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Jack & Emma: The Miniseries

on Mon, 02/10/2014 - 00:00

Hollywood. The glamour, coupled with the lure of celebrity-status and success, makes it the destination of choice for an untold number of wannabe actors, actresses and screenwriters from across the country. In reality, however, Los Angeles is an endless series of meaningless auditions and low-paying service industry jobs that are part of a waiting game that must be played until that lucky break comes along. Although it seldom does, the trek is still constantly and consistently made by those who believe they can buck the odds. What happens, however, when those dreams never do come true, and the dreamers themselves are faced with the reality that they never will?

That is the basic premise of Jack & Emma, a new web series that tells the story of two such wannabes who, after twelve years on the West Coast, decide to return to their Pennsylvania roots. “Blake and I almost moved to LA several years ago, but in the end we decided to stay in Pittsburgh,” Kati Lightholder explains in regards to the origination of the series that she co-created with husband Blake Lightholder. “So the show is kind of an absurd take on what our life might have been if we’d left and then eventually moved back. In the scripts we’ve written there’s also a common theme of Jack and Emma struggling with the transition into full-fledged adulthood. That comes directly from our real lives.”

Although the storyline has already been established, the scripts themselves written and even the actors cast, Jack & Emma itself has not yet been fully transformed into the series that Kati and Blake Lightholder envisioned. Instead the husband-and-wife creative team has produced a “miniseries” of eleven short installments that directly lead to the web series proper while effectively establishing the main characters of the narrative as well. These small tidbits not only offer insights into the web series to come, but also serve as a marketing tool for an Indiegogo campaign geared towards raising funds for the actual Jack & Emma web series. In an age when a multitude of film projects rely on crowdsourcing to finance their projects, it is a novel—as well as entertaining—method to both attract attention and give a small taste of what to expect in the future.

“A lot of web series start with a fundraising video or a trailer,” Kati Lightholder explains. “We wanted to give people something more that showed off the characters, so we thought it would be fun to feature each one individually. When we came up with the premise that Jack and Emma are from the type of town where even the smallest news works its way through the entire community, it seemed like a natural thing to have people buzzing about their return. We also wanted lots of unique characters, so we started developing all these quirky personalities based on their connection to Jack and Emma. We gave the actors some pretty odd combinations of traits and let them run with it. One of the most rewarding things was seeing how they responded.”

Characters are essentially what Jack & Emma: The Miniseries is all about. Although the main duo of Jack (Blake Lightholder) and Emma (Kati Lightholder) have not yet made their journey from Los Angeles back to Western Pennsylvania, news of their impending arrival has already reached their family and former friends in the area. Each episode thus allows the characters that populate Jack & Emma to reflect on their past relationships with the pair, as well as their expectations of what their return will mean to them personally. Fender (Aaron Kleiber), for instance, is a former high school classmate of Jack who believes that the two of them will essentially pick up where they last left off. “We’re like Starsky and Hootch,” he tells the camera. “Elvis and Costello. And Turner and Hootch. Turner and Hootch? Oh, it’s Alvin and Costello.”

Emma has her own trio of former “best friends” that likewise await her return into their lives—although Jen (Jennie Bushnell), Kristen (Klase Danko) and Maddie (Julie Beroes) each have different expectations. Emma’s sister Marie (Claire Chapelli), meanwhile, is a high-maintenance account executive who was not close to her sibling while growing up but now looks forward to her support as she and husband Daan (Joseph James) attempt to have a child. Standup comedian Krish (Krish Mohan) displays disinterest in the pending return of Jack and Emma, while Mailman Greg (Jim Donovan) would rather uncover gossip on the people along his route than actually deliver mail, and it is revealed during the miniseries that he is the source that leaked the news of Jack and Emma’s imminent return to the region.

Although ten of the eleven installments that make up Jack & Emma: The Miniseries are filmed documentary style, episode four is a video blog entry in which Jack and Emma themselves discuss their decision to leave Los Angeles. While Emma is intent on being serious in regards to their pending relocation, Jack is more interested in reciting short, humorous quips about how the world has changed since they last lived in their home state of Pennsylvania. “Twelve years ago, Twilight was still just a time of day,” he observes, before adding additional insights like “Twelve years ago, Hunger Games was a hot dog-eating contest” and “Twelve years ago, Carrie Underwood was the moving directions for a piano.” Episode nine, meanwhile, also offers a litany of one-liners as Fender, who operates a gym, recites a top ten list of pick-up lines that he has heard through the years.

The miniseries installments of Jack & Emma are only one-to-two minutes in length each yet still effectively introduce the main characters and components that will come into play during the main production. Unlike the majority of other web series, however, Jack & Emma will contain longer episodes that correspond to the length of traditional television sitcoms. “It will be shot like a single-cam TV show rather than the interview-style we’ve been doing so far,” Kati Lightholder explains. “Think New Girl or 30 Rock. We’ve introduced most of the reoccurring characters from their town, but there are even weirder ones who will start coming out of the woodwork. While Jack and Emma spent the last decade taking auditions and writing film scripts, their old friends have been starting families and establishing their careers. Also, they’re going from a progressive LA culture back to a more traditional one back home, so that presents some fun contrasts.”

In many ways, the story of Jack & Emma is likewise the story of the web series medium itself. Whereas Los Angeles was once the only destination for someone looking to break into the film and television industry, crowdsourcing websites like Indiegogo—which Kati and Blake Lightholder are currently using for Jack & Emma—is the new launching pad for acting, writing and film careers. The World Wide Web also enables anyone with a story to tell and the proper equipment to make their own creative project without the need for studio funding and distribution. The fictional Jack and Emma may have relocated to Hollywood in order to make their dreams come true, but the real world Kati and Blake Lightholder are able to stay closer to home with their own ambitions.

“We’re extremely happy and proud to be doing this in our hometown,” Kati Lightholder says. “It’s a dream of mine to work on a comedy series here in Pittsburgh. That’s a huge part of why we did this in the first place, and why we have so many characters. We want everyone to see what awesome talent we have here. Pittsburgh may never be what NY and LA are, but I believe we can still be a hub for great entertainment talent and content.”

With projects like Jack & Emma on the horizon, it is a belief that can no doubt become reality as well.

Anthony Letizia (February 10, 2014)

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