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Alumni find success writing for Cartoon Network

Tom Kauffman and Paul Isakson have been co-creating sketches and web series pilots since meeting 11 years ago at Central Michigan University.

The former Broadcast and Cinematic Arts students went from working at Moore Hall Television to helping create a live-action comedy for this season's pilot orders for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, titled “Art Prison.”

“(At CMU) I answered a flier to write on a Moore Hall Television sketch show called 'A-OK' which introduced me to directors David Seger and Kauffman,” Isakson said. “It was directly because of those two that I pursued writing, video production and the Channel 101 comedy scene in Los Angeles.”

Kauffman also is a writer for Cartoon Network's show “Rick and Morty,” which is returning for a third season at the end of this year. Isakson has written and consulted on shows for NBC, Disney, MTV and the WWE Network.

“As a broadcast student I picked up some rudimentary production skills, like where to point a boom microphone and how to white balance a DVCPRO video camera from 2002,” Isakson said.

Kauffman and Isakson said the broadcast experience they gained from their education at CMU mostly involved developing creativity, learning how to collaborate and meeting like-minded people.

“I was part of a creative community for the first time, which helped me form comedic sensibility and helped me find my value as a collaborator,” Kauffman said. “Moore Hall Television humbled me.”

From there, Kauffman and Isakson took less obvious routes that lead to their success today.

“I didn’t necessarily follow the career path (put forth) by the broadcast program," Isakson said. "After college I got a production assistant job on the movie 'Demoted,' which was shot in Michigan. CMU didn't offer a narrative-focused program when I was there."

The BCA program focuses on news broadcast production rather than storytelling, said BCA professor Will Anderson. He said the presence of CMU broadcast graduates at stations and TV newsrooms is prevalent in the area .

“As far as a narrative-focused program, there are a lot of opportunities and classes for students to develop narrative pieces,” Anderson said. “However, any BCA major will have also taken classes in media criticism, law, audio and video productions. They come out with a well-balanced and skill set for whatever they end up doing within the media industry.”

Anderson was one of Kauffman’s grad-school advisers. Isakson said he was one the most supportive professors he had during his time at CMU.

“In 2007-08 the program didn’t really have a production path, so I had to weave a different route to my master’s degree," Kauffman said. "That involved my professors going out on a limb to support me because I wanted to write and produce a television pilot for my final project."

Kauffman said his experience up to that point was mostly in writing for live action, but because 'Rick and Morty' is a script-based show, the skill translates.

For broadcasting and cinematic art students, Kauffman said the entertainment industry has different specializations, each with its own employment ladders.

“The beauty of being a storyteller is you don’t need to have a job to start improving,” Kauffman said. “It’s much easier to attract interest for something you’ve already done than something you hope to do.”