Alum event includes Oscar nominees

Matthew O'Neill interviews the mother of an earthquake victim for his film "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province."
Matthew O'Neill interviews the mother of an earthquake victim for his film "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province." Photo by Matthew O'Neill.

In addition to preparing for his appearance at the upcoming Yale in Hollywood Entertainment Conference, Michael Beugg ’85 may need to think up a different kind of speech.

After all, Beugg, the executive producer of Academy Award Best Picture nominee “Up in the Air,” is one of several Elis whose projects will be up for an Academy Award next week and a panelist at the conference, which will take place a week after the award ceremony. The Association of Yale Alumni and Yale in Hollywood will be hosting the inaugural event March 12 and 13. The former co-head of DreamWorks Pictures, Walter F. Parkes ’73, will give the keynote, and panelists include Beugg and two other Oscar-nominated producers, Jeffrey Clifford ’91 and Lisa Cortés ’82. The conference arose from meetings between Yale in Hollywood — an AYA organized network of alumni in the entertainment industry — and AYA’s shared interest groups, which seek to help alumni connect over more than class year or geographic location.

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“It’s about our Yale-ness, about engaging as Yale alumni, and not just being a normal industry conference,” said Nicholas Roman Lewis ’93 AYA’s director of shared interest groups. “We are really making an effort for there to be value for everyone that is there: Oscar-winners and current students.”

Yale in Hollywood puts on multiple events a year, from parties to intimate chats with accomplished alumni, Beugg said. He said that most discussions held by Yale in Hollywood focus on how to break into the film industry and are geared toward people in their first five to 10 years in the business.

But this conference will be different from these events, Lewis said, bringing together industry-hopefuls and veterans alike.

Lewis said that the conference is not exclusive to alumni based in Southern California, but will extend to alumni from other cities and even current Yale students. He said he expects 250 to 300 people this year, at least a quarter of whom will be from outside California.

Beugg, who produced the Best Picture nominee “Up in the Air” and previously produced Oscar-nominated “Little Miss Sunshine,” said he often comes across Yale alumni in Hollywood.

“In the course of my professional activities, I think it’s probably once a month that I run into someone from Yale,” Beugg said in an interview, adding that he usually attends two Yale in Hollywood events a year.

Breugg said he sometimes will not even realize he is working with another Yalie. It was well into production when he and fellow producer, who was six years apart at Yale, discovered the mutual connection.

He said that he sees “Up in the Air” as an underdog, pointing to the success of other nominees, “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” at previous award shows. Nevertheless, he said he holds the award in perspective.

“It’s really exciting to be nominated because you know that there are 300 significant releases of some kind and 10,000 films made every year,” he said, “so the chance of being nominated for something is very small, so when that happens, it’s a great feeling.”

Besides the three producers whose films were nominated for Best Picture (Cortés produced “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”) five Yale alumni were nominated for Oscars this year, and several more worked on nominated films. Two composers received nominations: Maury Yeston ’67 MUS ’74 for his song “Take It All” from the movie “Nine,” and Marco Beltrami MUS ’91 for his score for “The Hurt Locker.” Meryl Streep DRA ’75, the only performer nominated, received a nod for Best Actress in “Julie and Julia.” Thomas McCarthy DRA ’95 was nominated for his original screenplay, “Up” and Matthew O’Neill ’00 for his short documentary, “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province.”

Of those alumni nominated, only Streep has previously won an Academy Award.

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