“CGI just doesn’t cut it for me, man!” Blindspot’s Heidi Schnappauf Speaks About Stunt Work

Heidi Schnappauf at Sword Class NYC

When Blindspot enters its fourth season this Friday on NBC, it will of course be bringing the action that has garnered the series multiple Emmy nominations for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. While last year burst onto the scene with, amongst other things, Jane Doe and Co in a tank, this year’s premiere has taken Jane (Jaimie Alexander) to Tokyo where she engages in some impressive swordplay with a new adversary. Behind Jane’s hardest hits is Alexander’s stunt double, Heidi Schnappauf, who has been with the show from the first season. Speaking with me at New York Comic Con*, Jaimie Alexander said of Heidi: “Just the hits she takes, the body slams…I don’t know how she’s OK. Half the time I’m terrified for her because she does a lot of the heavy lifting in the fights…And she’s just incredible, she’s an incredible lady.”

Besides Blindspot Schnappauf has an impressive credits list that includes Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Broad City and Orange is the New Black. I was lucky enough to speak with Heidi about her action-packed job this past weekend when Warner Brothers sent us along with her and Jaimie to, fittingly, a beginner Kendo sword lesson!

Lauren Damon: How long have you been with the show?

Heidi Schnappauf: I’ve been with the show all the four seasons, however, I came in toward the end of the first season. I think episode twenty. So right at the end kind of filling in for her old double [Ky Furneaux].

LD: What are your favorite types of stunts?

HS: I love to fight. My main background was fighting. This, sword fighting, was not something I grew up with, but definitely something I picked up on the way and trained a little bit. But fighting, which includes all the falling that we do—getting thrown around—I started at such a young age that I got thrown around a lot when I was in karate as a kid, moving into college years. But I really do love all the hard hits and driving. I’ve been doing stunts driving now for about eight years. So yeah, anything where I’m maybe flying through some glass or getting thrown out of a car, I totally dig it! Any of that.

LD: Have you ever had any major injuries?

HS: I’ve had a few. Biggest injury was not on Blindspot, actually it was right before I got on Blindspot. I was recovering from my biggest injury which was I was doing a high fall and there was faulty landing equipment, it was nobody’s fault, just a one in a billion chance I ended up injuring my neck pretty badly. I was out for about ten months from work, which was a really big bummer actually. And the doctor—I was in the ER from that injury and with you know, on morphine and valium and a neck brace and tears coming out of my eyes—the doctor’s like ‘Oh I guess this is gonna put a damper on your career’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I really know what I’m going to do next time so I don’t hurt myself’ and he’s like ‘Next time?! Are you nuts?!’…I’m like ‘Well, yeah, I’m just bummed that it’s gonna be a while!’ So that was my most devastating injury. Everyone wanted to cut me open, everyone wanted to do surgery, they wanted to replace my disc, or fuse my spine and all this stuff…I kind of basically talked to doctors until I got the answer I wanted and then I found more doctors to support that.

LD: As a viewer, what are some of your favorite films or tv shows for stunts?

HS: Um…Blindspot? [laughs]…Oh, I really like Supergirl, is that WB? I do like Supergirl. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t watch a lot of TV because I work and I sleep and I try to watch Blindspot. But I do, actually, this new season of Iron Fist is probably my favorite bit of action on tv or Netflix…Blacklist, I love Blacklist. They just have such a variety of stunts on that show. And Game of Thrones. Come on, man, you can’t deny that setting like seventy five stunt people on fire is NOT cool. From a DRAGON. It’s insane.

LD: There’s a faction out there that is pushing for a Best Stunts category at the Academy Awards, how do you feel about that?

HS: I think that’s a good idea since like every other category is out there. I mean, I don’t know how you’d delegate that but I think that’s a good start to just recognizing it. I don’t do stunts, obviously, to be recognized. I love it because I get to kind of be the magician of the action world of film and tv. You don’t really want to give your tricks away, you want to make it an illusion…most, some people I know anyway, don’t do it for the glory. It’s not really about that. It’s about making good work. I would love to see it so it’s recognized as an art and as you know, that magical things that happens isn’t actually magic. It’s people that are putting their bodies and their lives on the line to bring everyone a cool product. CGI just doesn’t cut it for me, man!

Blindspot season 4 premieres Friday October 12th at 8pm on NBC.

*Check back here this weekend to see our full chats with Blindspot stars Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post Red Carpet Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Comedian Eric Schwartz

You may have seen comedian Eric Schwartz in hi

1.  Who in the hell is the OTHER Eric Schwartz and how did he beat you to EricSchwartz.com?  He isn’t near as funny as you are.

THANK YOU FOR ASKING THIS QUESTION AND STARTING IT WITH “WHO IN THE HELL…”

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

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

An Interview with Music Legend Peter Asher

 

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

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

Peter Asher (r) and Gordon Waller

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Asher:  The old ones do. (laughs)

MS:  How did you two get together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Asher still performs today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Cargo” Creators Discuss Their Australian Zombie Drama

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Howling: End of season two.

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

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

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

LD: Parents who would combat zombies for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LD: How did you go about casting Thoomi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LD: And him requiring their assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramke: Yeah we are!

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch Cargo now on Netflix.

 

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Martin Freeman on Carrying Netflix’s CARGO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LD: So you lost weight by shooting the film?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LD: It looked good!

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

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

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

LD: So you were in like horror genre mode.

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

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

MF: Yeah. Yeah, very exciting.

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

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

LD: What would you use it for?

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

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

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

Cargo starts streaming on Netflix on Friday May 18th

Black Panther was just released on digital and blu-ray

Interview with SUPERCON director Zak Knutson

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

MS:  Viking!

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

 

Clancy Brown as Adam King in SUPERCON

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

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

 

Zak Knutson, the “Sexy Stud” of CLERKS II

MS:  Any plans on showing the film at conventions?

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

MS:  What do you have coming up next?

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

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

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

Interview with Comedian Sandy Bernstein

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Comedian Eric Schwartz

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

MS:  What are you working on next?

 

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

Interview with “Survivors Guide to Prison” filmmaker Matthew Cooke

Actor/filmmaker/activist Matthew Cooke has long taken in an interest in looking out for the little guy.  His last film, the tongue-in-cheek documentary “How to Make Money Selling Drugs,” was well reviewed and opened a lot of eyes to the drug problem facing this country.    His newest documentary, “Survivors Guide to Prison,” looks at the current state of the judicial system and how it failed two very different men.  As the film begins it’s run across the country (it’s both in theatres and available on Video on Demand), Mr. Cooke took some time to speak with me about his goals and what he hopes to achieve with his work.

 

 

Mike Smith:   What inspired you to do this film?

Matthew Cooke:  I think we have a very large problem.  It’s like when you see a bad car crash or someone has fallen down a well.  You can’t ignore it.  You have to stop and try to do something.

MS:  Was there any one thing that made you tackle this subject?

MC:  Human beings are funny things.  We can walk by homeless people and ignore them.  We have a tendency to become numb.  But sometimes you look into a topic enough that you go, “Oh my God!”  You begin caring about it.  I really don’t think there’s another explanation I can give other than I finally became aware that human beings are being held in solitary confinement FOR YEARS and they don’t need to be there.  In a way it’s like being tortured.   I became aware that, the system that we have in place now, has an 80% failure rate.  That means that 80% of the inmates that are released from prison end up returning within 5 years.  Yet here we are, spending millions of dollars, putting more people into prison.  The U.S. has more people in prison than any other country in the world.  And it’s not effective.  We don’t help the victims of crime heal.  We don’t create more harmony.  We don’t create well-being.  To what master does this monstrosity serve.  And it’s money.  And when you finally learn about something it becomes personal.  “There but by the grace of God go I.”  I could be in this film.  I’m not trying to be overly dramatic but I couch-surfed for a while when I was out on my own.  That could have easily been the road for me.  That could have been me.

MS:  How did you come upon Bruce and Reggie’s cases? (NOTE:  The film follows two men, Bruce Lisker and Reggie Cole, who were imprisoned for murders they did not commit.  Lisker was 17 when he was arrested for the death of his mother.  Cole 23 when he was accused of a neighborhood killing).

MC:  I met Bruce when he was speaking at a fundraising dinner.  I heard his story and thought, “this guy’s story is incredible.  It would make a hell of a movie.”  Reggie Cole I met through the California Innocence Project.  And I just thought that these two stories were so heart wrenching.  And they are both poets.  I think Reggie is one of the most articulate, poetical people around and no one could describe the horrors he endured the way he has.  Between he and Bruce, I just decided that these two guys’ stories are it.    I mean, there can really be nothing more horrifying than being put in prison for something you didn’t do.  This is a fear we all have.

MS:  One thing I noticed in the film is that you shot all of your narrators close up and make-up free.  Every blemish visible.  Was that intentional?

MC:  Yes.  I wanted them to be raw.  I tell people it’s not really a movie.  It’s a film because of the media used but it’s really a public service announcement.  A bunch of us coming together to tell you what’s going on.  I didn’t want it to be polished.  I adore every aspect of film making but I didn’t want to make anything that was purposely beautiful that would take away anything from the informational aspect.  I wanted it to be very, very raw and very up-close.  Really almost claustrophobic.  I didn’t want audiences to enjoy it as if it was exploitative.  Sometimes we make films that are so pretty that we enjoy them too much.  I really wanted this film to be visceral…in your face.   I want the film to be memorable.   It’s my hope that it delivers an educational and raw, unbridled education and that it achieves it’s goal.   Where we no longer think of prison anymore as the answer.

MS:  Have Bruce and Reggie received any compensation?

MC:  Yes they have.  I don’t have the exact figures off the top of my head.  And I’m also of the opinion that financial compensation is no substitution for time.  (NOTE:  Bruce Lisker received $7.6 million after spending 26 years in prison.  Reggie Cole received $5.3 million for his nearly 15 years behind bars, the last 10 in solitary confinement.)

MS:  What’s next on your plate?

MC:  What’s next?  I want everyone to see “Survivors Guide to Prison.”  We worked five years to construct something that is really worth 100 minutes of peoples’ time.  Getting the word out.  I’m all about that right now.

Interview with “A Christmas Story” star Zack Ward

Ever since his debut as Scut Farkus in “A Christmas Story” over three decades ago, Zack Ward has steadily carved out a career both in front of and behind the camera.  But there is a lot more to Cleveland Street’s best known bully.

Zack and co-star Scott Schwartz will be appearing in Omaha this Friday, November 10, where they will host a charity screening of “A Christmas Story.” I had the opportunity to speak with Zack this week and he shared his thoughts about the film and his career.

Mike Smith:  Why do you think, more than 30 years after its release, “A Christmas Story” is still so popular?

Zack Ward:  I’ve been asked that question many times over the years and I’ve been able to give the answer a lot of thought.  It has something to do with the combination of many things.  The writing.  The story is the same story structure of Homer’s “The Iliad.”  A young boy goes on a mythical adventure.  He fights all of these different demons.  And he does this to finally earn the respect of his father.  That’s what the B.B. gun is about.  It’s not that it’s a toy.  It could have been anything.  If you remember what happens at the very end of the film, when the father says to Ralphie, “What’s that behind the tree?”  The mom doesn’t even know what’s there.  And he finds the B.B. gun and the mom is upset.  But he tells her that he had one when he was that age.  What the whole statement of the B.B. gun is is a coming of age.  It’s the father’s acceptance of the son being responsible and becoming a man.  Transitioning from being a child.  And getting that respect from the parents that you adore means everything.  It doesn’t matter what the toy is.  What matters is what it represents.

MS:  That is the greatest answer to that question that I’ve ever gotten.

ZW:  (laughs)  Thank you.  I’ve had many years to ponder this.  The other thing is the direction.  If you look at the film again, and I’m sure you will now, you’ll notice that it is shot from the child’s view.  Bob Clark had the camera lowered so that the camera was always shooting from Ralphie’s point of view.  That never happens.  Usually adults are looking down on children.  In this situation, it’s always from the child’s perspective.  At a certain point, Bob Clark had them remove the floor from part of the set to ensure they could get the camera dolly low enough in order to have the right perspective.  He fought for that tooth and nail.  Also, the film is multi-generational.  It’s what they call in the industry “co-viewership.”  It’s like “Modern Family.”  You can watch “Modern Family” if you’re a grandpa, if you’re a mom, if you’re a dad, if you’re a teenager or if you’re a kid.  And “A Christmas Story” captivates all of those life moments.  You can see it as a child.  Understand it as a parent.  And reflect on it as an adult, thinking about your own childhood.  I’ve been amazed to watch 70-year old men with their 50-year old sons and 25-year old grandsons and 5-year old great-great grandsons walk up to me because they all want to meet the kid from “A Christmas Story.”  And they’re all surprised it’s me because they actually think it was shot in the 1940s.  That’s the thing that’s incredible.  How multi-generational it is.  How inclusive it is.  There’s no CGI.  There’s no special effects.  It’s just a great story that connects with people.

MS:  Do you have a favorite memory from the shoot?

ZW:  Yes I do.  My favorite memory from the shoot was when I came to the set one day.  We were shooting in Cleveland and there was no snow.  It was the middle of winter and all of the lawns were dark brown.  Cleveland at that time was not a city you really wanted to be in.  It was going through a very severe economic crisis.

MS:  I was born in Cleveland so I know what you’re talking about.

ZW:  So you know.  We were not allowed to go outside of the hotel after 6:00 pm for good reason.  It was a scary place at night.  We walked down to the set, to the house which is now a museum, and we turned the corner.  And every other street is just brown grass and ugly lawns.  But in the middle of the street is a house covered in snow.  With a big tree in the yard full of icicles glistening in the sun.  And it was all man-made.  That for me was a “wow” moment.  It took my breath away and still today I remember that feeling…that anything is possible.

MS:  You have worked steadily since “A Christmas Story,” which is very rare for someone whose career started when they were a child.  What’s your secret?

ZW:  (laughs)  I think it’s because I’ve got this face that people look at and want to punch!  It’s not my fault.  I’m a sweetheart of a guy.  I just happen to have slanty eyes and red hair.  And I really think people want to punch me in the face.  Definitely it’s helped.  (laughs)

MS:  You’ve written and directed in the past.  Do you see yourself doing more of that in the future?

ZW:  I’m actually in the process of doing that now.  I’m writing a series called “Fracture” and we go into pre-production in December.  It’s a series I co-created with a friend of mine and I’m the single writer on it.  I won’t be directing this one but I will be executive-producing and writing.  But I do love directing.  I’m actually getting ready to direct a commercial being shot in Akron, Ohio in about a week.  I love working on both sides of the camera.  The one job I hate is producing.  It sucks!  It’s such a horrible job.  Everybody blames you for everything and nobody thanks you for anything.  No matter what you pay them!

MS:  Anything else coming up soon?

ZW:  Yes.  Onscreen I have a T.V. show called “Swedish Dicks,” as in detectives.  The old, 1940s style term.  He’s a flatfoot.  I appear with Peter Stormare and a little fella named Keanu Reeves.  I tell you, I don’t know but I think he’s got a career ahead of him.  I’m also working on something I’m very excited about outside the entertainment environment.  It’s called “All Sports Market” and it is the world’s first stock market for sports team.  We’ve been working on it for the past 15 years and we’ve had a data model up for the last 3.  The whole concept is that you can buy shares in your favorite sports team.  And you can sell or trade them like you would stocks.  It’s something that goes back to the Roman times, when at the Coliseum people would place their bets.  And the sport always suffers because someone always takes a dive.  Even if there is a suspicion of collusion towards throwing the game, gambling sours sports.  It poisons it like a cancer.  This takes that element out of the game.  And it allows parents to bond with their children over their favorite sports teams.  Do you have any children?

MS:  One

ZW:  How old is he?

MS:  33

ZW:  If you said to your 10-year son, “hey buddy, let’s talk about market fluctuation and dividends and stock prices because you need to learn how to be an investor so you won’t be homeless when you’re 33,” I can pretty much guarantee you that he would fall asleep or start crying.  But if you find out his favorite team, you can tell him that together you’re going to buy 10 shares in his favorite team and you can watch what happens over the season.  It’s something you can do together.  And by the end of the season you’re son or daughter is now financially literate.  They know how to make investments.  Because you took the moment and educated them on something important while to them they were just talking with dad about their favorite team.

You can learn more by going to www.AllSportsMarket.com.  And if you sign up you get $2500.00 of play currency, what we call “learning capital.”  The whole thing now is a learning market.

MS:  Last question.  You run into Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) in an alley.  Who wins the fight this time?

ZW:  (laughs)  Is there any doubt in your mind that Scut Farkus took a dive?  Another point against sports gambling.  You KNEW I took a dive.  I was bought out.  I went down harder than a sack of potatoes.  I’ve got a couple of black belts and was in “Black Belt” magazine so I think I’d do well.  On the flip side, Peter did produce “Iron Man” so he’s probably got more bodyguards!

 

 

 

Animator Rick Farmiloe Talks About His Amazing Career

I hate to sound like Grandpa Simpson here, but “back in my day,” Saturday morning cartoons were…well they were cartoons. They weren’t 30 minute advertisements for toys (I’m looking at YOU, Transformers). Animator Rick Farmiloe remembers that time, and how his work then led him to a stint working on some of the greatest and best loved animated films in recent history.

Beginning on such shows as “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The New Adventures of Tom and Jerry,” Mr. Farmiloe worked his way to the Disney Studios, where he helped with the animation of such early 1980 films as “The Great Mouse Detective” and “The Black Cauldron.” He continued working in television, including multiple episodes of “Ghostbusters” and “She Ra- Princess of Power.”

Back at Disney, he worked on “Oliver and Company,” then helped take Disney into an all new world of animation success, designing some of the most popular characters of all time, including Scuttle in “The Little Mermaid,” LeFou in “Beauty and the Beast” and Abu in “Aladdin.” He has also animated for Dreamworks (“The Prince of Egypt,” “Shrek”) and added his touch to “The Simpson’s Movie.”

To help spread the word that “Frozen” actresses Eva Bella, who played young Bella and Livvy Stubenrauch, who played young Anna will be appearing at the upcoming Kansas City Comic Con (Nov. 10th-12th), Mr. Farmiloe took some time out from his schedule to talk with me about his career.

Mike Smith: You began your career in what was, to me, the golden age of Saturday morning cartoons. How has the process and style of television animation changed since you started?

Rick Farmiloe: When I started in the late 1970’s all animation was still done in the US. Most of it now is sent overseas to keep down costs. Storyboarding is still done here, but the actual animation is done out of the country. TV animation was a good way for a young animator to get started. A lot of veterans were around to help with advice and drawing tips. These days there are a LOT more outlets and styles of animation. There were no ‘adult’ cartoons back then. It was all very safe and by the book. “The Simpsons” changed all that, and now TV animation runs the scale from pre-school to ‘R’ rated style shows.

MS: You’ve animated some of the true classic Disney characters of the past three decades. How are the characters assigned?

RF: At Disney we were cast just as actors would be cast. Those with very strong draftsmanship, or a bent towards more realistic characters would be cast on the leads. I always had a knack for doing more comical animation, so I was always cast to do funny sidekick characters. Those characters were always attractive to me because of the freedom to come up with funny things for my characters to do. I always wanted to ‘plus’ my animation, and if I could come up with an even funnier idea or gag, I was given the freedom to pitch it to the director. If he liked it, I gave it a shot. ALL animators were encouraged to improve upon ideas that were in the script or in storyboard form. A friend of mine once compared my animation to that of Ward Kimball, one of Disney’s famed ‘Nine Old Men’ because Ward pretty much only animated sidekicks as well. That was a huge compliment of course, but that was a role that I felt very comfortable with. I was never one of the best draftsmen at Disney, but I feel I had a talent at doing some funny animation. People still remember a lot of my scenes. I am very proud of that role.

MS: You’ve also worked on some non-Disney animated features. Are there different rules for animating for Disney as opposed to a studio like Dreamworks?

RF: At Dreamworks, Jeffrey Katzenberg made a decision to NOT be ‘Disney’. He was largely responsible for helping to create a style at Disney during the 80’s and early 90’s. He knew trying to be another Disney was the wrong way to go. The character designs and overall feel of the Dreamworks Films were much different from what was done at Disney, even though a lot of us came from Disney. He wanted the films to be for more mature audiences, not for small children but more like teens. “Prince of Egypt” was the first film in that style. It was a really bold choice in subject and style. I had to adjust my animation style to fit the subject matter. I animated the camel. I wanted to still make him funny, but without the usual broad animation and really cartoony style I was used to doing. I think the film holds up really well. I’ve always respected Jeffrey so much for wanting to come up with a new and unique style of filmmaking.

MS: Best show, in your opinion, between “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “South Park?”

RF: You forgot “Ren and Stimpy!” (laughs). I like all of those shows a lot! The writing on all of them is just so smart and never obvious. They are all more of an adult nature, but completely unique in style and content. They all have their copycats of course, especially “Ren and Stimpy!” But since you are FORCING me to pick only one, I’m going to have to go with “The Simpsons.” It was the first and still the most consistent. Matt Groening is an absolute genius. The show has been on the air since 1962 or something and still has that great quality. The reason it’s still on, if you ask me….and I think you did….is because people LOVE that family! They seem 100% real. And beneath the sarcasm and cynicism, there is a real love between all the family members. I was lucky enough to work on “The Simpsons Movie,” and got to see first hand how that franchise works so successfully! INCREDIBLE writing! It will probably be on long after we are all gone!

MS: What are you working on next?

RF: I am always doing freelance on one project or another! I just finished animating on a live action Chinese feature that has some sections of hand drawn animation. We are in the planning stages of doing some animation for a documentary/celebration film on the legendary band, Cheap Trick! My girlfriend Christi Haydon and I have teamed up on a fun project called “Full Moon Cartoons.” It is a one panel cartoon that deals with us as cartoon characters who have moved to a town called Full Moon Springs. It is inhabited solely by monsters! It has a very mid-century modern style to it. It deals with us just trying to fit into the monster world as comfortably as we can, with funny results. It comes out every Friday, which we call ‘Full Moon Friday.’ You can find it on a site called HorrorBuzz.com, and our Facebook page called Rick+Christi’s Full Moon Cartoons. It’s so much fun for us because we have EXACTLY the same sense of humor. I have loved drawing classic monsters my entire life. Christi is a writer and production designer who loves stylistic details, and is great with color choices. We also love traveling around the country appearing at numerous comic conventions, meeting fans and making lots of new friends! It’s a very exciting time.

You can also see more of Mr. Farmiloe’s work here.

Bruce Campbell Talks About His New Book and His Traveling Game Show

If you’re not aware of Bruce Campbell you may have stumbled onto this web site in error.

A working actor for four decades, Campbell is probably best known for his role of Ash in the “Evil Dead” films and TV series, but has also turned in fine performances in such films as “Bubba Ho-Tep,” Congo” and the television series “Burn Notice.” Mr. Campbell is also an author, currently touring the country in support of his third and latest book “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor.”

He’s promoting his book and hosting his interactive game show, “The Last Fan Standing,” at the Kansas City Alamo Draft House. While traveling the country to promote his work, Mr. Campbell took a few moments out of his busy schedule to speak with Media Mikes!

Mike Smith: You note in your new book that you’re now at a time in your career where it’s easier to say no to a role. Was there ever a role in the past that you regret not accepting?

Bruce Campbell: Nope. Nope. Because if you don’t like the work that is on the page you’re not going to like the work that is on the stage, as they say. Which means if you didn’t like it on paper you’re not going to like the finished film. That’s the blueprint for the movie…the script. I mean I’ve never turned anything down and later went, “Wow, they made that piece of shit turn out pretty good!” (laughs) I always feel confident that when I turn material down it’s because it’s not strong material. That’s the best way to go, instead of thinking “you know, maybe that director can turn it around” or “that actor could be good in that crappy part.” So now I intuitively go to the script now and if the script isn’t good I’m not going to do it.

MS: You note in the book that, while working on “Spider-man 3,” Toby McGuire tongue-in-cheek commented that “we can’t make a Spider-man movie without Bruce Campbell!” Were you approached to appear in either of the re-boots?

BC:
No I wasn’t. And I wouldn’t have anyway because if Sam’s not doing it I’m not doing it. (NOTE: Mr. Campbell has collaborated no less then nine times with director Sam Raimi. He is also a favorite of the Coen Brothers).

MS: Can you tell us what fans can expect when the participate in your interactive game show “The Last Fan Standing?”

BC: It’s a really fun show. My buddy Steve Sellery had called me and wanted me to come host a game show for the troops. He works for the military. So I went to a base in San Antonio with this game. The format is that everyone in the audience has a clicker. Everybody plays. We don’t weed anybody out. We don’t hand select. We don’t vet anybody. They could be an idiot when they get up there. (laughs) We begin with some preliminary rounds. It’s a regular game show format but it’s different in that it’s a game show for geeks. We have questions like “How much does Thor’s hammer weigh?” Questions that only geeks would know. But after I thought of a trivia show for the troops I told Steve that this would translate perfectly into my world. We’ve done it dozens of times and now we’re taking it on the road to 17 or so cities. (NOTE: Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is said to have been forged from the inside of a star, which would make it pretty damn heavy. Some comics have it being made of Uru, a metal found only on Asgard. The Uru version is said to weigh 42.3 pounds)

MS: Your new books ends with the words END OF CHAPTER TWO. Are you gathering new stories now for CHAPTER THREE?

BC: Every day. Every day, my friend. Every day is a new adventure! I’m thinking that in 15 years I’ll publish my final confessions. That will be MY George Lucas trilogy.

 

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Jerry Pearce Talks About the Great American Songbook

 

When I first heard Jerry Pearce sing I couldn’t believe my ears. Neither could my wife, who asked me if I was listening to the Sinatra channel on my Sirius/XM radio. It wasn’t the “Chairman of the Board” we were listening to, but a talented young man about to make his New York City debut August 18th. Mr. Pearce took some time out of his day to talk to me about the music he has loved since he was a child.

Mike Smith:
You’re awfully young to have such an appreciation for these songs. How did you get interested in this musical genre’?

Jerry Pearce: My grandfather was a truck driver for 30 years. When he retired he took a job “under the table” and delivered stuff with his own truck. I would ride in the truck with him and he would play the same Sinatra CD over and over and over. Somehow it got stuck in my head.

MS: This gig you have coming up…how did it come about?

JP: I had performed in two concerts. One last December and one in May which were put on by a non-profit organization to promote music education for children. I then took part in a Frank Sinatra contest that was held in Hoboken, New Jersey (Sinatra’s home town) in June and won 1st Prize. A friend of mine named Gary Wilner, who is a singer and ventriloquist, sent a clip of my performance to the owner of the Metropolitan Room in New York City. The owner called me and within a week we had set up a date.

MS: Hoboken? That’s pretty bold, singing Sinatra in his hometown. That’s like going to Freehold, New Jersey and singing Springsteen!

JP: (laughing) I know, right.

MS: When you sing are you intentionally trying to sound like Sinatra or is that your normal voice?

JP: That’s my voice. I really don’t try to imitate anyone. I have been told often that I sound like Sinatra but I’ve also been told a couple of times that I sound like Perry Como, which is very flattering.

MS: All you need is a sweater.

JP: (laughs) Right. (NOTE: Besides an amazing voice, Perry Como was known for almost always wearing a Cardigan sweater).

MS: Tell me about your gig this Friday night.

JP: It’s basically a tribute to THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK. It will be held at the Metropolitan Room on West 22nd Street in New York City. Of course I’ll be honoring Sinatra, who is my favorite singer, but I will also be paying tribute to the great songwriters of the era. What they wrote was poetry. And I’m hoping to keep their music and their personalities in the spotlight.