The original version of this article contained multiple errors and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.
UCLA alumnus Sunny Tripathy entered a general meeting at 20th Century Fox hoping to work as a staffer for one of the network’s television shows. He walked out of the meeting with his own TV development deal.
Tripathy and 20th Century Fox agreed that he would produce a comedy series based on his personal and family experiences. Although the show’s title and details concerning its premise are still confidential, Tripathy is already working on the pilot script. The show’s success depends on whether a network buys the series.
“Originally I was supposed to go in almost just to see if they had any other lower-level writing positions on different shows,” Tripathy said. “And through discussion of my family and some of the stories that I was telling them about my family, they actually ended up deciding they wanted to do a TV show deal with me.”
Tripathy, who graduated from UCLA in 2012, has written and directed three short films for which he received numerous awards. He won the award for best drama and the People’s Choice Award at UCLA’s Campus MovieFest in 2011 for “Naked Innocence,” a film about a young Indian boy who struggles with school bullies and unforgiving parents.
In addition, he wrote and directed “Keeping Up With the Guptas,” a comedic web series about an Indian family and its everyday problems. Although this series and his upcoming show share the same inspiration, Tripathy said the 20th Century Fox show will experiment with new characters and stories.
The web series has received acclaim of its own. Vice President of Creative Talent Development and Inclusion at ABC and UCLA alumnus Tim McNeal, who met Tripathy while tracking him and other promising screenwriters for ABC and Disney, said he thought “Keeping Up With the Guptas” was hilarious.
“I just think he’s a really talented writer and very funny,” McNeal said. “He takes risks and brings a fresh voice into the broadcast television business.”
Tripathy said his experience with stand-up comedy has also been a major source of inspiration for the new show. At age 17, he won NBC’s reality television competition “Last Teen Comic Standing” and has performed in Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles while still studying at UCLA. He said some of the new show’s material arose from his stand-up material.
His interest in entertainment initially led him to apply to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television as a second-year. Although Tripathy was twice rejected from the school, he continued to search for a literary agent to represent him. Later, at a UCLA Entertainment Networking Night, he met alumnus Michael Masukawa, current assistant to the CEO at Sonar Entertainment, who decided to mentor Tripathy by reading and commenting on his scripts. He eventually became Tripathy’s manager during and after Tripathy’s time at UCLA.
Masukawa said he was impressed with Tripathy’s accomplishments in modeling, acting and stand-up comedy in addition to his achievements in film. Tripathy also won the titles of Mr. Photogenic and Mr. India Global while participating in the Mr. and Miss India America beauty pageant in Los Angeles in 2012.
“What separates him from other young writers I meet is that he has all these different pitching points based off of his personality,” Masukawa said. “He has a lot going for him, and on top of that he’s a very talented writer.”
Vice President of Legal Affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Worldwide Acquisitions and UCLA alumnus David Ducar also met Tripathy through UCLA’s Entertainment Networking Night. Although Ducar does not speak on behalf of Sony Pictures, he said that he personally found Tripathy dynamic and engaging and agreed that Tripathy has promise.
In fact, when Ducar heard about Tripathy’s deal with 20th Century Fox, he said he was not surprised.
“He has so much energy and so many good creative ideas coming out of him, that it’s only a matter of time before a lot of them pop,” Ducar said.
Although Tripathy gained the favor of leaders in entertainment like Ducar, his parents did not initially support his passion because the entertainment industry is difficult to break into. However, Tripathy said that they have recently become more supportive of his career goals – but not because of his deal with 20th Century Fox.
“It wasn’t the success that let them support me more. It was seeing how passionate I was about what I was doing,” Tripathy said. “I think they realized that I would make it in this industry or die trying.”
Tripathy said students interested in entertainment careers should get creative about building their own point of entry. Although Tripathy was interested in writing, he worked as an actor, model and stand-up comic to help build his credibility and attack his goal of becoming a screenwriter from multiple angles.
“I still stand twice rejected from film school, but I kept going in all these different fields,” Tripathy said. “Eventually I was just in the right room at the right time, and now I have a TV show deal.”
Correction: Tripathy was named Mr. India Global. Masukawa is Tripathy’s manager.