I met John Skidmore my freshman year of college at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Skidmore studied film, but also worked on more films outside of school than most people I met. His work, beginning as an intern and production assistant (or PA) a decade ago, has led to his current enviable role at a production company responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed comedies on television. He's credited as the producer on Inside Amy Schumer, Louie, Broad City, Difficult People, and other films, television shows, and comedy specials.
So you're head of production for Jax Media, what does that mean?
That means that every show our company does, I interface with the network, do the series budget, manage the funding from the network, deal with the unions, and in sort of a macro sense deal with the crew stuff and logistics of making the shows.
I've visited your office. I originally imagined making comedy as this wacky, non-stop party. But it's a real job. There are offices and calendars and spreadsheets. There's a ton of money at play. How do you strike that balance between the reality of production and producing a funny show?
We approach it by making a firm plan up front. We schedule everything meticulously. We [tell the comics], hey, we think this is ambitious but doable. Or this might be a lighter day or a heavier day. The more they are aware, the better off you are.
"The looser and funnier things can be, the more the crew enjoys working."
The set needs to be fun, because a lot of these comedies don't have big budgets, and they're on a tight schedule. So I think the looser and funnier things can be, the more the crew enjoys working. There are long hours and not great pay. If you can make everyone laugh on set two times a day, it makes the job better. It's definitely better than working on a drama.
Who is the funniest person you've worked with?
That is really tough. I'll give a two-fold answer. Louis [C.K.] is the greatest comedian certainly that I've ever seen. I haven't seen a ton of comedians, but just everything I see him do is brilliant. I would say in person — in real life — Abbi [Jacobson] and Ilana [Glazer, the co-creators and stars of Broad City] are some of the funniest people I've ever met.
What's your favorite memory from working with them on Broad City?
The most memorable experience we had with them was the St. Marks episode, which we did as the finale of the second season. We shot on St. Marks four straight nights. All overnights. All together. It's almost like a sleepover party, from sundown to sunup. We had that sort of giddy exhaustion, because no matter how much you sleep during the day, you're still not nocturnal. But they were game for everything. It felt like a unique episode for the series, just because of how it was conceived and pulled off.
We had that sort of giddy exhaustion
We rarely shoot episodes in a row. We usually shoot two or three episodes at the same time and take bits and pieces from each one. That was the same episode straight through, so we really got to build the momentum of the episode.
What's the craziest thing to happen on your job?
One of the craziest things we've ever done is we created a hurricane on Louie on the Upper West Side and in Red Hook. That, from a production sense, is one of the craziest things I've ever been a part of.
Do you remember your worst day on the job?
I feel like there's one a month, or one every show. There's a day where you feel like everything goes wrong. You have to take a deep breath and get through it, because it always turns out fine.
Does it turn out fine because you make it fine?
It turns out fine because the whole job is problem solving. There are a thousand fires around you, and you have to take them one at a time or else you're just going to sit there and burn alive, essentially. There could be a problem with the location or some other thing, and it's like alright, one at a time. Fix this problem, and it'll help fix the other problems, and you'll bring things back to reality.
What's the strangest request you've been given on a set?
We were shooting a movie, and we were at a remote mansion in Long Island. We were doing a wedding scene, and we needed mani-pedi people. I think we had actors, but the director wanted people who could apply a mani-pedi for real. So they sent me into town, and I went to a nail salon and recruited two people who didn't really speak English to come with me to a mansion and put them on camera.
The whole job is problem solving
They showed up. I didn't actually think they'd show up, but they did a couple hours later and hung out with us.
How did you end up in this job?
I went to film school at NYU. I started interning my sophomore year. I worked on a movie called The Hottest State with Ethan Hawke. The [president] of Jax Media, Tony, was the production manager on that movie. So I worked with him for a few movies over the course of a couple years. Once I graduated, I started working on TV with him, then I joined Jax when he formed the company in 2011 or 2012.
What's your best career advice for someone wanting to get into what you do?
I still think interning, despite lawsuits to the contrary. I think it's the best exposure. As an intern you can work on several different things in the same week. Shows hardly ever employ people for full weeks anymore, so you can do like two or three internships. A lot of people who intern at Jax do that. It gets you exposed to a million different fields and opportunities and people. We have a concerted effort to hire from our intern base.
Say it's me. I'm almost 30 years old. I say, "Hey, I want to work in the industry." Should I go back to school? Should I be a production assistant?'
I think PA-ing is the best. I have a strong opinion that the best experience is in the field. School is great as a base of knowledge and a place to meet people, especially undergrad. I don't know that there's much benefit to grad school for film. I mean some people come out with great films and are great filmmakers. But I feel like that ratio is way off. You're essentially, in grad school, paying someone so you can make a film. Nowadays, if you really want to do that, you should just make the film.