As a mother, child trafficking is of great concern to me. I think finding ways to distribute information to parents to help prevent trafficking, or even bringing awareness to the public (IE: Certain places to avoid taking children to, ways to protect your children in public, etc.) would be something I’d love to be a part of.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Letkowski. Jackie is an actress and screenwriter, who hails from Northern New Jersey (not far from New York City). She’s had the pleasure of living in the Atlanta, Los Angeles and NJ/NYC area, and for the past 13 years, she’s worked as an actress, and in film & television production. (Also, her screenplays have won, and/or been nominated, in several contests and have been on hotlists on both Virtualpitchfest.com and Scriptrevolution.com.) Feel free to check out her website: www.jackieletkowski.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I first started talking, my parents were concerned because I would LITERALLY only speak lines from Looney Tunes cartoons. (We would take a ride somewhere, and as soon as I got out of the car, I would exclaim: “Whelp, Pismo Beach and all the clams you could eat!”) The problem got so bad, that they took me to a child psychologist. My prognosis: “She just really really likes TV.”
At the age of 8, I suffered a pretty bad head injury which caused me to become temporarily disfigured- so I had to stay inside for a while to avoid being horribly bullied. (A bed rail was leaning against the wall in our living room while workers were installing carpets in my bedroom; As I sat down watching TV, the rail eventually slid towards me and a large hook at the end of the rail went through the front of my skull and into my brain. I ended-up with a shaved head and 82 stitches.) I also suffered from short-term memory loss for a long time (think about Leonard’s condition in Memento, but multiply it by 100) due to an experimental anti-seizure medication that I was on. (I was better once I was unprescribed from the meds, but I lost so much time that I had to be held back a grade in school; which made the bullying problem worse.)
My temporary bout of agoraphobia caused me to watch even more television shows and movies. (My dad also had a pretty sick laserdisc collection so I started watching Mel Brooks movies, Twilight Zone episodes, Stanley Kubrick films, etc.) I also enjoyed watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 to get an idea of what NOT to do when making a film. Films were a good outlet for me as I was a pretty awkward kid; While both of my sisters were blossoming into beautiful young women, I was often told I looked like Ralph Macchio (I guess I can’t complain; After all, he’s a beautiful man.)
Movies and TV shows ended-up having a profound effect on me; For example, the film “Bullet” influenced my decision when I purchased my first car at the age of 17. (I had to have a muscle car, so I bought a 1967 Chevy Camaro RS convertible.) Of course, being 17, I didn’t understand that these cars require a lot of maintenance, don’t handle well in bad weather (I learned this lesson the hard way; whenever it would spit rain, next thing I knew I’d be spinning donuts in the middle of intersections- no matter how many sandbags I put in the trunk!) and it was 9 miles to the gallon!
Films, writing and art also helped in driving my storytelling from passion to fruition. At an early age, I starting entering creative writing and fine art contests. (I didn’t always win, but truth be told… I wasn’t the most competitive person anyway, but it was great experience.) At 16, I attended a rising star program at Syracuse University where I took classes in painting, drawing, sculpting, photography and graphic design.
Although I struggled in some school subjects (my head injury caused me to have a slight learning disability: organizational deficit disorder), I excelled in the arts, languages and english. I was fortunate enough to get into some great schools and I eventually decided to attend SCAD. While in film school, I worked on various screenplays and was often used as an actress in student films. After film school, I moved to Atlanta for 6 months, back to Savannah (where I worked on a TV pilot being shot for ABC;I started out as a casting assistant but was asked to be a stand-in for the lead actress and also a featured background actress) then I moved out to Los Angeles where I landed a job at a production company (Cosgrove-Meurer Productions); I started out as a receptionist but worked my way up to a post production assistant.
Things were working out okay in Los Angeles, (I had a steady job and finished-up a sketch comedy writing workshop at the Second City Improv Comedy School.) but a really bad rainstorm caused the ceiling of my studio apartment to cave-in, causing my place to become inhabitable. (Plus, my sister was pregnant with the first “little one” to come into our family; These events encouraged me to want to move back home.)
The trek back ended-up being the best decision of my life, as it led me to where I am now!
My first job was managing a company where editors & camera people developed event videos for high-end parties (a Mandy.com find). It paid $12/hour and I wasn’t always treated kindly by the owner, but it was still a positive experience in that I learned a lot and made some friends. While working here, one of my co-workers casted me as the lead in a dramatic/sci-fi short film, “Redistribution” which played at the NYU/Tisch School of the Arts 48-Hour Film Festival.
Then, out of the blue, I received an email through Stage32.com from a website called Collegcooking.com; They were casting for a lead role in a humorous web series about a female pothead who gets sucked into a bong and meets a genie; Instead of the cliche “genie who grants 3 wishes”, this genie proceeds to teach her how to make different edible cannabis treats on, what appeared to be, a stoner version of Pee-Wee’s playhouse (if it were a cooking show). Since I also had production experience, they proceeded to use me behind the scenes as well.
While acting in this project, and working part-time as production coordinator/executive assistant at a soundstage, I was also casted as a host & interviewer for the wildly successful online network Gamerhub.tv (a Craigslist find; I performed my assignments pro-bono). My duties varied from writing articles for their site, hosting video game reviews, attending live events and conducting sit-down interviews.
Following this job… I also worked a brief stint as a backstage interviewer for the ECPW (East Coast Professional Wrestling) during live on-camera segments for a local cable station, as a clothing model for Essential Apparel (where I modeled for brands like Levi’s, Patagonia and North Face; photography was conducted by the talented Anthony Saint James), and acted in several infomercials/commercials. Also, I worked as a producer for a company that created promos for late night shows that aired on CBS.
Eventually, and most importantly, I met the love of my life; we are currently married and have two children. He actually encouraged me to take acting classes and to continue pursuing my screenwriting. At first, I felt insecure about entering acting school in my mid-thirties… But it went really well!
I recently attended a casting showcase (hosted by my acting school) which went better than expected, and an agent expressed interest in representing me. I’ve also had two of my screenplays requested (one darkly comedic mature TV pilot that centers around a woman in sports, and the other is a feature film that is also darkly comedic that centers around two women who are coming-of-middle age) by several producers and managers over the past few months; So we’ll see if I get signed soon!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I had signed-up to take a masterclass with Kyra Sedgwick, and I was fortunate enough to win “the lottery” (out of a class of about 70–80 people, only 14 were selected to be directed by Kyra in scenes). Being directed by such an experienced director and actress was a great thrill and priceless experience!
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?
I was working as an interviewer, host and writer for an online network called, “Gamerhub.tv”. I was often sent to events to conduct interviews (a lot of times, it was with celebrities); But one night… my producer and I received a last minute call about a WWE event. We weren’t prepared at all, but my producer had a list of “universal questions” to use that were approved by one of the executives. The events were normally somewhat casual; However, when we got there it turned out to be a charity event that was black tie! I was way underdressed (I donned a white tank top plus a pair of jeans with Wonder Woman painted on them.), plus the questions we came-up with didn’t necessarily work for every interviewee. (The majority of questions revolved around video games, and the a lot of the people celebrities rarely (if not at all) played video games.)
Moral of the story: ALWAYS be prepared.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
In the past four months, I went from a role as a featured background extra on HBO’s The Deuce, to recently being casted as a lead in an upcoming feature film; For legal reasons, I’m not sure how much I can say about the film other then it’s a love story that revolves around a protest. (It’s based on an inspiring true story, as lived by the screenwriter.)
Plus, two of my screenplays are currently “under consideration” by a producer and a talent manager.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
During my time at Gamerhub.tv I had a sit-down interview with Cheech & Chong. They were hilarious! And, for some reason, Tommy Chong’s cup or hot tea kept causing a feedback sound on the mic in front of him; This prompted him to say, “The CIA bugged my tea, man.” (I think he was referring to the incident covered by the documentary, A/K/A Tommy Chong.
I also got to talk to some WWE (or depending on what generation you’re from “the WWF”) legends. Jerry “the King” Lawler talked about his love of “puppies” and Mick Foley talked a lot about his life experiences. (Very cool since I loved wrestling as a kid! Also the film, They Live with Rowdy Roddy Piper was a lot of fun… “Put on the damn glasses!”)
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Remember, you can get thousands of rejections… but all it takes is that one time for someone to say “yes” to change your life forever.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
Two causes come to mind:
1. As a mother, child trafficking is of great concern to me. I think finding ways to distribute information to parents to help prevent trafficking, or even bringing awareness to the public (IE: Certain places to avoid taking children to, ways to protect your children in public, etc.) would be something I’d love to be a part of.
2. I also think people should consider CBD oil as a possible medical solution to certain health problems; I myself decided to try CBD oil after I started noticing certain changes in my mood. A recent MRI concluded that I have been suffering from frontal lobe damage since my childhood injury. I tried prescribed medication, but hated the side effects. CBD oil was a total game changer for me.
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. Failure is key to success: I truly didn’t appreciate landing a job until I realized what it felt like to NOT get the job.
2. Be prepared: Knowing your lines shows enthusiasm and professionalism. I have landed gigs because I already had the lines memorized which allowed me to focus solely on the emotion behind my actions.
3. Smile!: Although it’s good to be prepared, it may be arguably more important to display a pleasant demeanor; If you’re happy to be around, people will be happy to work with you.
4. Relax & Breathe (and don’t obsess!): You can’t always be “on” all the time. Take a second to breathe and remember not to take yourself TOO seriously. Just do your best and things will happen naturally.
5. Never give up!: Remember all the inspiring stories of others that failed numerous times; You have to be in it to win it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A life without risk, isn’t a life worth living.” I like this quote because everyone comes to a crossroads where they can decide either to “take the safe road to a stable life” or to “take the bumpy road towards your dreams”- personally, I prefer the latter.
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?
I am very fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life! My family (husband, children, parents, siblings, grandmother, etc.) have been so supportive and encouraging. My friends (most of whom I’ve known since middle-school) are my relief. Past bosses & mentors (which includes business author/speaker Mike Michalowicz, co-owner of “Profit First Professionals” Ron Saharyan, and the owner of Butter Tree Studios (a sound stage in NJ) Anthony Demaio (and his family & friends) have supplied me with a wealth of knowledge). Plus, past film professionals that I’ve worked with such as my teachers from Sedgwick-Russell Acting Studio, my producer from Gamerhub.tv (Charles Barker), the owners of College Cooking network, and well… There’s so many more I’m sure I’m forgetting!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 see this. :-)
This is a tough one since there are so many people in the entertainment industry who I find to be very talented (Michael Jai White, Norm Macdonald, Bill Murray, Drew Barrymore, Woody Harrelson, Rosario Dawson, Guillermo Del Toro, Jeff Bridges, Anthony Hopkins, Dave Smith, Matthew McConaughey; who recently gave an awesome speech at the University of Houston, Mel Brooks, etc.). But if I could only pick one… I’d have to choose, one of my favorite actors & filmmakers, Keanu Reeves. Admittedly, I haven’t seen every single movie he’s done, and I’ve only seen him in 1 or 2 interviews (I know, I’d make a terrible celebrity stalker; Also because I’ve had no desire to rejoin Facebook or Twitter since 2011, plus I never had Instagram). But, I can give you 3 things about him that I like:
1. He seems to care about what goes on behind the camera as much as he does about being in front of the camera; As made evident by his documentary film, “Side-by-Side”. (When you love something it’s important to be passionate about it from the inside out.)
2. He plays unconventional characters in unconventional films; His character Bob in “A Scanner Darkly” (perhaps one of my favorite films) was a complicated character in that he had so many layers: On one hand, you want to root for the guy because he’s an addict that is painfully loyal to his friends, but on the other hand… He selfishly abandoned his family for a more leisurely, party lifestyle. And let’s not forget his other characters of Neo in the Matrix, the titular character of Constantine (a demon hunter) and “The Dream”in The Bad Batch. (A cult leader that commands a small army of his pregnant wives to carry machine guns?? How crazy is that?)
3. This is undoubtedly the most important reason of all… Years ago, I lived in Los Angeles (working in the film industry- like half of the population there) and I was at a party with a bunch of friends. People were swapping war stories of nightmare celebrities they, or someone they knew, had to work with. One person finally said, “Yeah but they’re not all bad…” He went on to tell me that a buddy of his worked as an editor/VFX artist on the third installment of the Matrix trilogy. On one of the final days of production, Keanu Reeves showed-up at their studio and gifted all of the workers road bikes, and told them that “If it weren’t for you, these films wouldn’t be a success.” Obviously, this story had a profound effect on me. Not only was it kind, but it flew under the radar: So clearly, it wasn’t a publicity stunt (which made it all the more genuine and respectful).
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on LinkedIn and Stage32.com.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
Thank you for having me! My pleasure!