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From Happy Valley To Hollywood: These Penn Staters Helped Make Your Favorite Movies

Although many of us dream of gracing the silver stage after graduation, few Penn Staters actually get the opportunity to do so. Even so, it’s likely that your favorite movie or television show was created, directed, produced, or written by a Nittany Lion. Here’s our list of famous Penn Staters who have influenced the industry:

Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (1931 and 1932, respectively) — Twin brothers, Julius and Philip Epstein collaborated on numerous screenplays throughout the mid-twentieth century, but were most famous for these quintessential vintage films:

  • “Casablanca” screenplay co-writers
  • “Arsenic and Old Lace” screenplay co-writers

Donald Bellisario (1961) — Perhaps Penn State’s most famous alumnus in film, Donald Bellisario earned his journalism degree in 1961 and moved from advertising to film to create these classics.

  • “Magnum, P.I.” co-creator, co-writer, and co-producer;
  • “NCIS” co-creator and co-producer

Steven E. de Souza (Circa 1970) — Does “Die Hard” sound familiar?

  • “The Flinstones” writer
  • “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” story writer
  • “Die Hard” screenplay writer
  • “Die Hard 2” screenplay writer
  • “48 Hrs.” writer

Carmen Finestra (1971) — After earning his degree from Penn State, Carmen Finestra worked on these two popular family sitcoms, earning him a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the university in 1998.

  • “The Cosby Show” co-writer and co-producer
  • “Home Improvement” co-creator, co-writer, and co-producer

Kirk Petruccelli (1986) — Often overlooked, production designers are responsible for the visual aspects of the film. Penn State’s own Kirk Petruccelli worked on some high-profile films in the 2000s.

  • “White House Down” production designer
  • “The Incredible Hulk” production designer
  • “4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” production designer
  • “Ghost Rider” production designer
  • “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” production designer
  • “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” production designer
  • “The Patriot” production designer

Andrew Kevin Walker (1986) — If you’re already a Brad Pitt or Morgan Freeman fan (really, how could you not be?) then you have one more reason to watch the mid-1990s thriller “Se7en.”

  • Se7en” writer

Adam McKay (attended Penn State, but never graduated) — If you’ve laughed out loud at the movie theater in the past decade, Adam McKay probably had a hand in the production of the film. Although he never graduated from Penn State, McKay attended two regular semesters and one summer session.

  • “Saturday Night Live” head writer
  • “Anchorman” director and co-writer
  • “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” director and co-writer
  • “Step Brothers” director, screenplay co-writer, and story co-writer
  • “The Big Short” director and screenplay co-writer
  • “The Other Guys” director, co-producer, and co-writer
  • “The Campaign” co-producer and story co-writer
  • “Daddy’s Home” co-producer
  • “The Virginity Hit “co-producer
  • “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” co-producer
  • “Tammy” co-producer
  • “Get Hard” co-producer
  • “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” director, co-writer, and co-producer

Keegan-Michael Key (1996 M.F.A.) — In addition to serving as last fall’s Homecoming Grand Marshal, Keegan-Michael Key now uses his Master of Fine Arts degree to star on Comedy Central.

  • “Key & Peele” co-creator, co-star, and co-producer

Ty Burrell (1997 M.F.A.) — The combination of Penn State and comedy truly can’t be matched. How could you better use a Master of Fine Arts degree from Happy Valley?

  • “Modern Family” co-star

Rake Yohn (1997) — Most of us know Rake Yohn for his hairstyle, but he actually graduated from Penn State with a degree in Chemistry, and is now a chemist working with synthetic materials.

  • “Jackass” supporting cast
  • “Viva La Bam” co-star

Riva Marker (2000) — A more recent graduate (2000 is pretty recent, right?), Riva Marker is already making strides in the film industry.

  • “The Kids Are All Right” producer

Ryan Buell (2006) — Buell founded the Paranormal Research Society here in Happy Valley in 2001, and turned it into the popular television show on A&E network. Now that’s follow-through!

  • “Paranormal State” creator, director, and producer

So there you go — you have yet another excuse to binge-watch “Modern Family” and procrastinate by watching SNL clips on YouTube. If you’re hoping to be among these stars one day then break a leg, Dear Old State.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a senior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.


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