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The Ivy League comes to the Wilshire corridor

January 19, 2010 |  2:13 pm

Harvardlogo Harvard University may be the home to some of the world's most esteemed professors, but there's one thing the school doesn't teach: how to make it Hollywood.

Nick Hasselberg, a senior football player who's interested in acting, says he always assumed he'd have to "blindly venture out here" someday without any knowledge of the business. "Harvard does such a phenomenal job of preparing you for law school and med school and they bring the recruiters from investment banks and hedge funds in, but for anyone who wants to go into entertainment, it's just kind of a mystery," he said.

That is, until he heard about Harvardwood, an organization that seeks to educate students about the ins and outs of Hollywood (and which was sponsoring an upcoming trip to Los Angeles over winter break). So this month, he and about two dozen students arrived in Los Angeles to make the rounds at Hollywood mainstays such as CAA, ICM and Sony Music.

"For better or worse, the name Harvard has a lot of connotations," says Mia Riverton, an actress and Harvard alum who founded the program a decade ago. She said executives at the companies are often at first "amused" by the prospect of Harvard students visiting their offices but then come around. "People see themselves in these students. They see the students have humble attitudes and a thirst for knowledge," she said.

At talent rep and production company Management 360, partners met with the students to discuss their own personal career trajectories and take them through the landscape of the business. Management 360 partner Guymon Casady (and an alum at the University of Pennsylvania) said that Hollywood needs to do a better job mining talent. "We want to be accessible to smart college grads who have an interest in our business given that Hollywood does not actively recruit at college campuses the way Wall Street does," he said, though is quick to add, "We're the first ones to admit that smart, ambitious people are not necessarily just going to come from the Ivy Leagues. We are looking for the best and the brightest."

The program seems to be having the desired effect. After meeting with last year's group of Harvardwood students, three went on to become interns at the company. Other alumni of the program include Jason Reitman producing partner Helen Estabrook, ABC development executive Cort Cass and Wall Street Journal entertainment journo Michelle Kung. And Hasselberg, for one, is already networking: After last week's program, he's already participating in a two-week internship with finance and production company FilmNation.

-- Amy Kaufman

Comments () | Archives (5)

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I'd like this explored further in the creative areas. There seems to be a lot of tie-ins to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. to first time writing gigs, for example. Conan and Zucker just scratch the surface. The Simpsons hire a lot from Harvard.

Harvard doesn't teach anything about Hollywood, and come to think of it, who does?

I blame all the stupid Harvard MBAs who know jack squat about the entertainment industry for the current pathetic line of movies that this town is putting out. They're killing the creative side of movie making, focusing only on the bottom line, which in turn is causing audiences to flee in droves from theaters.

I certainly noticed a steady stream of HRDC peers turning up in the titles in the 10 years or so after I graduated....not as stars, perhaps, but everywhere from screenwriters to producers to character actors. This article probably underestimates the real flow from elite colleges (and thus missed pull, relatives, etc., which make more difference than support groups and courses back in Cambridge), and scarcely allows any comparative view. Sure, more people from the UCLA and USC film programs may end up in Hollywood, proportionally, and from Cal-Arts, but after that?

Why don't we privatize UCLA and fund it with Hollywood money? Grow your Ivy in your own backyard...


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