How many times have you had a plan for your film, and you had to adapt?
Jason Roberts has spent his career adapting scenes to make budget, align crew schedules, and keep projects on time. He has worked on Jurassic World, Saving Private Ryan and Empire.
Listen to Jason and Tanya talk about adapting your next project to finish on time and under budget, and the power of adaptation in the changing landscape of Hollywood after Covid.
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Tanya Musgrave (00:00):
Welcome to There to Here, an educational podcast where industry professionals talk nuts and bolts on how they got from there to here. As this is a new podcast, we're really wanting feedback. So, go to media.collabinc.org, fill out the feedback survey and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. From CoLab, INC., I am Tanya Musgrave and today I have Jason Roberts, a producer, assistant director in the Directors Guild of America and known for working on projects such as Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic World, American Made and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Welcome to the show.
Jason Roberts (00:33):
Well, thank you and thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here. Appreciate the invite.
Tanya Musgrave (00:38):
I'm really excited. We got our contact through Korey Pollard, our previous guest and he was mentioning a lot of the things that you have a passion for education as well and that you have an interesting there to here story as well. So, how about we start there, how did you get from there to here?
Jason Roberts (00:53):
So, working in the entertainment industry, it's a company town. I was born and raised in Los Angeles however, I don't have any family in the industry. I was a very tenacious driven young kid and I always liked to be creative and I always felt that even not knowing what the business was there, I enjoyed going to movies and watching television shows and reading books. I'm a veracious reader. So, my singular focus was not knowing how to get in, but was the entertainment industry. My early love of movies stemmed actually from my grandmother. I lived with her three days out of the week. She always fell asleep with the TV on and I would watch every old late show. I saw every Alan Ladd movie, every serial, everything that was a classic movie. I got my education and in films that made me fall in love with them even more. So, cut to a few years later, my mom goes on a trip to China and so she found herself on this 30 day tour.
Jason Roberts (01:51):
On this tour was a gentleman named Murray Shishkel. My mom found out he was in the entertainment industry and of course being a Jewish mother and he was a writer and a producer and my mother said, "Oh, you have to meet my son." And so, for 30 days, I think she might've harangued him enough that he agreed to meet with me. He's 93 or 94 now, but for all that time he became a mentor to me and he was a gentleman, if you bothered to look him up, was Dustin Hoffman's partner for many years in Punch Productions. And he co-wrote and got an Academy Award nomination for writing Tootsie. And he was a playwright first and foremost, and Dustin Hoffman started in his first plays in Murray's plays off Broadway in the early '60s. So, he took me under his wing and while I was in high school, I started realizing that I was interested in the actual mechanics of how movies and television shows are made. And I didn't quite know how to go about being a part of that.
Jason Roberts (02:50):
So, I got a book from the Directors Guild that you could pay $10 for I think at the time, and I think it's online for free now. And it was the Directors Guild of America membership directory and it listed off everybody's name, all the directors, first assistant directors, second assistant directors, the news people that were part of the Guild, the unit production managers, some producers that did on both sides of the window. And it listed their name, most of their credits and it listed off their phone number and home address. And-
Tanya Musgrave (03:25):
And they have that for free online right now?
Jason Roberts (03:27):
Well, right now it's people's emails usually with their credit stuff. Yeah, if you go to the Directors Guild, you can look under the membership directory to look people up and you can find that. I picked out 100 assistant directors and I wrote them all a letter, and out of the 100 letters that I sent via mail, I think got 10 responses back and eight of them said good luck, or maybe seven of them said that. And two of them said, don't even bother, don't get in this business. And the last one said, "Hey, if you're interested, we might have something coming up. Feel free to call us at this number. We're starting a project and we'd be happy to have you meet with us to be an office PA."
Tanya Musgrave (04:09):
Jason Roberts (04:12):
And so, I showed up in a suit, which as a PA or intern or gopher you really don't have to do. I showed up and they're very nice, it's an independent film company called Atlantic Films. And the great thing about this company at that time is that it was one of the first independent film companies that was giving people a chance to do a job that they had never done before. And what I mean by that is they were giving writers a chance to direct, actors a chance to produce and direct or write that were already established. What they would do is their formula was a million dollars, 30 days, it would go limited release and then video and they make their money back. And I ended up working on this small movie called Cop that James Woods was starring in and producing in and co-wrote with Stanley Kubrick's partner, James B. Harris. I interviewed to be the office PA and they hired me at $15 a day cash under the table. I'd show up after school and that's what they paid me, $15 a day. I'll never forget that.
Jason Roberts (05:16):
And part way through prep and into the movie, James Woods either fired his assistant or somebody had to go or whatever and I became James Woods' assistant on that movie and I was 16 or 17. When I built up a little bit of experience, I said, "Well, how do I get into studio pictures?" What I would do is in some of my errands and runs or as they have you go out and do, would take you on different studio lots. So, I always carried my resume with me and I would wander around these lots. I got to know the lots inside and out. I got to know all the security guards, I got to know all the cleaning crews, I would walk into everybody's offices. I know, not kosher. I remember going on the Warner Hollywood lot, which is now just called the lot. I went into Frank Sinatra's office and I sat at his desk and I saw these things.
Tanya Musgrave (06:00):
Jason Roberts (06:00):
No, it was this crazy time because at night everything's unlocked. All the cleaning people are there and you-
Tanya Musgrave (06:06):
I feel like you'd get arrested doing that today.
Jason Roberts (06:08):
Probably, I'm not encouraging that. I'm just telling you what I did and the security's a little tighter now. And so, I took that with my resumes when I happened to be on lots and I'd walk around and find all the production offices for movies that were prepping or shooting or TV shows that were starting up, and I would drop my resume off. And after a while I got a call to work on a TV show, and I slowly worked my way into being the second assistant to John Ritter at the time. I was less interested in school as I wasn't doing the work I was doing and I didn't quite even tell my family that I was not going to school a lot of the time and just working. But one thing that sparked me was I was always watching the one person that was the center of the hive and that person was the first assistant director. And so, I said that's what I want to do and I started to guide myself in that direction, but at the same time I was doing all these different things. I was also applying to the Directors Guild of America Producers Training Plan, which is a joint program that's given by the Directors Guild and Producers Guild.
Tanya Musgrave (07:12):
And they still have this program today?
Jason Roberts (07:14):
They do. It's a great program and a great way to get in the business. But for my particular period of time, the 2,500 or 3000 people that took the test, they accepted 11 of us. The year that I got in, it was my third year taking the test and I got turned down two years previous. I went through the program and they placed you on shows with assistant directors as a trainee learning under them. Even being a nonunion AD and a PA, when you start a new job, you really get a whole new modus operandi and you have to retrain your brain and rethink about what it is you're doing because you're in a whole other level.
Tanya Musgrave (07:49):
Okay. So, I actually have a question on that.
Jason Roberts (07:51):
Tanya Musgrave (07:51):
So, you worked on a lot of nonunion and then went union. So, the predominant audience that listens to this is nonunion right now, and honestly there is a question on whether or not you should. So, what would your advice be to people who are deciding whether or not they even want to be in the union?
Jason Roberts (08:10):
Well, I'll tell you, there's a couple of things that you can use, the pros and cons to weigh each thing. I found that on independent movies and nonunion movies, you get to be more creative. You get to be more involved because you're doing more work and more jobs and I think it also is a better training ground to start out as I do television for a different reason, is that with big movies and union and studio features and things like that, sometimes the way you solve a problem is throwing money at it. And you can get a little lazy that way or you can get a little complacent that way, I guess is the right way to say it. And when you're doing independent movies or student films or things like that, you have to really be creative financially too because you don't have money to throw out of it.
Jason Roberts (08:50):
Now, the great thing about being in the Director's Guild or being in the union, when you get to be a part of that Guild, it guarantees you what is their basic agreement. What that means is you're going to actually get paid a reasonable salary for the work that you do. To put it in perspective, I haven't been second second assistant director in 20 years, I think. And I think now the starting salary for a second second AD union person in Los Angeles, I think it's somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 a week or more. And you're looking at non-union first ADs and UPMs or producers that aren't even making that. So, I think that getting paid for your work and working as hard as we do, there's nothing wrong with that. I think depending on what you want to do, there's a lot of people that have been very happy in the independent world and I just found that I liked the access to in bigger canvases and the idea of honestly getting paid for it as, as a result of that.
Tanya Musgrave (09:51):
Jason Roberts (09:52):
For me, I was a PA and a nonunion AD for six years. I went through the training program for two years before I even got in the Directors Guild at the bottom rung there. You know what I mean? So, I put in eight years before I even was invited in the Guild. And so, to get in, you can do it both ways. You can take the DGA training test, maybe keep taking until you get in. It took me three times, I got in and do that program for two years, or you can work on those nonunion days. There's absolutely no shortcut and I think the people that you're working for don't respect anyone who does get a shortcut. So anyways, in order to establish myself, I at the time took every job that nobody else wanted, which was working one movie all nights, which was 80 nights in a row or working in the desert in 100 degree weather every day or working with mechanical effects that no one had done before or working in water for an entire show. Those were shows that were very difficult that nobody wanted to do, that I was the first person to raise my hand and say, "I'll do it."
Jason Roberts (10:48):
Because what an assistant director does is answer questions and solve problems and I wanted to have a lot of arrows in my quiver of any variable that came up to be able to do that. I went from being an assistant director to finding another mentor. His name is Howard Griffith. He is a line producer. He became a father figure to me, another mentor. I was on Transformers 5 the last night and was in London shooting and I'd called up Howard and just said, "Overall, I'm really unhappy and I don't know, maybe it's just where I'm at in my career that I just don't know if I can do this anymore." And he said, "Well, great. I have a proposition for you. If you want to get off the hamster wheel, turn down all the big movies. Stick with me for three years. I got a new TV series, it's called the Orville with Seth McFarland. The first year I'll make you the first AD. The second year I'll make you the UPM. The third year I'll make you the producer and the fourth year, I'll retire and give you the show," or whatever it was going to be at that point. And so, I said yes, and he is a man of his word and that's exactly what happened. And that's where I find myself these days being a line producer or producer on these shows now and working that way.
Tanya Musgrave (11:54):
Okay, fantastic. So, what I wanted you to expand on was you said very quickly that you went from AD to UPM to line producer. Is that correct?
Jason Roberts (12:05):
Tanya Musgrave (12:05):
So, for a lot of our listeners, I know that we are from smaller nonunion sets that combine all of those roles into one and they just say first AD and that's it. I'm curious what the differences are creatively and technically?
Jason Roberts (12:22):
Okay. Well, that's a great question and it's going to hopefully get a decent enough answer. So, let's say you have a script and in the script it says six elephants are in the scene and the AD will get the script and he'll break it down and he'll say, "Okay, and we'll shoot it on this day because we're going to be in the fields where the elephants work and all that." And they'll go to the UPM and line producer and the UPM and the line producer will say, "Well, wait a minute, we can't afford six elephants, so let's just say it's five elephants." So then, the AD goes away and says, "Great, I'll get my five elephants next Tuesday when we're shooting over on the field." Now, the AD goes away and doesn't think about those elephants. That's how an AD thinks, solve questions, answer it, move forward.
Jason Roberts (13:00):
Now, the UPM has to sit there and say, "Okay, where am I getting the elephants? When I get the elephants, who's taking care of them? How am I feeding and where am I housing them? What insurance do I have to get for them? What protocols have to be set up," and all the hundreds of variables that go along with having five elephants on your set. And the line producer will weigh in on the bigger stuff where the studio says no, or the director says I really wanted six and they'll be the person to say, "Here's why you need it to be five." And it's a group, it's a triangle between the UPM and the line producer and maybe the accountant. It's funny, I brought a quote right here that I wanted to read at some point from Ulysses S Grant. And I apply this as an AD, as a producer and as a UPM to certain degrees, where I'm going to read the quote and it's all going to make sense in a second because I'm going to tell you how a UPM and a line producer thinks, okay?
Jason Roberts (13:48):
This is from Ron Chernow's book Grant. "He also noticed how decisively Grant acted under pressure. When brought a request for a major expenditure, Grant approved it with startling speed. Rustling asked Grant if he was sure he was correct. No, I am not, he shot back. But in war anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong, we shall soon find it out and can do the other thing, but not to decide wastes both time and money and may ruin everything." So, that is something that an AD or UPM or producer would have in the back of their mind to think. But especially an AD because time is money. Now, a UPM and line producer, you have to retrain your brain. You have to slow down and stop and actually not move fast. So, when someone comes to you, "I need this answer right here." You have to say, "Wait a minute, what's the question behind the question?" Because you know you're seeing something in a bigger macro way. As you move up, your sight lines get wider. You're seeing a bigger picture. Does that make any sense?
Tanya Musgrave (14:47):
Yeah. So, how did things change creatively for you? Were you able to be more creative or less creative?
Jason Roberts (14:53):
More creative, and I like to think of myself as a creative partner and a creative producer too, not just a line producer. I think of myself as a creative person. I can't not do something and not feel the urge to be creatively involved. Sometimes it's welcome and sometimes it's not, but if I feel something creatively that fits, I'm going to say something, even if it's behind closed doors to somebody else to get to the person that way, you know? Because it's just in my nature and having that savvy in the business and understanding politically how you do things, which makes you a better producer. Being financially creative is really important too. Typically, and listen, the future's changing, I know we're going to get into that, but typically for those that don't know, and just a baseline, a one hour drama is shot over eight days, which is 12 hour days, which is 96 hours.
Jason Roberts (15:42):
So, if you have a typical script, which is anywhere from 48 to 55 pages, and you have anywhere from 50 to 60 scenes and you know you have 96 hours and you know you have six actors in one scene and you have to get the coverage. Every piece of coverage you have to move the camera's going to take amount of time. The math presents itself. Just in the back of your head, you have 96 hours, you have 60 scenes. You can't do 60 scenes that are going to take three hours, you'll never finish your show.
Tanya Musgrave (16:06):
Jason Roberts (16:07):
So, sometimes a UPM or line producer will see some of these things and say, "You know, maybe this part of the story you don't need to focus on, or you can rewrite this or bring this up in a later episode. Or maybe you can cut out two of the actors out of this scene and not have it as six hander and have it at four hander and shoot it in a one," or whatever it is. Or, "Maybe you can rewrite this." What I like to do is you can just say, "Hey, here's 10 or 12 ideas that you can run with anyone you want or come up with your own, but if you save on three of those things, that'll buy you $500,000." So, that's creative. Every show is different and it comes with different variables. Myself, I love this business and most of the people that are watching this are in this business because they can't sit behind a desk and be the nine to five clock punchers, that they need that variables and variety. So, I think everybody understands that to some degree.
Tanya Musgrave (16:58):
Yeah. Variables, variety, as well as the talent for adaptation. That seems to be the theme of your job, of your talent.
Jason Roberts (17:06):
Well, like I said, that's just by sheer number of years of doing this that some things stick. Even a slow guy like me, it's going to get in there.
Tanya Musgrave (17:16):
So, using your talent of adaptation, I'm going to put you in the situation of this coronavirus right here. And I've heard several different theories on, this is actually going to change a lot or the converse being that this is going to have a relatively short tail because it hasn't lasted very long. And so, I'm curious what your take is and how you think the best way to adapt to this situation is.
Jason Roberts (17:44):
Okay. Well, I'll preface it by saying that William Goldman's book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, nobody knows anything. And that really applies to this right now in the sense that there's not enough data yet, like reopening and regetting back into productions and using them as test markers and shows starting to film again to see how it works for them. So, until we get a lot of data, it's all just guesswork. I have been talking to a lot of people and I have been working on a plan for Fox, working on breaking down budgeting and scheduling some what were pilots and are now a first year series. Some of the calendars that I've gotten when they want to start aren't quite realistic. They want to start prepping in June and July, shooting August through November for the early ones.
Jason Roberts (18:34):
And since this has started, I've been telling them and they've been telling themselves, because they have a lot of people at these places in high levels that are paid to do this, that they need to spend these next 60 to 90 days figuring out how you're able to work in the pandemic in production. Starting with the wider macro, how you even get on a lot and how you get on the stage, to how every single department works throughout the variables of their days. You have to remember, there's going to be about five different agencies that are going to institute rules that all have to pass muster first before any of these can be implemented, which is why I don't think two months from now is realistic. Because you're going to get rules from the federal government, the state government, your local government including OSHA, and you're going to get rules from the studios and unions, okay? All those people are going to have the rules, but above and beyond all of that, it's going to be the people who, after you get all these rules of how you work in this situation, are willing to feel that that is safe enough for them to go back to work or willing to take a chance to do that. And it's going to be tough-
Tanya Musgrave (19:35):
Yeah. We were having a conversation with our entertainment lawyer. We had a conversation with some small businesses before talking about, "Hey, how are we going to start up production again?" And it was actually something where he was saying, "It's something to be extremely careful of because there's an argument for duress. These people who have been out of work for a while not knowing if another project is going to come on board. And then, also having a lot of lawyers circling around just waiting to help all of these people."
Jason Roberts (20:09):
Yeah. Here's a couple of the things that have been presented or bandied about or discussions that I've been having at very high levels with presidents and senior vice presidents of productions at the different studios as they're trying to figure it out. When this happened, we were in the middle of a content war, okay? And this is why it's good for everybody coming up right now. All the people that are looking at how to get in the business and looking out of work, it's going to be a great moment for them, and I'm going to tell you why. You have Netflix and Amazon and then Hulu and now Disney+ and all these other streamers that start coming up with the technology. But as they started to see the writing on the wall, so they started spending upwards of between eight and 16 billion a year on making shows.
Jason Roberts (20:46):
So, literally everywhere I went, they're like, "We got 40 shows going into production. We got 15, 20 shows going into production." They don't have enough... The thing worldwide that was the deficit before this all happened, that still is a deficit, there's not enough stage space worldwide and there's not enough capable crew worldwide, period. So, we started with this whole idea of content stream that now got stopped from the pandemic, right? And it needs to be restarted quickly enough so that they can keep their law rules going with everything so people can watch all their shows. So, what's going to happen when we come back is that they're going to need a lot of people right away because it's going to be what I call Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Because everybody that was on a show before, that was furloughed from a show or let go from a show and mostly all they're keeping right now are the actors under contract.
Jason Roberts (21:36):
So, they're probably, I would assume, a lot of people that were not happy on the shows that they were on and don't want to go back to them. There are a lot of people that know that they're going to get better offers on shows that they really want to do. There's a lot of older producers that I know that may not want to go back on location for their own health and decide they don't want to do a show. So, it's going to be a very big Wild West is what it's going to be. And it's in the studios and streamers' best interest to lock people in as soon as possible, and that's a fine line of when you start these people because you have to start... I know some friends that are producing some stuff for movies for Netflix that are starting research and development and production designers early so that we can pay them and keep them employed. And line producers like me may start a little bit earlier with the show and the writers to help guide it for when it's ready to start prepping so that we can just jump right into it and get those streams up and running soon enough. So, I think what's going to happen is there's going to be a lot of opportunity. So, should we get into the different ideas?
Tanya Musgrave (22:37):
Jason Roberts (22:38):
I think that actors are the most vulnerable people because they can't be protected like everyone else because they got to be on camera without protective gear. Creatively, I think people are going to rewrite scenes to accommodate this kind of world, like a kissing scene even. And I think when people come back, they're going to quarantine enough to know that they're okay at that time, because the only way that you can guarantee people aren't asymptomatic or have a part of this is to quarantine them, or if there's a vaccine, and that's a ways away. And so, that's why I don't think we're all going to start in a couple of months, I think. So, that's going to be one thing to figure out that's going to be very difficult, but on a base level, it's in general, things are no one will drive onto a studio lot without getting their temperature taken. I think until they figure out an antibody test where you can go in and in 15 or 20 minutes get whatever idea if you quarantined before that you are not symptomatic and don't have the infection, that's when it's going to be safe enough to even start this process. Or they're going to just be like, "We're not going to insure it. And like you said, there's going to be a lot of lawyers waiting to see what happens, you know?
Jason Roberts (23:46):
But that's just the basic wide level stuff, but if you think about the small level stuff of how you deal with production every day, it starts at crew parking. How many people can get in a van and where do they have to sit in a van? And by the way, you're not going to be filming on as many locations right now. And by the way, you're not going to be filming with a typical television crew of 120 people anymore. You're going to have 50 people and how these people work are going to be interesting. Craft service will cease to exist as we know it right now. These are more base level things, and this is all in my report. And we're vetting this with medical professionals and with legal professionals, but once again, still doesn't mean anything because there are no data and rules yet. But these are ideas having worked 34 years in a production of what it is.
Tanya Musgrave (24:28):
It's going to throw off your timetable, huh?
Jason Roberts (24:30):
Everything's [inaudible 00:24:32]. Well, let me tell you about the timetable. Let's start with makeup and hair, okay? So, not only do you have to have these people show up ahead of their call to get people ready, but you have to have them show up ahead to get tested on the first day of every episode, so that they're good for four days, right? So, you're not maybe shooting five day weeks, maybe you're shooting four day weeks and taking that that Friday off. But let's say you get the antibody test and you can do it in 20 minutes. You have to add that time, which technically probably financially won't be work time. So, let's just go back to makeup for a minute. Now, you can only have one hair and one makeup in at a time in that station because they're far enough apart. But then, after every person that goes in the trailer, you need 15 minutes with this UV light, not only cleaning equipment and stuff, to guarantee that the trailer has no bacteria, viruses or anything in it.
Jason Roberts (25:14):
This is the minutia that I'm talking about with every department. Tyler Perry just came out with an idea that a few other people came out with. Basically, specific to his studio because he has a entire complex that can house everybody, so Tyler Perry wants to house everyone and make it like the Merchant Marines where you sign up for duty for this show and you don't leave until the show's done. See what I'm saying?
Tanya Musgrave (25:38):
Jason Roberts (25:38):
So, there's different-
Tanya Musgrave (25:38):
It's like a summer camp, so you have-
Jason Roberts (25:40):
It's like a pod theory. If you have your pods and you can guarantee this way, and these are just ideas. Nobody actually knows yet and nobody can act on these until those five or six government agencies that I told you and the studios and the unions all agree to this. And I think just the best ideas will win, the ones that are realistic because at a certain point you can also do too much, that is counterproductive and you'll never be able to make the show.
Tanya Musgrave (26:06):
So, I guess one of my questions is you say you're not going to have all of these people, you're going to have a crew from 100 down to 50. What roles do you see being eliminated?
Jason Roberts (26:18):
I see parts of it. So, on a studio union TV show, you're going to have five to eight grips and five to eight electricians and special effects guys, five or six of those guys, and 10 wardrobe people. But I think now, you're going to have to have three grips. I think what's going to happen is that the rules are that if anyone's feeling sick, they go home, right? So, because you're working with less people on every crew, there's going to be a lot more people to fill in. A lot of those substitute teachers, if you will. A lot of substitute grips, electrics, camera people, stuff like that, that are going to bounce around from show to show, because not everyone's going to be healthy on all these shows at the same time. And I think there's going to be a big pool of people that you'll be able to resource it to call and say, "You're coming in for these three days or the rest of this episode," or whatever that is.
Jason Roberts (26:59):
Once again, all speculation because we don't have the data. I'm just taking it from a producorial and an AD point of view of the variables of how you accomplish something and what you would need to do that. You have to find out what that balance and what that line.
Tanya Musgrave (27:14):
Jason Roberts (27:14):
And I just told you about two little things between makeup and transpo and craft service. Props will be the only people to handle a prop, with an actor will have to wipe it down. There'll have to be certain protocols for that. It affects everybody.
Tanya Musgrave (27:27):
Well, one of my friends is actually into props as well as wardrobe and I saw, it was just a Facebook status, that he was saying it was the more the people talk about this, the more that they talk about my department being eliminated. And I'm just like, well, I guess I don't see that necessarily because it's fairly essential to be on screen.
Jason Roberts (27:48):
I think you'll need every department to whatever degree it's different. I don't think your friend has anything to worry about. You need prop people. You need people that are in charge of weapons and hand props and whatever that is, and you need the skills of those people to be able to fashion something on the fly. Those are going to be necessary, but it's going to be tooled down. There's not going to be the same amount of people that you had before, which was an over abundance of people. You have six prop guys, you're not going to have them anymore. I think everything's going to change. I think the way you light and shoot is going to be different too, because you're not going to have the same amount of equipment or people that are going to be able to use the same resources at the same pace.
Jason Roberts (28:24):
So, that's going to change. But to go to your friend the prop guy, there's going to be needing people, but on a bigger picture, let's talk the production office for a minute. That bullpen's going away. It's going to be a virtual production office and it's going to operate at a different level, and this is what I'm sitting and going through right now. Every single department, every single person on every single show on how you mitigate and work with it to be able to continue to do what you do on every production, which is all different. So, it's not easy and it's not always going to be the right answer too.
Tanya Musgrave (28:54):
So, the document that you're writing up is advice for the studio. So, my question is what is your advice particularly for artists in how to position themselves with all of the state of things presently?
Jason Roberts (29:07):
Okay. Well, depending on what kind of artists, whether it's an actor or writer or director or an ADA, a technician, anything like that, the first and foremost thing is that people have to know what their own comfort level is of being able to go back to work. It may be financially driven because you need to eat. For creative people that figure out that they're ready to go back to work, there's going to be opportunity because there's going to be 400 shows that are ready to go into work. Every company is going to figure out what their rules are and they're going to be stumbling along like everybody else. There's just-
Tanya Musgrave (29:40):
Yeah. It might be that under this cloud of confusion, that's where you slip it in, huh?
Jason Roberts (29:45):
Maybe it is. Maybe you go in as one of these trained health and welfare workers that monitors everybody and maybe you turn that into a career that works in a different way in the future. I don't know.
Tanya Musgrave (29:57):
You have no idea, yeah.
Jason Roberts (29:58):
I like to always say everyone will get their chance and opportunity if you're tenacious and want to do it work wise enough. Sooner or later, they can't say no. All of the people that are in a position to help you out will recognize that. They don't need to be hit over the head and say, look at me. They're smart enough and savvy enough to recognize things and they know that everybody will deserve that chance. The right person will give you that chance and it'll organically come around. On all my shows, I've hired somebody to work on my team that has never been in the business before. Giving back is something very important too. You can't just take from the well, you have to give too.
Tanya Musgrave (30:34):
Jason Roberts (30:34):
You know what I mean? So, there's a tree that just all the branches keep giving and this is really how it's done, and you have to recognize it too. And I'm going to go off on a small story here because I think it's important. So, I was working on this show, there was a Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Minnie Driver movie, and there was a unit production manager on that, and I was the second AD. And he was an older guy at the time to me, and I never really gave him the respect or the due that he deserved. And about 10 years after that, I was having an epiphany about my track in the business, and I thought that I did do him a disservice. And he was a genuinely nice guy, and so I called him up out of the blue and I said, "Hey Art, this is Jason." And I said, "Would you like to go to lunch?"
Jason Roberts (31:18):
And I went to lunch with him and I sat down and I told him how I felt and he said, "I'd never even felt that." And we started up this friendship. And here's a guy, I had done this while I was working with him. He was the first AD on All the President's Men and all these other great classic movies, that could have given me a lot of training in history and background in the job that I was currently doing that had took me 10 years later to have lunches with them to hear these stories. And he passed away about five or six years after that, but priceless gold that you need to honor and respect because it really does teach you a lot because they've gone through it ahead of you. And I think if you want to move up in this business, you need to actively find someone that's a mentor, but you have to be genuine about it because if you're not genuine about it, it's very clear and it'll never become that way.
Jason Roberts (32:07):
And that could be someone that you just write a little note to, or that you get their email and say, "I just really respect your work," And you get that one email back. Whatever that is, whatever works for you. It's possible. I am proof of that myself right here and I still maintain all these relationships. And I think ultimately that's what this business is about or any business, but particularly since this is the business I'm in, is that it's all about the interpersonal relationships. And if you're a good person and you're sympathetic and empathetic and you work hard, I think it'll all turn out okay in the long run for you.
Tanya Musgrave (32:38):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). For sure. Well, do you have any additional thoughts that you would like to add?
Jason Roberts (32:47):
I think yes, I do actually, if I can be a little more philosophical also.
Tanya Musgrave (32:53):
Jason Roberts (32:53):
There's two things. I got this book that if people are interested in ADing, and then I'm going to go to the [inaudible 00:00:33:00], this is a really fascinating book. It's called... Can you read it?
Tanya Musgrave (33:03):
Yeah, it's called Ready When You Are.
Jason Roberts (33:06):
No, the rest of the title's in the small print there. Ready When You Are, Mr. Coppola, Mr. Spielberg. Mr. Crowe.
Tanya Musgrave (33:11):
Jason Roberts (33:11):
And it's written by Jerry Ziesmer, who's this guy. He's still alive. He was probably the biggest first assistant director in the '60s and '70s, the top guy. And he did every movie that you can think of, including Apocalypse Now for Coppola, including all of Cameron Crowe's movies up to a certain point. And I did Almost Famous with him and he taught me a lot. And this is a book of stories of his journey from here to there or there to here. And there's a section about 100 pages in it of Apocalypse Now alone that will blow your mind if you're into movies, and I think it's... Just so you can look it up, it's done by Scarecrow Press.
Tanya Musgrave (33:53):
Jason Roberts (33:55):
So, that's something I wanted to recommend. And then, I just wanted to talk about what people do personally during this time because all of these opportunities are available, as I said earlier, where you can talk to people like me or I can even talk to people that I'm interested in talking to because there's always somebody interesting to somebody.
Tanya Musgrave (34:12):
Jason Roberts (34:13):
I think it's important to remember that you don't actually have to be productive all the time in this time, and to give yourself a little bit of a break. Give yourself that opportunity to say it's okay to not do anything some of the time, and it's okay to feel alone or want to connect on a personal level with your friends or your family or be alone because it's overwhelming. And so, don't... I always like to say comparison is the killer of all joy. So, when you hear these stories about all these people doing all these amazing things in lockdown, it's like, fuck that. You know what I mean? Do what's right for you. The only person you're in competition with is yourself.
Tanya Musgrave (34:54):
Jason Roberts (34:55):
And that's really important to know, so you won't feel as depressed or you won't feel as isolated that way when you feel like, you know what, this is that day where I'm doing that and it's okay.
Tanya Musgrave (35:05):
Wow, that's amazing. And I really appreciate your thoughts about not having to be productive. A big thing that Korey and I talked about was boundaries in the industry and how it's a healthy thing to be able to sit back and say, "You know what? No, I'm actually going to I'm going to take time for myself and I don't have to push."
Jason Roberts (35:27):
My cooking and French are off the charts right now. I'm just playing. That's my joy. My wife, my dog and cooking and it's great. The positive thing about this pandemic is that relationships win. Even though my wife traveled with me full time, I would go away to a set for 12 hours and our time was limited and we get such great quality, amazing time together that you couldn't wish for anything better for me personally. And our animals win because they're shocked that we're around them so much and they get so much attention.
Tanya Musgrave (36:03):
Jason Roberts (36:04):
So, you just have to find your joy. That's what it is.
Tanya Musgrave (36:07):
Yeah. Well, thank you.
Jason Roberts (36:09):
No, thank you so much for having me here. I really appreciate the time and reflecting on some of my history but I've enjoyed talking with you.
Tanya Musgrave (36:16):
Yeah, we've enjoyed having you. Thank you so much for taking the time and for joining us.
Jason Roberts (36:21):
And I will say one thing just before we go, since I'm not on any social media and I don't really...
Tanya Musgrave (36:26):
Jason Roberts (36:28):
If anyone of your listening audience wants to reach out to you and you feel it's a worthwhile to pass on an email to me, I'm happy to accept it that way, if it crosses those barometers and-
Tanya Musgrave (36:42):
Oh, that's amazing.
Jason Roberts (36:44):
Otherwise, all they have are my other podcasts, interviews and IMDB.
Tanya Musgrave (36:49):
Take him up on it then, folks.
Jason Roberts (36:51):
There's a lot of knowledge in all those things, in everything that I did.
Tanya Musgrave (36:57):
Yeah. Well, take him up on it folks. So, if you enjoyed this interview, follow us right here. Check out more episodes at colabinc.org. And if you have comments, know somebody who would be great on this show, or if you want to get in touch with Jason, go ahead and send in your suggestions and write me at email@example.com. Again, we're really wanting feedback, so go to media.colabinc.org and fill out that feedback survey and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Jason, thank you again so much for your time.
Jason Roberts (37:29):
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Bye
Tanya Musgrave (37:30):
Fantastic. We will see you next time on There to Here.