Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How A Bad Robot Employee Is Making The World A Better Place Once Mile At A Time

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting to chat with Josh Tate who is using his power for good this Spring and holding a charity event called Hell Walk to raise money for Children's Hope Chest. Part of our chat involved a visit to the offices of Bad Robot, a relaxed, yet invigorating environment filled with tons of collectibles and friendly faces. The waiting room alone is something to be marveled at. They encourage you to create art with their supplies while whoever you're meeting with heads over to fetch you. Spoiler Alert: I drew a cartoon cat.

Josh Tate himself is completely down to Earth, but not without a healthy dose of snark, as all awesome people should, and fits right in to the eclectically tranquil yet enthusiastic atmosphere of Bad Robot. His desk, around the corner from the front desk lined with toys of famous robots, features a statue of Starbuck, signed by Katee Sackhoff. When I ask him for recommendations, as I often do in interviews, he lists off amazing bar after amazing bar,

It probably sounds terrible, but I really like to go to bars (and miss them terribly while I’m training for Hell Walk). Here are some of the best: 

West 4th and Jane, James Beach, the back room of the Terrace, Ye Rustic Inne, The Drawing Room, Covell, the back bar at Hobo, The Arsenal, the back bar at Wilshire and the Shack in Playa Del Rey. And of course, Sonny McLean's, birthplace of Hell Walk.

Yeah. This dude is cool. Definitely my kind of person.

So what is Hell Walk and why should you care? Read on to find out.


For the uninitiated, what is Hell Walk?

So Hell Walk is a 24 hour walk-a-thon around a hundred foot circle to raise money for providing schools and shelters for Orphans in Russia and Swaziland, Africa. It is heroically noble (laughs) - no, it was invented because I had not done a lot of charity work in my life and it got to the point where I thought, I've got to start doing better, and so I started volunteering for some charities around town and I enjoyed it, but there was still something missing. And so I talked to my friend Melanie one night at a bar, and I literally just described this whole conversation to her, I was like "I want to do this and I want it to be like this and this" and then at the end, we had this terrible idea called Hell Walk (laughs) it was just the worst. It's gonna hurt, it's gonna take forever, I can't drink for five months, I have to change my life, but that's what it is and it's actually kind of great. I mean, I have a love/hate relationship with it cause I have to live with it every day but it's changed my life for the positive like, infinitely, it's been really great.

What's the name of the charity?

The name of the charity we are raising money for is Children's Hope Chest and what they do is they work in orphanages all over the world. They're an international organization, so they have local chapters and the chapter in LA works with orphanages in Kostroma, which is a region in Russia and then Swaziland and so we just figured we liked the idea of an international charity and we like the idea of local people benefiting from it cause a lot of people who donate are from LA and it just felt like a good fit. They're great, they are nothing like me, they are devoted people who literally dedicate their lives to helping people they don't even know have food and shelter and safety and education. They're a small enough charity that I thought when we raise this money for them, it could really change their lives. And I think it sort of has so far.

What is your goal?

We want to hit 25,000 and right now we, at the end of February are at 7800. Most of the larger fundraising stuff is still in the future so I feel we're going to make 25,000.

How are you training?

Here's my day. I wake up at 5:30. I leave my apt in Los Feliz at 6. I drive to the west side cause I work on the west side to train at the gym in the morning. Then I go to Bad Robot, I work there til 7pm usually, like 8-7 every day usually unless it's a busy day and then I go to the gym after that to do weights. Then I go home and I watch a half hour of MSNBC and I collapse. And then on the weekends, I usually try to take Saturday off if I can, and then Sunday just do like a full 8-10 hours of something, whether it be the LA marathon course (If you go the LA Marathon website you can print out a list of turn by turn directions...and you can do almost the entire course..) or I go to USC a lot and just circle the track for 6 hours or so. Most of that's mental. There's a certain point where - if you and I had to walk 24 hours right now, we probably could if there was like, an army behind us, chasing us. But most of it is mental, getting past that block is going to be a mental hurdle, so that's sort of why I [train that way]. Hell Walk is gonna be, it depends on how much I degrade over time, but it'll be at least two marathons, almost three. My pace is about 3-4 miles an hour and so that comes out to about 80 miles.

More after the jump!

Have you been trying out different shoes to prepare?

I did, actually the first time I did it, I walked 12 miles in my Chuck Taylors. I thought it would be perfect cause it would make my feet stronger because there's not really any cushioning, but it hurt pretty badly. And then I did a couple barefoot with the same idea that also just hurt a lot, you get really sore, it's just unpleasant. Then I tried some Asics, they were okay, not great, I blistered up in them every now and then, and now I'm K-Swiss. Based on my sort of test today, I'm really excited. They're gonna be much better than anything I've had. I'm testing them out fully this weekend, going to do the marathon course again.

Has anyone done anything like this before, to your knowledge?

People have! I actually read about a woman who ran for 24 hours on a treadmill and she did 153 miles. And running and walking, it's like night and day, running is not walking faster, it's a whole different cardiovascular - blood sugar stuff going on. I'm sure some people have [done something exactly like Hell Walk, I don't know who they are, I hope they haven't, that'd be kinda cool.

Is there anything else K-Swiss is providing for you for Hellwalk?

I will be fully dressed in K Swiss. They have done me the ultimate mitzvah and I've become their biggest fan and customer. I'll never even buy Reebok again cause I'll feel guilty. It's true, I'm only going to buy K Swiss things from now on. Put it on the website - a challenge to anyone who can find me buying Nike or any other brand, if you can find me doing it, I'll give ya a hundred dollars.

So this has totally changed your opinion about anything?

Hell Walk has changed my opinion about so many things. Today changed my opinion about [shoes], it changed my opinion about friends, who I thought were casual friends and then literally a friend of mine I hadn't talked to in 20 years was the first person to contribute to the website without me even telling him it was there. He found it on my Facebook profile, he navigated to it, he read the stories, and the website was a week late, so I got pissed off, cause I was like, I need to get started, but the day it opened, within like a half hour of it actually going live, he donated 100 bucks. So it's amazing what you find out about people. People are so much more generous than I thought. (with a smile) I've had such a negative outlook on life until Hell Walk. It's completely changed. And that's partly joking, but there's some truth to that.

Have you been particularly athletic before now?

The story I always tell is I was a dominant center in fourth grade cause I grew very quickly. And so from the fourth til like the seventh grade, I was the center on the Basketball team. I was like 5'10 by the time I was in fourth grade. I was tall. I had dreams of an NBA future. Then I became a slow ninth grade forward and a truly pedestrian twelfth grade guard. So, yeah, my glory years were [elementary] school and early junior high school. I played football in high school and rugby in college. But then I also discovered beer in college and that just wrecked my whole athletic career. Like most people probably...

Are you already noticing a change in your health?

I have, I'm definitely in better health. There was a quick weight loss when I started training cause I stopped drinking too and it sort of plateaued a little bit now because what's happening is (smiles) I exercise a lot but I eat a lot because I'm famished and that's the only joy I have in my life anymore because I stopped drinking and going out so yeah...there's a lot of almonds and walnuts in my future. But I feel better, I feel refreshed when I wake up in the morning.

How are you going to eat on the day?

That's the good thing about walking is you can still maintain a mostly normal function, someone can hand me a drink, or I'll probably just do a lot of like, nuts, protein bars, fruit. I talked to my doctor about it and based on my measurement of calories, I'll burn about 14,000, so I'll need to consume about 6,000 just so I don't like, overwork myself and get into a state of complete disrepair. That's, what 6,000 calories, 300 calories a protein bar...oh that sounds hellish. (laughs) Ohh that sounds hellish.

Well it is the Hell Walk!

It's not the Heck Walk!

(As I covet his Hell Walk bracelets) Are these bracelets available?

These are, you know, anyone who wants one just email me and I'll send you one. At one point someone was like, why don't you sell t-shirts and raise money that way, why don't you sell wristbands, but I didn't and I have this gut feeling that if you just give things to people, they'll actually give you more money back than you would have been able to sell to them and that's worked out almost straight. Like, I paid for all the T-Shirts myself, I made them myself at Bad Robot, along with super intern Drew Dinker, I should mention that, cause he is my T Shirt guru. And I just ordered the wristbands, whenever someone wants one, they can just have them, you can have these, here. (Hands me a Hell Walk wristband) Seriously, take one right now. (I do, excitedly.)

What will the actual day be like, both for you and those attending the event?

On May 1st I will wake up and consider driving to Mexico, but instead I will probably go to Hell Walk and then at 8am, I will start walking. And it's gonna be cool! You know, at first I thought, oh I'll just walk around in a circle, that'll be fun, but we realized, no, no one wants to see me do that for more than twenty minutes. So we're going to have some bands playing throughout the day and we're gonna have food and beer for free, you can just come, hang out, listen to music, have free beer and free food, and watch me, you can walk with me if you'd like, people who want to come take a few laps and experience my own personal version of hell. And it'll last all day, you know, and I expect that the crowd will thin out during the night, but we're still adding to it, it's still building, we might add movie screenings or something, you know? Because we want people to have such a great time that they ultimately engage with the charity we're trying to direct attention to. Because after May 1st, I'm going back to real life for a little while, you know, but this charity is going to have to continue to work. And so hopefully people will have enough of a positive experience that after May 1st, that they'll still with Children's Hope Chest. I probably will too, I'm sure they'll be a Hell Walk 2, we just have to figure out what it's going to be.

What's the best way for people to help? Donations? Showing up on the day? Volunteering to help?

E. All of the above. Donations are obviously a huge part of it, it's something I'm terrible at, so anyone who wants to come to the website, you can donate right there. If you don't have money, but you have time, you can donate your time or if you have something cool, if you have a six pack of vitamin water I can drink while I'm walking - anything that you can give is amazing. If you have a band and you want to play, call me! If you're good, we'll put you on! But really, just get engaged, come to the website, follow us on Twitter, see if it fits, not every charity fits with every person, as you can tell by this interview, I'm a little bit of a smart ass, but if that's your vibe and that works with you and you can handle having fun and also doing some good works, then check us out.

How have your co-workers at Bad Robot been receiving this and reacting?

It's been great. On my desk downstairs is a jar. I think it was in the middle of December, someone was gonna throw away a big glass jar and the Hell Walk bracelet fit right on the lip of the jar and I was like, I should just leave this on my desk for the next six months and see what happens and there is probably 600 dollars just in there right now. Mostly of like, singles and fives. People come, guests come and they drop money in there. Yesterday a woman who was the aunt of one of our workers came in and gave $60. So it's insane, people just give money, and the support from everyone here has been awesome. If you walk down to the office, you'll see half the office has Hell Walk bracelets on. The support has been unbelievable. Cause I've been ditching work a lot to do things for Hell Walk and they've been very understanding.

When most people like me hear that you work at Bad Robot, they think it must be the coolest job ever -

It is, yeah it is -

Make us jealous for a second - what's the coolest thing about working here?

Here's the thing. So I've lived a long life and I've experienced things that I thought might be cool, and then you get to close to them and you're like, ehhhh, this is sort of lame. You have all these high expectations and it seems like they're never met, but they're met here. The people out there who watch our shows and watch our movies and have an idea of what it's like, it's better than what you think. You know, it's not a bunch of pencil pushers, it's not like cynical Hollywood people here, everyone in the building is excited about making things that are neat and then hopefully keeping them secret so that when people actually hear about them, they're surprised, cause there's so little surprise left in media, that it's sort of a core mission of this company. The perfect example of what Bad Robot, to me, is, is two weeks ago, I'm sitting in the art room, that's where my office is, and the visual effects artist is playing with a motion capture suit and they're animating people. So you could walk by and start moving and the Bad Robot will move on the screen. And then as they're doing that, one of our interns walks by with a broom down his back, covered in raffia and dressed like a scarecrow because our interns were making a short film that had a scarecrow in it. And just seeing that combination - it was this one vision of people moving their arms, the Bad Robot moving on the screen and then right beyond them, a guy walking by dressed up as a scarecrow. It was awesome. It's a great place to work. JJ, everyone in the building are just the nicest folks and they're also really talented. You know, a lot of people are nice, that's not hard, it's easy to be nice, you just be nice to people, yeah, then you're nice, but to be talented *and* nice *and* generous, is rare and I will never leave this place. Until they fire me (laughs).

How did you end up with a job at a place like Bad Robot - what was your career trajectory?

I was incredibly lucky to get this job. I literally almost fell into it. A friend of mine that I worked with at another company got a job here. I basically told her I would do anything she needed if I could get a job there. Literally, I said I would be the janitor if need be. Anyway, I interviewed, waited six excruciating weeks, and got hired. Without a doubt, the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me in my life.

Whats your title?

I don't know if I have a title. We don't really have titles so much here. I do a lot of stuff here, I work with all the people in the art room, the visual effects guys, the interns, I work a lot in operations with a lovely woman named Beth, who was the one who helped me get the job here, and then we do a lot of special projects, we just for Christmas this year build a thousand Bad Robot themed gingerbread boxes. We had to find the perfect box and then we were gonna put a stamp on it with a Bad Robot on it, but we decided we could do something better than that, so we designed a stamp in Illustrator that we sent to an engraver who then sent us an engraving back that we put into our letter press downstairs, this letter press is 120 years old, and so the box was stamped with that, and it's textured and it's got that debossed feeling so you can run your fingers over it and feel all the grooves. Inside that, we had the candy to build the thing, but we wanted to do our own - we didn't just wanna buy candy and give it to people, so we bought candy in bulk, and then bought heat sealers, so that it looked like a model kit, and hand sealed 7000 packs of different candies to go into these boxes and then the instructions had to look like an old model, so one of our visual effects artists designed this fold out sheet of instructions. And what else was in there? The mix, obviously, and other stuff, but it was a ten pound gingerbread box that our interns and myself and a few other people made in this building. So, stuff like that. (Laughs) Stuff that has nothing to do with television or film at all, you know at all. But that's sort of part of the life here too, that it's not just film and tv, there's a huge practical arts aspect of Bad Robot, we have silk screen downstairs, we make our own stuff in house when we can, it's cool.

Are there any Hell Walk pre-events that people can get involved in?

They are, we're still scheduling them right now, so the ideal way to do it is to go to Twitter, and follow @Hellwalk2011 or you can call me anytime you want, my number's 310-741-9106, you can prank call me, I enjoy a good prank call if it's well done, and we'll put you in touch and we'll call you, we'll email you. You can email me, josh@badrobot.com <mailto:josh@badrobot.com> and I'll let you know what's going on with Hellwalk. But call me actually, cause no one ever does that! People leave their phone numbers and dare people to call them, but no one ever does so, call me, I'll let you know what's going on.

Is there anything you'd like to recommend to our readers? Anything you've been into lately that you want to pass the word on about?

Things around LA or books, culture?

Anything like that.

Oh, there's so many things. The TV show Southland is so good...it's such a good - and especially if you live in LA, and you interact with policemen, it's such a good show and I'm afraid it's going to get canceled. Cause it's not the biggest, you know, it's not Glee.

Any movies coming out you're psyched for?

Super 8, hell yeah! I can't wait to see Super 8. You know I'm so out of touch with movie culture now because of f***in Hell Walk. (laughs) All my time.

Oh here's one I'm excited about! The Adjustment Bureau. I've already seen it, it's really good (I freak out with joy - I was worried when it got pushed back). It's a good flick. It's ambitious and ambitious movies can fail in certain ways and this does have a few parts where you're like, oooh, they just kind of missed, but it's great to see a big Hollywood movie be well mounted, with great actors, great visual effects, that is trying to tell a story that hasn't been told before, so I recommend everyone go see it. (Note: I did. Based on his recommendation.)

Go to Big Dean's, great place to get burgers, Big Dean's on the Ocean. Go to Sonny McLean's, my favorite bar, that's the birthplace of Hellwalk! It started in the middle two barstools and they have great beer there, which I don't drink anymore, cause I'm stupidly deciding not to, but they have great craft beers, the best beer in the world, Delirium Tremens on tap, can't beat that, it's $9 a glass, but it's worth it. 26th and Wilshire. Delierium Temens is a belgian beer, I think it's a triple. It's really good, sweet, strong, not a belgian white though. Just drink it!


A couple days later, Josh let me know that on April 9th, a pre-Hell walk fundraiser will be held at its birthplace, Sonny McLean's.  For details on how to attend, click here. Be sure to check out the Hell Walk website here and get involved if you're so inclined. Oh, and in case you haven't seen it, here's the trailer for Super 8. Can it open now please. And if you want a Hell walk bracelet or shirt, if you have a band and you want to perform at the event, don't hesitate to shoot Josh an email - or call him if you're brave enough. He's the real deal and hopes to share his excitement over this charity event with as many people as possible.