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Wednesday, October 10,2012

Playing to his strong suit

MSU grad finds home in Hollywood with web series

by Hélène Dryden
Baseball may be the national pastime, but in mid-Michigan, football reigns supreme. Love it or hate it, mid-Michigan is steeped in pigskin culture, fueled by those seven annual home games at Spartan Stadium that touch the lives of nearly every soul within a 10-mile radius. But it’s not just good for Saturday morning bacchanals and Sunday evening post-mortems; all that drama and blood and sweat is good for jump-starting creativity as well — there are stories to be told.  

In 2011, Michigan State University graduate Phillip Moon, who received his degree in telecommunications, took what he considered a leap of faith when he moved from East Lansing to Los Angeles with a head full of ideas. 

“I didn’t have anything specifically planned out,” Moon said. “There weren’t any jobs lined up, but I did have some contacts at Fox.”

That would be 20th Century Fox, the studio behind pop culture juggernauts “The Simpsons,” “Star Wars” and “X-Men,” among others. As a student, Moon had been submitting bits of observational humor for MadAtoms.com, a humor website owned by a Fox division called Fox Digital Studios since 2010. So, like any enterprising new writer in L.A., he started pitching ideas about what he knew.   

“That was about the time the Ohio State University (tattoo-for-memorabilia) scandal came out,” he says. “So I figured that was pertinent." 

Those connections he made got him in front of some representatives from DirecTV, one of Fox Digital’s sponsors. The pitch: a web series called “Suit Up,” which follows Jim Dunnigan, a crisis manager who is brought to the fictional Glory University to clean up a football scandal. Moon was hired as head writer and creator of the series and given an eight-episode run. He was teamed up with two seasoned writers to help him hone his ideas. 

All eight episodes of “Suit Up” can be found online at screen.yahoo.com/suit-up or on YouTube. Web series are hot right now. Tom Hanks and Vin Diesel are exploring the territory, and “Childrens Hospital,” a dark slapstick comedy series that just earned Cartoon Network an Emmy, started out online.

“I think the web series format allows younger writers to prove themselves,” Moon said. “And it allows studios to take more risks.” 

“Suit Up” was filmed last summer in Louisiana utilizing the state’s whopping 35 percent tax break. Moon, 26, a self-proclaimed “Army brat,” was born in Rochester, N.Y., and moved around until third grade, when he landed in Lansing. He says that the football mentality he grew up with and experienced at MSU is heavily reflected in his writing. 

“Some people might see some of MSU in there,” he said. “Definitely some of that culture.” 

Moon says he mostly attributes his time in MSU Telecasters, a group of student television producers who work hands-on with production equipment, for getting him motivated behind the camera. 

That support did not end upon graduation — Moon is active with two large groups of former MSU Telecasters in L.A.: the Spartans in Hollywood (over 200 members on Facebook) and the Los Angeles Spartans (600 members). There is even a full-fledged MSU-themed bar called The Casting Office. Moon said that both groups were some of the best connections he has made in L.A. 

“In a few years I would really love to have a regular writing job in either TV or film,” he says. “Comedy is my favorite genre, so I would love to get a sitcom going while still writing occasional feature stuff.” 

And while a second season for “Suit Up” is still in the cards, a trip back home isn’t out of the question. 

“I would love to be able to shoot something in Michigan, maybe have a story that is at MSU,” Moon said. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to get something out there once I get a little more credit under my belt, a little more sway out here.”

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