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HRTS Member Profile: Jon Katzman

Jon KatzmanJon Katzman is President of KDX Productions and Executive Director of Columbia College Chicago’s Semester in LA program. Jon is the founder of the Third Screen Film Festival and his father Jerry is a former HRTS president. I recently had a chance to interview Jon to discuss Warners, spec pilots and never really being dead.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? How did you first get involved with HRTS?
-in college my favorite class was “History of Ideas”. I had a lot of trouble picking a major – every subject had its own appeal. That’s about when I realized that if I worked in entertainment and story development, I’d get to work in every field, in a sense anyway.

I always knew I wanted to join HRTS. They host great events and the pre-event schmooze is like getting 10 lunches done at once.

Q: What are some of the key lessons you learned from NBC, Warners and Regency?
-the biggest surprise was going from being a buyer at NBC to a seller at Lorimar/Warners. Sellers work a lot harder and have a lot more fun.

The bigger companies follow a lot more rules, too. TV writers used to only write spec episodes, not spec pilots. The thinking was that if a network didn’t pay you to write a pilot, they’d never pay to shoot it. Guess that’s why it was a small company like Regency that broke the rules and got involved with a spec pilot called “Malcolm in the Middle”. That’s a billion dollar lesson in trusting your instincts.

Q: How would you compare the development processes across film, TV and new media?
-television is really the only one with defined seasons, even though they’ve been fighting that stigma since they invented the upfronts. So you’re either in or out – there’s not much in-between because next season there’s a whole batch of new competition.

Film is sort of the opposite. You’re never really dead because the right person can come along and breathe life into your project.

Is there development in new media? It’s not just shooting and editing? Really?

Q: How do you know when something is good, on any platform?
-it holds your attention. You don’t turn the channel, check your Blackberry, chat on Facebook, etc. You stop what you’re doing, watch and listen.

Q: How do you see the industry changing over the next few years?
-if the technology industry gives us any clues, it’s that the rate of change is going to keep increasing. Social networking and game playing will continue to morph with what we call entertainment but it’s still going to be about the acting and the writing, even if they’re both computer-enhanced.

Q: Anything you would like to add?
-how many radio executives belong to this organization? Can someone point one out to me?

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