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Joe Beddia, chef, & Scott J. Ross, filmmaker
On making an unconventional cooking show and the realities of getting is sold.
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Hey, Joe is a “humorously deadpan show about the joys of everyday home cooking, hosted by Philadelphia chef Joe Beddia” and directed by Scott J. Ross. It’s quirky, charming, and heart-warming, and unlike any cooking show I’ve seen. It’s less learn a new skill, and more chillin’ at a friend’s house while they cook. You can watch the trailer here.
It premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and, unknown to me before our conversation, it was in the “to-be-sold” phase of filming so it actually wasn’t complete except for 2 episodes. I sat down with Joe and Scott during their busy festival schedule to talk about making an unconventional cooking show and the realities of getting it sold.
Brianna Plaza: I know that you have a pizza restaurant, but tell me a little bit more about your background.
Joe Beddia: I used to move beer for a living. I did that from 21 to 28. And then I got into restaurants, front of house, not even cooking. I never really cooked professionally. Pizza came as a hobby while I was bartending at this wine bar, and I started going deeper into that. And then I had an idea that I would do pizza. I don't know. I was like, "Oh, this is exactly what I'm going to do." I've had a lot of influence by people that are owner-operators that sort of do everything. I always looked at that and admired them because it was their complete vision. It's like writing the world in some way — you can just do exactly what you want and you're not answering to anyone. So I like that idea.
I was working at a brewery in Japan for four months. The restaurants would literally be so small. Anything could be constituted a restaurant where there was somebody — generally the owner, the cook — that would serve you and do everything. So in my mind I was like, "Well, I don't have any restaurant experience. I can't run a restaurant." But they're doing this small thing, so I could start small.
I had a 350 square foot pizzeria. I made every single pizza for five years. I had one helper, John, who would help me do some prep work, and then he would do the cash register and I would make pizzas. And that worked out really well. So that's sort of the path that I went. I closed after five years. I didn't want to do it anymore. I started at 36, so I think I stopped at 42. Because you do everything. We were only open four days a week, but it was like until nine and 10 o'clock at night.
Eventually, I partnered with a restaurant group to open Beddia Pizzeria.
Brianna Plaza: Scott, can you tell me a little bit more about your background and how you came to this project?
Scott J. Ross: I live in LA now, but I'm from the Philadelphia area. My specialty is really comedy directing, a little bit of documentary, and a little bit of fashion. I also do a lot of fine art film. That's how Joe and I got connected: I do a lot of work with artists and Joe was a big fan of Alex Da Corte’s. Joe had this idea for years before we shot it and wanted someone to help him make it. So Alex connected us. Joe likes comedic stuff and thought I'd be good at it.
The whole idea was really Joe's, all the style elements of it. It's quite weirdly stylized. But I thought it was so cool that a chef wanted to make an experimental food show and didn't take it so seriously. It was almost like a self-deprecating food show. It just seemed exciting to me. I hadn't done a lot of food stuff myself other than the New York Times Magazine.
Brianna Plaza: Tell me about the inspiration behind Hey, Joe.
Joe Beddia: It’s inspired by the seventies and eighties. John Lurie was a member of the Lounge Lizards, and he ended up making this show that's called Fishing with John. It's bullshit. They're fishing, but it's nothing to do with fishing. They didn't catch any fish. It's kind of how I think about Ina Garten. It's like, no one's making that. I mean, some people make the food, but it's like you just want to spend some time with her, right? She's just doing her thing
So I thought, “How can I take inspiration from all my favorite things and just create something with that?" Our original idea was to have Alex Da Corte create the set for us. But then reality sets in, where it's like, "Oh, that's $250,000. Where's that coming from?" So the idea is that we would basically take the Seinfeld set and remake it identically, but with a different color scheme, and just have a lot of familiar things happening. But it’s also cooking, and I have friends come over. It's a little PeeWee's Playhouse, a little Fishing With John. It's under the guise of cooking, and we’re cooking, but you're not learning anything.
Brianna Plaza: What made you decide to go in that direction, versus a more traditional cooking show?
Joe Beddia: It's the only thing that interests me. Traditional cooking shows, they're already done and over. Traditional cooking shows are like social commentary, but this is abstract. It's just something that is familiar to me and I feel comfortable in it, even though I'm not very comfortable in front of the camera. So I kind of like the idea of that too, because I feel very awkward most of the time.
I feel like anytime I do something like this, it's just one of those things that if you do it a bunch, and you'll eventually be comfortable. Even with starting pizza, I remember I was working in this kitchen in Philadelphia, and the guy was showing me how to do it. And he was doing it so well and so fast and efficiently. And I was doing it and I was like, "I don't think I'll ever be able to do this." And now it's like, "Yeah, I know how to do it, professionally." So I think it's just that idea, that you look at something, you're like, "There's no way I can ever do this." And it's just this defeatist thing. And then you're just like, "Yeah, anyone can do it." I don't know. None of these people are geniuses. You know what I mean? They just work and they practice.
Brianna Plaza: Tell me a little more about the process of shopping the show around. What do you do with a show that does or doesn’t get picked up?
Joe Beddia: I mean, well, we tried to sell it. No one wanted to buy it, and then we just started to apply to the film festivals, and then they picked it up. So hopefully, who knows? It's a weird time too because the writers' strike and everything. The more I learn about the industry too, it's impossible. Everything's almost impossible just to make something these days.
I’m not saying that I deserve anything and I don't think anyone needs to watch this — I don't think it's important. But that's made it even harder over the last couple of years to try and sell something. For me, the creative process was the goal. I mean, this is amazing. If nothing ever happens from it, I'd be okay with it. It's just really about the creative process of making it. But I think that's also a good way to go about things. Because I'm not going to be upset.
Scott J. Ross: That's a great question. So we had production team that put some money behind the show and helped us make it. They’re great at pitching and selling TV. Then Eric Wareheim got involved, and he helped us pitch it around a little bit. Eric has a really awesome comedy agent and he's really into the food stuff. So the agent pitched around to food streamers and we also pitched to a company called Tastemade. We talked to them for a long time and we were actually going to go ahead with them. But then there was an executive shake up. It’s a common thing where you have something in development, then executives change, and it’s almost like no one leaves a note for them and they forget about the project.
Joe Beddia: We need someone that would walk us through the creative side of it, I think. If it turns more into a food show, I feel like I wouldn't really want to do it. I hate to be negative or say no to something, but it's also like, that’s not what it is. That's not where it came from. So I feel like I just want to do the creative thing.
Scott J. Ross: I mean, it is a tricky show to pitch because it's outside the box. So we knew that going in and right away, even Taste was like, if you just want do a pizza show we’d order a whole season. But Joe's always been like, "I want to have vision for it and I want to do it this way." I mean, even if it doesn't work out commercially, it's good to just do something the way you imagined it and put it out that way.
In any case, we kind of feel like we hit a dead end, pitching-wise. And then that's why we were like, all right, well let's submit it and give another life just in the festival route. I submitted to maybe three major festivals and we are super pumped we got in to Tribeca. It's always kind of a stroke of luck when you get into one of them. So now that it has another life here, it's the first time it's been seen publicly anywhere.
I can definitely see trying to give it another go. There's actually a creator's market here where we were going to be set up to pitch the streamers and they canceled it last minute because of the writer strike. They don't want to be seen as helping the streamers get content or develop content. So if you have a film that is done and completed and just needs to be sold or distributed, that's fine. But for us to pitch something that is only in spec process, it's basically pitching writing work.
Brianna Plaza: So the show isn’t actually complete yet. If someone says, "Okay, let's pick it up," do you start over or do those episodes just exist as they are?
Joe Beddia: It’s just two spec episodes. We completed them in the way that they are able to stand on their own.
Scott J. Ross: The plan was always to start over, but Tastemade had offered to put out the first two and then just make more.
The idea was always to get real money and then build this amazing set and do some more trickery and also make the show a half an hour. I guess after the writers strike gets resolved, it'll be nice to see if there's still some interest after Tribeca and we’ll pitch maybe different versions of it. Or at the very least, they'll maybe take a meeting with you for some other project.
Brianna Plaza: Since it's still being shopped around with the possibility of starting over, how much are you willing to get away from this weird vision to get it sold?
Joe Beddia: I mean, I like the idea of saying yes to something, but also, if it's just a straight cooking show, I don't think anyone wants to see that ‘cause there's enough of those. I don't know. I'm not a cook in a traditional sense. I know pizza. If somebody's wanting to make a pizza show or something, I probably wouldn't say no to it, but I wouldn't really want to do it.
Scott J. Ross: I think the thing that we came away with from this is, regardless of the commercial viability of the show as it is now, I really think that tone and the world we created is really special.
We made it to feel like something that is really comforting and calming and feel-good and cinematic. It’s not really a tone I see anywhere right now, and it does feel good to watch it.