Arts and Entertainment

SYA alumni in arts and entertainment

From writing scenes to painting scenes to curating; playing music to playing sports, alumni have varied careers in the visual and  performing arts, television, film and entertainment fields. There were so many alums on the list that we decided to break it into parts.

PART ONE: ALUMNI IN TELEVISION AND FILM

Jason Blum FR'86 is an Academy Award-nominated (Whiplash) and two-time Emmy and Peabody Award-winning producer. His multi-media company, Blumhouse Productions, pioneered a new model of studio filmmaking: producing high-quality micro-budget films. Blumhouse has produced films like the highly profitable The Purge, InsidiousOuija and Paranormal Activity franchises which have grossed more than $2 billion at the worldwide box office. Blumhouse also produced Split, Get Out and the Halloween series remakesThe company’s model began with the original Paranormal Activity, which was made for $15,000 and grossed close to $200 million worldwide, making it the most profitable film in Hollywood. Blum was named to Vanity Fair’s 2015 and 2016 New Establishment lists and received the Producer of the Year Award at CinemaCon in 2016. In television, Blum won Emmys for producing HBO’s The Normal Heart and  The Jinx and Peabodys for The Jinx and the documentary How To Dance in Ohio. He was named one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People" and is a member of the Sundance Institute’s Director’s Advisory Group. Before Blumhouse, Blum served as co-head of the Acquisitions and Co-Productions department at Miramax Films in New York. He began his career as the producing director of the Malaparte Theater Company, which was founded by Ethan Hawke. 

Watch the commencement speech he gave at his alma mater Vassar College in 2020.

John Lesher ES'84 is an Academy Award-winning producer who began his career as an agent at the Bauer-Benedek Agency. Later, he moved to the United Talent Agency (UTA), where he became a partner. After 15 years at UTA Lesher left UTA for Endeavor, where his clients included Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro Iñárritu, and Judd Apatow. In 2005, he was made head of Paramount Vantage, a new brand derived from Paramount Classics that produced and distributed arthouse-oriented titles such as Oscar-winning pictures Babel and No Country for Old Men. His 2008 appointment as president of Paramount Pictures, led him to oversee several major features, including the reboot of the Star Trek franchise and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Following Paramount, he formed his own production company, Le Grisbi, which released several box office hits between 2012 and 2014, including Birdman, which earned him an Oscar for Best Picture in 2015 (and was up against Blum's Whiplash). Lesher, along with other producers won the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for outstanding producer of theatrical motion pictures at the 26th annual Producers Guild Awards. In addition, Lesher produced Black Mass, Hostiles and current Netflix drama The Pale Blue Eye.

Lake Bell FR'96 is an actor, writer and director who has starred in various television series, including Boston Legal, How to Make It in America, Childrens Hospital and Bless This Mess and in films including Over Her Dead Body, What Happens in Vegas, It's Complicated, Million Dollar Arm, No Escape, Man Up, The Secret Life of PetsShot Caller and Home Again. She wrote and directed the short film Worst Enemy, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, followed by her 2013 feature film directing debut In a World..., in which she also starred. In 2017, she directed, wrote, co-produced and starred in I Do... Until I Don't. Bell has also voiced Poison Ivy in the HBO Max series Harley Quinn and Black Widow in the Disney+ series What If...?

Tom Dey ES'83 is a director, screenwriter and producer, graduated from Brown University and then went to study film in Paris at the Centre des Etudes Critiques. In 1990 he moved to Los Angeles and began attending the American Film Institute (AFI). He became a writer for American Cinematographer magazine, made commercials for Ridley Scott Associates and made his feature film directing debut on Touchstone Pictures' Shanghai Noon. Other feature films include Showtime, Failure to Launch, Marmaduke and Wedding Season.

Amb. Charles Rivkin FR'79 FRS'11P, former Ambassador to France, is the chief executive of the Motion Picture Association  (MPA). He leads the MPA’s global mission to advance and support the film, television and streaming content industry. Drawing on almost 30 years of experience as a media executive and a leading U.S. diplomat, Charlie advocates for policies that drive investment in film and television production, protect creative content, and open markets. He champions the economic and cultural power of film and television to communities around the world. He was a recipient of SYA's Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017.

Audrey Lederer Wells FR'77 (deceased) was a screenwriter, director and producer of several films, including The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Hate U Give, which premiered the day after she passed away. Her 1999 film Guinevere won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. She also wrote the screenplay for the 2020 Netflix animated feature Over the Moon, which was dedicated to her memory. 

Cheo Hodari Coker ES'89, the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, is described as a “provocative, revolutionary storyteller.” Coker’s impressive career includes his work as a showrunner, journalist, author, screenwriter, producer and, more recently, college lecturer. His body of work includes his start as a Los Angeles Times pop music staff writer; profiling iconic hip hop artists for several influential magazines; authored his first book, The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G., which was also adapted into a movie with screenwriting credits; television work on several shows leading up to his role as showrunner on Marvel’s Luke Cage; co-writer on Creed II with Sylvester Stallone and uncredited work on Straight Outta Compton. Read more.

J.B. Perrette ES'89, a 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, was named the president and CEO of Global Streaming and Games at Warner Bros. Discovery in the spring of 2022 with responsibility for HBO Max and Discovery+. He played a pivotal role in launching Hulu and helped execute its $18 billion acquisition of Scripps Networks in 2018, which added Food Network and HGTV to Discovery’s cable portfolio. Read more.

Robin Hauser FR'82, a 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, is an award-winning director and producer of cause-based documentary films at Finish Line Features, Inc. and Unleashed Productions, Inc., which has provided platforms to raise awareness in areas of diversity and inclusion, gender equality and ethical artificial intelligence. As a business woman, longtime professional photographer and social entrepreneur, Hauser brings her leadership skills, creative eye and passion to her documentary film projects. Her artistic vision and experience in the business world afford her a unique perspective on what it takes to motivate an audience. Her 2021 documentary, $avvy, contemplates the historical, cultural and societal norms around women and money and explores why it's critical for women to take an active role in managing personal finance. Hauser is also a TED speaker. Learn more.

Brad Silberling FR'81 IT'23P was the executive producer and director of CW's Dynasty, Jane the Virgin and Reign; executive producer of CW's Charmed, Diary of a Future President, Dash & Lily, NBC series Heartbreaker and the executive producer and director of the CW’s Reign. As a director, Silberling’s first feature film credit, for producer Steven Spielberg, was the family classic Casper. His other directing credits include Land of the Lost starring Will Ferrell and Danny McBride; the critically acclaimed independent feature 10 Items or Less, starring Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega; the Academy Award-winning box-office hit Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep; the critically acclaimed Moonlight Mile, which he wrote, directed and produced, starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhall and Holly Hunter; and his second feature film, the box-office hit City of Angels, starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage; and An Ordinary Man, which he directed and produced from his original screenplay, starring Ben Kingsley. His extensive television directing credits include work on numerous Steven Bochco series including NYPD Blue and L.A. Law, among others. Silberling is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television where he earned his master’s degree in production. 

Jackie DeAngelis CN'97 joined the FOX Business Network as a financial correspondent in April 2019 and now co-hosts The Big Money Show. Learn more.

Tia Napolitano FR'01 is a writer, producer and showrunner. She is best known for her work on Station 19, Fire Country and Grey's Anatomy. Most recently, Napolitano served as executive producer on Freeform's Cruel SummerWatch our webinar (Showrunning Through the Pandemic) featuring Napolitano and Jeff Locker FR'88,  writer, actor and host based in Los Angeles, best known for appearances on Marvel's Agent Carter, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and feature film Stasis. He is also an alum of the Black List's 2022 GLAAD List and winner of the 2022 Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition with his pilot Spesh. Most recently, his short film The Forgotten Place won its 20th film festival award. 

Mozhan Marnò FR'97 built her screen career on the foundation of progressive stories and politically charged intrigue and broke out thanks to her handling of the role in the civil rights story The Stoning of Soraya M in which she played the eponymous Iranian woman who is executed following false accusations of adultery.  Marnò starred in popular television series House of Cards and The Blacklist, as well as an appearance in the esteemed independent film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The first of her feature roles was that of a government translator in the political dramedy Charlie Wilson's War. Recently, you may have caught her on miniseries Maid, Pam & Tommy and Fleishman is in Trouble.  Marnò recently partnered with Iranian American screenwriter and satirist Nicole Najafi, Iranian American director, writer and producer Ana Lily Amirpour on a human rights campaign end to executions in Iran. Read more in this series of articles written by a group at CNN including fellow alumna Tara Subramaniam FR'14.

Tara is the Asia-Pacific Affairs Writer for CNN Digital Worldwide, based in Hong Kong. Previously, she was an Associate Producer for CNN's fact-check team in Washington, D.C. She joined CNN in 2018 as part of the team covering the Russia investigation, where she contributed to reporting on the special counsel's office and the U.S. District Court. A native of Atlanta, Subramaniam has also lived in France, China and India. She graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service with a degree in International Political Economics. She is fluent in French and proficient in Mandarin.

Alexis Fish FR'93 has been working in media centering the voices of LGBTQ and BIPOC people for over 25 years. She was part of founding the first LGBTQ independent TV channel, produced films (doc and narrative), launched Condé Nast’s queer vertical “them” and most recently was at MRC (House of Cards, Ozark, Knives Out, Dick Clark Productions, Billboard, THR and more…) as a VP bringing divergent voices into the development landscape while launching the first Billboard & Hollywood Reporter Pride Summit. (Learn more.)

Amy Adelson FR'78, Film Producer (Above Suspicion, You Know My Name and The Wonderful World of Disney.)

Regi Allen ES'81,  Editor/Producer/Creative Director who began  working as a commercial film editor, while creating his own art films on the side. He won an Emmy for his editing work on Sesame Street, and was nominated for another as an editor on Peter Jennings’ The Century news series. In 1997, his directorial debut, Planet Brooklyn, won the Community Choice Award for best experimental film from the National Black Programming Consortium. Getting ready to be screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Allen was an editor on Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project.

Daphne Bacon IT'08 is a filmmaker and editor covering a diverse range from music videos to socially relevant short films.

A.J. Bakalar ES'81 is the managing director and writer-producer at Avina Media. With over 25 years of experience, his work covers features, digital shorts, documentaries, branded entertainment and dramatic television. His career began in Los Angeles producing children's television series for  PBS and working as a development assistant at 20th Century Fox. While at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, he wrote, directed and produced the award-wining shorts Country of Origin and Souvenirs. He went on to write at Walt Disney Studios and screenwriting. In the mid 2000s he wrote, directed and produced the independent feature Patient 14, which was picked up by Netflix and Lifetime Television and distributed by Universal. The film is the basis of a new TV series, Eavesdropper, currently being pitched in the U.S., U.K. and Holland.

Eleanor Bennett IN'09 is an award-winning journalist who currently serves as “the voice” of Aspen Public Radio during Morning Edition. Eleanor has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, the Valley’s COVID-19 eviction and housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work. (Learn more.)

Crystal Bourbeau FR'00, formerly head of acquisitions and international at Solstice Studios and Liongate, is now president of worldwide sales and distribution at indie AGC Studio. She will oversee the domestic and international sales and distribution activity of AGC’s film and television slate including sales to domestic studios, international distributors, broadcasters and both global and regional streaming platforms.

Vanessa Branch FR'89 is an actress and producer, known for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. She was the first spokeswoman for Wrigley's Orbit gum and was Miss Vermont in 1994.

Elissa Brown FR'00 is a documentary filmmaker, producer and director known for known for Windshield: A Vanished Vision, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama and Vessel.

Joanna Harmon FR'04 CN'05 is a producer, director and actor at Walking Shadow Theater Company. You may have also seen Joanna in numerous Blue Shirt spokesperson roles for Best Buy.

Alwyn Hight Kushner FR'98, TCL Chinese Theatres (Grauman's Chinese Theatre), President & C.O.O.

Celeste Hughey ES'03 is a screenwriter based in Los Angeles. After graduating from New York University, she worked for NBC News as a coordinator through the 2008 and 2010 elections. Seeking better weather and a more creative position, she relocated to the West Coast for a job at YouTube network Maker Studios. There, she helped launch the company's Fashion & Beauty vertical, wrote and produced several viral projects, and developed content for Pepsi, L'Oreal, Snoop Dogg, Nylon Magazine, and more. Following her years in the digital world, she left Maker to pursue a career in film & television. She currently writes for the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Dead to Me.

Laura Klivans ES'99, KQED, Community Health Reporter

Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak FR'86 ES'17P, is an journalist and currently works for the Associated Press as its Washington investigations editor. 

Mary Lachapelle ES'10 cofounder and film director of Siren's Gaze Productions, a company that was born at the 2013 Cannes International Film Festival as a collaboration between three young, unique and ambitious female filmmakers.

Abdool Laltaprasad IT'07 is an award winning filmmaker based in New York City. He is a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts with a degree in film. He has spent the past five years working on both commercial and narrative projects. His body of work spans the gambit of smaller character pieces like his most recent film “Rum,” which was featured on PBS, to larger narrative feature film projects.

Aaron Litvin ES'99, Litvinsight Productions, Producer/Director. He spent spent 30 months in Brazil and 30 months in Japan during pre-production and production of One Day We Arrived in Japan. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Luso-Brazilian literature and Critical Media Practice at Harvard University. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil and a Japanese Government Research Scholar at Sophia University in Tokyo. (Learn more.)

Sagit Maier-Schwartz ES'91 is a writer and licensed psychotherapist. Her most recent Hollywood credits include producer and writer for Lifetime Television's digital series Fall into Me. She has written several television pilots, has been published in various magazines and is the author of the non-fiction book Beauty Burden.

Russell Martin ES'69 is a director, producer and writer and principal at Say Yes Quickly Productions. He directed, wrote, and produced the highly acclaimed and award-winning documentary Beautiful Faces, filmed in Mexico City, which premiered in 2012. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Picasso's War and Beethoven's Hair, a national bestseller for adults and Washington Post Book of the Year. 

Heidi McAdams FR'01 was a producer, writer and executive story editor of CW's The 100. 

Emma Molz ES'13 is the executive assistant to producer at Amblin Partners (formerly known as DreamWorks Studio).

Marisa Muscari Rojas CN'01, Activision, Senior Manager, Product Management

Jonathan Nossiter FR'78 has directed five feature films. The most recent is Rio Sex Comedy starring Charlotte Rampling, Bill Pullman, Irène Jacob and Fisher Stevens. Mondovino, a human comedy set in the wine world, was nominated for the Palme D'Or in Cannes in 2004 (one of only three documentaries ever nominated in the history of the festival) and was released in over 40 countries. A 1- part series derived from the feature, which he also directed and produced, had its world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2006. (Learn more.)

Patrick Oppmann ES'96 serves as CNN's Havana-based correspondent, responsible for covering Cuba and the surrounding region for all of the network's platforms.

Andrew Schwertfeger FR'00  is an Emmy Award winning producer and independent filmmaker who has been working in independent film for nearly a decade. Films include Teeth, The Homestretch and Independent Lens. He is a founding board member of Chicago Media Project and organizer of Good Pitch Chicago.

Lydia Smith ES'81 began her film career while interning in college on the first documentary about incest and child sexual abuse, Breaking Silence. Upon graduation, she worked on Stories of Change as well as the Academy Award winner, Women: for America, for the World. She would work on a documentary every year or two while earning a living in the production, camera and electric departments. She directed, produced, and wrote They're Just Kids, a 26-minute educational documentary showing how children with disabilities can positively affect our lives; A Legacy Revealed, a 40-minute historical documentary among others. Additionally, she was senior producer on CNN's Soldiers of Peace: A Children's Crusade. In 2008 she embarked on her first feature-length documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago which became a worldwide hit, airing on national television and having a successful theatrical release in nine different countries. In addition to her producing and directing career, Lydia has worked as a camera assistant and operator on major motion pictures including Ed Wood, Matilda and Dangerous Minds) top music videos (including Shakira, Britney Spears and Snoop Dog) and countless commercials (including Coke, Ford and Target). Learn more about her documentary Walking the Camino

Rob Stone ES'82 is an Oscar nominee for Best Feature Documentary a three-time Emmy-nominee for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking and a winner of the 2020 Columbia duPont Award for Best Documentary, among many other awards and accolades for his work over three decades. He gained considerable recognition for his first film, Radio Bikini (1987), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. (Learn more.)

Paige Sutherland ES'73  is a producer for On Point. She previously made podcasts for CNN Audio and was a radio reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio. Before returning to her hometown of Boston, she lived in Santiago, Chile where she freelanced for the BBC, NPR and The World.

Katherine Visconti IT'05 is a screenwriter and development consultant who works with producers and writers to move ideas from pitch to screen. She is known for her work on television's FBI, Chicago P.D. and K-Love.

Marie Wilkinson FR'82 is a filmmaker and documentary cinematographer known for Hell-to-Pay Austin, Walking Thunder: Ode to the African Elephant and Lysander's Song. 

Ellie Yanagisawa FR'09 is a web producer for the World Wildlife Fund.

Stone Yu CN'06 is a filmmaker who helps trailblazing creators tell their stories through joyful and visually striking films. (Learn more.)

Alexis Fish FR'93