CD Review: Gary Clark Jr. “Live North America 2016”

“Live North America 2016”
Gary Clarke Jr.
Warner Bros.
Tracks: 12

Our score: 3 out of 5 stars

To coincide with Gary Clarke’s guest appearances during Eric Clapton’s 50th anniversary shows at Madison Square Garden and at The Forum in Los Angeles in mid March comes the guitarists latest live recording titled “Live North America 2016”. The album is being released via Warner Bros. Records and includes all new and unreleased live recordings from Clark’s 2016 tour which was in support of his acclaimed 2015 release “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim”.

Live recordings can often be hit or miss. Despite the recent advances in digital recording the main brunt of the work still falls on the artists to put forth a worthwhile performance. In the case of the latest Gary Clark Jr. album “Live North America 2016” is mostly all hits. Clark’s performance throughout the albums 12 tracks captures the listener’s attentions and holds it close. Tracks like the soulful “The Healing” and “Down to Ride” showcase Clark’s talents as both a player and vocalist while songs such as “When My Train Pulls In” and “Numb” capture a grittier side of Clark’s musical pallet.

Though I found the albums overall mix to be a touch off at certain points you have to know going in to a live album that there are going to be some audio short comings as there are multiple factors that come in to play with this type of set up some of which are not favorable for recording. However what is consistant across the albums 70 plus minute run time is the musicianship shown by Clark and his band. Each of the twelve performances that make up this album is sure to have something for every listener out there making it worth checking out.

Track Listing:
1.) Grinder
2.) The Healing
3.) Our Love
4.) Cold Blooded
5.) When My Train Pulls In
6.) Down to Ride
7.) You Saved Me
8.) Shake (feat. Leon Bridges with Jeff Dazey)
9.) Church
10.) Honest I Do
11.) My Baby’s Gone
12.) Numb

Titus Makin, Jr. talks about TV shows “Star-Crossed” and “Glee”

Photo: The CW

Probably best known as David, one of the rival “Warblers” on the popular television series “Glee,” Titus Makin, Jr. can now be seen on the popular new CW show “Star-Crossed.”  As Lukas, Makin gets the chance to help save the day with the occasional blast of humor.  While getting ready to take a break from filming and finish his new musical EP, Makin took the time to talk to me about his new show, “The Lion King” and a possible return to “Glee:”

Mike Smith:  Can you give the readers a brief introduction to your character, Lukas, in your new show “Star-Crossed?”
Titus Makin, Jr:  Sure.  Lukas Parnell is one of Emery’s  (Aimee Teegarden) best friends.  He’s the guy that shows her the ropes in her new high school.  He breaks down who people are, what they do and how it all works.  He’s also the “logical” guy…the tech savvy guy.  He’s the guy to go to if you need answers or need to know how to get into dangerous places.   (much brighter) And he’s also the comic relief!  He can cushion the blow of an otherwise dramatic situation.

MS:  What attracted you to the project?
TMJ:  The sci-fi aspect definitely attracted me to the project.  I’m a big sci-fi buff so as soon as I saw the word “spacecraft” I just said “sign me up!”  (laughs)  I also love the comedic aspect within the drama.  I love drama and sci-fi so to be able to play a comedic role within that?  What a dream come true.  I definitely was on board.

MS:  You really do a little bit of everything.  You act, you sing, you dance.  Do you have a preference among your talents?  Is there a dream project out there?
TMJ:  I really don’t have a preference.  I’m very content with both acting and music.  A dream project would probably be….you know, “Glee” pretty much touched everything that I love to do so in a way I’ve already done the musical dream project.  As far as the acting side goes, it’s probably to be able to do a film with Will Smith.  Of course, that’s probably everybody’s dream!  (laughs)

MS:  I know one of your fellow “Warblers,” Darren Criss has appeared on Broadway (Criss took a break from “Glee” to star in the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”).  And desires to tread the boards?
TMJ:  Oh yeah.  I would love to be able to appear on Broadway one day.  I love the stage.  I love theater acting and I love musical theater.  That would be an honor.  I’ve thought about that before, but when I did that dream seemed so farfetched that I didn’t consider it for a while.  But now I think it would be amazing to one day jump into a great role.  I need to get a little older so I can jump into a good role in “The Lion King.”

MS:  As “Glee” prepares for its final season next year, do you know if there are any plans to have “the Warblers” return?
TMJ:  I definitely think so.  I haven’t heard much since I’ve been filming “Star-Crossed,” but I do keep in contact with a lot of the other guys and there is always hearsay about us coming back for a “competition” episode or some kind of dramatic moment.  Of course they never get confirmed.  But that’s the great thing about Ryan (Murphy, the creator of “Glee”).  He’s always willing to bring back fan favorites so I think there is a huge chance “the Warblers” will be back.

MS:  What else do you have coming up?
TMJ:  Other than waiting for “Star-Crossed” to air I’m going to dive back into music for awhile while we’re on our break.  I’ll be recording an EP down the road here so for me music is still doing well.

Rankin/Bass’ Arthur Rankin Jr. chats about his timeless Christmas specials

Arthur Rankin, Jr. is part of the duo team Rankin/Bass. He is a legend and does not need any introduction. Rankin/Bass created the timeless holiday specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, just to name a few. Media Mikes had a once in a lifetime chance to chat with Arthur about his work and how it has and will continue to entertain generation after generation. This interview originally was posted March 2012 but I wanted to revisit this post for the holiday season!

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Why do you think this special has become timeless after almost 50 years?
Arthur Rankin, Jr.: I really don’t have an answer to that. I think because it was the first special of its kind…I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television. And the word went out that this was a nice show, etc., etc, etc. and so next year it had a bigger audience. And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it. They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set. That’s been going on for all of these years. It’s a pattern. That’s why Disney keeps re-releasing it’s old pictures. Because there’s an audience. The theatre may have a child whose having his first experience with the film while his grandmother is having her fourth or fifth experience with it. And that’s what our audience consists of. It’s a memory of life. To many people, “Rudolph” means Christmas.

MG: Why did you choose to work with stop motion animation, which you refer to as “animagic,” as opposed to conventional animation?
AR: A trade delegation had come to America from Japan. There was one gentleman who represented the steel industry…another who was in textiles. And a third who represented their motion picture industry. The motion picture representative had a studio he wanted to promote. He asked a friend of his in Washington D.C. if he could be introduced to one of America’s foremost animators. And by mistake he was led to me (laughs). We got along very well. He had been born in the U.S. and after he graduated college he went back to Japan. We became close friends. He invited me to come over, look at his studios, and tell him what I thought. I did. I went over, toured the studios and saw an example of stop motion, which hadn’t been done in a long time and not in any great depth. I was very taken by it…I thought it was a new approach. Of course I got to re-design it but I used the technique. We started out making some short films and they turned out very well. I made a series that I syndicated about Pinocchio. And then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lit up his nose. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time and my neighbor down the block (Johnny Marks) had actually written the song. I called him up and told him that there was a character there that would make a nice Christmas show. He was reluctant to do it at the time – do you know what ASCAP is? (NOTE: ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It is through this group that songwriters earn their royalties). “Rudolph” was a very successful song at Christmas time and he was afraid to jeopardize that income by doing anything with the song. I finally convinced him that the show would promote the song more. I took my idea to General Electric and they sponsored it. They put it on NBC for the first time in a spot they had used for “The College Bowl” – Sunday afternoon at 4:00. (NOTE: “The General Electric College Bowl” could best be described as the collegiate version of “Jeopardy.” It ran on NBC from 1959-1970). Now normally no one is watching television on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 but they were that day…”Rudolph” earned the highest rating of the week. And the rest is, “let’s have some more of those!”

MG: Your next Christmas project was “Frosty the Snowman,” which took a more traditional animation route. Why not stop motion?
AR: Because the subject lent itself better to the medium. Besides, by then I had several other films in production at my studio in Japan. I had no more room! We were into doing a feature in stop motion.

MG: You created so many great specials over the years. One of my favorites is “The Year without a Santa Claus.” Can you share any fun stories from that production?
AR: There’s a man who wrote a book about the motion picture industry. He said, “Remember one thing…nobody knows anything!” (NOTE: The book Mr. Rankin is referring to is “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” written by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman. It is a must read for anyone curious about the inner workings of Hollywood). And it’s true. You never know when you’re going to have a hit. There was a time when you could put Barbra Streisand up against a curtain and have her sing and you’d have to lock the doors because she had so many fans. And then time goes on. It is true. In this business you take your best shot. That’s what I did. I rounded up all of the Christmas songs I thought could be made into a Christmas show…we acquired the rights to almost all of the ones that I wanted.

MG: In today’s world of television ratings are everything. Were these specials successful? Did any disappoint?
AR: All of them were successful in their original run. That’s why they’re still on the air today. Warner Brothers distributes them for me. All during the Christmas season they run my shows. And they pay for that (laughs). A penny here…a penny there.

MG: What has happened to the puppets, sets and props used in these productions?
AR: Well what happened is that after awhile those things wear out. They have wire armature inside…they have faces made out of plastic that has been carved. The clothes were made by little ladies but, just like people that work too hard, they fall apart. Of course we always had a couple of standbys waiting. I have here in my home Rudolph pulling Frosty on a sleigh.

MG: Besides time constraints, what was one of the most difficult aspects of creating these specials?
AR: When we did “Year Without a Santa Claus” we had to invent new characters. We had these two brothers, Heat Miser and Cold Miser. They just jumped off the screen and became cult figures. And we just came up with them one afternoon while designing the picture…”let’s do this…Mother Nature has two sons and they don’t get along…one’s in charge of heat…OK, put that in.” (laughs)

MG: How did creating your feature film, “Mad Monster Party,” compare versus working on the television specials?
AR: First off, it was the first time it had ever been done in a long time. Not since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein. And I thought I would be able to take so many more liberties with the stop motion process.
I concocted the idea and then got a couple of boys from “Mad” magazine (Harvey Kurtzman, who created the magazine, and Len Korobkin) to write it with me.

MG: “Mad Monster Party” was showcased in Rick Goldschmidt’s recent book “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” How did you come to work with him?
AR: He called me one day. He had gotten an introduction from some one. And he was very knowledgeable. I usually don’t encourage people to do these things. First off, I can’t figure out why the hell they’re so interested. (laughs) But Rick had an awful lot of details. He sent me an outline of what the book would be like. He lives outside Chicago and I flew up to meet him. One of the rooms in his house is like a shrine. He had everything…things I had thrown out years ago. Old storyboards….he still gives me things he’s found that I had forgotten ever existed. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to do the book. So I told him “o.k.” but told him not to do the story of Arthur and Jules (Bass). You do stories on the pictures (the various specials/films). You have photos to go along with them and you’ve got a portfolio. He did that and it worked. It’s a great record of our work over the years.

MG: Have you ever considered writing your own memoirs?
AR: I’ve considered it because it’s been suggested before. But if I did it I’d want it to be straight…a lot of my old friends are still alive and what I might say about them wouldn’t be…(laughs)

MG: I read that you attempted to re-create “Mad Monster Party” using computer generated effects. What ever happened to that?
AR: We did. We made a test and it looked good. I went around Hollywood to the studios to see if they wanted to do it. Two of the studios said yes. But I was given to secondary people to deal with and I had to leave. It was no good. A studio will take your work away from you and do it themselves. They’ll rewrite. When I acquired the rights to “The King and I,” that was a very difficult property to acquire. I had to convince the families of (Richard) Rogers and (Oscar) Hammerstein that I knew what I was talking about. And I did. I wrote a script and they liked it. I was going to make that picture with my own investment with a co-partner in Japan. We were all set to do it. Then Warner Brothers calls up. They say “you don’t have to pay for it…we’ll pay you to do it for us.” “For us” meant here comes fourteen people that think they can do it better then I do. I’m not very proud of that picture. They changed a lot of the script and I was embarrassed for the Rogers and Hammerstein estate. (NOTE: The 1999 film, which was co-produced by Mr. Rankin’s production company, was both a financial and critical failure. The estates of Rogers and Hammerstein have since refused to allow any of their shows to become animated features).

MG: This coming year there are no less than three stop motion films being released, including Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” Do you think this process will continue to inspire?
AR: You’d think there were a lot of people that could do stop motion but they just don’t exist. This is the tech age. Computer animation…those with a technical background find it much faster. Stop motion animation is a devilish job. I’ll tell you how we worked. We would have a figure…or a group of figures…on a stage in miniature. Each figure had a human person assigned to it. And the way you get it to work…the camera clicks off one frame…the human person goes up and changes the figure ever so slightly…microscopically. The camera clicks off another frame. The human person goes over and changes it again. If a character is lifting a glass to his lips, you may have as many as 250 “motions.” The human person didn’t have anything on a computer. He knew in his mind what he had to do. Just like as if he was an actor. And we’d have to finish the scene in one day. There was no taking a break or going home for dinner and coming back the next day. We would try to start a scene as early in the morning as possible because we knew we could be working late into the evening…all night if necessary if the scene wasn’t finished.

MG: Have you ever considered returning to the business to produce or direct again?
AR: Not this Christmas, but next, I’m going to do a play in Bermuda. Everyone asks me why I’m doing it in Bermuda. We have a wonderful theater here…the Town Hall Theater. It seats around 700 people. Much bigger then many of the off-Broadway theaters with great acoustics. And if I say I want to do a Christmas play they’ll throw open the doors for me. It’s wonderful to have such cooperation. And anybody who works on the play, both on and back stage, works for nothing. All box office proceeds go to whatever charity I choose. Everybody jumps in. It’s what keeps me kicking my heels!

MG: This interview wouldn’t be complete without asking if you have a favorite project and, if so, why?
AR: I don’t have a favorite. They’re all my children. I don’t want to sound self-serving but they have remained in the public’s hearts for decades. It’s like a great painting by van Gogh or Reubens. There work is still in the public eye…the public has recognized their work for centuries. Maybe the measure of success is longevity. Things that last must be better then things that don’t!

Rankin/Bass’ Arthur Rankin Jr. chats about his timeless Christmas specials

Arthur Rankin, Jr. is part of the duo team Rankin/Bass. He is a legend and does not need any introduction. Rankin/Bass created the timeless holiday specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, just to name a few. Media Mikes had a once in a lifetime chance to chat with Arthur about his work and how it has and will continue to entertain generation after generation. This interview originally was posted March 2012 but I wanted to revisit this post for the holiday season!

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Why do you think this special has become timeless after almost 50 years?
Arthur Rankin, Jr.: I really don’t have an answer to that. I think because it was the first special of its kind…I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television. And the word went out that this was a nice show, etc., etc, etc. and so next year it had a bigger audience. And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it. They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set. That’s been going on for all of these years. It’s a pattern. That’s why Disney keeps re-releasing it’s old pictures. Because there’s an audience. The theatre may have a child whose having his first experience with the film while his grandmother is having her fourth or fifth experience with it. And that’s what our audience consists of. It’s a memory of life. To many people, “Rudolph” means Christmas.

MG: Why did you choose to work with stop motion animation, which you refer to as “animagic,” as opposed to conventional animation?
AR: A trade delegation had come to America from Japan. There was one gentleman who represented the steel industry…another who was in textiles. And a third who represented their motion picture industry. The motion picture representative had a studio he wanted to promote. He asked a friend of his in Washington D.C. if he could be introduced to one of America’s foremost animators. And by mistake he was led to me (laughs). We got along very well. He had been born in the U.S. and after he graduated college he went back to Japan. We became close friends. He invited me to come over, look at his studios, and tell him what I thought. I did. I went over, toured the studios and saw an example of stop motion, which hadn’t been done in a long time and not in any great depth. I was very taken by it…I thought it was a new approach. Of course I got to re-design it but I used the technique. We started out making some short films and they turned out very well. I made a series that I syndicated about Pinocchio. And then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lit up his nose. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time and my neighbor down the block (Johnny Marks) had actually written the song. I called him up and told him that there was a character there that would make a nice Christmas show. He was reluctant to do it at the time – do you know what ASCAP is? (NOTE: ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It is through this group that songwriters earn their royalties). “Rudolph” was a very successful song at Christmas time and he was afraid to jeopardize that income by doing anything with the song. I finally convinced him that the show would promote the song more. I took my idea to General Electric and they sponsored it. They put it on NBC for the first time in a spot they had used for “The College Bowl” – Sunday afternoon at 4:00. (NOTE: “The General Electric College Bowl” could best be described as the collegiate version of “Jeopardy.” It ran on NBC from 1959-1970). Now normally no one is watching television on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 but they were that day…”Rudolph” earned the highest rating of the week. And the rest is, “let’s have some more of those!”

MG: Your next Christmas project was “Frosty the Snowman,” which took a more traditional animation route. Why not stop motion?
AR: Because the subject lent itself better to the medium. Besides, by then I had several other films in production at my studio in Japan. I had no more room! We were into doing a feature in stop motion.

MG: You created so many great specials over the years. One of my favorites is “The Year without a Santa Claus.” Can you share any fun stories from that production?
AR: There’s a man who wrote a book about the motion picture industry. He said, “Remember one thing…nobody knows anything!” (NOTE: The book Mr. Rankin is referring to is “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” written by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman. It is a must read for anyone curious about the inner workings of Hollywood). And it’s true. You never know when you’re going to have a hit. There was a time when you could put Barbra Streisand up against a curtain and have her sing and you’d have to lock the doors because she had so many fans. And then time goes on. It is true. In this business you take your best shot. That’s what I did. I rounded up all of the Christmas songs I thought could be made into a Christmas show…we acquired the rights to almost all of the ones that I wanted.

MG: In today’s world of television ratings are everything. Were these specials successful? Did any disappoint?
AR: All of them were successful in their original run. That’s why they’re still on the air today. Warner Brothers distributes them for me. All during the Christmas season they run my shows. And they pay for that (laughs). A penny here…a penny there.

MG: What has happened to the puppets, sets and props used in these productions?
AR: Well what happened is that after awhile those things wear out. They have wire armature inside…they have faces made out of plastic that has been carved. The clothes were made by little ladies but, just like people that work too hard, they fall apart. Of course we always had a couple of standbys waiting. I have here in my home Rudolph pulling Frosty on a sleigh.

MG: Besides time constraints, what was one of the most difficult aspects of creating these specials?
AR: When we did “Year Without a Santa Claus” we had to invent new characters. We had these two brothers, Heat Miser and Cold Miser. They just jumped off the screen and became cult figures. And we just came up with them one afternoon while designing the picture…”let’s do this…Mother Nature has two sons and they don’t get along…one’s in charge of heat…OK, put that in.” (laughs)

MG: How did creating your feature film, “Mad Monster Party,” compare versus working on the television specials?
AR: First off, it was the first time it had ever been done in a long time. Not since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein. And I thought I would be able to take so many more liberties with the stop motion process.
I concocted the idea and then got a couple of boys from “Mad” magazine (Harvey Kurtzman, who created the magazine, and Len Korobkin) to write it with me.

MG: “Mad Monster Party” was showcased in Rick Goldschmidt’s recent book “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” How did you come to work with him?
AR: He called me one day. He had gotten an introduction from some one. And he was very knowledgeable. I usually don’t encourage people to do these things. First off, I can’t figure out why the hell they’re so interested. (laughs) But Rick had an awful lot of details. He sent me an outline of what the book would be like. He lives outside Chicago and I flew up to meet him. One of the rooms in his house is like a shrine. He had everything…things I had thrown out years ago. Old storyboards….he still gives me things he’s found that I had forgotten ever existed. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to do the book. So I told him “o.k.” but told him not to do the story of Arthur and Jules (Bass). You do stories on the pictures (the various specials/films). You have photos to go along with them and you’ve got a portfolio. He did that and it worked. It’s a great record of our work over the years.

MG: Have you ever considered writing your own memoirs?
AR: I’ve considered it because it’s been suggested before. But if I did it I’d want it to be straight…a lot of my old friends are still alive and what I might say about them wouldn’t be…(laughs)

MG: I read that you attempted to re-create “Mad Monster Party” using computer generated effects. What ever happened to that?
AR: We did. We made a test and it looked good. I went around Hollywood to the studios to see if they wanted to do it. Two of the studios said yes. But I was given to secondary people to deal with and I had to leave. It was no good. A studio will take your work away from you and do it themselves. They’ll rewrite. When I acquired the rights to “The King and I,” that was a very difficult property to acquire. I had to convince the families of (Richard) Rogers and (Oscar) Hammerstein that I knew what I was talking about. And I did. I wrote a script and they liked it. I was going to make that picture with my own investment with a co-partner in Japan. We were all set to do it. Then Warner Brothers calls up. They say “you don’t have to pay for it…we’ll pay you to do it for us.” “For us” meant here comes fourteen people that think they can do it better then I do. I’m not very proud of that picture. They changed a lot of the script and I was embarrassed for the Rogers and Hammerstein estate. (NOTE: The 1999 film, which was co-produced by Mr. Rankin’s production company, was both a financial and critical failure. The estates of Rogers and Hammerstein have since refused to allow any of their shows to become animated features).

MG: This coming year there are no less than three stop motion films being released, including Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” Do you think this process will continue to inspire?
AR: You’d think there were a lot of people that could do stop motion but they just don’t exist. This is the tech age. Computer animation…those with a technical background find it much faster. Stop motion animation is a devilish job. I’ll tell you how we worked. We would have a figure…or a group of figures…on a stage in miniature. Each figure had a human person assigned to it. And the way you get it to work…the camera clicks off one frame…the human person goes up and changes the figure ever so slightly…microscopically. The camera clicks off another frame. The human person goes over and changes it again. If a character is lifting a glass to his lips, you may have as many as 250 “motions.” The human person didn’t have anything on a computer. He knew in his mind what he had to do. Just like as if he was an actor. And we’d have to finish the scene in one day. There was no taking a break or going home for dinner and coming back the next day. We would try to start a scene as early in the morning as possible because we knew we could be working late into the evening…all night if necessary if the scene wasn’t finished.

MG: Have you ever considered returning to the business to produce or direct again?
AR: Not this Christmas, but next, I’m going to do a play in Bermuda. Everyone asks me why I’m doing it in Bermuda. We have a wonderful theater here…the Town Hall Theater. It seats around 700 people. Much bigger then many of the off-Broadway theaters with great acoustics. And if I say I want to do a Christmas play they’ll throw open the doors for me. It’s wonderful to have such cooperation. And anybody who works on the play, both on and back stage, works for nothing. All box office proceeds go to whatever charity I choose. Everybody jumps in. It’s what keeps me kicking my heels!

MG: This interview wouldn’t be complete without asking if you have a favorite project and, if so, why?
AR: I don’t have a favorite. They’re all my children. I don’t want to sound self-serving but they have remained in the public’s hearts for decades. It’s like a great painting by van Gogh or Reubens. There work is still in the public eye…the public has recognized their work for centuries. Maybe the measure of success is longevity. Things that last must be better then things that don’t!

President of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc, James J. Sullos Jr. & Archivist Cathy Wilbanks talk about the film “John Carter”

James J. Sullos Jr. is the President of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Cathy Wilbanks is the Archivist of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. They took out some time to chat with Media Mikes to discuss Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel “A Princess of Mars” – the first novel in Burroughs’ Barsoom series and Disney’s film “John Carter”. Both James & Cathy also helped create the bonus feature on the “John Carter” Blu-ray called “100 Years In The Making.”

Mike Gencarelli: What`s the best part of working on Mr. Burroughs’s Legacy?
Jim Sullos: Mr. Burroughs wrote over 70 novels and 40 short stories. There is no end to the literary content that he created. I continually read material that has not been published for quite a few years and yet the storyline are still exciting. That why his legacy is never ending.
Cathy Wilbanks: I really enjoy working with the archives because every day is an opportunity to find treasures. The archives are filled with amazing artifacts from the past and I have the pleasure of discovering each and every one.

MG: What do you think Burroughs would have thought of this adaptation of “John Carter”?
JS: Burroughs would have been pleased that the movie accurately portrayed much of what was in his first novel “A Princess of Mars”. And he would have been amazed that current technology could finally do justice to his vivid imagination which was not possible until CGI was developed.

MG: What scene did you most enjoy in “John Carter”?
JS: It is very difficult to select just one scene that I most enjoyed because the whole movie was an incredible joy to see. Andrew Stanton was a genius in bringing visualization to the entire storyline that had never been seen before. As I watched the movie I could feel the passion he devoted to each segment of the film. Picking one scene would not be fair to so many successful portrayals of this timeless story.
CW: My favorite scene in the movie would have to be when John Carter saves Dejah during the marriage ceremony. My favorite character would have to be John Carter, but Woola is a close second!

MG: This big adaption of “John Carter” was 100 Years In The Making, what was the biggest challenge to get it right?
CW: The biggest challenge was finding an actor to portray Edgar Rice Burroughs. We were able to talk John Burroughs, ERB’s grandson, into taking on the part. When I saw the film for the first time, I was amazed to watch John interact in the background because he resembles ERB so much. It was like ERB was back with us again.

MG: How do you feel that the film “John Carter” interpreted the novel “A Princess of Mars?
JS: I think Andrew Stanton, the fabulous Director, who read all of the 11 Mars books as a youngster gave Dejah Thoris an added dimension as both a scientist and an accomplished fighter, greatly expanding her role with positive effects.

MG: What do you think makes the book “A Princess of Mars” so unique?
JS: At the time this book was written in 1911-1912, the scientific knowledge of planet Mars was limited and scientists had to guess as to the makeup of the surface of the planet. Mr. Burroughs novel gave a vivid description in detail of Mars that persisted for decades as the imaginary life that might exist on any planet in the universe.

MG: What were Burroughs’ sentiments toward filming his works in general?
CW: Edgar Rice Burroughs moved from Chicago to the San Fernando Valley in 1919 so he could be closer to the Hollywood scene. He was very excited and realized that he wanted to move in that direction. However, once filming started, he realized that he had to give up some of the control of how his characters were portrayed. Burroughs was mostly frustrated with the portrayal of Tarzan. He wanted his TARZAN to be portrayed as an intelligent, insightful heroand did not like the line “Me Tarzan, You Jane.”

MG: Can you give us some examples of the artifacts you worked with in the treasure trove of ERB material?
CW: The archives at Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. are filled with historical treasures. I have had the pleasure of holding in my hands many first edition books, a huge variety of comic books, toys, merchandise from around the world, movie props like a pterodactyl, and of course, original art. But some of the most meaningful artifacts include the handwritten TARZAN Of THE APES manuscript as well as the A PRINCESS OF MARS manuscript and personal letters signed by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself.

MG: Despite being a hundred years old, the characters of ‘John Carter’ and the Barsoom series are still relevant and don’t feel the least bit dated. Why do you think that is?
CW: Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the story focusing on human conditions such as love and conflict. He understood that to have a successful story, he must include factors that would have a wide appeal. The ‘John Carter’ character was developed with characteristics like humor, intelligence, emotion and strength. John Carter (Taylor Kitch) is very ‘relate-able’ which makes the story current in today’s world.

MG: We wouldn’t have Star Wars if it wasn’t for Princess of Mars, do you think pop culture gives Burroughs the credit he deserves for being such an influence?
CW: No, I don’t believe pop culture gives Edgar Rice Burroughs enough credit. He was a gifted, prolific writer and unfortunately has not been recognized for his contributions.

MG: Do you think there should be a sequel to John Carter movie? If you had to choose another adaption of Burroughs to be made into a feature, which would it be?
JS: I definitely think a sequel should follow. First, I would hope that the planned sequels will be produced because they will show the path that John Carter took to become the “Warlord of Mars”. There are 11 ‘Mars’ books that can be drawn on to create several more exciting movies. But in addition Mr. Burroughs wrote many other science fiction novels and particularly intriguing is the Venus series which portrays the hero Carson Napier who planned to fly his spaceship to Mars but miscalibrated and ended up on Venus to discover an unknown world.

MG: Will there other movies on the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs?
JS: At the present time Warner Bros. has in development a Tarzan live-action. And Constantin films will release its first Tarzan 3D animated film in 2013. We are currently in discussion with several producers who are looking at other Burroughs novels for potential new films.

Interview with the Legendary Arthur Rankin, Jr.

Arthur Rankin, Jr. is part of the duo team Rankin/Bass. He is a legend and does not need any introduction. Rankin/Bass created the timeless holiday specials “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, just to name a few. Media Mikes had a once in a lifetime chance to chat with Arthur about his work and how it has and will continue to entertain generation after generation.

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Why do you think this special has become timeless after almost 50 years?
Arthur Rankin, Jr.: I really don’t have an answer to that. I think because it was the first special of its kind…I think that, in looking for something to watch for Christmas, parents put their children in front of the television. And the word went out that this was a nice show, etc., etc, etc. and so next year it had a bigger audience. And as the audience grew, so did the children that watched it. They grew up to become mothers. And they grew up to become grandmothers! And they also put their children and grandchildren in front of the television set. That’s been going on for all of these years. It’s a pattern. That’s why Disney keeps re-releasing it’s old pictures. Because there’s an audience. The theatre may have a child whose having his first experience with the film while his grandmother is having her fourth or fifth experience with it. And that’s what our audience consists of. It’s a memory of life. To many people, “Rudolph” means Christmas.

MG: Why did you choose to work with stop motion animation, which you refer to as “animagic,” as opposed to conventional animation?
AR: A trade delegation had come to America from Japan. There was one gentleman who represented the steel industry…another who was in textiles. And a third who represented their motion picture industry. The motion picture representative had a studio he wanted to promote. He asked a friend of his in Washington D.C. if he could be introduced to one of America’s foremost animators. And by mistake he was led to me (laughs). We got along very well. He had been born in the U.S. and after he graduated college he went back to Japan. We became close friends. He invited me to come over, look at his studios, and tell him what I thought. I did. I went over, toured the studios and saw an example of stop motion, which hadn’t been done in a long time and not in any great depth. I was very taken by it…I thought it was a new approach. Of course I got to re-design it but I used the technique. We started out making some short films and they turned out very well. I made a series that I syndicated about Pinocchio. And then Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lit up his nose. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time and my neighbor down the block (Johnny Marks) had actually written the song. I called him up and told him that there was a character there that would make a nice Christmas show. He was reluctant to do it at the time – do you know what ASCAP is? (NOTE: ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It is through this group that songwriters earn their royalties). “Rudolph” was a very successful song at Christmas time and he was afraid to jeopardize that income by doing anything with the song. I finally convinced him that the show would promote the song more. I took my idea to General Electric and they sponsored it. They put it on NBC for the first time in a spot they had used for “The College Bowl” – Sunday afternoon at 4:00. (NOTE: “The General Electric College Bowl” could best be described as the collegiate version of “Jeopardy.” It ran on NBC from 1959-1970). Now normally no one is watching television on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 but they were that day…”Rudolph” earned the highest rating of the week. And the rest is, “let’s have some more of those!”

MG: Your next Christmas project was “Frosty the Snowman,” which took a more traditional animation route. Why not stop motion?
AR: Because the subject lent itself better to the medium. Besides, by then I had several other films in production at my studio in Japan. I had no more room! We were into doing a feature in stop motion.

MG: You created so many great specials over the years. One of my favorites is “The Year without a Santa Claus.” Can you share any fun stories from that production?
AR: There’s a man who wrote a book about the motion picture industry. He said, “Remember one thing…nobody knows anything!” (NOTE: The book Mr. Rankin is referring to is “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” written by Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman. It is a must read for anyone curious about the inner workings of Hollywood). And it’s true. You never know when you’re going to have a hit. There was a time when you could put Barbra Streisand up against a curtain and have her sing and you’d have to lock the doors because she had so many fans. And then time goes on. It is true. In this business you take your best shot. That’s what I did. I rounded up all of the Christmas songs I thought could be made into a Christmas show…we acquired the rights to almost all of the ones that I wanted.

MG: In today’s world of television ratings are everything. Were these specials successful? Did any disappoint?
AR: All of them were successful in their original run. That’s why they’re still on the air today. Warner Brothers distributes them for me. All during the Christmas season they run my shows. And they pay for that (laughs). A penny here…a penny there.

MG: What has happened to the puppets, sets and props used in these productions?
AR: Well what happened is that after awhile those things wear out. They have wire armature inside…they have faces made out of plastic that has been carved. The clothes were made by little ladies but, just like people that work too hard, they fall apart. Of course we always had a couple of standbys waiting. I have here in my home Rudolph pulling Frosty on a sleigh.

MG: Besides time constraints, what was one of the most difficult aspects of creating these specials?
AR: When we did “Year Without a Santa Claus” we had to invent new characters. We had these two brothers, Heat Miser and Cold Miser. They just jumped off the screen and became cult figures. And we just came up with them one afternoon while designing the picture…”let’s do this…Mother Nature has two sons and they don’t get along…one’s in charge of heat…OK, put that in.” (laughs)

MG: How did creating your feature film, “Mad Monster Party,” compare versus working on the television specials?
AR: First off, it was the first time it had ever been done in a long time. Not since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein. And I thought I would be able to take so many more liberties with the stop motion process.
I concocted the idea and then got a couple of boys from “Mad” magazine (Harvey Kurtzman, who created the magazine, and Len Korobkin) to write it with me.

MG: “Mad Monster Party” was showcased in Rick Goldschmidt’s recent book “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” How did you come to work with him?
AR: He called me one day. He had gotten an introduction from some one. And he was very knowledgeable. I usually don’t encourage people to do these things. First off, I can’t figure out why the hell they’re so interested. (laughs) But Rick had an awful lot of details. He sent me an outline of what the book would be like. He lives outside Chicago and I flew up to meet him. One of the rooms in his house is like a shrine. He had everything…things I had thrown out years ago. Old storyboards….he still gives me things he’s found that I had forgotten ever existed. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to do the book. So I told him “o.k.” but told him not to do the story of Arthur and Jules (Bass). You do stories on the pictures (the various specials/films). You have photos to go along with them and you’ve got a portfolio. He did that and it worked. It’s a great record of our work over the years.

MG: Have you ever considered writing your own memoirs?
AR: I’ve considered it because it’s been suggested before. But if I did it I’d want it to be straight…a lot of my old friends are still alive and what I might say about them wouldn’t be…(laughs)

MG: I read that you attempted to re-create “Mad Monster Party” using computer generated effects. What ever happened to that?
AR: We did. We made a test and it looked good. I went around Hollywood to the studios to see if they wanted to do it. Two of the studios said yes. But I was given to secondary people to deal with and I had to leave. It was no good. A studio will take your work away from you and do it themselves. They’ll rewrite. When I acquired the rights to “The King and I,” that was a very difficult property to acquire. I had to convince the families of (Richard) Rogers and (Oscar) Hammerstein that I knew what I was talking about. And I did. I wrote a script and they liked it. I was going to make that picture with my own investment with a co-partner in Japan. We were all set to do it. Then Warner Brothers calls up. They say “you don’t have to pay for it…we’ll pay you to do it for us.” “For us” meant here comes fourteen people that think they can do it better then I do. I’m not very proud of that picture. They changed a lot of the script and I was embarrassed for the Rogers and Hammerstein estate. (NOTE: The 1999 film, which was co-produced by Mr. Rankin’s production company, was both a financial and critical failure. The estates of Rogers and Hammerstein have since refused to allow any of their shows to become animated features).

MG: This coming year there are no less than three stop motion films being released, including Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” Do you think this process will continue to inspire?
AR: You’d think there were a lot of people that could do stop motion but they just don’t exist. This is the tech age. Computer animation…those with a technical background find it much faster. Stop motion animation is a devilish job. I’ll tell you how we worked. We would have a figure…or a group of figures…on a stage in miniature. Each figure had a human person assigned to it. And the way you get it to work…the camera clicks off one frame…the human person goes up and changes the figure ever so slightly…microscopically. The camera clicks off another frame. The human person goes over and changes it again. If a character is lifting a glass to his lips, you may have as many as 250 “motions.” The human person didn’t have anything on a computer. He knew in his mind what he had to do. Just like as if he was an actor. And we’d have to finish the scene in one day. There was no taking a break or going home for dinner and coming back the next day. We would try to start a scene as early in the morning as possible because we knew we could be working late into the evening…all night if necessary if the scene wasn’t finished.

MG: Have you ever considered returning to the business to produce or direct again?
AR: Not this Christmas, but next, I’m going to do a play in Bermuda. Everyone asks me why I’m doing it in Bermuda. We have a wonderful theater here…the Town Hall Theater. It seats around 700 people. Much bigger then many of the off-Broadway theaters with great acoustics. And if I say I want to do a Christmas play they’ll throw open the doors for me. It’s wonderful to have such cooperation. And anybody who works on the play, both on and back stage, works for nothing. All box office proceeds go to whatever charity I choose. Everybody jumps in. It’s what keeps me kicking my heels!

MG: This interview wouldn’t be complete without asking if you have a favorite project and, if so, why?
AR: I don’t have a favorite. They’re all my children. I don’t want to sound self-serving but they have remained in the public’s hearts for decades. It’s like a great painting by van Gogh or Reubens. There work is still in the public eye…the public has recognized their work for centuries. Maybe the measure of success is longevity. Things that last must be better then things that don’t!

Interview with Gil Cates Jr.

Gil Cates Jr. is the director of the film “Lucky”, which stars Colin Hanks and Ari Graynor. The film is set for release on July 15th. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Gil about working on the film and what he has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you come up with the idea for the film with Kent Sublette?
Gil Cates Jr.: Kent Sublette wrote the script. He and I came up with the idea many years ago. Kent is one of my good friends and he is a really talented writer. Kent is currently writing for “Saturday Night Live” and he is just really funny and has a great sense of dark humor. We were sitting around probably 10 years ago talking about movie ideas and he had this one about a serial killer that wins the lottery. I thought that was so interesting and I can actually remember the day we talked about it years back. We really spent the time coming up with the story around that and figuring out what was the best way to tell the story because it could go so many different ways. I had gone off to make my first film and in that time Kent had written the script and that’s how we came up with it. We had storied it out a bit with these characters and all of the different things that could happen.

MG: Did you find it difficult to balance the contents of the film being it’s a romantic comedy and a serial killer film?
GCJr.: It’s not something you normally see however people always liked the idea of a serial killer winning the lottery. The film is such a character driven piece that it’s not your mainstream romantic comedy or something that is an obvious sell, so it was definitely tricky. I think at the end of the day we used the script that Kent wrote. What we tried to do when I was making the film was to keep it a character piece and as real as possible.  No matter how silly a situation got or what happened between the characters, they were meant to be real people who were going through real issues. At the end of the day it is a real love story between two people except that one happens to be a serial killer who won the lottery and the other is a crazy small town girl that is an opportunist looking to move up. She ends up getting more than she bargained for.

MG: How did you end up with such a great cast?
GCJr.: Colin Hanks was the first person that went to when we knew we were going to be able to make the film. Colin is such a likeable person that I thought it would be interesting verses casting someone a little more malicious or who had an edge. Colin is just a naturally likeable guy. Colin and I read with a bunch of different actresses and there were some great people there but Ari Graynor was really right for this role. She was just great and understands comedy so well. The one thing Ari, Colin, Ann-Margaret and Jeffrey Tambor all have in common is they all at one time or another done theater work. Their understanding of the process and appreciation of the story is I think what everyone responded to. For Jeffrey this isn’t a typical role but I think he responded to the story and the role. The script and timing I think also helped with the cast.

MG: What do you think was the biggest challenge while making the film?
GCJr.: The biggest challenge working on the film I think was getting it made. We worked on trying to get the film made for years. We have done other projects while still pushing this one and nothing was more challenging than that! Once we got on the set with the actors just like any other projects there are moments of challenges that arise. But just getting the film made and having everyone on the same page with the type of story and tone was the hardest part.

MG: You shot the movie on actual film. Was there a reason you chose that over digital?
GCJr.: I think the question should be is there a reason anyone chooses digital over film? [Laughs] this is my fifth feature length film and all of those have been shot on 35mm film. I have done some other small things that were not done on film but in my opinion nothing is as great as film. Nothing is as true and rich. A lot of times I think people use digital instead of film because of cost. I haven’t met one person that has said that they could have shot on film but used digital because it was more beautiful. It tends to come down to money. I felt film was the best way to do this picture.

MG: Can you tell us about the planned Phase 4 release schedule for the film?
GC Jr.: Phase 4 Films is releasing the film in Los Angeles and New York on July 15th. It will open in two theaters in each market and the plan is to expand from there into other markets. It will be available on VOD as well. We are going to see how people respond to and then on from there.

MG: It will be available on VOD at launch on July 15th?
GCJr.: Some are. It varies buy provider as some are the day of and some are a few days later.

MG: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
GCJr.: I have a theme comedy called “Drunk Dial” that I think will be the next film I’m going to direct. I also have a few other projects that are in a few different stages of development. I have also been writing and we will see what happens.