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Taking Storytelling from the Stage to the Screen

With his initial sights set on becoming an actor, Daniel Dvorkin ’16 spent four years in a highly creative, intense undergraduate acting conservatory. Although he loved the experience, he didn’t receive any business education while he was there.

“After graduation, I realized I didn’t want to be an actor,” says Dvorkin. “I wanted to pursue the bigger-picture perspective of entertainment.”

To stay true to this goal, he spent nearly five years running a nonprofit theatre company he founded as an undergraduate, which gave him the chance to develop and produce—honing a unique mix of creative and business skills. To make ends meet, he also worked at a few regional theaters and restaurants.

Although he loved his theater work, Dvorkin wondered if there was a way to follow these dreams while also earning a stable salary—and landed on higher education as a way to get started on that path.

“When I heard about Northwestern’s MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, it just made sense,” he says. “Not only was it a year-long program, which would allow me to be in and out, but it would also help me pivot toward something new. I realized I could work on a much larger scale through TV and film.”

The program allowed Dvorkin to select curriculum based on his chosen career path: the business side of television. In the beginning, he was focused on becoming a showrunner (leading series producer). Through his coursework, however, he uncovered other corners of the industry that fascinated him as well—specifically the buying end and local original development.

Growing up in a Russian immigrant home where Russian cartoons were his first exposure to content, Dvorkin was always drawn to foreign language programming. “I became fascinated by the idea of creating local language programming in territories around the world and finding those unique creator voices abroad to put on a global platform. That felt like the best way to give back to the world.” During this time, the industry was also beginning to shift toward streaming content—where he thought his goals could flourish.

Because of his interests, he found lots of value in Associate Professor of Communication Studies Aymar Jean Christian’s Digital Television course, which focuses on where the entertainment industry is headed, traditional vs. new development practices, changes in how networks select and finance series, and how digital networks are reshaping television.

Dvorkin also found particular value in Adjunct Lecturer Laverne McKinnon’s The Power of Pitching + Persuasion class. “Not only do you learn how to pitch projects, but also how to pitch yourself,” he says. “How can you give an elevator pitch about who you are and what you want to be on a professional level?”

After earning his MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, Dvorkin landed at Creative Arts Agency, assisting Senior Talent Agent Michael Kives in his representation of celebrities with global entrepreneurial practices.

Two years later—in August 2019—Disney offered Dvorkin a job with Disney+, which hadn’t even yet launched, offering him a chance to work for the president of the Disney+ creative platform and help bring the on-demand streaming service to life.

“I’m the president’s right hand, and I get a bird’s-eye view of the platform,” says Dvorkin. “I was able to land this job—and the ones before it—through networking. The program really honed that skill for me by including professional skills and the philosophy of networking in its curriculum. You don’t always realize where networking is taking you until you arrive at your goal.”