Photo Credit: Marcie Hume
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.
— Alysha Westlake
The web comedy series Jack in a Box, written and directed by Michael Cyril Creighton with what must be autobiographical authenticity, is about the mundane misadventures of a bored box office ticket seller relayed via hilarious phone conversations with a variety of exasperating customers as well as peeks into his personal relationships as he seeks a romantic rescue from his stupefying surroundings and domestic doldrums. Pretty much everyone who has worked in any sort of public service position can relate to his professional frustrations, including his quirky co-workers, making Jack in a Box a universally appealing sitcom for solitary schleps and working stiffs alike.
— Will Viharo
In last week's 30 Rock season premiere, Liz "Cranky Sue" Lemon was, all of a sudden, happy! Fans saw her skipping with animated birds and smooching on a mystery man (James Marsden).
It was about time. Sitcoms about cranks have two options: cling relentlessly to the joke or allow characters to grow. Michael Cyril Creighton, creator and star of the critically acclaimed web series Jack in a Box — who also had a hilarious turn on 30 Rock — opted for the latter.
"I tried to make him a little happier this past season, which some people weren't jazzed about. But I needed to do it as a challenge to myself, because it's really hard to write that character happy... I thought it was time," Creighton said in an interview.
"We'll see how long that happiness lasts," he added.
Unlike his character Jack, Creighton has had a lot of reasons to be happy. After Jack premiered in 2009 it quickly developed an enthusiastic fan base and won a top award at the New York Television Festival. A year later, when the New York Times decided to start covering web programming, readers alerted writer Mike Hale to Jack. Jack eventually got Creighton membership to the Writers Guild of America East, and this month the Guild honored him with a nomination for best original web series, alongside Aim High (McG/Warner Bros./Cambio) and Downsized (from fellow indie creator Daryn Strauss).
"It's amazing... It feels good because there's a lot of stuff on the web, and it's hard to make an impression," he said. "I'm constantly humbled and surprised when I come out with something new and people still watch it."
Creighton is halfway through writing the fourth and final season of Jack. As the series approaches its finale, he is starting to reflect on its success, why many viewers stuck with the show through its two dozen episodes.
"I feel like the voice is pretty clear, and I've known what I was trying to go for from the beginning," he said, adding that the show has improved over the years. "I think I've gotten better as a writer, as an actor, as a collaborator. The longer I do it, it's starting to get stronger, just because of practice."
One of his greatest challenges was making Jack relatable, since the character can tend toward sad and supercilious. As a writer, Creighton tried to make Jack's most unlikable traits — petulance, mild disgust — understandable given the character's ludicrous work and family life.
Like with every indie web production, making Jack in a Box is a lot of work, particularly in post-production, but Creighton keeps it as simple as possible. Most episodes take place in one location, which his collaborator Jim Turner, who also does the editing, shoots in a few hours.
The show has featured a terrific roster of guest stars and regulars, most of them Creighton knows from acting in New York. Two-time Tony Award nominee Mary Testa and fan favorite Katine Corrao (Good Neighbor Minute) regularly play Jack's foils and instigators. Cycling through the show have been a robust cast of actors known for solid TV and web series work: Marylouise Burke, Jackie Hoffman, Randy Harrison (Queer as Folk), Becca Blackwell (Gay's Anatomy), Patrick Heusinger (Gossip Girl, Royal Pains), Thom Woodley (The Burg, Greg and Donny), among others.
"I've had some good muses," Creighton said. "It's probably my favorite part of the whole series."
Perhaps the biggest development of the past season was Jack's new beau, Drew (Paul Thureen). For the first two seasons, the character stayed avowedly single, though Creighton believes most viewers knew he was gay. Jack's singlehood made sense in the beginning, and Creighton didn't want to push a romantic storyline before the character was ready.
"It wasn't right for the story to have any love because he wasn't able to," he said. Writing a relationship was one way Creighton let the lead grow. "It just happened to happen when I needed to write it, and the audience wanted it, and Paul was available to play the part."
Next up for Creighton are a series of guest roles on a number of web shows, including Timeless Seasons; Guards of Dagmar, the highly anticipated series from Anyone But Me scribe and 2011 WGA award-winner Tina Cesa Ward; and a possible role in Two Jasperjohns by Vinny Lopez.
While he's sad to see Jack go, Creighton is eager to work on new ideas, including writing a television pilot. "I need to let this baby grow up and walk away."
WGA award nominees will be honored on February 19. The fourth season of Jack in a Box premieres later this spring.
— Aymar Jean Christian
The Writers Guild of America has announced seven nominations in its two new media awards categories plus five for videogame writing.
The WGA, which made the announcement Wednesday, will disclose the winners at its awards shows in Los Angeles and New York on Feb. 19.
Nominations in original new media writing went to "Aim High" by Heath Corson & Richie Keen; "Debt Ceiling" by Daryn Strauss; and "Jack in a Box" by Michael Cyril Creighton.
— Dave McNary
This is an excerpt from the full article, which you can read here.
Demonstrating either a solid fan base for Web video, or the networking ability of Web video makers, the first Watchlist column last month drew a strong response, with readers recommending close to a hundred serials, films, podcasts and sites.
We've tabulated those responses and will examine a few of your favorites this month, along with discoveries of our own. One observation: You appear to prefer traditional narratives, particularly serials that approximate situation comedies, a genre that's alive and well online, as demonstrated by the first two choices this month.
Receiving the most reader support by far was Michael Cyril Creighton's relatively well-known comedy "Jack in a Box," named best Web series at this year's New York Television Festival. The show is in the popular frustrated-New York-artist genre, with Mr. Creighton playing the title character, a barely working actor who supports himself — for as long as he can stand it — by working in a theater box office.
It's easy to see why the series is popular: Jack, with his combination of sensitivity and self-absorption, swishy humor and not-quite-suppressed anger, is both a stand-in for an office-drone audience that feels that it's wasting its creativity, and a recognizable New York type. If you work in the arts or fashion or media in the city, you know a Jack, or 10 Jacks.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which you can read here.
CREATORS: Michael Cyril Creighton with Marcie Hume
POINT OF ORIGIN / RUNNING TIME: New York City / 20 minutes
CAST: Michael Cyril Creighton, Beth Cole, Marylouise Burke, Lusia Strus
HEADLINE: A sharply drawn, occasionally poignant comic strip, ported to the real world.
TODD'S TAKE: Jack In A Box was the perfect way to close out screenings at a festival like this. Light and spry, it borrows the rules of classic comics or cartoons to create a story about a theater graduate who finds himself working in a box office and hating every minute of it. Broadway vets fill out the supporting roles (like the very funny Burke as a doddering old woman), but the real story here is Creighton, who's created an almost perfect comic character in Jack, an irrationally bitter young man who occasionally shows weird shoots of personal growth poking through the blackness. This was yet another Web series edited together into a pilot (though at least it didn't try to hide its roots), but what makes it all work is how confidently Creighton holds the screen as an overly dramatic malcontent. As the four episodes shown progressed, the series grew more and more confident in its vision and bolder in its idea of the Jack In A Box universe, concluding with a note-perfect gag wherein Jack encounters some doppelgangers. I don't know if this is a great series, but this is a great, great comedic character.
NETWORK THIS IS PERFECT FOR: I kind of wish that Bravo or A&E were still showing arts programming, because this character would work great for little promos in between programs. As it is, IFC is probably the only logical home for the character.
There are no cupcakes in Michael Cyril Creighton's apartment. Something is terribly wrong.
Since July, the world has been watching with delicious delight as Michael stuffs his face with Bakeway cupcakes on Jack in a Box, the comedy series he created for YouTube whose second season starts today.
"I do not like cupcakes; Jack does," he says emphatically in his stage-perfect diction. "I would prefer a taco. I'm more savory than sweet."
This is a blow, especially after the workout of the five-floor walk up to his apartment. But Michael - unlike his alter ego Jack - aims to please and repairs the PR disaster with panache. "I do have a croissant for you," he says, a note of apology in his voice.
It's a good thing Jack isn't here. If he had a cupcake or even a croissant, there's no way he'd share it. Nope, if he knew you wanted it, he'd eat it right in front of you. Then he'd give you a snarky smile and tell you it was the best one he ever had. "I'm a little better than Jack," Michael says. "Jack has all the hidden bad qualities I have as Michael."
Unlike Jack, Michael, whose horn-rimmed glasses style him a young, slender Drew Carey, acts more Shakespeare than sitcom. For Jack, it's service with a smirk and a smart remark: He puts customers on hold while he eats lunch, grosses-out a co-worker so he can rehearse alone and licks tickets so he can share his strep.
For Michael, the consummate gentleman, it's service with a smile: He helps guests on with their coats, serves coffee, and even in the rain, walks visitors to the corner in broad daylight. He dresses in Ralph Lauren Polo, and his apartment looks like a spread from the West Elm catalog.
They may disagree on cupcakes, but Michael and Jack do have some key things in common. Aspiring actors/comedians, they each work in a Manhattan theater box office between auditions, and they each have to deal with crazy customers and flaky friends and family. "The ideas for the episodes are sparked by real-life situations," Michael says. "But the characters are fictional."
Having said that, Michael adds that Jack's mother - the one who constantly dials him at work on his cell phone and croons "I Just Called To Say I Love You" -- is based on his grandmother. "When she saw the episode, she called me and said, 'Do you really make those faces while I'm singing?' Then she started singing another song!"
Jack in a Box debuted right after Michael's 30th birthday. "I wanted to take ownership of something," he says. "Unlike Jack, I don't think that having a full-time day job means you are a failure as an actor. But if I had to do only that, like Jack, I would be very depressed. I'm a character actor, and I need to make my own opportunity, and that's fine with me. I wrote a script, and the YouTube videos are based on bits of it."
The first episode was far more popular than Michael - or even Jack - ever dreamed. It has been viewed more than 12,000 times.
The episodes, which are shot in a theater box office in Midtown with a single high-definition camera equipped with one light and one mike, take about two hours to complete. "I start with an image or a character and write down a line here or there," says Michael, who shows up on the set with a box of croissants, not cupcakes, for the cast and crew. "Then I write each episode in about 20 minutes."
The cast is culled from Michael's acting friends and has included well-known New York thespians like Marylouise Burke, who played Miles' mother in the film Sideways.
"For me, this is a labor of love," he says. "My main hope is that people find it as humorous as I do."
Everybody knows all about Jack in a box, but what about Michael out of the box?
Michael grew up in Kings Park, Long Island, and was raised by a single mom, an English teacher who exposed him to language, literature and arts and culture. His grandparents lived next door.
"By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a performer," Michael says. "It was then that I starred in my first real play that wasn't a musical."
The stage, he finds, suits and seduces him. "When you're doing a play, there's an instant collision of friendship that's like family," he says. "It's real quick. Then it's over. It's exciting when you keep repeating that fast burst of intensity."
After he graduated from Emerson College, where he majored in acting, Michael got a job in a box office in Manhattan very much like the one he and Jack work in. After several years of the three-hour round-trip commute, he settled in Astoria, where he has lived for seven years.
Michael is a creative creature of habits. He starts every morning with coffee - skim milk and two Splendas and every once in a while a chocolate croissant -- at Bakeway on 30th Avenue, and even though it's three subway stops away, he gets his closely cropped hair cut every two weeks by Alex at Allan's III Barber Shop on Ditmars Boulevard.
When Michael's not Jack or Michael, he's any number of characters. In September, he was in the critically acclaimed off-off-Broadway production MilkMilkLemonade. Even Jack would not have recognized him: He was the religious elderly grandmother who has cancer and runs a chicken farm. "It was flattering and strange to be asked to do the role," he says. "It was a stretch - I had 44 DDD breasts made of kitty litter! They were really heavy."
This month, he's playing a variety of roles in The Debate Society production You're Welcome, which he describes as a love letter to bad theatre.
The season one finale of Jack in a Box, which came out in December, ended with a chocolate cupcake of a cliffhanger. Jack, while licking his wounds and his frosting, has a revelation of epic proportions: He wants out of the box.
"I haven't decided what he's ultimately going to do," Michael says.
So it is that Michael will let Jack have the last cupcake, but he'll save the last laugh for himself.
— Nancy Ruhling
With the economy these days and our subsequent tendency to clamp down on a job (any job) like a Kardashian's thighs around a stray pro athlete, we seem to have forgotten a key tenet of American life: work sucks. Jack Simon (creator Michael Cyril Creighton) couldn't forget if he tried. The nebbishy, head-voiced star of the Web series Jack In A Box gets a crushing reminder every day he neglects his acting dreams and shows up to work (usually late) at the Ticket Universe box office, where he suffers a host of indignities that warrant his frequent cigarette-and-cupcake breaks.
Box hilariously captures in cringe-inducing detail the mehs and lows of barely working for a meager living. A middle-aged woman tirelessly demanding a student discount, his batshit crazy co-worker counting her Weight Watchers points in his ear and a slew of other incrementally soul-murdering banalities are enough to make Jack terminally miserable but not enough to induce his resignation (yet). His mom calls to bellow showtunes at him throughout the day and the new star of his theatre's incest musical Bros of Desire is riding a wave of success that seems to have drowned our poor hero, but Jack is so numb he can't even cry on command anymore, prompting him to shriek, "Damn that BFA! It's totally useless!"
If you were to break down the entirety of scripted web video into two categories — shows about jobs that stink, and shows that aren’t about jobs that stink — you’d probably have a lot more of the former than the latter. Everyone spends a fair amount of time kvetching about work, after all, and finding a new venue to do so (under the guise of fiction, no less!) is probably a welcome release for most creators. The challenge is making that interesting to the average viewer, especially one who exists outside the specific community in which the job takes place. And that’s where the indie series Jack In A Box really excels.
Created by Marcie Hume and Michael Cyril Creighton, Jack In A Box tells the story of Jack (Creighton), an aspiring actor whose aspirations have been dampened over the past several years by his low-level day job in a Broadway ticket office — leaving him a cupcake-devouring, chain-smoking shell of a man who never misses an opportunity to get even the smallest amount of petty revenge on the world.
The jokes are relatively particular to the New York theater scene as a result, but even someone who couldn’t find 42nd Street on an NYC street map will enjoy the bitchy way in which Jack deals with annoying customers and actors who are much more successful than him, just as long as they’ve ever attended a theater production or worked a job they honestly didn’t care about getting fired from. The budget is clearly low but the production values manage to be relatively solid despite that, and Creighton, as the writer and lead, gives the show a clear voice that has found some audience — with relatively minimal distribution and promotional push, each episode has earned over 1,000 YouTube views.
Over the nine episodes released since the show’s premiere in July 2009, Jack’s quest to escape the box office has escalated. But no matter what he does, his fate seems sadly sealed, a profound warning to those who might give up on their dreams — or just “put them on hold” for a little while.
The most truthful moment of the show comes in Episode 3, where Jack’s job performance is brutally evaluated by his boss Becca (Beth Cole). When she critiques his goofing off, his inability to show up on time and his bad attitude, he asks her if he’s ever going to get health insurance. She says no, he replies that in that case, things are never going to change — and then the two of them go smoke a cigarette, together resigned.
— Liz Shannon Miller
This cracks us up. Michael Cyril Creighton's Jack in a Box, created with Marcie Hume, is a web series that follows the ups and downs (mostly the latter) of Jack, a New York type — in this case, a box office worker — who has to deal with the public, a job for which he is manifestly not suited (in the words of the series, he's not 'window ready.') Shot in the popular mockumentary style, these short videos are a funny (affecting, too) look at someone who feels karmically put upon by life and lashes out by putting people on hold while he eats a sandwich. Great guest appearances, too.
Job reviews. We all get 'em. We all dread 'em. But none is quite like the one you'll see on the latest webisode of Jack in the Box, the delightfully insidery comedy series by talented and charming Michael Cyril Creighton. The beleaguered protagonist of this series is a frustrated actor who slaves for an Off Broadway ticket service. By the way, this puckish Mr. Creighton is currently appearing in MilkMilkLemonade, a new play at Under St. Marks directed by TONY contributor and blogger Isaac Butler. Enjoy.
— David Cote
Jack in a Box, the new web series from Michael Cyril Creighton (formerly seen on VH1's Best Night Ever vidcasts on BestWeekEver.tv), is hilarious and completely deadpan, making for very entertaining viewing.
The first episode, The Receiver, is available right now on MCC's YouTube channel, and it shows us how soul crushing and utterly maddening work in a theatre box office can be. Who knew?? The first episode has some great moments, particularly when 'Jack' has to read the description of a very... unique musical to a caller.
I'm interested to see what new episodes of this series will have to offer, since it seems that MCC may have already touched on everything funny (and sad) about a box office job in the first episode. We shall see!
— Alycia Scott-Igoe
Anyone who has ever worked in a theatre box office will appreciate Michael Cyril Creighton's hysterically funny new web series, Jack In A Box, which has a very simple premise: it's about a guy named Jack who works in a box office. I love its catchy tagline: "He used to love theatre... until he sold tickets for it." Oh, I can still feel his pain, having spent four years myself selling tickets in various Chicago box offices for such shows as Shear Madness, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Greater Tuna. I did get to meet the occasional celebrity like crotchety composer Sammy Cahn (who wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musicals, Skyscraper and Walking Happy), but it didn't make up for the daily verbal abuse from bitchy customers. Ah, such fond memories - and Jack In A Box brought them all flooding back today. It even prompted me to dig out an old play of mine called Scattered Singles, which was about life in a box office (if anyone is interested in producing a five-actor, one-set comedy, let me know).
But enough about me and my own tales of b.o. woe. In Jack, Mr. Creighton perfectly captures all the angst and humor of the job. I especially enjoyed — and understood — the scene in which he puts a frustrating customer on hold so he can eat his lunch, and I laughed out loud with tears in my eyes during his brilliant montage of fake names (mine was always "Joe" - it sounded tough).
I can't wait to see future episodes of Jack featuring the fabulous Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, Xanadu) and the gorgeous Patrick Heusinger (that's the Spamalot/Gossip Girl actor in the photo below). But the main attraction of the web series is the hilarious and talented Michael Cyril Creighton, who was a host for VH1's Best Night Ever video podcast for a few years. As the creator/writer/performer of Jack In A Box, the guy gives us a realistic portrayal of what a caged animal would feel like - if it sold tickets to a show. So if you have a few minutes to spare, I highly recommend that you watch the video below. I think you'll like it.
Here at TONY Theater we often get calls from confused folks who seem to be unable to operate the magazine (open it up) or the website (use the search function). They're looking for their shows, friends' shows, shows they've heard about, shows that exist only in their darling imaginations. So we partly relate to this clever, funny-sad-funny video by the talented Michael Cyril Creighton. It's the first episode of a new Web sitcom. (Side note: Creighton was terrific in the Debate Society's recent Cape Disappointment.) Enjoy — and please be kind to the box-office worker.
— David Cote