play by play 3

Kevin Jakubowski: Actually, looking back, I think what changed the most was probably the character of Rocco. We cast Max Amor to play Rocco—Rocco Cortez, who is Pete Hickey’s best friend—and Max just gave such a unique take on the character.  As written, the character was sort of this hustler; he talked a mile a minute; he was sort of this Vince Vaughn type of guy. The 14-year-old Vince Vaughn. But Max brought in this really unique wide-eyed weirdness to the character, which I really loved. And so, even though the words on the page never really changed, what was funny about those words changed because Max brought something really unique to the character.

Blake J. Harris: Let me ask you one more question about Play by Play…and it’s not even really about the new show, but more about your writing sensibility. In Play by Play, as well as Assassination of a High School President and even some of the stuff you’ve done for Nickelodeon, there’s a stylized tone to how you tell these stories about kids. It’s super serious—noir-ish in a way, almost hard-boiled—but also kind of silly and light-hearted. There are elements that remind me of Wes Anderson. Is he a big influence on your work? And either way, I’d be curious to know what shows (or films) do you think had an influence on this project?

Kevin Jakubowski: Absolutely. Bottle Rocket and then definitely Rushmore…I mean, Rushmore is why I wanted to be a screenwriter. I don’t think I actively try to imitate that, but that dry, deadpan humor that Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson wrote, I just really love that. I think the directors of this series, Susanna Fogel and Charles Hood, really captured that really, really well. And were able to bring a tone that was serious—because when you’re in those situations, they are serious—and still funny because when you’re looking at it from the perspective of a thirtysomething it can be light and funny because those stakes really aren’t the end of the world. And I think the directors were able to do a really good job with that, along with the other writers for Season 1 (Justin Varava, Sean Lavery, Kerri Doherty) I think they really all brought their A-game. In terms of other influences: again, The Wonder Years was huge, and Freaks and Geeks too, and then movies like Stand By Me, The Sandlot and A Christmas Story.

Blake J. Harris: Unsurprisingly, those are all stories about adolescence; so let’s jump back to your childhood. Where did you grow up?

Kevin Jakubowski: I’m from a little town outside Chicago called Batavia.

Blake J. Harris: And did you know early on that you wanted to be a writer?

Kevin Jakubowski: Yeah, pretty much. [laughs] So there’s this Dr. Seuss book called “My Book About Me” and in it you’re supposed to write in what you want to be when you grow up. Well, at the time I didn’t know how to write “Screenwriter” or “Director” so I just wrote “Movie Maker” in there. So I think I always kind of had that in mind. And then in high school, me and my four closest friends did an access comedy series called “A Bit Carried Away.” Which was just sort of like a low-rent, low-budget 16-year-old version of Saturday Night Live. It was so much fun. I mean, it wasn’t great—we had no idea what we were doing—but in our town it made us kind of famous…that really got me into it. Like if those guys had all been like, “Hey, Jakubowski, we don’t want to go to college, we just want to hit the road and do this: I would have been like yup, let’s do it.”


Blake J. Harris: [laughs] You were living the Wayne’s World dream.

Kevin Jakubowski: Well it’s funny you say that because where I grew, in Batavia, it’s by Aurora (of Wayne’s World fame). So it was kind of funny when we were doing the access show in the mid/late 90s; we did kind of feel like we were living the “real-life version of Wayne’s World, so to speak.”

Blake J. Harris: And what did you do next? How did you actually going about becoming a “Movie Maker?”

Kevin Jakubowski: So my other big passion was sports. Especially hockey. I wanted to play that in college and was able to play at Villanova University; so that was sort of a big reason for going there. But I also had a column for the paper, which was always a lot of fun. Then after that I started applying to grad schools, film schools. That was always kind of the plan, to figure out how to be a director. So I started applying to all these schools, but I wasn’t getting in anywhere. [laughing] It was like everyday I would get a different rejection letter. But I did get into one school, which was in Ireland: University College Dublin, which is James Joyce’s alma mater!

Blake J. Harris: Nice!

Kevin Jakubowski: So I got in and decided to go there and it was really one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. It cost maybe a quarter of what it cost to go to grad school in the states. I lived in a foreign country, I worked at a pub and I got access to all these really great stories and situations; and you know, as a writer, your stories and your experiences are everything. So that led me to write what I consider my first good screenplay, which then bizarrely (very quickly) got me an agent in LA. Then I spent a year back home, in Batavia, just writing and saving up money and then I moved to LA.

Blake J. Harris: What was the script that got you that attention?

Kevin Jakubowski: It was called Fair Play Paddy Fenski. And it was about this Irish sport called Hurling, which is crazy. It’s actually the world’s oldest team sport; it’s kind of a cross between lacrosse and field hockey. It’s super fast and super violent and it’s the national sport in Ireland. So every year, there’s like 90,000 people who come to see the Ireland Final every year in this place called Croke Park. And these players are all, like, national heroes; but they’re not full-time athletes. They don’t get paid a penny to play this sport, so they all have regular jobs too, which I just thought was this amazing thing! It was like glorified high school football.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Kevin Jakubowski: So my script was about an American who goes over to Ireland to try and help save his grandfather’s pub and realizes he has this legacy and becomes a hurler. That’s what the story was about. And that’s what took me to L.A. So I moved out west and I got an internship on the Sony lot where I didn’t make any money. And then I got a PA job on South Park, where I was for two years. And there I was writing scripts and managed to get a couple other optioned for no money, but I was making progress.

Blake J. Harris: Sure.

Kevin Jakubowski: And then I started writing with my buddy who was also working there at the time. Tim Calpin. We wrote a couple scripts, the second one being Assassination of a High School President. Which got us all these crazy meetings. You know, him and I were getting Trey Parker lunch and picking up Matt Stone’s laundry and we were having meetings with, like, Paramount and Universal in between, secretly. Still trying to keep our jobs! But the script sold and because of that, the one we wrote right before that also sold. We were able to quit our jobs. Assassination made the Blacklist.

Blake J. Harris: I know this was all a while ago, but do you remember how the idea for Assassination of a High School President came about?  

Assassination Poster JPEG

Kevin Jakubowski: Sure. Tim was actually working on a novel at the time with that title. And when he told me, I was like, “Uh, that’s the best title I ever heard in my life!” At the same time, I was working on another script that was about this newspaper reporter in high school who could never finish any article he was writing on but still considered himself this great writer. And then one night I was just watching JFK—Oliver Stone’s JFK—I don’t know why, but for some reason; I was like: what if we did something like this in high school. What if we did, like, the Big Lebowski set in high school? Or Fargo set in high school? It could be really funny. And because, as a kid, the stakes feel so high to you, we didn’t need to have people getting killed or anything like that. I mean, when you’re 15, who gets elected class president can feel just as much like life or death. So Tim and I just got to work on it and it totally clicked. We wrote it in about 2-3 months. We were actually house-sitting for Trey Parker when we wrote part of it, which was inspiring…

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Kevin Jakubowski: Yeah, and then it just kind of snowballed from there. You know, I was 27 (I think) at the time, so it was just amazing. It’s all happening!

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