratulations on Joy Ride! It’s a really exciting and groundbreaking film, as we’ve heard from cast + creative team interviews (and the stellar critical reception thus far– 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!). Can you talk a little bit about why the script resonated with you personally?

Some of my favorite movies growing up were ensemble comedies like Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. When I read the script, I knew this movie would be special in the way those movies were. Packed with jokes you’ll want to quote to your friends later and populated by characters you genuinely love and root for.

Q: The film has been described as Bridesmaids meets Crazy Rich Asians in this SFGate article. Do you feel like that’s accurate? What are you most excited for audiences to see?

I think Bridesmaids is a great comparison. We are an ensemble R-rated comedy. Crazy Rich Asians is a family-friendly rom-com, so to say they’re similar is a stretch. Crazy Rich Asians would have been an amazing title for our film though. I’m a huge fan of Stephanie Hsu, and I’m really excited for everyone to see Stephanie crush a role so different than the one she had in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Q: A lot of the movie takes place as the four main characters travel throughout Asia. Were you able to film onsite? What was that experience like?

Yes. It was truly so special getting to film in the beautiful parts of Asia like Vancouver, Canada. My immigrant Chinese parents were always telling me about the Cascade Mountains growing up. 

Q: You’ve also written for TV. What similarities or differences did you find between being in a writers room and being on set as an actor? Do you prefer one over the other, or were they both equally collaborative experiences?

For the most part, they’re entirely different experiences. Staffing in a writer’s room is essentially an office job. Because Joy Ride was so uniquely collaborative, the actors were encouraged to  improvise on set and pitch jokes. In that sense, there were some elements of being on set that reminded me of being in a comedy writer’s room.

Q: Before Joy Ride, your performance experience was mostly improv and stand-up comedy (like on The Tonight Show). You mentioned in previous interviews that you filmed over 100 takes for your audition. How exactly did you find yourself auditioning for Joy Ride? What was the process like transitioning from standup comedy to film acting, and was it challenging to adjust to a different medium (recorded versus live performance)?

I auditioned for Joy Ride almost three years ago. I was represented by WME as only a TV writer/comic then, but I was always interested in acting. I had taken acting courses at Harvard and had been in amateur productions while in school and after graduating. I asked my agents to start letting me submit tapes because I thought there was a chance I could do it, and why not? It’s very typical for a stand-up to try their hand at acting. 

Stand-up and film acting are different enough that I didn’t think of myself as “transitioning” from one to the other. I did have to learn while shooting Joy Ride how to keep my energy up as a performer. Doing stand-up requires short bursts of energy and the laughter from a crowd can really fuel you. Film shoots are often 12 hours long and those watching are trying to keep quiet so as to not ruin the footage.

Q: Was it very different playing a “character” who’s not yourself? Or do you find when doing standup you’re also playing a sort of character? Was your “method” of preparing similar? 

That’s interesting. I guess in both mediums I’m playing a character. When I do stand-up, I’m playing a particular version of myself. A version I try to keep as close to the real me as possible. And if I notice myself changing as a person in real life, I try to make appropriate adjustments to my delivery and writing. 

When I’m playing Deadeye or other characters, I do all sorts of nerdy acting homework. I think about their objectives and tactics within a scene. I recall my own memories and emotions that help me tap into their headspace. I think of the characters as versions of myself. But far away versions.

Q: What’s next for you? Would you do more film (or TV!) acting, or are you looking to return to writing and/or stand-up comedy?

I’ll always be trying to juggle stand-up, acting, and writing. In the immediate future, I’m hoping Joy Ride will allow me to take on more acting roles in the film and TV space. Am also working on an hour of stand-up that I want to take on the road. On the writing side, I sold a pilot script to 20th Century a while back. When the strike is over and every single one of the WGA’s demands are met and more, I’m excited to keep working on that project with them.

Q: Finally, what do you like to do in your free time?

All I do is grind.


July 2023 | Teresa Hsiao AB '07

by Laura Frustaci AB '21

Teresa Hsiao AB '07 is an American television producer and writer. As a screenwriter and producer, Teresa Hsiao is known for WHAT'S UP WARTHOGS! (2011), FAMILY GUY (2014), AMERICAN DAD!, FRESH OFF THE BOAT (2019), BLACK MONDAY (2019), AWKWAFINA IS NORA FROM QUEENS (2020), and she has co-written and produced JOY RIDE (2023).

Believe it or not, Teresa Hsiao (AB ‘07), one of the sharp minds behind the new raunchy comedy JOY RIDE (opening in theaters on July 7th), never imagined that the film would actually get made. The film’s origin story goes like this: Teresa, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, and Adele Lim are old friends who kept saying to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to write a movie together that we would have wanted to see growing up?’ and then one day, they actually decided to write it. The three would gather at Adele’s house and put beats on a board, trying to make each other laugh. Once they had plotted out a rough idea for the film, Cherry and Teresa went on to write the script on spec. “We wanted to make a movie that you’ve never seen,” Teresa explains. “Asian people on screen saying these jokes, being insane, messy, and crazy.”

Ultimately, the pair took it out to producers and decided to team up with Point Grey Pictures, Seth Rogen’s production company. Point Grey had produced many successful R-rated comedies like GOOD BOYS, NEIGHBORS, and SAUSAGE PARTY – and they agreed to Teresa, Cherry, and Adele signing on as producers on the film as well. “As producers, we had more sway in how the movie turned out. As writers, we were on set the whole time, and it was all hands on deck through the entire process.” The film has since premiered with 100% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, which Teresa said feels pretty fake. “Give me one criticism, I want one person to say that it sucked,” she laughs.

Writing and producing a film is not where college-aged Teresa would have pictured herself. During college she studied Economics and initially worked in equity research. “I did the very practical thing and worked for a summer in 2006 at Lehman Brothers, one of the top tier investment banks at the time,” Teresa recalls, thinking she had chosen a “safe” career path. “Then they went bankrupt and it triggered a huge government bailout. So, the safe path ended up not being so safe.” But writing was never something that had even crossed Teresa’s mind in college. “It felt like a separate entity from me, because you rarely saw Asian women onscreen or doing comedy,” Teresa explains. “But after I did the safe thing and it didn’t work out, I started writing scripts on the side. Then I saw an ad in Harvardwood Weekly looking for comedy writers, so I sent my script in and got hired on a Canadian kids show called WHAT'S UP WARTHOGS!”. 

The writers ended up pumping out 20 episodes in 12 weeks, but it was the first time Teresa had been paid to write. “Through that, I got an agent, and the next staffing season I got hired on FAMILY GUY,” Teresa recalls. On FAMILY GUY, Teresa learned what it was to be a “writer”. “You’re not writing,” she comments. “You’re sitting on a couch and pitching jokes and a writers’ assistant is writing down everything you say.” However, Teresa was pleasantly surprised at how collaborative it was: “Your best joke might not be in your episode, and your episode might be full of other peoples’ jokes. [And] that’s what was nice about writing the movie with Cherry. We both came from a TV background. The best idea wins. You have to have no ego.”

So, certain aspects of writing for TV transferred over to the film process quite nicely for Teresa. But in terms of her long and successful history in TV, Teresa’s played the roles of both writer and a co-creator, which are definitely distinct from one another. “When you’re a writer on a show and it’s someone else’s show, you’re just pitching ideas and trying to be helpful. Someone else makes the decision about what direction you’re going in,” Teresa notes. “There are different levels of responsibility. When you’re writing on a show, someone makes decisions for you about what to write. When creating and showrunning, you have to pitch ideas and make all the decisions.”

When Teresa first made the jump from writer to showrunner on AWKWAFINA IS NORA FROM QUEENS, she said that a lot of people were there helping and supporting her through it. “You’re a leader of the hundreds of people who work for you on the crew. You’re putting out fires on set,” Teresa says. “It’s like ‘We lost this location, the actor has comments, the wardrobe doesn't have this shirt’, so many things you have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s chaos at every point.” Sounds like… fun? Yes, it is, Teresa confirms.

So how does one maneuver from writing pilots in their spare time to being a showrunner, producer, and screenwriter extraordinaire? “The biggest piece of advice,” Teresa says, “is if there ever is the chance for you to be on set and just sponge it in, do it. Try and see something through from the writing stage to shooting it. You learn so much knowing what goes from page to screen.” And, Teresa’s other major piece of advice? “It’s tough to be able to start writing,” she acknowledges. “The starting and the finishing I always find really hard. It’s okay to give yourself permission to not write. Go and live your life, experience things, turn your brain off, walk around the block, go on vacation if you’re able to. So many of your ideas are going to come out of living life versus just sitting in front of a computer screen.” As creatives, sometimes the pressure to constantly be creating can get too heavy. It’s okay to just… take a step away. And finally, Teresa leaves us with this nugget of wisdom: “The virtue of being a writer is that our work never ends.”


June 2023 | Peter Blake AB ‘91 JD ‘95

by Laura Frustaci

Peter Blake AB '91 JD '95 was a lawyer and management consultant before he started writing for television. He wrote for HOUSE, MD. for eight seasons, and has written for THE PRACTICE, ELEMENTARY, GOTHAM and BILLIONS, among other shows. He created and was the showrunner for EL CANDIDATO, a bilingual production set in and filmed in Mexico City that premiered on Amazon in July 2020. Peter earned three Emmy nominations as producer for HOUSE, MD. His teleplays have won the PEN/USA literary award and the Edgar award, and have been nominated for the WGA and Humanitas awards. Peter is currently an Executive Producer on THE GOOD DOCTOR on ABC, or would be if there weren't a strike. Peter is from New York City and is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jennifer and their two children. 

Peter Blake (AB ‘91, JD ‘95) started his career journey to television writer and creator in a rather surprising way: by attending law school. At Harvard, Peter cultivated his interest in culture by majoring in History and Literature. Upon graduation, he chose a career path the way many 21-year-olds do: he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to law school. Unfortunately, he hated it. “I didn't find it interesting and wasn’t good at it, either. It was really rule-based and not as creative as I thought it would be,” Peter recalls. After graduation, he received an offer to be a management consultant at Monitor Company. “I was even worse at that than I would have been as a lawyer. My brain didn’t work in that way. But it forced me to just get out of there, so I moved to LA and got a job as an assistant.” 

His pivot to Hollywood turned out to be instrumental in his career path. Peter worked as an assistant and low-level executive for three years before finally realizing that his true passion was writing. He wrote two spec scripts that, along with his legal background, enabled him to land a role writing on THE PRACTICE, one of many legal shows on the air at the time. “I was really lucky -- I got an offer to write on HOUSE after THE PRACTICE ended, and that became a giant hit,” Peter explains. “I kept that job for eight years, which was rare then and is kind of unheard of now. Since then, I’ve bounced around between cable shows like BILLIONS and HEMLOCK GROVE and network shows like GOTHAM, ELEMENTARY, and THE GOOD DOCTOR for the last three years on ABC.” 

A unique aspect of Peter’s career is his experience working on international shows. “I like learning languages, I spend a lot of time doing it,” Peter says. “So, I started working on international TV shows at the same time as my US work, which is an uncommon thing to do in Hollywood. I spoke French and Italian, so I got a job working in Rome on ZEROZEROZERO on Amazon Prime. I was a consultant in the writers’ room in Rome. We only worked in the mornings and I spent the rest of the time wandering around the city. It was an amazing experience.”

After that, Peter was approached by producers who wanted to do a show set in Mexico City, and he ultimately ended up creating a series for Amazon: EL CANDIDATO. Then, after EL CANDIDATO, Peter helped a Chilean writer with a pilot he was working on, which led to a job on Apple TV’s first Latin American show: MIDNIGHT FAMILY. In between all this, Peter also taught writing in Haiti at the only film school in the country and ran a simulated writers’ room for a pilot they shot. 

Having worked on such an interesting variety of shows, but most recently (and for the longest amount of time) on medical TV shows, we asked Peter what kind of impact he felt that shows about medicine can have. “Americans get a lot of their medical information from TV shows, so because of that, there’s a very good organization called Hollywood, Health and Society which puts writers in touch with doctors in order to make sure that the medicine that is shown onscreen is as realistic as it can be,” Peter explains. “When I worked on HOUSE, we did a lot of episodes about rare diseases, and I think in some cases shed some light on diseases that were underfunded, which may have helped a little bit. But what was more important was that we told stories about mental illness involving House himself which I think were accurate and responsible. House suffered from addiction and depression problems, and at the end of one of our seasons went to a psychiatric treatment facility. We worked with psychiatrists to make sure we handled that issue in a realistic and sensitive way.” At the end of the day, Peter notes that ultimately, “the most important thing was telling a story that would connect with the audience.” 

Speaking of telling stories, the industry has recently entered into a conversation about the power of AI generated stories. “From what I’ve seen, AI can do some amazing things,” Peter states. “For example, I asked it to write a scene with doctors doing liver surgery and I was blown away by what it came up with. But currently AI seems to be an extremely sophisticated form of auto-complete, so it doesn't yet come up with anything especially original or brilliant. I think for the time being, it can be a useful tool for writers themselves if they want some ideas, but the product it gives you is not something that can be filmed.” Peter quickly adds a caveat to this optimism: “I have no idea at all how things are going to shake up five years from now because ChatGPT, for example, is improving so much in each iteration that my tempered optimism about it might prove totally wrong if it continues at this pace.” And, he adds, "The danger right now for writers is not the studios hiring AI to replace us, but producers using AI to create mediocre written material that we're hired to adapt. Which turns us from creators who own the material into hired guns, diluting our authorship and lowering our earnings."

This dovetails well with some of Peter’s advice for young writers: “Have a job while you’re writing. Or even better, have a career while you’re writing, because you never know how things are going to work out. Also, getting some life experience will help you as a writer. Going to law school helped me.” Another important piece of industry advice Peter shared is to be nice… to everyone: “Be good to the people around you. If the fact that it's the right thing to do isn't enough of an incentive, do it because it will help you - they will be your co-workers and possibly bosses one day.” And finally, Peter concludes, “There’s a balancing act in being a writer.” He elaborates: “You need to be confident enough that you will finish a script. Any script you write, no matter how bad it is, has an infinitely better chance of helping your career, than a script that you polish to perfection but never finish. But at the same time you need to be insecure enough, or more accurately, realistic enough, to realize that your work isn't perfect, so that you're open to taking notes and improving your script.”