By Daryl Paranada
A new video series has brought together Emersonians of different generations. Titled Alumni Conversations, the videos pair alumni together for wide-ranging discussions, touching on topics like career pathways, working in entertainment, and navigating the industry during a pandemic.
The first four videos feature Doug Herzog ’81 sharing his thoughts on streaming and comedy with Jackie Sosa ’14; Kate Boutilier ’81 discussing her career path and current work on the Rugrats reboot with John Wentworth ’81; Seth Grahame-Smith ’98 talking with Emerson LA affiliated faculty member Andy Miara about working during COVID-19 and his advice for new graduates; and Traci Blackwell, MA ’14, conversing with Taylor Jett ’16 about her position as head of scripted programming at BET and her advice for up-and-coming writers and executives of color.
“It was a lot of fun and Traci has so much to offer,” said Jett, who hopes to become an executive like Blackwell one day. “Just hearing a little more about her story and career trajectory and how it applies to today, what it took to become a person running a network, was awesome. There’s a little bit of something [in our video] for everyone.”
The series came out of an idea this past summer by staff at Emerson LA (ELA) to build a digital library that faculty could use for classes. Allison Sampson, ELA’s vice president and executive director, was inspired after watching a video on the e-learning platform MasterClass.
As the Emerson videos came together, it became clear that all students, alumni, and Emersonians could benefit from listening to the stories shared. Wentworth, a faculty member at ELA, said he knows his students enjoy hearing from voices of very active and accomplished professionals in the industry.
“Emerson has such a stellar community of alumni and everybody should be aware of it,” said Wentworth, a communications/PR executive who spent 35 years at CBS and continues to consult. “Everyone from incoming or present students to alumni who went to the College decades ago can benefit from hearing about alumni life experiences.”
Wentworth interviewed his dear friend Boutilier, whom he first met during the third month of his freshman year. He highlighted a few key messages viewers of the videos can take away, including the idea that everyone’s career path is different and the power of the Emerson network.
“As Kate said in her interview with me, a lot of her career started based on her networking and friendships with other Emersonians. That was certainly true in my case as well, and countless others,” said Wentworth. “Emersonians are everywhere, and it’s beneficial for students and alumni to discover different ways and definitions of success.”
Gary Lister ’81, senior vice president and senior creative director at Project X/AV, helped edit the videos. For most of his career, Lister has worked as an editor or in creative marketing — skills and talents he developed while at Emerson. He said that working on the videos allowed him to give back to the College. During the editing process, he even learned new things about his fellow Emersonians, including his friend Boutilier.
“I’ve known Kate for over 40 years. We’ve been friends that whole time. There’s so much of her professional experience and talent and creativity that I didn’t know about. Honestly, she impressed me all over again,” said Lister. “With Traci, hearing about her approach to her job as a Black woman and a woman of faith, as a woman with some power at an important network, that was enlightening.”
For Jett, an executive assistant in original series at Netflix, the opportunity to interview Blackwell was something she jumped at, having followed her career while interning at CAA. Before joining BET, Blackwell served as senior vice president of current programs at The CW Network. Blackwell’s TV programming credits include Girlfriends and The Game, some of Jett’s favorite shows.
“As a Black woman trying to figure out my way into the creative executive path, Traci’s been one of the few that I look up to and see as leaders and pioneers in what they’ve done,” said Jett. “My motto is ‘Lift as you climb.’ I feel like it’s really cool to be able to look backward and help people coming up behind me, but also there are people like Traci ahead of me willing to help and give advice.”
Lister said the videos are a good reminder of how important Emerson is to the industry and how well alumni have done collectively around the world.
“It’s all entertainment, yet all these interviewers and interviewees have different perspectives. They’re different people coming from different backgrounds and different parts of the business, but they all have something interesting, intelligent, insightful, and prescient to say,” said Lister. “Stop watching Murder on Middle Beach for an hour and watch one of these videos.”