I had the pleasure of getting to interview the creative and inspiring, Justin Lyon of Yo Gabba Gabba and PhotoFieldtrip. If you prefer to listen, you can find the podcast version of this interview, here.
SMB: Hi friends, this is another podcast from Sarah-May. So Today’s podcast, I’m really excited to be interviewing the amazing, Justin Lyon. And I’m calling the episode “Love and Success.” The other name for this was, “ Of course you can!” because it’s targeted toward creative people who really want to make a living at doing what they love. And I think something many strive for but it’s really hard to achieve it in reality, so instead they fall into the grooves of an industry or what others before them have told them to do.
So today I wanted to talk about being a creative and an entrepreneur so you can find your own perfect life ratio so you can build the life that allows you to be all of you. In other words, merging your life’s loves – and also family, not just work, and career.
An introduction to Justin Lyon: he’s a photographer, super funny dude with a beautiful family, and also the producer of Yo Gabba Gabba. He also helps inspire other creative entrepreneurs and artists in the likes of Field trip – and The Unique Camp – and I just found out you are the head of marketing and branding for a clothing company called LuLaRoe and you co-shoot with your lovely wife as a photographer – Amelia Lyon Photography. I am stoked to interview you because you are a very inspiring person with such a refreshing perspective on life.
So hello Justin!
Your interview for Creative Mornings LA at one point you said– “We were no one,” and yet, serendipitously you helped to birth such a major paradigm shift for the modern parents (Yo Gabba Gabba). I think it was such a gift to culture, to be able to not hate what their kids were watching – or to be able to spend more time with their kids, so I feel like you represent this anomaly – in that you have kids and you’re cool, and you can watch tv with your kids and be entertained. That you can be an adventuresome creative thinker and you have almost four kids now. What about that ethic or structure – how did you set that up in your life, or were you always that way? How did you get there?
JL: That’s a great question. I think for myself personally – growing up in a home with an artist for a father, my dad’s a painter – he paints for a living. Growing up in a home where that’s how someone provided for their family, I grew up from an early age knowing that you can do something you love – and there were times that it was a struggle, for sure. Our finances were up and down as a child and my mom would work sometimes, to bring in income. But my dad always said “do something you love to do,” and the reason that he said that is because the chances are you’re going to excel at it. Because you’re going to want to do it. You’re going to want to learn and grow and do it so you can get experience so you can perfect whatever it is you’re doing. If you don’t love it, if you’re in a job where you’re just going to come home after a 9 to 5 and you just want to shoot yourself. It’s one of those things where you’re not going to have a happy life.
He talked a lot about doing something you love so that it didn’t feel like work. I think a lot of people are intimidated by their dreams and goals and things they want to do in life – like they think they can’t do what they want to do.
I kind of found myself in that situation, to be honest. I was in Arizona, going to school. I was working a job at a resort and I was making really good money. I worked my way up the ladder fairly quickly, and I was in a supervisor position overseeing a group of men – most of which were older than I was. And most of htem got stuck, like they were in this job that they hated that paid their bills, and for some of them it was actually their career – and I saw myself, like a flash forward to the future, and I thought if I didn’t get out of here and do something I want to do, I’m going to be stuck. I’m going to be that guy.
It’s funny I had just seen a movie that in a lot of ways changed my life, and that was Goodwill Hunting. In that movie, Will had to go see about a girl – I had to go see about a career, if that makes sense.
JL: The correlation where he was in love with this woman – and he was like, “If I don’t go I’ll never know.” That dream will just die. So one of my best friends what out in California going to film school and at that point I was like, “I’ve got to go see about a career.” So I literally packed up my bags like the next week and moved out to California to go to film school.
JL: I ended up at Art Center which is where I went to college. But I think having that foundation of a father is what pushed me to find something I wanted to do. Because I knew what I was doing for work at the time – I was in school, so I knew that what I was doing was to pay the bills while I was in school, but that just really propelled me to get out to California to do what I wanted to do, which is go to film school.
SMB: Was it just like one day it hit you?
JL: I think it was a culmination – I started meeting a bunch of bands and celebrities, the people who would stay at the Biltmore, the resort I worked at in Pheonix, and a lot of the people I would talk to were like, “Well– you can do anything you want to do. What are you doing? Why are you working here?”
Because I grew up in a very tightknit religious community – I wanted to be able to work in something in the entertainment space, where I’d be able to travel and see the world, in movies and TV and fashion, that kind of stuff. But that’s “evil” and “corrupt” if you’re in a Christian community, for the most part. Which is something I think I battled with a lot for a long time – because I really wanted to still have my faith and values, but I wanted to do something I loved creatively.
I think it all just came to a head when I learned that I could be a corrupt dentist, a corrupt doctor, no matter what I chose in life as a profession, I could be corrupt at that profession if that’s where my heart and mind was.
SMB: What is one lesson you learned at that time or any time through your career in its entirety, that you wish you could install into everyone’s mind instantly? Like what was the greatest gift of a lesson?
JL: One of them for sure is that my dad said find something you love. Truly if you love something, it’s not work. Right now – what I do for work, it’s like play for me. I get to do things I love doing – every day’s different, and it’s a challenge but it’s a fun challenge. I think that’s the thing – most people don’t take the time to find what they love?
SMB: Yeah! Or they don’t even see that it correlates to a job.
SMB: Like it’s like, “What does that have to do with anything?”
JL: If you ask most people, “What do you love?” they start talking about those things – and you’re like, “How come you’re not doing that for a living?” they’re like, “Well, it’s not a job.” And it’s like, I can’t think of anything that’s not a job for someone. Think of anything you love – what’s something that you love, Sarah?
SMB: I love helping people.
JL: So there are how many jobs around helping people.
SMB: Oh, totally.
JL: It’s one of those things that I think most people forget about or just never think about. Dallas Clayton spoke at Fieldtrip last year, and he shared this incredible talk about how – as we get older our dreams become forgotten or abandoned, if you will. Because as a child – anything’s possible, and as you get older, the more you start to become aware that if you admit that you have a dream, there’s a chance it won’t come true. People are scared of that. It’s a scary thing – so I think the biggest thing I would say is find something you love and be persistent, like don’t take no- just go for it until you make it happen.
SMB: Or you have to decide that it’s not really what you want – cause otherwise you’re responsible for making it happen. So you’re like, “Well I don’t even know if I like it that much or want it that bad…” Like you have to dismiss its validity.
JL: That’s an excuse. Totally.
SMB: Yeah, that’s fear. What would you say to someone who is trying to retroactively create that in themselves – like they’re realizing now and they’re in a career and they’re like, “Wow, I hate this.” And they’re trying to traverse their way into a new creative and passion-driven field, and maybe they don’t even necessarily know what that is yet.
JL: Well that’s tricky because I’ve met a lot of people – being in the portrait and wedding space with my wife – she has a pretty well-known portrait and photography business, where I shoot with her…
SMB: I know because she’s shooting my wedding!
JL: I know! Excited! But we have friends who had other careers but had a love for photography and so they wanted to jump in. I’ve seen all aspects – I’ve seen people that just quit everything cold turkey to jump into photography or whatever it is they want to do. I’ve seen people that took years to bridge that gap to be able to provide an income from the new job – their “love” that they wanted to turn into a career. I’ve seen people that never actually turned that corner – that had to abandon their dream because they couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.
JL: For sure, it happens all the time. I look at a lot of the people I went to filmschool with and a lot of them wanted to be directors and quite a few of them are not directing, still.
SMB: Was that mainly for financial reasons – or it just wasn’t practical?
JL: I think there’s a lot of reasons – I mean one of the biggest reasons that I’ve seen is the fear of success. Most people won’t allow themselves to accomplish things – I mean, you live in LA – everyone has a script. But how many people actually finish that script – most people are too scared to finish it – they want to perfect it. They want what they do to be good, we all do.
SMB: That’s so interesting to think about it that way. I think I suffer from that quite a bit, although I finish things – but it’s never done in my head – like I think “I should have tweaked (blank).”
JL: Totally, that’s like if you asked my dad he’d say he still hasn’t painted his best painting. I guarantee if you asked Spielberg if Jaws is an amazing movie, there’s so many things he’d do differently now. Because he’s learned and grown as an artist, and that’s the thing you’ve got to learn – you’re only as good today as you are today. The more you practice and develop and work at something, the better you can get at it. If your heart’s there.
SMB: That’s awesome! That’s a great way to think about it – I do feel like Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” – I noticed that in my own life, just working one job, just all of a sudden it becomes second-nature, and you’re like “Oh yeah!”
JL: There are a very small few in the world that are actually gifted with the talent that wouldn’t require 10,000 hours of work on something.
SMB: Yeah, and if they are they’re kind of like disturbed geniuses. Juuust kidding. What do you think now, in your life, gives you the greatest creative energy boost?
JL: I would say my family– my kids and my wife. Just wanting to set up a legacy for them and being able to be someone that they’re proud of as a spouse or a father, and someone that can better the world. Leaving things – whether it’s talent at Yo Gabba Gabba, or branding at LuLaRoe or the community that’s Fieldtrip – that we’ve put together – just knowing that whatever it is, what I’ve left behind is better than how I found it. It’s kind of weird – it’s like the Boy Scout motto. “Leave things better than you found them.”
But at the end of the day I think that’s what inspires me creatively – my wife and my children, just knowing that whatever accomplishments or failures I have in my life, they’re always going to be there and support me. I think that’s a huge thing. That drives me creatively – to be able to know that even if I fail, that they’ll still have my back and they’ll still be there for me. Because most people I think are scared of failure – and they think that if they fail, then it’s done – it’s over.
There’s a quote that Patrick – the design and production manager at LuLaRoe (the clothing brand I’m working with now). I don’t think it’s his quote, but it’s a quote he shares in a lot of his presentations and talks – and that is, “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even attempted.” I might have butchered that…
SMB: That’s so nice! The meaning is pretty awesomely there.
J: Yeah, you get what I’m saying.
SMB: Are there times you feel stuck creatively or stuck career wise and what’s your go-to tool?
JL: Oh – Totally. My go-to tool would be music, for sure. There are certain bands and groups and albums that I can put in that can just put me in a different space, mentally. And I find that space helps me clear my mind a little more. I also love nature- just getting out, whether it’s the ocean or the mountains. Or just on a drive. Drives are tricky in California – sometimes it’s not easy to just go for a drive, but growing up in Idaho and Arizona – there’s just a lot of open space where you could just drive and put in music and just think. I think those are some things that I go to. There are also spiritual things that I go to in moments of a lack of creativity.
SMB: If there was one book or daily practice that you would recommend to people if they’re creatively finding themselves stuck, besides Fieldtrip, what would it be?
JL: A daily creative resource? To get out of a creative rut?
SMB: I feel like I go to museums or I watch a film by a director who has a unique voice.
JL: That’s a good question. There are a lot of books that I love – one of my favorite books is “The Law of Success” but that’s not about creativity, it’s about getting your mind right. I think that every business book that was ever written was based on that book. Like it was a college course. Music is a big thing for me – maybe that’s what I go to the most. Right now I’ve been loving a lot of Future Islands, The XX, Lo-Fang, Sylvan Esso. It’s interesting because there’re a lot of motivational books that my dad would share when I was growing up – my dad was also a coach.
SMB: Oh man, your dad is awesome!
JL: He was a high school volleyball coach and an artist – yeah, so I played high school volleyball. And the coaches would always share these motivational quotes with the players. So I still really like motivational quotes –they still give me a lot of courage and comfort and inspiration. Actually the thing I probably go to the most – now that I think about it, for inspiration creatively or mentally, is TedTalks. I listen to a lot of TedTalks.
SMB: I was like bawling my eyes out listening to the Creative Mornings LA thing. I made my fiancée watch it with me.
JL: Oh, rad!
SMB: It really gave me a jolt of creative juices. I was like, “Oh my God, I can do anything!”
JL: You can! For sure.
SMB: It was awesome. I think a lot of what you teach is play and love and making stuff, and being yourself and I just love that – so I wanted to ask, what is a day in the life for you? It doesn’t have to be an average weekday.
JL: A day in the life? You want me to run you through a day, typically? Let’s go with yesterday. Yesterday morning – I wake up around 8 o’clock because I’m up really late. Saw the kids off for school. Got up, did a little exercise. I don’t do much exercise – usually just things like sit-ups and pushups, and then I did some reading. I did like 30 minutes of reading on some stuff I’ve been wanting to work on personally.
Then I got ready for the day, went to work – came home from work around 4 o’clock to take my sons to basketball practice – I’m there basketball coach. Assistant coach, I should say.
SMB: Awe. . .
JL: So I took them to basketball practice, then we came home about 5:30. We had a quick little family dinner, a quick little family spiritual lesson, and then we went to go see the movie “Paddington.” Came home and got the kids to bed, then the wife and I chatted for a bit, snuggled up and watched a show – then went to bed.
SMB: Wow! You live a very balanced life.
JL: There’s some work, some play, some exercise. I don’t run as much as I’d like. I definitely try to balance work, play, fun – all the things that are important to me.
SMB: It doesn’t really make sense in the realm of my experiences because the people I know usually work and squeeze in family after work, and they don’t want it to be that way – the industry just set it up that way. So it makes me very hopeful to think, “I can have that too!”
JL: Well, it’s not always perfect- sometimes it’s a struggle. It takes work, it takes effort to get things to where you want them to be.
SMB: That was going to be my next question actually: You and your wife inspire me as a couple, the fact that you guys work together, but you still have a marriage – and you seem to have a beautiful friendship. There are so many facets to your relationship, so I wanted to ask – how did you set up your professional relationship as photographers? And also with things like Fieldtrip? Did you guys evolve it to be that way or did you structure it, like, “We want to work together, this is to help us work together.”
JL: That’s the funny thing about the different professions we both have – her photography business grew out of a love and an interest for photography that she had. I grew up in a home where my father would always take photos for research or documentation for his paintings- so photography is something I always loved.
Then in film school I took a few photography classes, I went to Art Center. So my brother-in-law was getting married and he saw some of my pictures and said, “Dude I want you to shoot my wedding.” And I said, “You’re crazy! There’s no way-” Anyway, I ended up shooting the wedding after much coercing from him. And my wife was obviously there, and she had one of those “ah-ha” moments where the light bulb went on, and she was like, “This is what I want to do!” – it was a passion for her. She was like, “This is what I want to do!” So at that time I knew a bit a little bit more than she did at that point, about photography, so I taught her what I knew, and she’s far surpassed me in technical skills.
In all the things we do – whether it’s photography or Fieldtrip or whatever it is, we do the things we’re passionate about. She loves photography, I love photography so we go into it knowing what our roles are. She’s the main photographer – she’s the one who interacts with the clients, who does the consultations with the brides, the editing and the emails – I don’t ever interact with the brides before the wedding. She’s the one who sets up everything – she knows the timeline, she knows the schedule, she knows what the bride is expecting as far as photography needs – so when we go to a wedding, she knows what her needs and wants are and my role is just to have a different eye and have a different look – and be capturing things that she’s not, or looking at some of the more candid stuff that’s happening around. The photo-journalism type stuff. So I think that’s why we work well together, because we’re both covering different aspects.
We’ve worked together for such a long time that she knows what I’m shooting I know what she’s shooting – so we both really understand eachother and what our places are in that world. And I think that just came through experience and through talking through things.
I feel like my wife and I have a super healthy marriage, because we’re very open – we talk about things, so if there’s a problem, we talk about it. Like, “If there’s something that’s hurting you or upsetting you, or something that excites you,” you know, we talk about those things – so that’s how we’re able to learn how to help each other. Like I know what she needs as a person, she knows what I need as a person so we’re both able to help each other in that regard. And whether that’s personally, emotionally, mentally, professionally. Work-related things.
Like Fieldtrip for example, we found ourselves going to this convention in Vegas every year. All of our friends were going to the same convention and it got to the point where we wouldn’t attend anything of the events put on by that conference –we were just going there to be with our friends and hang out. And my friend Whitney who started this other big dance party called Lazers and Blazers, which is this giant dance party – we would go there just to be together and hang out. And one day we just thought, “Why do we go to Vegas?” For years we’d been wanting to do something different – something more hands-on, more community based. Something more inline with what our friends were doing. Like let’s just get together and have small classes and learn from each other and who cares about these giant classrooms full of people telling you what you should do. Why not get hands on and ask people how they do what they’re doing, and so that’s kind of how Fieldtrip was born. Between Whitney and I just wanting to do something different.
Being that Amelia’s a photographer – you know, she’s one of the instructors at Fieldtrip: she teaches a rad class about posing and about off-camera lighting, some of the things she’s passionate about. So I think that’s something translates well into our relationship – we know how to communicate what we want out of a situation. She knows what I want out of a wedding. We know how to make that work together.
That’s another great thing – it’s a creative thing so we’re not intimidated by the pressure of a wedding, and it’s a good creative exercise because we’re always trying to outshoot each other. She’s always trying to out-shoot me, and I’m always trying to outshoot her. We’re both trying to get the best picture possible – it’s a healthy competition, so it keeps us in check at all times.
SMB: Oh, for sure. I feel that’s key with friendship as well.
JL: I think it’s kept us from getting stale and stagnant – because it’s like, “Oh yeah, look at this! Look what I just did.” Which is fun.
SMB: Who is one hero you have who you’d love to call a bestie?
JL: Jimmy Fallon for sure, or JT.
JL: Oh for sure, I don’t know about hero – but it’s someone that’d be fun to hang out with. JT for example is a really creative individual. He’s also fun and can make fun of himself – and talented and passionate and persistent.
Someone who’s become a friend who I respect a lot is Dallas Clayton, he’s an incredible artist and he’s such a child at heart but he’s so successful at what he does. He kind of didn’t listen to the rules of what you’re supposed to do – and instead he just took it into his own hands and did his own thing – which I respect a lot. And he’s just one of the most passionate humans I’ve known.
SMB: This is related to the Creative Mornings LA thing – you seem like you’re very aware of the hierarchy of life, like a lot of people just get stuck in habit, and one day they wake up and realize they wasted their life not really participating in it. How do you think you have that? Is it something that requires stark contrast, like Haiti in order for you to understand what you have at all times? Because I know for myself –even when I’m trying to be grateful for every moment I have, sometimes your brain can get the best of you and you can get stuck in the stupid trivial stuff. How do you think you do that because it seems like you embody that?
JL: It’s one of those things that takes daily attention. I’m still learning to do that. But one of the biggest things is to be aware of your thoughts – because you can really think about the things you want to think about. You can only think about one thing at once, but we switch so rapidly that it feels like you’re thinking about a bunch of things at once – but if you’re really aware of the things you’re thinking and putting the thoughts in there that you want – it’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s staying humble and staying aware of the world around you. And we all have a place in this world and this world is rad. And it’s here for all of us – we all have incredible talents that may or may not have been developed yet. But we all have them. Some of us have developed them more than others – but a lot of what happened in Haiti, made me aware of my place in the world as human, as a fellow-traveler on earth. We’re all part of it. They took me in like I was family – like a brother. And I couldn’t be more different. The other thing that brought me home the most – it’s all about the relationships, the people – it’s not about what you have, the cars you drive, or where your kids go to school, what house you live in – it’s about the relationships you have, the friendships, the family – those things that really matter.
I think one of the most humbling things was when I had to translate and tell that man that his daughter passed away That really hit home – he wasn’t sad or mad at God as most people would be. She was 9 and he put his hands up in prayer giving thanks that he got to know her and that she was with Him. I thought – how can I be more like that? How can I be more grateful for what I have. If I was to lose one of my children, could I be grateful for that time I got to have with them. I don’t think most people live their life with that kind of mental attitude. And people in Haiti, they value what they have. I think most people – and society in general is more worried about what they don’t have and what they want.
SMB: It’s true – I wonder if that’s just the fault of advertising.
JL: It could be, I think media plays a huge part in that for sure.
SMB: Okay, what’s one secret career dream that you have?
JL: A secret career dream would be for sure would be to win an Oscar. Let’s not be shy. I mean, why not?
SMB: That’s a good one. What are you most proud of in your professional creative career?
JL: That’s almost a trick question – because I feel like the thing I’m most proud of is my family, my wife and my children – but that’s not a profession. But I feel like being a father kind of is. But professionally speaking, I think Yo Gabba Gabba is definitely something I am super proud of and super honored to be a part of. It’s been fun from day one and it’s such a huge door opener and life changer in a lot of ways. I’ve learned a lot from my experiences on Yo Gabba Gabba – I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve worked with. It kind of opened my eyes to a lot of things that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. But that’s something I’m super proud of for sure – to have been involved with that, from the beginning and to have helped bring it to where it is now.
SMB: I was going to ask about that actually. The process of pushing Yo Gabba into existence, and knowing there’s nothing like it before – I have to imagine it’s a leap of faith, and sort of terrifying – did you have instincts beforehand, I know things lined up – but before it was out there birthed into the world, did you have a strong understanding of what it would become? Were you just like “I’m gonna go for it and let go of the outcome!”
JL: It’s almost like that thing – you can’t sin in ignorance in that naiveté plays a huge role in a lot of things. With Yo Gabba Gabba, Scott and Christian had been pitching the show to the networks for like six years, and to people in the industry, and they were getting no response. I had just finished film school at Art Center and they sat me down and said, “Hey – we want to make this kids’ TV show,” and I had no intentions to make kids TV – I wanted to make indie movies that changed the world! In fact I think that was the line I always used, because it was true – it’s what I wanted to do. And they pitched me this idea of a fun/rad kids TV show that they’d want to watch with their kids, and I was like, “Wow that’s really cool – why don’t we just make it.” They’d been pitching it for six years – people weren’t getting it – I had just come out of school so I didn’t know any different, so I was like, why don’t we just make the pilot – just make something for super cheap that we can just show the idea to networks, and we can pitch the idea as we see it.
So we can just make something for super cheap that we can pitch the networks, so we just bootstrapped it – friends and family, shot something super cheap. But even then – that didn’t work. We got turned down by every network – by Nickelodeon, Disney, PBS – we got turned down by every network. But then we made a trailer that we put online that we would send to people, thinking we would reach someone else somehow. It wasn’t really our goal but somehow that trailer went viral. Within four days we had over a million hits on our website, it crashed our server – we didn’t know what was going on. At that point all the networks were getting emails from around the world saying, “What is this show? This looks like a show that should be on Nickelodeon – what are you doing with this?” So that’s when the head of Nickelodeon called us and brought us in.
SMB: “I changed my mind!”
JL: Yeah! Totally – which is interesting, she had never seen the show. Someone underneath her – one of the acquisition reps passed on it and she never even saw it. It never made it to the head of Nick Jr. It was one of those things where we believed in it and just didn’t take no for an answer. We thought that what we were making was cool, and good and it was something we’d want to watch with our kids – and that’s – at the end of the day, the only litmus test you have: you need to hope and pray that your understanding of cool and relevant is in line with what other people believe. You walk that line of wanting to make something that’s awesome and interesting and creative, but also palatable and likable by others. That doesn’t mean it has to be liked by everyone – there are a lot of haters of Yo Gabba Gabba, there are people who don’t like it and don’t understand it, which is fine – you can find people who love or hate most anything.
The thing we did was we didn’t take no for an answer – we were persistent. We thought, the networks don’t get it – let’s put it out to the people. Let’s put it online, let’s send it to as many people as possible, because we knew there would be someone that wanted the show – that would like the show, and at the end of the day, we thought – you know, if the networks don’t like it we’ll just put it out on DVD and sell it to our friends and family. We’ll start a fan base that way, but fortunately fate said otherwise – the trailer went viral and got us a deal at Nickelodeon, which is crazy.
That’s something I just spoke on the other day with someone about it – you just have to believe in what you’re doing. You have to be persistent about it. If you believe you’re making something that’s rad, and you believe it’s good – there’s a difference in arrogance and confidence. We weren’t arrogant about it – we weren’t cocky, we were just confident that what we were making was cool. It was something we would want to watch with our kids. We had to think there were others just like us.
SMB: I do think that’s the greatest bar to measure yourself against – which is, “Do I like it?” “Am I proud of it?”
JL: I’ve known this my whole life – living with a father who’s an artist, my dad’s his own worst critic. Like I said he still doesn’t think he’s painted his greatest painting which I think is great – but at the end of the day, you have to have confidence in your work. You have to believe in what you’re doing. There’s a fine line of knowing you can do better, and knowing what you’ve done is the best thing you can do right now.
SMB: I think also resourcefulness- like what you said about “We’ll put it on DVD and build a fan base!” I’m like, “Whoa!” I probably wouldn’t even get there.
JL: We thought through every scenario – we thought, “What’s going to happen here?” So that was our worst-case-scenario plan.
SMB: And at the end of the day, I think it’s better to make something than not make something.
JL: Totally agree! And that was my thought with Christian and Scott, I was like, “You guys have been pitching this for six years- let’s just go make it.” Thankfully they were onboard with that plan so we figured that out.
SMB: I have to give a shout out to my sister, because she calls their family a Yo Gabba Gabba family –
JL: Yeaaah! Tell her thanks!
SMB: I will! But it really did change the world. The irony of your goal, “to make indy films that change the world,” this did change the world – just because for a lot of people that had kids that were cool – they just thought “I won’t have anything that I will like, ever – these programs are just not made for people like me.” Or “I’m just not like every other parent in the world.” And you created something for people that thought “they were the only ones” – so it’s like, “Wait! This is directed at ME!” There was a whole big population that was waiting for it, and they didn’t even know there were more of them. What was the scariest move you’ve made that paid off the biggest?
JL: I think the scariest move so far, was doing that – I went to film school to make movies and tv shows, I didn’t go to make kids shows. I think believing in that concept, I thought, even though this isn’t my dream –doesn’t mean it can’t help me get to my dreams. I believed in it and I thought it was rad – I think that’s the ultimate test, if you believe in something. I don’t think you should get involved in something unless you really believe in it – that you think it’s got a chance at success. Something you’re passionate about.
SMB: Cathy Schulman who produced Crash – she shared with me at the roundtable one day, that on average it takes seven years to make a movie – for her. She’s like, “If you’re not passionate about a project – don’t even think of getting involved. Because you’re going to spend at least seven years of your life with this project.” That’s so true – if you’re not passionate it, why are you doing it?
JL: The biggest chance I took that paid off the most was really believing in Scott and Christian’s vision of Yo Gabba Gabba and what they were trying to do with a kids TV show and really thinking about how that would play into my career goals and ambitions.
SMB: I think that you probably had the skillset that allowed you to be able to envision it, too – which is something. I think a lot of people if you read them the same pitch, they probably would have been like, “This looks dumb – this looks like Teletubbies!” In your brain, it looked a lot different.
JL: Yeah, it looked like something I’d want to watch with my kids – for sure.
SMB: Do you have any other resources besides Fieldtrip and Unique Camp that will help creative people find others like them? They can collaborate with or be inspired by –
JL: I think it’s just that – finding others with the same hobbies and passions. For me it’s movies, sports – the things I’m interested in as a human, on a hobby/creative level – it’s that and not being afraid to reach out. I think the biggest problem with people trying to find communities is it’s hard sometimes to reach out – to make the invite, to make the proactive approach and initiate the conversation.
SMB: Yeah, it’s like – you need the one “glue” friend who’s like, “Hey everyone! Come to my place!”
JL: Yeah, or you need to be that glue friend.
SMB: Yeah! My last question is a very selfish question because I’m about to get married as you know, but I think it’s an anomaly for couples to not only have a happy marriage but also work together professionally – so I was going to ask if you have any advice for couples who want to work together, who have busy lives – what would you say are things to be aware of or best practices?
JL: There’s some advice I can give you there. The biggest thing is to know when it’s work time, it’s work time, and when it’s not work time, don’t make it work time. So if you’re on a date – don’t make it about work, make the date about you, as a couple. We have a goal to go on a date once a week – and on our dates we try not to talk about work. We try to talk about our dreams and our desires and our goals and life and thoughts – you need to have you-time. I think that’s the greatest thing that’s helped Amelia and I, knowing that when it’s us-time, it’s us-time. Put the phones away. Like when you’re on a date with your spouse, don’t be on Instagram or in email. When you’re at home being a father – be at home being a father. When you’re at work – be the best worker you can. Don’t go into things thinking, “I’m a little bit of this” just be that one thing at that time.
SMB: I think that’s profound – it would change the world if people could be that.
JL: And I’m still working on that – I haven’t perfected it by any means. But it’s changed my life- just being more present. It’s sad – even recently in my life, just being the only one not on my phone with my friends. And I don’t know how to say that to people without being arrogant. How do you say that to someone, “Do you mind getting off Instagram so we can talk?”
SMB: You’ve got to set up the rule ahead of time – like “This is a no-phones thing.” I think it’s a thing now where people feel naked without their phones.
JL: Yeah we were at dinner the other night and 3 out of the 5 people at our table were on Instagram. I was like, “Hey – I’m right here – what’s up!”
SMB: You could have Instagrammed your face – like at the table.
JL: I thought about that- but then I’d be on Instagram, too.
SMG: True. But it’s still funny.
JL: I like that though, it’s funny.
SMB: Like, you waving – “Hi, I’m across the table!”
JL: Like, “Remember that one time – I was at dinner, and you guys were at dinner.” I think that’s what’s most important – be present wherever you are.
SMB: I forgot one question I wanted to ask – you probably can’t tell me but what’s your favorite band that you wish you could have on Yo Gabba Gabba?
JL: Ooh favorite band? Oh man, there are so many – favorite actor for sure is Bill Murray. We’d die to have him on Gabba.
SMG: Oh my god, he’s amazing.
JL: One band we wanted to have on Yo Gabba Gabba – that didn’t work out, which still makes me sad – is Daft Punk.
SMB: That would be PERFECT!
JL: It was something we almost had happen but it just didn’t work out. They wanted to do the show –they had a brief window, but the powers that be were more concerned about getting the right concept and making it perfect – then too much time went by and we missed the window. It’s one of those things that if you try to hard to make something perfect – too much time will pass by and you miss the opportunity. That’s advice in a lot of ways for a lot of people – whether you’re writing a script or a book or whatever in life – you take too long to try to make it perfect, the opportunity might have already passed by.
SMB: Totally. And I think if you covet it, it’s never going to have a life, you have to push it out and see if it will fly.
JL: Yeah, I think Daft Punk would be my one band I wanted to have the most. It’s crazy – it would have been their second TV performance ever – and they were in. they wanted to do it, I was so sad to see it go.
SMB: Well it’s almost like in my memory that it already happened – they have the costumes and everything. Well I’m going to do my little closing-spiel now. . .To people like you ,who inspire others, I say thank you: for being yourself and being vulnerable and being genuine – because it inspires others to do the same. I felt so filled with glee just watching your presentation, hearing your story – because it kind of lit a path in front of me like, “Yeah, you can be creative – you can have your cake and eat it to, and live a rich and wonderful life- ” And I’m so grateful to have met you, so thank you for being you and for sharing that you – with the world.
JL: Thank you for having me! That was awesome! My pleasure.
SMB: To anyone listening you can read more on Hello Giggles or Teaspoon of Happy.
JL: Heellooo giiigggleesss
J: Smile! And laugh!