The Miseducation of Cameron Post Red Carpet Interviews

Desiree Ahkavan’s new film, The Miseducation of Cameron Post hits theaters this week after both winning the Grand Jury prize for drama at Sundance Film Fest and screening at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. The film, an adaptation of Emily Danforth’s 2012 novel, stars Chloe Grace Moretz as Cameron Post, a high school girl who is caught making out with another girl on prom night. Cameron is subsequently sent to a religious gay “conversion therapy” camp called God’s Promise by her conservative American family. From there, Ahkavan’s touching and honest film follows Cameron as she encounters her fellow campers coping with their sexualities and the camp counselors (Jennifer Ehle and John Gallagher Jr.) who may have their own inner reservations about the work that they do. It is a challenging film for its young stars that’s deftly led by Moretz with support from Sasha Lane, and Forrest Goodluck.
I got to speak with some of this talented cast at their Tribeca red carpet premiere about how they came to be in the film and the message believers in these controversial camps could take away from Cameron’s story.

Tony winner John Gallagher Jr. plays Reverend Rick, himself a former camper turned youth counselor who outwardly is a God’s Promise “success” story but clearly deals with suppressing his true emotions.

Lauren Damon: Your character has so much going on under the surface, how did you work on playing him?

John Gallagher Jr: Yeah! A lot of it was just trusting the script and trusting Desiree. You know it was a very complicated role who’s living right on the edge of something. And I just really looked to [Desiree] to kind of be the leader and to be my guide throughout all of it. And to just try and kind of tell the truth as we had deemed it fit for the film.

LD: What was the most difficult part of working on this?

JGJ: I think, you know living on that edge…of like really preaching something that, I think you start seeing throughout the film, that the character may or may not actually even believe. And that kind of crisis of faith, and that doubt and that second guessing. And really like the guilt that comes with that…I think he’s a guy that really is struggling to do what he believes is the right thing. And I think that his awakening in the film is that he doesn’t know what the right thing is.

LD: I watched this in an admittedly liberal NYC screening room and I think the reactions to a lot of what happens in the camp was that it was ridiculous, but both in the film, and in these real places, it’s really not…

JGJ: It’s not. There is no spin on it, that is their earnest belief. And as I can’t even fathom having that kind of opinion on matters of sexuality, that’s a very real thing. And people do have those exact kind of beliefs.

LD: What would you tell someone with these kinds of beliefs if you could speak to them?

JGJ: Gosh. I would tell them to watch this film and think it over a second time, you know?

Quinn Shephard plays the small but crucial role of Coley Taylor, the girlfriend who Moretz’s Cameron is caught with before she is sent for conversion.

LD: Your role isn’t big in terms of screentime, but it’s so pivotal to the film, how was it to know that going in?

Quinn Shephard: It was great! I was very happy to be a part of the film in any way possible. I keep saying, I just wanted to be a part of the movie because I really believed in it. I think it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and I wanted to be in it. And I’m excited that I got to play this role.

LD: As in actress in this film, if you could get a message to people who believe these camps are effective, what would it be?

QS: Oh man. I think it’s like…I mean, look–Some people I think have a lot of fears and they justify things like conversion camps out of fears. But I think that if you come at something from a place of love, it’s impossible to justify. I think if you’re really someone who feels love in your heart and you challenge yourself to love someone who’s gay and imagine…putting that person through that and telling them that they’re not okay, I think it’s impossible to justify. I think people get caught up in their rhetoric and they get up in religious justification. But when it’s human and it’s in front of you, it’s very hard to agree with, you know? And I think that if somebody sits through this movie who believes in it, they’ll change their mind.

LD: How did you go about preparing for the intimate scenes between Coley and Cameron?

QS: I read the book, I read about my character…I’m somebody who’s very comfortable with who I am and it was just about creating a place in myself where I was very happy for what was happening, but at the same time very ashamed of it. I think that’s who [COLEY] is, she’s that duality and that was a difficult place for me to go. It was a very sad place. But it was something that was very important to her. There was a fragility to the relationship because she is not okay with it yet. And then I think as far as the actual intimacy of the scene, we just went into it was a sense of humor. And Desiree was very accommodating and she made us very comfortable and we had fun.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post opens in New York on August 3rd and expands to LA and other cities on August 10th.

Nothing More Guitarist Mark Vollelunga Talks About the Bands Recent Single “Just Say When”.

Mark Vollelunga is the guitarist for the Texas based rock band Nothing More. The group’s latest single “Just Say When” (which is a bit of a departure from the bands heavier style) recently rose to number 16 on the Billboard Charts for main stream rock songs. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Mark recently about the release, the bands current tour with Five Finger Death Punch and the bands plans for the remainder of 2018.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us some background on the band’s latest single “Just Say When”?

Mark Vollelunga: Personally I am really stoked and happy with how the song is doing. It is a bit of a different color for us. It’s nice to have something that is a little more bare bones and that is all about the lyrics and melody. The song really came about after having toured so much on our self titled release. Touring takes a strain on your personal life and it had started to cause some division for Johnny and myself. What I poured into the song was the idea of co-existing. Sometimes you use that spark or connection which can cause a point of staleness. It can be sad when you just co-exist with the love of your life. Not to be a complete dreamer and say that is completely realistic as we all go through dry spells. This song hits at that pinnacle point when you are not sure whether to hold on or let go.

AL: Was this song actually created while you were out on the road or was put together after you were back home and in the studio?

MV: It started when we were still on the road. I was listening to a lot more folk jam songs at the time and I came up with this start of the start and showed it to Johnny. We clicked on it right away and started putting melody to it pretty quickly. After that the song sat for awhile until we were jamming together one day. After that we finished it to the point of what you almost here now. When we were done we weren’t sure if the song really fit with the rest of what we had put together and it almost didn’t make the record. The song emotionally fit but sonically we just didn’t know if it was in the same vein. At the eleventh hour we thought it would be cool and different to include it and I am so glad we did.

AL: Being that this track was much different from your other material did you approach the initial writing process any differently?

MV: Writing for me is different every time. If I have a guitar part or lyric thing happening or Johnny has a wacky programming idea or interesting spiritual thought it all just depends. Other times it comes out us all sitting and jamming together. We try not to limit ourselves in any way. I think if you go through the same process every time things can get stale. Even though we are approaching the same thing we try to come at it from different angles in hopes of inspiring something neat and unique.

AL: At what point was the decision made to release this song as a single?

MV: Generally you try and go with a more emotional song on your second or third single. This song really appealed to everyone and the feedback we got from people was great. I think a lot of people have been at the point that the song talks about and they can relate to it.

AL: There is also a video for the song as well. Can you tell us a little about that?

MV: We got to do something different once again with this as well so it’s been another great experience. My wife recently got me interested in to contemporary/lyrical dance. She loves a lot of the dance shows which are on television right now. At first I thought they were kind of cheesy and I didn’t really get them but the more I watched them I learned to appreciate them. What I like is when the choreography matches with the emotion and mood of the song. That’s kind of what we tried to do with “Just Say When”. We some professional dancers come in and we made this great piece which is sort of out of our genre but we try to tie everything in through our lyrics. The others guys may have been a bit skeptical at first but after showing them some pieces that moved me and were very compelling they became interested in the whole thing.

AL: Can you tell us about the tour that the band is currently apart of?

MV: We are coming off of doing three festival shows with a bunch of different bands. We got to play with Stone Temple Pilots headlining one and Incubus headlining another. I hadn’t seen Stone Temple Pilots with their new singer yet and being able to do that was really cool. It was a trip down memory lane for sure. Currently we are out on the road with Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch. We have toured with both of these groups before and they are seasoned bands that have a lot of wise words they can pass on to us. We definitely try to be sponges when it comes to stuff like that. We will be going all over the United States from now until September. After that we will be doing this great self help festival that A Day to Remember puts on in Detroit. After that we go back to Europe for a run with Of Mice and Men and Bullet For My Valentine. To end the year we will be touring Canada with Three Days Grace. All these tours are going to a lot of fun.

AL: What is it like being able to play with such a diverse group of bands on all these different tours?

MV: It’s awesome! I love that we can cater to our audience. If you are a metal fan, a rock fan or just an alternative pop person I feel there is a lot in our music that touches on all of those genres and it can be appreciated. At the end of the day a good song is a good song. I feel our society puts too much importance on the style of songs and where it needs to be lumped into. If you think about bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin who had so many different genres of music within their own sound I am proud that we can do that as well.

AL: Was it difficult for you starting out being that you were trying to be very diverse?

MV: Absolutely! It was difficult. In 2011 I think we had our first label interest. We did some showcases and I remember hearing back from one label on my birthday that we weren’t left of center enough. We were just too much in the middle of the road for some people. To us it’s always been if the song is good then that’s what we go with. It has been hard to gain belief and understanding at times from the music industry because of that. Put us in front of any crowd though and we will win people over.

For more info on Nothing More visit www.nothingmore.net

An Interview with Music Legend Peter Asher

 

If I mention the name Peter Asher I’m going to guess that the first thing that comes to mind is his musical career as half of the popular 1960s British duo Peter and Gordon.  Teamed up with schoolmate Gordon Waller, Mr. Asher, who already had success as a child actor, placed 10 songs in the US TOP 40, including the #1 hit “World Without Love.”  Other hits include “I Go to Pieces,” “True Love Ways” and “Lady Godiva.”

Mr. Asher’s sister Jane, also an actress, had a boyfriend who was also a musician and even wrote “World Without Love” for Peter and Gordon to record.  His name was Paul McCartney and for a time Macca lived with the Ashers, sharing the second floor with Peter.

Peter Asher (r) and Gordon Waller

When Peter and Godon stopped recording in 1968, Mr. Asher became the head of A&R for the Beatles‘ record label, Apple.    It was here that he signed an unknown singer/songwriter named James Taylor, also agreeing to produce his first album.  Though the album was not a success, Mr. Asher believed in Taylor’s abilities so much that he quit his gig at Apple and moved to the United States, where he became Taylor’s manager.   For 15 years he would produce Taylor’s albums, including “Sweet Baby James,” “Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon” and “JT,” the latter helping him win the Producer of the Year Grammy Award in 1977.

In the early 1970s he took another young singer under his wing;  Linda Ronstadt, who would go on to sell over 30 million albums in her career.  While managing both Taylor and Ronstadt, Mr. Asher also produced classic albums for artists like Cher (“Cher,” ” Heart of the Stone”), Neil Diamond (“Lovescape,” “Up on the Roof: Songs from the Brill Building”) and soundtracks for such films as “The Land Before Time,” “The Mambo Kings” and “Armageddon.”  He also won two more Grammy Awards.  One was for Producer of the Year for Ronstadt’s “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind” album in 1989.  He also took home the award for producing the Best Comedy Album of 2002 – “Robin Williams: LIVE.”

These days you can catch Mr. Asher on Sirius Radio’s Beatle Channel, where he hosts a weekly show called “From Me to You.,” where he spins some of his favorite records (from the Fab Four and others) and shares some amazing stories from his almost six decade career in music.

I recently had the great honor of speaking with Mr. Asher about his career.

Mike Smith:  Most music fans remember you as half of the popular duo Peter and Gordon…

Peter Asher:  The old ones do. (laughs)

MS:  How did you two get together?

PA:  We met in school.  We both played the guitar together and sang.  Gordon was more of a rock and roll fan and I was more of a folkie.  I was singing Woody Guthrie songs while he was singing Eddie Cochran songs.  So we tried singing together to see what it sounded like.  It coincided that we were both huge fans of the Everly Brothers.  They were our original idols and that’s who we were trying to sound like.

MS:  You were an early champion of artists like James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt.  How do you know, as a producer, when you’ve found that rare talent?

PA:  I think you just do.  I mean, when I first heard James, everything about him was remarkable.  He had great songs, he was a terrific guitar player with a unique style all his own.  He combined a sort of folk style of guitar playing with some jazz chords.  An amazing combination.  And he was a great singer.  And the songs he sang to me, the ones he wrote, were just amazing.  I don’t know HOW you know.  You just kind of do.  It’s the same now.  When I hear somebody brand new.  I think it’s just an instinctive thing.  When they’re original and great and a pleasure to listen to.  “Who’s this?  What’s that?”  It’s great.

MS:  Some great music trivia is that both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt appear on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”  Did you have a hand in that?

PA:  i know Neil Young and I’m friends with his manager but I think that was just Neil asking James and Linda to come and sing.  They all knew each other.  I think James also played banjo on one cut.  (he did).

MS:  One thing I always took notice of growing up in the 70s is that the majority of Linda Ronstadt’s hits were covers of previous hit songs.  “That’ll Be the Day.”  “Blue Bayou.”  “Heatwave.”  Was that something that was intentional?

PA:  As a producer we look for great songs everywhere, and that includes songs that other people had done before as well as brand new songs.  And we did some of each.  But, yes, quite a few of them became cover versions.  People seemed to like them and they became hits.  We didn’t shy away from a song just because someone had already done it.  But basically we would look at all songs equally.  And if we found an amazing song that was brand new, something like “Heart Like a Wheel,” or a favorite song from out past, like a Buddy Holly song, we did it.  We look everywhere for great songs, old and new.

Mr. Asher still performs today.

MS:  You’ve also produced a few film soundtracks.  Are they easier to produce as opposed to a musical group’s album?

PA:  It’s very different.  I’ve produced some tracks for a soundtrack that Hans Zimmer has been working on.  Working with Hans is a particular pleasure because he’s brilliant.  But it’s very different then making a song with an artist.  In Hans’ case sometimes it’s a song that I will fit into a soundtrack.  I will work with Hans.  One time he was recording 12 drummers all at the same time.  I was there to just help the session go smoothly and that Hans got what he needed.  But you can’t guarantee which sessions (a soundtrack or a musical group) are going to be easy or hard.

MS:  You’re now hosting your own show on the Beatles channel.  As someone that has been in the business for as long as you have, can you explain their continual appeal?

PA:  Not in any way that adds anything new to the equation.  They’re just better than any other band, before or since.  That’s why.  It’s pathetically simple, I know.  But their songs are amazing.  Their singing is amazing.  Their playing is amazing.  What they came up with as a group was greater than the sum of its parts.  The answer to your question lies in listening to it.  If you listen you know not to turn away from that channel because you know the next song is going to be another song that you love.

MS:  You often mention on your show that you used to share the 2nd floor of your parent’s home with Paul McCartney.  Any housekeeping secrets you can share?  Did he make his bed every morning?

PA:  (laughing)  I don’t really remember.  Sadly, I have no intimate domestic details.

 

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“Cargo” Creators Discuss Their Australian Zombie Drama

The Australian-based zombie drama Cargo was released on cinemas down under this month and is currently streaming internationally on Netflix. It follows Andy (Martin Freeman, read his interview here) a father facing down a viral plague outbreak and journeying across the Australian wild to get his baby somewhere safe. Along the way he encounters both natural and human foes and joins forces with Thoomi (Simone Landers), a young indigenous girl who saw her own father taken by the virus. The film was based on a short that debuted at Australia’s Tropfest in 2013. I sat down with directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke as well as producer Kristina Ceyton (The Babadook) to discuss expanding their unique zombie take to a feature.

Lauren Damon: What made you approach a zombie film from this father-daughter angle?

Yolanda Ramke: I guess, I mean for us that really was sort of the heart of the short film— was this relationship between the father and the child. And I think we felt like with the response that the short got that that was the theme, like the vibe that was really resonating with people. So we knew that that was something that we wanted to hold on to in sort of a longer form story. And then it was just a case of you know, fleshing that out. And how do you expand that from a seven minute thing to a hundred minute thing? And then also yeah, how do you bring something kind of that you feel might at least have some element of freshness to it within that genre. For us, it was going Aussie and thinking about our culture.

LD: With such a populated genre, you know, “The Walking Dead” would have already been on a couple seasons when you made the short—do you watch other content out there or try to avoid it?

Ramke: Well I think when the short kind of came out, it was maybe the “Walking Dead” was in season 2?

Ben Howling: End of season two.

Ramke: So it was still sort of like at its zenith and it was—but yeah, we were keeping tabs definitely. I think it’s good to know what other projects are doing and just to make sure that you’re conscious of that. And pushing away from it where you can.

LD: Do any of you have small children that influenced this story at all?

Ramke: We don’t, no.
Howling:No. We have fathers though!
Ramke: We have parents!

LD: Parents who would combat zombies for you?

Ramke: [laughing] Yeah, exactly. That’s it. I think they would.

Kristina Ceyton: ‘Dad, can you carry me on your back?’
Howling: We’ve actually both got fathers who are kind of like engineers, mechanic engineer types, so I guess that kind—the ingenuity of that, we’d be fine—
Ramke: Yeah, I think we both think they probably could do something like that.

Cargo Directors Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke and producer, Kristina Ceyton

LD: Kristina, you also produced The Bababook which had that heavy mother-son theme front and center, was this project like a funny coincidence to go to a father-daughter?

Ceyton: It is. It’s funny, like initially I didn’t make that connection at all on that level because I just gravitated to the story and you know, was really moved by it. I think it is a genre movie that is surprisingly emotional and has a lot of deep layers about exactly the, you know, parent to child dynamic…but yeah, I suppose there’s parallels, but it’s a very different beast in this instance. I think it’s a lot less psychological and this is about survival and about transcending death. And I think what you would do, you know, the length you would go to to sacrifice yourself for love and family and also community on a more broader level. Yeah. I think it’s those things that really resonated.

LD: When expanding from short to feature, what was the decision making process like on how much more to reveal about the nature of this virus? Because the short was obviously very sparse on details.

Ramke: I think we were really interested in the idea of just throwing the audience in the middle of it. And just personally because we love films that do that. And that make the audience work a little bit to kind of put things together. And I think we just also felt within this genres, we’ve seen a lot of stories that were about finding the cure or that sort of thing and we just thought, ‘well that’s been done really well by other films.’ It just didn’t interest us to go there. I think we just thought, how can we carefully deal out bread crumbs and details for people to put the world together and work out what’s going on. And then just let them go on this journey with this father and this baby and this indigenous girl.

LD: Yeah, that indigenous element is very unique to this film, did you outreach to people in those communities to get their perspective?

Howling: Yeah, in script development, we brought a script consultant on, Jon Bell—who is an indigenous writer from back home and he was able to kind of walk us through. We had some ideas which we’d researched but then we’d discuss with him—‘is this feasible? Is this practical?’ Indigenous culture is very sensitive back home because you could never make a blanket statement like ‘everyone would behave like this.’ There’s all these micro-communities that have these different cultures and values and practices. So he was able to help us navigate those waters in terms of what would be the appropriate response. And then on top of that, just with his own experience. Talking about ways that you can use indigenous hunting techniques and things like that.

Ramke: And then from there, once we knew where we were shooting, which was South Australia, it was a case of conversing with local elders in those communities as well. Just to make sure that we were sort of tailoring things to that region. And giving them the script and making sure that they were comfortable with what was happening. Seeking formal permission to use language in the film. And just trying to basically approach it as respectfully as possible.

LD: How did you go about casting Thoomi?

Ramke: She was a find. Our casting director Nikki Barrett had put a call out. So that had gone to a load of very regional communities across Australia and we had kids filming themselves on their phones, having their parents like read the lines off camera in these very monotone voices. It was just super cute. And yeah, we got down to four girls who we did sort of a workshop with and we just felt like Simone from day one was sort of the standout. And yeah, she really killed it.

LD: How did you get in touch for casting Martin Freeman? Had he seen the short?

Ceyton: No he didn’t so we approached his agent. It was just basically the traditional way of approaching his agent and the initial response was ‘I don’t think that Martin likes genre films’ [laughs] But luckily he read the script and really loved it and fell in love also with the story of this dual kind of father-daughter relationship and survival. And I think for him, it was never really a ‘genre film.’ So luckily he was available at that time and just all the pieces fell into place.

LD: Did his casting change anything within the film seeing as he is basically THE whole film?

Ramke: It would have been just very small things. I think at the point that he had come on we were in the process of doing another draft anyway. So just subconsciously as a writer once you know who the actor is going to be and you’re familiar with their work, you can kind of hear their voice a little bit. So when you’re writing dialogue, there’s an element of writing it with that person in mind. But I think also once we knew that we were going to be casting a British actor, which is something we had hoped to do from quite an early on—that also informs some of the more thematic threads of the story, in terms of Australia’s colonial history. And that just absolutely put more meat on the bones I guess.

LD: Can you talk more about Australia’s past in terms of this story?

Ramke: Absolutely. Just in terms of Australia obviously being, a long way back, colonized by the British and there were a lot of ramifications that kind of linger. In terms of social issues and Australia has some work to do, I think, in terms of acknowledging that past. And you know, it hasn’t been handled in a way that some other nations like, I believe, Canada and New Zealand, where there are treaties with their indigenous people. It’s all been quite overlooked. So I think there is still a lot of collective pain that exists in indigenous Australia. And we just didn’t want to ignore that, I suppose. But we also didn’t want to get too preachy about it either. So it was something we could just let sit in the story, just by nature of being English and coming into contact with this indigenous—

LD: And him requiring their assistance.

Ramke: That’s right. That’s sort of like the reversal of the sort of historical context, I guess in a way.

LD: How did you go about developing the other Australians in the film? The human villains, who weren’t present in the short.

Howling: I think in early drafts we just explored a variety of like different antagonists. And then we just kind of blended them together into one kind of more fleshed-out three dimensional kind of person…It was nice to have somebody as a bit of a contrast to the indigenous response which was to go back to the land and traditional ways. And this is somebody who is very attached to western living and can’t let go of it. So it was just in terms of creating that, that split between the two of them and learning his motivation and fleshing it out from there.

LD: When you make a zombie-apocalypse film like this, do you find yourself considering what you would do in this worst-case scenario?

Ramke: Ohhhh…have you ever thought about what you’d actually do?
[laughter]
Howling: That makes you cocky…
Ramke: No, but I think ultimately it would always come back to family though. It would always be about ‘Are my family safe? How do I re-connect with my family?’ and make sure that we’re together if this was to go down.
Howling: But what if they’re already infected??
Ramke: [Gasps] Oh! Well I just can’t even deal with that idea, that would be heartbreaking.

LD: Your zombies are unique in that they’ve got a different design, this orange slime rather than regular blood and gore, what was the thought behind that?

Ramke: Yeah, we didn’t want to do the gory bloody thing. And I think that that just came from this approach that we tried to take to the whole film which was to just to try and keep it as sort of grounded as we could. And as subtle as we could. And that idea of that design aesthetic coming out of the natural environment. The idea that this sort of toxicity in the environment and that it sort of literally affecting the land and that is spreading to the people. So the influence for that was like tree sap was like a visual reference. That more organic kind of reference.

LD: Are you excited that this film with be hitting the Netflix audience?

Ramke: Yeah we are!

LD: Are you guys the Netflix binge-watch types, do you have favorites?

Howling: Yeah, definitely.
Ramke: I loved “The OA”. “The OA”, “Stranger Things”, I feel like there’s some other really great shows that I’m completely neglecting!
Howling: There’s really not much that I don’t binge on.
Ramke: Yeah, you’re a really good binge-er.
Howling: “Dark”, “Requiem”.
Ramke: “Requiem’s” cool, yeah.
Howling: Just recently, actually just the other day I smashed out “Lost in Space.”

LD: Do you have personal favorite zombie or horror films?

Ramke: Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie film, actually. But I think in terms of reference points for this film, oh my goodness, we were looking at more sci-fi stuff. So like Children of Men, District 9 and I guess The Road as well is sort of comparable.

Howling: And also Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” season one was out. That’s what really kind of like ignited us back into the zombie thing…he only did season one. That was like a six-part, it’s very different to the rest.

You can watch Cargo now on Netflix.

 

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Motograter Vocalist James Anthony Legion Talks About the Bands New Video For the Song”Daggers”

The heavy metal band Motograter are currently out on the road in support of their most recent release “Desolation” which was released early in 2017 and Media Mikes had the chance to speak with the bands singer James Anthony Legion about the tour, the bands current lineup and their most recent video for the track “Daggers”.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us some info the bands current tour and if you will be hitting new areas this time out?

James Anthony Legion: This is a short two week run that we set up to help break in some of our newer members. We will be hitting places like Seattle, Fresno, and Hollywood at the Viper Room which is place we really enjoy playing at. I don’t think we are hitting any new places this time around.

AL: Can you tell us about the bands new line up?

JAL: We have Aeon Cruz playing bass. She is the first ever female member of Motograter. Nuke had met her in Los Angeles and she is a really good bass player with a great look so we brought her in to the fold. We have never had a female in the band before and most of the time we are shirtless covered in body paint. Bringing a female into that situation obviously posed some issues (Laughs). We were able to figure something out and it looks really cool. We have also added Ryan Ramirez on drums. He is just a super sick player!

AL: With this being just a short run what are the bands plans after this leg wraps up?

JAL: We are trying to get a new album put together. In the mean time we are going out and doing a couple short tour runs here and there. We have another one set up with the guys from Terror Universal. That one will start after a festival show we have booked with Mushroomhead. We have a few other things in the works however we can’t announce those just yet.

AL: You just released a video for the song “Daggers” can you tell us about that?

JAL: That song is a real favorite of mine and one that I very much believe in. I think it has a great hook and the lyrics will speak to a lot of people. We are hoping this song will makes its way on to the radio much like “Dorian” did. We want to push this song the same way. It felt good having a song on the charts next to ones from bands like Korn and Stone Sour. With the look of the video we had ideas but Matt the director was really the guy behind that. We shot some stuff that in the end didn’t fit and we kept things to a pure performance type of video.

AL: Do you find it hard selecting one song to stand out above others you have a close relationship to?

JAL: For me it has a lot to do with the meaning behind the song and whether or not it strikes a chord with me. When I am writing I try to think about what is really on my mind and what is important. I try and transfer that to my lyrics. I feel if you are writing lyrics that mean something to you then chances are people will pick up on that and in turn they will mean something to them as well. If I feel I did a really good job getting my thoughts across and things are resonating then that’s a track that’s going to stand out.

AL: Where is the band currently in relation to the release of a new album?

JAL: We work in sort of a unique way. I am based in North Carolina while the majority of the band is in California. With me being a vocalist it’s a little easier for me as I don’t have to necessarily be there jamming on instruments. Nuke generally comes up with song ideas and then will send things over to me to add my stuff. He will then send something that is a little more finished and that’s when I add vocals. We have started working a little bit on things already but in between these two tours is when we plan to really start going.

For more info on Motograter you can visit their official website here.

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Sumo Cyco’s Skye “Sever” Sweetnam Talks About the Bands Current Tour and Plans For A New Album.

The Canadian hard rock group Sumo Cyco first burst onto the scene in 2011 with their debut release “Lost in Cyco City”. A short time later the band released their second full length “Opus Mar” and have been out on the road in support of that ever since. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with the groups lead singer Skye “Sever” Sweetnam about the group’s formation, her transition from pop to rock music and, the bands current tour with Nonpoint and The Butcher Babies

Adam Lawton: Can you give us a little background on the band an how you all came together?

Skye Sweetnam: Sumo Cyco is a four piece band based out of Hamilton, Ontario. I first met Matt who plays guitar in the band when I was fourteen. I was auditioning guitarists for my solo project and we started working together through that and from there we decided to start Sumo Cyco.

AL: Having come from a successful pop career what was that interested you about doing Sumo Cyco which is very much a rock orientated project?

SS: Matt was a big influence on that as he is always giving all sort of different music to check out. When I was younger I had the chance of being the opening act for Britney Spears and after getting off stage all my band mates would be blasting music like Metallica and Pantera. I soaked all that in and when changes started happening with my pop career and as I transitioned from a teenager to a young woman I felt I wanted to try something a little bit different. I really enjoyed working with Matt and felt like this type of project would be a good collaboration for us. From the outside it might look like a really drastic change but during my career as I pop singer I actually got to work with people like Tim Armstrong from Rancid, Mark Hoppus from Blink 182 and a bunch of other great people. For me it was more of a natural progression as I always loved rock and heavy music.

AL: The band has an impressive YouTube following and is putting out some very high quality pieces independently. Can you tell us about your process for that?

SS: I grew up watch B and C movies and it was always a goal to try and find the weirdest movie you could from one of those truck stop bargain bins. (Laughs) I have always loved film and the idea of being able to make a piece that went along with our music without be told from an outsider of how it should look or be. I love being able to come up with these ideas and add something visual to our music. I enjoy turning the music and videos into just one big project. This is another passion of our and we are self taught when it comes to all of it. We knew we could save a lot of money by doing things ourselves and with so much content being released each day this is a fun way for us to attract new fans.

AL: Is this something you see yourself doing more of?

SS: For sure! There have been talks of one day doing a film and there are just so many projects I want to do but right now the band is taking precedence. We have a lot of great opportunities and we are going with the flow of that. We will be expanding things as time go on.

AL: Can you tell us about the bands current tour with The Butcher Babies and Nonpoint?

SS: We first met the Butchers in the UK when we toured with them over there about two years ago. The same thing goes for how we first met Nonpoint. When our name came up for the tour they knew who we were and what we could bring. The tour has been great so far and a lot of fun so far and we still have a bunch of shows left as the tour runs through mid June.

AL: What are the bands plans after this tour wraps up?

SS: We have been working our album “Opus Mar” for about a year and a half now so we are looking to head back in to the studio to record some new material. We did release a single at the beginning of the year titled “Undefeated” but we are getting hungry to back in the studio and record some new material. We are always coming up with new ideas so I think that is our next step. We just started working with a new management and are putting together a lot of new stuff for the upcoming year.

For more info on Sumo Cyco you can visit their Official Facebook page here

 

Martin Freeman on Carrying Netflix’s CARGO

Martin Freeman was last seen on screen this year providing comic support to Wakandans in the blockbuster Marvel smash, Black Panther but this Friday on Netflix, he jumps to the forefront of a very different sci-fi landscape in Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo. This fantastic zombie plague story sees Freeman playing Andy, the father of adorable baby Rosie, who is unfortunately bitten by zombies and is racing against the clock to carry Rosie to safety across the Australian outback.

Cargo made its stateside premiere last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, after which I got to speak with Martin by phone about working in the horror genre, and of course what tech he’d like to lift from Shuri’s lab!

Lauren Damon: Before the Tribeca premiere had you seen the film?

Martin Freeman: I had, yeah. But only a long time ago on a laptop.

LD: I imagine it was more effective with other people around…

MF: [laughs] Yeah, it went down very well actually, yeah. It was very well received. It was late and people need not hang around for questions but they did. I think it seemed very positive, yeah.

LD: With the film going to Netflix next, are you excited? Are you a big Netflix user yourself?

MF: I am a frequent Netflix user, yes, very much so. I think when you make a film initially, you always envision it having a theatrical release. But maybe generations now don’t envision that. But my generation envisions a theatrical release and it’s gets that in Australia. The rest of [the world] is on Netfilx, that platform, and you think ‘ok, well fair enough.’ But then you actually think it’s more than fair enough because way more people are going to see it on Netflix eventually than would do in a theatrical setting. Just the accessibility of it, the ease with which you could see the amount of things you could see, yeah, I’m more than happy about it.

LD: With Cargo filming mainly being outdoors and with your character carrying the baby everywhere, what was the hardest part about shooting?

MF: Probably just getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. That was pretty challenging. Holding babies on my back was kind of alright. Sort of felt like free gym work, really.

LD: So you lost weight by shooting the film?

MF: I probably did. I probably did. I ate sort of reasonably healthily…but yeah I was constantly carrying a backpack.

LD: I assume there were multiple babies to rotate through?

MF: Yeah, two sets of twins. One pair of twins turned out, quite quickly, to be the more amenable pair. And the other pair was used more for in sort of wide shots.

LD: When you’re acting in an apocalyptic film or a zombie film, do you start thinking about the choices your character is making and whether you’d agree with Andy?

MF: Yeah, I think he did everything he could really. Part of what makes it relatable for me is that his actions seem very human.

LD: Do you think about if a zombie plague broke out what you—as Martin—would do?

MF: I haven’t thought about that a lot, no. No, not a lot. I don’t really fear zombies…but when the shit really hits the fan, whatever form that’s gonna come in…No, I guess like everybody else I’d panic [laughs]. Most people just hole up…

LD: Meanwhile, you’ve also just appeared in Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories. If you don’t fear zombies, what about ghosts and the supernatural?

MF: Not really. I mean I kind of…I’m open to belief in the supernatural if it can’t be empirically disproved or proved. But no, I haven’t ever seen a ghost. I’ve had, you know, the occasional spooky night. Once you hear something that goes bump or bang and you start making up your own narrative for it. And I’ve been rooted to the spot a few times on my stairs thinking ‘is that a ghost or is it a burglar?’ And fortunately it was neither.

LD: Do you have any favorite horror films or ghost stories?

MF: I don’t know if they count it as horror…The first one I saw as a young child was Psycho. So that was when I was about seven and that was—it really affected me a lot. That first experienced of being very very frightened.

LD: In some sequences of Ghost Stories you get to play sinister, which I’m not used to seeing you in that way, was it fun to go there?

MF: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I loved it. It’s just always nice to lean into another part of your personality and be able to perform in a different way. Because I think as the film goes on and what I’m doing goes on, it was allowed to get a little more heightened and theatrical. You don’t always, in front of the camera, get the license to be that theatrical and that slightly camp. Your job in front of the camera is usually to be very real and not do any acting at all. Or at least that’s the job I give myself. But to do something a little bit more arch—you know, he becomes a function of the story then, as opposed to a three dimensional character. He becomes the function of the story to do something to Professor Goodman he has to have an effect on [him]. And I really enjoyed, yeah, just having to fuck with Andy Nyman. That was really good fun, yeah.

LD: Between Ghost Stories and Cargo, you undergo some pretty heavy makeup prosthetics, is that fun to get more into it? Or something more challenging?

MF: It is a bit of both, really. It is fun, because I’ve not done loads of it so it’s still—it doesn’t feel too much like the day job for me. It isn’t boring yet to do prosthetics. But yeah, the challenges are just the time it takes and the relative discomfort of it. Just there is a layer between you and the outside world that you’re not used to. There’s a layer between you and the other actors that you’re not used to. I guess with Cargo it was meant to be uncomfortable. And as I say, where we were filming at that time was quite hot…

LD: Yeah and then I imagine being under a bunch of zombie makeup in the hot sun…

MF: Yeah, just getting eaten by mosquitoes and I didn’t get on very well with the contact lenses. I didn’t get on very well with those [laughs]

LD: It looked good!

MF: Good. Yeah, then it’s for a good cause.

LD: Between Cargo and Ghost Stories, which order did you shoot them in? Was it close together?

MF: They were quite close together actually. Yeah, I shot Cargo first and then about a month later I shot Ghost Stories. The month after I came back from Australia, I went up to northern England and shot Ghost Stories.

LD: So you were in like horror genre mode.

MF: Kind of yeah, it sort of worked out like that. And of course it, you know, as far as the actor’s concerned, that’s never The Plan. Because you very rarely have any plan at all other than, you know, be able to pay the rent. It’s just what comes to you that you respond to for whatever reason and I’ve got pretty poor taste in what I like—what I like as a viewer. And what I like doing as an artist….I guess there’s more genre around now than there was twenty years ago. There’s more genre around now. And I’m still from the old school of ‘hey it’s the story’. It has be as story that I like. That I would like to participate in totally regardless of genre. I never give a single second thought to genre.

LD: Speaking of being able to pay the rent—congratulations on being in Black Panther, only the highest US grossing movie ever right now, that’s pretty exciting!

MF: Yeah. Yeah, very exciting.

LD: I am just a giant Marvel nerd, so I’m also wondering, if you could have any of the tech from Shuri’s lab in real life, what would you pick?

MF: Hmmm. Well…anything involving the black sand so it could move around and make shit. If you can picture it, if you can envision it, then the black sand would make it to be like that, that would be very helpful.

LD: What would you use it for?

MF: I’m not sure. Probably just furniture. I like the idea of that. Furniture and shoes.

LD: Just have a nice chair to sit on when you need it…

MF: Yeah, exactly. [laughs] A very nice chair.

Cargo starts streaming on Netflix on Friday May 18th

Black Panther was just released on digital and blu-ray

The Damned’s Pinch talks about the bands latest release “Evil Spirits”

The Damned, easily the greatest surviving British punk band, bar none – are back with their first new album in a decade titled “Evil Spirits”. Where their peers either burnt out, or faded away into mediocrity The Damned continue to fire on all cylinders and breaking all the rules along the way. Media Mikes had the chance to talk with Pinch (Damned Drummer since 1999) about the new album, the bands recent video for “Look Left” and about the bands upcoming touring plans.

Adam Lawton: With a 10 year lapse between albums, what prompted the idea/creation to go ahead with a brand new full length release?

Pinch: It was the Pledge campaign, which after launch, was so successful we could see there was the demand for a new record that we all knew was there. To see that demand become real was very satisfying and we have to heartily thank our incredible fans for that. After our last (self funded) record, we knew we had to have Dave V fully on board with this one and he stepped up admirably, committing both musically and promotionally, whereas previously he had seemed somewhat reticent to launch himself fully into the project. The record really needed Dave’s touch and I’m happy that he dusted off the cobwebs and got songwriting again. His tunes and vision really drive “Evil Spirits” nicely and I think the mix of song styles by all contributing writers underlines the Damned’s ability to pleasantly surprise both fans and new listeners.

AL: How did the writing process go for “Evil Spirits”? Do you work separately from one another or collectively?

Pinch: It was a funny chess game leading up to this album. Captain seemed to be holding back his contributions, encouraging Dave to feel he had the freedom to create whatever took his fancy. It seemed at one point that everyone was too scared to offer up demos for fear of the wrong direction being taken. Thankfully, when push came to shove and we had a producer and studio time locked down, the songs were popping into the dropbox thick and fast. We ended up with at least a couple of records worth of songs from all writers, and it was decided to let someone else choose the final songs for “Evil Spirits”. I think the record works really well as a collection and perhaps some of the songs that didn’t make it would sound great together too, but as a band, sometimes you are too close to the art to make that call clearly. Captain likes to deliver fully finished demos, very well produced I may add, whereas the rest of us offer up a mostly completed song that benefits from all members adding their personalities. Sitting in a room together with a blank notepad is not the way any of us work best, as the years of pharmaceutical inspiration are thankfully long gone. However, working under the gun, with deadlines looming, seems to drag out inspiration by the bucket full.

AL: You recently released a video for “Look Left”, can you tell us about the story behind that and what made you choose that song for a video treatment?

Pinch: I had the bones of that song kicking around for a few years, hoping that it would eventually develop into something The Damned could use. The phrase- “while everybody’s looking left, what the hell is happening right?” seemed to really sum up where I could see the programming of humanity taking us. Whilst we are being distracted by some nonsensical celebrity twaddle, there would be a vote on a crucially important social issue that would sneak its way into law. Today’s media really have fine tuned the craft of distraction to the point of perfection. When perfectly true, well researched articles are labeled fake news to fit nefarious agendas, AND everybody swallows it, where does that leave the truth? Other than being just another opinion. Ultimately, whose opinion is right and whose is wrong are things we all currently have the liberty to discuss, but with increasing media censorship, I fear for our future ability to make any kind of disagreeable statement without some kind of social punishment. It was the label that chose “Look Left” as a single to have a video, and I really had to leave the interpretation to the video director, as these guys don’t like you stepping on their visions. Also, it was nice to see someone else’s take on my lyrics and sentiment. Ultimately, Radio declined to get on board with the song, stating some kind of half baked excuse about it not fitting the listenership they were “moving toward”. If the most commercial, hooky single the Damned have ever released can’t make a daytime radio playlist, with the album sitting at number 7 in the charts, you have to wonder if that age old Damned phobia hasn’t simply moved through the decades of radio producers and makes me ultimately think- Why Bother? Let’s just go back to the biff boom crash that the band are known for and screw any notion of radio success. Sad really but it’s an unfortunate reality.

AL: The band has a number of live performances booked starting in May. Can you tell us about the upcoming UK run, the few stops you have scheduled in the States and your plans for the remainder of the 2018 tour season?

Pinch: Due to the recording of the album being pushed back, we were kind of scrambling to lock in a good live touring plan. Only WE could release a record with ZERO live dates either side of release but, that is where we find ourselves. We head off to Europe next week starting in Germany and ending in France, by way of Switzerland, Italy and Holland. A short Arena tour of the UK with Hollywood Vampires is set for June, where Mr. Vanain and Mr. Depp can compare hair style notes and the benefits of a fine snifter no doubt. Then another short Pacific North West and Canada run in early July, including Burger Boogaloo in Oakland, which we are all excited to play. It sounds like a whacky thing that we would all enjoy, AND I get to see Devo the night before which is never a bad thing. October sees us embarking on another coast to coast U.S run, starting in Boston and ending in San Diego, before coming back to the UK for our traditional winter tour to wrap up the year. Hopefully we will debut some more songs from “Evil Spirits” at some point on these dates, it’s always good to see how they translate live.

AL: Each of you tends to have a number of projects going on at one time. Can you tell us about some of those and where we can keep up to date with everything?

Pinch: Not sure what the other guys have going on at the moment, but when I am not touring, I work a production gig in the United States that sees me working with a mind bending array of legendary artists that constantly makes me chuckle. Did I ever think I would be attending to the needs of Mr. Englebert Humperdinck when I was living in a punk squat in Grantham all those years ago? Well, anything can happen with an open mind, and often does. Think! It’s not illegal …..YET.

For more info on The Damned you can visit www.officialdamned.com

Interview with SUPERCON director Zak Knutson

 

Fans of Kevin Smith’s View Askew Universe may be quite familiar with Zak Knutson.  The co-writer and director of the new comedy “Supercon” worked for a decade for Smith, often producing and directing Smith’s independent video projects.  To honor his friend, he named Seth Rogen’s character “Zack” in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”  And his face will be familiar to anyone that saw “Clerks II.”  He was “the Sexy Stud,” the purveyor of “Inter-species Erotica” – better known as “the Donkey Show,” at the end of the film.

Promoting his first feature film as director, Zak took some time out to chat with me about being in charge and why Clancy Brown is actually a funny guy.

 

Mike Smith:  I’ve worked behind the scenes at enough conventions to know that you have too!  What was your inspiration to make “Supercon?”

Zak Knutson:  I worked for Kevin Smith for about 10 years so naturally I was exposed to the con culture.  And then I started going to them with my friend Dana Snyder, who does the voice of Master Shake on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,.”  I went with him down to Florida to the actual SUPERCON and I really got see all of the people and the different things going on.  I realized we hand’t seen a movie set in that place before.  In that kind of culture.

MS:  A brilliant stroke of genius in casting Clancy Brown as Adam King.  Most people wouldn’t think of him when doing a comedy.  How did you settle on him for the role?

ZK:  I have always been a huge fan of Clancy Brown, going all the way back to “Bad Boys.”

MS:  Viking!

ZK:  Exactly…Viking.  But if you notice, the one thing that Clancy does in almost every single one of his performances, even though they weren’t comedic, he was funny in them.   He would find that humility, that human side of the character, even if he was being the most evil of guys.  He could just have a delivery on a line that could be funny.  And I just thought, “this guy would be funny in a comedy.”  He knew when somebody else was being funny to sit back.    He just had everything.  I was so excited to be able to ask him.  And he said, ‘I’m not really a comedy guy,’ and I said, “but you are.  You are.”  And it worked out.  He is one of the best things in the movie.

 

Clancy Brown as Adam King in SUPERCON

MS:  The same with Malkovich?  How were you able to get him?

ZK:  Malkovich was a strange one.  He actually ended up getting a hold of a script.  I thought he was going to be Adam King, because he hadn’t been cast yet, or he was going to be Gil Bartell (the convention promoter, played in the film by Mike Epps).  But he had read Sid and he wanted to play Sid.  We got a call that said ‘John Malkovich wants to play a part.’  How do you say no?  So we went back and scaled the character down to his age, because it was originally written for a Stan Lee-95-year old kind of guy.  We scaled it down.  But the hair and the bow tie, those are all John.  He came ready to have a good time.

 

Zak Knutson, the “Sexy Stud” of CLERKS II

MS:  Any plans on showing the film at conventions?

ZK:  I think we’re going to take it to Florida in July, to the actual SUPERCON.  Clancy’s coming with me.  We’re all going down for a big SUPERCON to-do.

MS:  What do you have coming up next?

ZK:  Next up is a documentary that we’re getting ready to announce that is pretty awesome.  And I sold a script to a couple of people and it looks like later on this summer we’ll be able to shoot it.  Time is going to tell with the money on that one.  But next up is the doc.

MS:  On the script you sold, will you be attached as director?

ZK:  Yes, I am.  But again, it’s kind of all up in the air right now.

Dean Devlin talks about directing David Tennant in “Bad Samaritan”

Dean Devlin went from starting out chauffeuring for Al Pacino in the early 80’s to writing/producing some one of the biggest films including “Stargate”, “Independence Day” and “Godzilla (1998)”.  Dean stepped into the director’s chair for the first time last year with the big-budget “Geostorm”. He is back again directing and producing a new film starring David Tennant and Robert Sheehan called “Bad Samaritan”. We had a chance to chat with Dean about this new movie and how was it shifting in scale from big studio to independent.

Mike Gencarelli: “Bad Samaritan” has been in development since at least 2013, can you tell us how about you became involved with it?

Dean Devlin: What happened is, back then I got a call from writer Brandon Boyce, who I have been a fan of since “Apt Pupil” and “Wicker Park”, and he said he just finished a new script but before he sent it out to the world he asked if I would make some notes. I read the script and I only had one note for him…and that was not to show it to anyone else because I was going to make this movie. I was in love with it and bought it immediately. Right after, I went on did two other projects, so I had to wait till I was done with those to get back to it, but I was desperate to make the picture from the moment I read the script.

MG: You directed, produced and wrote “Geostorm” and with “Bad Samaritan”, you produced and directed; how was your experience differ between the two?

DD: Well, the experiences were night and day. The difference is doing a movie in a studio or independently. All of my best work has been from projects where it was independent or we had the creative freedom we needed. This was night and day, the best experience that I have ever had making a picture.

MG: Yeah I would agree, the scale is very different; what was your biggest challenge on this film?

DD: It is so out of what I have ever done before. I have never done this dark tone before. For me it was top to bottom, I had to rethink everything I would do like framing a shot for example or approach music. It was a terrifying task to take on but at the same time, it was thrilling. I have an amazing team of people. We spent a lot of time doing our homework and making sure the thrill and tone were set effectively. It was so exciting to do.

MG: How did David Tennant and Robert Sheehan come on board?

DD: Again, because this was an independent movie I didn’t need anybody’s permission to cast the film. If you do a studio film, that the process can be ridiculous. This was the case were I could just cast simply best actors we could get. My dream cast was to get Robert Sheehan and David Tennant in these roles. I felt like so blessed when they both said “yes”, because I really didn’t have a second choice for either part [laughs]. You get somebody in your head and it’s really hard to rethink it. When I did “Independence Day”, we wrote that part for Jeff Goldblum. If he had said “no”, we would have had to rethink the entire part.

MG: Tell me one film that is your “go-to” film to watch? …for me it’s “The Shining”.

DD: It really depends. I would have to say there are three and if they are on television I can’t turn them off. It doesn’t matter if I catch one scene…the first is “Enter the Dragon”. Another is “Tombstone”. I have to at least stay on until he says “I’m your Huckleberry” [laughs]. The last one has to be “E.T”. Those films are the ones that I can’t get enough of.

MG: What would be a dream project for you to direct?

DD: Listen, I have been so blessed in my life that once I have a dream project in mind, it becomes my next film. I approach this whole business like a fan. I never try and figure out what is going to be a success, I think that is a mistake. For me, it is like a fan boy, what do I want to see? And if no one else is making it then I try and go make it. I have been blessed from being able to make “Independence Day” and that I got the script of “Bad Samaritan” from Brandon Boyce. Each time out has been a dream come true.

MG: I am impressed to see that an independent film like this is getting a decent theatrical release.

DD: Well you know, the new Avengers saw that we were on their date…and they knew…they knew they needed to get out of our way. Run Avengers! [laughs]. I am going to throw this out for your readers: What is the thing that is in both in the new “Avengers” and “Bad Samaritan”? Let us see if readers can figure this out. (Leave comment below!)

All Photo Credit: Courtesy of Electric Entertainment

Interview with Comedian Sandy Bernstein

 

I’ve known Sandy Bernstein for over three decades.  We met at a backyard party her boyfriend at the time was holding in the fall of 1984.  She was cute, friendly…and funny.  I’m happy to say that 34 years later she hasn’t changed.

At age 50, she threw her hat in the ring of stand-up comedy and is quickly climbing the ladder of funny.  She recently achieved her dream of performing before a packed house on the main stage of the Washington D.C. IMPROV and she killed!

Sandy recently took time out from her schedule to chat about her career.

 

Mike Smith:   What made you pursue comedy at this stage of your life?

Sandy Bernstein:   Interesting story behind how I decided to get into comedy. I was 53 years old, and had never even considered it. There was no way I thought I could do it, so it wasn’t even an option.

I am a writer/editor in the marketing department of University of Maryland University College. My team handles internal clients, like Human Resources and Diversity Initiatives. In summer 2014, HR decided they wanted to do a talent show and needed my team to promote it. I attend all the kickoff meetings with my boss, and at this meeting, I made a wise crack: “I have the perfect headline. ‘Who Wants to Commit Career Hari Kari?'” One of the organizers of the talent show said, “That’s it, I’m signing you up to do stand-up!” I started to object, and my boss said, “Sandy, you need a stretch project for your performance review.” I said, “Fine, when I go down in flames, you’re going to have to be the one to write the Performance Improvement Plan.” So I guess you could say I did it on a dare.

There were difficult things going on in my life at that time. My boyfriend (now husband) was undergoing chemo and radiation for Stage 3 colorectal cancer, and my mother was in a nursing home, dying from Alzheimer’s Disease, so I was having a lousy year. I figured this would either be a welcome distraction or the cherry on top of my shit sandwich. In any event, I figured, WTF.  I was looking at it as a one-shot deal. You know, one and done.

I was terrified. But having worked there for seven years, I had a lot of material. I put together a PowerPoint to run in the background. The first slide was my head on Mylee Cyrus’s body, because I had a joke about twerking at the talent show. I figured if that didn’t get them laughing, nothing would. So I practiced relentlessly for several weeks. My poor husband had to hear it over and over again. He said he preferred chemo.

So the day of the show came, and the second I stepped on stage, before I even said a word, people were laughing hysterically, because they had already put up the Mylee Cyrus slide. I probably had one of the best sets of my life, and I’ve been chasing that pink cloud ever since. Now I know how junkies feel. Before I even left the stage, I was thinking about where I was going to get my next fix. People were coming up to me afterwards asking me how many years I’d been doing it. I was blown away. I actually have a video of that set, along with talent shows from subsequent years, on my website, www.sandybernsteincomedy.com.

The rest is history, but it took me a while to get going. My mother passed away in November of that year, and my husband had finished his treatments and surgeries. (BTW, he has been cancer-free for four years now.) So in January 2015, I took a course at the DC Improv called “Five Minutes to Funny,” taught by Chris Coccia. It was on five or six consecutive Sundays, culminating in a graduation show on the main stage of the Improv. Chris had done a great job with us, and we all ripped the room. From there I started doing open mics once every week or so, and some showcases for new comics. I had heard that you needed to go up at least three times/week if you wanted to progress, but with a full-time job, I couldn’t even fathom doing that. But by that summer, I felt kind of stuck. There were some comics who seemed to be making remarkable progress, and one of them turned me on to The Fat Doctor. He was one of only four comics to make Richard Pryor’s top four comedians list. After dealing with some health issues, he focused on training other comics. He has taught, mentored, wrote for, and/or influenced comedians such as Martin Lawrence, Patton Oswald, Tommy Davidson, Wanda Sykes, and Dave Chappell,  just to name a few.  I have been studying with him via Skype sessions since September 2015. In January 2016, I resolved to get on stage at least twice a week. I figured out how to make it work while working full time. I ended up getting out a minimum of three times a week, sometimes more, and only then did I feel like I was starting to make progress.

 

MS:  With some of the comedians out there today, your comedy could almost be called “tame.”  Was that a decision going in or did you just find that it suits your style better?

SB:  Tame is in the eye of the beholder. I just did a Jewish-themed comedy show where I kept it PG-13, but my references to sex and body parts did not go over so well. Even though my stuff could probably fly on late-night TV, it definitely isn’t tame enough for many clean comedy shows. I’m actually trying to work cleaner!

MS:  First joke you ever told – not on stage but in your life?

SB:  I’m afraid I don’t remember. I was very shy as a kid. I have an older brother, and he was the one to make all the jokes growing up. He’s my biggest fan.

MS;  First time you told a joke on stage and nailed it?

SB:  From our work talent show –  “Apparently, twerking is frowned upon in this organization.”

For Sandy’s appearance schedule, check out her website, www.sandybernsteincomedy.com

To check out Sandy’s performance at the Washington D.C. Improv, click HERE

Interview with Comedian Eric Schwartz

You may have seen comedian Eric Schwartz in one of his many appearances on Showtime, “The Tonight Show,” BET or his HULU special “Surrender to the Blender.”  If you haven’t, get over to YouTube because you’re missing one funny man.

Schwartz is currently embarking on his “Release the Sounds” tour (he is in Kansas City on Tuesday, April 17th) but found time to answer some questions between gigs.

 

Mike Smith:  Who in the hell is the OTHER Eric Schwartz and how did he beat you to EricSchwartz.com?  He isn’t near as funny as you are.
Eric Schwartz:  THANK YOU FOR ASKING THIS QUESTION AND STARTING IT WITH “WHO IN THE HELL…”

Most people don’t realize we’re two completely different people. Yes, two different people, who happen to have the same name, and who happen to both do comedy and music. It’s beyond frustrating–it’s infuriating!  But, I have to admit, “the other Eric Schwartz” is a supremely talented musician and brilliant writer.  It’s hard to be mad at the guy when his only crime is not changing the name his parents gave him. At least he’s not out there bringing shame to the name. By the way, I’m pretty sure he calls me, “the other Eric Schwartz,” too.

To make things even more interesting, we actually know each other.  He moved from the East Coast to two blocks from me in L.A. We’ve actually shown up to the same gig before after the booker tagged  us both on Facebook.  He once dated someone I knew and she would sometimes accidentally call me all sultry like, “Baby…did you see the moooon tonight?”  I was like, “Yeah, Suzanne. But I’m not taking my clothes off like the last time we talked.”
And yes, one of my biggest career regrets was not grabbing EricSchwartz.com when I was building my first website in 1999.  For some reason, I chose “SuburbanHomeboy.com,” which now forwards to my current site, EricSchwartzLive.com.
MS:   How did you get into comedy?
ES:  I got hooked on Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Robin Williams and SNL as a kid. I would do their bits and characters to my friends at school.  Everyone already thought of me as a comedian at that point, but I knew I had to start writing material.  I was also a DJ, which is where the musical element came in. In college, I put on my own comedy shows in the dorms mixing comedy and music and somehow didn’t get kicked out.
MS:  When do you know a joke is working? Or isn’t?
ES:  Unless my ears take the night off, I can tell right away.  The cool thing about a live show is the audience will let you know if it’s working or not.
MS:  Do you have a good “I put that heckler in his place” story?
ES:  Most hecklers are actually having a good time and want to participate. They just go a bit overboard on their approach.  But if you ever encounter a mean-spirited heckler, here’s something you can do. Make peace by offering them a free CD.  When they thank you, shout, “SEE DEEZ NUTS!”
MS:   Besides your tour, what else are you working on.
ES:  The “Release The Sounds” Tour is in support of the audio from my first hour special, “Surrender to the Blender” being re-released to Sirius-XM, as well as digital platforms like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. I’m also working on shooting my second special this year.
For upcoming tour dates or to hear some of Eric’s work, click HERE

 

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Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf Talks About The Bands New Album “Mind Fucker”

Dave Wyndorf is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the rock group Monster Magnet. The groups latest album (Their first in five years) titled “Mind Fucker” was released on March 23rd and Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Dave recently about the albums creation, its first single “I Am God” and about the groups upcoming European tour run.

Adam Lawton: It has been five years since the bands last release “Last Patrol”. Can you tell what has been going on with the band during that time and what led to the release of the new album?

Dave Wyndorf: The band tours every year predominately around Europe and the world as that’s where rock really lives. I only tour here in the states every couple of years as rock music is sort of dead here so we have to sort of wait it out. We have been in the studio quite a bit as we were re-imagining/recording two records making them sound-scapes that would allow for psychedelic, alternative listening experiences. Things never really stop we just sort of take a left or right turn down a rabbit hole and then pop up in public whenever it suits us.

AL: Can you tell us about some of the work that went into the new album and also maybe about the catchy title?

DW: I wanted to make something along the lines of a punk rock record. I wanted it to have that spirit while being this sort of proto-punk, straight ahead rock record. At the time I was doing a lot of long form psychedelia and I wanted to put this album out quick. I was kind of going from the hip and wrote this album in about three weeks. The idea was for it to be a sex, drugs and rock and roll album then the whole political and information melt down that happened from 2016 to 2018 started creeping its way into the lyrics. During the writing I had started calling the album “Mind Fucker” and thought it was the perfect title for album being released in 2018. It was really supposed to be an “I want to drive my camaro of a cliff just for fun” type of record but then the blending of all these things happened and it sort of morphed into a weird mixture of the two.

AL: Was it hard for you to transition back into writing more straight forward material as opposed to the long form material you were currently working on at that time?

DW: It wasn’t hard to dream it up but I did have to re-calibrate myself as to what I wanted as I wrote. It was a challenge. The thing with the long form sound-scape material is you are creating this place for people to be in for awhile. You take your time getting there. With the type of record “Mind Fucker” is it’s much quicker and goes right to the point.

AL: At what point do the other members of the band come into the writing/recording process?

DW: I start out by writing everything to a click track. I will arrange it the best possible way I can with melody, guitar and bass. From there I will take it to the drummer and come up with a proper arrangement. We get the meat of how things are going to go together and then we bring in the rest of the guys. I give them an idea of what each song is about and then they take things from there. I write with everyone in mind so that when the time comes the material is right in their wheelhouse.

AL: What can you tell us about the album’s first single “I Am God”?

DW: “I Am God” is just a way for me to yell at people without saying it’s me. (Laughs) I wanted to write a song about god yelling at people as it was apropos with the time. I figured this song would hit someone out there. It’s an easy song to remember and who doesn’t want to scream “I Am God” while riding down the highway? It was written with a sense of humor involved. Being the song is so blunt it just had to be released as a single.

AL: The band performed a couple shows here in the NY area recently and you are now set to tour Europe can you tell us about that run of shows?

DW: We kicked things off with a few shows in the New York area to celebrate the release of the album and, we will be announcing a whole North American tour here in the next few weeks. However, first we will be heading over to Europe for around a month and a half. During that time we will be looking for more opportunities during the summer in possibly Australia and/or South America. We are always trying to hit new places so we will just have to wait and see. I would really like to make it into China.

AL: Being a guy who is always busy do you have anything else you are currently working on right now?

DW: Right now I am really trying to sell the new album as hard as I can. Once I get back from Europe I will be diving in to writing and seeing where that goes. I try to focus on one thing at a time so I can get the most experience out of it and then when I am totally exhausted I sit down and think back on what I learned during that time. I just live life and then write about life. That’s where the music and lyrics come from for me.

For more info on Monster Magnet you can visit their official facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/monstermagnet/

Film Interview: Director Susan Walter talks about her debut feature, “All I Wish”

 

After almost three decades working behind the scenes on other people’s films, Susan Walter has finally gotten to sit in the big chair.  As writer and director of the new film “All I Wish,” she called the shots and achieved a dream.

 

While promoting the film, which is now in theatres and also available on Video on Demand, she took time out to talk with me about finally being in charge.

 

Mike Smith:  Please tell me that Tony Goldwyn isn’t really that bad of a singer. (NOTE:  In the film, Goldwyn tries his hand at karaoke, much to the chagrin of anyone in earshot.)

 

Susan Walter:  (laughs) Tony Goldwyn is a brilliant singer!  The first time I talked to him about that scene, he said to me “you know I can sing, right?”  He wanted everyone to know that he could sing.

 

MS:  Where did you get the idea for the film?

 

SW:  I’m a huge fan of “When Harry Met Sally.”  It’s one of my favorite films of any genre’.  And what I love about it is that it takes these two characters and looks at how the spend time together over a long period of time.  So I thought what would happen if I showed characters that not only got to know each other but got to know themselves over a long period of time.  And I picked each period beginning on a birthday because your birthday is a time when you look at your life.  The stakes are super high on your birthday.

 

MS:  Most people, when they think of romantic comedy, don’t readily think of Sharon Stone, who is more known for tougher roles.  What made you cast her?

 

SW:  Sharon cast herself.  (laughs)  Literally.  She got the script originally when it was written for her character to be in her 20s, and I wanted somebody tough and vibrant to play the mother.  I sent her the script and offered her the mother and she called me and said, “I’m not playing the mother…I’m playing the lead!”  And I got chills all over my body because I knew that she was right.  She felt really connected to the character and she really spoke passionately about why she had to do it.  So that’s the version of the movie that got made.

 

MS:  Which also became a bonus because you got to work with Ellen Burstyn.

 

SW:  We were so lucky that Ellen responded so well to the script.  Sharon was so passionate about having her and when we sent it to her she responded right away.  Though Ellen’s character appears tough as nails in the film she also has a vulnerability that you can feel.  You can feel the love that she has for her daughter and it was something beautiful for me to watch.

 

MS:  You’ve spent decades working behind the scenes until you finally got the opportunity to direct a feature.  Was the experience everything you thought it would be?

 

SW:  I have to tell you, I was totally nervous into the lead-up of the movie.  I was worried.  Could I do the job?  Did I have the energy?  It takes an incredible amount of stamina to direct a feature film.  You’re on your feet all day and you need every corner of your brain to do the job.  I got so much incredible support from my cast, especially Sharon.  They made it effortless.  It was like being weightless.  I entrusted them with their characters.  I was just there as a sounding board if they had a question about a line or a moment.  The experience of directing was almost effortless.

 

MS:  You’ve worked with several name directors in the past, including the late Garry Marshall.  Did you learn anything from them that you used on your set?

 

SW:  The one thing I learned from Garry in regards to actors is to just let them play.  Make them feel safe and let them play.  And when they had an idea, it was always “yes.”  He may not have agreed with it, but he would always say, “let’s try it.”  That was the way he worked and I think some of it rubbed off on me.  I said “yes” a lot to my actors.  We played a lot.  And I think you can feel how free they felt when you watched the film.

 

MS:  What are you working on next?

 

SW:  I wrote a movie with a friend of mine who is an actress and an extremely hilarious human being.  It’s an “R” rated ensemble comedy that we’re putting together now.  Hopefully we can start it soon.  I hope it doesn’t take another fourteen years.

Actor Jimmy Bellinger Talks About His Role In The Film “Blockers”

Jimmy Bellinger is an actor who has appeared in a variety of commercials, films and, television series including “The Middle” and “Parks and Recreation”. In the newly released film “Blockers” starring Leslie Mann and John Cena, Jimmy plays the role of Chad a nerdy yet confident high school student. Media Mikes had the chance to talk with Jimmy recently about his character and the film and also about his widely popular Skittles commercial.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us a little bit about the film “Blockers” and your character Chad?

Jimmy Bellinger: “Blockers” is a fun, raunchy sort of coming of age story that follows three parents and their daughters. We first see the girls as young children and then as teenagers getting ready to attend the prom. The girls decide they want to lose their virginity and make a pact to do so. The girl’s dates are not aware that this is set to happen and it turns into this crazy thing when the parents find out and attempt to stop them. My character Chad is sort of a dorky guy but he is very confident. He loves to dance and be a showman. Chad also loves a good fedora!

AL: How did this role come about for you?

JB: It was actually quite a long process. I auditioned a few times over the course of two months before officially getting the offer. Originally I read for a character that’s not in the story anymore. I then went back and read for the role of Chad. I actually did two auditions that day as they brought me back in the afternoon to read with a group of girls auditioning for the Sam role. None of those girls ended up in the film and I didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks until they brought me back to read with a different group of girls. This whole time I was never really sure if I was going to get the role or not because they could have been seeing other people that I didn’t know about. A week or so later I found out I got the part and also that they recast all three girls and the other two guys. I was lucky that I made it and am very happen that things worked out for me the way that they did.

AL: Over that time did the script change in any way?

JB: Yes it did. Originally there was this completely different character in the script and that role had been cut out so there were definitely a lot of changes made from the time I first read the script to what ended up being in the film. Things were added and locations changed but the film is still just as funny as when I first read for it and, that was what interested me in the project from the start.

AL: Were you allowed creative freedom with the character or were you asked to stay to the scripted material?

JB: There was certainly creative freedom. Yes there was a script for the character they wrote but I feel like unless you are playing a real person that existed somewhere in time you bring in pieces of yourself to each role you pay. I feel like most people want you to bring your own traits as an actor to their character. That’s essentially your job. You have ideas and there are scripted pieces so you start there and once you get going you might come up with some other things that help the character and story. The film’s director Kay Cannon is an extremely talented writer so if we weren’t pitching ideas she was coming up with things to try or add. We shot a lot of different versions of each scene so you really didn’t know what will be in the final film until you see it.

AL: The film has a very comedic cast. What was it like on set between takes?

JB: It was fun! Sets are all very similar because the days are long and when you are not shooting you are hanging out with the other cast and crew joking and having a good time. You get to talk with and meet a lot of different people. The cast was great as were the crew and, being that we were shooting a comedy and not a drama or something really serious everyone was just very relaxed and the mood was light.

AL: You also are currently the face of Skittles and appear in the hilarious Skittles-pocks commercial. How did that opportunity come about and, will you be reprising that role in upcoming ads?

JB: That came about much like this film through a regular audition. I went in to read for the part and they paired us up randomly with the girls who were their reading for the other part. I ended up being with the girl who also ended up in the commercial. After the first audition I got a call back and I could tell that they liked me because I read with the first girl again as well as a couple others. When we shot it even though it was such a short spot we tried a bunch of different things. The lines were there but I got to have a lot of fun playing within the confines of them. I had no idea what made it into the commercial until it came out. The ad started on the internet and then they started airing it and then they stopped. That usually happens after some time with commercials but then they decided to renew it and it has been playing non-stop. I am completely fine with it. Some people think it’s funny; some people think its gross or a combination of the two. I think that they are probably all right but I think that’s kind of the appeal of it as it’s weird but quick and easy. It’s just crazy how big it has become and seeing how excited people get amazes me. In terms of reprising the role that really on them however I will happily be paid to wear more skittles on my face. I am fine with that.

AL: Are there any other projects you have been working on that you would like to mention?

JB: There are some things in the works but I can’t really talk too much about those right now however, I did do an episode of the Nickelodeon show “Night Squad”. My episode won’t air until Halloween time but I do want to let people know it will be coming out and when they can look for it.

For more info on Jimmy Bellinger you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @JimmyBellinger

 

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