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Spotlight on Zack Morrison

Meet Zack Morrison from East Brunswick, New Jersey! Zack was the Comedy Script Winner at the Catalyst Content Festival in 2021 and is now in production on that project in Minnesota!

What project are you currently working on? What is your role in the project?

I’m currently in pre-production on a half-hour comedy pilot that I’m writing/directing, Canusa Street. Huge THANK YOU to Catalyst by the way, this wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for last year’s festival. We’re shooting in northern Minnesota in April 2022!

Do you have a favorite hat under the “creator” umbrella?

I find that writing and directing are two halves of the same hat. Like the brim and the cloth attached to it—even the dirt and torn stitching that occurs over time. I love telling stories, and as an artist I thrive in the visual medium. Ever since I was little and running around the house with my dad’s camcorder, the camera is (often literally) the lens through which I see the world. That said, without writing I would have nothing to shoot. The structure of comedy has always interested me, like music theory. Most of that creative homework occurs on the page, but the punch lines and second-shoes don’t happen without the performance. For me, the two crafts have always gone hand-in-hand (or, sometimes, foot-in-ass).

What were your earliest inspirations? How did you get started as a creator?

My earliest inspiration was Saturday Night Live. I can’t remember when I started watching, but my parents would always have it on in the house when I was little. Especially the original cast—I can wax poetic about each and every one of those sketches. The Blues Brothers awakened something in me as an artist. Whether it was the film’s absurdity, the incredible music, or both; that was the film that made me want to become a filmmaker. I actually became a musician first (though Aykroyd and Belushi have to share credit with Bruce Springsteen in that regard). If you look through all of my work to date, music is a recurring theme throughout. Science fiction was also a way into storytelling for me, especially episodic narrative. My all-time favorite TV show growing up, Stargate SG-1, is a ten season masterclass in story-of-the-week television writing. Similar shows—Twilight Zone, Quantum Leap, all the Treks—inspired me to start writing characters, building worlds, and discovering different ways for stories to walk in the door for those characters. Mostly this lived as comic strips I would doodle in my school notebooks.

As a kid I was a big film-watcher, but to this day I’ll never forget when the film-making began. It was Christmas in 2000 (you know, before the whole world changed). I was 8 years old. Every year my family would put a LEGO set together as the big activity after breakfast. That year, my parents got me a Steven Spielberg-themed LEGO set. It was the coolest! You built the backlot of a movie set, all the crew people, the vehicles and lighting, etc, in addition to the set: a city where a dinosaur would walk through or something. The best part though was that it came with a small USB camera and editing software. I’m not sure if LEGO actually knew how advanced this system was, but it was the first time I ever shot and edited my own stories. I think I stopped playing with LEGOs after that—the camera became the only thing I wanted to spend time with. I didn’t realize how lucky and fortunate I was to discover my passion at such a young age. At one point I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Whose work do you admire? Who are your dream collaborators?

I’m a huge Spielberg fan. I loved Indiana Jones growing up, but it wasn’t until I began studying cinema much later that I realized how perfect of a film Raiders of the Lost Ark is. He’s the best to ever do it in my opinion, especially for the way an Amblin film can have incredibly artistry and nuance while simultaneously appealing to children and adults alike. That’s the kind of work I want to make. JJ Abrams is another filmmaker I would love the chance to collaborate with should he ever want to turn over the keys to a Bad Robot production. There’s something to be said for filmmakers who have such a strong style that their work takes on a genre of its own. And come on, he wrote Armageddon! That’s one of the best films ever (it’s in the Criterion Collection for a reason)!

In comedy land, I’m a big fan of Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Iliza Shlesinger, Kristin Wiig, Andy Samberg, and Bill Hader to name a few (the later being of another SNL era that I’ll always love). Seth Meyers is a writer/performer I have the upmost respect for. When I was an intern at Late Night, I was the first one in the office every day, turning the lights on and getting to work researching the news and writing the joke set-ups for the monologue team. It was an incredible learning experience. Seth was always the second one to arrive in the morning. Nicest guy ever, incredible work ethic, and he gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget: “There’s no such thing as an aspiring writer,” he said. “You’re either doing the work or you’re not.” I guess that was my Yoda moment. A dream gig of mine is hosting Weekend Update. Maybe Lorne will give me a call after Jost retires.

And should Disney executives ever read this, please tell them I have a take on a Bedknobs and Broomsticks reimagining!

What’s your proudest moment as an artist so far?

I’ve had several high moments as an artist that I’m proud of. Winning the Television Academy’s student Emmy award in 2019 for my MFA thesis film Everything’s Fine: A Panic Attack in D Major is certainly one of them, as is receiving the 2014 “Poo Industries Lifetime Achievement Award” from Campus Movie Fest (an organization that’s near and dear to my heart—seriously check them out, they do incredible work empowering and inspiring budding creators). However, the thing that I’m the most proud of isn’t actually a single moment; rather the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to work with the same group of collaborators and true friends over the years. The hardest part about finding your way in this industry is “finding your people,” and discovering the other artists in your life who you can trust and be vulnerable with in the most important task an artist has in my opinion. I’m thankful to have friends like that in my life, and we’re always pushing each other. My support system is what keeps me going, and the best part now about starting a new project is knowing, to quote The Blues Brothers, we’re getting the band back together.

What’s your must-read/must-watch book/show or movie?

A book that I think everyone should read at least once is House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. It’s a truly revolutionary novel in my opinion, and he created a meta-narrative with enough layers to give Chris Nolan’s head a spin. At its core is a haunted house story, however MZD plays with not only narrative structure, but also its infrastructure. There’s a character who reads the work along with you, interrupting the narrative with hilarious tangents as you slowly discover that reading the novel—the novel you’re reading—is making him lose his mind. The book itself is framed as a nonfiction analysis piece with copious footnotes about a real-life documentary about this haunted house. It’s wild and I absolutely love it! MZD tried to adapt it into a television series, however I don’t think anyone picked it up, which is a shame. He released the first three teleplays online. They’re also great.

Stay up to date with Zack and his work!

Instagram & Twitter: @ZackMorrison18


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