Q&A: Pitt alum reflects on journey to Hollywood with comedy series ‘The Santa Clauses’


Image courtesy of Eugene Garcia-Cross.

Eugene Garcia-Cross is a writer for the Disney+ comedy series “The Santa Clauses.”

By Maria Scanga, Senior Staff Writer

On a recent visit to Pittsburgh, 1999 Pitt alum Eugene Garcia-Cross enjoyed a Steelers game — as well as a stop at Hemingway’s — reminding him of his old days as an English and history major. 

Garcia-Cross now calls Los Angeles home, following a 10-year teaching commitment in his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, at Penn State Behrend and at various universities in Chicago. He lives with his wife and their three young children. 

After landing a spot in the NBC writers program, Garcia-Cross is now a writer for the Disney+ comedy series “The Santa Clauses” — starring Tim Allen and Elizabeth Mitchell. The show found great success in its first season and is officially renewed for a second. 

The Pitt News: Now that you have found your groove as a screenwriter, how would you say it’s worked out? What current projects are you working on?

Eugene Garcia-Cross: I wouldn’t trade [teaching] for anything, but I was so happy to make the leap into TV because I have always been a fan of film and comedy. So making the switch back in 2016 was scary, because I was pretty late to the game — a lot of people come out in their 20s. And I think that’s probably a better time to do it, when you’re younger and braver and don’t have so much to worry about. 

But I came out in 2016. And I was a writer’s [production assistant] for a couple of years, and then was fortunate enough to get in the NBC writers program, and then have been staffing ever since, which has been fortunate because it’s a tough business. But I love it. Last year and this year, I’m working on “The Santa Clauses” for Disney+, which is a spinoff of the movie.

We were fortunate enough to get a second season, which in today’s landscape with so much TV and so many streaming services felt like a real gift. So we’re doing six more episodes, and that’ll be out this Christmas. And we’re actually in the writer’s room right now. We have two weeks left, but production started a couple of weeks ago. So that’s been fun.

TPN: How did you get into that specific project?

EGC: After coming out here and hoping to get some representation, I finally got a manager and an agent. And sometimes you’re the one who finds the jobs, and sometimes they’re the one who finds the jobs. It’s really just kind of hustling all the time and trying to stay in contact with the people who make those decisions. And fortunately enough for “The Santa Clauses,” I was submitted by my manager, and he sent up a script of mine, a sample, to the showrunner Jack Burdette, who’s just amazing. Jack’s been around for a while. He was on “Frasier,” “30 Rock,” shows like that, so he’s a great mentor. He brought me on for the first season, which was a fantastic experience. We worked for about 20 weeks, wrote about eight episodes, then had that reduced to six episodes, and that’s what came out last Christmas. So when we got picked up for a second season, I reached back out and he said we’d be happy to have you back, which was a huge gift. I’m so fortunate and so grateful for it. 

TPN: What advice would you give to current film majors who are hoping to get a job in the industry?

EGC: I was so fortunate to have really great professors when I was at Pitt, notably Carl Kurlander, who was a great mentor to me, and he was and continues to be such an amazing guy. He’s done so much to bridge the gap between Pittsburgh and Hollywood. So my advice would be to get involved in those programs offered, like Pitt in LA. I mean, hitting Hollywood is such a great opportunity for students at Pitt who are interested in media, film, TV. Not just the writing side, but the production side. I would say, just sort of immersing yourself in whatever medium you’re most drawn to — for me that was comedy. 

TPN: You started as a pre-med student at Pitt, and then you found that your passion was actually with fiction writing. How do you feel keeping your work passion for writing alive and balanced, especially in a competitive field?

EGC: For me, it’s all storytelling. I just fell in love with storytelling, and comedy and TV are some of the best storytelling we see. I was just drawn to that. For the first 10 years of my career, yeah, it was all short stories or working on a novel, and then I came out here, and it was storytelling in a different way. And that was a big change for me, you know — there’s a lot of differences between writing a script and writing a piece of prose. 

Having to learn the vocabulary of a writers room — like, what’s a “cold open”? What’s an “act out”? All those things that I had no idea about. So it’s been a lot of fun learning that. It’s hard, because sometimes I’ll miss fiction, and I’ll miss reading short stories and I find myself with stacks of scripts that I have to read, so I’ll make a point to go back. I try and read new authors and new short story collections and new novels. And then I always get drawn back into reading scripts, because that’s where I’m working now. 

So just trying to make room for both has been important for me and not lose my passion for fiction, which is where it all began.