RocketJump: The Future – Part II
So Freddie, Matt and the gang are all off on the production of our newest show, but that just means it’s the perfect time to catch you up on the latest goings on here at RocketJump.
First off, who the heck am I and why am I talking to you?
Hi! My name is Mike and I’ve had the privilege of being the company’s Creative Director for the last 9 months. A creative director a purposefully-vague job title for someone who oversees the development of ongoing projects, especially in the early stages and writing process. They can do anything as concrete as actually writing on the project itself, to something as loose as just checking in and being sure everyone has everything they need. I was lucky enough to start working with RocketJump back during the writing process on season two of VGHS. And what started with a lot of late night discussions in coffee shops turned into one of the best creative experiences of my life. I should say, I come from a “traditional” old media background and I’ve worked for some of the best film production companies on the planet. I worked for years at FX network. I’ve story consulted on giant studio movies, big TV shows, tiny indies, you name it. But what I saw – and still see – in RocketJump is one of the brightest, most forward-thinking companies imaginable (that just happened to be filled with the kindest people I’ve ever met). I could not be happier to be a part of all this. And everything I’m doing now is designed to help them tackle the specific challenges of the company’s future. At the center of which is one simple question:
How do we grow and evolve and yet stay true to who we are?
A lot of companies take this question for granted. They lazily assume that things stay the same as long as they’re still in charge, but really it’s quite difficult. Group dynamics are built on time and trust. Leadership is a different thing than pure ability in a certain craft. And the more people you involve in the creative process, the easier it is for important details to get lost in the shuffle. So being able to handle these transitions is the entire key to our growth. It’s about bringing in the right people, who understanding the overall vision and yet can contribute their fresh voice. It’s about approaching new business with the right combination of being careful and being adventurous. And it’s about approaching every single facet of your company with forethought, diligence, and strong communication.
And most of all, it’s about being able to do it together.
But even in my short time here, so much has already changed: we’ve signed a first look deal with Lionsgate, moved into a massive new office space, doubled the size of our workforce, brought in new department heads, and negotiated our next two major projects. For the last three years the company has sustained itself with a very specific model of “doing a VGHS” a year. And now? Now, we have to figure out how to the place where we do “4 VGHS’S” a year. It’s incredibly exciting. But it’s also rather daunting.
Luckily, that’s where that word “development” comes back into play. It’s not just about coming up with great ideas for creative projects, but understanding how these ideas will shape your company. With that, here’s a look at the upcoming slate of projects and how they fit into our own growth:
1 – THE HULU SHOW – What is it?
We always talk about the shorts being the creative lifeblood of the company.
So we wanted to make a show that was true to that reality. I mean, the shorts are how RocketJump came to be in the first place, right? Everyone fondly remembers all those long nights at Hunter street with Freddie and the gang pulling all nighters to get you a brand new video every week. But even now, the shorts are a perfect forum for us to keep honing our skills, to try out new things, and best of all, to train and develop more creative talent. For example, you may have recently seen the epic Ballpit video where Jon Karmen (the director of our “This Week At RocketJump” series) stepped up and delivered something awesome and unlike anything we’ve ever done. It was a testament to the fact that a short that size is just a perfect way to give people the space and resources to learn how to handle a production of “television size.”
With all that in mind, the Hulu show has been the perfect opportunity for us to push our shorts further than ever and facilitate similar development. Ben Waller, a long-time key member of the RocketJump family is stepping up into the showrunner role, bringing with him years of experience on the shorts and documentary side of things. We’ve been able to bring in new creative voices to the writing process, too. We’re huge fans of Anthony and Ashly Burch, whose combined work on HAWP, Borderlands, animation, Voice-Over, World Domination, etc. is downright incredible. We were so happy to bring them into the RocketJump family and the results have been nothing short of awesome. But it was also a chance to bring in people like Darnell Murphy, who started working on VGHS a P.A. and through sheer talent, charisma, and hard work, he worked his way up to becoming one of our brightest young writers. On the directing side, the show’s also a chance to highlight the joys of Clinton Jones, Pwnisher himself, as he gets to showcase his unique blend VFX skillz, action choreography, and his amazing penchant for physical comedy. And of course, the show is the ultimate way for Matt and Freddie to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can do.
I’m telling you, the Hulu show is going to be centered around 8 of the most insane shorts we’ve ever done. We’re talking bus-flipping, truck punching, stunt-laden action. Epic-stories-in-bite-sized-form. Michael Bayish Absurdist comedy. FREAKIN LIGHTSABERS. Black and white Chaplin homages. Looney Toons-esque insanity. And we’re even attempting some mega horse stunts that we didn’t even think were possible. We couldn’t be more excited. And just as we’ve always done, we’re going to bring you right into our process in a completely transparent way, all to show you the nuts and bolts of how RocketJump manages to pull all this off on a shoestring budget.
And along the way, Hulu and Lionsgate have been incredible. It may sound counter-intuitive, but one of the things we’ve discovered is that “more traditional” Hollywood companies actually make for the best creative partnerships, all because they understand the value of good content. A lot of new media / tech companies only tend to look at the distribution model and monetization potential. The view content as merely “a bunch of things” that they can plug in to make the model work. As such, they are just trying to fill lots of time at as low a cost as possible. And as anyone in traditional media will tell you, the key to success is to do the exact opposite. Netflix was made on House of Cards. Amazon was made off TransParent. You want to spend the money to establish yourself as a destination of quality so you can establish brand value. And in RocketJump’s quest to do just that, we’ve learned that one of the most worthless things in his business is dealing with someone “who wants to work with you.” But one of the most valuable things is someone who “gets you and believes in you.” And luckily for us, Hulu and Lionsgate have shown just that. We couldn’t be more thrilled.
2 – DIMENSION 404 – What is it?
We haven’t released too many details about the show, but I could not be more excited about this big full-blooded follow-up to VGHS. Coming from showrunner / RJ co-founder Dez Dolly and VGHS writer Will Campos, Dimension 404 is a sci-fi anthology series that unspools a series of Twilight Zone-esque stories for the modern age. We always say that as our audience grows up, we want the content to grow up right with them. And while Dimension 404 will absolutely be a “darker” show in some ways, it will still maintain the creative hallmarks of RocketJump (meaning it will still show streaks of the action and weird comedy that defines us). But what we love most is that it’s a creatively “risky” show. The elevator pitch would likely describe as “halfway between Black Mirror and Rick and Morty.” But at times it’s suspenseful. At times it’s silly. And at times it’s heartbreakingly tragic. But that’s precisely what makes it adventurous. Honestly, from a formalistic standpoint, I’m not sure there’s anything else quite like it. We’ve tried to write a show that doesn’t just introduce a gnarly sci-fi concept and expects that to do the heavy lifting, but instead digs and asks “then what?” What happens when modernized ideas are a part of our reality? What happens when you get past those shoe-dropping reveals? What happens when you get past the moralizing lesson at the center of most “gotcha” anthology stories to see how people go on? Can these stories be about something more than all that?
In our ongoing meetings regarding the company’s identity, we keep asking the question “What does RocketJump stand for?” And the closest we’ve ever come to a slogan is by saying “RocketJump: Where the story takes you.” Admittedly, it’s a slogan that can cause some potential eye-rolling, but when it comes to Dimension 404? That’s actually a perfect way to explain the show.
3 – When are we getting Video Game University?
4 – NEVER?
5 – NEVER EVER?!?
Okay, so here’s the deal: the number one question we always get asked is, “when will there be more Video Game High School?” And the answer is, soon! But not in the way you might be expecting.
Brian D’s story is done. For now. And the live-action version of VGHS is done, period. Our actors have moved on to some incredible new projects (Johanna is in like TWO freaking upcoming TV shows – go watch QUANTICO and UnReal!!), and our passions as filmmakers have taken us in a zillion different directions.
Video Game High School will never be done! It will never be defeated! We love the world of VGHS as much as you guys do, so as long as there are games to play, feels to feel, and obscure references to 90’s adventure games to make, there will always be more VGHS stories to tell.
Which is why we’re incredibly excited about the brand-new animated VGHS series that we’re currently developing.
6 – ANIMATED VGHS? SAY WHAAAA
We know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, I don’t want some cheap crappy spinoff show!” Good news – neither do we. Which is why we’re taking our time and doing this right. The show will feature a brand new cast of characters and focus on the hyper-competitive world of VGHS’ MOBA team. But we’ve already said too much! There’s also a kick ass VGHS comic series coming your way. NO WE’VE SAID TOO MUCH AGAIN!
There will be more news on both the comic and the new show in the coming months, so stay tuned. And remember – it’s all about the game.
7 – Film School. Film SCHOOL! FIIILM SCHOOOOOL!!!!!
On May 1st, we officially launched the Rocketjump Film School. Personally, I could not be more happy about it. And it’s not just because our passion for education. It’s that from the very beginning, we’ve promised to be transparent, to bring you behind the scenes, to share our process and what we’ve learned along the way. And now, it finally feels like the fullest realization of that social contract; a promise to the all the eager and amazing Rocketjump fans that we are going to be right there with you. And we’re able to do it all because RJFS was envisioned and brought to life by our very own Dean, Lauren Haroutunian. Lauren is everything we could hope for in this regard. Passionate. Brilliant. Inclusive. She understands the scope and needs of communicating with young film students better than anyone I have ever met. But of course, like all cinematic pursuits, she doesn’t do it alone. There’s RJFS producer Cherish Chen, whose tenacity and wit remains the engine of our entire output. And, of course, the delightful spice of our Editor Joey Scoma (our own “Jumpin Jax” / of 5sf fame) who brings his incredible sense of humor to everything we do. The three of them exemplify precisely what I think makes for great education: fierce intelligence, sparkling drive, and an effortless sense of how to make things fun.
But do you know what I might love most of all about the film school? I love that is that it’s going to get even better as it goes along. Really. What you’ve seen so far is really more of the initial baby steps; a set of introductory ideas that are actually just the initial steps in a carefully designed curriculum. They will be the building blocks you need to guide you through more advanced tracks later on. And with every passing a week, it will grow and interact with your feedback. And 6 months from now? A new user will be able to sit and run through an entire course load at the touch of a button. And a year from now? They’ll be able to go even deeper into a fully tiered curriculum. It’s the best possible thing to hope for: a film school that will evolve right along with you.
8 – Cool! But is there anything else on the horizon?
Yup! RocketJump is constantly working on different potential projects. It doesn’t matter how big or small. I mean, we’ve had meetings about some GIANT things, but we’ve also had looked into developing some smaller more adult-swim style shows. Either way, please know that we have done everything to keep that process as internally-controlled and close to our hearts as possible. That’s the catch 22 of development. You have to be completely personal and passionate about what you pursue, yet completely open to everything before you. Because you’ll never know when you’ll come across an idea that excites you. You’ll never know when the best opportunity is staring you straight in the face. And as RocketJump continues to grow, we have to say…
We’ve never been so excited for the future.
-Mike & Everyone from Team RocketJump.