Fleisher ’99 and the Tiny Commando

[Jacob Fleisher ’99] By A.N. Kini '13

In partnership with Ed Helms, screenwriter Jacob Fleisher ’99 has created the comedy shorts Tiny Commando for Yahoo’s Fall Comedy Lineup. Jacob previously collaborated with Ed Helms on A Whole New Hugh, in development with Judd Apatow. In this Q&A with Wesconnect, Jacob talks about tiny action, maximizing bang-for-your-buck and crazy, brilliant, young energy.

WESCONNECT: Tiny Commando is hilarious. How did you come up with the idea?

JACOB FLEISHER: The idea was actually Ed Helms’ (Office, Hangover). I’ve written a number of projects with him; we’ve known each other since ’00—we met doing stand-up in NYC. He thought huge chase/action scenes with RC cars and RC helicopters would be a great way to do crazy Michael Bay [Wesleyan ’86] style action on a very small budget.

For a story, these tiny vehicles would need a tiny person to drive them—the hero—so he came up with Tiny Commando. Ed came to me with the idea, we developed the world & characters, pitched it to Yahoo and, after we sold it, I wrote all the episodes (and rewrote them, and rewrote them, and rewrote them).

WC: What has been your favorite project so far?

JACOB: Scary Movie 5. I did one day of “round-table” punch-ups on that film, where I pitched ideas and joked around with some amazingly funny people including David Zucker & Pat Proft. Those guys made some of the films that really turned me onto to comedy (Airplane, Top Secret, Naked Gun). That round-table day was one of my favorite professional experiences ever. Off of being very funny in that room I was hired to do rewrites on the script.

I spent a week in an office with David Zucker, Pat Proft, and some other amazingly hysterical people, including the guy who wrote Hot Tub Time Machine (also a movie I love.) Even if you don’t love the Scary Movie Franchise, that kind of humor is really fun to write and those guys—David and Pat—are inspiring to work with. They’re comedy heroes for me, but more so, they have been making big, crazy, hysterical, visual comedy for 35 years and they still love it. They love to sit around and joke, figure out creative problems, write, trade drafts back and forth, and crack each other up. It’s how they still love to spend their days. Being around that ability, that experience, and that level of joy was the most inspiring and affirming professional experience I’ve ever had.

WC: You’ve written for feature films, television and the web. Have you seen a change in the way you write across those media, and over the years?

JACOB: When you’re writing for the web, writing commercials, marketing stuff or sketch comedy you’re always being budget conscious. Doing an expensive idea on the cheap never turns out as good as doing an idea that is inherently cheap while also being hilarious, true, memorable, shocking, visual, etc… Great budget-conscious ideas have that practicality built into their DNA; it’s fundamental to the concept.

When I started working in feature film writing, 7 years ago, any movie, any TV show idea was great as long as it was great. Now, with shrinking budgets and fracturing audiences, practicality matters a lot more. When you’re sitting around coming up with ideas, or writing a screenplay or pilot on spec, practicality, budget-consciousness has to be part of the concept. No part of the industry is immune from maximizing bang-for-your-buck. Obviously this isn’t true if you’re being paid to write something and they’re telling you “bigger, bigger, spectacle.”

But if you’re working on a student film and trying to make it feel bigger and crazier than your budget, the truth is, that part of the creative process will never go away no matter how successful you get. That’s the biggest change for me; adding budget consciousness into all levels of projects and all aspects of the writing process.

WC: Besides Tiny Commando, are you working on anything else? Any future projects in mind?

JACOB: Tiny Commando had a pretty small budget, big for a web project, but small for what we were trying to do. It wrapped shooting in Februrary ’13 and that was pretty much when I stopped working on it—I’d been writing on it from April ’12 to Feb ’13. In the mean time I’ve worked on a bunch of things across all platforms, and across all pay grades. Developing half-hour comedies to pitch, doing all sorts of writing projects for cash, writing a screenplay on spec (when you just write something and hope to sell it later). Currently I’m writing sketches for a new Youtube comedy channel as well as some animated shorts for DreamWorks which will re-launch a classic character from their library.

WC: Have you ever collaborated with other Wesleyan alumni?

JACOB: Plenty. I wrote a web series produced by Carl Hampe ’00 and directed by Janessa Joffee ’00. I’ve made shorts with Jessica Sanders ’99, Sascha Paladino ’98, and Nate Smith ’00. David Cope ’99 has written a lot of music for me. I’ve worked a ton with Wesleyan people and it’s such an amazing pool to of talent to draw from. Also fellow alumni continue to be my closest friends.

WC: What is your favorite memory of Wes?

JACOB: When I first graduated and was in NYC, doing sketch comedy and renting theater space, I thought my greatest memory was having access to a theater as nice as the ’92, or even the MPR. But really, it’s the energy. So many people, so many ideas, so many things going on, all the time. My greatest memories are the ones that really encompass that crazy, brilliant, young energy of my time at Wesleyan. It’s a bit generic but it’s such a unique thing.

Watch the series now…

Image: Courtesy of Jacob Fleisher

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