All Roads Lead to Rome: Dartmouth in Entertainment

by Jimmy Nguyen | 5/16/18 2:30am

Some students come to Dartmouth thinking that their next four years might resemble a movie. “Animal House,” understandably, first comes to mind. Even so, what overshadows and vindicates this wild identity is Dartmouth’s ability to produce successful alumni in the film industry. Life may not always feel like a movie at Dartmouth, but many here end up writing and directing their own.

David Benioff ’92, Mindy Kaling ’01 and Shonda Rhimes ’91 are recognized as some of the most famous Dartmouth alumni in the entertainment industry today; however, some may be surprised to learn how widespread Dartmouth alumni are in many facets of the entertainment industry.

Chris Miller ’63 Tu’64, writer of famed Dartmouth-inspired “Animal House,” is a prominent example. Other successful filmmakers include duo Chris Miller ’97 and Phillip Lord ’97. These two met at Dartmouth and worked as writers or directors on a number of animated and feature films, such as “Cloudy With A Chance of MeatBalls,” “The Lego Movie” and the 2012 remake of “21 Jumpstreet.” A fact that some may be surprised to learn is that the entire “Despicable Me” franchise, along with the movies “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Sing,” were produced by a Dartmouth alumnus, Chris Meledandri ’81. Just this past week, David Harbour ’97, an actor on popular Netflix series “Stranger Things,” caused a stir of excitement when he visited for an onstage conversation with campus. And let’s not forget that Lana Kane of the animated spy comedy “Archer” is played by Dartmouth alumna Aisha Tyler ’92.

It’s easy to forget that at one point, these entertainment industry power players were regular Dartmouth students. They were once prospective film majors and leads in musicals and plays. While Dartmouth isn’t seen as an entertainment industry feeder school, their rise illustrates how Dartmouth students find their way to success.

This past weekend, the American musical “Hair,” an honors thesis production directed by Virginia Ogden ’18, showed at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Matthew Haughey ’21, who played one of the leading roles, said that a large part of this production was student-run, providing students plenty of opportunities to get involved. For “Hair,” Ogden held the main director and choreographer roles. The other director and designer positions, involving music, costumes, lighting, sound and stage, were carried by a mix of students ranging from first-years to juniors. Whether it is on or off the stage, students have opportunities early on to start building their skills and experiences that they can carry into the real world.

As Haughey put it, “You need to be well-versed in other stuff. You can’t just be an actor.” Haughey stands behind this claim by taking writing classes related to the stage. Dartmouth has classes in screen-writing, playwriting and dramatic story writing. The English department recently introduced a new creative writing class, Creative Writing 41.1, “Writing for Television,” where students work on their own television pilot. With another three years ahead, Haughey is bound to take several of them.

“I love to write, so I’m using as much of the theater department’s guidance and all the other resources [as possible]” he said. “Getting your own stuff put on stages is one of the things I hope to do at Dartmouth.” Haughey also rents out film equipment from the Jones Media Center whenever he wants to do more sketch writing and filming.

The self-drive he demonstrates is definitely one common aspect of Dartmouth students that make alumni and current students so successful. Haughey serves as evidence of this type of determination as he hopes to work on acting throughout his time at Dartmouth.

“I’m probably going to try and act in as many plays as I can while I’m here,” Haughey said.

Dartmouth’s liberal arts model also resonates with Haughey; he understands how his many interests can be applied in an interdisciplinary way.

“Theater is my main focus,” he explained. “I came here thinking I’d do more business-type stuff post grad. I think I’d still like to have those business skills… so I can be useful, but useful in a theater company.”

Outside of the stage, students can also refine their acting — more specifically, their improvisational skills — by joining improvisation clubs on campus, such as Dog Day Players. According to Justin Baker ’21, a member of Dog Day Players, the performance club “provides a good outlet to be creative and do character work.”

“Because improv is really focused on creativity and quick thinking, those skills are something a lot of people are looking for when going into acting,” Baker said.

Still, entering the entertainment industry isn’t easy. Daniel Berthe ’18, a film major modified with English, is interested in working in the entertainment industry after graduation. Berthe’s first foray into the entertainment industry was through an internship at the National Broadcasting Company. Over his junior summer, he was employed as a production assistant at New Lion Cinema, worked with Netflix and ABC on a women’s reproductive rights documentary and worked with USA Network on season 3 of Mr. Robot. Yet despite his past experience, it will still take plenty of effort to find another internship or job in entertainment industry.

“The film and television industry is like a hundred musical chairs and people moving around,” Berthe said. “Here’s an ugly truth of the film industry: if you have years of experience, if you’ve been a production assistant on everything, if you’ve been a producer’s assistant, if you’ve been a screenwriter, that does not guarantee anything.”

But that doesn’t deter Berthe, who is adjusting his short-term plans to work in entertainment consulting.

“There’s nothing that would dissuade me from doing this entirely,” he said. “Entertainment consulting, media consulting is just another conduit into the industry. There’s a million different ways into it. All roads lead to Rome. You have to be honest with yourself and recognize that it’s called a dream for a reason.”

Although from an outsider’s perspective Dartmouth may not seem like an entertainment powerhouse, it does invite and empower driven students who have hit it big. For those aspiring actors and writers, the College is a blessing in disguise — the next star might just be sitting next to you in your 10A.