Alum sells new show to Disney+, crediting his time at Emerson for his success

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Photo: Courtesy of Chen Xu

Headshot of Chen Xu ’15

By Rachel Hackam

A new Disney show following a talented yet obnoxious lawyer as his life is upended by an unexpected visitor was created by an Emerson alum just six years after his graduation. 

Chen Xu’s new show, “Small and Mighty,” follows the main character as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and reinvention. 

“The show really focuses on the idea of looking through the surface to find what’s truly valuable to oneself and the world we live in,” Xu, who graduated with a BFA in TV and film production in 2015, said. “The core message is heartwarming and universal, and the lighthearted presentation through the show embodies the message perfectly.”

Xu said he sees himself as an observer and a technician rather than an artist, a mentality he feels is unique among writers. 

“A writer observes what’s around them, using stories to present a message, being a technician refers to all the technical aspects of writing including structure, character design, and individual jokes,” Xu said. “Everyone can train to write a legal drama, a sitcom, a horror, etc., but the core message of a show is the gem of the whole thing. Without it, everything is just words with no soul.”

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At Emerson, Xu studied studio TV productions and producing, and worked closely with producer and director Kevin Bright ‘76, who also taught a class about producing TV pilots.

“Xu was always willing to work harder than anyone on projects,” Bright said. “After working with him for a while, I said to Eric Fox, ‘I have a strong feeling Xu is going to make it one day.’” 

“I thank Xu for making me look good,” Bright continued. 

Xu said he felt that the energy and craziness he encountered at Emerson enabled him to open up, and led him to work with Disney. 

“I remember going to literally every audition for orgs on campus,” Xu said. “From the Emerson Channel and EIV, to fashion society and contemporary dance. Even though I knew nothing about fashion and couldn’t dance, Emerson made me feel like I could do anything. If they said anyone can come, I went. When the Disney opportunity came up, there was no reason not to go for it.”

Xu said his time at Emerson Los Angeles program served as a turning point in his career. 

“Studying and interning right in the center of Hollywood was like a fairytale,” Xu said. “It was so much more than a semester by the beach, it was a turning point in my life. The amazing alumni network and faculty connected me to so many new opportunities.” 

The writing and producing process for “Small and Mighty” was very collaborative, since Xu said he believes writing for television and film cannot be a one-person job.

“There were times that it was frustrating and I didn’t know how to link some plot lines, but then there were other times when it was extremely satisfying,” Xu said. “There was one episode where I actually cried after writing the climax scene. I really liked that particular legal case, so when all the emotions built up towards the climax, it just hit me and the scene became a cathartic release for both myself and the character.” 

In times when he finds himself struggling with a scene, Xu reminds himself that it is just a story, which allows him to examine his writing from a new perspective. 

“I am still a rookie writer and writing is a lifelong journey to improve upon,” Xu said. “I advise other young writers to find your angle for a project and stick to it. Don’t simply insert little details because they seem cool or your original idea will get lost.” 

Xu is currently in Beijing developing a few feature films and hopes to write as much as he can to present more stories in the future. 

“I am so grateful to all the people who have helped me in this process, from the producer who brought me this opportunity and the Disney executives who believed in me, to other writers who have helped me along the way,” Xu said. “Like I said, writing for film is a collective process and I’m only filled with gratitude.”