Emily Hunter '13, '09 LS worked as an assistant on the Netflix limited series Unbelievable, premiering September 13. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning article from ProPublica and The Marshall Project, as well as an episode of This American Life, the eight-episode series tells the true story of a teenager's sexual assault, the people who doubt her, and the parallel investigation of a serial rapist.
Below, Hunter talks more about the show, her work behind the scenes, and why Unbelievable is necessary viewing.
What is the show about?
When teenager Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever) files a police report claiming she's been sexually assaulted by an intruder in her home, the investigating detectives, as well as the people closest to her, come to doubt the truth of her story. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, detectives Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall (Emmy winners Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) meet while investigating an eerily similar pair of intruder rapes and partner to catch a potential serial rapist. ... Unbelievable is a story of unspeakable trauma, unwavering tenacity, and astounding resilience.
How did you come to be involved with the show?
While I was at USC for undergrad, I found an incredible club called Trojan Guardian Scholars—a club that assists students who are either in the foster care system or don't have parents to support them through college. Being someone who went through college without parental support, this club not only offered me financial assistance for books, my graduation package, and interview clothes, they connected me with an organization called Ready to Succeed to start me off on my career in entertainment. From there, Ready to Succeed helped me with my resumé, job applications, and interviews, and assigned me a mentor, Romi Lassally, who immediately set me up with an interview with Sarah Timberman, one of the executive producers of Unbelievable who has worked with CBS, Warner Brothers, ABC, Netflix, Hulu, and Showtime in various capacities.
Since meeting Sarah two years ago, I've had the opportunity to work with her at CBS, Netflix, and ABC—something I never thought I would be able to say at 24 years old! I started as a writers' production assistant on her CBS show, SEAL Team, where I stayed for seven months before she asked me to help set up a writers' office for her new "Untitled Project"—a show that soon became Unbelievable.
What is your position on the show and what did that entail?
During pre-production, I started as a writers' production assistant. The job of a writers' PA is to assist the writers and producers with anything they may need. That can include everything from picking up lunches and groceries for the office to organizing episodic notes in the writers' room to doing research pertaining to the show. That meant some days I was in the writers' room listening to the writers break an episode, while on other days I was watching video footage of Marie's real-life perpetrator for research. Though the material of the show is heavy, it was always exciting being in the writers' office because, no matter what we were doing, we all knew we were there to help bring this story of injustice to life, and that felt empowering.
Once the show went into production, my lovely boss promoted me and I became her full-time executive assistant, the position I'm still in now. In this position, I'm involved in all projects my boss is producing, but more on the development side. Meaning, we focus on finding projects that are good for television and help get them on their feet, projects like Unbelievable.
Among my daily assistant tasks, I've had the opportunity to stay involved with Unbelievable through scheduling editing sessions, color review sessions, and through helping arrange Unbelievable press events—including events for philanthropic organizations like Ready to Succeed, since our main character, Marie, came out of the foster care system and didn't have the support of parents during early adulthood. It's funny the way things come full circle that way!
Why would you recommend watching the show?
Rape is a social issue that has been shoved under the rug for years. For decades, victims of rape have been scared into silence, doubted, blamed, and scarred by the heavy emotional trauma that comes from being taken advantage of. That said, with the "Me Too" movement recently catching the attention of people all around the world, now is the perfect time for a show like Unbelievable. If we want to change our culture and bring attention to the injustice happening around us, we must continue the conversation about sexual assault and rape, and Unbelievable does just that.
That said, what I think is unique about Unbelievable is the way in which the show portrays each character's response to these assaults. Instead of showing us the same emotional reaction from every victim, Unbelievable shows us a variety—highlighting the fact that assaults can affect everyone differently and there's no correct response. A depiction that is not often seen in movies and television, and one that must be seen for us to continue raising awareness about sexual assault and its consequences.
A personal note from Emily: "I'd like to thank the staff, administration, and family network at Catalina for their immense support over the years. You all have helped me more than you know."