UC Berkeley alumnus Jake Cannon uncovers Hollywood’s hidden histories with ‘The Look Back Machine’ podcast

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Name: Jake Cannon

Age: 29 years old

Hometown: Chino Hills, California

Current residence: Currently based in Culver City

What he’s been watching: When it come to films: “Heart of Darkness,” “Becoming Bond.” In the world of television: “ ‘South Park,’ always and forever,” Cannon says. “I can just sit alone and laugh to that show.” Also, Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?”

Who he is: A UC Berkeley alumnus and host of the podcast “The Look Back Machine,” which features documentary-style retellings of various forgotten Hollywood stories, tales described as “the overlooked, the disregarded, and misremembered.” They often feature interviews with the creators of the shows, who, combined with Cannon’s research, construct these audio-documentaries.

His voice: “On the show, I don’t really make any jokes. I’m not going to do any puns. I’m not going to say, ‘No pun intended.’ I hate that,” Cannon tells me midway through our discussion of his podcast “The Look Back Machine.”

For a podcaster whose other line of work is stand-up comedy, this was a little surprising to hear. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find the one-off comedic riffs common in the interview podcast genre on his show, and according to Cannon, this is intentional.

“The narration is streamlined and clean. I want the creators to be the focus, not me,” Cannon says. He also mentions that after the first episodes, he got rid of intros and outros that would recenter the focus on himself.

As a student at UC Berkeley, Cannon studied film and theater. “I got really interested in movies that weren’t that good and the internet’s criticism of them,” Cannon says. Having never made movies, however, he steered clear of the path of criticism and toward documentation. “That’s why (the podcast) ended up the way it is rather than making up jokes about why films are bad,” Cannon says.

The first series of the podcast focused on the Disney show “Recess,” though the way in which Cannon landed on this show was somewhat fortuitous.

“I totally forgot about that idea entirely,” Cannon says, after he had sent out emails of interest to potential interviewees. “About a year later, one of the creators of ‘Recess’ sent me a message back saying, ‘Oh, yeah, we totally want to do this.’ … And I had to figure out how to do it.”

Though “Recess” served as the basis for the podcast’s first episodes, there are a number of one-offs, delving into a single film, TV show or other adjacent medium (such as the “Hey Arnold!” theme song). Common threads are evident from the canon of episodes, as most of them are some sort of animated feature and many are Disney productions.

“A lot of them have to be about Disney stuff — their history is very sanitized. … If you work there, it’s hard to give a realistic interview. Listing to DVD commentaries, nobody’s telling the whole story. That history is not really covered that much,” Cannon says.

The bent toward animation was in part informed by Cannon’s post-graduation jobs, first as a tour guide at Paramount Pictures and later as a production assistant and executive assistant on animated projects. These experiences within the world of film production offered him a glimpse into the potential gaps in the stories Hollywood tells us.

“I think people in animation aren’t celebrated as much as they should be,” Cannon says. “Studios generally take credit for the movies and very rarely talk about their directors. For the most part, very few people know who directed ‘Oliver & Company.’ It’s more of just a Disney thing.”

Filling in those gaps requires extensive research, in which Cannon is well-versed. The UCLA libraries and old Los Angeles Times articles are among his sources for archival material, though outside research doesn’t always paint the complete picture of a given on-screen subject. “Sometimes there’s nothing on the subject, so I depend on the person being interviewed,” he says.

There’s also a certain element of nostalgia in the episode choices for the podcast. Many of the films came out in the early 2000s or late ‘90s — recent enough to be in the collective cultural memory, but somewhere outside of the cinematic mainstream.

“I’m very interested in movies that I watched as a kid; I don’t think they are taken that seriously. It’s important to me for these directors that are kind of unknown to have their work taken as seriously as something like ‘Citizen Kane,’ ” Cannon says.

As the conversation steers toward upcoming projects, Cannon brings up three things that I initially perceive as totally disparate. On second consideration, however, they have more in common than I’d thought.

The first: He’s flying up to San Francisco to help out with a festival called “Another Hole in The Head,” for a tribute to Nicolas Cage’s bonkers performance in the 1993 film “Deadfall.” The second: a documentary on a late-‘90s film about line skaters called “Brink!” And finally, a podcast episode about a 2000 “The Wonderful World of Disney” TV movie with Drew Carey as Geppetto.

All are located in a wave of popular culture that is slightly outdated, all are obscure, all are eclectic. But all fit into the niche that “The Look Back Machine” revels in: pop-culture artifacts that may have been passed over but deserve a second glance.

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].