Actor. Actress. Writer. Producer. Showrunner. Mentor. Husband. Wife. Summer Crockett Moore and Tony Glazer wear many hats in this business, and from the sound of it, they don’t take anything for granted. These co-working and cohabitating co-Executive Producers of the Big Dogs TV Series, now streaming on Amazon Prime, have surely found their stride after nearly 28 years in this industry, starting out seeking acting jobs in New York in ‘92 and ‘94. Their career trajectories have been on the up-and-up, and they talk about what, and who, it took to get here.
Reminiscing about the early days, when their production company, Choice Films, first got off the ground in 2001, the pair speak so highly of each other, and clearly have a personal and professional chemistry that has aided their success.
Tony: “[Choice Films] was sort of the first post-couple decision that we made to just make it official and really say, that we think a lot of each other personally, but that we really felt that our styles professionally blended really well and that we were a good team.”
Summer lovingly agrees, and sings praise for Tony, describing how he worked hand in hand with Adam Dunn, the writer of the book series of which Big Dogs is based on, for several months, pulling the story out of the book, into a television script… “THAT is not a skill I would ever have… [whereas] I can pull that script into a budget program and figure out what it’s gonna cost to make it! So, there’s a really nice synergy between us… the creative, and the business side really go hand in hand for both of us, we’re both creative in very important ways, but very different ways, I think.”
Big Dogs was the perfect project for each of them to showcase their respective talents. Initially sought out by the Casting Director, Judy Bowman, for their production services for a two minute sizzle reel to create energy for the book series, the couple found themselves pleasantly surprised at the turn this project took…
Tony: “At the time that Big Dogs came on our radar, we were doing a lot of production services jobs, by that I mean… we were just strictly support, whether it was just facility, rentals, insurance, payroll, we were literally the machine in which a project could happen… so Judy thought of us, as being the perfect arm for this, to make [the sizzle] happen. So we did it, it was a two day process, and it was one of those jobs… where you come in, and it’s a day or it’s two days, and you don’t really think much of it, you just do that job, and you move on to the next one, but there was something about it that was really fascinating to me, certainly Summer as well, and so I thought, well if this is based on a book, I want to know what the book is…
So I read it, and by chance, Adam [book author, series creator and co-writer of the TV series] came [to Umbra Stages where the sizzle was being shot], much to the surprise of everybody, and we had a chance to speak a few words… and then a week later, Adam and the other EP, Alan Neigher, invited us to sit down and talk a little bit, not only about the sizzle that we shot, a post-mortem of sorts, but then after that, what our thoughts were, how it could work as a series, and would I be interested in coming on to writing the pilot, and would Summer be interested in coming on board to work out a budget, and work out some more of the production elements, and that’s kind of how it started, quite a surprise, we had no – it just goes to show you, you never know where your jobs will lead. It seems like a day job, and the next thing you know, it turns into the next 18 months of your life.”
Wow! While talent is crucial, luck and timing certainly have their role to play as well. Just showing up can lead to unexpected, wonderful opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any bumps along the way. I ask Summer and Tony about struggles, and self-doubt throughout the process…
Summer: “A television series is one of those things, where, it’s so different from a film, or a play. It is non-stop, there’s never a day off, really, I mean, if you’re the showrunner, you’re in it, and everybody is depending on you, the exhaustion is something I wasn’t really expecting. That was probably the hardest part.”
As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Summer didn’t even realize in the early stages that she was going to be in the series, as Agent Reale, which brought on additional challenges.
Summer: “I didn’t know I was gonna be in the show, so that was a really exciting thing, when Tony and Judy Bowman, the Casting Director, and Adam and Alan, the two EPs came to me and said, listen, we think you’d be great for this. I was, A) ecstatic, because I really wanted to be in the series, but there wasn’t really a role that was right for me, and B) it let me get in the play pen with these incredible actors, and just go toe-to-toe, which was a highlight of my career, I think, so, it was challenging and a little bit scary, but I kind of feel like, if you’re not a little bit afraid, you’re probably not challenging yourself. So we overcame that fear, and had a great time. It was a great 18 months.”
Tony reiterates the excitement of a new project, and explains how, “… there tends to be a struggle in all creative endeavors, there’s an artistic struggle, you’re challenged by a lot of elements… and doubt always finds its way in, right? Because who doesn’t have moments where they’re questioning or concerned about where something is going or not, that seems like almost a natural part of the equation, it sort of fuels the endeavor to push on, to figure it out… then you get into the capturing of the tone of it… it’s a lot of trial and error…and then you make all those decisions… and you can get there at day one, and say, alright, let’s find out if this was actually the right thing to do!… And casting was certainly a moment where, everybody, was painfully aware, that we had to get this right. The roles are written very specifically, and we were trying to honor the characters as written, and the book, as much as we possibly could…”
Though there were certainly exceptions, Tony notes. They tell me a little more about the casting process, and how expectations and perceptions of characters can change…
Tony: “Well, Judy Bowman, the Casting Director, is fantastic, and she got us in touch with some tremendous talent. Manny was a really interesting choice… ya know, in the books, Sixto Santiago is this… 6’4’’, 240lb… shaved head, very physically imposing character, and Judy said hey, you know I have this friend of mine, who I think is a really good actor you should look at, and of course Manny is the exact opposite of what, how Sixto is written in the book, but I had been familiar with his work before, and I knew about him already and the moment she brought him to the table there was something that said, oh my god, this is right, I know he doesn’t look anything like the Sixto Santiago in the books, but there’s something about him, that immediately, immediately is… it’s one of those weird moments…”
Summer: “Well the essence was just perfect. On point, and we had auditions for weeks, cause it’s a huge cast, as you’ll see, and Micheál Richardson, when he came in, none of us knew he was Liam Neesan’s son, and he was… He just blew us away, he just was so prepared…and he came in for a callback, and took so many detailed notes from the director, and processed them in a way that was just so natural, vulnerable and, he just was a great audition… I felt like there were so many actors we didn’t get a chance to cast, they were so good. That we hope to be able to have a season two and bring them in, so many talented people that just for whatever reason, the puzzle piece didn’t fit, and we want them to know, there will be more, we hope…”
What would you recommend to actors looking to get cast in a show like this?
Tony: “I wish, now that I’m on the other side of the table, that I knew how many variables go into casting somebody, or not casting somebody, and how many of those decisions have nothing to do with the person… when I would walk into a room, it was so personal to me, that if I didn’t get it, I took it personally, I took it as a validating, or non-validating moment, in terms of what I was doing, but the truth of the matter is, everybody is in this to find the right person for the part, and you’re a possible solution to that, and you’re either gonna be too tall, or too short, or you don’t fit or look great against someone who’s already cast, and there’s a million things that have nothing to do with you, and if anything, I wish I had known [that], or believed it enough at that time because it would have made the audition process so much less fraught and so much less anxiety driven… you do the best job that you have to offer and you hope that you’re the right fit, given the alchemy of talent that is being put together, and if the answer is no, that’s not a negative to you, and what you’re about, that shouldn’t invalidate you, that should just keep you driven to keep at it, and keep practicing your craft…
I’ve had people come in for auditions for myself, and they’ve done something great, and then I’ve given an adjustment, and they didn’t take it, and to me, that was, oh, that’s going to be what our relationship is? You know? And I’ve had people come in, and do a lousy job the first time around, and I’ve given an adjustment, they took the note, and they ended up booking the part because they were great. Whether they hire you or not, you are now collaborating with them, and I think the more people that take that, and are in the moment for that, and listen, and interact…”
Summer: “And also, the perfect example [referring to Manny from earlier]. The part may be written one way, and everyone might have that in their mind, but if you come in, and you have your truth, and your essence, and that supersedes the preconceived notion, things can change, and change dramatically, so I think the best thing, I can say, is that if you’re true to yourself, and really dropped in to who you are, and what part of the color wheel you paint with, with your essence, that’s all you have to worry about, and the rest of it will line up for you. There is a part for everyone, and just don’t be discouraged… It’s time, place, luck, who you know, who knows you… the phase of the moon, who knows. Gotta stay positive!”
“There’s a part for everyone”… Love that! Representation has certainly been somewhat of a “buzzword” lately, and the push for more women and people of color on screen – Was this something on your minds throughout this process?
Tony: “Absolutely, 100%. It was, and it is, it’s always been a forefront in my mind, and it certainly was something that we brought up to Adam, at several turns, and Summer, who plays a character in this particular series, Agent Reale, that was a character that was originally a man, and I thought, you know, I think this should be a woman, I think we should think about it in that way…”
Summer: “And I love that they didn’t soften the language AT ALL…” (Hear, hear!)
Tony: “We thought about that, and I always think about that… to me, representation has a particular meaning, as it relates to the way the industry is meant to adjudicate casting and hiring and all that, and that’s great, and fantastic, but what I thought about at that time when we were talking about [the series], representation meant to me, well, what does New York actually look like? Adam… also had very fixed ideas about the characters and so what we ultimately settled on was this crumbling… white establishment come undone. You’re seeing it represented in some ways, you’re seeing it represented as you normally see it, but now you’re seeing the cracks… you’re seeing how it’s falling apart…
… even though [the script] was written before a lot of what you’re talking about has come into play, in sort of a mandatory sense, saying, hey, we’ve got to think about that, which is a tremendously positive thing, and a necessary thing for us to see the world the way that it is. Not just how we think it should be from a politically correct standpoint, but… can we just represent what IS? And I think this was our way of showing that… you know, we’re balancing between those two established orders, and one is crumbling and one is making its way to the surface, and saying, here we are, now you’re gonna have to deal with it. So it was definitely something on our minds!”
Summer and Tony have representation on their minds behind the scenes too…
Summer: “Diversifying the workforce is really really important to Tony and I, and most of our crews are usually, 50-60% diverse, and that’s women, that’s minorities, that’s LGBT, we look at all diversity as important, and it’s not enough to say we’re gonna try, we have to do it. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Below the Line Bootcamp, a not-for-profit training program, and leg of Summer & Tony’s production company, is dedicated to training of at-risk youth in the basic fundamentals of film production, and giving them immediate opportunities for employment as Production Assistants. Representation certainly calls for the diversifying of stories, but opportunities as well. They tell me about what this program means to them, and to filmmaking in general…
Summer: “My favorite part about it is, the majority of these kids… don’t have the opportunity for technical school or college, or anything like that… we’ve done the bootcamp four times and we’re about to go for another round on our next production, and we wanted to make sure that people without any access at all, had that opportunity, because diversifying the workforce is also really really important, to me and Tony.”
Tony: “It started off as a way for us to introduce ourselves to the community and it’s really become something more for us… It seemed really important for us to take this first roadblock out of the way, to say, that, no no, you do have access to this, we’re your access to this, we will bring you into this, because once that roadblock’s out of the way, they get to the real roadblock, which is them… What do they want to do, what do they want to make of themselves, where do they see themselves in this business, if they see themselves in this business at all, and we want to be able to encourage that and nurture that, because it only benefits us, it only benefits the industry, it only adds to the growing chorus of voices that says, the industry on all levels needs to be represented… The only way for that to even be possible is for the doors to be open, and people should be allowed to come in, and they should be taught how… [they] don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a college education, [they] don’t need to go to a trade school, all you need to do is know the right person, let me be the right person…
… And I think once they get over that one hump, about knowing there’s room for them, it’s more than that, that, we need them. They’re necessary to this. That, storytelling about our life and existence and about all these things that I aspire to do as a writer, doesn’t exist without a diversity of thinking. Diversity of people, it’s not doing what we’ve intended to do. So it’s not just that there’s room for them, it’s almost mandatory that they be there, because without it, what are we doing? This is not representative of what’s really going on, so I think it’s good to do as much as you can, even though we’re just two people, to dispel that idea, that it’s a secret club, that it’s a secret handshake and you’ll never learn it, and even when you’re in, it’s always gonna be a grind… once you get past a certain point, you decide your own level of involvement, you determine how fast or how slow, or how specifically you place yourself and it’s empowering in the end, it’s not just, oh this person gave me power and allowed me in – no, you’re powerful, you’re it, you are the master of your destiny, you control all of that. That’s what it’s become for us.”
Two people that bring out the best in each other, Summer and Tony clearly embodied what it means to succeed in this industry; not just refining your craft, and hard work, but openness to new opportunities, the ability to incorporate feedback, and the necessity of community and collaboration.
Make sure to check out Big Dogs on Amazon Prime, and see for yourself how this “anarchic alternate reality of New York City” comes to life through an interconnected set of eyes.