by Lucy Leitner
Jack and Emma chased the Hollywood dream for 12 years. But, like so many others, it didn’t work out. Now, instead of becoming failed Hollywood clichés, they’re moving back home to the fictional town of Oaktown, Pennsylvania. And, as the animated intro says, everyone is pretty excited. That is the premise of the new Pittsburgh-made comedy web series Jack & Emma.
Show creators Kati and Blake Lightholder, of Apartment 11 Studios, play the eponymous characters and, like their characters on the show, they’re also married. Though they’ve both been active in their own projects, this is their first joint endeavor. They hope to have more success with the locally made web series than Jack and Emma did in LA.
While a web series may seem like an affordable endeavor, it’s more complex than just “a couple of friends with a camera.”
Kati would know. She’s had success with web series in the past. She produced The Mercury Men, the local series created by Chris Preksta (also of Pittsburgh Dad fame) that got picked up by the Syfy network and became one of the most downloaded shows on iTunes.
“We treated Jack & Emma like a TV show from the very beginning,” Kati Lightholder said. “We went through several rounds of casting to find our actors. Our crew was made up of mostly professionals. We composed original music. It took nearly a year to bring everything together.”
That’s why the Lightholders have launched an indiegogo campaign to fund the project. They’re seeking $30,000 to facilitate their mission to fill the web with quirky, clean, socially responsible comedy. They’ve already got non-profit Fractured Atlas behind them, but need more funding to be responsible to their cast and crew.
By clean and socially responsible, they don’t mean prude and preachy — just hoping to make a positive influence by being relevant and funny without being vulgar and offensive. They want to earn their laughs through light-hearted social commentary (like the Mailman Surveillance Agency) and character-driven humor that does not depend on shock value.
The film Sonny Days, in which Kati Lightholder starred, operated on a similar philosophy of character eccentricities providing the humor.
“We love ensemble comedies with unique and quirky characters — the Jenna Maroneys, Phil Dunphes, and Ron Swansons of the world. There are so many talented actors here in Pittsburgh that we were able to surround Jack and Emma with lots of interesting characters,” Kati said.
Indeed, there are some recognizable locals in the cast. Comedian Aaron Kleiber, also of Sonny Days, is Fender, Jack’s childhood “hombre” who went through an expired-Oreo-cookie-binging dark period when his pal left. He’s thrilled for best bud Jack’s return, or his “coming full circle, like a rotisserie chicken.”
Jim Donovan, founding member of Rusted Root and Kati’s brother, plays the domestic espionage-obsessed Greg the Mailman in a manner reminiscent of Danny McBride.
Emma’s naïve high school friends Maddie (Julie Beroes), Jen (Jennie Bushnell), and Kirsten (Klase Danko) are thrilled to relive their “wild” teenage years. They all should have been behind bars. If bartending weren’t a man’s job. Marie (Claire Chapelli) is anxious to see her sister again, while her New Age husband Daan (Joseph James) wants to reach out to them, presumably in a way more uncomfortable than just about anything they’d encounter in even Venice Beach.
The only one who doesn’t share the enthusiasm is Krish, an aspiring stand-up comedian, played by Krish Mohan, an actual stand-up comedian.
Local voice artist Molly Difiore provides the narration, and interviews the characters’ on-camera testimonials that serve as promotional videos for the series until they receive the funding to film the full-length pilot.
“The Mercury Men proved that we could produce a high-end finished product without a large budget. It all came down to the right mix of people. So I knew how important it was to get the right people no matter what size our budget was,” Kati said.
Kati and Blake Lightholder are creators, writers, and producers of the show. Though some of the monologue lines seem extemporaneous in their delivery, the show is 95% scripted.
“They are all just amazing actors,” Kati said.
The indiegogo campaign runs until February 18. Contributions range from $15 to $15,000, the latter of which gives the opportunity to appear in the pilot episode. Due to the affiliation with Fractured Atlas, your contributions to the campaign are tax deductible.
Yes, memorabilia and the feeling that you’re getting out of giving some money to a government that may or may not fund a Mailman Surveillance Agency are great perks, but the real reward should be helping a well-intentioned project that can be a huge boon to the local entertainment industry.
No one involved in the project fled their home of Pittsburgh for the bright lights and burst pipe dreams of Los Angeles. They stayed with cloudy skies and the water main breaks. They are all determined to make it work in Pittsburgh, which, in turn, makes our city earn its nickname of Hollywood East. And that’s why you should help fund Jack & Emma — to make it possible for a TV series to happen here. To be locally produced, filmed, acted. We don’t want to lose local talent to Hollywood. Make it your social responsibility. We want to retain our talent. Don’t let the cast and crew and other people after become Jack and Emma. Help make Hollywood happen here.