Courtesy photo/Jaime Yukich
I n the vast majority of cases, video evidence of spring break’s drinking, debauchery and delinquent behavior would be bad for one’s career. University of Colorado graduate Johnny Milord (’03) might be the only person who says being filmed partying hardy in Mexico was “actually like an internship.”
Ten years ago this week, Milord and a group of male CU buddies were filmed on Spring Break in Cabo San Lucas by Universal Pictures for the movie “Drunken Jackasses: The Quest.” The quest in question was supposed to be of the bikini-clad opposite sex, but Milord instead fell jackass-backwards into a career in television by making connections with the movie’s producers.
“I think about it a lot. I owe pretty much my whole life and career to that ridiculous, ridiculous movie,” says Milord, who today is director and co-executive producer of the successful E! network show “After Lately.” “Obviously, it was a blast, and we were having fun down on spring break, but it was also me learning a way to get into the industry.”
To set the scene: Reality programming was significantly different in 2003, when Milord was a senior majoring in business at CU. “Survivor” debuted in 2000; “American Idol” in 2002. Also in ’02, MTV’s “Jackass: The Movie” grossed more than $79 million worldwide.
“(Ours) was billed as the world’s first reality movie,” says Hans Swolfs, another “Drunken Jackasses” star and CU class of ’04. “Basically, what they did (in Cabo) was say, ‘Do what you normally would do, but in front of cameras, and you have to be at this bar or beach at such and such a time.'”
For that kind of movie, though, normal behavior is not what the cameras hope to capture.
“I had some pretty probably embarrassing moments,” says Milord, who 10 years ago sported a mullet haircut and was known as Johnny Kansas, after his home state. In the movie, the boys often bet one another to perform crazy stunts. “I had these ridiculous high tops. I had to, um, urinate in those on the beach, put them back on and wear those around, which was — oh dear, that was pretty bad.”
Swolfs is happy to divulge more of Milord’s “Drunken Jackasses” moments, including accepting a bet to “be fed a chewed-up banana like a baby bird.” Then there’s Swolfs’ story of searching for suppositories in Mexican pharmacies to help Milord’s nausea: “They didn’t know what he was talking about. I believe he said, in Spanish, ‘I need a pill for my butt.'”
The embarrassment wasn’t all Milord’s by far, though. Hung over on the very first day in Mexico, Swolfs puked down the side of the boat taxi bringing the group to the beach.
Both former Jackasses admit it’s wonderful “The Quest” was never released in theaters as originally planned. It went straight to DVD and mostly to foreign markets, though the film credit is easily found via Google or the Internet Movie Database. Swolfs, who now works in the oil and gas industry out of Tulsa, Okla., found out the latter when he was Googled by a current boss.
Milord, on the other hand, moved to Los Angeles almost immediately post filming. With the help of contacts made through the movie, he landed his first job as a production assistant (the “lowest possible” position, he said) on a reality TV show.
“Do you remember ‘The Swan’? It was one of the worst television shows ever made in my opinion,” says Milord of that first job. As a PA, he ran errands and followed orders, until he one day held a camera and was therefore assumed to know how to operate one.
“I taught myself how to do a lot on the job, which I think the reality shows took advantage of,” he says. He was promoted after one season to the position of associate producer.
“Then I moved on to other brilliant reality shows, like ‘Skating with Celebrities,'” Milord continues. “At one point, I was ice skating holding a camera. It was Kristy Swanson and Debbie Gibson. Those were our (celebrity) heavy hitters at the time.”
Beginning in 2006, Milord worked as producer on “The Chelsea Handler Show” and then “Chelsea Lately,” the E! talk shows of comedian Chelsea Handler. When E! was looking for more scripted content in 2011, he directed the pilot of his current project “After Lately,” which is a behind-the-scenes mockumentary of the “Chelsea Lately” show starring the its actual writers and crew. As director and co-executive producer, he handles everything from brainstorming and writing through filming and editing.
“It’s doing very well. We’re on our third season now, which is amazing,” says Milord, who is currently wrapping that season before leaving the show to pursue other, yet-unannounced television projects.
The former business major knows he’s living the dream of many film students and Hollywood hopefuls, a dream he didn’t know he had until after college. He credits much of that success to letting go of ego and committing to do hard work — as well as the dirty work of reality TV, which some people see as beneath them.
“That’s what it takes even as a (production assistant): doing the worst possible job you can do, but then have people see you not bitching about it. That’s the way you move up,” he says. “That would be my advice, to not be above anything.”
As someone who once walked in his own urine, Milord has followed his own advice, but he refuses to regret his colorful past.
“When I first started out here (in L.A.), I didn’t mention to anyone about the project,” he says. “Now where I’ve come to, I’ve embraced letting everyone know that, yes, I was on ‘Drunken Jackasses.'”