Expand your circle. Talk to people about your ideas. Your vision and better yet, ‘show’ them how you’ll accomplish these tasks. When I had the opportunity, I built a budget, a pitch deck and packaged it to present the best way we could accomplish the task. I’d never done that before. It was my first time. But, I followed my gut and put myself out there. You gotta go for it. Believe it and go for it.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jason Tobias.
Jason Tobias is an Actor, Writer, Director, that grew up between the Bay Area and the east coast, throughout the late 80’s and 90’s.
Since he was a child, he has loved storytelling. His strongest influences include; Films, Classic Literature, Comics, Cartoons, the Summer Blockbuster and Family.
He moved to Los Angeles in the spring of ’09 to pursue his acting career. He has built credits on popular shows like; “BETTER THINGS” (FX), “DEAD TO ME” (Netflix), “JUSTIFIED” (FX), “The Fosters” (ABC Family), “NASHVILLE” (CMT), and Independent feature films, “DOWNRANGE” (Ryuhei Kitamura), “CAN’T HAVE YOU” (Mark A. Altman), and “F.E.A.R” (Geoff Reisner & Jason Tobias).
In 2016, Jason wrote, produced and starred in, his first award winning short film: “Star Wars: GENERATIONS”. It won the ‘Spirit of Fandom’ award with Disney/Lucasfilm at Star Wars Celebration, in London that year. In 2017, Jason created the production company; ‘Action Figure Entertainment’ with Lucas Solomon. Since then, the two have partnered with Blair Pennington to develop and produce, high concept, scripted series and features, for film and television.
Upon securing financing for their first feature film; “F.E.A.R.”, a survival thriller, Jason Co-directed, Stars in, Wrote and Produced the film, for Action Figure Ent.
The tone of Jason’s projects vary, but the theme heavily encompasses the familial bond.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me. I moved around a lot as a kid. So the experiences that I was exposed to at an early age varied greatly from place to place. From Texas, to Colorado, to Southern California, to Northern California, to Ohio, only to go back to Northern California, then BACK to Ohio, until I finally settled in Los Angeles. I’ve learned to ‘pack light’ ;). I can definitely say that it helped spur my ability to draw on those experiences as I began to establish a career in the arts.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, being a kid in the ‘pre-internet’ days (that doesn’t date me too much, does it?) you had to rely more on the imagination and what you had access to. Exciting content and the means to explore cool and interesting things, wasn’t a click away. So, one time my cousin and I were playing with our He-Man action figures and I can vividly remember watching how we were setting them up. Posing them and playing on Castle Grey Skull and Snake Mountain. It was amazing… the way it felt to be able to ‘craft the story’ we were making up. We were these tiny ‘Masters of our Own Universe’, ha! From there, films became a ‘go-to’ for escapism and pure enjoyment for me. As I grew and the more films I would watch, I kept imagining telling similar stories. Harkening back to those days of ‘playing’, but on a much — MUCH larger, scale.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
To date, there’s been a few. Here’s one; I worked with a director named Adam Lipsius on a film called “Oceans Rising”. The film had a run on the SyFy channel, then on Netflix. We didn’t have the production budget of say; “Waterworld”, but it made a splash in some markets (no pun intended). Well, shortly after working with Adam, he reached out and said he was shooting a commercial in his home state of Colorado and wanted me to audition for it. I didn’t think much of it and appreciated him thinking of me for the role. I book it and next thing I know I’m flying out to Colorado to shoot this thing. In the process of doing so, I meet Blair Pennington. CEO of Restaurant Solutions Inc. and the producer of the commercial. We hit it off and the next thing I know, Blair, Lucas and myself, are talking about making a picture together. Just like that — an audition out of nowhere, lead me to a person that I’m forever grateful to have met. Moral of the story; You just never know…
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh, boy… here’s one. So as an actor starting out, you really only can rely on a few things. One, your connections. (I’ll come back to this) Two, your hustle for going after what you want. Three, letting preparation meet opportunity; AKA: luck. Anyway, I’ll use number 2 here. I needed to get a theatrical agent and there are only so many ways to go about that but, being driven and persistant — I told myself:’ I’m going to scour iMDb Pro and check the TOP agencies and submit to them.’ Why not, right? Aim for the stars. So, it takes me a couple of days, I compile a list of agencies and the agents email addresses I could find, then I compose an email introducing myself… well, then I send out the email — TO EVERYONE. I didn’t bcc anyone and all these emails start coming back to me with: “NEVER DO THIS AGAIN-”, “What were you thinking?!”, “STOP RIGHT NOW”, “So Unprofessional…”, and the list goes on… I was devestated. I thought I’d literally tanked my career. I call my dad and tell him how I messed up, I’ll never work again, no one will rep me now, yadda yadda… Fortunately, he calmed me down and I learned a very imprtant lesson and that is; “BCC people in massive ‘blast’ emails — ALWAYS.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We’re in the process of looking at our next project at Action Figure Ent. (our production company). We briefly talked about something in the animation realm, but that’s a whole endeavor that we haven’t embarked on before. It would be a whole new learning curve for us. We were set to start principal phtography on a coming of age, Sci Fi, genre bender, titled; “The CLOVERS”, in the summer of 2020, but the pandemic put a halt to that instantly. We’re still looking at other potential projects we have in house. Perhaps a pilot, or even another feature. There’s a lot to consider with the ongoing challenges regarding shooting during Covid… but, things are changing and restrictions are starting to lift, so we’ll see as time progresses.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Thank you for that. I have been fortunate to be able to work rather steadily since I began this career path ten years ago. However, that also comes with a lot of sacrifices. It is an extremely challenging career path to say the least… and not for those that give up after the first ‘no’, or the thousandth one either… if there’s anything I can say looking back and to someone looking to pursue this, that’s; You have to love this. Not just ‘kinda, sorta’, no — LOVE it. You need to be okay with failing. You have to be okay with uncertainty. It’s a very fickle and volatile industry. You can work on projects back-to-back-to-back, then you may not work for a year… maybe two. To a degree, you need to be obsessing about it all the time. You have to love to audition. You have to be ‘okay’ with not being picked, or ‘chosen’… and most of all — be kind, be grateful and be present for any and EVERY opportunity you do get. Granted you aren’t compromising yourself in anyway that doesn’t vibe with your standards, morals, beliefs, etc. This could get extremely long winded, but those are just a few things I would say as a ‘conversation starter’ to someone that asks me about this lifestyle and career.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
The world around us is multi-cultural. Not every place is as such — but, it doesn’t mean we can’t portray a world we would ‘like to see’. Isn’t that what we’re doing to some degree with certain types of storytelling? Telling an audience a story in a world we’d ‘like’ to see? First, I believe diversity can help those that aren’t depicted often to an audience that isn’t very multi-cultural, and help them get over prejudices and stereotypes that have perpetuated for so long. Second, storytelling is a ‘human’ experience. It’s not exclusive to one race/nationality/group. It’s truly universal. Having people and faces in said stories, can help connect people of all types. We all share similar hopes, dreams, fears, etc. we can all connect that way. We can see just how ‘human’ we all are. Lastly, education is key and with each passing generation, the ‘hope’ is that the next one will help guide the following one. Media. Film. Television. All of them are extremely influential. They help tremendously in educating people in multiple ways. From seeing yourself on screen, to seeing yourself in a boardroom, and even seeing yourself on set — all of these ‘positions’ are great starting points for everyone to stop wondering ‘if’ they can, and start seeing themselves there.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”; and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Your network is extremely important. Network — NETWORK — NETWORK! This is something I’ve talked to other actors about in excess. We have a tendency to get very comfortable in our groups and branching out beyond that can be seen as a lot of ‘work’. Actors only want to hang out with other actors, etc. I met two very good friends, who are now business partners, in that way. You may not always be in the mood, or the right frame of mind, but it’s imperative to do so. Expand your circle. Talk to people about your ideas. Your vision and better yet, ‘show’ them how you’ll accomplish these tasks. When I had the opportunity, I built a budget, a pitch deck and packaged it to present the best way we could accomplish the task. I’d never done that before. It was my first time. But, I followed my gut and put myself out there. You gotta go for it. Believe it and go for it.
2) This is a business. I meet so many people that get caught up in the craft, or debating how the process works and how their ‘art’ is seen. And when you’re in a echo-chamber of others with similar beliefs, it’s not hard to think that it’s only seen one way. Most believe that the best person gets the role. The most talented person gets the part… not true. Not always the case. There’s a reason it’s called ‘Show Business’. Treat it as such and you’ll start to recognize opportunities around you. Someone had a great RomCom script that I pitched to some friends that were looking to make something in that genre. They met. They talked. At the end, the person who owned the script wanted a certain number for the script and didn’t want to compromise their ‘art’ and wasn’t willing to part with it for anything less than a certain amount and countless attachments… Needless to say, this person didn’t have the resume, or the clout to back up this ‘ask’. They were very caught up in their ‘art’. I can respect it. But, they failed miserably at seeing the chance to get something of theirs made. The interested party moved on and picked up another script. Opportunity missed.
3) Trust your instincts. When I first arrived to Los Angeles, I audited a bunch of acting classes and attended tons of workshops. Again, I hadn’t done anything like this at this level and had no idea which direction to go in. You get to see others working in classes. You get to see them learning from coaches and teachers, who’ve worked at the level you aspire to be at. You’re learning and growing. But, don’t forget — the reason you’re doing what you’re doing, is that you have a burning desire and an inate instinctual itch, to want to perform. Too many times I would meet people who would get attached to others and completely forget that the instincts they carry, are powerful. They gave that power away to a coach, or an acting teacher and stopped listening to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, coaching, classes, etc. are fantastic. And for each person they can represent the ‘reps in the gym’ to stay sharp and ready. But, when you’re constantly questioning the way you would approach things and need someone else’s validation to proceed, then I think you’re handcuffing yourself.
4) Know how to make a buck. Look, I get it — we hear all the stories about people sleeping in their cars, had like three dollars to their name, were on the plane ready to leave LA — didn’t have a ‘Plan B’, when the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ came along. And for them, hats off. Who doesn’t love hearing about the struggling artist that hits it big? However, not everyone will have those moments or opportunities happen to them. They’ll need to keep grinding. Keep working. Keep ‘showin up’. Until you can break in. That may be 1 year. That may be 20 years. No one really knows… that’s the allure of this career. You can literally book a project and your life will change over night. But in the meantime, know how to facilitate your life with enough money to live, to eat, to work through the down times, or slow periods… this pandemic showed me just how brutal this business can be. I had at least 5 different friends; up and move away, due to bars and restaurants not being open. Service industry jobs are the life blood for a lot of actors and once those go away, the options to make money AND be flexible around your schedule, can get very hard to find. If you can learn a craft, or skill to — at the very least — keep your head above water during the dry periods, then you’ll last longer in the game. For most of us, this is a marathon not a sprint.
5) Create your own content. I learned this kind of by accident. It was around 2015 and some other actors and a writer I knew, got together and did a very common thing in the arts; Complain about not having work… So, the idea was to come up with something that we could shoot on a relatively small, shoestring budget, that could highlight our talents. Some people knew editors. Some knew how to get a hold of a camera. Everyone ‘knew’ someone. So there’s a start. At the end of the process, it completely opened my eyes. Actors are usually trying to ‘fit’ into a role. They’re doing their best to bring themselves and the training they have, to fit into this character that someone else has wrote, someone else will direct and someone else will produce. That’s a lot of ‘someone’s’ that you better hope like you… but, when you start to write your own content, you shed all the trying to please anyone else but you. You can literally craft the character you’re playing to your strengths, or your weaknesses. You are in total control and THAT, is a game changer I feel. It’s no longer about trying to appease casting or the producers, or the directors, or the show runner, no — it’s empowering you as an actor to know you are in the driver’s seat. It was such an amazing experience and since then, I’ve never looked back.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Step away at times. When you can, get out into nature. Re-connect with old friends. With Family. I know I said earlier; “-be obsessive.”, “-you gotta LOVE it.”, but you really do need to have something outside of this industry, OR something that rides side-car to it, that you can decompress with at times. I’ve only recently started doing this and it’s helped me a lot. I’ve gone into nature more. Made more attempts to spend time with family and friends and it has changed how I view the business, the scripts I write, even the way I approach the craft. I respect anyone for dedicating 150% to whatever they’re doing… but, a wise man once said; “Don’t take yourself too seriously — none of us are getting out of here alive.”. So take that road trip with friends. Spoil yourself from time-to-time. Take care of ‘YOU’. Don’t get caught up in the FOMO. We beat ourselves up over this constantly. Managers, agents, other actors or industry professionals, are experiencing some life out there from time to time… why not you?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m not sure how ‘much influence’ I have, but I do enjoy the question. If I could inspire a ‘movement’, it would be to put more of an emphasis on the arts in our country (U.S.). Other countries around the world have programs for artists and film makers that help their projects get made, help them with funding, help with living expenses, etc. If we had something like that here, beyond tax breaks and incentives for shooting in this state, or that one — more grants and something to help these stories get made, or to explore one’s creativity, I believe more people would see the arts as a viable career choice. I don’t know too many people that as children say; “I can’t wait to get into a career that suppresses me creatively BUT, I’ll make a lot of money doing “X”…”. I believe we all dream big as children. I would hope with something like this, those dreams would continue to flourish and potentially become a reality.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are amazing people I’ve met along my journey to date. I’m working with a few of them as we speak. Lucas Solomon. Blair Pennington and Geoff Reisner. But, if there’s one person that stands out; that’s my father. He has always shown me support in this career choice. He’s always been there when times were very, very difficult… and I truly believe we all need ‘someone’ like that on the journey through this industry. It could be a family member. A friend. The barista at your coffee spot, or just someone that you know will listen and give honest feedback. It’s hard — damn hard and you need a person you can talk to and you know that they’ll have your back, no matter what. That’s my, Dad. Once I hadn’t booked anything for a few months and I was really frustrated with my current position in life. I’m going on and on about how I’ve been on this show and this one, and did this film and now I’m not working and he’s just listening. Finally, he says:”J, so you think you’re like… the ‘ultimate cheeseburger’, right?”. And I’m confidently like; “YES!”. He’s quiet for a few seconds, then he says; “J, not everyone likes cheeseburgers.”. I was silent until he started talking again. For as simplistic as that statement was, it made a world of sense. You can be trained. Have credits, have this and that going for you, but in the end, you’re still trying to fit into someone else’s ‘version’ of things… you just have to keep at it and keep believing in yourself.
Can you please give us your favorite; “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Honestly, there’s too many to quote… but, if there’s one that stands out right now it’s; “The work don’t lie.”. I saw this quote and immediately felt its impact. If you want to get better at something, practice. If you want to be better at something, do it. If you want to know more about something, study it. Underneath it all, you need to put the work in. It’ll show — trust me, it’ll show. You’ll see and others will recognize the time and effort you put into things that you dedicate the time and energy to.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Michael Eisner. I was fortunate to have met him briefly at his home, when a friend from his production company The Tornante Comp., invited me. I would love to pick his brain on running the studios he has. The positions he’s held. The projects he’s greenlit and the ones he passed on. The chances he took and the reasons he did. He came from an era where a ‘person’ and not a comitee, still had a majority of the influence, on how to shape the landscape of a studios film slate. What worked. What didn’t. Why did he hire the people he did and how did he feel about the ones that didn’t work out. That would be awesome.
How can our readers follow you online?
My handles are straight forward. On twitter and instagram I’m: @thejasontobias I’m on Facebook as well, but you’d need to friend request me. You can also stay up to speed on what we have coming up at: www.actionfigureent.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!