Posts tagged #classic spt

Classic SPT: Revisiting 2009

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 11.11.06 AM.png

Here’s a fun one that I’ve been holding onto for a while. This is a blog that I wrote back on December 8, 2009 that I haven’t reposted over here on the new site - a little under ten years ago. In the article, I had talked about goals for my life before I hit 30. I thought that it would be interesting to repost, then update with where I’m at nearly ten years later. Think of it as a conversation with my present-day self with me ten years ago.

The original blog will appear below in normal text. Updated thoughts in bold after.

My God... I'm going to be 30. You’re 37 now. Get over it, you baby.

I've been going back through a list of my lifelong goals. All of the things that I wanted to accomplish by the age of 25... right as I was graduating college, I created a High Fidelity Rob Gordon-esque list of things I hoped to check off by 2006 (two years, for those playing the home game). Interesting that I was revisiting a list of things at that point and now I’m going back and revisiting the list of revisiting the list and - oh look, I’ve gone cross-eyed.

Just a few:

1. Write and direct a feature film... (I have since discovered, after my failed short film attempts, that I don't care to direct - but regardless, the goal remains). I still maintain that I don’t have a desire to direct a feature. Write, yes.

2. Publish at least one book, don't care if anyone reads it or not as long as it's out there... Hey, you did it! You’ve got six books published with two on the way by the year 2020.

5. Have an office on a studio lot with a first-look or exclusive deal... (I know, I know... this was written back in 2004, when they were still giving out such things more openly) If I thought a studio deal was difficult back in 2009, it’s nearly impossible now. Dream on, kid.

7. Create and develop one kids animated show, or property that kids buy toys for and play out at recess... Still working on this one.

8. Have produced or executive produced a feature film for one of my friends... Can check this one off, I’ve co-produced at least three films. With more on the way.

9. Be working for myself under my own label... (which has been started but hasn't come to light fully). I tried the whole self-publishing thing. I think I’m still paying off the debt.

Okay, so I was overly ambitious. I've got a lot of shit to catch up on, and I'm several years late. On all of them. Maybe I can count number 2 if we count the comics, but a comic book wasn't the intention at the time. You’re good, you’re also married and have a daughter now. FYI.

When you graduate college, the first question immediately out of everyone's mouth is, "What are you going to do?" Get out of debt, should have been your first answer.

The funny thing was, right when I graduated, I was working for Trevor and everything seemed to be in perfect harmony. I didn't have to tell people what I was going to do, I could tell them what I was already doing: making movies. Or at least, was on my way to making movies. Writing, working with writers, packaging up projects, sitting down and brainstorming new concepts -- okay, I was answering a lot of phones and making a lot of copies too, but the path was clear... creative producer, here I come. You still have to answer a lot of phones. And make copies. But there are these things called PDFs which have eliminated a lot of that.

Trevor taught me more than I can possibly continue to thank him for, and being witness to his experience on two studio films was enough to scare the crap out of me but to want more... Trevor told me to go out into the world and learn, and under that guise - almost five years ago to the day today, I took a turn at the fork in the road. And Trevor is now the chair of a film school. Makes sense, right?

In an effort to get more production experience, to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how everything works from the best, I thought I had found the next-greatest graduate school in making behind the scenes documentaries for DVDs. Who better to learn from than to hear first-hand the stories and methods of some of the greatest in the business?

Sitting over Wendy's shoulder as Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris recounted their stories of bringing Little Miss Sunshine to life...

Going to Patrick Swayze's ranch in the middle of this metropolis and seeing that you can make any place truly feel like home...

Hearing the stories of Harold Ramis, Alan Metter, David Snyder and Joan Dangerfield on one of my favorite movies of all-time...

Learning about animation from Lee Mendelson, Lou Scheimer, Tom Ruegger, Paul Rugg and John McCann...

Watched two personable and admirable first-time filmmakers take a stab at an intergalactic battle, even if the fans didn't appreciate all that they did...

Being on-set the last day that Eddie Izzard and Co. wrapped their final day of shooting on a gem of a show that never had a chance to thrive and seeing their disappointed but optimistic reactions...

Learning why Marcus Nispel really loves smoke...

Sitting front and center with Mark Hamill and discussing the multiple incarnations of Batman...

Going up to Lucasfilm and getting the rare opportunity to see the inner workings of their animation department and talk with the folks in charge...

That was fun to go back and re-read. I’d actually forgotten about quite a few of those from ten-plus years ago. Thanks 2009 me. Needless to say, you make a few more memories after that. In working behind the scenes on movies and a whole lot more. Just wait until you get to work on a project where you’re interviewing Dennis Muren, John Dykstra, Douglas Trumbull, Ron Howard, among others.

There are far too many amazing experiences for me to recount over the five years. I know I'm leaving a good dozen or so out. I started my second career with booking crews and making call sheets. But was eventually lucky enough to produce my own pieces, and was fortunate enough to be trusted to create dozens of bonus materials, all the while absorbing as much as I could. I've met literally hundreds of great people. I've been fortunate to have incredible and understanding clients that fed my passion to do more and humored me when I would hit them up for overages so that I could license a Hardy Boys cover image for a joke that only the true fans (and the filmmakers) would laugh at. I have been priviledged to work with even greater people that have come and gone at my office, bosses that were kind enough to continue feeding me creatively and sending me out for inspiration. I'm extremely grateful to consider many of the people I've met over my five year "graduate program" my closest friends now.

But with technologies, economies, and butterflies flapping their wings in Beijing: things start to change. The small production office that was my personal and invaluable graduate school has metamorphosed into something more akin to parody in Office Space. We're putting cover letters on TPS reports (didn't you get the memo?), entering data into spreadsheets, and every day when I eat lunch in the newly created cafeteria, I'm reminded to ask myself if what I'm doing is good for the company. Just wait until you do work for big companies and studios, half your life is paperwork, deliveries, contracts, and wrap books. Chill out.

The changes make sense. The little company that could, which we kept chugging through both the good times and the bad had become so big that it needed to evolve. Much like Madonna has recreated her image to appeal to a new audience every generation or so, you have to adapt to survive. News flash, it’s 2019 now and our President is a plant. Just kidding, but you’re still adapting and in fact are in the process of figuring out yet another next step in your professional life.

For a time, the change was managable. It was challenging. And challenging has always been fun for me. A couple crazy long weeks here, a few late nights there, but there was still time to get Only in Dreams optioned. (Spoiler alert: Only in Dreams development stalls. Twice.) Time to get the comic book up on the website. Time to help a friend develop her comedy screenplay while working on a new one of my own. The change has even given me the great opportunity to work with several of the DVD producers that would have been the deans if my employer would have truly been a grad school. 

But slowly, a couple crazy long weeks turned into every week. A couple long nights turned into every project, even the smallest requiring 72 hour shifts. To make it through projects, I started pulling a George Costanza and sleeping at work. I was lucky if I was able to take my shoes off when I got home before I crawled into bed, let alone continue with all of the projects on the side.

If the past five years were my graduate school, I was living like I was taking finals.

In that same mindset, I started thinking that one of the largest projects that was coming to an end in the near future could be considered my master's thesis, hearalding the conclusion of a great run before I turned the page and used everything I learned for the next step. To start tackling the things that I had passed by on my list of things to do by the time that I was 25, hopefully before I hit 30. The timing seemed to be perfect, I could finish the project that has been a year plus in the making - having seen it through from inception to completion... I could shake everyone's hand and... as a graduate... get asked:

"What are you going to do?"

And the answer was going to be what any graduate usually responds with...

"You know, I don't know..."

I just told you. You need to respond with, “Get out of debt.” Also, I’ve got news for you. That project you thought was your “master’s thesis?” Not anywhere close. But you’ll get there, Skippy. Give it a couple more years. The blog went on from here, talking about leaving Trailer Park (where I was working at the time) and figuring out what was next. I’ll omit that for both your sake and mine. But, the state-of-mind that I was in back at that point in time is interesting. I’m in a fairly similar situation now. I took a leap last year, hoping to get back into development. Hoping to figure out a next step. It’ll be interesting to revisit this one in 2029 to see where things shake out. You know, revisiting the revisiting of the revisiting.

Join me then, won’t you?

Posted on March 6, 2019 and filed under SPT News.

Classic SPT: From the Studio

You mean, the studio that brought me The Rocketeer, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Flubber too?

Another Classic Still Playing with Toys article from all the way back on December 9, 2003 (would you believe? Man, I'm getting old). This was around the time that I was working as a producer's assistant for Trevor Albert, hence the reference to Winn-Dixie being right around the corner from release. Enjoy!

We all know that Disney has its ups and its downs, and there are some that would have you believe that Disney was the devil trying to taint the minds of their children. I normally roll my eyes and say whatever... but they've started doing something now that is really bugging me. 

"From the studio..." 

For example, have you seen the most recent ads for Haunted Mansion? Note the title card that comes up, "From the studio that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean." Never mind the fact that nobody on the creative staff on Pirates was on Haunted Mansion- they're trying to reel you in by saying, hey this was a successful movie- you'll like our new one. I was willing to shrug it off once but they're up to it again. 

The new poster for Miracle (the movie about the US Hockey team winning the gold) hit our beloved movie theaters this week. Notice the tagline? 

"From the studio that brought you The Rookie and Remember the Titans

Are they nuts??? 

So I'm thinking when Because of Winn-Dixie comes out they should market it such: 

"From the studio that brought you 'Die Hard,' 'Star Wars,' 'X-Men,' 'Home Alone,' and 'Alien' " 

I mean seriously, if these are the games that Disney wants to play and people are actually going to fall for them, then why not? Nobody on the creative team of Winn-Dixie worked on any of those movies but hey, maybe it can be marketed like they did. The fact that they're marketing a movie with such a tagline is nuts, I mean what's next "From the people who saw Rocky and Karate Kid" or even better "From the guy that pumped George Lucas' gas?"

Posted on September 19, 2014 and filed under Movies.

Classic SPT: That Guy Who Dresses Like Me

Screen capture from an interview conducted for the "Back to School: Extra-Curricular Edition"

Here's an article that was lost in the transition over to the new Squarespace-hosted site, from note all that long ago: February 24, 2014 just after Harold Ramis' passing...

"Do you like the movie Groundhog Day?" Asked a flyer hanging up on a corkboard in the Loyola Marymount cinema building. Nothing more, just those words with an email address at the bottom of the flyer. The correct response of course is, who doesn’t?

But to a kid like me, who had grown up a fan… okay… let’s be honest, borderline obsessed with Ghostbusters and then eventually the more adult films in which Harold Ramis was instrumental, I had to respond to the flyer.

Unbeknownst to me, the flyer was outreach by Harold Ramis’ producing partner Trevor Albert who was on the hunt for a few good interns to make lunch runs, page check scripts, and write some coverage. While most Hollywood stories include being an intern for a violently angry executive of some sort, working for Trevor was one of the best experiences of my life. What I quickly learned from Trevor was to treat everyone warmly, do your best to not let the pressure crack your cool and calm demeanor, and that the nice guys actually can do well for themselves in this crazy city. Trevor had developed such a friendly way of work through his years working with Harold Ramis, who had moved back to Chicago and Trevor had set up his own production company in place of Ocean Pictures.

Several months into my internship, I had started manning Trevor’s assistant desk while the amazingly talented Peter Livolsi began his career at AFI. Calls were frequent, usually writers, executives, agents and managers, all walks of Hollywood life calling on a regular basis. Visitors would come in looking to talk to Trevor or for a meeting with he or his development exec Kym. 

One of those days, out of the blue - the visitor was Harold Ramis, stopping by his old offices while he was in town to say hi to Trevor and Kym. I was a starstruck mess, while he was patient with me. Keeping his trademark smile present at all times. Kym, knowing my fando— obsessions, broke the ice by introducing me to Harold:

"Oh, this is Troy. He dresses up like you for Halloween."

Harold laughed and without skipping a beat said, “Oh that’s funny, I dress up like me for Halloween too.”

The meeting was brief, I did my best to keep my shit together the whole time but it was one of those moments that sticks out in the several years that I had interned and assisted for Trevor. Sometimes when you meet your heroes, they aren’t the people that you expect them to be. But in this case, much as Trevor had taught me - Harold treated me warmly and was just a super nice guy.

Shortly after that, I had helped Harold and his team working on the Ice Harvest with a few things during their production, having spoken with Harold and his producers several times. Every single time everyone could not have been nicer.

Fast-forward a year or two later, where the pleasure of working with Trevor had led me to get into DVD behind the scenes documentaries, and I happened to be a part of the Back to School: Extra-Curricular release for Fox/MGM. On the slate of interviewees of course was co-writer Harold Ramis, who would talk about the film and talk about his relationship with Rodney Dangerfield.

Harold was on the CBS lot filming a pilot and agreed to take time out of his busy day to spend 45 minutes reminiscing about the film in front of the camera. We arrived a little early, got everything set up for Harold to arrive. When he did so, the interview was charming, warm, funny, he spoke of the experience and everyone that worked with him in a way that you hope people will some day speak of you. 

When the interview was over, we were small chatting and I mentioned to him that I had worked for Trevor a few years back. Harold’s eyebrows raised and he said that I had looked familiar, and with sudden recognition he said, “oh that’s right, the guy that dresses up like me.”

I heard the news of Harold’s passing this morning where I frequently hear a lot of news lately: sitting on the freeway stuck in traffic.

My phone, which sits on my dashboard was doing its best impression of a pager in the early-90s, buzzing in quick intervals every two seconds with texts and social network messages. In this new world of instant news through social media, I was skeptical that the news could be true. 

Sadly, it is. 

Animal House, SCTV, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Meatballs, Stripes, Multiplicity, Bedazzled, Back to School, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, The Office… at some point, through his writing, directing, or acting, Harold Ramis has made you laugh. At some point he’s written such a sharp line of dialogue or delivered a joke with impeccable timing that nobody else could have ever done.

He’s one of those people that could easily have been a total jerk, could have easily been one of the most egomaniacal people that you would ever meet. But he wasn’t. He was warm, he was friendly, and the fact that he even pretended to remember me from a brief meeting in passing really made me feel special.

I can only hope to be half of the person that amazing people like Harold, and Trevor, and so many of the other incredibly nice guys are that you come across in this business.

The eight-year old in me mourns the loss of a larger than life Ghostbusting hero that was responsible for so much of my childhood. The 20-something in me mourns the loss of someone who made me laugh and gave me the ammunition of so much wit and wisdom to quote on a daily basis. The 30-something me sits typing this today mourning the loss of a true artist, appreciative of all that he did and the grace with which he did so.

I’m so saddened, yet so grateful simultaneously.

For more on Harold’s life, the Chicago Tribune has a touching story that everyone should read:,0,2259309.story

Posted on August 18, 2014 and filed under Movies.

Classic SPT: Ode to Boardwalk USA

Not Boardwalk USA… but cheeseball promotional that it could have been. (Courtesy

Here's another Classic Still Playing with Toys article from January 7, 2010, celebrating how awesome Colorado Springs and Aurora, Colorado's Boardwalk USA arcades were… enjoy!

Dave and Busters, ESPN Zone, they all owe their existence (in my non-professional opinion, of course) to a small chain of arcades that were ground zero for some of my fondest memories as a kid with the guys. Boardwalk USA was a dream come true... video games and pinball machines old and new as far as the eye can see - and all you had to do was swipe a card to play. Listen to me weep like Glenn Beck about how simple life used to be after the jump...
There were three Boardwalk USA arcades (to my knowledge without looking it up) in the Colorado area, one in Aurora, one in Colorado Springs, and another one somewhere out in Arvada if memory serves. The premise of Boardwalk USA was simple: show up, pay $20 for an "all-day" pass which was a Boardwalk USA themed credit card that you swiped on a reader where the arcade game coin slot would ordinarily be, and then play video games until your fingers bleed. I know that this doesn't exactly sound revolutionary given today's technology (he says as CES is currently unveiling arcade games in Las Vegas that do everything but punch you in the face "for reals"), but at the time it was bigger than the microchip.

It was genius, not just because it was an excuse for our parents to drop us off in the morning and not have to think about us until closing time at 6pm, but because as a kid the thought of unlimited and "free" arcade games was as appealing of a fantasy as Tom Hanks' loft apartment in Big. Yes, of course I realize that this was before the opposite of sex while hormones were spiraling out of control took priority over such things.

I can still, to this day, remember vividly the car rides both with my parents and with Nate Wright's mom out to the Boardwalk USA in Colorado Springs, which was like Mecca. Not only did it have the appeal of the unlimited video games which was the trademark of Boardwalk USA, but it also had go-karts, a mini-golf course, and laser tag which were included in the all day fee that you paid (in moderation and with a catch, of course). Birthday parties, random Saturdays, it didn't matter what the occasion was, you were always excited and looking for an excuse to beg the parental units to drive you out to Boardwalk USA...

The first and hardest question was always: where do you start? 

There were hundreds upon hundred of arcade games, all lined up like the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course it was difficult to map a plan of attack... inevitably, I usually ended up at the sit-down Atari Star Wars arcade game. The vector-based game mixed with the appeal of sitting down in an enclosed (kinda) X-Wing-like cabinet was just too cool to pass up each and every time that you went to Boardwalk. Sometimes you'd have a system on which games to hit and when. Sometimes you'd just jump from Blades of Steel over to Robocop then join up with the guys on the Simpsons Arcade game, tackling each and every game until completion. And why not, any time you'd die and hit a "Continue?" screen, all you had to do was swipe your Boardwalk USA card and you were back in action.

Boardwalk USA and Steve Renfrow's patent application for the Boardwalk USA card… the ONLY imagery I was able to find about Boardwalk USA online to date. No photos. Nothing. 

Next, you'd head outside for mini golf with the guys. Usually by the sixth or seventh hole boredom would set in and it would turn into a contest of who can bounce the golf ball off the outside building wall, back onto the green, and maybe into the running stream that followed the course. Such activities usually led to one of the poor miserable Boardwalk employees coming over to politely ask you to leave the golf course.

And then, by the end of the day when you realized that you were frantically swiping your card to beat Cowboys of Moo Mesa, that you were pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel and it was okay that whichever parent had graciously agreed to be your ride was itching to get back on the road to Franktown. 

Understandably, I think it became difficult for Boardwalk to turn a profit in its later days (especially as the home consoles became more elaborate and everyone started owning an NES or a Genesis) as they would introduce new pricing schemes like "Premium" and "Classic" games, where you'd be able to play the older arcade games on an unlimited basis but you would have to buy "credits" on your card to play the newer games (which is currently how our good friends Dave and Busters and ESPN Zone are structured). Shortly after that, I remember Boardwalk then going to a strictly credit based system where you'd get the equivalent of five quarters for a buck... and then without warning overnight, Nate's mom drove us to the Boardwalk in Aurora only to find that they had shuttered the windows and locked the doors for good.

Since that time, such establishments have all but disappeared in this 2010 Xbox-Wii-Mom What's an Arcade-world that we currently live in. Staples of Colorado childhood like Boardwalk USA, Celebrity Sports Center, and FunPlex are gone for good and, unlike the weirdos on Fox News, I'm not going to sit here and weep and tell everyone that times were much better back then, because I'm pretty envious of all the awesome stuff that kids have available to them today. They're making new memories and fifteen years from now will probably be lamenting at how cool Wii Golf was.

But the ten-year old still inside me would love to go and spend a day at a Boardwalk USA that remains intact as it was back in 1987/1988, with Nate, Ian, Ben, and the guys... and to pay $20 for an unlimited free-play card... and to find myself bored and playing Cowboys of Moo Mesa by 7 or 8 at night...

Just one last time.

Posted on July 14, 2014 and filed under Video Games.