Hannah Levin ’19 is passionate about film, television, theater and comedy. Since early high school, she has run a website for other young aspiring entertainment professionals featuring interviews with many top actors, directors and others about their careers.
Q: Where are you from, and what are you studying at Wesleyan?
A: I’m from Westport, Conn. I’m planning to declare a double major in film and English.
Q: You launched your website, Master Chat Mag, when you were only 15-years-old. Please tell us about your site and what inspired you to start it.
A: When I was a freshman in high school, I was always Googling for advice for aspiring actors from people whose work I loved. I couldn’t find anything like that. There was Inside the Actors Studio, but it came out infrequently and I craved more information to satisfy my interest. I decided to fill that gap in Google and start my own site as a resource for students who are passionate about TV, film, theater and comedy. Around the same time, I saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway and was so inspired by it, I wanted to talk to the creators and cast about how they made it.
Q: You’ve interviewed a remarkable range of high-profile professionals in TV, film, theater and comedy, including some from today’s hottest shows and movies. How are you able to get these interviews? What’s your pitch when you ask people to be interviewed for the site?
A: When I first started, I remember sending emails to lots of Broadway standbys—anyone with their own website whose contact information was posted online. The first person I interviewed was Nikki Bohne, a standby in Bring It On: The Musical. Weirdly, my second interview was with Liz Caplan, who is the biggest voice coach for all Broadway stars. I can’t believe I got her to participate so early on.
Then, I got an account on IMDB Pro that helped me find representation for anyone in the industry. I would email literally hundreds and hundreds of people at a time and see what would stick. That’s how I got many of my bigger interviews.
Now the site has grown to the point where most of my interviews result from publicists asking me to interview their clients.
When I make my pitch, I describe the site as an educational resource for aspiring actors, filmmakers, comedians, directors, screenwriter, and playwrights. I make it clear that the interview will be about their work; I don’t go into any personal stuff at all. I think that’s appealing to the people I interview.
Q: Why is it your policy not to ask interviewees about their personal lives, which is the focus of so many celebrity news sites?
A: The number one reason: it’s none of my business. The way that I thought about it from the beginning is you would never have a meeting with an accountant the first time and ask them who they’re dating. To expect that information from a random person I’ve never met would be intrusive and wrong. It’s really easy to forget that what these people are doing is a career—it’s a hard career. If you’re really successful, it comes with a lot of luxury, but nine out of 10 people are not celebrities living like that. I like to talk about how they’re doing their work and delve deep into the craft. To learn from someone you admire is a really amazing opportunity and I would not want to throw that away by asking who their favorite designer is.
Q: What other interviewers do you admire?
A: Howard Stern is the best interviewer. He asks the questions that aren’t typically asked. He gives very conversational interviews, which I like. While he does ask intrusive questions, which I would never do, I really appreciate and admire the very technical questions he asks. I also love James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio, and Terri Gross of Fresh Air. However, I don’t try to copy anyone’s interview style in particular.
Q: Your interviews focus on the “journeys to success” of industry professionals as well as their advice to others. Can you share some of the best advice you’ve received?
A: Tony Goldwyn, an actor on Scandal, gave me the piece of advice that stands out the most. He said, “A lot of people and a lot of people’s parents tell them, ‘Well you need a plan B.’ I’m not a believer in plan B. I don’t think there can be a plan B. There can only be a plan A and then Plan A will lead you to a different plan, maybe, that you don’t even know about.” I thought that was really poignant because a lot of time in creative careers, people want to have a backup plan because it’s such a risk. He said nothing will ever turn out exactly how you think it will, but if you follow Plan A, it will evolve.
Q: So what’s your Plan A?
A: This website has been a way for me to explore what I want to do. I have two Plan A’s, that I hope both work out, even though I know it’ll be a long journey to get there. I would love to write, direct, and act on my own TV show. I really like that structure of creative control. My other plan is to write plays and act in those as well. I just really want to collaborate with a lot of creative people I admire—hopefully some I’ve interviewed!
With the access we have to technology right now, I’ve learned that you don’t have any excuses anymore not to be producing work. That has made me want to be involved in all creative aspects so I can make my own vision come to fruition.
Q: You’ve interviewed several Wesleyan alumni. Were you attracted to Wesleyan because of its large network of alumni in the arts?
A: Some of the Wesleyan alumni I’ve interviewed were randomly pitched to me by their publicists, but I’ve also been using WesConnect to reach out to alumni in the arts. I was definitely attracted to Wesleyan because of the amazing alumni who come out of this school. Wesleyan harbors such creativity and self-sufficiency in the arts and presents so many opportunities for creative people to explore. You see how successful people are when they graduate—you see the Wesleyan Mafia in Hollywood. I wanted to be around people who were very dedicated to their work in the arts. I saw Hamilton the summer before my freshman year, and obviously Lin has been a huge pillar of greatness for the school.
Q: We’ll ask you a question you asked actor Genevieve Angelson ’08 (of Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt): How has Wesleyan helped “fuel your creativity”?
A: I actually ask that question to every Wesleyan grad I interview. It’s so weird to be asked that! First of all, the number of resources at Wesleyan is, I think, unmatched. Beginning freshman year, everything is at your disposal. If you have any inkling of creating something, you can do it. I was able to create a satirical news web series that Cardinal Pictures helped produce. It’s the student-run production company, gives students equipment and guidance to produce a web series or short film. I’m an executive producer on staff now. Anyone interested in filmmaking can apply to get something produced—you don’t have to be a film major. There are so many theater productions going on all the time. Through Second Stage, I directed a show freshman year.
The professors are incredibly open to you following your instincts and ideas. Wesleyan is a really special space that allows people to explore their interests beyond the school while still being a student. That’s been really important to me. All the students are doing their own thing, yet at the same time so collaborative. When I came to Wesleyan, I was impressed at how every person I talked to had a passion they were pursuing outside of their studies. Being around all these passionate, really intelligent peers makes you want to contribute to that environment.
Q: Have any classes or professors been especially impactful?
A: My Jewish American Humor class in the Religion department was really amazing. I’m such a comedy nerd. We learned about my favorite comedians and how they used their Jewish culture in conjunction with their own comedic sensibilities, which are very much intertwined.
This semester, I’m in two classes that I’m really excited about and hoping to learn a lot from. I’m in Writing History, taught by Quiara Alegria Hudes (The Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater), and Writing for Television, taught by Amy Bloom (The Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing).
Q: Quick, what’s the best movie or TV show you’ve seen recently?
A: I just binged on Transparent. Right after I finished the series, I interviewed the show’s Director of Photography Jim Frohna. I think it’s shot in such an interesting and amazing way and the writing is beyond great. It’s funny, but it’s dark comedy—my favorite. There is a real female gaze on the show, which is very rare.
Q: Where are you heading next with your site?
A: I’m planning to move into podcasts. I’ve already conducted several interviews that will be edited for that medium. But my big dream is to take it to a video platform and do filmed interviews.
I’ll also continue to shine a spotlight on representation in the business in a way that I hope is constructive. It’s really important to me that my interviews examine how race, class, and gender are treated in the entertainment industry.