Lennox Cao/Sun Staff Photographer

Prof. Austin Bunn facilitated a discussion with "Succession" producer Scott Ferguson ’82 and “American Masters” producer Michael Kantor ’83 at Tuesday's Cornell Cinema event.

March 30, 2023

From Big Red to the Red Carpet: Producers of “Succession” and “American Masters” Share Industry Insights at Cornell Cinema

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Film-loving Cornellians and “Succession” fans lined up outside Willard Straight Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday, eager to hear from Emmy-winning filmmakers Scott Ferguson ’82 and Michael Kantor ’83. The classmates shared stories and new snippets of their projects at Cornell Cinema’s two-day “From the Big Red to the Red Carpet” event

Ferguson, best known for producing HBO’s hit show “Succession,” and Kantor, the current executive producer of PBS’s “American Masters,” both received degrees in theater studies from Cornell and went on to lead illustrious careers in the entertainment industry. 

On Tuesday night, Prof. Austin Bunn, performing and media arts, facilitated a discussion with the producers about their four decades of work. The producers discussed clips shown from their award-winning projects “Heavy,” “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle” and ”Brokeback Mountain.” Bunn, who teaches Performing and Media Arts 3533: Screen and Story: Script Analysis, inquired about their career paths and their impactful experiences as Cornell undergraduate students.

Ferguson originally entered Cornell with interests in engineering and acting. Ferguson explained that it was former Cornell staff member Marilyn Rivchin’s 16-millimeter filmmaking course that ultimately inspired him to commit to pursuing entertainment production. He expressed gratitude to Rivchin, who was seated in the third row. 

“I was lucky to be here — Cornell opened this whole world to me,” Ferguson told the audience. “I eventually made my way over to Lincoln Hall where they have the theater department, and I got to meet and work with wonderful people like [Kantor] and his circle of friends, some of whom are here tonight.” 

Kantor similarly described that his theater experiences at Cornell provided insight into his passion for entertainment production rather than acting — his original professional aspiration. However, he noted that the broad education he received at Cornell was foundational to his current career of documentary filmmaking.

At Cornell, Kantor was inspired by an anthropology course that dived into Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American writer N. Scott Momaday. He later produced the Emmy-nominated documentary “N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear,” which was directed by Prof. Jeffrey Palmer, performing and media arts.

“It thrilled me years later when we got to tell [Momaday’s] story with [the] director [Palmer]. That film premiered at Sundance,” Kantor said, referring to the prestigious independent film festival

During the event, a microphone was passed around as audience members inquired the producers about everything from Ferguson’s incorporation of Roman history in “Succession” to how the film industry differs across the east and west coasts of the United States.

“I wanted to hear about their experiences about how they ended up where they are, so it was definitely really insightful,” said Julie Lee ’23, who attended Tuesday’s discussion. 

According to Bunn, the conversation was intended to inspire Cornellians interested in the entertainment industry by offering valuable insights from successful alumni in the field. 

“It was really intimate,” said Jasmine Herrera ’23. “I heard about it through an email, and I learned a lot more than I thought I would.”

After the discussion, Cornellians participated in film-related activities at the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room, where they had the opportunity to meet the producers and take photographs with their Emmy awards. 

“I was really excited about it. I’ve always been really interested in film, and I feel like [there have not been] a lot of Cornell events geared towards [students interested in the entertainment industry],” Lee said. 

On Wednesday night, Cornell Cinema showed screening sessions for the season four premiere of “Succession” and the festival version of Kantor’s biographical documentary “Dr. Tony Fauci,” featuring another notable Cornell alumnus.

“We have this kind of first moment to share [these films] with the wider world in this public way, which is really exciting,” said Molly Ryan, director of Cornell Cinema.

“Succession” production designer Stephen Carter and star Nicholas Braun, who plays “Cousin Greg,” surprised attendees with visits, with Carter coming to Cornell Cinema and Braun participating virtually. Braun answered questions about his character’s development and detailed future writing and directing aspirations. Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66 also made an appearance for his documentary screening through Zoom. 

The two-day Arts Unplugged program, supported by the College of Arts and Sciences, left lasting impacts on some Cornellians who said they were inspired by the producers’ messages. 

“I think it was really cool that [the producers] emphasized how long certain things take,” Joyce Alonzo grad said. “[Kantor] mentioned he was involved in a production that took nine years, and I think it’s really important for students who are getting into the industry to remember that things take time if you want to build something.”

The producers drove home the idea that Cornell can serve as a launchpad for a successful film career.

“Every unique experience you can experience here — whether it’s wandering down the hill and through the gorge, or visiting the brain collection — that is what provided me with a basis to do my work,” Kantor said.

Correction, March 31, 9:56 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cornell Cinema showed clips of “Succession” and “Dr. Tony Fauci” and that Stephen Carter participated in the event virtually. The article has been corrected to accurately reflect that Cornell Cinema showed the season four premiere of “Succession,” the festival version of “Dr. Tony Fauci” and that Carter participated in person.

Marian Caballo ’26 is an Assistant News Editor for the 141st editorial board and can be reached at [email protected].

Elizabeth Gardner ’26 is a Sun Staff Writer and can be reached at [email protected].