Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity. For the next 29 days, you will be able to celebrate these various personalities with us.
He mixed lemonade at Hot Dog on a Stick in college and now he mixes its up with showrunners and other writers on NCIS: Los Angeles. Today, we feature a Chicago native, who followed his dreams and moved to Hollywood. This is the story of Adam G. Key, who is a talented freelance writer and producer who started out as a production assistant and assistant director.
Adam grew up on the south side of Chicago, where he was raised by a white Jewish mother and a black catholic father, attended public school and was a member of the local hip hop community where he both worked professionally as a DJ through his college years at the University of Illinois, and as an underground recording artist performing shows up and down the Los Angeles Sunset Strip.
After settling down in LA, Adam entered the world of set production departments for such films as – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Hancock, as well as the television shows Bones, Medium, The Ghost Whisperer,Big Love, Dexter, No Ordinary Family.
He is now a Writer’s Assistant and Researcher for NCIS: Los Angeles. Recently he co-wrote and produced two episodes of NCIS:LA as well as the theatrically released feature film Canal Street, which just premiered on BET.
Adam is married to a brilliant elementary school teacher and father to a wonder 5-year-old autistic little girl.
What Did You Originally want to be when you grow up? I have no idea… If I think about it and try to hone in on the earliest I had an ambition to be anything I would still be the things I enjoy doing now… writing and acting. I’ve loved TV and Films my whole life. I can remember coming up with movie ideas when I was a little kid spending the night at my grandmother’s house, or writing creative writing assignments in 3rd grade. And I’ve been acting since kindergarten… I used to love doing plays and acting in my friend’s little made up home movies… I’m a product of the land of make believe.
How Did You Get into the Film and TV Industry? I got into the film industry back in the summer of I think it was 2004. I was still living in Chicago and was able to get on the last couple days of a reality show called Starting Over. My immediate boss on that then went to do the film Roll Bounce and she brought me with her as an intern. I worked the entire film in various departments. At the end they hired me as an extra, you can clearly see me all over the final skate off.
Then while I was working there, I walked into the offices for Batman Begins since it was just one floor up in the building we were based out of. I talked my way into an internship with the background casting people, and then I was interning for both movies at the same time. Then, I think because my immediate boss on Roll was friends with the Unit Production Manager on Batman, I was promoted to a paid Production Assistant job. So for the last 3-4 weeks of Batman Begins I worked on set as one of several additional Pas. It was amazing. As soon as those two films wrapped I moved to California.
Who Were Your Mentors? Mentors… I don’t really know. I mean, I don’t think I ever had any official mentors, though there have been people along the way who I felt went above and beyond with me and that I learned something from. So for that reason I’m not going to put anyone on blast here, so I don’t embarrass them or me, in case they didn’t see our time together the same way that I did.
Biggest Achievement? That’s another hard one… Keeping it to my professional life, I guess my biggest achievement, and this may sound lame, but it’s getting in this business at all, that and being able to say that 15 years after Batman I’m still here, and I’m doing a little more every year, reaching new goals and levels, like getting that much better on a salmon ladder. I came out here and started with a whole bunch of people who aren’t around anymore. A lot of people went home.
A lot of people got burnt out. A lot of people are just doing other things and are no longer a factor in this business, and that’s sad. But I got in, and I’m still here. And honestly sticking around and continuing to fight the good fight… that’s my biggest achievement… to me.
Biggest Disappointment? Honestly, my biggest disappointment centers around missed opportunities. I had a friend out here not too long ago who thought he wanted to be a player in this game. He had massive potential, but he just couldn’t get out of his own way and I didn’t know how to help him. So he had to go back home.
He and I together could have been epic. Could have been one of those ‘made it from the bottom, now we’re here’ dynamic duos… but that didn’t happen, and it kinda breaks my heart a little bit. The thing that disappoints me the most is wasted talent, and to this day I’ve still never seen talent wasted like this.
Name Your Biggest Pet Peeves? After living in LA I would have to say bad drivers. There are some just awful drivers out here, it really is impressive just how terrible some of these motorists are. That, and when people who have no grasp or concept at all about what my life is like, trying to beat me over the head with their B.S. advice pulled from the pages of their COMPLETELY DIFFERENT life. Yeah, that one really gets under my skin.
Name a Job You Had That Would Surprise People That’s easy. I was an asst. manager at Hot Dog on a Stick. They opened one where I went to college at in Champaign, Il. I have plenty of fond memories of that place. When I’m in the mall now and I see the kids in there breaking their backs mixing the lemonade I smile and think to myself… Yeah, I know how to do that too. I still have the uniform back home.
What do You Wish You Had More Time for? Everything. I wish I had more time to spend with my family. I wish I had more time to write all the things I want to write. I wish I had more time to exercise. I wish I had more time to Travel… You know… Everything. I’m an ambitious, Artist, husband, father, explorer… There’s never enough time. I guess that’s why I never get any sleep.
Congratulations, You’ve Built a Time Machine! What Do You Go Back and Tell Your 15-Year-Old Self? I’ve thought about this. I wouldn’t tell him a damn thing. I might not be the king of the world today, but I like what I have. Any changes to the timeline would alter my life in ways that I’m not interested in. I might not have this woman as my wife and I might not have this child as my daughter, and I’m not okay with that. I think my wife is awesome, and my daughter is the best little girl in the world.
So, no, I wouldn’t even bother trying to run into 15-year-old me. Plus, I wouldn’t like 15-year-old me. I’d want to kick that kid in the head. But what I would do if I could hope in my time machine and go back to that year (in which I was 15) is I’d find a way to pump into my dad who died when I was like 22, and I’d become his friend and hang out with him as an adult, which I never got to do.
And I’d try to find ways to interact with other family and friends who died that I miss. Then after that I’d make some bets, put some money on the Bulls. Find a way to make a future bet on the Cubs finally winning. Buy some rare comic books of the era so I could sell them today for a cold profit.
That’s the kind of stuff I would do with a time machine… then I’d get back in it and travel to some more interesting eras and really see some cool stuff… I used to also want to be a History teacher. I love the story of the past.