From Youngstown to Hollywood: This is Vera Herbert

By Frances Clause

No one expects to be launched into the Hollywood spotlight, but that is exactly what happened to Vera Herbert, an Ursuline High School graduate and writer and supervising producer of “This is Us.”

The American comedy-drama television series is one of the most well-written and critically acclaimed, with 20 Emmy Award nominations and two wins in its first three seasons.

But with opportunities come challenges in making it in the entertainment industry, and Herbert delivered a short talk on this topic in the auditorium of the Williamson College of Business Administration Sept. 27.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Probably in college you could have gone to a few more parties,’ but now I get to go to the Emmys, which is a better party,” she said to the audience.

Herbert’s love for writing began in a college creative writing course she took when she was just 15 years old. Her first published pieces were two short fictional stories in Youngstown State University’s “Penguin Review.”

Vera Herbert, writer and supervising producer of “This is Us,” delivers a short talk about the opportunities and challenges in making it in the entertainment industry in the Williamson College of Business Administration auditorium Sept. 27. Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

“I would come home from school at Ursuline, and I would just go in my basement and write these stories,” she said. “As a teenager, getting to get published and knowing I was able to compete and sort of be on par with what college students were doing was really life-affirming.”

Herbert’s life affirmations continued when she worked as an intern on the first season of “Awkward” while she was a senior in college, but this didn’t come without some intimidation.

“There was a lot of very smart people. Luckily, they were a very warm and loving group of people, who for some of them it was their first time on a show, even though they were a higher level than me,” she said, referencing the team she worked with.

Herbert said the team let her grow with the show, describing how the opportunities allowed her to “put her foot in the door” because of the small staff.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking and hard to know when to speak up or when not to speak up,” she said. “Should I pitch an idea or just stay quiet — but I sort of just learned to feel the room and know, ‘Yes, this is a moment where no one else is talking so I think I can say something.’”

Herbert “felt the room” as the hourlong Q&A session left the audience filled with YSU professors, community members and students of various majors with valuable information.

Joining the discussion were some of Herbert’s former teachers from Ursuline and her husband, Brandon Neslund, who had advice of his own to give to students pursuing their dreams.

“My only advice is just to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing,” Neslund said. “So, if it’s editing or writing or acting or anything else, do it for as many hours as you possibly can.”

Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

Herbert echoed the advice, stressing that even courses outside of writing were valuable and really contributed to her advancements.

“Whatever your major is, making sure you spend the time to become as much of a master at it as you can [is valuable],” she said. “People recognize hard work.”