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Saturday, April 20, 2019
HomeArchivesEmerson Grad Scores First Writing/Producing Credits with Help from James Van Der Beek

Emerson Grad Scores First Writing/Producing Credits with Help from James Van Der Beek

Emerson alumnus Jordan VanDina ’10 just landed his first TV script assignment, staff writing job, and producer’s credit all in one swoop when he was named co-executive producer for the new Viceland comedy series What Would Diplo Do? The series, which stars and is executive produced by James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek, CSI: Cyber), is set to premiere later this year with six episodes.

It will be the first scripted series on the Viceland cable channel—a joint venture between Vice Media and A+E Networks. According to Deadline Hollywood, the series is “a fictional version of DJ superstar Diplo in a collection of parables about life as told through the eyes of guy who can bring 60,000 people to their feet…but kind of sucks one-on-one.”

VanDina says Van Der Beek serves as showrunner for a small writers' room that includes the two of them, director Brandon Dermer, and one other writer. As for his co-executive producer credit, VanDina said Van Der Beek (“a really good guy”) fought for the credit on his and the other writer’s behalf “so we could be on set and go to the meetings and see how the episodes came together.”

VanDina’s path to this opportunity was an unconventional one.

He said that he started out Tweeting fake Entourage script pages and gathered a number of “fairly famous” followers, including Seth Rogen and the guys from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

From there, VanDina started a website, www.WeekendScripts.com, where he would hunker down with his dog, Susan, and turn out a full script over one weekend and post it online. The scripts were often parodies, like 21 Trump Street. His most noteworthy script was Fast Nein: The Fast and the Fuhrer, the logline for which reads, “The Fast and Furious Crew travels back in time to challenge Hitler in the most important race of their lives: THE MASTER RACE!”

VanDina’s 71-page script attracted the attention of Paul Scheer, co-creator, actor, and writer for the popular FX and FXX series The League. Scheer was so taken with the script that he organized a live reading of it at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles on July 10 last year. The reading—which featured Scheer, Nick Kroll (The League), Lance Reddick (The Wire), and other actors—sold out all 500 tickets in one day.

VanDina read the action lines for the reading that he called “one of the craziest nights of my life.”

“I hadn't performed in front of an audience since I was in Jimmy’s Traveling All Stars at Emerson—and that was oftentimes for 30 people if we were lucky,” he said. “Now, not only was I reading my own script for 500 people, so if it got no laughs then it was all my fault, but I was doing it with seven celebrities that I had never met in my life and really respected. 

“Paul Scheer had done so much for it out of the kindness of his heart—made a fake trailer, made fake posters, set up a bunch of stage props. It ended up being really great and much better than I could have ever imagined it. And my mother, who was in the audience, got to hear me talk about Vin Diesel covering his arms in baby oil and racing Hitler, which I'm sure was a thrill for her.”

This event brought VanDina to the attention of 3 Arts Entertainment, the Beverly Hills-based talent management and production company behind TV hits It’s Always Sunny…, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. VanDina said 3 Arts “got me this job” with Van Der Beek.

“So basically it was seven years of writing for free before I'm finally getting paid to do it, which I imagine is about normal,” he said.

VanDina is already working on WWDD?

“James [Van Der Beek] came in with so many ideas ready to go, it was really a matter of picking the best six ideas and running with those,” he said. “From there, we spend the days trying to break the episodes in the room, oftentimes going down very deep philosophical poetic rabbit holes that would seem out of place for a Viceland show about an [electronic dance music] DJ, but I think it's going on those insane tangents that leads to the best comedy.”

Audiences might be surprised to find the show is more akin to thoughtful and sophisticated comedies like Louie and Atlanta than “any sort of broad comedy,” according to VanDina.

He said his immediate career goal is to keep getting paid to create comedy, whether it’s in a writers' room or on his own projects. 

“Eventually I think the goal will be to write/produce/direct my own projects. But I think that's a lot of people's goal, so even if it all ends right now I can say I did what I came out to Hollywood to do…meet James Van Der Beek.”

Submitted by Visual and Media Arts Associate Professor James Macak.