For an up-and-coming screenwriter, Jon Zack’s load is heavy: an update on classic TV spoof series “Get Smart” for Mosaic Media and Warners; “Seniors,” a comedy about a perpetual college student and the friendship he develops with an eccentric old lady, for Focus Features; and DreamWorks’ “Shrek 3.”
“Those are some pretty big shoes to fill,” says Zack about the green ogre franchise. “It was daunting at first, mainly because it took a while to learn how to write for animation, and especially (because of) how ‘Shrek’ works — where there are 12 exceptionally talented animators who have free rein. There’s a slapstick guy and an action guy and an intimacy guy. I guess I’m the plot and character guy, but it’s a lot like working on a TV show.”
Not bad for a someone who ended up in Hollywood after working on an underground sketch comedy radio troupe when he was a creative writing major at Colby College in Maine.
While Maine isn’t exactly a hotbed of Hollywood-bound talent, his work was strong enough to land him a job as a DJ on a morning program in Boston. But the lure of a career in film was too strong.
He made his way to Los Angeles, and pushed fate by sneaking into a CAA party with a friend. They were clowning around, talking in exaggerated Boston accents, when they caught the attention of producer Greg Silverman, who was working on a short about guys from Boston (which later became feature “On the Line”). Zack got the part, then started slipping the pic’s director scripts that eventually got him his agent.
The one that did the trick was called “My Sister, My Lover” about a brother and sister who fall in love and go to prom together. This also landed him a job on Par’s “The Perfect Score.” But it was his “Seniors” script that caught the eye of a development exec at DreamWorks and, some 30 meetings later, led to the “Shrek 3” gig.
Says “Shrek 3” producer Chris Miller: “We had so much of our core group in place, but we needed to find someone who could fit into that group and who was open to collaboration and, of course, who was funny. (Zack has) a real sharp wit with a very irreverent tone and that’s proved really helpful and really complements the film.”
Inspirations: “People who are really trying hard — anyone who’s following their heart.”
Favorite unproduced script: “Crazy Train,” in which two high school hockey players from Boston go on a Eurorail adventure.
Agent: Greg McKnight, CAA