You may remember Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn as the owners of the Twin Cities’ beloved restaurant, Table of Contents.
Or, as the entrepreneurs behind the short-lived Red Fish Blue restaurant on Grand Avenue, or Dish in Minneapolis. What you likely don’t know about them is that these two long-time friends and partners have always wanted to be writers—Sam dreamed of writing the Great American movie script and Jim aspired to be the author of the Great American novel. What they did instead (like most of us with lofty dreams) was start families, build their business… But then they dusted off the old dream of writing, left the restaurants and Minnesota behind, picked up stakes and decided to try their hands at screenwriting in L.A. They’ve written as a team for Disney, sold screenplays, and have gained hard-earned wisdom on how things work if you want to write for TV or the movies. As a lark, they started a podcast a while back, just to try out this newfangled medium, recounting their travails in the business in the hopes it might connect them to other writers in the trenches; maybe they could build a small network, help each other out. What they didn’t expect was that the podcast would, in the course of just over a year, gain a devoted (and growing) following far beyond aspiring writers. In fact, they’re so encouraged about the podcast’s viral success in such a short time, they’ve started to take podcasting seriously enough to branch out with a scripted show of their own—bypassing Hollywood’s middlemen altogether. a+E caught up with Sam and Jim to find out more about podcasting, their up-and coming new online show Father Knows Jack, and the future of guerilla, direct-to-audience media as they see it.
Q: What’s the current podcast, Sam and Jim Go To Hollywood, about?
Sam: It’s the story of two guys, old roommates at Macalester and longtime friends, who want to be writers. So, they pack up their families, leave their jobs and move out to Los Angeles to try to make a go of it. Jim and I had pretty successful restaurants in Minnesota, but we got out from under them and decided to come out here to see if we could do it. We’ve had some success—sold a pilot episode, a bunch of features, and we’re developing some new shows. We figure that there are a lot of people out there who would love to do what we did, but there are some real misconceptions about how the process works—that you just go out there, sell a show and someone gives you a MILLION DOLLAR check! We’re just trying to offer a brutally honest perspective, as we’re going through it, giving some idea of what it’s really like to try and make it as a screenwriter—things we wish someone could have told us about.
Q: Do you guys listen to any other podcasts yourselves?
Jim: No. [laughing] I tried, but I had a really hard time finding any good ones. Just because you can do a show doesn’t mean anyone would want to listen to it. A lot of that stuff sounds like something we would’ve written a decade ago—it’s just terrible. Sometimes, there’s a clever idea, but it’s not strong enough to sustain a show; or worse, there’s just no thought put into it.
Q: If there are so many bad podcasts, how can a listener find the good ones? Is there anyone filtering through all the chaff, highlighting podcasts worth checking out?
Sam: Not that I know of, and that’s the problem. Lots of people can use the technology now, and it’s easy to say, “I’m a funny guy, I’ll do a show.” But they don’t know how to craft anything—it’s crap. And there really isn’t a good way to find the decent podcasts out there yet—there aren’t really any filters that I know of. The best one I know of is Podcast Alley. But in spite of all that, somehow, people are finding our podcast—it’s crazy. We’ve done absolutely nothing to promote it, and still it’s ranked 300 (out of all the thousands of podcasts). It’s getting out there somehow.
Jim: If right now it’s anarchy, and in traditional broadcasting it’s a dictatorship. What we really need is a republic. [laughs] Some government, some authority, but it’s still a democracy—something in between.
Q: Then how are they finding you now?
Jim: I have no idea [laughing].
Sam: There’s a real distribution problem with podcasting now. It’s really difficult to find what you’re looking for.
Jim: Like looking for a needle in a needlestack.
Q: What’s your plan for this new podcast you’ve been proposing, Father Knows Jack? Who’s it going to be for and how will they find it?
Jim: We’re big fans of public radio. We’d like the show to incorporate something like the sketches from A Prairie Home Companion, the banter on Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me, and the first person stories from This American Life.
Sam: It’s a show about men, without relying on the simple-minded sex jokes of The Man Show. There’s really nothing out there about men that’s smart. And we’re hoping that it’s for everyone. My wife doesn’t even know when to get the oil changed in the car, but she loves Car Talk. I want our show to appeal to everyone in that way—if it’s good, there should be something for everyone to connect with. We offered the pitch in a recent podcast, and so far, we’ve got about 15 writers who want to write for us. We’ll audition some actors, and, since people seem to like our banter, Jim and I will talk about our lives in each show, what’s going on with us. We’re going to solicit some first person stories from other writers… we just hope people will be entertained, and even more, that maybe they’ll be moved by what they hear. For people to find it, we’ll have to be creative about how we market it and get the word out...
Read the full interview on mnartists.org to get the whole story
Curious? Listen to a sample of Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood for yourself. In this recent episode, you’ll find out why “Sam is half-empty… Jim is half-full. We wish we were talking about a glass, not our uncertain job prospects. It's staffing season in Hollywood, and there's lots of jobs out there -- or not many at all. It all depends on how you look at it (and just what's in that glass you're drinking).
Photo and web graphic reprinted here courtesy Ernst and Dunn..
Pirates, fables, and personal histories abound this month. If it's "once upon a time" you're looking for, here are a few of our picks for the remainder of June.
Alexa Horochowski: Fables Writ Large
In the inagural exhibition at the at the Minnesota Artists Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Alexa Horochowski's large scale works are typically provocative, ambiguous, and seductive.
The Unicorn in Captivity Opening reception is tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. Artist-led tour Thursday, June 22, at 7 p.m. Critics' Trialogue on Thursday, June 29 at 7 p.m. Listen to Alexa talk about her work here.
Mpls' West Bank Stories on Stage
As a unique send-up to West Side Story, Bedlam Theatre debuts a new musical adventure - celebrating the people & history of Minneapolis' high-rising, rabble-rousing West Bank neighborhood.This raucus, imaginative play illuminates the rich history of the area, ranging through the personal stories of families living on the West bank in three key time periods for the neighborhood— the 1890s, 1972, and 2006. West Bank Story is showing at the Mixed Blood Theater through June 25, so there's still time to catch the show.
And for a Completely New Take on Pirates...
SHE Captains, a show by Shawn McConneloug & her Orchestra, is among the latest offerings from the Southern Theater. Featured as an offsite performance in the historic Thorp Building complex in NE Minneapolis, this unusual show explores the collision of childhood tales of adventure, Hollywood imagery, and the real life pirate story of a truly inspiring transgressive, Grace O’Malley, prank queen of the 16th century. Featuring McConeloug's trademark mixture of film and live performance, the production runs through June 25.
For more events on music & movies, festivals, readings, performances, dance, and the
jam-packed-insanity that is summer arts programming in Minnesota check out the mnartists.org