Jon Paul Burkhart Talks About ‘Sick For Toys’ – His Upcoming Psychological Thriller

by Kathryn Graham

Jon Paul Burkhart is a multi-talented writer, actor, producer, and director. He has a ton of credits to his name in all of these arenas, and he’s played roles on many popular shows like This is Us, Castle, American Horror Story, and Parks & Recreation. 

You can look for him on the upcoming season of GLOW coming June 29th, 2018. The important thing for now, though, is that Jon Paul and I had a chat about his latest role as one of the villainous leads in Sick For Toys, a psychological thriller that he co-produced with his partner David Gunning, he said a lot of things well worth listening to.

So, now that the preamble is over:

Sick for Toys comes out in 2018. Can you tell me a little bit more about the film?

Jon Paul: Sick for Toys is a Christmas psychological thriller. It’s also a horror film. It’s about a brother and sister who live together alone and have for years. This year, Emelia invites Roy, who she randomly meets, to have Christmas dinner with her. It turns out that every year what she wants for Christmas is a toy: a man. Her brother goes and gets that man for her. This year she chooses Roy.

It’s a very twisted thriller that flips normal horror and film tropes on their head. We enjoy that about it.

Is it a dark movie or does it have a dark comedic tone? What is the tone?

Jon Paul: It’s funny you ask that. It’s dark. It’s a disturbing, creepy film. Of course, it has moments of air, where you can giggle, but we just see it as a very dark film. However, when we screened it in Dallas and in Los Angeles, we were surprised and unnerved at first how much laughter we were getting at certain points which I never found funny.

Now that we’ve seen it with another audience, I thought: “I guess that is a funny line, huh?”

It helps because it is a dark tale. It helps to have more humor in it. Also, there are moments where you laugh because you don’t know what else to do, I think. (laughs)

Like that nervous laughter?

Jon Paul: Yeah, there were a couple of those where audiences were just like: “Oh god, what am I watching?” There is some gore in the film, but all of the creepiest moments are done without gore. It’s done with music, acting, and building tension in the film-making. Which is neat. I love gore, but…

From what I’ve gathered this film fits into the current zeitgeist of what people are talking about in terms of sexual harassment and the #metoo movement. I was wondering what you’d want people to take away from it.

Jon Paul: We’ve talked a lot about that because we’ve been very curious to see how people are going to respond. There’s rape in the film.  It’s a man who’s being raped. The writer wanted to point out what it’s like when the victim is told: “You’re not the victim here. You were asking for this.” This time it’s about a man being told this, what that feels like, and how horrible that is.

We made an entertaining movie, and we want to entertain people. But if people walk away with a better viewpoint on that subject or a different viewpoint on that subject, that’s good too. But it’s not necessarily a political movie at all.

So what is it like to be an executive producer? What did you do for the film in that capacity?

Jon Paul: For starters, we found the money. Actually, we were funding a different project, a more expensive project, and this script fell in our laps. We read it, and we realized we could do it for the budget we already had. There were roles I could play, as well as my partner, David Gunning. So we decided to make the film.

As far as what goes into it: We are technically the executive producers, but I also worked as the line producer and several other kinds of producers, because we only had four producers on the project. So we did everything from getting the permits to hiring the actors and crew, vetting all the crew, etc. Basically, we put it all together. It was a lot of work, but it was really fun work.

Is there a lot of overlap as a writer and producer? Or do you find that once the writer is done with the script, it’s everyone else’s project after that?

Jon Paul: I can’t speak too much. On TV shows, there’s always a writer hanging around in case they need to rewrite something. On Sick for Toys, we were fortunate to have the writer playing a role in the film. So whenever we needed to add or change dialogue, which we did several times, he was there.

At one point I have to spout out all of these names of drugs. The writer used all of the trademarked names, and I had to learn all of these really long medical names just before we shot (laughs) – wasn’t too happy about that – but it turned out great!

Silly question: What was it like to be the pantomime horse on Parks & Rec?

Jon Paul: (laughs) Really fun. It was a really fun day. Like any job, I didn’t expect to get it. They called me three hours after I auditioned, I wasn’t even home yet, and I booked the role. I was really excited.

It was difficult in the costume. I couldn’t turn. I had to have someone behind me to carry the legs around. It was odd, but it was great working with Amy Poehler. She’s really fun and improvs. She’s sweet. It was a such fun show. Such nice people.

How can we see Sick for Toys? When is it coming out and how can we see it?

Jon Paul: It comes out to buy or to rent in September.

It was going to release in October, but we’ve had such good buzz we’re releasing earlier. It’ll be released oversees October 1st. We sold to Germany and several Asian countries.

Then it’ll be out on all streaming sites (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) in December. We are excited to have it out.

In the meantime, check out the trailer!

Most Viewed TVWriter™ Posts of the Week – June 11, 2018

Time for TVWriter™’s Monday look at our most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are:

Larry Brody: Entering PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018? Here’s What You Need to Know

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rejected Master’s Thesis – on Writing

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

Empty Promises: My experience submitting scripts to Amazon Studios

8 Tips for Writing for Children’s TV Shows

And our most visited permanent resource pages are:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 Writing Contest




Big thanks to everybody for making this another great week at TVWriter™ . Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

A New Audio Drama From Bob Tinsley

The Real Wild Bill

by TVWriter™ Press Service

TVWriter friend and audio drama pundit, Bob Tinsley, has a new audio drama out called Wild Bill Hangs Up His Badge, Episode 35 of the Drift & Ramble Podcast.

Bob wrote, cast, directed, and produced the episode which explores the events leading up to Wild Bill Hickok’s decision to give up the life of a lawman.

For those who may not know much about him, James Butler Hickok, more popularly known as Wild Bill, farmed, drove freight wagons, fought for the North in the Civil War, scouted for George Armstrong Custer, gambled, prospected for gold, though Charlie Utter would have argued that point, and served as a lawman in various places in Kansas during his short life.

During the last year of his life he was world-weary and suffering from an advanced case of glaucoma. He was going blind. In the days before Bill’s murder, Colorado Charlie Utter, concerned about his drinking and gambling, tried to steer him into other lines of endeavor that would keep his interest and not lead him further into dissipation.

Maybe one of those suggestions was that he become the unofficial peacekeeper in wild and woolly Deadwood. This audio drama is how that conversation between Wild Bill and Charlie might have gone.

“This was the third audio drama I had taken from concept to finished product,” said Bob. “The sound effects in this one were much more complex than anything I had done before. I took the Gunsmoke radio show as my model, a dense soundscape.

“Every time I started a new scene I’d get anxious,” he continued,  “first about finding the effects I needed, then about getting them all overlaid properly without futzing out the dialogue. The scene had to be set with the sound, no visuals. I had wagons, horses, footsteps of several kinds, a wooden ladder, saloon pianos, crowds, a huge fight, wild lines, pouring drinks, swallowing, gunshots, layers on layers. It was a real challenge.”

Listen to Wild Bill Hangs Up his Badge  on the Drift & Ramble Podcast episode page and enjoy an immersive trip back to the Old West.

’50s TV Wild Bill on the left. Sorry, but that’s not a TV Charlie Utter on the right.

Larry Brody: Entering PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018? Here’s What You Need to Know

by Larry Brody

Friday, June 1st, was the opening day for entries in this year’s PEOPLE’S PILOT AKA PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, which some of you may already know about as a result of our typically modest, almost reticent announcement in your email box and, of course, HERE.

This is the 27th running of the contest in 20 years. When we started it back in 2018, it was for broadcast and TV series that would only be on everyone’s television set (because there wasn’t anywhere else to watch TV) and all an entrant had to submit was series proposal of about 3 to 5 pages.

We also ran the contest a couple of times a year for the first few years, which is why this is the 27th time around the track and not the 20th. Fewer pages to read, fewer entries…those were simpler times so the frequency made sense.

Now, however, we live in a different world, which means, as we say on the PEOPLE’S PILOT landing page, that complete pilot teleplays are a requirement and that they can be intended for any electronic media you can think of (because not only are there a multitude of choices other than TV sets, there also are media where you don’t even have to watch the show. You can just listen to a web series or podcast or any variations thereof).

So here we are, living in the wild and woolly future, which means that entrants and judges alike need to be open to all kinds of writing, and all kinds of pilot scripts as well.

Back in the day, a “good pilot script” was clearly and pragmatically defined as “the kind of script my boss will like” – if you worked at a studio or a network – and “the kind of script the network development team will buy” – if you were a working writer who had to get something on the air or  teeter on the edge of bankruptcy – and – if you were a contest entrant – “the kind of script that will make anyone who reads it sit up and take notice.”

These days, I think, the definition is more subtle and complex. Ultimately, the point is to “make anyone who reads it sit up and take notice,” but it’s much more difficult to know what will make readers, in effect, go “Wow!” because – niches.

My perspective, as a guy who’s written more produced scripts than I can count, and who founded and remains Head Judge of the PEOPLE’S PILOT, is that writers in general as well as PP entrants and judges need to simultaneously broaden and also tighten their concepts of what a good pilot script is.

For me, the kind of script that works best is one with a concept that explores the boundaries of what has gone before and isn’t afraid to break them. It’s a script that, to quote a certain Mr. Roddenberry, “boldly goes where no one has gone before.”

I want to read and watch shows that entertain me, that make me glad I spent time with them and look forward to the next episode. (Yeah, I’m a compulsive binge-watcher. So it goes.)

Which leads us to this:

  • The series premise always comes first. It’s got to be understandable and exciting regardless of genre, and so perfect for its time and place that it makes everyone who hears it wish they were the ones who’d come up with it first.
  • The pilot script story must be as the most powerful statement of the premise possible, a thoroughly delightful blend of plot, characterization, and dialog. In pop music, the story told here should be the perfect hook for a hit song.
  • The most exciting pilot scripts are filled with surprises that reach out and grab the audience in unexpected ways, giving readers and viewers a sense of reality that avoids stereotypes and cliches.
  • While you’re writing your pilot, never impose false constraints on your creativity. Let your love of what you’re creating free you to express your point of view about life and the universe. Let it flow.
  • Don’t be afraid to skillfully and subtly influence your readers’ and viewers’ thoughts and feelings, making them laugh, cry, become angry, or – best yet – move them to think about their lives and times. (Just be sure you keep it “skillful and subtle.” No pounding readers/viewers over the head.)

In other words, pilot scripts are first and foremost about entertainment.

Who’d have thought?

Entertainment exists in a myriad of forms, of course. Some seem more meaningful than others. Some less. Sometimes the meaning is deliberate. Sometimes not. Ditto its lack.

One of the cool things about being a human being is that if you have a point of view about life – and that’s pretty much inevitable – any story you tell automatically will reflect it to some degree. If you want your series to change the world, believe me, you’ll have a ton of people rooting for you. And if you don’t, good news – you’ll have another ton with you on that as well.

As long as your pilot script is entertaining.

Bottom line for today. When I think about the writers who have influenced and entertained me, I think of writers working in different media and genres, with different styles and perspectives and purposes.

Writers like Shakespeare. Cervantes. Tennessee Williams, Joseph Heller. Kurt Vonnegut. Arthur Miller. Rod Serling. Stan Lee. Aaron Sorkin. The Coen Brothers. Michael Schur. Michelle and Robert King. Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Chuck Lorre. Dan Harmon. Robert Kirkman…and so many more.

Writers both elegant and coarse,  organized and chaotic, profound and absurd, all have succeeded and still succeed,  by making audiences go “Wow.”

Over the years, the PEOPLE’S PILOT has had many wonderful entries, the memories of which I still enjoy. I’m looking forward to all of you, as entrants in PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, entertaining the hell out of the judges and myself so that we – and readers/viewers everywhere – continue going, “Wow.”

I’ll be back soon with more specific suggestions for pilot writing. Yep, you heard me right. We’re talking Pilot Writing Do’s and Don’t’s.


Early Bird Entries Close August 1
Final Closing Date November 1

Details about PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 are HERE

Writers Guild of America West June 2018 Calendar

Knowing what’s going on in the Writers Guild can be helpful in many, many ways, even if you aren’t a member. So, for your edification:

Sorry, this version is not clickable.