Harvard JAMS! with Carlton Cuse

by Madeline Smith

This January, the Office for the Arts welcomes Carlton Cuse '81, writer/executive producer (LOST) and Monica Henderson Beletsky '99, writer/co-producer (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights) to teach the workshop Writing for Television, in conjunction with January Arts and Media Seminars.

I spoke to Cuse to learn more about his workshop and how his time at Harvard has informed his life as an artist.

I’m sure condensing the art form of writing for television into one workshop is quite a task. What exactly will your workshop focus on?

The goal for Monica and me is to give somebody a sense of what working as a writer in television is like. It’s a unique form of writing in that it’s done in collaboration with other writers, and there’s a specific methodology to it. I think the class, in a lot of ways, isn’t just about the specifics of how you write for the screen, but about how you collaborate.

How does writing for television differ from writing a play or other fictional piece?

If you’re a playwright or novelist, you’re alone in a room. Increasingly in movies, the writing is done with other writers. It’s really a fantastically fulfilling process to sit down with other writers and work out problems and think in a like-minded way. We’ll try to provide insight into that process and, more fundamentally, some things you should think about if you’re interested in doing any sort of writing medium.

What element of your Harvard experience has most informed your life as an artist?

First of all, my career was launched when I got a grant from the OFA to make a documentary about rowing. This grant catalyzed the movie as well as catalyzed me to go to Hollywood after I got out of college. Also, there was a professor named Robert Coles, and he taught a course in Moral Social Inquiry—about leading one’s life in the world—and pondered that question as it was answered by a lot of great writers. It made me feel like I wanted to be a part of that in some small way. Television was the dramatic vehicle for me to voice some of my own thoughts.

Do you have any advice for Harvard undergrads who are interested in pursuing the arts professionally?

I think the OFA is a tremendous vehicle for people to get involved. It’s really important to dip yourself in the waters of whatever you’re interested in doing while you’re in college—make a movie, write a play, start a band, play around Cambridge. All those things—I think that there is so much to be learned by getting to pursue whatever art you want to do while you’re still in school.

Sign up here for Writing for Television.

[Caption: TV writer/executive producer Carlton Cuse '81]