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Perks of Networking

By Brandon C. Presser, Contributing Writer

As we approached the baggage claim I frantically tried to fix my cowlick because I could see the cameras rolling in the distance. Peter Rader, a Harvard alumnus and successful screenplay writer, was waiting for us with cameras in tow. The footage was for an upcoming documentary Rader is making concerning the relationship between Harvard and Hollywood, an apt scenario for our immersion into

We had applied and been selected to participate in the one-week “Harvardwood 101” program, which caters to a variety of interests, mostly creative. We were assigned to stay at the homes of various Harvard alums throughout Los Angeles. Each morning we assembled at a central location in West Hollywood where a motorcoach would pick us up and take us to the myriad destinations for the day.

One of the activities on our first full day in L.A. was watching a taping of “The King of Queens.” I was very excited because I had always wondered what it would be like watch a show that was “filmed before a live studio audience.” I was namely curious about whether or not sitcoms use laugh tracks. They don’t…well at least not this one. In the audience there was a “fluffer”—a comedian who keeps the audience entertained between takes. The fluffer also passed out copious amounts of chocolate to increase our giddiness. I don’t think any of us found the show funny, yet magically we were all laughing hysterically.

On our second day in Los Angeles, Mia Riverton ’99, one of Harvardwood’s founders, organized a lunch between activities and invited several alumni who were involved in the entertainment industry. I sat across the table from a writer for The West Wing. Writing for television has always been an interest of mine and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak openly about my future options with someone who was well-established in Hollywood. He gave me advice on writing viable spec scripts and pointed me in the right direction for future endeavors.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring moments of our exploration was at Fox Studios. After having lunch just a few feet away from where The Simpsons is produced (and seeing Dan Castellaneta from afar!), we met Robert Kraft, a Harvard alumnus and president of Fox Music. He spoke candidly, with brilliant insight, about his experiences in the industry over the last twenty years and openly addressed any anxiety about embarking on a similar career.

Although there were only three days of planned activities, we were on the go for 13 or 14 hours a day. Other activities included visits to the William Morris and ICM talent agencies, a thorough tour of Univision, an information session at Disney, a panel discussion and comprehensive tour at USC Film School, a visit to a visual effects studio, a creative writing panel, a production panel at Lions Gate, and a music entertainment panel.

Even the two designated free days proved essential to the Harvardwood 101 experience. For those of us who had never visited Los Angeles before, this gave us the chance to experience the city for ourselves.

I met several helpful people in Los Angeles who offered me their business cards and encouraged me to contact them with questions. I was offered an internship for the summer as well. The most important part of Harvardwood 101, however, was that it gave me a good perspective about life in the entertainment industry. Harvardwood 101 is an opportunity that should not be missed.

And I got to be in a documentary film…

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