I’m up at 7am, out the door at 7:30am. Praying that the traffic gods will be merciful and allow me to make it to set by my 8:30am call time (which in LA is code for 8 o’clock). Today I’m shooting an episode of a web series I host, The Science of Happiness. I usually don’t have time to grab breakfast before I leave, but there’s always some coffee shop confections on set. As I devour the pastries, my director Mike Bernstein (with his first of many coffees in hand) goes over the game plan with me. Once I have a fuzzy idea of what we’re doing, Taylor from makeup makes me look presentable. Our participants are volunteers and in the interest of science, we keep them as uninformed as possible. In LA people are skeptical of everything, so telling them they can’t know what we’re doing doesn’t exactly help. I combat this with the tried-and-true technique of awkward smalltalk while our cinematographer Yuki adjusts lights and frames us up. I run each participant through a psychology experiment that we’ve pulled from a peer-reviewed study. Usually we see some pretty amazing reactions and I do my best to control my own emotions. Outside I’m cool as the Fonz, internally I’m crying like a 5-year-old girl with soap in her eyes. Once they finish, we thank them for their time and it’s on to the next. We’ll have between 3 and 6 volunteers before we break for lunch. By this point, everyone’s been on set 6 hours.
We take a half hour to unwind and everyone swaps stories from hilarious or bizarre experiences when they worked on other sets. I gorge myself on my club sandwich while I listen in. After a half hour, we’re back in. 3 to 6 volunteers later, we’re out of guests but still not done. We compile the results and try to make some sense of it. Now the pressure’s on - we’ve been on set 11 hours and only have an hour left in the space we’ve rented. Mike, myself, and producer Matt Pittman scramble to write a conclusion. Our brains churning against the thick sludge of exhaustion that even Mike’s 8th coffee is useless against. We get the conclusion in the can and we finally shoot the intro. The intro is much longer and I’ve spent every free second that day trying to memorize it. I’m now the only one keeping us here. If I get it right, we’re done. I do it over and over until Mike says the magic words, “Cut! That’s a wrap.”
I thank the crew while they pack up, grab something quick and dirty on the way home (a fast food burrito, and I’m not ashamed of that) and I walk through my door at 9:30pm. I’m emotionally and physically exhausted, but I cannot explain how content I feel. Tomorrow I’ll be looking for another job. I apply to hundreds of projects a month, audition for dozens, and get cast in maybe one or two. While I have fun and make a little money on the others, none of them are as fulfilling to make as The Science of Happiness. Our 7 episode run may be over, but we’ll be back in January shooting our new series, The Science of Romance.
Three Last Things…
1. What’s up with the jammer bottoms? Do you have a thing for Lincoln?
The PJ’s come from a student film I did right at the end of college. I had never acted for film and was actually studying to be a hockey broadcaster then. But a friend of mine was casting the film and they needed someone who looked 16 and home schooled and… well just look at me. My character wore a shirt bragging that he and Lincoln attended the same school and we started joking that it would be hilarious if he were obsessed with our 16th president. So the costumer made me those pants for another scene and I loved them so much I sort of emancipated them without permission.
2. Your show The Science Of Happiness is truly one of the greatest things on the internet. How did this project start?
Science of Happiness is the brainchild of the aforementioned Matt and Mike. They pitched the idea to Soul Pancake and were given the funding to make our pilot episode. Matt and Mike found me in an audition and Soul Pancake loved the pilot so much they agreed to make 6 more and another 6 on another topic. I give as much credit as I can to Soul Pancake; everything they make is equally amazing and they do it altruistically. Their only goal is to make people’s lives richer and because of that they’ve created a culture on their corner of the internet where shows like Science of Happiness can exist and thrive.
3. Your most popular episode (over 2 million views!) was “An Experiment In Gratitude”. You made your subjects think of someone that was inspirational in their life and write down why. Then you surprised them and made them tell that person why they were so grateful for them. So time to turn the tables, Julian. Who has been most inspiring in your life. Tell them why, right here.
I’m afraid I’ve beaten you to it! You see, as I said I was planning on being a sports broadcaster right up until the end of college. But I ended up having to give a speech at graduation and suffice it to say it went well. I got a date out of it. Because I asked a girl out in the front row. It’s *here* if you really want to see it. My parents were there (they flew over from Europe just to see it) and afterward they encouraged me to try making a living as a performer. It had always been something I wanted to do but I was so scared. What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough? My dad (who I am convinced is the basis for The Most Interesting Man in the World, accent and all) told me, “Julian, do you know how many times I changed-not jobs-careers? You’ll figure something out, you always do.” That’s what inspired me: they didn’t tell me to try because they thought I would succeed. They told me to try because it’s OK to fail. So I moved to LA and 6 months later was cast by Matt and Mike. After we shot our pilot about showing gratitude, I went home and tried the experiment myself. I stayed strong for about 30 seconds before I broke down and told them how grateful I am for them and how much I love them. Now I try and do it as often as I can, and I’m honestly happier for it. So Jordi and Roxanne, I love you both endlessly and want to thank you again for everything you’ve given me. Have a happy anniversary today!