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April 28, 2013 • 08:32:14 p.m.

Johnsburg native George Zwierz Jr. finds success with The Onion & Chicago’s ‘Guys Book Club’ (VIDEO)

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Cinematographer Jamin Townsley (left) and producer George Zwierz Jr. on the set of “Guys Book Club.” (Photo provided)

CHICAGO –  A popular Chicago-based web series, described as "'Old School' meets 'Breaking Bad,'" has a Johnsburg native behind it.

George Zwierzynski Jr., who now goes by a shortened name of Zwierz Jr., was known for his basketball skills at Marian Central Catholic High School, where he graduated in 1997. 

He's now known for his work with The Onion and "Guy's Book Club," the comedic web series he produces, writes and directs. The series at www.guysbookclub.tv launched its second season this month.

It follows around a group of Chicago married men, including "Chicago Fire's" Christian Stolte, Francis Guinan of "Boss," and UFC fighter Clay Guida, as they attempt to escape their day-to-day commitments via a fake book club.

It’s an idea, like most, that Zwierz Jr., who founded Purple Stuff Productions Inc. in Chicago, garnered from everyday life. Season 1 of the series came out in 2011.

“Book clubs were becoming huge,” he said. “Not a lot of guys were doing book clubs, but women were doing book clubs. I figured, ‘what would it look like if guys had a book club?’ The idea spun from there.

“They wouldn’t be reading a book, not that girls really do that either.”

“Guy’s Book Club” has its characters, ranging from a veteran retiree to an online college student, going from bank robbing to tasering to muffins. In other words, it’s not anything like Oprah’s book club. 

Touting a higher production value than typical web-based projects, the series makes Chicago both a setting and a character.

A huge fan of “Breaking Bad,” an AMC series,” Zwierz Jr. said the series takes on a similar style.

“I don’t want to compare us to that at all, but I wanted to attempt to try to give a little bit of style to the comedy. It’s very cinematic for a web series, I would say,” he said.

Released as a film, he sees it in the realm of “Old School.”

Unlike its first season, which was released weekly, the web series’ second and “tad darker” season has been released all at once.

This will allow viewers to watch its 44 minutes of content in one sitting, Zwierz Jr. said. The full-length pilot also is available for viewing at the website.

“The way people are viewing now, they’ll sit down for however long and blow through a season of ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘House of Cards,’ ” he said.

He’d love to see the series reach television, or perhaps even film, but today’s market is more web-based than ever before, with viewers heading to online sites, such as Netflix and Yahoo to watch shows, he said.

Those sites, in a sense, are becoming networks, he said.

Because of this, more producers that don’t necessarily have Hollywood contacts can put there stuff out there, he said.

“There’s a mindset that you have to move to one of the coasts, but it’s not true,” he said. “The more technology coming out nowadays, the more affordable it is, the easier it is to get things made.”

Zwierz Jr. began his career editing film trailers and featurettes for major studios, working with Oliver Stone’s producers on “Alexander,” the 2004 film starring Colin Farrell that Stone directed.

Zwierz Jr. also worked with John Cleese and Eric Idle of “Monty Python” before heading back to Chicago. 

“I pretty much learned what I felt I needed to learn to come back here,” he said. “I love Chicago. I love the city. LA. was a great time. I met a lot of interesting people. Ultimately, it was my love for Chicago and my family and friends that drew me back. I’ve been fortunate I’ve been able to make a career here.”

Along with “Guy’s Book Club,” he continues to work with Bill Kurtis’ Production Company and Towers Productions, cutting shows for The History Channel, CNBC and and Discovery, among other networks.

He’s spent time producing, directing and editing for The Onion on products, such as “Sex House,” and “The Onion’s Extremely Accurate History of the Internet.” 

And he’s also producing The Onion’s satirical stage show, “The Onion Live!” set to tour the country later this year. 

Although he’s in the business of comedy, Zwierz Jr., whose family still lives throughout the McHenry County area, said he’s never really been the funny guy.

“I’m very boring,” he said. “I think I was always the guy behind the funny guy, giving him the funny ideas and watching him get into trouble. Hence me hiring actors.”

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