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Written by Rob Schultz (human).

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Frequency Earth 108: Robotic Arms

Another one of our pipe dreams in creating this show was that in knowing we had all of electronic media history to play in, we could tune into the other shows our friends were making. We wanted to do a broadcast involving the characters of Doc Mock’s Movie Mausoleum, we traded a dozen emails with the pre-televised Birthday Boys, we made a few gentlemanly passes at the Alexes of Smug Rock Nation. The only one that didn’t turn into a smoldering hole in our production calendar was Diani & Devine, whose Wedding Witch graces episode 108.

Back to School is also an interesting segment because I had nothing to do with it, no input, I just heard it as a final piece in the show. I don’t think we can say that about anything else so far. Oh, except for all the Z-Rob. We once deep-sixed a Z-Rob segment for taking aim at one of our fans, who wrote in to say she didn’t appreciate all the Z-Rob.

Enough reminiscing about the past, let us reminisce of the future! Join us on 9/29 for our live taping at the Pack Theater! We’ll be giving you a preview of our new series, and an opportunity to be a part of the show!

Making a Sellable Pilot, Part 1: Finding Your Subject

As I learned from this Deadline article the other day, a pilot presentation I produced last year was recently picked up by TruTV as a series for 2017.  Exciting times!  I can't tell you everything about how to make selling a show happen for you; it probably requires agents and managers and famous people and secret backroom deals that I don't know anything about. But I can tell you how to produce a pilot presentation that's good enough to get a production company to spend money on a studio pilot that's good enough to get TruTV to spend money on a season of your show.  

Today I'm going to talk about finding a subject for your show, which is mostly how I got involved with making this pilot. Tomorrow we'll talk about shooting, Thursday it'll be post-production, and Friday will be business.  The nuts and bolts stuff I'd probably like reading about will be on those middle days.

Chapter 1: Someone tell me what to make a TV show about!

Tip 1: Know what you do.

In college, I produced three seasons of a talk show about hockey.  I don't particularly care about hockey, but I don't need to. The presenters know plenty, and they're the ones having the discussion.  So they talk and I arrange cameras and lights and sound and graphics, and we meet in the middle on the gun battles and cliffhanger endings and other silly stuff that goes into me making a talk show.

Even though I like writing things, I already have experience building up the scaffolding of a video production around a core of an existing act.

I had seen Talk Show the Game Show on stage at least a dozen times, in various theaters, with various lineups of guests and judges and scorekeepers. Guy Branum and Casey Schreiner have refined their show over lots of performances, and they don't need me to tell them how to do it. The stage show was already honed and there was no reason it couldn't move to TV, at least in my opinion. Most importantly, for some crazy reason, nobody had already done this! 

The tip here is the same thing a lot of indie filmmakers say: figure out what you've already got access to for free production value. In my case, this seemed like a perfect pitch: I didn't need to develop or meddle with the content of the show, which the performers would be happy about.  I just needed to make a recording that shows someone('s assistant) in an office somewhere how much people like this thing, and how much everyone will like them if they put it on TV.

What I do is turn the crank on the video-making machinery.

Tip 2: Strategize, but don't delay.

Unfortunately, the next step is a little bit like Steve Martin's "First, get a million dollars." The legwork you need to do to get a project rolling is going to be different every time. Maybe you need to get writing, maybe you need to seek funding, or start casting rich housewives. 

In 2015, I performed at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. So did Guy Branum. Even though I had already run into Guy a bunch of times in Los Angeles, and he'd performed on shows that I produced or hosted, it seemed like a great chance to chat with him as a peer. (I have this idea that you meet people as either a fan or a peer, and it's difficult for everyone if they get too muddled.)

The festival rented out a video arcade to entertain the comics one afternoon, and we walked there together from the hotel. I re-introduced myself (the less-famous comedian may as well get used to introducing and re-introducing themselves without taking it personally. We all look the same.) and we talked careers for a mile.  How do you get writing packets to submit to shows, what other festivals are worth doing, and oh, by the way, how come nobody has ever made a TV show out of your great stage show? Did you know I happen to have the resources to do a good job of that?

The number one thing I needed was for Guy to be interested. If it turned out he had a deal already or was happy with his other TV jobs and didn't want to adapt TSGS then the project would have been dead in the water for me. 

Tip 3: Talk to people. 

It's okay to tell people what you're up to. Nobody is going to steal your idea. Most people don't have enough passion or drive to make their own ideas, and those that do are too busy. Besides all that, you don't know who can help you, and neither do they unless they know you need help. After Bridgetown in May, I went home to Los Angeles and Guy went to New York to write shows for Billy Eichner. My plan to shoot a Talk Show the Game Show performance was useless without anyone in town doing one.

By September, Guy Branum forgot all about our conversation. When he ran into my comedy show producing partner, Jason Van Glass, and invited him to a Talk Show the Game Show happening that week, Jason was able to connect those dots and remind Guy that there was someone who wanted to shoot his show.

Probably, what would have happened is I would have gone to see the show and tried to make plans to shoot the next one. And then our schedules wouldn't've lined up and we'd delay, and then one of us would be out of town and missed the next one, on and on. Instead, we cut right to the chase and I had 36 hours to put a shoot together. Find out how that went down tomorrow!

Rob Schultz is an editor, animator, comedian, sometimes even producer. I know, everyone is like, a six-part hyphenate these days, but in almost 20 years of video production I've racked up somewhere around 300 projects. If you'd like help making your thing better, let's talk.

A buddhist walks up to a hot dog vendor…

“A buddhist walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, ‘make me one with everything.’”

I like that joke. it’s not mine, but I say it anytime someone says something to me that sounds like “You do stand-up? Tell me a joke."[1] I heard Robin Williams say it in Bicentennial Man.

Robin Williams has been the almost-exclusive topic of my social media for the past 24 hours. I assume that this is because I’m mainly internet friends with comedians, who are especially traumatized by the news. The one or two people I’m following on twitter who are posting advertisements for their books and kickstarters in the middle of it all seem unusually tone deaf, but it’s probably not their fault.

I mentioned a little while ago about how living in Los Angeles, trying to insinuate myself into the worlds of comedy and film has lead to meeting and working with a surprising number of high school Rob’s heroes. This means that when a family member sees me at Christmas and asks if I’ve ever met anyone famous, I do a quick flip through a mental rolodex of people I’m proud to have met and/or worked with, and then say “nah, not really no.’"[2]

But, I was at UCB in one of the periods when Robin Williams was dropping in at the theater. A bunch of improvisers have been sharing their memories of it on This is what I wrote on such a thread:

I was in that jam too. The scene was between two hairdressers, and he and I were the people getting their hair done, and we read our magazines and didn’t say anything. The hairdressers had some kind of fight or meltdown or killed each other or something, and we were left sitting there. I think maybe I asked him about his kids, and then someone wiped it. There was a later scene where I was trying to point someone in and he didn’t know what I was doing so he shook my hand and I was a little embarrassed that he thought I wanted a handshake in the middle of the set, or maybe at all.

But try explaining UCB’s Long Hard Improv Jam to your aunt in Ohio. “I did a scene on stage with Robin Williams once. We didn’t really meet, but we performed together.”


“No, not really, no.”

  1. What I really want to do in these moments is murmur “it’s not like thaaaat.” but if the person I’m talking to was going to pick up on a Maria Bamford reference, they wouldn’t’ve been asking in the first place.  ↩

  2. ”You know that lady in those target commercials from a couple years back? We had dinner once. She’s the best.”  ↩

Group Mind

Now, as the man says, I told you that story to tell you this one...

Election night is a time to spend with your people. Last time we elected President Obama, I was at a comedy show. It was an improv show called Tuesday Night Thunder and it was so hot that night that we all stood outside the theater looking in at a projector feeding us the results. Tomorrow, when we do it again, I'm going to be at a stand-up show on the UCLA campus.

I think I can get away with saying I'm a stand-up comic. Or, that I do stand-up comedy. I could say that. I may only be at the volunteer, or perhaps hobbyist level, but I go out there and say unusual things to strangers through public address systems.

To talk about improv comedy, I have to put things in the past tense. I spent a year or two living in and around the UCB Theatre. I took classes, worked for the theater to pay for them, went to shows, and the satellite shows, and played with practice teams.

Eventually, through connections I made there, I got a job working second shift. Which is when all the comedy shows are. I thought I'd be taking a short break; the gig was scheduled to be 2-3 months. I joined facebook so I wouldn't completely disappear from the scene. Nine months later the job was coming to a close, and the community at the theater had pretty much turned over, as it so often does. I'd washed out more or less by default.

When I started working on stand-up, I found it really striking how different the communities are. As an improviser I don't know if I ever scratched the surface, which is, even now, kind of baffling. Improv is built on tenets of being honest and open with each other. The platonic ideal of an improv team is a group that knows each other so well they appear to possess a 'group mind.' They're always on the same page. And what's more, in every improv group, you literally need each other to put on a show. In the world of stand-up, each and every other performer is better off when any one of us quits. And somehow stand-up feels so much more inclusive.

As far as I know, my performance as an improviser was fine for a beginner, but it does take substantially longer to reach a point where you have something to show for yourself. A stand-up just has to say something good. Could be the first time you see him. Also, it's a lot easier for the would-be stand-up to go out and get practice. Especially in Los Angeles. You could get up at a few open mics a night out here from the get-go, but as an improviser you're looking at an investment of months before it even makes sense to practice outside of class.

Both groups lay claim to making an art of something scary. Both are speaking in front of a crowd (if you're lucky). Improvisers don't have a script, stand-ups don't have any backup.

In stand-up, there's the sense that sheer bloodyminded perseverance may one day lead to marginal success, and it's very portable - you can get up with a mic and talk to people just about anywhere. In improv, all you seem to get from hanging on for a long time is a job at one of the specialized theaters where improv is permitted and accepted. Not performing, mind you. Taking tickets, mopping floors, that sort of thing.

On the other hand, the good improvisers seem to have better job prospects. I think it's because while it is still uncommon, it's possible to, and people do, make a living in stand-up. There's an attainable level of success where you can make money performing. This is almost not true of improv. The highest level most UCB students can hope to attain is performing weekly on a official 'house' team of the theater, and once you do, you're paying to play. So improvisers need to look for alternatives. And when you get right down to it, they usually have to do so alone. You don't see an improv team getting hired for, well, anything.

Once, I joined an improv team by accident. It was a two week process. The first week was marked by the exciting debut of a group I was really happy to be a part of. We booked a show at Tuesday Night Thunder, with its months-long waiting list. As the time grew near, I had been visiting family, talking about how great improv was and how things are really shaping up, and I told my dad about our first show. I couldn't wait to get back in town and go do it. Practice is one thing, but, like in stand-up, performing in front of an audience is something else. There's a lot to learn from it. What I learned that night was that this awesome group I was so proud of was going to disband very soon, and the way I learned it was by being the only one of eight team members to attend our first show.

Now as a standup, I would know what to do when the scheduled act is a no-show and there's 20 minutes to fill. Let me at that mic! As an improviser, that was not a task I could complete on my own. So I rounded up some regulars from the audience to perform with me. And the next week, when one of them was on the lineup at TNT and a couple people from his team didn't show up, he asked me to sit in with them. And afterward, they told me when and where to be for their weekly rehearsal.

I think I kept playing with that group for 6 months, at least. And I think it made me a worse improviser. In the beginning, I was further in the curriculum than some of the group, and felt like it was beneath me to be there, which is both ridiculous and stupid of me. But it helped me to build up some awful habits. I got to know my teammates, and to think that some of them could not be trusted to play make-believe properly. I'd still say that if there's anyone on your team that you don't want to perform with, there's a problem on that team, but I was part of the problem too. And I stewed and felt unhappy, until one day I hatched the perfect plan: I would quit.

That week at practice, I showed up prepared to announce that I was done. And so did two other people on the team. And so did our coach. It was the most group-mind we ever experienced.