Industry Pro: Executive Creative Director Michelle Jackino
How many people can claim that their career path has included a chance meeting with Mother Theresa and working with iconic filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, one of whom does a dead on impersonation of film legend Jimmy Stewart for her? Well, Michelle Jackino can. Though, as she points out, her career had a few lucky opportunities along the way, hard work, passion for what she does, and being authentic have lead her to a uniquely satisfying (not to mention, award-winning) career. Read on for the whole story…
Hometown: Pelham, NY
Current position (and recently-completed project/projects): Executive Creative Director for The Ant Farm. Recent projects include RANGO and SUPER 8. (Ed note: Michelle and her colleagues just won a Golden Trailer Award for Best Family / Animated Trailer for RANGO.)
College & degree: Syracuse U, BS in TV, Radio, Film (TRF)
Internships: I interned at the USA Network in New York. It was invaluable. At the time, they didn’t have a big on‑air department. So from almost the moment I started, as a 19-year old intern, I was copywriting. It really set me on the path of what I do now for a living. If I hadn’t done that internship, I don’t know if I would be doing what I do now.
Did you go right into the entertainment industry out of college? Sort of. I moved out to L.A. from New York. I didn’t know anyone in the business. I interviewed a couple of places, but couldn’t find work. Eventually, I got on a plane back home with my tail between my legs to live with my mom. The whole time I’m thinking, “What the hell am I going to do with my life?”
The strangest thing happened. I was at the airport in Chicago on a layover changing planes. I was feeling very depressed about myself and I accidentally ran into this little old lady. And when I backed away from her, I saw that it was Mother Teresa. The Mother Teresa. I knew it was her because a bunch of young nuns started swarming around her and there was a horde of journalists waiting outside for her.
I said, “Are you okay?” She could see I was having a rough day. She held my hand and said, “It will be alright, my child.” And then she was hurried off by all of these other nuns. By the time I met my mom and my brother at the airport in New Jersey, I was determined to come back out here. I worked in a really crappy, family-owned copy shop, saving money to return. And when I did move back, I landed a job within days. It was at Disney. My mom had come with me and she was waiting in the parking lot. I think I was hired because my new boss loved that about me, that I brought my mom to the interview.
It’s actually a good story about perseverance, you know? When I moved here the first time, I think I had this show biz fantasy in my head like we all do, thinking, “Oh, I’m just going to come out here and somehow it’s all going to happen.” I feel like the first round was my slap with reality. Like, “Come on, kid. Wake-y, wake-y. You got to earn this a little bit, you know?”
So you were an assistant at Disney? What department were you in? I worked on the “Disney Sunday Movie” in a variety of different roles. I started as the main production assistant on the franchise. That meant, in a given day, I could be running things around for the head of physical production or doing things for Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. I was the point person for almost everything.
It also got to the point early on when they found out I had experience writing copy, from my time in promos at USA. Disney very much wanted to control that franchise, right down to marketing materials. So once they realized that I had been a copywriter, they had me writing them.
Over time, I was doing promos for the show. They got me an editor. They put him in one of the trailers that were on the back lot then. I was doing the promos that were handed into the network. And they would send me to San Francisco to work with the commercial companies to do those big main title sequences, the ones that had “When You Wish Upon a Star” playing over them. I was in my 20s and I was the person supervising all that stuff for Michael (Eisner) and Jeffrey (Katzenberg) and all those guys. I still to this day don’t really know how that happened. It just happened.
And then where did you go from there? After moving up the ladder for seven years, ultimately I got laid off because the show ran its course. But through some of the people that I knew on the lot, I started picking up freelance work right away doing promos and special reels. I was the go-to kid for people in TV, for the Disney executives… I even did some work for Hollywood Records. I started realizing at that point that this was the type of work I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t have the patience for long-form. I’m not someone who’s going to sit around for 10 years trying to develop a project.
So then Richard Kaufman, who at the time was running New Wave Entertainment when they used to have a trailer division, noticed that I was doing work he wanted his company doing. So he hired me. So I continued to work for Disney while at New Wave. That’s how I got more into theatrical, writing and producing for theatrical while I still kept doing the broadcast stuff and reels. So I worked on NATIONAL TREASURE, PHENOMENOM, HERBIE FULLY LOADED, FREAKY FRIDAY and promos for syndicated TV programs.
From there, I went to Cimarron. I rose through the ranks over there. That’s how Warner Brothers found out about me, because I used to do a lot of work for Warner Brothers at Cimarron. I did a lot of the Clint Eastwood movies, like MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY. So I went to work at Warner Bros. I was there for four years, as Senior Vice President of Creative Advertising. And I went from Warner Brothers to The Ant Farm, where I am now.
What do you consider your big break? As odd as it might appear, I do think the first big break was that weird encounter I had with Mother Theresa. It had a huge effect on my point-of-view. I became very determined. I didn’t want to live my life in regret. And then I think having two women in particular during my career who very, very much believed in me. One was the woman who gave me my first break, Debra Pastoria at Disney. And my boss after that, who ended up running the “Disney Sunday Movie,” an amazing woman named Dolores Morris.
What was the best career advice you ever got? Dick Cook, who ran Disney up until not long ago, told me, “Things never happen when you think they’re supposed to happen, but they always happen.” Meaning, don’t be impatient. You just have to believe in yourself and they will happen. I shared that with a lot of people over the years.
Eureka moment (when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc.): There was a point while I was working at Disney where I had a development title and script-reading duties. So my eureka moment was when I realized I didn’t want to do development and that there was something bigger for me in the part of the job I loved, making promos and main titles. The development part was not for me.
Describe a typical work day in your current position: We have a lot of edit bays here and I have to first see where the cuts are on trailers and TV spots and give feedback. When those are done, I do my own writing, or writing with other people, and get script packets ready for where they need to go. Movie campaigns are constantly evolving, depending on what research is telling you. In general, it’s a very multifaceted job. You look at edits. You write. You schmooze. In the course of my day, I’m dealing with everything that might be considered, from a physical production standpoint, preproduction all the way through to the finish.
Name some of your favorite projects: I think the ones that are my favorites are the ones where we can go outside the box and be different. For example, AMERICAN BEAUTY had a very unique voice and we were able to incorporate that unique voice. We were able to make the voice of the film show through in the voice of the advertising. You don’t always get to do that. More recently, we got to do that with RANGO and, a few years ago, with THE DEPARTED. We got to give it an attitude. We had fun with it.
What’s the best thing about your current job? The best thing about my current job is the best thing you can say about any job you have. If you can get paid for being yourself and being creative doing something you love, that’s pretty cool. When young people ask me for career advice, I always say, “You have to find your joy.” Because when you are on that 14th or 15th hour or, you know, someone is giving you the umpteenth note on the trailer, that’s when you’d better really love what you do. In my case, I love being in an edit bay, love writing copy and love watching movies because, when you make a movie trailer, you know, you are watching that one movie a lot.
What’s the worst thing about your current job? I do wish I was home more with my spouse, Carole. Everyone I work with wishes they could see their family more. But what we do is incredibly competitive. You don’t just get assigned to do a movie campaign. At any given time we’re competing with either two to three or sometimes even four companies who are also creating a trailer or a promo. And so it’s very, very competitive. So there is a tradeoff that’s made. That’s probably the worst thing.
Taking a step back and looking more broadly at your career… What was your worst job (or worst day) in the entertainment industry? There was a woman at one point on the “Disney Sunday Movie” who… let’s just say she wasn’t a particularly nice person. She just wasn’t. This person, for whatever reasons, was very tough on me. I made the mistake of letting her make me cry on a telephone call. That always bothered me. It’s something that you don’t forget when someone has the ability to do that to you. That was probably the worst.
Years later, I saw her at Barneys – the clothing store. I was working at Cimarron by then and doing well. For some reason, she came up to me and she did the exact same thing she always did when I worked with her, which was look me up and down in a very derogatory way. She said something like, “What are you doing here?” And I said, “Oh, I’m getting a new jacket because I’m taking my mother to Italy.” She shut her mouth then, you know? (Laughing.) It wasn’t like I wanted to do it. I was just sort of like, you know, “Whatever, lady.”
What was your best job (or best day) in the entertainment industry? My best day in the entertainment industry was when I won my first Key Art Award. I won it for AMERICAN BEAUTY. I got to go up onstage with Alan Toomayan, an editor I absolutely adore who is a very good friend of mine, and David Sameth, the Dreamworks executive who I really respect. My mom, who was pretty much a single mother that worked an insane number of jobs and sacrificed so much for my brother and me, was in the audience. I got to go up there and acknowledge her, and thank her for her hard work. That was great.
Brush with greatness (can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do): Well, there have been a number of them. Clint Eastwood is really funny and self-effacing. For the MYSTIC RIVER teaser, we were able to get Clint to come over to Cimarron to do the recording. The image is a single shot, a helicopter over the river. And a really talented writer, Doug Smith, had written beautiful copy. And I got to direct Clint. He’s sort of joking around in the booth and he starts trying to imitate a voice-over person. I said, “Clint, we want you to be you. Everyone is going to know it’s you. That’s the whole idea.” So he does a couple of great reads. And the next take, he starts doing a dead-on Jimmy Stewart impression. So I think that’s my number one brush with greatness, giving Clint Eastwood notes on reading something and then him doing a Jimmy Stewart impression.
The other one that comes to mind was on THE DEPARTED. I had gotten to know Thelma Schoonmaker, a three-time Academy Award-winning editor who works on all of Martin Scorsese’s movies. I was on the phone with her and she was telling me how much he liked the trailer for THE DEPARTED. I asked her if she and Marty wanted to see the TV spots. She said, “Oh, no, he trusts you.” And I said, “Okay, are you sure?” And she says something to the effect of, “You know, Marty and I, we edit movies. We make movies.” She was basically saying they trust other people to do what they know how to do. I made a joke that I would never give her notes on how to cut a sequence in a boxing ring (because she edited RAGING BULL) and she laughed. And I got that moment to tell her that it was she and Saul Bass and a graphic designer by the name of Pablo Ferro who were very much idols to me as a kid. To be able to tell that to somebody at her level is pretty cool.
Secret of your success/advice to the newbie: I think the secrets of my success are that I try my best to be myself and that I am a “we” person and not an “I” person. Being an “I” person is not how you build teams and make a great company. You don’t sit around and go, “I did this and I did that.” Talented people are not going to want to work with you. They are going to think you will take credit for their work. Show business is a team sport. The words I write or the deals that I have only come to life as a phenomenal editor cuts the footage, etc.
Next move (or next five moves): Well, I just want to keep pushing this place, The Ant Farm, to maintain the quality of its work and consequently, its reputation. It’s big and very well known, and with all of these newer, smaller places that have certain panache for being “boutique,” you want to make sure that your place doesn’t come across like Wal-Mart. You want to be known as just a bigger boutique, and continuing to do award-winning work is the way to do that.
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