Jon Macht: From Hagerstown to Hollywood

January 26, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Hagerstown native Jon Macht started his career in newspapers before going to TV, radio and eventually film.
Submitted photo

Moxie is defined by Webster's New World dictionary as "courage, pluck, perseverance; guts."

And if there's one thing Hagerstown native Jon Macht, 52, has, it's moxie.

Moxie was what lead Macht as a teenager to have the nerve to send a note to The Washington Post saying he'd like to write for them one day — and having that pay off.

 It's also something that has given him the fortitude and passion to carve a career starting in print, which led to TV, to radio and eventually to where he wanted to be — film.

Over the last 30-plus years that Macht has spent building his career, his resume includes working in all aspects behind the camera on films are that are instantly recognizable — "Rambo III,"  "Bruce Almighty," "Meet Joe Black," "Stand By Me" and "An American Tale."

Today, Macht is busy rewriting a feature film for a longtime Lucasfilm producer, and is finishing writing a TV pilot of a one-hour drama series for a former network executive who developed "The Sopranos."

In between projects, Macht chatted during a telephone interview from his home just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Macht, who splits his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles, talked about growing up in Hagerstown, his career path and his life as an example can teach others that "anything is possible in this world, if you believe in it."

 "It seems like an impossible dream, but I believe it's not just confined to Hollywood — anything you set you mind to, that you go off and follow: your passion, the thing you really love doing that you want to do — is possible," he said. "You have to just get on the road and stay on the road long enough."

The Washington Post

Macht said he loved playing sports and found an interest in his journalism when his teacher, Barbara Taylor, at North Hagerstown High School made him assistant co-editor of the yearbook in his junior year, and then co-editor-in-chief during his senior year.

"I really found that I loved overseeing publications and writing stories and taking photographs," Macht said. "... and all that lead me going off to college and immediately going to work for the school newspaper at the University of Virginia."

 At college he started as a sports writer for the school newspaper, and became associate sports editor his freshman year.

But Macht knew he needed more professional experience outside of his college paper. 

"I took about 25 of my best sportswriting stories and sent them off to the editor at The Washington Post, saying 'I want to be a writer for you one day,'" Macht said.

He received a response — from then Sports editor George Solomon.

"He sent me a letter saying 'OK, Mr. Hot Shot 19-year-old, send us a 500-word story about anyone other than the quarterback on the University of Virginia football team. If we like the story, we'll use it. If not, best of luck in other endeavors. Sincerely, George Solomon, Washington Post sports editor. P.S. I expect to see the story by Tuesday,'" Macht recalled.

It was Thursday when Macht got the letter.

He found a story in the name of wide receiver Ted Marchibroda Jr., who was having one of his best seasons ever that year — and happened to be the son of Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda.

The sports information office at the college, couldn't set Macht up an interview with Marchibroda  for three weeks — but Macht was on a deadline. He finally was able to interview Marchibroda Sunday night, after which Macht pulled an all-nighter writing the Marchibroda story. But it was 1979, before fax machines, email or even the Internet.

"I couldn't think of a way to get the story to The Post other than to drive the two-and-a-half hours from Charlottesville, Va., to Washington, D.C.," he said.

When he arrived with story in hand, Macht was led upstairs to meet Solomon. He said he was awestruck as he passed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's offices.

"I like this story kid, you're going to be a writer for us. At that moment, my life changed," he said.

Although he had just landed a coveted gig with The Post, his happiness was short-lived when he realized he had parked in a gated parking lot — and it was locked. Luckily, Mike Trilling, then assignment editor for the sports section, offered Macht his couch for the evening.

"We got to be friends that night, we hung out, talked about our love of sports and how I wanted to be a writer," he said.

Trilling called Macht up a week later on a Sunday morning and told him to pick up the paper. Macht had an official byline on the front of the Sports section.

"I felt so proud," he said.

Plugged into TV

For Macht, TV was a natural transition.

Although he enjoyed writing and had plans to be a newspaper reporter, TV was another love.

"All growing up, I'd watch endless amounts of TV. I'd watch 14 hours of TV," Macht said.

His parents, Dr. Stanley H. and Naomi Macht, had encouraged him to go out and play, but Macht said he wanted to watch TV shows and movies.

"It was so bad that I would watch so many TV shows and movies everyday that they had to go out to hardware store and buy a lock for the TV set," he said. "They would unplug cord from the wall. They would put this lock that set on the two prongs and turn the key, take it out and TV was locked. And I was heartbroken."

But he wouldn't be deterred. He found the packaging of the lock and road his bike from Fountain Head home to Longmeadow Shopping Center to buy a lock of the same kind. When he got it, he played a little switcheroo with the old lock and his new lock — which he had the spare key — to allow himself more TV watching.

Professionally, though, it would actually a Washington Post assignment that gave him the introduction to TV. He was covering a game in University of Maryland, College Park and was hanging out with Trilling and Thomas Boswell, a then Post sportswriter. That day, Macht met newspeople from WJLA-TV who were televising the game  and struck up a conversation.

One of the men was Tim Brant, the Sports director of WJLA-TV , who told Macht that basketball player Ralph Sampson ( who in 1983 would be the NBA's No. 1 draft pick) would be attending University of Virginia in the fall of 1979. He told the young Macht that if he would call him with information about Sampson, he would use his information to put stories on the air.

On his school break, Brant invited Macht up to WJLA to work, while he still was writing for The Washington Post.

"I kinda of had my first experience in TV and I thought it was really cool," Macht said.

He decided after break to approach a local station in Virginia, WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, a NBC affiliate TV station, to work for them. They gave him a video camera and told him to go out and start writing and shooting his own news and sports stories.

"They would get all these calls that this kid looks like he's 12 years old," he said with a laugh.

Brant offered some more advice: Get some experience in radio.

Tuning into radio

Macht was introduced by Brant to Len Deibert, news director at WMAL radio in Washington, D.C. That summer, Macht worked for WMAL as a news and sports writer.

Deibert offered Macht an opportunity to write and to produce a radio documentary sports series on The Washington Redskins for ABC radio. Broadcast veteran Johnny Holliday and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sonny Jurgensen would do the voiceover work on the show.

"I talked to and interviewed all these Washington football great players — legends. And the ones I couldn't meet in person, we arranged interviews in the studio and the engineers recorded my interviews in the studio. I researched and wrote about these 15 football legends careers, and I wrote this little two minute, three-minute documentary per player."

The series was called "Redskins Legends." Macht was asked to do a second series, "Greatest Moments in Redskins Football History."

"I just had the best time," he said.

It was a meeting at a Washington Capitals game where Macht was exposed to a bigger market.  Trilling asked him to go out to the game, there he introduced Macht to Jack Doniger, a sportscaster for Associated Press radio. Macht was also introduced to a freelance network sports reporter for ABC radio, who looking for someone to take over his job and was willing to supply contacts.

Macht said yes and learned how to work in freelance network sports writer in that one night — teaching him how to time a story and what equipment he would need.

His first radio stories were for Associated Press radio. Eventually, Macht was broadcasting for ABC, NBC, CBS and others.

In 1981, while still in college, Macht worked for WXAM radio in Virginia, which gained him even more experience.

Macht said throughout his college experience, "I kind of went with the through. I said 'Yes,' 'Yes' Yes' to anyone who would give me an opportunity," he said.

Hollywood or bust

By the time Macht was ready to graduate from U of Va., in 1982, Macht said he had opportunities to stay on with The Post and also with a little start-up news company called CNN.

While at college he had become interested in ram.

Drama was where everything had finally come together — his love of writing, his knowledge of diction and projection from radio and his experience in the visual aspects of a story from TV.

"I was making video and started doing it for dramatic purposes — not news or sports," he said. "And I really, really love it. As much as I really loved sports and news, I thought it would be so cool to do dramatic material."

Although his offers could have kept him in the journalism field, Macht's love of film was stronger. He applied to graduate school at University of Southern California for film and television production.

"I applied and I did not get accepted the first time I applied," he said. "And I decided that despite the fact that I didn't get in, it wasn't going to stop me from following my new dream."

So in July of 1982, Macht loaded up his Mazda RX7 and headed for California. He arrived in Los Angeles, found an apartment between MGM and 20th Century Fox studios and set out to fulfill his dream.

First, he signed up for screenwriting classes through USC Extension.

Wanting to get involved with the school, Macht met Don Schroeder, a Vietnam veteran who had returned to school, and was working on a student film with Tim Kring (who eventually would be behind the NBC TV series "Heroes."). Macht ended up working on the film with the pair.

And when Macht reapplied to USC, and was accepted, he found that Schroeder had weight with the admissions committee. Finally, Macht was on his way by being an official USC student.

"And there I began to really learn to be a screenwriter (with) directing and cinemotography and editing," he said.

Making his way

While at USC, Macht made a movie called "Homecoming."

"It was the only time my mom and dad came out to see me in California for a special screening of my movie," he said.

Because USC has an impressive pedigree of alumni who are known in Hollywood, Macht's storyboards got in front of Howard Kazanjian, producer of "Return of the Jedi."

Macht was asked to meet with him at Universal Studios.

"I wasn't sure if it wasn't my friends playing a gag on me," he said.

There he met Kazanjian, who Macht said told him, "I think you have some talent and should be working for Lucasfilm."

Kazanjian set Macht up with an interview at Lucasfilm, but they didn't have any jobs to offer him at the time. He met people at Industrial Light & Magic, who did many of George Lucas' special effects.

But Macht needed a job and met with Gareth Hughes, executive at Universal Studios.

"He said, 'I'm told you're going to make movies with us one day,'" Macht said. "I said, 'Yeah, but I need a job now. I'll do anything on the lot."

He did get a job — a seating host at the Universal Studios restaurant.

Macht said he looked at it that he received a paycheck with the studio's name on it and made him eligible for jobs on the lot. It was his first official Hollywood job.

Eventually, Macht met David Weitzner, was making a move from Universal Studios to become president at 20th Century Fox. He was the one who got a job for Macht on the advertising floor at Universal. There, Macht's job was setting up test screenings for such movies as "Fletch" and "Brewster's Millions."

Macht admitted he didn't want to be in advertising, but he saw it has an opportunity and was working at the Universal Studio lot.

 "I didn't want to be in advertising," he said. "But you get to know people. And when you get to know people, you find your way in."

Special effects and Stallone

Eventually, Macht met people who led to other jobs. One was an earlier contact, had met at Lucasfilm, James Keefer. It was Keefer who offered Macht his first production job photographing animation on Steven Speilberg's "An American Tail."

After that job, he left Universal and went into visual effects and animation for the next two years with Keefer, moving from shooting to actual hiring. One man he hired was Jerry Kitz, whose wife, Ellen Kitz, was a producer in visual effects and needed an visual effects cameraman and editor on 1998's "Rambo III."

Working with IntroVision, Macht worked along Sylvester Stallone, who opted to do some of the special effects on a soundstage in California instead of shooting in Afghanistan.

Macht's job was to edit the special effects scenes together. He worked alongside director Peter MacDonald and Stallone.

"While working there, it was one of my greatest fun experiences," Macht said, noting he remembers seeing "Rocky" at Leitersburg Cinemas.

Working today

Macht continues to work in the industry. In late 2012, "Teenage Bank Heist" was shown on Lifetime, on which Macht was the second unit director.

"I did direct actors in some of the scenes," he said.

Macht was hired by the same producers of the movie to write another TV movie for them, "Sugarbabies," which hopefully will be made this year.

In 2010, by longtime Lucasfilm producer Lope Yap Jr. to write the football drama, "Hit the Gap," which is based on a true life story.

Macht has written two other scripts, one of which is "Best Interest of the Child," which is in development. He also has several projects in the works, but because they are still in the early stages, he can't talk about the projects in specifics. One is a project he's working on with Mark Rains, which is a music competition show.

"I am writing a television pilot for a former television executive who developed the shows ‘Will & Grace,' 'Profiler' and 'The Sopranos,'" he said, noting that it's a one-hour legal thriller drama series.

He is also working on a television project with Sir Richard Branson's company.

As the projects get sold and become a project, there is a chance that one of Macht's pieces might be part of the new fall lineup come September.

"It's going to be the most amazing thing," Macht said. "I'm very excited about it."

Being a filmmaker

Macht's journey had led him to fulfill his dream: to be a filmmaker.

"I think that I really love being a filmmaker," Macht said. "I think I was really influenced also by the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. And I was influenced by Stanley Kubrick because Stanley Kubrick started his career in journalism as a still photographer. Then he became a writer, then he became a director and editor, then a cinematographer, so he did all the different capacities. What he always said was that he liked all these different things —  being a writer, director, cinematographer, editor — because he was a complete filmmaker."

It's the complete vision that Macht to enjoy. Macht said he enjoys working alongside cineomotographers, including David West, who has been his director of photography on many projects. However, he said he likes to set up his shots behind the camera.

Macht also understands that films can't be made without the written word. And that is why he loves screenwriting — "because you are telling the entire story," he said.

"You're creating out of nothing the story and characters," Macht said. "And you get to create the whole story and dialogue. That's what I love about being a writer, having the big picture on it all."

As for directing, Macht said it's his job to bring every aspect together and capture it on film.

"You're on the set getting the actual footage that you're going to cut your film from, " he said. "And you can't leave that set until you know you got what you need — the pieces of the film, the shots that you have captured on set, to be able to go into editing.

Editing is when Macht is able to take all the components and slices the picture into the complete form.

"What I love about editing is that you are really cutting shot from shot to tell the story, and putting in the music and sound effects, to create the feelings and emotions and moods that tell your story and move your audience," he said.

And that's why he can't imagine not being a filmmaker.

"I can't image not being a director being in the editing room, and I can't imagine being a screenwriter that can't direct. I really feel like they all link together to be a filmmaker, which was always my goal," he said.

A snippet of Jon Macht's resume

Jon Macht's resume is vast. Here are just some jobs that he has worked on:

In 1994, Macht wrote and produced "Best of Comedy Live," a show that featured stand-up comedians. As director, Macht hired Allen Carter, who is now director of NBC's "The Voice." The half-hour shows featured then-unknowns: comedian-actor Jamie Kennedy; Paul Gilmartin, now host of TBS' "Dinner and a Movie";  Monica Piper who went on to be a writer for "The Simpsons; Sue Kolowinski, host "Mystery Science Theater"; K.P. Anderson, now executive producer and head writer of "The Soup";  writer-producer Mark Rains, and Sheila Conlin,  who is now a producer of the shows "Hell's Kitchen" and others.

There are just too many projects to delve into in this little space, but Macht has built of his resume over the past 20 years. He worked on shows "Star Trek Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine," "Star Trek Voyager," "Star Trek Enterprise."

Macht was also brought on by Aaron Spelling to work on "Beverly Hills 90210," "Melrose Place" and "The Roundtable."

He has also worked ain production and post-production for "American Idol" "So You Think You Can Dance," anbd as a vendor for "The Academy Awards," "The Emmys" and "The Grammy Awards."

And it seems that "Clairvoyant," a movie he co--wrote in the late 1980s with Dan Loschack, might still have a chance to make it to the big screen. The script, Macht said, was sold in 1990 with 30 agents bidding war over the script. But the movie was shelved when another film that was similar to it — "Ghost" — was released. That's when executives decided to shelve the movie, but Macht said he still has people ask him about the projects and continues to open doors to him.

"I still believe it will get made one day," he said.

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