IN CONVERSATION WITH…
MIKE JACKSON, Emmy-winning Producer
“When I think about legacy and what I want to leave behind, I have to be honest and confess that it is still in process.”
Producing Partners with John Legend
The best man that I can be every day
Claralena Jackson’s son
I am the guy who feels incredibly blessed to be in this position where I am able to be a part of great storytelling.
I take the responsibility of being my mother’s son, being a man of color, and being a man who is respectful and wanting to just be part of creating a legacy that embodies who we are very seriously. I highlight great stories: people who are trying to affect change and people who love. All of the things that I hope I embody, I hope is being seen in the work that we do.
GET LIFTED (2012)
JOHN LEGEND and I formed Get Lifted in 2012. Prior to that, I was an independent producer doing fine making movies and happy. However, you are always striving to go to the next level and that requires leverage in this business. Some time maybe years or months ago, I’m not certain, I recall someone saying to me that the greatest access point in Hollywood is either the one you are born into, the one you have the financial wherewithal to buy into, or the one where you are the Talent so your celebrity is the capital. I was neither so what is the closest thing to me that hits one of those three benchmarks?
At the time John and I were developing a TV show. Even then he was one of my closest friends so our working rapport was real good. He was hitting those benchmarks and encapsulated who I thought would be an ideal producing partner. I knew that I trusted his taste and believed in what he was doing as an artist. I called him up and said, “there is more business to be done. There is going to be a platform that will be right for content development and we should be leading…” Without hesitation he said, “I think you are right. Let’s do it.” Get Lifted was born.
We didn’t start out with a specific mandate for the kind of content we wanted to produce. We knew what we liked and it was not something that was one dimensional. You couldn’t just put us in a box. If there was a common theme at that time, it would have been that we liked “smart stuff” be it a comedy, drama, or a play. We wanted to create dialogue that was engaging as opposed to, “oh, it’s John Legend… you guys like music… so do only music stuff.” “No,” was never part of the equation for us.
Our attachment to a project continues to be about three things:
How does the content resonate with us?
Does it speak to us?
Would we be upset if we were not making it?
Though not intentional, I think, so far we have only hired black women. That’s our team. I lean towards Black women: their strength, compacity to love, and push through. They get stuff done! I think it is one of the hardest things to do and navigate on earth is being a black woman.
I like the idea of working with these women and empowering them to represent our company. It is important that as we grow as a company, that from the outside looking in, people are able to see that our success is made up of people who look like us who are making great creative decisions.
The MANTRA (Voice in My Head)
Growing up in a black house, it’s commonplace for parents to say, “it is not enough to be as good as the next person, you have to be better. Give 110%.” If you accept that as I did growing-up, then the constant mentality is BE BETTER THAN. BE GREAT. BE A WINNER. It is what has been ingrained in my brain since I was young.
I love to say WE WIN, but not from a place of arrogance. I say, WE WIN, from a place of humility, but it is also what drives and focuses me on a path of achievement. It is important to have those two words contextualized and properly received.
We Win because we are humble.
We win because we do the work.
We win because we are respectful.
We win because we are honest.
There is a lot that follows those two words. I believe using them as a lead in to your life is important or any type of positive manifestation. You put them out to the universe and allow success to follow. WE WIN.
The only thing that is consistent is my morning, and for those who know me, Soho House and Chateau Marmont.
6:30AM Wake up. I have two pitbulls, who are 80 lbs. each. Luckily, I have a decent amount of space at my home, inclusive of a doggy door, so routine morning walks are not required. Our thing is car rides. They like that.
7:00AM I try to get to my trainer or a spin class about 4 or 5 days per week. I like starting my day like this because it sets me up for whatever’s to come. It informs the psychology of my brain and focuses me in a different way. I may shower at the gym instead of coming home.
I don’t eat breakfast in the morning so I will have a shake. I know it is supposed to be your biggest meal of the day, but it is definitely not mine.
On any given day I’m a jeans a t-shirt kind of guy, but lately I have been thinking about simplifying my style even more to a black t-shirt and black-jeans for every day ease. There is a method to the madness of uniformity across the board. It takes the stress of living in LA off. I mean, let’s be honest there are so many stylish people in the city … why even try to compete? Have you seen CHARLES KING (MACRO)? I mean besides being a super successful producer, he can step right out the pages of GQ. I am never going to be a CDK so I accept that fashion is not my strong suit.
10:00AM We Win. There is no rhyme or reason or consistency to my schedule. You have to prioritize what is important in the moment and just attack it. My greatest day, short of being on set, is filled with meetings, notes calls, and pitching.
Our company has a fairly large development slate so at any point we are meeting with writers, talent, and agents. You never know at which point which element will drive a project forward so everything gain towards a greenlight.
1:00PM The running joke about me is about where to find me: SOHO HOUSE aka Hollywood High or CHATEAU MARMONT. Ninety percent of the time I go to the salad bar where they have all kinds of grains, quinoa, rice, shrimp, chicken.
I am the type of executive that eats most meals over meetings. I think it is really important to touch people, shake hands, and have a dialogue. It allows you to get to know your contemporaries, understand what drives them at their core, and find synergies. It is important to be out there and accessible. There are people you read about and hear about doing really cool things, but you never get a chance to actually sit with them. I never want to be inaccessible.
6:00PM On the rare occasion that there is not a work commitment then I prefer dinner on the side. I try to do the bulk of my reading over the weekend so any week nights at home are reserved for personal time.
10:00PM I love being home and getting to bed early. As I get older bed time is getting earlier… don’t judge me. I accept it.
The MEN OF INSPIRATION
Right now, we are developing projects on DICK GREGORY and HARRY BELAFONTE. I look at those guys’ lives and think about the obstacles they had to face and what they have overcome. I am inspired by it. I am humbled by their sacrifice. I look to them as role models. Again, going back to the “We Win” of things, what did they have to do to win? What did they have to go through? What did they have to give up to elevate the civic-equality platform; especially Mr. Gregory. These men came before me. I respect that!
John, my partner, is an inspirational influence to me. At this point in his life he can do anything he wants and yet he is a tireless activist for people with less opportunity. He is a voice for all kinds of people and that is a guiding light to me. I love watching my friends who are fathers and husbands; something that I aspire to be one day in my life.
Each of these men can take the hits and keep pushing forward to reach their goals while maintaining their goodness and integrity. I aspire to that.
When I think about legacy and what I want to leave behind, I have to be honest and confess that it is still in process. I feel like I try to live the way of kindness and respectfulness, and that is something vital, yes. My legacy, I hope, would be the hybrid of my work and the strength of the relationships I have built throughout all areas of my life.
I guess it will organically happen, and at some point I will look back on my life and be able to take stock of my accomplishments to understand what I have achieved.
At this point, I am still focused on “living my life.” I will say this though, with all certainty, I understand that it is important to look at legacy—what we build, heritage, and what we leave behind—because we are not guaranteed tomorrow. My belief is that Legacy is a day-to-day build; your body of work.
The first book I read that resonated with me was Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I think I was 12 or 13. Leading up to that I was all about sports, a fine student, but I didn’t care to prioritize reading until then. The line that stood out to me was something like, “you never truly understand a person until you walk around in their shoes…” Being a black kid growing up in a predominately white suburb in Philadelphia, I felt like an outsider constantly, but didn’t know how to express it. This book speaks about race, identify, and your voice. It was and still is profound.
Specific to contemporary writers, I know that I am not alone in saying that TA-NEHESI COATES is my guy right.
When I am traveling: Fantasy Football, Buzzfeed, Mashable, and Huffington Post are the ones I will share. The pop culture moments and gossip sites… I will keep those to myself.
I mentioned that I am from Philly, right? THE ROOTS.
5 Things I Can’t Live Without
Kaya & Halo – My doggies. I love them. There are great to come home to and just hang out with.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – It’s more than a phone, it is my office.
Laurel Canyon – I have lived in the canyon for over 10 years. It’s magical, and helps to calm me. Best times spent are sitting outside on my deck and enjoying the peace. I do this every day when I am home. It is my meditative practice.
My Passport – The freedom to be in the world. Freedom is life and being able to move around is part of ultimate wealth.
Pace – This place is an institution for a reason. It is my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles.
*Cover photo by Brandon Tyler Williams