“I’m hoping to shed a light on the daily problems our planet faces and hope that my voice not only brings laughter to people, but also makes them wake up and help out in protecting the planet.” –Josh Isaacson
Do you ever wonder, what making a film would actually entail? A film that has the potential to share one of your greatest passions; something you’re proud of , at that?
Today, the film industry seems to be caught up in a way-too-speedy cycle of pushing out content that is often lacking in substance. As a consumer, I sometimes find myself watching and pondering is this helping or hurting me? I tend to look for two particular aspects while taking in media: does this entertain or educate? Sometimes, ideally, it can do both! If neither are being fulfilled, it’s a complete waste of time, wouldn’t you say?
The goal for most creatives is to stimulate both facets, especially when story-telling; to grab the attention of their audience and offer viable information.
Josh Isaacson has pursued that endeavor of mediated balance in his latest and greatest project, the TV series Atticus’ Activists.
Isaacson’s journey to holding the title of writer and director was as complex and interesting as his current environmentalist plot lines. We chat about everything from his creative process to the quirky jobs he worked prior to fulfilling his passion.
Meet Josh Isaacson.
Q+A with Josh Isaacson
Take me back to the beginning of your writer/producer days. How did you get your start?
I started like most filmmakers I know, I got an internship while in college. My path to filmmaking was a little different than most. I first wanted to work in the music industry and that’s where I spent my college summers, interning at Universal Records. While in school, I managed several local bands and tried my hand at running a record label. That didn’t go exactly how I liked, so I hung my label hat up and went to work for the William Morris Agency and entered the illustrious mailroom. I spent a year at William Morris and then that’s when I got hit with the writing bug, and I never looked back. I’ve been writing for over 9 years. The trials and tribulations of trying to write a screenplay while working a 9-5 was extremely difficult. My 9-5 consisted of working at Fox, CAA, Warner Brothers, Warner Horizon, and several reality production companies within the industry. About 2 years ago, after temping for about a year at the studios, I finally said, “screw it” and just quit so I could follow my dream of becoming a filmmaker. In 2011, I did get my first taste of success when a production company in the UK gave me a development deal to take my idea and make it into a TV show. We ended up getting the BBC in the UK on board and almost got a pilot out of it, but due to budget and other constraints it never happened. Around the time my venture with the BBC fell through, I started to actively develop more ideas, one them being Atticus. Atticus took me 5 years to get off the ground. This project has been the little engine that could and somehow five years later, I’m able to go to YouTube and watch the project come to life, which is the most insane thing ever.
Tell me about the time you knew for sure you wanted to make this pilot…
After my development deal ran it’s course, I’ll never forget what I was told and it still sticks with me today. I was told, “Kid, if you want to make something that moves people… come up with a scripted show.” That piece of advice still sticks with me today. Atticus’ Activists is truly a project that I love and the writing shows. I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that Atticus’ Activists is something so insane, and so crazy in a good way that you have to pinch yourself. It’s so delusional; it makes delusional things seem normal. I knew the moment I almost fell out of bed the night I dreamed up Atticus’ Activists that I wanted to do it. I woke up in a sweat and I’ll never forget what I was thinking. I just dreamt up the most insane, elaborate thing I had ever thought up to date. Was it possible to take women and make them so weird and delusional that people could get behind them, I thought. I went a step further, “what if they were fighting to clean up the environment, would people now follow these super women?” That was what stuck with me. At the time, I had just finished watching several Captain Planet episodes on YouTube and knew I wanted to somehow pay homage to that lovable cartoon, which every Millennial grew up on and loved. When Atticus came to me, I literally jumped out of bed and spent the next hour writing out the entire treatment. It just flowed out of me like poetry. It felt like every idea was so ridiculous it was viable and somehow it was all going to work. Somehow, I was going to combine a decrepit old man, a talking monkey that sounds like Barry White, a goofy butler you love but can’t take serious cause he’s always feeding you shit you’re not supposed to eat, and three smoking hot yet highly delusional superhero’s that are fighting to save Mommy Earth. It was at that moment that Atticus was born, and it was that moment that changed my life forever when I decided to go for it.
Where does your passion for the environment stem from?
The environment is something on everybody’s mind and yet, Hollywood has not done it justice. Most things about the environment are too serious and don’t have a clear call to action. Usually, you feel so depressed after watching something environmental that you never feel like actually doing something to save the planet. I knew that if I was going to win this battle, I had to make the environment something that most people in the environmental movement would turn their nose at. I knew that the way to make it commercially viable is to make it so off-the-wall and silly that you don’t even feel like you’re learning when watching it, even though you are. I made sure to layer in actual stats and info that people could learn that would make them want to take action, but I did it in a way that is disarming and fun, that even a child would love watching. Sure there is a lot of swearing in Atticus’ Activists. But everyone I’ve shown it to always says after watching it, “I want to go do something for the planet now.” So can crassness, edginess and some swearing really be seen as something detrimental if everybody wants to save the planet after they watch Atticus? I’ll let you be the judge.
If you could give one tip that everyone could do to help save the environment, what would it be?
If people would just setup a simple recycling bin at home that is the easiest and cheapest way to help the planet out.
What did you learn while making this pilot (either about yourself, the process or topic)?
I learned so many things about myself through this process. I think the best piece of advice is always hire people that know more than you do, so it forces you to step up your game. Another thing I could say is make sure that you’re hiring people that aren’t in it just for the paycheck and want to see your project actually get finished. Unfortunately, our business is a breading ground for snakes and thieves. If you aren’t careful you’ll get taken advantage of and that’s a tough lesson to learn. To be 100% transparent, if it wasn’t for several key members of my crew, especially my producer Mark Gibbs Jr., Atticus would never have been made. Things were insanely difficult but my script, my first AD, my co-producer and my producer Mark (to name a few), all helped me through this difficult process. Another lesson I learned: if it can go wrong, plan for it cause it most definitely is going to happen whether you like it or not.
Who or what inspires your creativity?
Life inspires me. I love walking the streets of L.A., taking in nature and listening to the world speak to me. There is so much you can learn about life by just opening your ears and allowing the world to speak to you. Filmmakers that have inspired me are: Wells, Lucas, Spielberg, Nolan, Coppola, Kubrick, Fellini, Curtiz, and Scorsese, to name a few. All these filmmakers have taught me to go with my gut creatively and to follow my heart. Like many of these master craftsmen’s work, Atticus’ Activists is all passion and that’s why it’s so special.
What is your mission/cause?
I’m hoping to shed a light on the daily problems our planet faces and hope that my voice not only brings laughter to people, but also makes them wake up and help out in protecting the planet. I hope Atticus’ Activists will move people to finally get off their ass and f***in’ do something.
Before you got to where you are today; what sort of odd jobs or different paths did you go down (career wise)?
I’ve had more odd jobs then I know what to do with. I’ve worked as a janitor cleaning up bird shit, I’ve worked the “traditional Hollywood route” by working at Talent agencies, studios, and production companies, I’ve sold chew tobacco at sporting events, I’ve sold books door-to-door in the blistering heat down south in Kentucky, I’ve bartended, and I’ve been a waiter. I’m also pretty tech savvy, so there were a couple jobs where I built websites and ran people’s social media for them, which was great training for Atticus, since I’ve literally had to build it from nothing. All these jobs were training and I am thankful I got that experience.
What did you learn during those different phases?
Tenacity and never giving up are the two key things I learned from these jobs. Being a filmmaker is something that’s extremely difficult just cause you are hearing “no” all the time and that really weighs on your conscious. You have to get accustom to rejection and that’s really difficult. It’s always going to come at you, so be prepared. If you can’t accept the fact that 99 out of 100 people are going to dislike your stuff, then you need to choose a different industry cause this game ain’t for you. It’s really difficult to not take it personally when you’ve slaved away at something, sometimes for years, and someone doesn’t like it. That is the worst feeling in the world, but it’s show business. What separates the amateur from the professional is being able to pick yourself up and analyze the important elements of the reason you got rejected, improve so you don’t make the same mistake again, and try again. You have to keep on trying. You have to keep on pushing, cause if you aren’t trying and you aren’t pushing then someone else is and that someone else is going to make it and you won’t. No to me just means next. The thing you learn as you stay in the game is there is always another opportunity and just cause one person doesn’t like your work, doesn’t mean the whole world is against you. Art is subjective and that’s why it’s both a blessing and a curse to be creative professionally
What would you suggest to any budding writer/directors or budding TV & film creatives?
Make sure you are doing this for the right reasons. While it maybe cool to tell people you are a writer or a filmmaker, just know that most people are all talk. The real people doing this are humble, hungry and extremely passionate. For me, writing and filmmaking are like breathing. I would be lost if I couldn’t write or make stuff. It’s what drives me to get up in the morning. Given the process of writing isn’t one that I particularly like, but to be able to see something that was just an idea in my head, turn into a full breathing entity like a script or a film is the most fulfilling gifts you can give yourself. It has taken me years to get to where I am right now, so don’t feel like it’s a race to break into this business, cause it’s not. Keep your head down and stay at it. Most people dedicate their lives to the art and craft of filmmaking. Every over night success took years to get there. My advice is to mentor under someone who knows more then you do about the craft and be a sponge. Learn everything you can from them, make mistakes, and keep learning and keep writing, keep growing, and stay passionate and hungry. If you dedicate yourself to the craft, maybe one day it will be your name on the big screen that people are paying good money to see. Stay creative and stay hungry.
I commend Josh Isaacson for offering such great words of wisdom in what can be considered one of the toughest, most competitive industries. He has embedded entertainment within meaningful content surrounding the environment. And his impact will likely be greater than one could ever measure.