About Jeremy Gold
Jeremy Gold is the Co-President of Blumhouse Television, where he oversees scripted and unscripted TV series. Previously he served as the Senior Vice President of comedy for Fox. A friend of Lunacy, he took time out of his busy schedule to tell us about how he got his start, the skills needed to be a good producer, and some valuable advice on networking.
Lunacy: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s start off with how you got into the television industry. What was your big break?
Jeremy Gold: I started acting and producing theater in high school and kind of fell in love with it there. And then I went to Northwestern University, concentrating on acting but also learning film production and the business side of things. My goal was to pursue an acting career but I also always knew that I liked producing as well, so I had openness to doing that. I was always interested in the sort of omnibus approach to entertainment.
To answer your question of my “big break,” for me, it wasn’t necessarily one. It was some relationships that made a big difference. One of the first really good meaningful relationships was a casting director who’s now a movie producer in New York, Alexa Fogel. She gave me a lot of opportunities and also made a lot of introductions for me, first as an actor but then I started working with her as a casting associate and freelancing for her.
She introduced me to Steven Bochco when I was helping with additional casting on this brand new show called NYPD Blue. When Steven came back to New York to do Murder One he told Alexa he wanted to work with me again. She said, “Jeremy runs a theater company and he’s an actor. He’s got a lot of stuff going on. I don’t know if he’s going to be available to cast your show.” I was 24 years old and doing all this other stuff, but Steven pulled me aside and said, “I really want you to work on Murder One.” I was like, “I’ll do whatever you tell me to do, Steven Bochco.” The fact that he took an active interest in me was very empowering.
LU: So much of this business is about building those relationships. Do you have a networking philosophy that you could share with us?
JG: I think that networking is really about having a more fluid relationship with yourself and the business. That is, if you set out to get to know someone because you want something from them, that doesn’t feel good and usually doesn’t lead to a good outcome. The best networking opportunities happen organically. They grow out of a relationship. There are certainly people that premeditate an introduction. And look, I can feel it when someone is premeditatedly trying to track me down to get to know me because of a project or something. It’s certainly not offensive. I understand it. We all gotta hustle. But what feels better is when I get to know someone and then it evolves into business.
LU: Right. But there’s also a reason those people took an interest in you and wanted to work with you. What were you bringing to the table that made people take notice? What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to follow your path to success?
JG: First, you have to have a strong point of view and not be afraid to share your point of view. And you must feel like you have the ability to know good material from bad material and call out the difference. I think that’s a big part of it.
I think you also really have to have the fire in the belly, because what we do can be very hard. It can be hard emotionally. What I mean by that is we invest a lot in the work we do, and a lot of it doesn’t go anywhere. We better make sure we like it and we enjoy what we’re doing.
Third, (not necessarily in this order) what we do is very much a people business. It’s very relationship based, and while I don’t think it’s essential, I think it’s helpful if you are someone who genuinely enjoys people and enjoys getting to know new people and building relationships. I get that from my parents, I guess, so I feel very blessed in that regard. In producing and developing material, we’re only as good as our relationships.
The last thing I’ll say is some advice I got from Steven Bochco at a very young age. He said, “As you get more advanced in your career and as you have more power and more success, resist the temptation to be an asshole. People will do things, basically begging you to be a jerk, but just resist that temptation. Take the high road. It really will serve you well in the long run.”
There are times where you pick up the phone and someone’s shouting at you, and you don’t even know why. I’ve learned through the years to just mute my phone, let those words fade, and react reasonably — don’t match the craziness level that’s on the other end of that phone!
LU: We recently did a blog post on this exact idea. You can’t overreact in the moment.
JG: Exactly! Sometimes you just have to write a strongly worded response (but with no one in the ‘to’ heading) just to get it out of your system, and then delete it and write the real e-mail, right?
LU: Tell us about your time at Fox. What were some of the challenges there?
JG: I refer to that job as a cross between the best Christmas ever and being buried alive. When you’re running a division at a network you are at an apex of information. You’re hearing about everything in the industry. The amount of information that comes through every day is astounding and I was keenly aware of that when I moved on to other places. So that was fascinating.
Also, the amount of material. We would hear six to seven pitches a day. Probably around 700 comedy pitches in a year. That’s just comedy, right? So single camera, multi-camera, and animation. You’re going to learn a lot more just by trafficking through that much material and that many relationships.
There was also a huge learning curve in trying to understand the end user, if you will, which is the audience, and also understand the different needs of the affiliate buyers and the sales force. And the marketers. I had a couple of heartbreaking shows where I thought we’d done a great job, but the marketing team just couldn’t understand how to market it. So, it failed. I was probably too immature in my growth at the time to say, “Help me help you. What are you bumping on?” I was just too busy and I didn’t take the time to walk down the hall and go, “Hey, marketing team, can we just sit and talk about this show because I think there’s a missed opportunity, but I feel like I’ve done you a disservice by not fully educating you with what the show’s about.”
It’s one of those things, if I knew then what I know now… But it was an amazing experience and I’m incredibly grateful for that experience and to all those people that brought me there.
LU: So how did you get from running comedy at a network to working at Blumhouse, an indie horror giant?
JG: There was another stop along the way. I left Fox to go launch the scripted business at Endemol. At the time, Endemol was a global media company mostly known for unscripted content like Big Brother, Fear Factor, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. We started that television division as a production company and grew it into a studio. What that means is we went from a producer-for-hire business to being a business where we would develop our own series, deficit finance them, and retain some rights for international distribution.
It was a big education for me in the international market place and how a foreign independent television company ran. It was also a good lesson in growth because we grew that company too. Quite frankly, my Endemol experience very much set me up for the Blumhouse opportunity.
Because they were so new to the scripted business it really gave me tremendous autonomy. My first big opportunity there was a period drama about the building of the American Transcontinental Railroad that we were doing for AMC, which was at that time just getting on the map [with Mad Men and Breaking Bad]. When I pitched this this big, soaring period western that was very different from our other content, my boss, David Goldberg, didn’t look at me like I was crazy. He supported me, and we developed Hell On Wheels and put it on the air and it ran six seasons. That was a real turning point for me personally, and for the company.
LU: So that takes us to Blumhouse. What brought you there and what were your goals when you started out?
JG: When I came to Blumhouse two years ago, Jason Blum had been working in television as a producer-for-hire business. I was hired along with another senior executive, Marci Wiseman, who I’ve known a long time, as co-presidents, to take what Jason was doing as a television producer and scale it into a studio business.
Our first goal was to do a capital raise to help grow the company. We built a business plan and met with a lot of bigger media conglomerates and ended up making a deal with ITV Global Entertainment. It was investment in the company, not a buying of the company, so we retained a lot of our independence. We do not have to distribute through ITV necessarily. We can go to the town and distribute through whatever way makes the most sense for the individual show.
When we got here, it was a very small division. Three or four people. Today, Blumhouse Television is now a fully-fledged independent studio with eight series in production and about twenty executives producing scripted, non-scripted (mostly in the doc series space), and also documentary films as you know very well, because we made a movie together (This Is Home: A Refugees Story).
LU: I think most of us think of Blumhouse as an indie horror studio. I know I do. But you run a very different part of that company. Tell us a little bit about that and about the brand and how it’s changing.
JG: The goal was always to do something broader than what was working on the Blumhouse features side. They are focused on producing lower budgeted thriller and horror movies. The basic Blumhouse movie is $5 million or less. (Get Out! was made for $4.5 million.) It’s and extraordinary model that works remarkably well and has for many years, and they’ve made over a hundred movies. It’s certainly not a fluke.
Creatively, what we’re doing in TV is broader than what we do in features. We like to say it’s not just about the monsters under your bed, but rather the things that keep us all awake at night. Not just horror. Provocative subject matter, conversation starting material. Things that give you a little bit of uneasiness, but not necessarily horror.
Sharp Objects, with Amy Adams, which is a very good kind of example of the kind of work we’re doing. We launched The Purge series on USA, which is an adaptation of the very successful film franchise. We’ve got the Loudest Voice in the Room, with Russell Crowe, coming up on Showtime, which is our eight-part limited series about Roger Ailes and Fox News.
LU: It seems like the many different platforms that buy content often say they want one thing, but that has little relation to what they actually end up buying or putting on the air. How do you determine how much you tailor what you’re creating to what they want, or what they say they want? Or what’s supposedly in demand?
JG: I think it’s a couple of things. One, what I know from being a former network buyer is those are moving targets. What they say they’re looking for on Wednesday they’ve moved off of on Thursday and by Friday they don’t want anymore. I’m being glib but it’s kind of true, sometimes.
We do take it into consideration, but really we try to focus more on the broad strokes, more the macro than the micro, right? If they say we really need a strong female led compulsive drama, we’ll take that more seriously than, “Gee, we really want a show about whalers in Maine.” And it’s not that we’ll go out looking for something that checks specific boxes. Rather, when we see it come in the door we say, “Ooh, remember that meeting we had at FX, this is perfect for what they told us in that meeting.”
LU: We work with a lot of new writers here at Lunacy, and we really love cultivating new talent. Do you hire many inexperienced writers? How do you handle them differently than you would handle veterans.
JG: Our slate currently has some first-time writers in development, but we tend to work with people who’ve been through the process before. It’s a long process and it’s hard, so we like people to have a little experience before we take someone into the market.
But we do hire a lot of new and emerging voices on the shows that we staff. We like to cultivate young writers and the best way to do that is to get to know them by staffing them on our shows. Once they get a little bit more experience under their belt, you can develop with them.
We like to work with people over and over again. I’ve done this everywhere that I’ve worked. It probably goes back to my theater company roots, but once you find people you like working with, you keep them around and keep working with them. It’s very rewarding to do that.
LU: What’s on the horizon for you, anything in particular that you’re exited that you can tell us about?
JG: We’re developing a limited series starring Ethan Hawke as the abolitionist John Brown, that’s based on a beautiful novel with a great script and director. I’m really excited about that one. We also acquired a book called Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green, which is another sort of political piece. It’s about Steve Bannon and the road to the Trump White House. We’ve got a great screenwriter on that and already sold it to a cable network. That will eventually be a two-night, four-hour movie event. There’s so much more. We’re always busy.
LU: So you obviously are working really hard and traveling a lot. How do you maintain a work, life balance?
JG: Well, that is the million-dollar question. And I think everybody has their own answer. I’m very happily married for a really long time with two daughters, and I’ve always tried to do my work when they are busy doing other things. When they’re asleep or busy with their own stuff, whether it’s an athletic event, or a party, or homework. I’ll do a lot of “dawn patrol,” where I wake up super early and knock out a couple of hours before anyone’s up. Then I find I’m more relaxed and I can hang out, because I already sent off that document I was worried about or read that script I needed to read. So I am more present, and can be more happy and focused.
That I keep the family time family time. I can actually relax and have fun with my family. It’s not just because I’m being altruistic, or because I should do it. It’s because my most favorite time is with them. I want to really be 100% present.
And I also feel like it’s nice when you’re modeling for your kids that you work hard but you also really enjoy it. I got that message from my dad and it meant a lot to me. He was a corporate lawyer and he worked his ass off, but I could see he really loved it. And that was cool. Hopefully I’m modeling that for my kids.
LU: That’s great. I know everyone’s trying to struggle with this work-life balance issue, and I think that’s great advice.
JG: It’s really hard today. I don’t know when everyone got together decided it was okay to email everybody about everything all the time. Was there a vote? We all do it and it just sucks. So I think you have to build your own parameters for it and just say, this is when I’m going to respond and this is when I’m not going to respond.
And there are times when I still get it wrong. I probably look at my email too much in the middle of the weekend. I’d like to just check it in the morning and at night but, frankly, I can’t. I don’t have the luxury right now, but I do think it’s important.