Amber Benson talks about new book “The Witches of Echo Park”

Amber Benson is probably best known for her portrayal of Tara Maclay on the hit television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Since then Amber has been busy both behind and in front of the camera along with authoring several fiction books. Amber’s newest book titled “The Witches of Echo Park” centers around a powerful network of witches who hide within the shadows of society and use their powers to keep the world in balance. Media Mikes had the pleasure of speaking with Amber recently about the new book, her time on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and what else she has planned for the New Year.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us a little background on your new book “The Witches of Echo Park”?
Amber Benson: The book is definitely more for adults as there are some naughty parts. (Laughs) I wrote the book because I am obsessed with the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. You can walk down the street there and buy spells at one store which is right next to a super hipster coffee shop. Where else in the world can you find that? It’s just this super magical place. There are places there that you can only get to by these stairwells. It’s a very unique place for sure. I wanted to couple that atmosphere with women’s relationships between one another. I am very lucky that I have a group of lady friends in my life who are like my rocks. We can get together and just talk and I know that they have my back. I feel like there is not a lot of talking about women’s relationships outside of family. I wanted to write a book would show the other side of things. Basically the book revolves around a coven of witches who are basically forced to interact and deal with one another. I really wanted to write about these types of relationships as it’s something very important to me.

AL: How did the writing of this book differ from that of your previous works?
AB: Working on those first books with Christopher Golden was really wonderful as I was still learning at that time. I had written plays and poetry but never a book. It was like going to University. When I started writing on my own most of the stories tended to be more fluffy and light. It was very much in the young adult world unlike my new book. I had to turn that funny as that tends to be my crutch. I didn’t want to fall back on that crutch as I wanted to do something different and keep the mood fairly serious. It was certainly hard and scary at times to not try and use that crutch.

AL: You also have been doing some co-writing and directing for films. Can you tell a little about that?
AB: I co-directed the movie “Drones” with Adam Busch which was a really amazing experience. I just directed a short titled “Shevenge” which is a pretty dark and edgy piece. There might be some stabbing and fighting going on in that one. (Laughs) In order to make a living being creative you have to be able to wear a lot of different hats. I get bored very easily so I am always looking for new things to try and at the same time things that will pay the bills. It’s a double edged sword. On one side you are able to be creative but on the other side there are times where you just become physically and emotionally exhausted. Even though I might bitch and complain at times I am super fortune to be able to do what I love for a living. I am really lucky.

AL: What was the transition like for you moving from being in front of the camera to working behind it?
AB: When I was working on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” there was often a lot of down time while certain scenes were being set up. I did a lot of reading as I am a huge fan of books but I could only do so much of that. I needed to find something else to keep me busy. That was really where things started to transition. I wanted to explore more of that behind the scenes world and start flexing that muscle.

AL: Speaking of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when you were working on the series did you and the other cast members ever envision the success that the show would go on to have?
AB: We knew that it was special and that people were connecting to it. The show was just your normal series run. It was really more after the show ended that we are still seeing the magnitude of the shows reach some 12-13 years later. The show is still finding new audience members who are connecting with those characters. People’s lives are changed by the show as they feel connected to this community of fans of the show. It’s really in hindsight that we understand the overall impact. When we were shooting we knew it was special but we couldn’t envision what it has become. For the LGBT community especially the characters Alyson Hannigan and I played the more I am away from those times the more I see how we impacted popular culture. I knew what we were doing was important as we really opened the door for the LGBT community. We didn’t do it gratuitously we played it very real and showed you could have a voice.

AL: Can you tell us about a couple of the other things you have planned for the New Year?
AB: I recently shot a bunch of episodes for the series “Morganville” which people can checkout at www.morganvilletheseries.com. The first 6 episodes are comprised from the first book in the series and Robert Picardo and I play vampires. Working on this was a lot o fun and I love the book series so it’s a great honor to be working on this project. I also did a film called “Desire Will Set You Free” which should be out sometime this year so people can be watching for that as well.

Film Review “Earth to Echo”

Starring: Teo Halm, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley and Reese C. Hartwig
Directed By: Dave Green
Rated: PG
Running Time: 89 minutes
Relativity Media

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

While “Earth to Echo” looks like a live action “WALL-E” mixed with the nostalgia of “E.T.”, it’s actually more like a “Goonies” for today’s youth. Regardless of what child’s science fiction movie or Steven Spielberg classic I throw at you in an attempt to convey what this movie should be, instead I come bearing bad news. “Earth to Echo” may have good intentions, but instead it fries its circuits on a misguided narrative and a plot trimmed down to the bare bones.

I may not have had high expectations before sitting down in the theater, but within the first five minutes, I really wanted to like this movie. “Earth to Echo” introduces us to a trio of best friends, with no backstory as to why they’re best friends. There’s Alex (Halm), the minimalist with an underlying layer of sincerity to everything he says. There’s also the social media junkie Tuck (Bradley), who’s hungry for an adventure he can record for his handful of Youtube viewers. Then there’s the most likable character of the youthful trinity, Munch (Hartwig). He plays the unpopular nerd that carries some of the movies more comical and heartfelt moments.

These three are getting ready to part ways because their neighborhood is about to be torn down by an evil construction project. A conflict so undeveloped, that when it shows up, you don’t have to be an engineer to see the design flaw in demolishing an entire neighborhood to build this silly looking monstrosity. Instead of selling their home and moving to another area in suburban Nevada, their parents are moving to nearly opposite ends of the country, which will surely crumble the foundation of their friendship. Surely…

But before the big move, their cellphones start receiving bizarre images, or as they put it, their phone is “barfing”. A quick Internet search leads them to plan out a night bike ride to the middle of the desert in the hopes of finding…something; anything really. In the desolate Nevada land they find a robotic alien that they name Echo. Through a series of “Yes” or “No” beeps, it tells them it was shot down, and that the evil construction company was the one that pulled the trigger and is now searching for it. What follows is a series of obstacles lacking tension and on the whole, an unfocused story.

If it wasn’t for the fine acting by the child actors, this movie would have tripped at the start line and barely survived off the fumes of other inventive movies before it. The advertising for this movie seems to be heavily focused on the pint sized electronic alien, while the movie itself seems more focused on our three human heroes. If anything, Echo is simply a metaphor for the movie’s plot instead of an actual character. This implies to me that the studio and creators definitely had different paths they wanted to take this movie on.

The movie writers (Henry Gayden and Andrew Panay) weren’t clever enough to evolve Echo more symbolically in the narrative. Instead of evoking more thoughtful “coming of age” and “friendship never dies” feelings, Echo seems to be misplaced as the cute, squeaky robot your kids will fall in love with. There are inklings of a greater idea at work towards the end when it’s finally time for Echo to head home, but that awe filled moment is short lived in a journey of similar and predictable misadventures. I can’t fault a movie too much considering it’s a safe bet for families and an enjoyable romp for kids, but you’ll definitely be thinking about better movies you could have watched instead.

Enter to Win an “Earth to Echo” Official Prize Pack [ENDED]

To celebrate the release of “Earth to Echo”, opening in theaters nationwide on July 2, 2014, Media Mikes is excited an amazing prize pack for the film (see below for details). If you would like to enter for your chance to win one of this prize, please leave us a comment below or send us an email with your favorite family/sci-fi film. This giveaway will remain open until July 11th at Noon, Eastern Time. This is open to our readers in US and Canada only. One entry per person, per household. All other entries will be considered invalid. Media Mikes will randomly select winners. Winners will be alerted via email

The prize pack will include the following items:
Schwinn BluTunes bicycle speakers
Frisbee (branded)
Mini Fan (branded)
Tank Top (branded)
Beach Ball (branded)
Sticker Set (branded)
Beach Towel (branded)
Bicycle Clip (branded)
Invisible Ink Pen (branded)
Projector Pen (branded)
Mini EARTH TO ECHO Poster
$25 Fandango Gift Card

Synopsis: In Relativity’s PG summer family adventure movie, Tuck, Munch and Alex are a trio of inseparable friends whose lives are about to change. Their neighborhood is being destroyed by a highway construction project that is forcing their families to move away. But just two days before they must part ways, the boys begin receiving a strange series of signals on their phones. Convinced something bigger is going on, they team up with another school friend, Emma, and set out to look for the source of their phone signals. What they discover is something beyond their wildest imaginations: a small alien who has become stranded on Earth. In need of their help, the four friends come together to protect the alien and help him find his way home. This journey, full of wonder and adventure, is their story, and their secret.

Jim Cliffe talks about his first feature “Donovan’s Echo”

Writer/director Jim Cliffe is an award winning artist, writer and filmmaker with a diverse background in illustration and animation, producing work for such companies as Kellogs, Fox and Anagram Pictures. His short film “Tomorrow’s Memoir,” released in 2004, received the Best Comics-Oriented Film Award at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con, while also being well reviewed in Film Threat, DC Comics, Moviehole.net and more. His first feature-film screenplay, “Donovan’s Echo,” which he co-wrote with his wife Melodie Krieger, was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Screenwriting Competition as well as by the Page International Screenwriting Awards. “Donovan’s Echo,” starring Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood, is now available on DVD as well as Video on Demand. To celebrate the release of the film Cliffe answered some questions for Media Mikes:

Mike Smith: Tell us a little bit about your film, “Donovan’s Echo”.
Jim Cliffe: ‘Donovan’s Echo’ is about a man (Danny Glover) with a tragic past, who returns home for the first time in years. He believes that history is repeating itself and that a little girl (played by Natasha Calis from “The Possession”) may be in danger. Bruce Greenwood plays Donovan’s old friend who questions his sanity. There’s mystery, drama, twists and suspense, but it’s also a movie about loss, regret and redemption. There’s a lot of heart to it.

MS:You have a very comics-accented background. Did you ever consider an animated project for your first feature film?
JC: Not really. I’ve made a living as a professional illustrator, and have done animated work, but it never occurred to me with this project. I think it would have been quite an undertaking as a first-time filmmaker.

MS: How did a first time feature writer/director attract such talent as Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood?
JC: Miraculously. After our script (co-written with my wife, Melodie Krieger) had done well in some Hollywood screenwriting competitions, we gained a bit of interest, but it was challenging finding producers willing to take a chance on a first-time director, even though I had an award-winning short film (‘Tomorrow’s Memoir’), and a broad career as an artist. Trent Carlson was a producer I’d worked with before as an artist in Vancouver, and I brought the script to him to see if he may be interested. He responded to it, and we spent some time in development before bringing it to a casting agent in LA. She put some names together for possible Donovan’s, and Danny was one of them. He seemed really perfect for the role, but I thought it would be a long shot as we were such a small movie (around $3M). Two weeks later, Danny got back to us and said he wanted to do it. It was amazing. Apparently he felt he had a lot in common with the character. Like Donovan, Danny has a background in mathematics and is also dyslexic. From there, we brought it to Bruce who also wanted to get involved. He liked the story, and thought it’d be interesting to work with Danny. He also has a home in Vancouver, BC, where we were shooting. It was pretty incredible to have two guys like that on your first movie.

MS: You’ve been quoted as saying that Steven Spielberg is a huge influence of yours. Do you have a favorite film of his and if so why is it?
JC: I may not have been as keen to try and pursue this as a career if it weren’t for the films of Spielberg. Having a favourite would be hard to narrow down. It’s always an event when there’s a new one, and each one had an impact on me at specific periods in my life. I saw E.T. at just the right age and continue to think about life in the universe.

MS: What are you currently working on?
JC: Interesting segue – we just finished a new script with an extra-terrestrial theme. It’s inspired by the events of Roswell; a UFO crash that may or may not have happened, Project Blue Book stuff, etc. At its core, it’s a father and son story, their fractured relationship and the search for truth. There’s some twisty elements along the way and cool paradoxes. It’ll be fun, smart, eerie and occasionally funny.