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Blake J. Harris: Not only that, but with pretty significant actors too. How were you able to get Bruce Willis on board?

Kevin Jakubowski: So a lot of big producers were interested and eventually it went to Vertigo, which is Roy Lee and Doug Davison, who had done The Departed, Lego, all kinds of huge movies. They really just championed it. Then Bob Yari, of Yari Film Group, really liked the script. I think there was just a lot of heat on it and set something up where essentially if they could get a big name to play the principal they thought we could get a green light. They got it to Bruce Willis, who loved it and wanted to do it and from there we were able to attract a lot of other great actors. It’s a really great young cast. That’s a lot of people’s first movie. Luke Grimes, who ended up going to American Sniper. Vincent Piazza. Zoe Kravitz. Melanie Diaz. John Magaro. Reece Thompson.  Just a lot of really good, talented, young actors. That our casting director and our director (Brett Simon) were able to cast really well.

Blake J. Harris: Flashing forward a bit, you started focusing on television…

Kevin Jakubowski: So we shot Assassination in the summer of 2007 and then Tim and I got a bunch more studio work after that. I think, in total, we wrote 7 or 8 scripts together in the span of five years. And then we kind of went our separate ways a bit and I segued into TV. I had two ideas for shows that I really liked, and they were both kids shows (which was a bit of a surprise to even me!). So I pitched one of them to Nickelodeon—an animated show called Dickie Danger & The Cafeteria Kid—and that sold, so I developed that with them. Then a little while after that I pitched the other one, a live-action show that was kind of like “The Office, but for Kids.”

Blake J. Harris: “The Office, but for Kids?” I like that.

Kevin Jakubowski: Yeah. Because when you’re a kid, school is your job and I think we forget that. And you can do a really great workplace comedy that way. And that was coupled with this idea that there were these two brothers; the older brother, who’s kind of this idiot, who got held back (and claimed he did it on purpose, because it made him the “coolest guy in his grade now”) and then his younger brother, who’s super smart, and he gets bumped up a grade. So now these two brothers are forced to co-exist. So I developed that with Nickelodeon over the course of a couple years. We shot a pilot, which they really liked, and then they eventually picked it up for series based on some tweaks (including a title change) and that became Legendary Dudas.

Blake J. Harris: And that brings us to right before Play by Play. But before we finish up, I wanted to just ask you a few questions about 8-Bit Christmas.

Kevin Jakubowski: Sure!

Blake J. Harris: So if I recall correctly, in addition to the book, you actually wrote a screenplay as well. In fact, I think the screenplay came first. Is that right?

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Kevin Jakubowski: Yeah. It started as a script. I think it was the 3rd script I ever wrote, and it was called Nintendo Christmas then. I wrote it when I was working at South Park. And it got optioned by a little company, which was really exciting! And it got close to getting made, and I was actually attached to direct. But it didn’t happen so I just put it on a shelf for, I don’t know, 7 years. And, well, even though I’d set it aside, I couldn’t get the story totally out of my head so I started thinking: hey, this would really make a great book.

Blake J. Harris: Had you ever written a book before?

Kevin Jakubowski: [laughs] No, I hadn’t. So there was a learning process there—which was definitely tough—but after I wrapped my head around the idea, it just felt really natural and exciting to write. You know you’re doing something right—and I know you know this—when you sit down to write and you’re like: this is fun! So that’s what it was like with 8-Bit Christmas.

Blake J. Harris: And since the book is about a kid who’s dying to get an 8-bit NES for Christmas, I have to ask—my final question: were you ever lucky enough to find an NES waiting for you under the Christmas tree?

Kevin Jakubowski: I was! I think it was Christmas 1988 (or ’87). It was a seminal moment in my childhood, and that’s what the book is about. Kids in our generation; if you’re of a certain age, that was it—that was the greatest thing you could get for Christmas. And, you know, my friends and I we just obsessed about it and prayed to god every night that we would somehow get it. And so getting it for Christmas was just amazing. Just this magical thing.

***

To check out the first episode of Play by Play, you can stream it right here.

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