LAIKA’s Travis Knight & Arianne Sutner chat about creating “ParaNorman”

Travis Knight is the CEO/President/Lead Animator of LAIKA, which is the animation studio behind films like “ParaNorman” and “Coraline”. Arianne Sutner is the producer of “ParaNorman”. “ParaNorman” is the latest film from the studio and will be released on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on November 27th, 2012. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Travisa and Arianne about their work with stop-motion and what they have planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: Arianne, you’ve been working in stop-motion since “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, what is it that draws you to this medium?
Arianne Sutner: When I was starting out I was always a fan of animation and family movies. I was working in the Bay area and the movie that was happening around that time was “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas”. Part of it also was that you get to work on the project for a long time and it was still very new at the time and very exciting. When I started working in that environment, I just love that you create everything by hand. There were these fantastic stages that you get to work on and also the fact that it was this collaborative process. You really get to feel everything and get very involved. I really fell in love with it. I worked at other places like Pixar, in their beginning and they are making fantastic movies. But it is the experience of working on these movies that I love so much and the kind of people that are drawn to them. I always say that it is really fun and Travis says that I am crazy, which is true. You really get your hands dirty and get to collaborate and with some real great artists.

MG: Travis, How does the LAIKA President & CEO also end up being the lead animator on projects like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”?
Travis Knight: I have been an artist my entire life. I fell in love with stop-motion, since I was child. Ultimately, I wanted to figure out how it was done before the internet or animation schools etc. So I was just learning by practice. It is something that has been a part of my life for 30 years now. I was an artist long before I was an executive. I have described myself as an artist trying to find his inner-executive. As I have been trying to move the company forward, it was always important to me as I began the process of building the company that I never lose the direct connection with the work because it’s what it is all about. It is why we do this. It is why we got drawn to creating something of great beauty. It is something that is critical to me. I think also to have the head of the studio in the trenches with all the other artists and filmmakers, rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty and being a part of the creative process helps to define the sensibility of what the company is all about. We really are all about finding a beautiful way of telling these classic stories in this extraordinary art form of stop-motion.

MG: Arianne, You took on the role of producer in “ParaNorman”; what was your most challenging aspect?
AS: I think it is to make sure that the script we got was so beautiful, so well picked, so ambitious and overall something that was really special that had various different layers. Also that it was at the same time entertaining and had certain messages that we believed in. We wanted to make sure that it brought to life the way that Chris (Butler) intended it. While also making sure that we met Travis’ standards and to have the best stop-motion animation in the world. I think that was my biggest overall challenge that I was reaching for everyday.
TK: Arianne is fairly humble. She really is like a little marvel. She held the entire production on her shoulders. Every day some new crazy challenge was thrown her way and she handled all them with this amazing grace. The fact that we brought this extraordinary film on time and under budget is a testament to her leadership.

MG: Travis, How does the production on “ParaNorman” differ to “Coraline”?
TK: With “Coraline”, it was the first film that we had done from the ground up. So everything was new. We were forging new ground. In some ways we didn’t know better. We had really grand ambition and wouldn’t accept the fact that we couldn’t do certain things with conventional stop-motion, in the sense of what you can do in this medium. So that meant incorporating technology that wasn’t done before. The natural enemy of stop-motion, this age old craft, is technology. We decided to embrace technology and to bring that forward as part of the process with digital capture systems, 3D photography, laser cutters and rapid prototyping. That way we were able to embrace the machine in a way that hasn’t been done before. It allowed us to expand the scope of the movie. We built on that to an incredible extent for “ParaNorman” and we took it even further than we could have imagined for “Coraline”. I think that process of innovating to tell incredible stories in this medium by fusing those two aspects together, art craft and technology, led us to a place where we can really seize our ambitions and see them realized on the big screen. When you look at the evolution in the visual stylization in the technical execution between “ParaNorman” and “Coraline”, it is fairly remarkable that it happened in only three years.

MG: Why do you think that stop-motion films tend to deal with darker subject matter?
TK: That is an interesting question. We can’t fully appreciate what that means until we see how the thing plays out in the fullness of time. I think when you look at the history of stop-motion film; there is a very small amount of films made in this medium. You can attribute about half of them to two guys, Tim Burton and Henry Selick. They have this dark gothic sensibility. When these guys make the films they want to make…they make them. I think you can look at our films and they don’t have that sensibility. They have this warmer sensibility that is distinctly British but is all very entertaining. So I think you need to look at those two things and see that there is nothing inherently creepy or dark about stop-motion. I think also when you have an inanimate object that is brought to life by the hands of an animator; there is something weird about that. They move is this weird jerky kind of way, which does gives a certain creepy feeling. One of the things that we have been trying to do at LAIKA is to really take the performances in the animation of these stop-motion puppets to an entirely new level and make them feel very human. So that people can connect with these emotional characters on the screen. It is really difficult to do that in stop-motion. I think it was important us to get over that hurdle of making these things creepy. I think you can certainly see with “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” they share some DNA in common. Moving forward, I do think that it is important for us at LAIKA to expand what we do and that is telling different kinds of stories in different kinds of ways. So when you see the next handful of films from our company hopefully they will not look or feel like anything we’ve done before.

MG: What’s next in the cards for LAIKA?
TK: We are very selective on the project that we take on. Currently we do have about ten projects in various forms of development. It is a combination of things that are adaptations of literature and original projects. “Coraline” was an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel and “ParaNorman” was an original idea. These things take a long time to make since the pace is graceful. There was about three years between “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”. There will be about two years between “ParaNorman” and our next film. We are trying to truncate the time period, so ultimately we are on an annual release schedule and releasing a film every year. It is a challenge and is difficult to do that but it is something that we are shooting for. But that is path that we are aiming for.

Brahm Wenger talks about creating music for “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”

Brahm Wenger is the composer and writer of the original music for Disney’s “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”.  He has been working within this franchise since “Air Bud”.  Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Brahm about working on this series and it’s latest installment “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”.

Mike Gencarelli: With “Santa Buddies”, “The Search for Santa Paws” and now “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”, you’ve not only composed the score but also written original songs; tell us about that aspect?
Brahm Wenger: Well the difference about when you write songs for a film is that it effectively then becomes a musical. The biggest difference is that you start before they start filming. You start when the script is written and you work with the director to find where the story will be best served with a song. When you write the score, you wait for them to finish the film and then you write the score. When you do films like “Santa Buddies”, “The Search for Santa Paws” and now “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”, you are in from the minute they finish the scripts. You start by writing the songs. You are part of the casting process, since you have to write the songs to fit the people singing. They have to be able to perform it. If there are dance sequences, then you have to work with the choreographer. Then you are also working with them at the set level, so you are involved with the assistant director, the director etc. It is a real collaborative effort.

MG: Where do you get the inspiration for the Christmas music, specifically in “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”?BW: I think the inspiration comes first from the script. Once you see the story, you can see what you are trying to accomplish. The beauty of doing music and writing songs is that you can say so much more with a song that you can with dialogue. There is a famous lyricist that one said “a page of lyrics is equal to ten pages of script”. It is just so much more effective. So the inspiration is from the story and you find what they are trying to say in that particular moment and then you nail it as a song.

MG: How long did it take create the eight original songs for “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups”?
BW: We started about 9 months before they started shooting the film and once the script was done. Not only do you have to write them adapt to the singer, you also have to please the director and the writers etc. It has to work and also has to be in sync for everybody.

MG: How was it working at London’s famed Abbey Road Studio for these scores?
BW: Abbey Road also has a sister studio in London called Air Studios. It was started by the famous Beatles producer George Martin. Sometimes we go to Abbey Road and sometimes we go to Air Studios. It really depends on the feeling. Air has a bit of a warmer sound. It is like a 300-400 year old church. Abbey Road is more of an industrial strength room. It feels a little brassier. So we go back and worth but they both work beautifully.

MG: You’ve been working with the Disney Buddies series since the beginning with “Air Bud”, how has the series evolved?
BW: It is very different. They come from the same genesis but are so completely different. “Air Bud” series focuses on his playing various different sports. He would figure out, how to play a sport and then have some sort of a championship game and go on win it. With the “Air Buddies” franchise, it is completely different because they dogs talk and that opens up a whole new avenue. There are also five of them instead of just one. And it is also a continuing adventure so in when they went to Alaska for the dog sled. The Alaskan theme of the great north is completely different from when they went to Egypt in “Treasure Buddies”. As a composer it is like one minute you are writing the Duke of the North and then the next minute you are working for Indiana Jones. There is no connection. When we did “Santa Buddies” or “Santa Paws 2”, it is straight forward Christmas music but here it is completely different. The next one is “Super Buddies”, which is a superhero movie and again that is completely different. It is really a challenge to start each time with a fresh format.

MG: So “Super Buddies” is next for you then?
BW: Yep, that is next now. We are working on it right now as we speak. They are just about finished shooting that. Then I should be seeing a cut in the next few weeks. So I am looking forward to starting on that one next.

Craig Gerber talks about creating Disney Junior’s “Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess”

Craig Gerber is the co-executive producer/writer of Disney Junior’s “Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess”. Disney will introduce its first little girl princess with the debut of “Sofia the First: Once Upon A Princess,” an enchanting, music-filled animated Disney Junior television movie for the whole family, Sunday November 18 on Disney Channel and Thursday and November 22 on Disney Junior, the 24-hour channel. The primetime television movie special stars Ariel Winter (“Modern Family”) as the voice of Sofia, Sara Ramirez (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as her mother, Queen Miranda; Wayne Brady (“Let’s Make A Deal”) as Clover, a wise-talking Rabbit; and Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”) as Baileywick, the family’s Royal Steward. A television series of “Sofia the First”  will debut in early 2013 on Disney Junior, as well. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Craig about how this show was created and what we can expect.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how “Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess” was born?
Craig Gerber: A few years ago, I was approached by Nancy Kanter at Disney Junior because they were looking to create a TV show centered around a princess for 2-7 year old children. She asked me flat out if I had any ideas, so I said I would think about it. So I got in my car and was stuck in traffic, I guess that is where you do your best thinking in Los Angeles. I started thinking about my own childhood. I grew up in a blended family. My parents divorced. My dad remarried. I have a half-brother. It occurred to me that it would be great to create a fairy tale story that the modern family can relate to. For there, I thought it would also be wonderful to have a princess character that children could closely identify with. I just had my first child at the time and I was watching him experiencing new things and how to get along in the world. I saw him emulating fantasy characters. Fantasy has always been a great way to tell stories and to impart lessons. I thought wouldn’t it be great for kids to be able to use those fantasy stories to provide life lessons to them as they grow up. With all that in mind, I thought “What if, there was an ordinary girl that lived in an enchanted village and her mother fell in love and married the king overnight, which made this young little girl a princess overnight.” She has to learn how to be royal and get to know her step-family. The idea of this blended royal family in an enchanted world is the heart of the show.

MG: What is a princess movie without great songs…tell us about that aspect?
CG: It is funny because I never intended it to be a musical. I got to a part in the script for the TV movie, when Sofia gets the power to talk with animals due to this emulate and they have a chance to give her their piece of mind. Her rabbit friend Clover wants to tell her why woodland creatures have been helping princesses all these years. I thought wouldn’t it be great if they just broke out into song. Like this was the first time that anyone has ever thought about that [laughs]. So I wrote lyrics to the song that would become “A Little Bit of Food”. We find out these furry woodland creatures are helping out princesses since that is where all the great food is. For there the response from the network was so great that they asked me to write three or four more songs. So it became a musical just like that! And I got to tell you…it is one of the best parts.

MG: How was it incorporating classic characters like Flora, Fauna and Merryweather from “Sleeping Beauty” and Cinderella?
CG: It is daunting. It is wonderful. That has been the fun of the show is embracing the Disney legacy and the Disney fairy tale storyboard world. And taking the decades of films and characters and creating our own unique kingdom while still incorporating those characters and elements into our show. To be able to put Flora, Fauna and Merryweather in the show and make them the head mistresses of Royal Prep, the school where Sofia and all the princesses all over the world go, is just great fun. They are great characters and children know them from “Sleeping Beauty”. It is just a blast to be able to have them show up and be a part of our world. When you bring in a classic Disney princess like Cinderella, who makes a cameo appearance to give some princess advise to Sofia, which is really…just an honor.

MG: Tell us about the amazing voice cast including Ariel Winter, Wayne Brady and Tim Gunn?
CG: The voice cast is not only supremely talented but they are genuinely excited to be working on this show. It is partially because they love the characters, the world and the legacy of Disney storytelling. Ariel Winter is a wonderful young actress from “Modern Family” and she breathes life into Sofia. She captured the character immediately. Wayne Brady is hilarious. He has brought a lot of humor both written and unwritten [laughs] to the character of Clover the Rabbit. Tim Gunn, who I believe has had limited if any voice over experience, has really embodied the character of Baileywick, the kings right-hand man. We also have Sara Ramirez from “Grey’s Anatomy”, who is a talent actress and singer. Overall, we just have such a wonderful cast who have come in and brought so much creativity and enthusiasm to the show. It has really elevated everything we done.

MG: This TV movie is set as the pilot to the upcoming animated series, when/what can we expect?
CG: The TV movie follows Sofia’s first two days in the castle, her debut ball and also getting along we her new step-sister Amber. Then in the series, which will launch early next year, will follow her continued adventures being a princess in this royal world. The show at its essence is about Sofia learning that being truly royal is about how you behave and the person you are inside. A lot of the episodes show Sofia learning these lessons or showing others how to learn these as well, especially her step-sister Amber. There are also a bunch of fun adventures that Sofia goes on and a lot of new fun characters we meet. So there are a lot of great things in store for her.

COPYRIGHT ©2012 Disney Junior. All photography is copyrighted material and is for editorial use only. Images are not to be archived, altered, duplicated, resold, retransmitted or used for any other purposes without written permission of Disney. Images are distributed to the press in order to publicize current programming. Any other usage must be licensed.

The Dude Designs’ Thomas Hodge talks creating art for the horror genre

Thomas Hodge is the man behind The Dude Designs (thedudedesigns.blogspot.com). He is a
freelance film poster art director, designer and illustrator for such films as “Hobo With a Shotgun”, “The Innkeepers”, “Fathers Day!”, Arrow Video Covers: “Savage Streets”, “Jaguar Lives” and many others. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Thomas about his work and his love for the horror genre.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your got started with The Dude Designs?
Thomas Hodge: It was creative frustration and a passion for film. I’ve been in the design industry for over twelve years now, going through all types of design from corporate business to in-store promo for toys & DVD’s, general design agencies and have spent quite a few years in and out the games industry, creating key art for packaging etc. Creatively I felt I was always held back from producing something which would standout. so I rediscovered my love of old video cover art and that sent the old cogs grinding and i started experimenting more with styles and design to tap into that classic vain, in a market i felt was running dry creatively.  I suppose the initial inspiration was for an intoxicated night at the midnight movies screening of the grindhouse film. I was over there with a bunch of mates and they had silly draw a grindhouse poster so I entered my drunken scrawl for a poster of DUDE! Which I then later worked up into one of my early video cover experiments:

MG: How did you get involved doing film posters and DVD/Blu-ray covers?
TH: Like I said I started experimenting creating flyers for midnight movies night. It’s easier to start the wheels in motion design wise (I find) if you have a purpose, so doing the flyers on the side gave me that initial push (i was still working full time creatively) but it made me experiment with my passion of film as the medium, if you will. Creating the blog then gave me a platform to get this work out there for people to see. So from there I then was starting an art project creating old video nasty covers really getting wrapped up in all the little design niches that I loved, I was still working more with photographic imagery so to really capture that inspiration essence which excited me about this type of art I needed to push it further, and I worked on a self project titled Cannon (a mock 70 crime action drama based on my love of “Death Wish” and 70s Italian crime cinema) then I tackled a competition for Empire Film Mag in the UK and the response was great, with that style and my other work at Sony I picked up the arrow covers. Still wanting to push it further I saw the release of “Hobo “loved it and contacted the guys about creating a poster, they said sure love to see what you can do, i worked my nuts off on that. they loved it so much they brought it and used it… the rest as they say is history, but I’m still trying to push my style and work further with each project, I’m aiming for world domination of bust!

MG: Your work is a breath of fresh air from all the lame (giant heads) Hollywood posters, tell us about your influence?
TH: EVERYTHING from my childhood to adolescence, video rental shop shelves. Artist wise Graham Humphrey’s work form films like “Evil Dead”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “The Return of The Lliving Dead”, “Spookies”, “The Stuff”… man the list goes on. Enzo Sciotti, who is an amazing Italian poster artist from the 70’s and 80’s. Frant Frazetta for his use of form and figures is just incredible!  Even the more minimal work of Stephen Frankfurt has influenced me. All the greats which seem to have been forgotten about and over looked, good design has been excluded from commercial (I’m not talking about ‘limited edition’ screen prints) film posters for far too long now. The responsibility of that doesn’t come down to the designers either it’s the distributors who feel dumb is best to sell. My work has been swapped out for some appalling designs on DVD releases; did you SEE what they did to the Innkeepers in the UK? I’m always searching out new inspiration trying to push the envelope.

MG: How much freedom do you have when working on a project?
TH: Again it depends on the client, I usually try to get a lot though, why higher me else? If you’re going to pay me I will promise to deliver the best god damn poster design I can to appropriately promote your film to an audience. A lot of the time they will request a montage style poster, so that will be the framework but I like to experiment and try to sell other styles in to. At the end of the day I’m trying to get people trusting in what I do creatively and I sell myself more as a creative director of these projects. Working with directors directly gives the most freedom I find, they trust you and it usually forms the best relationships. I don’t do design by committee been there done that.

MG: What do you enjoy most about working in the horror genre?
TH: The fantasy element, it gives you that fun visual hook to play with. You can let your imagination run wild; I wish people would make more rubber monster films again. I feel I make as many twisted action flick as horror though.

MG: What is your favorite 80’s horror films? Current horror film?
TH: Oh man, how longs a piece of string? Er…. I honestly can’t say. I love them all for their 80’s cheesy. More modern is easier as there’s a lot less on the list (excluding all the ones i worked on as I don’t want to be seen showing favoritism) “Wendigo”, “Last Winter”, “I Can See You”, “Session 9”, “Pontypool”, “28 Days later”, “Altered”, “The Objective”, “Let The Right One In (Swedish)” and “Insidious” (that’s quite a mainstream one for me) stood out for me.

MG: How do you approach a project like the design for “They Live” Blu-ray?
TH: Well I look at what the films message is, visually how its approach and style, setting are. Then work on a visual which reflects those messages to the viewer. it’s an 80s action extravaganza combined with social commentary, staring one of the greatest wrestlers ever. So that’s what I drew! I was so enamored in the film in my head I was trying to produce a piece which had almost religious iconography undertones and Piper with Keith where latter day saints standing against adversity! Crazy shit hey, at first you may see big guns but if you look deeper there are messages. It doesn’t need to be like a minimal to be clever!

MG: What other projects do you have planned upcoming?
TH: We two corking (actually four) posters yet to get released for “Almost Human”, “Wake Before I Die” (bit of a change of gear on that one so see how people react, that’s always fun!). Then I got another poster for “Would You Rather” (which has a classic flavor) and a big fun monster one for “Hypothermia”, if they release it.

Eric Kripke talks about creating new hit series NBC’s “Revolution”

Eric Kripke talks about creating new hit series NBC’s “Revolution”, which airs Mondays 10pm EST. Kripke also created and executive produced “Supernatural,” now in its eighth season. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Eric about the show and what we can expect from the first season.

Mike Smith: Can you talk just a bit about how you came up with the whole concept for the show?
Eric Kripke: Yeah, sure. Really for me it was about, I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, I’m a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, I’m a huge fan of really that kind of Joseph Campbell classic, mythic, heroes journey storytelling, you know those big grand adventures. And those are the kind of stories that are more often serviced in movies than they are on television. But, I think TV is actually a perfect format for that kind of storytelling because if so many – you know those are such big sprawling stories and you have so many more hours in TV to really explore all the different facets of a world and the characters that live in that world. And that you could give it, you know really epic scope, but very intimate character focus. So for me, it was always – I was always really interested in kind of taking that sort of big sprawling adventure format, that big quest format and putting it in television when you can really explore it episodically, and so that’s really kind of where the idea started. And, you know I’m a huge fan of Star Wars. I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King’s The Stand, and I really like the idea of rather than setting it in some fantasy kingdom to set the story line in some kind of transformed America, which is very – you know in a very strange way relatable and familiar to your audience, because it’s things that they’ve seen before, but just transformed overgrown with vines and all that. It kind of started from the idea of just where can we create this mythic quest, and then from there it was working, you know J.J. and his whole team at Bad Robot and we were sort of talking about like, “Okay, what would transform America, and would it be nuclear war, would it be disease?” We all sort of felt like we’ve seen that a million times before. And they had been kicking around an idea of, “Like what would happen if there was a global blackout?” I jumped right on that idea. I’m like, “That’s perfect. That’s the way to kickoff the show.” That’s really interesting and provocative and I think a really relatable concept, because I think everybody feels how over-reliant we are on technology, and so it becomes sort of interesting commentary to explore what would happen if we removed all technology overnight.

MS: Just going back to the pilot when the blackout happened, it looks like it was very gradual over the whole Earth, should we be reading into that, looking for clues as to the origin of the blackout, or did that just look cool to have that sweep of darkness over the Earth?
EK: You should look for clues everywhere…is the short answer. The longer answer is, you know there was a phenomenon that, you know we have up our sleeve as to what caused the blackout, and that that it – what you saw in that globe shot is an accurate representation of what we are working on. And – but, you know right now we’re currently in the writers room. We’re talking dangerously about revealing that secret before the end of the first season. So again, it’s sort of my philosophy of not being too precious with anything. So, we may reveal the secret sooner than later.

MS: Can you talk a little bit about the decision to downgrade Maggie from series regular, and then eventually write her out.
EK: Yeah, sure. You know what it really came down to more than any other decision, Anna Lise is a wonderful actress and I love that character. I’m sort of have a bad habit in the shows that I run of killing off the people that I love, and I think Maggie was one of those. I think we decided internally that very early on that it was really important to show that this world had very real stakes, and that it was truly dangerous. And because, you know you’re not close to hospitals, you’re not close to paramedics, you’re not close to help, and we very quickly realized that the scariest thing we could do was to kill the doctor among them. So it was purely a creative decision about really putting a sharp – giving the world the real charge of danger, so that as we move forward in the series we want the audience to really understand that nobody is safe, including the main characters, and just bring that suspense as the series continues because we think that’s honest to the world we’re trying to create here.

MS: Can you talk a little bit about what we’re going to see, in terms of Neville’s backstory and who he was?
EK: Yeah. You know, Neville – what’s interesting about the blackout in the show and – which – you know where we like to explore and we want to explore more and more as the show goes on is what a transformative experience it was for so many people. And who they were in the old world has nothing to do with who they are now. And – I mean, there’s like a bit of that in the pilot, which you know we were always amused by the idea that he’s this kind of violent strong man post-blackout, but pre-blackout he was an insurance adjuster. So we were really interested in exploring that backstory more and seeing how his character, who before the blackout was pretty mild mannered and maybe a little submissive, and how did he transform into the violent psychopath that he is today? And then – you know, and then meeting his wife. And right now, basically, we’re planting Kim now, and then, you know we’re going to meet here in the present day and really explore her character a couple episodes down the line. And we’re going to see how, you know a very normal suburban wife before the blackout, post-blackout, transformed into a Lady Macbeth.

MS: Tell us about how you chose Giancarlo Esposito for the role of Captain Tom Neville?
EK: Giancarlo is just a world-class actor, and frankly we were shocked that he was willing to partner up with us because, you know we were sort of like – we felt like we were like kind of, “Like, why is such a classy actor want to hang out with such shady people?” And – but, you know obviously I was a – I’m a – I was a huge fan of his performance in Breaking Bad, but I’ve been a fan of his from long before that, and we’re just honored to have him be a part of the show. He brings so much heft and depth and emotion and – to Neville, who is not obviously the same character as that character, because you know Neville’s got, you know moments of vulnerability and moments of humanity. And he’s just a really interesting complicated character that Giancarlo makes so much better than what is on the page. But yeah, and it’s true because I mean he’s the – he’s exactly the type of actor you want to work with because you can write any dialogue and he makes it about five times better than it actually is. And I’m just – like I said, I’m just honored to be working with him. And then on top of that, he’s like the nice – it’s like the government actually has designated him the nicest man in America. He couldn’t be a sweeter, more gracious, more open-hearted collaborative guy, and someone who is that talented and that kind-hearted is just is really one in a million, and I just love working with him.

MS: Could talk a little about Rachel’s motivations and the direction her character’s going in?
EK: Yeah, sure. I mean, certain ones are a little mysterious, so I have to be a little cagey, because we reveal some things. But basically, what – you know Rachel is – you know she has – she’s obviously holding on to certain secrets about why the power went out, and we’ll reveal in the next episode on Monday exactly – we’ll reveal a little more about what she in fact knows about the blackout. Monroe’s been keeping her, in a gilded cage, kind of prisoner; although, with occasional torture, so it’s not so fun. But she’s strong and, we’re so smitten with what Elizabeth is doing with the character that we’re just writing more and more and more for her, because she’s just – she’s so good. And so, she’s a very strong character, but everything changes when Danny finally arrives in Philadelphia. So, now General Monroe has Rachel where he wants her, because she doesn’t really care about he own well-being, but of course she cares about the well-being of her son. And so, he’s really able to twist her arm and forced her to reveal things that she hasn’t revealed to him yet. But she, of course, is you know smart and heroic and is, you know desperately searching for a way out of the predicament that she’s in.

MS: Are we going to see Nate and Charlie’s relationship develop more?
EK: The short answer, yes, but over the sweep of the season. He’s going to be spending some time in Philadelphia, we’re going to start to understand what his world is like within the world of the militia, but he’s certainly going to interact with Charlie again and he has a bumpy road ahead for him.

MS: Since the full season pickup mean that you were able to go ahead with some story ideas and arcs that you’d maybe put on the backburner in case NBC did cut the series short?
EK: Well, you know television showrunners are a foolishly optimistic bunch. I think we were designing our story lines in the hopes that there would be a full season pickup. And then, in my back – it was more that. It was more like I was, you know designing the story line for 22, and then in my back pocket I had a – I had like a nuclear failsafe that it really looked everything was going off the cliff I had an emergency contingency plan to wrap everything up very quickly. But obviously, I’m very thankful to the network that they gave us the opportunity to, you know be able to tell the story.

MS: You are also the creator of “Supernatural”. How much time are you being able to spend at that since “Revolution” is now also in production?
EK: Yeah, I don’t spend as much time over there as I would like, but – because this one’s got my hands full at the moment. But, I will say that, Bog Singer and Jeremy Carver, who are running that show are doing an absolutely incredible job and it’s like watching Supernatural go is like – is sort of like watching my child go off to college. I don’t necessarily have control over it, but I’m so proud of what they’re doing.

Steve Byrne talks about creating new TBS’ series “Sullivan & Son”

Steve Byrne is the creator, along with Rob Long (“Cheers”), and star of the new TBS’ comedy series “Sullivan & Son”. Steve is known best for performing stand-up. The show is executive produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley. The show also co-stars Dan Lauria, Jodi Long, Owen Benjamin, Brian Doyle-Murray, Christine Ebersole and Valerie Azlynn. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Steve about the new show and what we can expect.

Mike Gencarelli: Being a creator of “Sullivan & Son”, tell us about its origin?
Steve Byrne: It all starts and ends with Vince Vaughn. He has been such a great friend of mine for many years. He told me one day “Why don’t you develop something for yourself”. My focus was always on stand-up. I never wrote anything before and I told him that. He told me “Well you can do it” and that is kind of how the conversation went. He just said “You can do it”. So I went out and bought a bunch of books on script writing and studied for few months. Then I spent another few months writing the inital pilot. I turned it into him and Peter Billingsley and they liked it and suggested with meet with some writers. So we met with Rob Long and we just hit it off right off the bat. Originally the show was suppose to take place in a diner and Rob said “You should make this a bar show”. Well I said “If you sign on, you did one of the best bar shows ever, if you want to do it then hell yeah! Let’s do it!”. So that is how the whole thing came about.

MG: Going from stand-up to sitcom, what do you enjoy most?
SB: What I love about sitcom is that I am not by myself. Stand-up is a lonely profession. It’s a few weeks a year living out of suitcase and constantly being by yourself. You are the life of the party for two hours a night but then you just go back to the hotel room by yourself [laughs]. So it can be a pretty depressing. But being with this great ensemble cast, there is such a genuine chemistry we all have. When we brake for lunch, nobody goes off into their own dressing room. We all sit down and eat lunch together. We got some real good veterans on the show like Dan Lauria, Brian Doyle-Murray, Christine Ebersole and Jodi Long. Everyone has been tremendous to work with. It has been the highlight of my career.

MG: Does it still feel like stand-up due to the live-audience aspect?
SB: I think the only element to stand-up that could be parlayed to doing it in front of a live studio audience is us comics feel more comfortable. I never get nervous. You can put 200 people in front of me or put 5,000 people in front of me. I feel very comfortable and I’ve been doing it for 14 years of my life. The only thing I have a problem with people saying with have a laugh track on our show. We don’t. We earn the laughs that we get. We don’t tamper with them. It’s not our fault that the audience is enjoying themselves at the taping [laughs].

MG: Working with your friends, you find it hard to keep it serious? or is that the magic of the show?
SB: [laughs] There has been times when we try not to goof off too much. I think towards the end of shooting it started to feel like summer vacation. We knew the end was near and people got giddy and had fun. But when push came to shove and they said action, everyone delivered and always tried their best. Hopefully people enjoy the show.

MG: What do you have planned next? Stand-up tour? Season two?
SB: Hopefully we keep the numbers we have and get to come back for another season. Ultimately my primary motivation is to drive people back to my live performances and stand-up. Hopefully the show goes well and I get to do it for many more seasons to come with my pals. I also had a third one-hour special in the can that I was getting ready to film, before the show got picked up. So at some time, I would like to film that.

Dr. Paul Frommer talks about developing the languages for “John Carter” and “Avatar”

When writer/director James Cameron needed someone to create the native language of his Na’vi characters for the film “Avatar,” he turned to renowned linguist Paul Frommer. Impressed by his work the filmmakers behind the recent film “John Carter” asked Dr. Frommer to develop the Barsoomian language for that film as well. Dr. Frommer is Professor Emeritus of Clinical Management Communication at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Prior to joining Marshall, he lived and taught in Malaysia and Iran and completed a doctorate in linguistics at USC. He followed that with a ten-year sojourn in the business world as vice president and strategic planner for a Los Angeles corporation. Returning to USC, he joined the faculty of Marshall’s Center for Management Communication, serving as Director of the Center from 2005 to 2008. His teaching at USC included courses in Advanced Writing for Business and Cross-cultural Business Communication for Non-native Speakers. Dr. Frommer is co-author, with Edward Finegan, of Looking at Languages: A Workbook in Elementary Linguistics, currently in its fifth edition. To celebrate the release of “John Carter” on DVD, Dr. Frommer took the time to speak with Media Mikes:

Mike Smith: For “John Carter” was it important to incorporate a lot of the Barsoomian words that Edgar Rice Burroughs had created for his series of novels?
Paul Frommer: Yes, it was extremely important. And that’s what made this assignment unique. In the series of eleven books he came up with around 420 words. There is a large fan base out there that regards those texts as sacred and I wanted to respect that. I wanted to incorporate everything that Edgar Rice Burroughs had done so that therewould be no inconsistencies. That being said there was still a lot of guess work that had to be done. Just because you see the written form of a word doesn’t mean you know the exact pronunciation. For example, he had used “ch” in a lot of the words. But what does it mean? It could be “cha” like “chair.” It could also be “ka” like in “chorus.” It could be “sha” like in “machine. Those were some of the decisions I had to make. When you have “th” is it “thh” as in “thin” or “thuh” as in “then?” They both have different sounds. And even though the words were there, there were still a lot of decisions to be made. In terms of grammar we used virtually nothing from the book…it’s just isolating words.

MS: When you’re creating a language for a film do the screenwriters and director contribute their ideas as to how the language should sound or how it should flow?
PF: Yes. In fact, Andrew Stanton (director of “John Carter”) had come up with a few words of his own and when I could I would incorporate those. I had come up with some possibilities as to how the language would sound when spoken and I past those on to Andrew for his approval. In the initial go ‘round there were certain things he liked and certain things he didn’t. So we played around with things until he was happy with how the language sounded.

MS: Using Klingon as an example, since Klingon’s are outwardly very rough…their language is very guttural. When you create a language do you base how it will soundon the character’s perceived on-screen appearance?
PF: For the Na’vi language in “Avatar” Jim Cameron wanted the language to sound appealing and beautiful but also to sound somewhat complicated. In terms of the Barsoomians, they’re kind of a rougher people and so maybe the language reflects that.

MS: Since you brought up “Avatar” are there any new species you’ll be creating languages for in “Avatar 2?”
PF: Well, I wish I could tell you but I’m as curious as anyone. All I can tell you is that the film has been announced and that it’s slated to come out in 2016.

MS: To close on a humorous note, have you ever had a bad experience at a restaurant where you’ve just lambasted the waiter in Barsoomian?
PF: I haven’t done that yet (laughs) but there are times when I’ve said some things to myself in Barsoomian or Na’vi but I haven’t pulled that on any people yet. I’m sure there are fans in the audience for both languages that have done it and I think that’s great!

Book Review “Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie”

Authors: Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: February 23, 2010

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The movie “Kick-Ass” is easily one of the best comic book adaptions in the last few years. It is an originally idea with the recent remake Hollywood craze. The film is based on the bestselling comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
The book plays like a giant comic book and really gives great details into the characters and the making of the film. It is very colorful and is a real page turner. My only major complaint is that is not hardcover, this would have made an awesome coffee table book.

The book starts with a great introduction from its creator Mark Millar.  It is split into three main parts: “The Beginning”, “The Movie” and The Future”.  “The Beginning” focuses on the film’s fast track from the comic page to the theater screen.  “The Movie” focuses on each of the character from the film individually including Dave Lizewksi, Marty & Todd, Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, Big Daddy, Marcus, Frank D’Amico and Red Mist.  Also included in this section is focus on the production, the origin of Big Daddy & Hit Girl, and the films big ‘kick-ass’ finale.  The content in the book is so detailed and jam-packed that you almost need to go back and re-read it multiple times to make sure that you get everything.  Also there are so many pictures I found myself flipped through the book just to scroll through the art work.  Of course “The Future” section, talks about the second film as well as the follow comic to “Kick-Ass”.  I know the comic already was released following the book but I have a feeling we will be holding our breaths for a long time for a second film…(insert sad face).

“Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie” goes into major details of this comic book superhero phenomenon went from the page to huge Hollywood movie.  The book showcases Mark Millar’s early comic book script pages.  Amazing artwork from John Romita Jr. are included throughout the book and even new pages drawn especially for the movie.  There are also a bunch of exclusive contributions from the cast and crew and that is what makes this book definitely than the normal making of/art book.  This feels really hands on and personal from the cast/crew.  Lastly there are also hundreds of movie photos, sketches, storyboards and pieces of production art.  If you are fan of this series it is a MUST to piece of this book.  If you no familiar, it is a great introduction to “Kick-Ass” and is guaranteed to turn you into an instant fan.