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Ben Murphy, ’08 (left), and Michael Tamburrino at the Whiskey Bear office in California.

Ben Murphy, ’08, initially thought he would pursue a career in acting. But when he enrolled at Niagara University and was introduced to the variety of career options there were in the entertainment industry, he switched his focus to working behind the camera. Today, Murphy is founder and president of Whiskey Bear, a creative production studio based in Hermosa Beach, Calif. His most recent work, a sci-fi romantic comedy called “Molli and Max In The Future," which premiered at SXSW 2023, is drawing comparisons to “When Harry Met Sally” and garnering critical acclaim.

Murphy followed in the footsteps of his father, Timothy, ’81, and his brother, Joshua, ’05, to become a Purple Eagle.

“Niagara was in my blood,” he said. “It was a really great experience. The professors were amazing; they had a personal connection with their students and supported you and what you wanted to do.”

Murphy was a sophomore studying communication and media studies at Niagara when he took the first steps toward his career. A cousin, who learned that Murphy was hoping to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, offered to connect him with an internship at Endeavor, one of the three major talent agencies in Beverly Hills at that time. Murphy ended up completing two summer internships with the organization.

After graduating a semester early, Murphy made his move to the West Coast, where he continued his work in talent and management as an executive assistant with The Gersh Agency. After a year, he shifted his focus to development and production, working on films, tv shows, music videos, and commercials as a freelancer, including award-winning films “Nightingale,” a 2014 psychological thriller starring David Oyelowo, and “The Apollo,” a 2019 documentary on the internationally renowned New York City theatre. After a brief time as a head of production and executive producer for Lifeboat Productions, Murphy returned to freelance work and began thinking about establishing his own production company.

The pandemic put those plans on pause, he said, but it also provided an opportunity for him to add another Emmy Award-winning film, “Lucy and Desi,” to his resume. The documentary, which explored the relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, was directed by Amy Poehler and produced in collaboration with Imagine Entertainment, founded by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.

“That was a great experience,” he said, noting that he worked with Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. to share their parents’ story. “It's a love story and, what I love about it, too, is that they were so much a part of television history and how television is still made today.”

In 2021, Murphy launched his own production company, Whiskey Bear. The venture enables him to take on the kinds of projects he most enjoys—“We're genre agnostic, but we are attracted to anything that's original or out of the box” —as well as work with his best friend, Michael Tamburrino.

“He came on board about two years ago as my head of production,” Murphy said. “We have been friends since kindergarten.”

“Molli and Max” is an impressive start for the company. It’s been Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was a New York Times Critic’s Pick, and was distributed theatrically in February. They are currently in production on their next feature documentary and in development on their next feature scripted film. Murphy is also attached as an executive producer for an upcoming Beach Boys documentary, directed by Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny, which will be available for streaming May 24, 2024, on Disney+.

Murphy says that seeing his work advertised on billboards or purchasing one of his films on VOD is a “surreal experience,” and is quick to add that his wife’s support has been critical to his success in a business that often requires long hours and extensive travel.

He also appreciates his cousin’s mentorship and wants to pay it forward for future film industry colleagues. 

“I don't think I would have had the career I had if I didn't have that opportunity where my cousin helped me,” he said, “and I feel that Niagara was a big part of the path that led me to where I am today. I was very fortunate to have the professors and the friends and the relationships I made there, and I would love to help out other students with internships to show them the door and allow them to then run with it and make it their own.”