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Jason Manns '02: taking Hollywood one gig at a time

  • Jason Manns '02
    Jason Manns '02  As the landscape of entertainment evolves, Jason Manns '02, is riding the wave, and playing on a screen - and an iPod - near you.  Photo courtesy of Jason Manns '02
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His indie-rock music has been compared to Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, and is now available on iTunes. His latest film, Rock Slyde, will soon be available via the Netflix video on-demand service.  As the landscape of entertainment evolves, Jason Manns '02, is riding the wave, and playing on a screen - and an iPod - near you.

"There's no shame in the victory lap," laughs Manns when he talks about how he added an extra year onto his time at William and Mary in order to graduate with a dual degree status (marketing and English).

"When I graduated and moved out to Los Angeles, I had a buddy who was already out here who had been in the Stairwells [a capella group] with me, Emad Alaeddin '01," says Manns. "I met up with him and we started jamming, he ended up sending a tape of me into a radio contest and I ended up coming in second place.

"It was an online thing where people voted, and that was kind of my first introduction to the music scene, which was very odd for me, because I had been in town for a month and I was on the radio," says Mann. "I'd hear a voice coming out of someone's car window- and it was me! It was very surreal."

Through the contest and subsequent radio play, Manns met people who were in the music industry who helped get him some regular shows around L.A. Eventually that has led to small tours across the United States and appearances in London and throughout England.
All the while, Manns had been lending a hand on film scripts that needed a second pair of eyes or a second draft.

"The English [degree] was especially coming in handy," says Manns. "I had a lot of buddies who were sending me their scripts just to read and make notes on and to make suggestions on."

This led to a conversation with another friend, who was looking to begin production on a detective comedy.

"The script didn't have burning cars or huge explosions, or anything like that," says Manns. "I told him that I thought we could make this movie."

After that realization, Manns and his friend started down the long path of producing a movie - from scratch.

"It was a lot of figuring out as we went along," says Manns. "We put a team together, along with another buddy of mine from William and Mary, Milan Chakraborty '00, who was working at Warner Bros. in their accounting department. I brought him in, and he wound up producing with us as well."

For a bunch of guys who hadn't done anything like this before, their efforts seem to have worked out. Rock Slyde stars Patrick Warburton (best known as Putty from Seinfeld) and comedian Andy Dick, with appearances by Elaine Hendrix, Rena Sofer and Jason Alexander (also from Seinfeld).

"When we approached Patrick about it, and he signed on, we thought that this may be a little bigger than we had initially anticipated," says Manns. "At that point, we raised some additional funds to try and do it justice. It was slightly easier to find in L.A., where that sort of framework for film financing exists. There are a lot of avenues that you can find - but it's mostly through personal connections."

Rock Slyde made the rounds on the film festival circuit in 2009 and did rather well for itself, earning two audience choice awards and best director. The film will soon be available first as a video on demand title from cable operators in April, then as download from Netflix, Blockbuster and others. In May it will be available for purchase as a DVD.

For Manns, having helped steer a film from concept to production and now into distribution, one might think that his musical career may get put on hold. But that is not the case.

"When I'm on set I'm a filmmaker first and then a musician - when I'm on tour I'm a musician first then a filmmaker," says Manns. "I'm much more in control of my musical career, whereas film, you have so many factors that have to be put into place when scheduling something. Lining up the cast, the crew, the financing and everything else. When you actually get 30 days in a row where everything works out, you kind of have to drop everything and get to work, because you don't know when things will line up again.

"I feel very lucky that I can have my musical career as well," says Manns. "I usually play solo, just me and a guitar. It's easy for me to slip out- it's fairly painless - for a Thursday through Sunday night stand someplace."

Manns just finished a new studio album, entitled Soul, and it will be available later this month. To support his new release, he'll be playing shows in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York.  As a result of some of the television play he received with his first studio album, he'll be playing in Italy and Germany, followed up by a full tour of the United Kingdom through summer 2010.

In juggling these multiple interests, Manns admits that he shocked by the successes he's attained thus far, and he is planning more projects. But something has happened along the way that he hadn't anticipated.

"The first time I sang in England, I remember looking out and seeing people sing my words, and knowing that I had never played for them before," says Manns. "They found my music on the Internet and they came to the show and they already knew the words and were singing it. That's kind of the definition of a fan."

"I have a lot of friends in L.A. who come to my shows, but they are friends." says Manns. "So the first time I saw someone completely removed from myself and my group of friends and family who literally found my music before they found me, it was weird. It is very encouraging... and it makes me want to get better, I suppose."