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Gutsy call pays off for Huntington grad

From left, Mindy Kaling, Ed Weeks and Chris Messina star in the upcoming Fox comedy “The Mindy Project.” Behind the scenes is some local talent.

In June, Huntington University grad Jason Eberly went into his boss’s unoccupied office at International Creative Management, the Los Angeles talent agency with such clients as Samuel L. Jackson, Al Pacino and Woody Allen, and shut the door.

The aspiring filmmaker had written perhaps the most important script of his career up to that point. It was a script designed to help him through a scary phone call.

Eberly dialed the number of Michael Spiller, the hot TV director best known for his work on the ABC series “Modern Family.”

ICM had recently completed negotiations on Spiller’s next gig, as executive producer and director on Fox’s “The Mindy Project.”

Eberly had grown friendly with Spiller over the phone and wanted to ask him the sort of favor that, when granted, can be the equivalent in Hollywood of a life ring thrown overboard to a tired treader.

Eberly wanted a job.

“I said, ‘Hire me … get me out of the agency world,’ ” he recalls.

So Spiller hired him – over the phone.

“I never met him face to face until my first day on the job,” he says. “I took a chance. We had always gotten along really well. He’s one of the nicest guys I have ever met.”

Now Eberly is working on one of the fall TV season’s most highly anticipated new shows.

“The Mindy Project” stars writer/actress Mindy Kaling (“The Office”) and boasts a creative cast that reportedly includes Spiller, Matt Warburton (“The Simpsons”), Chris McKenna (“Community”) and Linwood Boomer (“Malcolm in the Middle”).

The show debuts Sept. 25.

Eberly says his duties on “The Mindy Project” are innumerable and fluid.

He has been sent out to New York to supervise verisimilitude (the show is set in Manhattan but created in southern California, so exterior shots must match and add authenticity); he is the liaison for visiting directors; and he is the mediator between the production departments and Spiller.

“So basically,” he says, “anything and everything to make Spiller’s office run smoothly and for the show to succeed.”

Coming to a TV production from an agency was “a breath of fresh air,” Eberly says.

“If you don’t want to be an agent, that kind of sucks your soul,” he says.

Eberly calls Kaling “very, very smart.”

“She’s writing, producing and she’s acting,” he says. “I don’t know how she does it. She’s a superstar.”

People who want to work on a TV production shouldn’t expect to see many of their kids’ softball games, or have enough time to make kids who may one day play softball, or to meet that special someone with whom they might make kids.

Which is to say, 12-hour days are common, Eberly says.

“It’s a good week if I do 60 (hours),” he says. “Usually it’s more than 60.”

Eberly says he worked long hours at ICM, too.

“I don’t mind working long hours here at all,” he says.

Somehow, in the midst of the crazy schedule he has pursued for the last three years, Eberly managed to make a short film about the Argentine tango that is now on the festival circuit. It is called “Nino del Tango.”

It is a follow-up of sorts to his college project “After Hours,” a tribute to Gene Kelly musicals that starred and was choreographed by Evan Kasprzak, who is currently on Broadway in “Newsies.”

It was in the ICM mail room in March 2010 that Eberly suggested to his co-worker Eddie Wintle that they could probably make the film for the same $500 that it cost to make “After Hours” in Indiana.

“Here we are two years and $30,000 later,” he says. “He is such a patient person.”

Eberly says finding the time to make a film when you have no time is what separates the survivors from the wannabees in Hollywood.

A lot of people who come to Southern California to test their talents against those of an army of aspirants lack the drive to see it through.

“A lot of people want to talk about doing it,” he says. “Fewer people actually do it.”

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at