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Harvard alumni connect in Hollywood

Harvardwood helps graduates tap into industry

Only in Hollywood could recent Harvard grads be considered a disadvantaged group.

But indeed, while such film school powerhouses as USC, UCLA, NYU and the U. of Texas have extensive alumni networks and support systems for young filmmakers, East Coast eggheads looking to break into the industry are often left in the cold, as Harvard grad, actress and producer Mia Riverton discovered.

“Harvard had absolutely no resources for anyone wanting to pursue careers in arts and entertainment,” she recalls, “or really anything beyond law school, med school or business tracks.”

Upon moving to Los Angeles after her graduation in 1999, Riverton started Harvardwood, an alumni network that began as an email newsletter and has since evolved into a sophisticated nonprofit, with more than 2,500 members and the support of the official Harvard Alumni Association.

“People talk about a ‘Harvard mafia,'” Riverton says, “but it was never anything that was connected before. It had no infrastructure or focus beyond the schmoozy, old-boy networking stuff.”

Harvardwood, on the other hand, is rife with resources, ranging from internships, workshops, screenwriting competitions and seminars. Central to the org’s mission is its Harvardwood 101 program, co-sponsored by the university itself, in which a selected group of undergrads spends a week in Hollywood touring studios and receiving career advice.

The group boasts a number of success stories, counting twentysomethings like “Waitress” producer Michael Roiff, “Blue State” director Marshall Lewy and “The Air I Breathe” writer-director Jieho Lee among its members. It has also been instrumental in developing similar programs for other Ivies, including Brown, Columbia, Yale and Cornell — all of which are now clustered under the umbrella org Ivy Entertainment.

And while some might question the notion of further empowering a group that, historically speaking, has had little trouble attaining power, Riverton insists there’s “nothing exclusionary” about the org.

“A lot of students have come into the industry through our programs,” she notes, “where otherwise a lot of them would have been sucked into the Harvard recruiting machinery, where Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley come to campus and throw money at them, and they take it without thinking about other things they could do with their lives.”

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