Book Review “The Art of the Films: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes”

Author: Matt Hurwitz
Hardcover: 173 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: July 8, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

When “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was released in 2011, I was very upset when it didn’t have an art of companion book. All the work, all the visual effects that went into that film to make it amazing as it was needed to be shared with the world. Well with the release of “Dawn of Planet of the Apes”, we are now getting an art of book for both of them. The book is a literally amazing from the hard cover to the last page including tons of great production photography and concept art for both films. I absolutely love both of these films and if you do as well, this is a must own.

So it is kind of obvious what the focus of this book would be and that is the creation of the apes. I recently went back and re-watched “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” after seeing Dawn of Planet of the Apes” and if you look at the apes in the first film compared to the second, there has been such an improvement. I thought they looked amazing in “Rise” but “Dawn” really delivered 10x the visual effects. So this book includes some fantastic concept art, production stills, VFX renders and finished frames from these movies showcasing those aspects. You also have to remember that these apes aren’t just CGI effects they included state of the art technology mixed with motion capture performances from some very talented actors.

Aside from the apes creation, there are also tons of great locations that was focused on. From “Rise”, there is the lab, Will’s home, primate shelter and, of course, the Bridge. In “Dawn”, there was a bit more since it takes place 10 years after “Rise” and shows pretty much the wipe out of the human race a very degraded world. I really enjoyed this section quite a bit for sure. Between the apes lair and the human’s hold up in a run down San Francisco, it just shows how much work went into this film. Kudos again to Titan Books for releasing yet another gem and my wife is cursing you for us needing a gigantic coffee table since each book is better than the next.

Film Review “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hrs 10 mins
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

I’m currently co-authoring a book about the making of movie sequels. Among the earlier ones were the very successful “Planet of the Apes” films. Five in total, they took moviegoers to what they thought was a distant planet, underneath it, back to it and then finally watched the conquest of and the battle for it. Almost three decades after the last film, Tim Burton put his very puzzling stamp on a remake/reboot/reimagining of the original 1968 film. Another decade would pass before Hollywood went back to the well with the very well done “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which did away with the time travel plot and brought the apes to us. Now that we’re all caught up, let’s talk about “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

The time is now. While the genetically evolved apes from the first film, led by Caesar (Serkis, in what should be an award winning performance) occupy the woods mankind, overwhelmed by the ravages of disease now lives in camps that were one time major cities. We find such a group of survivors in what used to be San Francisco. While on an exploration mission outside the city, a group of humans come across two young apes. A standoff occurs, broken when one of the group panics and fires his gun. The ape is only wounded but the shot of the gun brings out a shrewdness of apes (yes, dear readers, if you want to impress your friends tell them that a group of apes is referred to as a “shrewdness), led by Caesar. Caesar still remembers the kindness he received from some humans and brokers a peace between the two factions. This does not sit well with Koba (Toby Kebbell), a fellow ape who longs to battle. He will soon get his wish.

Much darker than “Rise,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” rises and falls on the large shoulders of Andy Serkis. He gives Caesar a quiet dignity and, if possible, almost makes him human in his emotions. He does not want war, even when those around him insist on it. Serkis conveys more with his eyes than many actors do with their words. From the anger or betrayal to the joy of holding his newborn son, Caesar is the strongest and best drawn out character in the film. Serkis is joined by other actors who also bring out the emotions under their computer generated fur. Kebbell is angry and bitter as Koba while Karin Konoval, as the gentle orangutan Maurice (a nice nod to the late Maurice Evans, who appeared in the original 1968 film), is kind and caring. On the human side, Clarke and Keri Russell do well as the leaders of the observation group, as does Kodi Smit-McPhee, as a young man who spends his time sketching his new simian friends. Oldman is a little over the top in his distrust of the furry fellows. Perhaps someone told him that Hollywood is actually a town run by apes.

Visually the film is outstanding. The apes and their world are rendered well as is the inner workings of what is left of the city of San Francisco. As for the 3D…once again it brought nothing to the film but a lot of blurry images in the foreground. I honestly think the process needs to be saved for animated films, where it seems to work the best.

Blu-ray Review “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”

Actors: Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, Christopher Lambert, Andie MacDowell
Directors: Hugh Hudson
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Run Time: 137 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

“Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” might not be considered the most popular portrayal of Tarzan but has always been one of my favorites. It is far for the worst, has anyone ever seen “Tarzan and the Lost City” back in 1998. Christopher Lambert aka Connor MacLeod from “Highlander”. took on the lead role in the film and does a great job. This version on the Blu-ray is the same extended version of the film which is roughly six minutes longer than the theatrical cut. This production is quite lavish and very beautifully shot.  It also focuses on the character’s dual nature as King of the jungle and as John Clayton, seventh Earl of Greystoke, heir to one of Scotland’s great estates. So I liked that angle of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story being explored within the film. If you have never seen this film, this would be the way to watch it for sure.

Official Premise: Hugh Hudson’s refreshingly adult revisionist take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immortal apeman arrives on Blu-ray like a blast of warm rain forest air. Robert Towne’s script (writing as P.H. Vazak) hews close to Burroughs’ origin as found in Tarzan of the Apes by way of modern anthropology. The second half may thread in some movie mythos (like Jane as English gentry) but plays out its savage vs. civilization theme. Gorgeously shot by John Alcott (The Shining, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), Greystoke also boasts an acting pedigree worthy of Burke’s peerage, including Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm , David Suchet, James Fox, and Nigel Davenport with Andie MacDowell and Glenn Close handling Jane physicality and vocality respectively. But the film belongs to Lambert’s heart-wide open performance as Tarzan and Rick Baker’s amazing simian simulations.

Thanks for Warner Archive for giving this film some love to this.  This film has never looked better on this Blu-ray.  Warner Archive has been slowly crossing over into the world of Blu-ray with these classics and this one really benefited from the format. This Blu-ray was set to be released numerous times but was held back in order to perfect the transfer and damn, did it make a difference. The 1080p transfer looks stunning and it has been taken from impressive sources that have been restored with a very close eye to attention.  The film was originally with Dolby Stereo on 35mm and even had a 70mm release with 6-track sound and this film sounds amazing on Blu-ray with its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It works very well with the action and jungle scenes.  The special features are not jam-packed but still work checking out.  There is a fine commentary track with Director Hugh Hudson and Line Producer Garth Thomas, which is quite detailed and thorough.  Lastly there is a trailer included.


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Linda Harrison reflects on her role in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with actress Linda Harrison. Ms. Harrison is best known in the Pop Culture world for her work in the first two Planet of the Apes films as well as Ron Howard’s Cocoon and its sequel. She is also a fountain of behind-the-scenes knowledge thanks to her marriage to Oscar-winning producer Richard Zanuck. Ms. Harrison was also originally slated to play the role of the police chief’s wife in Jaws. As Mr. Zanuck relates on the extended behind-the-scenes version found on the Jaws boxed laser disc set, Ms. Harrison was offered the role. However, Universal Studios president Sid Shienberg had offered the part to his wife, actress Lorraine Gary. According to Mr. Zanuck, to smooth things out, Shienberg picked up the telephone and called the producer of the upcoming film Airport 1975, William Frye. “Bill,” Shienberg said, “you’ve got another passenger on your airplane.”

Born in Maryland, Ms. Harrison was the first runner-up in the 1965 Miss USA pageant. In November of that year, she signed a seven year deal with 20th Century Fox. Her television debut came in back-to-back episodes of Batman in 1966. She was then cast as Nova in Planet of the Apes and its sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. She has also appeared in the above-mentioned Airport 1975 (she is billed as “Augusta Summerland”), Cocoon, Cocoon: the Return, and had a cameo in Tim Burton’s updated version of Planet of the Apes.

Now divorced from Zanuck, she is the proud mother of two sons, Harrison Zanuck and DeanZanuck, who both work in the film industry. Interested fans are encouraged to check out her web site, Still as strikingly beautiful in person, Ms. Harrison sat down with me at the recent Planet Comicon in Kansas City.

Mike Smith: It’s been our four decades since the original Planet of the Apes was released. Did you ever think while filming that you were creating something that would be, and still is, regarded as a true classic?
Linda Harrison: I think somewhere in my mind I may have thought that. I saw it as an unusual film and went on from there to do other things.

MS: Including the recent Apes film, in which both you and Charlton Heston have a cameo, you’ve appeared in 6 major films. Heston is in 4 of them. Coincidence?
LH: I know. It’s just incredible how much I’ve worked with him. Things just seem to fall that way.

MS: If Beneath the Planet of the Apes had ended on a happy note, with everyone alive, who do you think Nova would have ended up with: Taylor (Heston) or Brent (James Franciscus)?
LH: Taylor! (laughs) No hesitation!

MS: Are there any outtakes of you laughing hysterically when Heston goes into his “you maniacs!” speech at the end of Planet of the Apes?
LH: (laughs) No, I don’t think I laughed hysterically. It was a pretty, I won’t say somber set, but we were dealing in new territory that had never been done on film. So everybody was really at attention, wondering what the next shot was going to be. It was pretty unusual to be sitting there with apes!

MS: My favorite film is Jaws. I was so taken by the film and the performances that I ended up starting Roy Scheider’s official fan club and helped run Richard Dreyfuss’s. Had Sid Sheinberg not outranked Dick Zanuck, you would have been bombarded with mail from me YEARS ago! Did you know from reading the script that Jaws wasgoing to be special?
LH: I remember when Dick was reading the galleys (which is basically the book before it’s published) that he had a really great instinct that this would be a great picture. He knew it would be tough trying to make a 25 foot shark, but he pulled it off. It’s that really classic horror film that still surprises and scares you (mimics a shriek) when you’re not expecting it.

MS: Please tell me that had you done Jaws you would have passed on Jaws: the Revenge?
LH: Oh, sure!

MS: So, what are you doing now?
LH: Actually I’m now what they call a convention celebrity. I try to do one show a month, some do more. I’m also concentrating on my web site.

MS: Are the fans very receptive?
LH: Very. More then I ever imagined.


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Film Review #2 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring: James Franco, Frieda Pinto and Andy Serkis
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

When I first heard about this movie I was thinking why!  Then I thought about it and wondered what could have happened to cause the Apes in today’s times to take over and mankind to be slaves.  Well this movie does just that and does it very well, that it is very believable.

The film begins with of course the capturing of chimpanzee’s to bring back to the lab for experiments.  Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) is on the verge of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and other ailments that attack the brain.  Not only would this cure it but make you smarter.  But with no side effects?  Of course things go wrong and that leads to the developing story line to the rise of the apes.

The special effects are absolutely amazing.  Watching Caesar grow and evolve in the movie is definitely worth it.  You can see him thinking and feeling very clearly, which you can also tell that he will eventually be up to no good….you would too if you went through what he did. The facial expressions of Caesar are very lifelike. This is due to the amazing work of WETA and performance capture from Andy Serkis. Also watching Caesar rally the troops and climb to the top is well done.  I do not want to say too much otherwise it would ruin the movie for you.  You will just have to go and see it.

The movie does start off slow but that is made up for the great storyline and character development.  There is not a lot of action but don’t let that stop you from seeing this movie.  I feel that this movie was very well done and the story line was great despite the lack of action.  Also when the movie is over don’t just get up and leave!


Film Review “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring: James Franco, Frieda Pinto and Andy Serkis
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

CLICK HERE for our interview with the film’s writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa.

What can I say about the “Planet of the Apes” films? As a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s, nothing beat a film about talking monkeys! There were five original films in all (the last one, “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” released when “Rise” director Rupert Wyatt is one year old). There followed an animated series as well as a weekly television show. And of course, back in the days before home video, there was that rare day each summer when the local theatre would hold an “APE-a-thon,” and my friends and I would spend most of a day in the darkness, watching each film. Tim Burton “re-imagined” “Planet of the Apes” in 2001, though he confused a lot of people with the ending (which was based on the ending in Pierre Boulle’s original novel). The two things I remember most about the Burton version is that Helena Bonham Carter really looked a lot like Michael Jackson and that, in what I thought was pretty ironic, NRA President (and original “Planet of the Apes” visitor) Charlton Heston was the only character that had a gun! With four decades of “Ape” enjoyment under my belt, I was a little skeptical when I learned of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Happily, I needn’t have worried.

Modern day San Francisco. In a large, foreboding research facility, an ape nicknamed “Bright Eyes” is working a puzzle. Her skills impress those watching her. Bright Eyes is part of an experimental drug program. The goal: develop a way to reverse and cure Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. The cause is very close to head researcher Will Rodman’s (Franco) heart…his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from the disease. When an apparent successful demonstration of the drug goes terribly wrong, Will’s research is put on hold. On his way out the door he takes a newborn chimp with him. Not one to take “no” for an answer, Will continues his work, using his dad as a guinea pig. As for the chimp…well there wouldn’t be a movie if not for him.

Full of some fine tips of the hat to the original series (a list of some of them follow this review), “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a smartly directed film that sits squarely on the shoulders of Andy Serkis. Serkis, whose performance as Golum in the “Lord of the Rings” films should have earned him an Oscar nomination or two (or three…he was ruled ineligible because the onscreen character was computer generated) is Caesar, the baby chimp all grown up. With a rapidly growing IQ but with the innocence of a child, Serkis gives Caesar, and the film, its soul. After spending many years living with Will, Caesar is discovered and sent to live in a primate house, overseen by a bureaucratic Brian Cox. There he is mistreated by both the handlers and the other apes, who do not easily accept a clothes-wearing ape. As Caesar battles with his kind Will must do the same, hoping to find a vaccine that will return his father back to him. The similarities between Will and his dad, and Caesar and Will, become more and more highlighted as the film progresses. Caesar considers Will his father and cannot understand the changes in his life. Ditto for Will and HIS dad.

Wyatt, who also directed 2008’s “The Escapist,” which also starred Brian Cox, stages the film well, most notably when the film centers itself on the Golden Gate Bridge. You may have heard of gorillas in the mist…try dealing with gorillas in the fog!

Click here to read another favorable review from our guest writer Angelo Casciorizzo Jr.


“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” recalls previous films.

SPOILER ALERT: As mentioned above, there are several references to the early series of “Ape” films. Here are a few that I noticed:


The first ape we meet is Bright Eyes. Bright Eyes was the name given to Colonel Taylor (Heston) in the first film by the ape scientists.

An orangutan in the film is named Maurice. Maurice Evans played Dr. Zaius, an orangutan, in the original film.

To control him, Caesar’s handlers use a fire hose. The same thing was done to Taylor.

In one scene the apes in the primate house become very noisy, causing one of the handlers to yell “It’s a Madhouse!” Taylor thought the same thing.

Early in the film Caesar plays with a model of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue plays an important role in the original film.

One of the characters is named Dr. Cornelia. One of the ape scientists in the first film was Dr. Cornelius, played by Roddy McDowall.

After an altercation one of the ape handlers utters the classic line, “take your paws off of me you damn, dirty ape!.” Once again, courtesy of Colonel Taylor in the original.

Interview with Ashley Eckstein

Ashley Eckstein is best known for voicing the role of Ahsoka Tano in the TV series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”.  The show is hitting warp speed and it enters its fourth season this Fall.  Ashley is also the celebrity host, along with James Arnold Taylor, this year at Walt Disney World’s “Star Wars” Weekend.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat about “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” with Ashley as well as her hosting for “Star Wars” Weekend and even her own clothing line “Her Universe” which is also inspired by “Star Wars”.

Check back this weekend for an exclusive giveaway of an autographed shirt from Ashley’s ‘Her Universe’ clothing line

Mike Gencarelli: So lets start at the beginning, any idea you will be where you are today when you took the role of Ahsoka Tano in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”?
Ashley Eckstein: [laughs] No, actually I had no idea. I would have called myself more of a casual “Star Wars” fan before I got the “Clone Wars” job. I watched the movies when I was a little kid but it didn’t really go beyond that. I did understand the power of “Star Wars”. I thought knew just how iconic it was. But when I once I was cast on the show. I guess I didn’t quite comprehend JUST how powerful it was and how popular it was worldwide. So, obviously after working on the show and working with Dave Filoni you just become just a hardcore fan. We really have to understand “Star Wars” to be able to do the show. I think in order really to perform our roles to the best we can. Dave really helps us with that. Dave is such a huge “Star Wars” fan. He really knows it all and we get to learn from him. We have been working on the show now close to six year and have really become much more knowledgeable and passionate fans due to that. So I definitely never imagined the position I would be in today and how “Star Wars” has also affected my life and what it means to me. It really has changed my life.

MG: What do you like most about playing Ahsoka ?
AE: I think my favorite part of playing Ahsoka is how powerful of a character she is and a role model for young girls. That has really been a dream come true for me. I worked a lot of the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon before “Clone Wars”, mostly on-camera work. I really fell in love with children and family programming. First hand I saw the impact you can have on a child’s life by doing a children/family show. So, I really tried to gear my career in that direction. “The Clone Wars” came along and I wasn’t even trying for it. Literally, my agent got a call and I was asked to come in and read. So to get the role of Ahsoka who is such a strong and powerful character for young girls to look up to to and to even be a part of it is just such an honor for me. I am not one of these actresses that say I don’t want to be a role model or I never asked for this. I do feel that a child’s role model should be somebody that is in their life on a daily basis. But I also understand that by default as someone in the public eye you are going to be a role model whether you life it or not. So it is something I take very seriously. I want to be a positive influence and through Ahsoka I can do that. I am very honored to be given the opportunity to do that.

MG: Having this character really opened up the “Star Wars” franchise to a more female audience, can you reflect on that for us?
AE: When I was growing up, I was a bit of a tom-boy. The only girl on the baseball team. I didn’t want to wear a dress. Had my hat on backwards [laughs]. Having a character like Ahsoka, I wish I would have had Ahsoka to look up to. Not every girl wants to be a princess or wear a dress. Some girls want to carry a lightsaber and pretend to be a jedi. I think it is really cool to have her character. “The Clone Wars” has kind of become the watercooler show for kids on the playground. Whether you like “Star Wars” or not, it is the show that everyone talks about. Even the girls are starting to watch it just so they are in the know. Now when the kids play it on the playground, the girls have someone they can be. They do not have to pretend to be Anakin, Captain Rex or Obi-Wan. I have so many little girls coming up to be saying “Yeah I am Ahsoka and my brother is Anakin and we play “Clone Wars” all the time”. I think that is so cool that their is a character that the girls can be. Not even just Ahsoka, there is Asajj Ventress, Padmé Amidala, Sha’ak Ti and just so many powerful females in “The Clone Wars”.

MG: What has been your favorite part of hosting Star Wars Weekend in Walt Disney Resort this year?
AE: I think it is the ability to interact with the fans, especially the kids. “The Clone Wars” sort of introduced “Star Wars” to a new generation. It is funny because “Star Wars” is the “The Clone Wars” to many kids today. Many kids haven’t seen the other movies yet. They have only seen “The Clone Wars. To have that impact on a new generation of kids to me…I can’t even fantom it. To see some of the expressions from their faces and I get a chance to meet them. It has really been an honor [laughs], I really don’t have another word for it.

MG: Tell us about your show you are hosting “Behind the Force”?
AE: Of course, I think it is a fun show. “Behind the Force” takes you on a behind the scenes look at our job as voice over artists and recording the show. The first part of the show we have a special guest, in our upcoming last weekend we have Tom Kane, who is the voice of Yoda, the narrator of the show and many others from the show. So we introduce our audience to him and I ask him a couple of questions and then our audience get a chance to ask him some questions as well. Then we go into a live demonstration of us going into the studio recording an episode. Then we audition people from our audience to be an honorary cast member of “The Clone Wars”. The person that is chosen gets to come up on stage and do a scene live with us on stage. It is really exciting and puts the audience in the studio with us and get a chance to see what it is like.

MG: How many times have you rode the new “Star Tours” this month since its opening?
AE: That is a great question [laughing]. I think I have rode it eight or nine times…I think nine times by now. It is such an amazing ride. They did such a fantastic job on it and it is almost like a completely new ride. They revamped the entire thing. I also got to do a series of videos with Disney showing the behind the scenes look on the making of Star Tours. It just awesome. If you ride with me the chances are you will get Hoth [laughs], that is the one planet I keep getting over and over. I have only gotten Naboo twice and to me that is definitely my favorite. I even got picked as the secret spy one time, which was fun.

MG: Tell us about your “Star Wars” inspired clothing line, Her Universe?
AE: Thanks for asking about that. I created Her Universe and we launched about a year ago this June. It is the first “Star Wars” / sci-fi line JUST for women. We are only for the female fans. Close to half of all sci-fi and “Star Wars” fans are women. “Star Wars” is the story of hope and that transcends gender. I got the idea a little over three year ago. Actually when I first got cast for “Clone Wars”, I did a search for merchandise for women because I wanted to buy stuff. But I really came up empty handed. I was able to find one shirt and the rest was either on backorder or sold out. There was very little for women and NOTHING for little girls. It just didn’t make sense to me. I go to all the events and “Star Wars” weekends and there are women everywhere. I was thinking “Why are you giving us nothing to buy when 85% of the consumer market is women?” I have to give LucasFilm credit because they were the first company to give me a shot. They really want to recognize their female fans. They gave me the license and trusted me [laughs]. I have always been into fashion decision, so they trusted me to design clothes and accessories for the female fans. So I am really excited about that. Disney, again, I have to give them credit that they gave us the opportunity to sell it during “Star Wars” Weekends and we have been selling five different shirts in the merchandise tent, Jabba’s Hut. I have been doing signings there also every day. It has been great. One more thing, I have to thank SyFy because we just closed a deal with them and starting in July we are coming out with SyFy merchandise for the brand and also its properties. We are starting with “Battlestar Galactica” and “Warehouse 13”.

MG: What can we expect from season 4 in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” this Fall?
AE: Sure, I can definitely tell you it is actually called Season 4: Battle Lines. It is going to take you right into the heart of the battles of the Clone Wars. They have been going on for over two years now. The war is really taking its toll on its characters. There are going to be epic battles that are going to be bigger than anything we have seen to date on the series. There is also the return of some classic characters from the “Star Wars” movies including some bad guys but also some good guys. So also look for that trend to continue and look for some really epic battles. They are really raising the bar.

Interview with Ahmed Ahmed

Ahmed Ahmed is a standup comedian who has also appeared in several films and television shows. His newest project is titled “Just Like Us” and documents Ahmed and several other comedians’ tour across the Middle East. Ahmed took time out of his busy schedule to talk with Movie Mikes about his new project.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about your film “Just Like Us”
Ahmed Ahmed: “Just Like Us” is a documentary film that I came up with after doing comedy shows around the Middle East. Around 2007 I toured the Middle East with a group we put together called “The Axis of Evil Tour” which was filmed and shown on television over there. In 2008 we toured there again but not as a group and we didn’t film anything. In 2009 we had a tour that lined up with the International cast and that’s when we actually decided to shoot it.

AL: So the idea came about after touring over there a few different times?
AA: I had started a company with my business partner called Cross Cultural Entertainment and under that umbrella we created Cross Cultural Productions. This would be the portion that would physically produce and put on projects. After doing this my partner asked me what my next plan was. I told him I was going to go to the Middle East and he said I had to shoot it. The timing was great and the topic was relevant so that was part of it. A couple years prior I had done a comedy tour with Vince Vaughn called “The Wild West Comedy Show” which was also turned into a documentary film. From that I sort of had an idea of how to make a documentary. Another thing that kind of brought me to making this project was when I would come back from the Middle East a lot of my friends would ask what I was doing over there. I would tell them comedy shows and they would ask which military base. I would tell them we played theaters for Arabs in English and they get it. The film came out really great and I think people will enjoy it.

AL: What was it like touring and filming at the same time?
AA: I kind of bit off more than I could chew! At first I was going to just be the host for the shows however the promoters started asking me to bring comedians. I in a way started to become a talent booker as well as being relied on to do press. I didn’t have to set up the shows but I did a lot of the grass roots work in setting everything else up and promoting. When we started to shoot that’s where I started to turn into the producer/director (Laughs) It was literally 4 days prior to leaving for the tour that my partner said we should shoot it. I didn’t think we had enough time but he was very adamant about finding camera operators which we did. Once we got back to New York we started almost immediately in post production. We set up an office, purchased the editing equipment, hired two editors and began transcribing everything. We had about 200 hours of footage that we cut down to about 72 minutes. I didn’t really know what I was getting into at the beginning but the film has unfolded into this beautiful project that has taken on a life of its own.

AL: When is the film going to be released?
AA: We did a deal with Lion’s Gate Entertainment and the film is going to be available as a digital download through places like Netflix. My company is also going to release the film independently in select theaters. We hope to get the film into about 10 cities. If it catches wind in its sails we will add more cities. We want as many people as possible to see the film.

AL: Do you have any funny stories from working with Vince Vaughn?
AA: Everyday on that tour was a funny day. It went by so fast that we didn’t have a lot of time in each city but just being a part of that tour was really inspirational and eye opening. That tour really prodded me to make my own film. There were just so many funny things that happened. I can’t think of one that really sticks out.

AL: Had you known Vince previously?
AA: I have been friends with Vince for over 20 years. He had come to a lot of the comedy shows I was involved in which exposed him to the other comedians. He then just had this idea to take it on the road and film it. It was great to be a part of that and we are actually doing some follow up shows in June.

AL: Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
AA: The film has opened up a lot of doors. I was actually invited to attend a dinner at the White House last year because of this film and that opened up some doors for us which took us to Palestine, Syria and a few other places to do some shows. During this time we accidentally shot a sequel and we will probably start going through that material in the fall. Releases for “Just Like Us” are going to be spaced out from city to city and that will probably take us through July. I travel quite regular and have had a lot of inquiries to go to a lot of different countries that have recently opened up.

Interview with Danielle Nicolet

Danielle Nicolet co-stars in Syfy’s latest film “Red Faction: Origins”, playing the character Tess DeLaVega.  She is also co-starring with Cuba Gooding Jr. in the upcoming film, “Ticking Clock”.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Danielle about her roles in both her films recent films.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your role in “Red Faction: Origins”, playing Tess DeLaVega.
Danielle Nicolet: Tess is a very special combination of Princess Lea and C-3P0 [laughs].  She is Jack Mason’s unintentional side-kick.  She believes herself to be the smartest person in the room all the time, better much because she is. Jake, our hero, kind of can’t save the day without Tess, but Tess goes along kicking and screaming at absolutely every moment.  She doesn’t do so good out of the office.

MG: Where you familiar with the video game franchise?
DN: I have to say I am a HUGE gamer.  I am a big first person shooter player.  I have even voiced a couple of characters in different video games.  So, I am pretty involved with video games.  I have not played “Red Faction”.  I have not played “Guerilla” until after we started shooting the movie, which was kind of good for me.  When I got the script, I read it and I didn’t have any preconceived notions.  Also Tess, my character, is the only one in the movie that doesn’t have any previous connection to the past games.  My character is though connected to “Armageddon”.  It was really confirming not to have all that in my head before I got the job.  Once I got it I went out and played the games.

MG: How was it working with Robert Patrick and Brian J. Smith?
DN: [laughs] Ok, number one: Brian Smith is the nicest person I have ever known in my life.  I love him.  Number two: Robert Patrick is the funniest person I have ever known in my life and I love him.  Robert is hysterical.  He is from two towns over from where I live in Ohio. We spent pretty much the entire time in Europe together fighting over who was better: the Steelers or the Browns.  He thinks I am terrible person because I am a Steelers fan and I think he is sad and sorely mistaken to care about the Browns [laughs].  Robert is just a blast.  We have breakfast together every morning.  He is just the most salt of the earth completely grounded superstar that you will ever known.  It is like he has no idea he is ridiculously famous.  With Brian, I can say he has no idea he is ridiculously cute and that every girl checks him out no matter where we go.  He is incredibly humble and just really loves being an actor.  It was incredible for me to work with him since we are in every scene together.  We were both so committed to our characters and to this job that we were able to be real supportive of each other.  He will forever be family.

MG: What was the most difficult part of working on the film?
DN: I am sure every single actor from this movie would have the same answer.  The most difficult part was shooting this shooting this movie in Eastern Europe in the dead of winter.  The physical conditions of this movie was the hardest I have ever been in my life.  They were also though the most necessary.  The movie takes place on Mars.  Mars is not a comfortable place to live in “Red Faction”.  It has been terraformed, so you can breath the air but just because it is breathable doesn’t mean it is warmer. We shot in a place that was like the temperature that Mars is.  Our day average about 3 degrees fahrenheit.  At nighttime, it was between 10-14 below.  So we did a lot of huddling up together to try and keep warm.  All of the exterior we did in the movie were not shot in front of a green screen.  We shot all of the exteriors in this incredible cave system just outside of the Romanian boarder.  It is totally remote and a 2 1/2 drive from the nearest hotel.  It literally looks like Mars.  It has red ground, rocky and exactly like the Martian landscape.  The cave system is totally protected from nature.  So when you watch the movie, the only thing that isn’t real is if we are ever outside the sky.  The digitally took out the ceiling of the cave and put in the Martian sky.  But that is why we were freezing the whole time because our director really wanted the exteriors to be real.  He didn’t want it to seem like an entirely CGI generated film.

MG: Tell us about working with Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the sci-fi thriller, “Ticking Clock”?
DN: Working with Cuba was a dream come true.  How many times in your life to you get to ask somebody where do they keep their Oscar [laughs]. “Ticking Clock” is like a psychological thriller but once you get 10 minutes into the film you see it is science fiction.  Cuba’s character is a writer and the murder mystery he is solving in his book starts coming to life.  I play his wife, who has a real problem with what is going on with him.  I believe that he is having the issues he is having because he is drinking too much.  He can’t quite tell the difference between his reality.  I won’t give away the ending but we will find out what is real and what isn’t.  It is a really fun movie and I love my science fiction.  So I was really excited to do that.

MG: You are both equally skilled with drama and comedy, do you have a preference?
DN: I don’t want to sound like a fence-walker but seriously the thing I love to do the most of all is like the character I played in “The Starter Wife” and “Red Faction”, which is a funny character that is in the middle of a serious situation.  That is the most fun for me.  I enjoy playing that character that brings a little of levity to a very serious scenario.  So playing Tess was like being a kid in a candy store for me as an actor.  I got to spend five weeks delivering fantastic one liners and screaming when guns come around [laughs].

MG: What other projects do you have upcoming?
DN: Right now, “Ticking Clock” is obviously coming up. “Marry Me”, the mini series I did with Lucy Lu comes out on DVD in a few weeks.  I know they are also going to air it again in it entirety really soon.  So I got that coming up.  Also just also keeping my fingers crossed that there will be more “Red Faction” movies.

Interview with Tinsel Korey

Tinsel Korey continues her portrayal of Emily Young in the upcoming release of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”. Tinsel also recently released her first single currently available on ITunes. Tinsel took time out of her busy schedule to talk with Movie Mikes to discuss “Breaking Dawn” and her venture into music.

Adam Lawton: What made you decide to get into acting?
Tinsel Korey: Growing up I was one of those kids that was always putting on sketches. I was also very artistic so it was my way of expressing myself. It all just became very natural for me. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I didn’t want to be an actor or entertainer. I was just something I knew I wanted to do since I was very young. I actually just performed live with the Acme Comedy Troop and it brought me back to my child hood when I was doing a lot of the same type of funny characters and such.

AL: Can you tell us about the process of becoming involved with the “Twilight” series?
TK: The process was fairly easy I guess from what I was told. I guess some of the other cast members had to do a bunch of call backs and auditions but mine was fairly quick. Rene Haynes the casting director for “New Moon” was familiar with me from my previous work so I only ended up having one audition in front of Chris Weitz. A couple days later I was short listed for the project. I got really lucky that it went so fast.

AL: I had read you were selected for the role out of 800 other actresses. Correct?
TK: The casting directors had told me that over 800 girls had auditioned for that role. I had no idea that so many people had tried out for the part. I think if I had known that prior to the audition it may have thrown me off a little. I just went into the audition taking it seriously.

AL: Were you familiar with the previous film and the book series prior to reading for the part?
TK: I actually didn’t know anything about “Twilight”. My younger sister is a fan of the series but I had no idea what so ever. Rene Haynes had kept me in mind for that role so she was the one who brought it to my attention. Knowing my sister was a fan I really wanted to get the movie more for her than for myself. I actually took her to the premier which was really exciting.

TK: What was your first experience like on the “New Moon” set?
AL: It was interesting because I didn’t really know the guys. I had known Bronson Pelletier from his work on “”. We had to find chemistry together which we were able to do after spending a little more time with each other. I think we really captured that family element which is present in the movie and it actually carried over off screen as well. I knew the film was a big production but at the time we were shooting “Twilight” wasn’t yet really at the caliber it’s at today. It was big just not as big. After the premier of “New Moon” the series just took off!

AL: What can we expect in the next film “Breaking Dawn”?
TK: I am probably most excited for the wedding scene and getting to see the wedding dress. I am still getting asked if I am for Team Edward or Team Jacob. It’s pretty much over! (Laughs) She picks Edward. There is a lot more action in this next film and the director was fantastic. I really hope to get to work with him again. His vision for the film was really great.

AL: Any great behind the scenes stories you can tell us?
TK: During the past shoots we had a little bit more time to Joke around but I do remember a prank we played on Kiowa Gordon. He had ordered a hot chocolate one day and then left it unattended with Bronson and I. The two of us are probably the biggest prankster on set. So Kiowa comes back and gets ready to drink his hot chocolate and I ask him if he was sure he really wanted to do that? (Laughs) He kept asking what we did to his drink so Bronson and I really milked it. After he had finished we started asking him if he was feeling anything. It was pretty funny. To this day we still haven’t told him that we really didn’t do anything to his drink.

AL: You also are a musician. Can you tell us about your first single?
TK: I just released my first single titled “Letter” which is available on ITunes and Amazon. It has kind of a bluesy Jazz Rock sound to it. People have compared my voice to Nora Jones and Jewel. Music is really my focus right now. Acting has always been in the foreground of my life and I really want music to have that chance as well. If a great acting role comes along I am totally up for it but I am not actively search for film roles as my music is the main focus for me right now. Music allows me to use my own words and music compared to when I am acting and performing someone else’s work. I think music is way more personal for me.

AL: Is there a release date for the full album?
TK: I am doing the album independently so I am currently focused on the single and finding time to shoot a video for it. I am hoping by the end of the year. The process of doing a record on your own is very different than when you have the help of a record label. I have a producer who I want to work with and I have some really great musicians involved also. On “Letter” I had help from Marcos Curiel of P.O.D. and Mark Schulman who is the drummer for Pink. Right now it comes down to finding the time to get everything done.

AL: Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
TK: I have been doing a lot of live musical performances lately trying to fine tune my craft. I have a film called “Avarice” coming out which stars Kevin Sorbo and Jason London. The film is a Sci-Fi thriller which should be released this year. The director Matt Schilling is a visual effects genius. What we shot and how the end product looked were completely different. It was amazing. The film is getting some good buzz. I also have a movie called “Black Forest” which will be appearing on the Sci-Fi channel as well around the fall of this year.

Interview with John Diehl

John Diehl’s career in the movie business has spanned over 30 years. He has appeared in such classic films as “Stripes” and played the Hawaiian shirt clad Larry Zito on the hit television series “Miami Vice”. Movie Mikes caught up with John to talk about some of his classic roles as well as some of his current projects.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about how you got involved with “Stripes”? and what it was like being a part of such a great cast?
John Diehl: I was just starting out in the business and at the time I was working on a  Sam Sheppard play which called for me to have a shaved head. I went to the audition with my head being shaved already and I remember nodding back and forth with Ivan Reitman. A short time later I was delivering furniture when I got a message from my agent telling me that I got the part. As far as the cast goes I never really watched TV so I no idea who anyone was. I think this helped because I didn’t have any trepidation about anything. It wasn’t until afterwards that I found out how great everyone was. My scenes with John Candy were all improv. They really liked mine and John’s characters together. It was great because I got to take that character and make him my own. I understood that character. Ivan was too busy arguing with Bill to worry about me (Laughs) so it was a great experience.

AL: You also had a part in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” can you tell us about that and what it was like working with Chevy Chase?
JD: I still lament the fact that sometime after we finished shooting I was having dinner with Harold Ramis and I asked him if we could add in one tiny part. I wanted the part of my scene with Mickey Jones where Mickey shows Clark his badge and states “I am the Sheriff” I wish I had just said “And I’m the Deputy”. I felt so bad that I didn’t come up with that sooner. I kept asking to get that put in but it never happened. Chevy is a very reserved guy and I remember we had a picture taken of us along with
some American Indians on set. For some reason he thought that I wanted a picture taken with him. Sadly the picture got left on top of an old soda machine and I always think about that. Years later I’m walking through LAX and there is all of this commotion going on. All I see is this big guy with grey hair and a bunch of reporters. It was Chevy and he recognized me right away which was really cool that he remembered me.

AL: What was it like working with Harold Ramis both as an actor and a director?
JD: Harold was really easy going. When he was directing he had a lot more stuff going on than when he was just acting. I don’t think he was smiling as much when he was directing. (Laughs) Overall both experiences were good.

AL: Can you tell us about your work on “Miami Vice”?
JD: There are a few stories that I guess kind of come together as to how I got that part. I remember going on an audition for the show which I think Michael Mann was at. I was wearing this long leather coat because I had to leave my play rehearsal to make it to the audition which really annoyed me. I just went into the audition kind of pissed off which I thought could be a good thing. One other thing that I think was part of me getting the role was I had done a small short called “Leon’s Case”. There was an article about the film that stated Brandon Tartikoff who was the head of NBC at the time saw me in that film and wanted me for “Miami Vice”. That show turned into something we never expected. It had created a lot of buzz but then slowed a little after the first few episodes but after that it really took off. Even though I got myself out of the show after about 3 seasons a move I don’t regret. Working on that show was a great experience and I got some great work from that show.

AL: What made you want to leave the show?
JD: I was miserable. I lived in New York at the time but spent 9 months of the year shooting in Miami. I didn’t mind going back and forth as I was single at the time. We weren’t making a ton of money on the show but it was more than I had ever made. I think it was just really depression that got the best of me. After the first season we were told that they were going to include more of us in the show but, I would show up to work and spend at times 12 hours in my 5 by 5 Honey Wagon just waiting to be called for my scene. There were times where I would show up and the scene would never end up even being shot. There was just a lot of stuff like that going on.

AL: Do you have a project that sticks out for you as a favorite?
JD: Right now I would have to say “Land of Plenty”. I played the male lead role with Michelle Williams. The film never really came out distribution wise but I still really enjoyed the process. I also enjoyed my theater work with Sam Sheppard where I got to work with some really amazing people. “End Game” which I did with John Larroquette was another great experience.

AL: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JD: I like doing independent movies lately. The money usually isn’t as good but the parts are really great! I did one called “Natural Selection” which won everything at this year’s South by South West Festival. The film is going on to some other festivals so I have some reserved hopes for that. I also am in talks to do a horror film in Montreal. One other thing I just finished up was with Bruce Campbell for a “Burn Notice” TV movie which aired recently.

Interview with Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is known for her role in “Saw III & IV” playing Nurse Deborah.  She also was in Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and just finishing appearing in the TV series “Being Erica”, which was just renewed for season four.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Kim about her roles and what she has planned upcoming.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about how you got involved with playing Deborah in “Saw III & IV”?
Kim Roberts: I auditioned just like anyone else. At the time it wasn’t a huge role. When we started filming Darren Bousman, who was directing, told me he really loved my character. He told me he was going to have all this development for my character, so he brought me back in “Saw IV”. He said “Just wait “Saw V & VI” I am going to write all this stuff for you”. As you know [laughing], in Saw V & VI”, Darren was known longer around. Deborah just kind of disappeared. So I myself cannot tell you where she went but it would have been nice.

MG: Are you a fan of the films and horror genre?
KR: Oh yeah, absolutely.

MG: Tell us about your experience working on the film “Dawn of the Dead”?
KR: It was wonderful, it really was. I think part of the reason why “Dawn of the Dead” was so beautiful was that there was a lot of love on the project. Zack Snyder, who directed it, and I actually shot a commercial with him about a year or two before this. It was a really huge project for him. He had all these wonderful ideas and passions for it. Since I worked with him before, I was happy to get the opportunity again and was rooting for him. Sarah Polley just rocks and she is amazing. Working with her is just a dream. She is one of Canada’s greatest gifts. I was really touched to do that scene with her. We keep saying [laughing] “We want more scenes together”. Even watching the film, there is a wealth of Toronto talent and also great LA talent. He just got so many great actors that are actually so are passionate about there craft and their work. Everyone wanted to do a great homage to such a classic film. I think that when you have real good artists caring about what they are doing, it just works.

MG: You have played a nurse in various TV and film projects, how do you always find yourself in this role?
KR: [laughs] It came to a point when I said to my agent, I am not doing any more nurses. I said unless it is the nurses life story I am not doing any more nurses. I think every actor has a typecast. I remember reading a quote from Jennifer Aniston that before “Friends” she was typecast as playing a waitress. The nurse just became mine. The irony about it was that when I was a kid, I said I wanted to be a doctor. My very first on camera role, I actually played a doctor. So a lot of people actually thought I was a doctor [laughs] for a really long time. But I keep saying “No, I am an actor [laughs]”, so I keep finding myself in this doctor/nurse roles. I think karma is a funny thing.

MG: With “Being Erica” renewed for Season four, can you tell us about your character and are you going to be returning in next season?
KR: Camilla was introduced in season three, as part of this whole journey that Erica was on. I don’t want to spoil it for your readers if they haven’t finished up but we find out it was quite the journey. So I am a part of a group therapy unit that is in a sense are people that all lived like Erica. At the end of the season, I am the only person from the group who graduates with her. So there is a hope that the character will come back and maybe go one to beautiful things and it will great to play her colleague. We have to see what the writers have in store for the new season. It was a blast and an honor to work on the show. My character Camilla was really fortuitous. When I auditioned it was only for one episode, then when I came on initially it was for the first six episodes but they liked the character and kept her. Again I haven’t been killed off yet so who knows?

MG: What else do you have planned for the future?
KR: The project I have coming up next is “The Vow” with Rachel McAdams, should be out next year. It was a great experience, she was so sweet to work with. I also just shot a Christmas movie, it is untitled right now but I loved it. The producers Steve Solomos and Joel Rice are so great. I love them. I think this is the fifth project that I have worked with them on for Lifetime and every time they are in town they put me in them. They do really go work and are really good guys. Right now it is called “The Untitled Santa Project” and will be on ABC Family next Christmas.

Interview with Lester Speight

Lester Speight is one of the busiest guys in Hollywood. If he is not tackling office colleagues (“Terry Tate: Office Linebacker”), then he is fighting alien robots (upcoming “Transformers 3”). Lester has plans to take over the business, though his main goal is to host Saturday Night Live and I know that this will happen for him because he will tear that roof down. Movie Mikes had a chance to talk with Lester about his career, how he got started and what is to come for the future.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you originally get started as the “Terry Tate Office Linebacker”?
Lester Speight: Back in 2000 I got a call from my agent, he said he found the perfect character for me. I was in Baltimore at the time and I told him to fax it over. I was just a short movie, but once I read it I said “If I can’t play this guy here, I cant play anybody” [laughs]. I went in and did an audition. When I walked into the room I was in character. When the audition started I just ripped right into it. I am half Jamaican, so I have a big mouth as it is. I knew that I knocked it out of the park when I left. We shot the original pilot in November that year. It went around Hollywood as a viral funny joke campaign. Terry Tate originally had a gold tooth but I told them I am not doing a gold tooth. An ad agency representing the Arnell Group saw it in 2002 and took it to Peter Arnell. Peter Arnell then took it to Reebok. They gave us a six figure budget to shoot four more shorts. They had a big sales meeting at Reebok in November of 2002. Micky Pant brought me into the sales meeting. During this meeting they are showing Venus Williams and Shakira and then they popped in Terry Tate and the whole place just erupted. I was in the back with Micky during the meeting. He was going to be on stage after the commercial. During his speech he got a call from his wife and started talking to her on stage. Terry Tate came out the back and blasted him over his chair. The place went bananas. He took a nice bump and tore his suit and everything. I screamed on stage “You know you can’t be on the phone unless you all alone. Who do you think you are, WOOOHH?” I stomped off stage. The next day they called ABC and bought the third quarter spot of the Super Bowl. Reebok’s stock quadrupled. It was the most visited website for three months, it got like 11 million hits. I even got to ring the closing bell at the NYSE.

Mike Gencarelli: Did you improv a lot of those tackle lines or were they all scripted?
Lester Speight: I added my flavor to every scene. The basic core of the dialogue were written by Rawson Marshall Thurber and Jason Mercer. The Wooh’s and the double Wooh’s were all me. I would add whatever I thought would fit the character. It was a marriage made in heaven. With Rawson’s creativity and my energy and acting creativity coming together, it was just one of those things. We caught the lightning in the bottle.

Mike Gencarelli: Do you have a favorite one?
Lester Speight: One of my favorite was when he said “That was Simone’s cake Phillip, next time you eat someone else’s cake again. I am gonna give you a slice of Terry’s special pain cake. And you WON’T want seconds of that, Wooh!!!”

MG: Have you always been a football fan?
LS: Growing I always was a football advocate and enthusiast. Playing high school and college football, but I didn’t have the pro career I thought I was gonna have. God, gave me a Super Bowl in this way with Terry Tate. I am ranked one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time. There are thousands and thousands of football player but not a lot can do what I have done. I am an actor and singer before I even put on a football uniform. Football is a youthful window and you have to play in between 21-25 if you want to go pro. As I getting older, I see the Lord had a different path for me. I always wanted to be an actor. With football you have to play it when you are young and then its over. I can act forever.

MG: Tell us about your role in the “Gears of War” video game series?
LS: I was just at Comic-Con for the “Gears” panel. The room was packed with like 500 people. It was crazy. When I did “Terry Tate”, I never thought it would be what it was. I figured that Cole Train would be similar to Terry Tate though not Terry Tate. I didn’t think I would be the star of that game since Marcus Fenix is the star of “Gears of War” but people really love the Cole Train. New game comes out April 2011.

MG: Have you ever been approached to play live-action Augustus Cole in a “Gears of War” movie?
LS: It’s funny, cause I know that Cliff Bleszinski and Rod Fergunson know I am more than capable of handling that role. The fans want it. The fans get off on actually seeing the voice actor on the screen. That has never really been done because more voice actors do not look like their character. I think with some of my success with the character is causing them to rethink how they want to use the Cole Train in the movie. We spoke about in Comic-Con, that we would want to do it in the fashion of “District 9”. They know that I am here and ready. It is going to happen. I am the only person who can play Cole Train, I brought him to life. That is what the fans want!

MG: How long have you been acting?
LS: I have been doing this a long time. My first movie I was an extra in was 1991, was “The Meteor Man” with Robert Townsend. That was the first time I walked on a movie set. Almost 20 years. When I was in college. I snuck around and took a couple of theater classes. I didn’t want my teammates to know. They would always yell at me “You can’t be an actor and play football”. I can’t be in too toos going to practice [laughs]. I felt the pressure one year and I dropped the class. I was just a communications major. My heart was always in acting. I grew up signing in a choir. My mother plays piano and she taught her kids how to play as well. I have always been very active. That energy has carried over now I am still training and working hard.

MG: Do you have a dream project you would want to work on?
LS: I have always wanted to get the opportunity to make a movie about Reggie White from the Eagles and Green Bay Packers. I think I can shine some light on his story. Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, I would love to play him. I really feel that one day I will have the chance do these great biographies. They are some of the bigger than life characters. I would really be honored to play them. Action stuff is great but as an actor you want to be able to try different challenges. I actually have a treatment for a Jack Johnson movie now that I am working on with a couple of producers. I always need to keep moving forward and up in this business.

MG: What other projects are you working on?
LS: I just did a movie with Billy Bob (Thornton) and Dwayne Johnson called “Faster”, my characters name is Baphomet. That movie will be out this Thanksgiving. Then I just did a movie with WWE called “Knucklehead”. Dennis Farina and I pair up. I play henchman named Redrum and I am the number one fighter in the movie. It is a comedy and it is really hilarious. I got a movie I did called “Peepworld”, my characters name is Wizdom. The film is directed by Barry Blaustein, who also worked on “Saturday Night Live” and “Coming to America”. I have been pretty busy man and pretty fortunate, especially in this recession.

MG: Do you ever think we will see the return of Terry Tate?
LS: Yes man. When I am done shooting “Transformers”, we are going to start pitching Terry Tate to all the apparel companies as well as some of the top corporate Fortune 500 companies. It will be called “Terry Tate: Superhero for Hire”. Reebok only leased the character for two years. So Terry is looking for a job. Maybe Home Depot. Maybe Nike. We were looking to run an angle with Terry Tate leaving Reebok to go to Nike. I love improv. My biggest goal right now is I can’t wait to host “Saturday Night Live”. I love sketch comedy. I am really looking forward to that day when I can stand up there and host that show. I got so many characters. You never know what can happen, the whole cast might be walking around as Terry Tate and I am a regular office worker. How funny would that be? The dramatic side has picked up for me recently. But when I get back to comedy people are really going to see that I have got the ability to entertain and make people laugh. We are going to do a major campaign to find Terry another company. You are leaking this news for the first time!!

Interview with Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois

The directors of “How To Train Your Dragon” come from very different backgrounds. Chris Sanders hails from Colorado while Dean DeBlois hails from Canada. Though a decade older, they both began their professional careers around the same time, working for two of Hollywood’s legends: Jim Henson and Don Bluth. Sanders began working for the Walt Disney Company in 1990, where he served as a character designer on “The Rescuers Down Under.” In 1991 he helped write and create an impressive string of animated films regarded today as classics, including “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Mulan” and “Lilo and Stitch,” which he also co-directed. Finding the work with Don Bluth not to his liking (“A Troll in Central Park” was a long fall from the heights of “An American Tail”), DeBlois joined Disney and soon found himself paired with Sanders on “Mulan.” Their next project, which both men wrote and directed, was “Lilo and Stitch,” which earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Animated Film. The film, and it’s various animated spin-offs, also kept Sanders busy as he provided the voice of Stitch. Their next project, which opens this week, is the 3D adventure “How To Train Your Dragon.” I recently shared a phone call with the two filmmakers, who were promoting the film in our nation’s capital. I was tempted to ask Sanders to answer my questions as Stitch but realized I would never understand his answers!

Click here to purchase “How to Train Your Dragon”

MS: You worked on “The Muppet Babies” television show. Was that your first professional job?

CS: (surprised) Oh my gosh! Yes. I drew models for that.

MS; Was (Muppet Creator) Jim Henson someone that had inspired you growing up?

CS: When I was a kid? Yes. My two big influences were Carl Barks (who drew the popular “Donald Duck” comics) and Charles Schultz (the creator of “Peanuts”). Carl not only drew Donald Duck but he told some great stories.

MS: Though you have a few directing credits the majority of your film work has been writing. I mean, you’ve written or helped write five modern animated classics. Was your intention to make writing a career or is it just something that you discovered you were good at?

CS: That’s interesting. When I got to Disney I started in the story department. And to my surprise, I discovered that there is a little bit of writing you can do all the time when you’re in “story” because when you’re given little sequences to movies you always have to do a little customizing, so it becomes very natural to start writing sequences when you’re in the story department. On “Mulan” I started out as the head of story and actually ended up doing quite a bit of writing for the movie. And from there I went to “Lilo and Stitch.” I should mention that Dean and I met on “Mulan, where we both were writing the story. And then from “Lilo and Stitch” we went on to the “Dragon” movie, where we’ve continued our relationship.

MS: What is the time frame from sitting down and knocking out a script to the finished animated feature?

CS: Animated films, in both traditional animation and CG, tend to go about three years average. They can go four years, a little bit longer or they can go shorter. The interesting thing about “How To Train Your Dragon” for Dean and I is that we actually joined the film after it was being developed, so we came on fairly late in the process. By the time we were asked to come on and write and direct the film it had about fourteen months to go until the start of production. So that was a very fast schedule by anybody’s standards. But the amazing thing is that the crew we worked with was able to pull it off. We really did re-writes and started the film, story-wise at least, from scratch, fourteen months before the end of production.

MS: That’s some serious speed. Do you enjoy spending that much time on one project or are you looking forward to doing something that’s live action with a much shorter production schedule?

CS: (laughing) We definitely look forward to doing that at some point. We’re very interested in trying out as many things in the business as possible. We love animation. We love live action. One of the amazing things, of course, is now-a-days when you’re doing CG you really are taking your first steps towards the live action realm, because so many live action films are now a hybrid…half CG…it’s all mixed in. And we’re interested in doing…you name it!

MS: I really enjoyed the film. I must tell you that I wasn’t thrilled with “Avatar.” Technically brilliant, but there was just too much…STUFF…happening. I couldn’t keep up with it. Plus your film actually has a story…

CS: (laughs)

MS: When you both came on board, was the original story concept based around a dragon? Or was that something that evolved in the writing stage?

CS: The story came from a children’s book written by Cressida Cowell. Dreamworks had optioned the book so we did have some source material to work with. We did do a bit of changing. The fact is you can get into more details with a book then you can with a film so there’s always an adaptation you have to do. The trick is to try to stay true to the spirit of the book and to keep as many things that keep the flavor of the book in the movie. It was also a very unique experience for Dean and I because, of all the projects we’ve worked on, this is the first one where we knew we’d eventually run into the author! Of course we were very anxious to see if she liked what we did. At the same time, we had to make some big changes, some big choices, to make the story work for the screen. We did finally meet her when she came out from England to watch the movie. She was actually very, very excited about what we did…she totally understood why we made the changes we made and has been incredibly supportive of the direction that we took.

MS: When two people direct a film…I know on a live action film one person will be responsible for one area, one for another…how does it work on an animated film in deciding which vocal take to use, what to feature in the background?

CS: That’s a really good question. (Thank you) There are different ways to do it and different people do it differently. Dean and I actually share all of the responsibilities. One thing we found is that we both have a very similar taste…similar tone with what we like. So we are almost always making the very same movie. In fact that’s what makes the whole thing easy. If we do have a disagreement we learn very quickly…who’s the most serious about this? Who wants this change the most? Almost always one of us wants it more then the other one, so whoever wants it most gets it. We always write together and we always record the voices together. And we’re also in animation together. Because we need to be there for the most important aspects of the film…and it’s also important to keep in touch with the story. We pretty much share all the responsibilities.

MS: When you are directing the voice talent, do you have them do various takes….try it sad, try it happy, because you’re still not sure visually how you’re going to portray the scene?

CS: For the most part, we know the general tone of the scene, and we pitch that to the actor. But that being said, we always encourage the actors to bring as much to the party as they want. We always encourage them to experiment with things…to put things in their own voice. Every once in a while an actor will say, “you know, I don’t think I would have said it this way.” And you encourage them to put it in their own voice. But for the most part you are telling them what angle to take on a particular scene and they will follow that angle.

MS: When Wes Anderson recorded the voices for “The Fabulous Mr. Fox,” he had all of the actors in the same room, encouraging them to play off each other. Is that something you would like to do, or do you have to grab them based upon their availability?

CS: A little bit of both, but you said the right thing. The best way to do it is to have as many people as possible in the same recording session, because then you don’t have to direct as much…they’re going to play off of each other. And you’re going to get better – and more happy – accidents that way. I think you’ll also get a better interlocking of emotions between the two or three voices you have in the room. We definitely do record people on their own. A lot of people are busy…we might be under a tight schedule and not have the time to wait for everyone to get together. The nice thing about this movie was that all of the key moments between Stoic (Gerard Butler), Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Gobber (Craig Ferguson)…we were able to record them in different combinations in New York City over the course of one weekend. That was especially valuable for us. It just made those scenes that much better.

MS: Is there perhaps a dragon or two in the background with Stitch’s head on it?

CS: (laughs loudly) We weren’t able to hide anything inside the film like that, though it would have been fun. I just don’t think we had time!

With a final laugh Mr. Sanders handed the phone to his creative partner, Dean DeBlois.

MS: Good afternoon. Or actually “good evening,” since you’re in D.C.

DD: Good evening.

MS: You began your career working with Don Bluth (“An American Tail”).

DD: Yes, that was my first studio job coming out of college. I went to work at his studio in Ireland.

MS: I know Chris had admired Jim Henson and then got to work with him. Were you a fan of Don Bluth?

DD: Absolutely. I loved “Secret of N.I.M.H.” And I liked his style…his character design style in particular. And when I was in my first year of college “All Dogs Go To Heaven” came out…the same time as (Disney’s) “Oliver and Company” came out. I though the design of the characters in “Dogs” was superior. It was clear that they were holding their own quality wise. Of course, this story grows increasingly worse because eventually I was really excited to go to Disney where I could work on films I was actually proud of. (I can hear Chris Sanders laughing along with Mr. DeBlois in the background).

MS: Chris mentioned an admiration for Charles Schultz. Did you have any animators or cartoonists that influenced you?

DD: I wanted to be a comic book artist. I was a fan of many different comics, but my favorite was “The Savage Sword of Conan.” (Interviewer note: among the many artists who contributed to this publication: Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, John Buscema, Ernie Chan and Jim Starlin). I really learned to draw anatomy. Most of my drawing skills come from emulating people like Ernie Chan, who I think was my favorite “Conan” illustrator. I just realized at age 16 going on 17 that it was time to think about what I was going to pursue as a college path. I started looking around and found a program that taught animation just outside of Toronto, which wasn’t far from where I lived. I decided to give it a try over the summer session. And it contained everything I really liked. It had story telling, character design. It had elements of comic book artistry…you got to compose frames. It all appealed to me. Plus the whole illusion of animation was pretty exciting. So I stuck with it. And I got hired right out of school to go work for Don.

MS: “How To Train Your Dragon” is in 3D. Was that something that was decided on at the start of production or was that a process that was added later?

DD: No, let me clarify that our film was authored in 3D as opposed to retroactively made 3D. There’s a big difference on screen because when it’s organically authored it means your elements from the beginning are separated in depth layers. And it’s so ingrained in the Dreamworks pipeline that all films going forward have the 3D option built into them and, for the foreseeable future anyway they’re all going to be 3D. It’s not something you have to think a lot about. It’s there…it’s a tool in the box. We realized we could go ahead and make the movie we wanted to make and dial up those moments that felt very dynamic and a good use of 3D and let the other ones, the private, intimate moments, flatten out so your eyes get a little rest and refresh for the 3D effect throughout the movie.

MS: I told Mr. Sanders that “Avatar” drove me crazy because everything was jumping around, and you watch the film and your eyes are darting to this and that…

DD: Right.

MS: … but as you said, in “Dragon” you have moments where the 3D is very important to the story…it draws you into the story…and then in the more emotional scenes, especially those between Hiccup and Stoic…

DD: I have to tell you, they kept giving us lists of all the things you could and couldn’t do in 3D and a lot of them felt like we were having our hands tied as filmmakers. So we just decided to hold hands on the idea that we would make the best film we could make and then let 3D find its’ way into the story. And that’s what we did. In areas that weren’t conducive to 3D we just didn’t push it. We allowed it to soften and let your eyes re-adjust and take a break. And moments that were exhilarating and exciting and organically seemed to beg for more dimension, that’s where we put it into effect. It’s like music. It should draw you in and make the experience better without ever reminding you of itself. Gimmicky was not the route we took.

MS: This is a two part question: do you both intend to keep directing as a team? And do you have any interest in doing live action?

DD: Well the first part is absolutely. We love working as a team and I think we will continue to do so. We absolutely love it because, in a way, we inspire each other to go a little further and push beyond the cliche’s that we sort of carry with us in a sense. I can always rely on Chris to read anything I am working on and know that he has a great nose for anything that feels a little to cliched. And the moment he points it out I know it’s been discovered and I have to go back and work on it a little harder. And I do the same for him. I just make sure that I am his kind but stern critic and make sure that the stuff we’re putting out together…and even separately when we read each other’s work…is the best we can do. You get a lot of notes when you work in film but there are very few people whose notes you trust implicitly and I think that’s the case with Chris. I know I can trust him because he always “gets” where I’m going. His notes are usually always additive and never detractive. We enjoy working together and will continue to do so. We have plenty of ideas in our hopper.

MS: The things you mention are very important not only for a working relationship but for a friendship.

DD: Yes. As for the live action side, absolutely. I have a whole bunch of projects. Some of them certainly much better suited to live action. I’ve been pursuing that since “Lilo and Stitch.” I’ve set up a couple of projects at both Disney and Universal and maybe, with the momentum of Dreamworks, can probably get some of those re-stoked and some new ones set up as well. The one thing that working in 3D and CG taught me is that I love expanding the tool box. I love that the medium can be appropriate to the story and not something that you are encumbered by. It’s great that we’re not just known as traditional animators. Now we can be the “3D animation” guys. And hopefully, the “live action” guys. Stop motion animation guys. (laughs). I hope it’s all there. That would be great.

MS: Since you mentioned your hopper, do you know what your next project will be?

DD: Well, I’ve written my script and, fingers crossed, it will get going. But beyond that it’s kind of like lining up your planes on the runway. It’s good to have several that are ready to go. So there are several things being talked about and absolutely nothing committed to just yet. We’ll be sure to talk to you when we do have something.

MS: That would be great!

Click here to purchase “How to Train Your Dragon”

Interview with John Wilson

Since Movie Mikes are a member on the voting committee for the Golden Raspberry Awards, we recently has the opportunity to talk with the founder John Wilson. John started the Razzies 30 years ago which are an annual ceremony dedicated to “honoring” the worst in film, set the day before the Oscars.

Mike Gencarelli: How did the Golden Raspberry Awards start?
John Wilson: It came out of several things about 30 years ago. At the time, I was barely out of college and I was working for a company that made movie trailers. The company sponsored a film festival, I agreed to be the liaison and between that part of my job the movie I saw working on trailers and my own interest in movies in 1980, I actually saw 250 films in one year. When you see that many the odds don’t favor the Oscar stuff, they favor what the Razzies is talking about. Specifically in the summer of 1980. I came back from a trip to Europe and went to a double feature for $.99 cents of two now infamous disco musicals. Olivia Newton John in “Xanadu” and The Village People in “Can’t Stop the Music” and even though I only spend $.99 cents, I wanted my money back. When the manager said no, when I drove home I remember clearly running through my head “We’ll those two movies really sucked, what are other movies from this last year? I could name a dozen off the top of my head that if there were an awards for the worst certainly, those would be contenders. At the time I was doing an annual dinner party to watch the Academy Awards, the end at a fairly reasonable hour, like 9pm or 10pm. The very first one started as a party joke. I made a cardboard cut out podium. I put a foam ball on a broom and pretended it was a mike. I painted a banner and hung it in the alcove of my living room. When the Oscars were over, we spent 20 minutes doing a fake imitation Oscars with clips from the nominated pictures, ballads at the buffet table and a sing-a-long at the end where we rhymed the names of the movie stars that died in 1980 to the tune of “That’s Entertainment”. Two or three dozen people were there, everyone still talks about the first one. The following year I sent a press release in advance and got two newspapers. By the fourth year, I realized you couldn’t do it on Oscar night and hope to get any attention. We moved it to the night before and that is when it really took off. Press from all over the world come to LA for the Oscars, and the night before there is nothing for them to do. Partly by perseverance, we have lasted 30 years which is a lot longer than anyone doing something this silly seem to last.

Mike Gencarelli: You just celebrated the 30th anniversary, honoring the worst films, what has been one defining moment over the years?
John Wilson: As cool as it was to have Sandra Bullock show up with a wagon of DVD’s and give them to the audience, the ultimate Razzies moment was 5 years ago at our 25th, when the first Oscar winner showed up to admit that she made a career mistake. Halle Berry came out on our stage with the Oscar in one hand from “Monster’s Ball” and her Razzie in the other. She was killer funny for seven or eight minutes straight, ripping on her own Oscar speech, naming all the people that needed to share this award. She trashed the studios, she was absolutely hilarious and in doing that she put “Catwoman” behind her. Now when people talk to her about it, its not about what a rotten movie she made, but how you had the guts to show up and accept the awards.

Mike Gencarelli: Do you still enjoy watching movies or do you find that you are always on the “job”?
John Wilson: I do but on different levels. Watching the Oscars this year, I was rooting for the picture that did win. I thought that “The Hurt Locker” was a brilliant film. “Avatar on the other hand…huge money maker, wasn’t a particularly original, clever or valid film. I would salute Cameron for “Titanic”, “Avatar” ehh. I am capable of coming at a movie from several different perspectives. Supposedly there is a movie coming out called “The Expendables” that has Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke. It is like a 1980’s Razzie nominees reunion. Some people have to understand if it is the right bad movie, it can be incredibly entertaining.

MG: What do you look for when you watch a movie to consider it the worst?
JW: There are three or four yardsticks, that we generally go by. One of them is, yes we do pay attention to reviews. There are two sites that we go by, Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic. We look at box office and compare to how much something costs. “Land of the Lost” is a perfect example. It cost, I heard $150 million to produce, $100 million to market and it grossed $49 million. That is going to get our attention. We pay attention to the comments and discussion that is posted on our official forum. Then there is the “Razzie Pedigree” to a movie, which is how many people involved in the movie in front and behind the camera have a history with our awards. I was surprised it took Michael Bay until this year to win a Razzie, he is a terrible director and should be doing trailers for insurance commercials blowing stuff up.

MG: Do you typical invite all of the celebrity nominees to the event? Anyone every give you a problem?
JW: What we normally do, we wait until we know or the trend is clear and who the winners are going to be. We contact the people that we think are going to win. I have been on an annual basis hung up by managers, agents, people representing these various artists. My favorite was when Madonna won worst actress of the century. I spoke with her publicist and the woman totally said “What makes you think that she would show up to accept that award?” I said back “I can’t argue that she didn’t earn the award” and the phone clicked in my ear and the conversation was over. We do not discourage people from attending certainly, we are a well-known enough event, if you wanted to attend. It’s posted on the website and it’s mentioned in the press release. What we don’t want is people showing up and being pissy, that doesn’t work for anybody. Over the 30 years we have done it, I do not even think it is ten people who won awards accepted them.

MG: If you have to narrow it down, what is your favorite film? and your least favorite?
JW: Favorite good movie is “Sunset Boulvard”. I have it memorized. I grew up watching it as a kid. To me that movie has everything. It is a comedy, drama, romance, mystery, in places it is a horror movie. The only genre it really doesn’t have, except when Gloria Swanson sings, is musical. It has every other genre all wrapped up in one wonderful package that also at the same time is talking about how cruel and heartless Hollywood is. My favorite Razzie movie is a toss-up between “Mommy Dearest” that has every credential to have been good, everyone involved was an Oscar winner. The movie is still an enormous joke. The ultimate Razzie movie, that held the most awards for a while is “Showgirls”. A group of adults that make a serious drama about the tragedy of being a lap dancer in Las Vegas. The people that made the movie did not mean it as a comedy. My least favorite movie is “Freddy Got Fingered”. It is the most indefensible, unfunny, sick, ugly, angry, nasty, gross piece of crap I have ever seen in my life. Tom Green showed up and behaved almost as abominably as I thought. We literally had to drag him off the stage. He figured it was funny to stand on our stand for what felt like five minutes, it was probably three and play the harmonica. We carried him yelling and screaming off the stage, the audience loved it, Mr. Green was livid and threatened to sue.

MG: What is your 5-year goal for the 35th anniversary of the awards?
JW: I would love to see the show broadcast. As well known as it is, most people have seen clips of the show on the news, so they think it has been broadcast. It has never been because the studios have always refused to give us any permissions commercially. We are trying to figure out a way to get around that at this point and you may finally see the show broadcast.

Click here to purchase John Wilson’s Books

Watch below to see Halle Berry & Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speeches at the Razzies.