By Alysha Westlake
One of the most original voices in the New Media branch of the Guild is Michael Cyril Creighton of Jack in a Box fame. Michael is always working on a new writing project, and it is always something interesting. This year, Jack in a Box was nominated for a WGA New Media Award, an important award that recognizes the emerging talent now producing on the Web. You may also have caught a hilarious glimpse of Michael as the snarky shop assistant on 30 Rock, selling Liz Lemon some “organic jeans” in Brooklyn (where else?). It’s a pleasure interviewing Michael, and here he answers some questions about his writing experiences so far.
How did you get involved with the Writers Guild?
I got a random email from the remarkable Ursula Lawrence, saying she saw my Web series Jack in a Box (which was near the end of its first season), and wanted to talk to me about the WGA. I thought it was spam, so I almost didn’t reply. Eventually we met for breakfast at a diner. After I listened to her for a bit, I said, “Yeah. But I don’t consider myself a writer.” And she said, “Do you write all of your episodes?” I paused and said, “Yeah. They aren’t improvised or anything. I write them.” She smiled and said, “You’re a writer.” Up until that point I had always identified myself as more of an actor who just wrote stuff for others and myself. Having someone like Ursula just state it so simply—“You’re a writer”—made me rethink things. Duh! I am an actor and a writer. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
What has your experience been like working in new media?
Pretty fantastic. I’ve learned so much. Historically, the Internet has been very good to me. So, when I decided it was time for me to write a series and create a vehicle for myself, it seemed to be the right place to experiment and learn about the writing/creating process. It’s been a bit like grad school, but with no teachers. Over the past three years, I feel like I’ve learned an invaluable amount about writing, creating and working with others.
Getting nominated for a WGA New Media Award must be incredibly rewarding. How does the process work?
It was such an incredible honor and a really nice surprise. I procrastinated on applying and did so right in the nick of time. Then I let it go. So when I got the email saying I had been nominated, I was really surprised and excited. Of course, the email came through right as I was going underground on the subway, so I had a good 20 minutes to obsess about it on my own and practice telling people. I think it’s wonderful that the WGA is recognizing New Media, and it was an honor to be nominated along side so many people whose work I admire. The awards ceremony was fantastic. Jimmy Fallon presented the New Media Award and said, “If we are going by applause, Creighton’s got it.” Then [he] opened up the envelope and simply said, “Nope.” I thought that was a great way to lose. My mom got her picture taken with Seth Meyers. Plenty of booze. Tiny burgers. Heaven.
Do you think being a writer/performer helps inform your writing?
Absolutely. I often approach my writing from an actor’s point of view, trying to figure out what dialogue feels most comfortable. There’s a lot of talking to myself out loud that happens. I try to contain that to my apartment so I don’t look too crazy at Starbucks. Also, I often write for specific actors and try to tailor the writing to their specific gifts and talents.
In writing your series, are there things you would change? Or has the process been pretty fluid?
I wouldn’t change a thing. The process has been very fluid. The good and bad thing about doing this as an independent project is that the only person setting deadlines for me is myself. I’ve announced that the current (fourth) season is my final season on the Web. I joke, however, that at the slow rate I’m writing and releasing the last four episodes, this final season will stretch into 2015.
Do you have different new media ideas in the pipeline, new projects or plans?
I’m still working on the final four episodes of Jack in a Box. They should start launching July-ish. In addition to that, I just wrote an episode of a new Web series created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair called High Maintenance. The show is about a weed delivery guy and the customers he comes in contact with. I’ll also be in the episode. It was a really interesting challenge to write myself into someone else’s series, since I’m so used to writing Jack. It’s a really great project, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with them when they asked. The series is planning to launch at the end of the summer. Other than that, working on some pilot ideas and thinking of new Web things I could write. I have some other acting opportunities coming up, including a new play by The Debate Society in October, called Blood Play.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing for new media?
The most rewarding part of this all has been getting to meet all the driven, talented and inspiring people in New York’s new media community, and getting to work with the people I’ve been able to work with during the run of Jack in a Box. Jim Turner, who shoots and edits the series, has been a real blessing. All the actors that have been part of the series blow my mind with their commitment and talent. They also happen to be some of the best people to be around, ever. Shooting episodes never feels like work. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most talented, funny people I know. So, for me, that’s very rewarding.