TV producer and writer shares journey through the entertainment industry

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Joe Escalante listens to questions from the audience. Photo credit: Dominique Wood

From playing punk rock, practicing media law, managing a record label and radio broadcasting to writing and producing TV shows and movies, Joe Escalante has done it all.

Escalante, founder of Kung Fu Records with a Juris Doctor degree from Loyola Law School, shared the story of his remarkable journey through the entertainment industry on stage Tuesday night. Chico State’s School of the Arts hosted the event in the Performing Arts Center and was moderated by entertainment lawyer and professor Dr. Anita Rivas.

Through a casual, seemingly unplanned series of stories, Escalante painted a detailed picture of his professional life. Memorable ideas and pieces of advice were scattered throughout the dialogue, giving students an in-depth look at the circumstantial, luck-based nature of America’s entertainment industry.

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Joe Escalante of The Vandals and Kung Fu Records talks about his life and career in the media industry. Photo credit: Dominique Wood

Escalante began his story by describing his experiences in The Vandals, a semi-successful punk rock band. Despite being fortunate enough to sign record deals, tour internationally and open shows for multiple famous artists, he described the band as simply riding the punk-rock wave—never being serious enough to make real money or compete with real bands.

“Our singer can’t sing, our guitar player can’t play,” he said of the experience. “This is a punk band… We are not destined for commercial success.”

Whether it was running a record label or playing in a band, Escalante never really felt satisfied in the music industry.

“Running a record label is a 24-hour-a-day business,” he said. “For me it was about a two-hour-a-day business and I got lucky for 20 years. You don’t want to meet your idols (because) they will disappoint you in many ways.”

Eventually, Escalante left his band and earned a law degree from Loyola Law School, still feeling unsure about what he wanted to do with his life.

“A degree does not set you up for success,” he said.

He told students about his seemingly endless struggle to set himself apart creatively and decide what area of entertainment interested him the most.

He assured students that “if you’re doing something creative, make sure you’re doing something very different.”

For most of his professional life, Escalante never really wanted to stay where he was. He explained how he wasted many years of his life doing things he wasn’t that good at.

After leaving the music and radio industries and bouncing from job-to-job, Escalante finally found his true passion in TV writing and producing.

Escalante has been involved in the production and writing of shows such as “Ancient Aliens” and “Curse of Oak Island.” He currently works as a freelance writer and producer for these shows, as well as being a staff writer for Investigation Discovery’s “True Nightmares.”

Students laughed as he joked about a decades-long streak of luck leading him to his current job, which allows him to pitch remakes of Hogan’s Heroes and movies about President Trump fighting Bigfoot to the right people.

“I have no complaints,” he said of his current place in life.

To meet other industry leaders like Escalante, look out for more events hosted by SOTA on campus.

Grant Schmieding can be reached at [email protected] or @G_Schmieding on Twitter.