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The College of Arts Sciences

Lee Rosenthal '87: “You can't underestimate the value of being a fully rounded person.”

By: Marina Watts,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
April 28, 2017

Lee Rosenthal ’87 is from Long Island, New York. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in English and went on to pursue a career in film.

During his time at Cornell, Rosenthal helped found The Whistling Shrimp improvisational comedy troupe. A friend who was graduating brought the idea to Lee. He and his roommate would spend hours riffing back and forth with each other, and they decided to create an improve comedy troupe. Today, The Whistling Shrimp is Cornell’s oldest improvisational comedy troupe.

One of Rosenthal’s favorite classes was an introductory acting class he took his freshman year instructed by Jane Lynch. He also spent time performing Shakespeare, along with taking playwriting and filmmaking courses. His filmmaking instructor saw potential in him, and encouraged him to make movies and pursue a career in the film industry. He then became heavily involved with making movies at Cornell, and realized that was his calling.

One of Rosenthal's early jobs out of college was working on a pilot for a Disney television show, which led to an in-house position at Disney. From there, Rosenthal worked his way up to his current position.

In his current role as president of physical production at Paramount, Rosenthal feels “so fortunate to do what I do. I work with amazing people in my department and I work with amazing talent on the films. The fact that I get to, along with my team, get to help these really cool projects into being is something I feel very lucky about.” In his current position Rosenthal travels all over the world budgeting and organizing films, which he describes as “throwing a wedding every day for like 70 straight days, only the wedding is moving around the globe, like a traveling circus.” Priorities constantly shift, and Rosenthal has to keep on his toes, which is a skill he picked up from doing improv.

Cornell offers many ways to get involved with film, both in and outside of class. Rosenthal enjoyed his filmmaking class, along with Cornell Cinema, which showed both old and new movies. “In your mind, you create a library of movies and images,” said Rosenthal. “That meant a lot to me, and I did that a lot at Cornell.”

He also still draws on his improv skills every day. “You are always spinning tales and you are always getting to the next moment and figuring out on the fly where you need to be,” Rosenthal reflects. “If you can get in front of a group of people and do it, you can draw on that skill.”

His advice to Cornell students? Go to the movies, and you’ll never stop learning. “You can't underestimate the value of being a fully rounded person,” says Rosenthal. “Go to the art house, see those movies, some crazy movie in black and white that somehow otherwise you would miss, and catch it on Netflix, and see some of these great movies. There are countless old movies I've seen, and they all become part of the language of discussing movies.”

Marina Watts '16 is a temporary writer for the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

Lee Rosenthal. Photo credit: Chris Whitaker