Joe Escalante: Entertainment Lawyer

When I was last living in LA in 2007 I stumbled upon what would become and will always be my favorite FM radio station: Indie 103.1 (R.I.P.) Everything about it was cool: the logo, the hosts,  the programming and the music. You couldn’t find the kind of music they played on a major commercial radio station. There was some truly different stuff on Indie 103.1.  For example, Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols hosted “Jonesy’s Jukebox,” and sometimes he’d bring in co-hosts for “Jonesy’s Jukebox Jury.” The random group he assembled would listen to, and judge, new music. If a co-host liked the song they would say “mustard,” and if they didn’t they would say “pants.” Maybe it was the other way around, but you get the gist.

I fell in love with the talk show Barely Legal Radio, on 103.1, hosted by Joe Escalante. His show was all about providing free legal advice as it applied to the entertainment world. So you have people calling in asking about record contracts, or if they should hire a lawyer, or how to copyright a script, and if you get it registered by WGA does that really protect your idea? And so on and so on. I learned a hell of a lot from listening to that show. Joe has a unique perspective when it comes to giving legal advice. He’s worn several hats in show business, in addition to earning his law degree, and whether he’s getting ready to hit the stage with his punk band the Vandals or putting on a suit to be a TV executive, Joe tells it like it is.

While Indie 103.1 is no longer on the FM radio dial, Joe Escalante and Barely Legal Radio live on. LCC caught up with Escalante to talk about studying the Vikings, why he quit being a TV executive and which one path to choose if you’re interested in music, film and TV.

Where are you from originally and what has your career path has been like in Los Angeles?

I’m from Orange County in Southern California. I’ve been working in the entertainment business all my professional life because that is a common SoCal Industry. If I was born in Pennsylvania, I’d be a coal miner.

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Makeup Artist: Scott Wheeler

“Somebody is going to do it. Why not you?” That is what Scott Wheeler’s mentor told him in college. Now, after many years of professional make up experience, Wheeler is preparing to work on his dream job. I reached out to Scott after finding his credit on the popular Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele (which is probably my favorite show on the tube right now). I had to meet one of the people responsible for transforming Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele into dozens of unique characters every week. And, as it often turns out, when someone has worked on one TV show or movie that I like, he or she has almost always worked on something previously that I also enjoyed. Scott was kind enough to spend some time answering some questions for LCC.

What exactly does a makeup artist do?

The obvious answer is that we do makeup. It’s also really the only accurate answer since there are so many specific directions one can take as a makeup artist. A makeup artist doing strictly fashion is not really doing anything like what a makeup effects artist in a shop is doing. But it all still falls under the general umbrella of makeup.

What are the differences between a makeup artist and a makeup department head?

Makeup department head is really just a subdivision of makeup artistry. The obvious thing that sets the job apart is one is in charge of the department. Some of us who department head still keep our hands on the work although some department heads chose to just run the department and delegate the work. Ultimately it is the department head that directly answers to production and is held responsible for the entire department’s work. So there is a skill set over and above makeup artistry involved in heading a department. It requires organizational skills, diplomacy  and the ability to direct other makeup artists, take directions from production, manage a budget and be the visionary for that department.

What has your experience been like working on Key and Peele?

My experience working on Key and Peele has been pretty fantastic. We do work under difficult conditions with very limited budgets and very tight schedules. But there is genuine artistic and moral support from the top down. That goes a long way in countering the constraints of schedule and budget. Keegan and Jordan are two of the nicest guys I know and they love transforming into all these characters with makeup and hair. They both give us excellent input and are open to our ideas. It’s really a pretty amazing working relationship built on mutual trust and respect. I think ultimately it is our common goals that allow us to relax and all work together so effectively. Keegan and Jordan appreciate the value that makeup brings to their work and I think I have a pretty good understanding on what I need to bring to them that best supports their vision of the show.

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Meet The Mayor: Sharon Houston

Were all funny adults funny kids? Sharon Houston was. Being funny and super duper likable has definitely paid dividends for Houston. Whether it’s performing stand-up, podcasting, or producing behind the scenes, Sharon Houston has tried it all, and as the “mayor” of L.A. knows show biz like few do.

Where are you from originally, and what has your career path been like?

I was born in Miami, Florida but I’ve lived everywhere: the Midwest, Southwest, South, Northeast, and now the West Coast. When I was moving around a lot as a kid, I hated it. Now I’m glad I went through that because I can easily make friends, I’m not afraid to introduce myself to people, and I pretty much can fit in everywhere. As an actress and stand-up, I can do just about every American accent imaginable, so it’s helped me creatively as well.

My career path has been very interesting. I am really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and all the things I’ve done, behind the scenes and in front of the camera. I’ve done a ton of hidden camera shows, two specials, three series, and I forget how many pilots.

Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time Sketch on Comedy Central from Sharon Houston on Vimeo.

Showcase at Flapper’s Comedy Club from Sharon Houston on Vimeo.

And I love podcasting! I’ve managed to take the misery of one of my day jobs (freelancing as a producer on daytime court TV shows) and turn it into a brand with my podcast. It’s such a great way for me to reach an international audience that I never would have reached before. Between having my podcast featured on AV Club’s “Outliers” section, being a guest on “Talkin’ Shit with Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft” and a guest on “The Crabfeast with Ryan Sickler and Jay Larson”, I have listeners who have turned into fans of my podcast and my stand-up. Living in the future where technology is inexpensive and at our fingertips fucking rocks! You don’t have to wait for anyone to pick you out of the crowd. You can do your own thing and people will find you, they’ll like what you do, and things really open up for you creatively and professionally.

How long have you been doing stand-up, and were you an actor first?

I’ve been doing stand-up a long time, fourteen years? Longer had I not taken three years off! I was a theater major and wanted to act, but only if I could be funny. I always knew I’d be a stand-up, though.

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Michael Black – Editor

Michael Black has been working in Los Angeles as a professional editor for over ten years. Black talks about what it was like going to film school during what he calls “the best and worst time to be studying film”, and how sometimes, dropping out of college is the best career decision one can make. He also shares his experience working on 4D interactive animation and explains what makes an editor great, and not just good. All that, career advice, and more…

Where are you from originally and how did you get your career?

My first job was in high school. I got an internship at a little production studio in Austin where I did industrial stuff and local commercials. I started out as a graphics intern, and learned a lot from this UT (University of Texas) student working there at the time. The first semester I was working as an intern, and by the second semester I took over the graphics role and became the only guy working there in that capacity. I was 18 when I got the job. That’s where I learned to edit on Avid and Final Cut, along with my first exposure to After Effects and Photoshop.

What have been your favorite projects to work on?

It’s been fun the past few years working on these 4D animation projects that have interactive elements, the seats move and shake and they spray water on you, stuff like that.

The project I’m working on now, editing as well as directing, HERO FACTORY, is an all animated TV show. It’s been fun because it’s a style and genre that I like. Getting to work on the LEGO Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out was the most fun and most stressful because I cared a lot and wanted to get it right. I’m something of a Star Wars fanatic and getting to work on that and go to Skywalker Ranch for the sound mix was nothing short of a dream come true.

Did you go to film school?

After high school I was accepted into the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I wanted to move to New York the summer before school started, and  looked up production offices/studios in New York.

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Carla Hool: Casting Director

In an industry that glorifies directors and movie stars, your average movie-goer may not understand how many people are involved in the making of a film. There are a huge number of factors that help shape how good a movie ultimately turns out to be. Casting is high up on that list. Carla Hool is one of those gifted individuals responsible for finding the right talent needed to make a script really come to life. Carla cast Demian Bichir in A BETTER LIFE. The film went on to earn Bichir an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Everything she touches turns to gold. Just watch:

Ladies and Gentleman, meet Casting Director Carla Hool.

Where are you from originally and how did you get your career?

I was born in Mexico City. My family has been in the film industry for several generations, so I grew up in the business. I started my career working on a few films with my father and uncle who now own and operate Santa Fe Studios. I started my own casting company in Mexico City and with a lot of hard work became one of the biggest casting directors there and after five years I moved to Los Angeles.

Being born into show business, did you feel pressure to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?

When I was a teenager people asked me quite a bit if I wanted to maybe become an actress. I was never interested in that but casting was something that was appealing to me so I went for it!

What are the advantages of having family involved in the film industry?

The advantage of having family in the industry is that I can always go to them for advice when I need it. They have been in the industry for many more years and have a lot more experience than me, so in many ways they are like mentors. My dad and my uncle have regularly been my advisors, especially when I was getting started.

For someone interested in pursuing a career as a Casting Director, how would you suggest he or she get started?
I would suggest that they find a Casting Director whose work they admire and reach out to him/her for an internship. Internships are a great way to get experience while proving to the casting director that you are serious about a career.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

In casting I have to work with every kind of personality. I work very closely with producers, directors, actors, agents and managers. I would say the most challenging part of my job is keeping everyone happy.

What aspect of being a casting director brings you joy/satisfaction?

Working with actors and being able to bring to life those characters that are on paper. I particularly love when an unknown actor nails an audition and lands the job. That feels amazing!

In 2010, you worked on EAST BOUND AND DOWN. I think EAST BOUND does a terrific job of blending super star talent with lesser known but equally amazing actors (like Steve Little and Elizabeth De Razzo!). The world always feels real.  What was your experience like working on that show?

It was a great experience, I enjoyed working with Danny McBride and Jody Hill, they are an awesome team. We had a lot of laughs on this show! It was great being able to cast as you say, lesser known actors only for their talent and not for their name. It is always very exciting to find new talent and see them grow in their career.

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Jen Grisanti: Story Consultant

Jen Grisanti has a genuine love for story and a strong desire to help writers achieve their dreams. As a story/career consultant, writing instructor, and author with a wealth of  industry experience, she is able to help “creative talents see the business through the eyes of an executive.” J.G.

Where are you from originally and how did you get your career?

I was born in Buffalo, New York and raised in Whittier, California in a place called Friendly Hills. I went to USC and studied Communications and Cinema. After graduating college, I did several internships to build my resume. Then, I signed up with the Friedman Temp and Permanent Job Agency. Friedman placed me in the position that launched my career. I started as an assistant to Aaron Spelling. He was my mentor for the next twelve years as I climbed the corporate ladder and eventually ran Current Programming at Spelling Television Inc.

Are your services geared towards writers already working in TV/Film, amateurs trying to break in? Both?

My services are geared toward anyone that has the passion and desire to write. I work with writers at all levels. If you have an idea and a desire to execute it, I will work with you. Visit my website for the services and rates that I have available for writers: http://jengrisanticonsultancy.com/services/proposals/

In your experience, does there seem to be a certain quality that successful writers possess that separate them from the pack? Is it shear talent, confidence, resilience, business sense? Or, are some people just born with it?

One of the qualities that successful working writers possess that separate them from the rest is the belief that they will succeed. In order to believe, you have to do the work both on the page and inside. When you believe in your work and in yourself, things will open up. Another quality is commitment. The writers that I’ve had the most success with are committed to their writing goals. They put in the work to make them happen. With regards to talent, I would say that some people are born with it. However, with writing, if you put in the practice and commit to the journey, you can be very successful.

Were there any moments along your journey in which you decided Hollywood wasn’t the place for you? If so, what kept you from leaving or pursuing another line of work?

I would say that there have been moments when my spirit has been tested. However, I have never felt that Hollywood was not the place for me. I am very resilient. My love for story started from the time that I was a child. I love what I do. Working with writers on the development of story is my calling. There is no greater gift than helping to contribute to the growth of a dream.

In your recent webinar, you talked about how writers should be trying to pick up heat in order to get attention. Can you explain what you mean by this?

Yes, I will be happy to explain this. I encourage writers to see themselves as entrepreneurs. You create your own destiny. You create heat by doing everything you can to bring attention to your accomplishments. You can do this by entering writing programs and competitions. If you place, it creates attention. You can also create heat by making videos and putting them on YouTube or Funny or Die and many other websites. It is all about defining your brand and putting it out there so people are aware of you. Now, more than ever, the power is in your hands.

I’ve heard that these days people are more interested in seeing original pilots than spec scripts for existing shows. Do you agree with this, or is it still important to have a spec TV script for your portfolio?

As a former VP of Current Programming that helped staff over fifteen top primetime shows in my career, I would say that it is important to have both original pilots and specs in your writing portfolio. With a spec script, you show the showrunner that you know how to mimic a voice and write for someone else’s show. This is important.

With an original pilot, you show the showrunner your voice.

Some showrunners will read only original pilots while others will only read specs. There are a few that like to review both. You will increase your chances of being staffed by having both.

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They Are Opposites

Opposites, a two man improv troupe, performs each and every Wednesday night at The New Movement theater in downtown Austin, Texas. If you attended the show, you didn’t witness any punchlines, they didn’t go for any cheap jokes. There was no steady, comfortable rhythm of laughter to settle in to.

And that’s what made it great.

Patrick Knisely and Mark Carpenter aren’t afraid to venture into those dark corners, those uncomfortable weird silences, and dedicate themselves fully to their character and scene. The performance had that suck-you-in kind of realism that a lot of comedy fails to achieve. And when a laugh out loud moment does happen on stage, it’s that much funnier, as it is in real life. Think about it, if people went around farting constantly, it wouldn’t be funny. What makes a fart funny and not just plain disgusting is timing, and the more unexpected the better. And it’s best when a fart breaks up a dramatic moment. It’s a quick reminder that we’re just a bunch of filthy animals. Opposites seems more concerned with exploring relationships than trying to be funny, providing their audience a much more fulfilling comedic experience.

And Knisely and Carpenter aren’t limited by being a two man troupe. Towards the end of the show, Mark and Patrick called back two of their characters created from previous scenes, and did a masterful job of juggling four characters at once, each speaking for two characters, switching seamlessly back and forth on stage. I spoke to Carpenter and Knisely before the show:

Describe Opposites in a sentence.

PK: Two guys who can’t connect in real life because of their differences do an improvised show and connect through performance.

MC: Opposites is the most dramatically comical world that two guys can conjure up in a thirty minute show without alienating their audience too much.

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