I used to be on TV. But, after ten years, I had to leave because of the man. And by “the man,” I mean this dick I worked for.
While I was pondering leaving my high profile, perk-riddled gig, my wife asked me if I could do it.
“Do what?” I asked.
“Not be on TV,” she said.
“What, are you kidding?”
Was she implying that I was some sort of egomaniac who needed to be on TV, like I needed the attention of an audience in order to be fulfilled?
Yes. She was.
“Of course, I don’t need to be on TV. That’s preposterous.”
It wasn’t long after I started my new job at the Gateway Film Center that I began plotting ways of getting my face on the screen. Why be on TV when you can be in the movies?
Yes, it killed me, but she was right.
The first piece I shepherded into being was a promo spot for the film center’s annual summer Double Barrel Western Series.
Well, seeing my mug plastered across a 50-foot wide screen was all the encouragement I needed to do more.
As part of the Cinema Classics film series, a companion to the WCBE radio show of the same name that I co-host with my friend John DeSando, I saw another opportunity: comedy sketches that spoofed the movies we were showing.
They both feature an idiot studio exec who doesn’t quite get the geniuses who work for him. In the first one, he (me) tussles with Stanley Kubrick; and in the second, Orson Welles. Jimmy Mak, ShadowboxLive’s head comedy writer and an old friend, plays both directors -- brilliantly. DeSando turns up in a weird non-sequitir cameo in both.
Fortunately, my boss, the phenomenally talented and brainy and not susceptible to in-print ass kissing, Chris Hamel, approved of these extracurricular activities. In fact, he’s so game he played the James Bond figure that my Nameless Cowboy guns down in the Western bit. What kind of a boss allows that to happen? An awesome one.
So, Chris asked me what I thought of the film center’s pre-show. For those of you not familiar with theater parlance, a pre-show is that generic package of trivia questions, ads, and animations that plays before the movie and is generally ignored.
We sat and watched the pre-show together. In its entirety. Afterwards, he asked me what I thought and I told him I thought it was crap. He agreed and asked if we could do better. Naturally.
And so, our new in-house show was conceived. After breathlessly kicking around different titles based on obscure movie jargon like The Cross Cut the good ideas began to flag. By the time we were seriously considering calling it The Abby Singer Show we were good and loopy. “But no one will know who or what an Abby Singer* is,” our co-workers cautioned. “Right!” we shouted back. “That’s the beauty part.” Eventually, having reached the nadir of our naming sessions, Chris blurted out Columbusland.
Abby Singer, for the record, is the second to last shot of the day on a movie production, named after 1950s Hollywood production manager and assistant director, Abner "Abby" Singer. When Singer's crew would ask how many shots were left to do he'd answer, "We'll do this and one more."
Fortunately, the "Abby Singer" show idea never left Chris's office. The basic idea survived though and that was to create a loosely formatted, informal talk show in which we would interview Columbus prominents about the movies while drinking. And the city would be our playground.
Kinopicz American, a hyper-talented production company in Grandview, agreed to take the project on and brought their insight and ideas. In order to keep the show from becoming me and Chris drinking and ego-jousting, Kino, as we affectionately call them, suggested bringing on a Girl Friday who would temper the testosterone and drastically drop the combined age of the two-man cast which if combined would approach octogenarian heights.
We immediately thought of social media maven and Columbus vlogging sensation, Amy "Schmittastic" Schmittauer.
We thought Amy would anchor the show, keep it grounded, but she quickly proved to be as strange as we are, and so the show quickly took on a life of its own. So far we’ve only shot 3 episodes, but it continues to evolve. We’ve worked in more scripted comedy and we’re playing around with the interview dynamics, and, quite frankly, I'm not sure where it's headed. As long as it continues to get better, which it has, we'll all be happy.
Each episode of Columbusland runs at the Gateway Film Center for 8 weeks and you can see the show 20 minutes before any movie we’re showing. Well, due to the constant cocktail drinking and frequent light cursing, you can see it before any PG-13 or R- rated movie.
The entire endeavor, it bears repeating, is the kind of project that can happen when a cool boss rolls the dice on a great idea and lets it ride.
Here’s episode two: