By Daniel Kim
In the world of television, demand for content has never been greater as millions of people across the country tune to their screens for entertainment. During the pandemic, subscription numbers at Disney+ and Netflix have surged to record highs, and streaming companies are racing to expand their libraries with engaging content as Hollywood restarts production. Working in creative development, Neil Krishnan (ΦBK, Duke University) meets this demand by finding and producing fresh, comedic stories to captivate viewers.
However, as a graduating senior in 2014, Krishnan never imagined himself in entertainment, a seemingly “far-fetched” notion at the time, he recalled. With a degree in biophysics and a secured position at Bain & Company, Krishnan began his career in management consulting before moving over to corporate strategy and acquisitions at Microsoft. Yet while he appreciated his time at both companies, Krishnan felt a desire to work in a more creative field and engage with his emotions, so he found a position at Netflix on their studio strategy team and moved to Los Angeles.
At first glance, it seemed like his dream job. Situated at one of the “coolest companies in the world,” Krishnan said, he worked on a nascent initiative to figure out how to make original content, rather than licensing or buying other people’s content. The position perfectly melded his business background with imaginative strategy, and Krishnan soon found himself evaluating a potential promotion. However when meeting more people in Los Angeles—both at Netflix and in the creative community—Krishnan couldn’t deny that his true passion was the art of storytelling itself. So, despite the difficulties of learning something completely new (and a substantial pay cut), Krishnan decided to take a leap of faith into the world of development.
Krishnan found his place in creative development and production at Picturestart, one of Hollywood’s most promising new media companies. Headed by the legendary Erik Feig, creator of the Hunger Games, Now You See Me, Step Up, and Twilight series, Picturestart’s emphasis on the discovery of voice and “coming of age at any age” appealed to Krishnan as he adjusted to his new responsibilities and found his own voice in the process. Krishnan was also drawn to their devotion to diverse storytelling; as a minority himself, it was important to Krishnan that he worked to uplift and amplify narratives from underrepresented perspectives to empower the younger generations.
One of Krishnan’s favorite parts of this job is reading books, which are often sent to him before they are published. He reads about three to four novels a week, and he looks for stories so captivating that they make him forget about planning the logistical details: Would this work better as a series or a limited series? Which director or actors should we attach? How much would this cost? After reading something “undeniably amazing,” Krishnan explained, he sets up a meeting with the author. If a deal is formed, he is able to begin the careful process of adaptation. According to Krishnan, “one of the most important skills as a producer is maintaining the flame or spirit of a story—whether it’s a book, a script, an idea—while creating its best version in a new medium like TV.” And while these moments do not come often, they make Krishnan’s job “unbelievably fun and rewarding,” he said.
Reflecting on his path from biophysics to Bain to Hollywood, Krishnan points toward his liberal arts and sciences education as a source of inspiration. Having the ability to study both the sciences and humanities, and their intersections, has fundamentally shaped the way he views the world and allows Krishnan to see the value in all of his experiences. And to those of us still trying to figure out our own path, Krishnan offers this advice: “As my winding road of a career so far can attest to, there’s something to be learned and appreciated every step of the way. And if you have the privilege to be able to think about what to do next, I definitely recommend embracing that gift fully.”
Daniel Kim is a senior at Duke University with a major in theater studies and a minor in biology. A junior-year ΦBK inductee, Daniel is interested in the entertainment industry and Asian American history. Duke University is home to the Beta of North Carolina chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.