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Alum Pete Chiarelli’s ‘terrifying’ move to L.A. leads to screenwriting success

Perhaps most well-known for writing “The Proposal” under the fake name Jennifer Kirby, alumnus Pete Chiarelli, ’96, found success in Los Angeles, where he moved a couple of years after graduating from the University of Washington. Although the film starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds was the highest grossing romantic comedy of 2009, Chiarelli said he never really feels like he ‘made it’.

“As soon as you finish a project, it’s like what’s next?” he said. “There’s a certain comfort level where you make a name for yourself and people generally know who you are in certain circles, but I never feel like I can kick back and relax, and that I have it figured out.”

In addition to the premiere of “The Proposal,” Chiarelli said other memorable moments in his career include the first day as a University of Southern California graduate school intern at DreamWorks and producing a short film that got turned into a super bowl commercial.

“When they pay you to work on making movies – that was a great day,” Chiarelli said. “At DreamWorks, there is a fence that looks like Jurassic Park to let you in, they give you free lunch, and people are always talking about movies. It was exciting to be there.”

As an undergraduate at the UW, Chiarelli focused on broadcast journalism, worked at KING 5 during his last year of school, and landed a job at the fledgling Northwest Cable News. Working his way up to becoming an assistant producer (and producing the Sunday after Thanksgiving 4 a.m. broadcasts that no one wanted), he had no inkling that he would later become a screenwriter.

“For a while I tried to convince myself that TV news was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I liked it a lot, but when I got into grad school, I just couldn’t help but give film a shot,” Chiarelli said. “It was a great year at Northwest Cable News – I worked overnights, but I wrote a lot of dialogue for people which proved to be helpful down the road.”

The two words that came to mind when describing the move to L.A. to attend grad school at USC were ‘intimidating’ and ‘terrifying’. He said his biggest piece of advice to students wanting to move to the City of Angels is to be on top of the simple stuff: Figure out where you are going to live, if you need a car or not (you probably do), how much money you need to live, and what you are going to do to stay in L.A. for a long time.

“I’ve seen more people who didn’t figure that part out and then the pressures of life starts to chip away the drive to keep reaching for your dreams – as cheesy as that sounds,” he said. “You have to figure out the boring stuff and then you can go big.”

Continue reading this article on the Department of Communication’s website.