Posts Tagged ‘interviews’
I appeared on my favorite music podcast (and my favorite podcast period), Chris Ott’s Shallow Rewards, to discuss how the critical narrative of the 1990s has distorted the reality of how the era’s music, “alternative” and otherwise, functioned, flourished, and failed. There are substantial digressions about the overall state of arts criticism and journalism in there, too. Nobody does a better job than Chris of editing a podcast for maximum impact — honestly, it’s not even close. Moreover his work has been a huge inspiration and influence for me, and it was an honor to be a guest. Please listen!
Our special interview series returns at last! This episode, Sean & Stefan are pleased to welcome Jason DeMarco, Senior Vice President/Creative Director for Adult Swim On-Air. Jason’s worn many hats at the venerable nighttime animation/live-action/surrealist powerhouse: He’s the co-creator of its anime/action block Toonami, the person responsible for the network’s distinctive promos, and the unofficial “musical director” for both Adult Swim’s on-air sound and the albums and singles it’s released from a variety of hip-hop, electronic, and rock acts. He’s also a longtime fan of both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. Jason joined us for a wide-ranging discussion of the books, the show, the network, the seismic changes television has seen during his 20-year career, the connections between animation and comics, how those fields are viewed in America, Japan, and Europe respectively, the difference between European-American fantasy and its Japanese-genre counterpart, and much more. Cue up your Run the Jewels records and listen in!
On the overcast May morning when I meet Esmail at a Bed-Stuy basketball court where Mr. Robot is shooting, he seems very real indeed. At 6’ 4″, Esmail stands a head higher than star Rami Malek or cinematographer Tod Campbell. Until the basketball-playing extras show up, he’s the tallest person in the playground — his black-rimmed glasses and air of stubbly, slightly artsy dishevelment make him look like an overgrown film student. He wears a Canada Goose coat far bulkier than anything else being sported on the temperate late-spring morning, which adds to his imposing figure as he buzzes around the location. “He’s a presence,” says a network rep watching him work in the same awestruck tone I’d heard from the cast.
When he speaks loudly, his voice turns into a booming baritone. “LET’S DO THAT ONE MORE TIME,” he bellows from the director’s chair halfway across the playground, as Malek, Christian Slater, and newcomer Craig Robinson — plus a canine co-star who’s proving somewhat difficult to wrangle — run their lines. “GREAT!” Esmail says after the take is completed, before he grins and adds “I’M TALKING TO THE DOG.”
“He’ll definitely yell at us all the time,” Doubleday tells me. “You’ll hear a resounding ‘CARLY!’ or ‘PORTIA!’ or ‘NO, RAMI!’” But the actor insists he’s neither a dictator nor a disciplinarian. “He just knows us so well,” says Doubleday. “He’s said so many times, ‘You guys know these characters better than I do. I don’t know if you’ll have a better idea than me, so bring it to the table and we’ll see if it works.’ If he likes it, it sticks. If he doesn’t, then I trust that it wasn’t right for the moment, because he’s seeing the entire world.”
I profiled Sam Esmail and his show Mr. Robot for my debut at The Verge. A lot of work went into this one on all sides and really I hope you enjoy it.
I had the impression going in that this is “Lisa Hanawalt’s Food Book,” but having read it’s like your real subject is how it feels to inhabit a physical body. The food angle is just there to whet your appetite. So to speak.
You totally found me out. This book is an edible Trojan horse? But yes, it could have been called Here’s a Pile of Stuff Lisa Felt Like Making Over the Last Few Years and Most of It Is Related to Food, but people tend to want a tighter concept before committing to reading an entire book.
One aspect of physicality it doesn’t address much is sex. There are a couple of allusions, and a lot of sex-adjacent body parts, but it’s much more about eating, shitting, peeing, menstruating, traveling, riding, feeling full, getting sick…
That’s a good point, because I haven’t been one to shy away from sex in the past. Maybe it’s a subconscious attempt at making something sliiiightly less creepy, and to let people dig for my hornier work if they’re true fans? Maybe I’m just going through a bowel phase, the way Picasso had a blue period? I’m also a little grossed out when food and sex are combined, honestly.
“I wouldn’t be interested in the work of an artist if they didn’t suffer from debilitating anxiety,” Daniel Clowes says. “It’s part of the process.”
Home is where the horror is. That’s the underlying logic of This House Has People In It, which debuted with little fanfare at 4am Tuesday morning as part of Adult Swim’s elusive “Infomercials” initiative. The network, a ratings powerhouse which nonetheless airs some of the most ferociously experimental stuff on TV, used this horror-comedy-parody umbrella project to launch a genuine viral hit with last year’s smash sitcom satire Too Many Cooks. But its successor, Unedited Footage of a Bear, was the best and most brutal of the bunch—a send-up of medication commercials that rapidly devolved into one of the most frightening works of doppelgänger horror this side of Mulholland Drive, as well as an emotionally upsetting vision of how severe mental illness can hold entire families at its mercy.
Now AB Video Solutions and Wham City Comedy, the overlapping Baltimore art, music, and performance collectives who unleashed Unedited Footage, have returned with This House—an even more ambitious stab at the horror genre. Constructed as an assembled collection of surveillance-camera recordings of a seemingly ordinary blended family, the 11-minute movie takes place on the day of their son’s birthday, when his older sister’s…condition, let’s say, threatens to shatter the suburban tranquility forever. But the story spills beyond the confines of the video, into a website for “AB Surveillance Solutions” that’s packed with hidden links, videos, text files, images, and audio recordings that further flesh out the family’s plight. We don’t want to spoil the sick surprises, but they involve a mysterious ailment called Lynks Disease, a kids’ cartoon character named Boomy the Cat, an amateur sculptor with a hankering for clay and a dark secret, a whole lot of screaming, and a very special houseguest who’ll keep you from feeling comfortable in basements, bedrooms, and backyards for a long, long time. Sure enough, Reddit sleuths have been working round the clock to unearth every hidden horror.
We spoke with This House co-writers and executive producers Robby Rackleff, Alan Resnick, and Dina Kelberman—all of whom played multiple roles in its creation alongside fellow ABV members Ben O’Brien and Cricket Arrison, with Resnick making a cameo and serving as director, cinematographer, co-editor, and effects supervisor, Rackleff co-editing and co-starring as the family’s father, and Kelberman providing web design—about the video(s), the site(s), the superfans, and the reason suburban families provide such fertile territory for terror.
VICE: If I didn’t know any better I’d read this book as a warning to kids about the dangers of online. Not that it’s preachy, but the constant connectedness goes hand-in-hand with surveillance, and with the spread of destructive ideas.
Brian Chippendale: People are definitely reading a heavy warning about online activity in the book, and I think that’s one regret I have. I love the Internet. [Laughs] I’ve gotten so much practical use out of it: Selling prints, booking tours, saying hey to old friends—all that. But I do feel that even though I have an overt need for and warmth toward some social media, there is an undercurrent of energy on there that corrodes the soul.
What do you mean by “corrodes the soul”?
I think it’s the feeling that you’re not alone anymore. That should be a positive thing, right? But I think aloneness is important. It’s very important to get lost in your own head, not just get lost in the hive mind. As an artist, I need to venture inside to get at deeper meaning. Maybe new muscles for that are forming in younger people, new ways to go deep. I don’t necessarily think we are going to lose a generation to the internet. It’s an amazing tool. Pizza delivery drones, on the other hand? I’ll definitely be throwing rocks at them… and ordering pizzas.
Longtime friend of the blog Elana Levin and her cohost Brett Schenker invited me on their Graphic Policy Radio podcast to discuss the season finale of Jessica Jones, as well as the whole season itself. It was contentious and fun. (Spoiler Alert: I’m Officer Simpson’s Bad Fan.) Give it a listen!
Fallon doesn’t want to offend. I am sure he is the nicest guy, and would be super fun to hang out with, but his show appears to be this platform where anyone can come on and paint themselves however they want to appear. My annoyance with him started with Chris Christie constantly being on there, dancing around and doing his dumb skits about how much he loves Springsteen. Christie is such a gross and horrible person. I worked for a decade for the state of New Jersey and can truthfully say he’s done way, way more harm for the state than he’s done good. And the whole shutting down of the bridge bullshit? He denies it all, and then the next thing you see is him on Fallon making light of it and singing a song about it or whatever. Fallon lets these terrible people saywhatever they want. Not that the host of The Tonight Show needs to be a hard-hitting journalist getting to the bottom of things—it’s just that if he’s going to have these people on, at least have some point of view. Don’t just laugh nervously about it. I mean, one of his questions to Christie was, “Heard you hung out with the Romneys! So how are the Romneys? They’re all awesome.”
The other thing about Fallon that drives me crazy is how he will have a guest on and then bring out an iPad and try out some app with them. It’s unbelievable. There are segments where there’s like 30 seconds of him staring silently at an iPad wearing earphones. I’ve made a few Vines using those moments.
Over at Vice I interviewed the brilliant, brutally funny video editor Vic Berger IV, Vine’s strangest political satirist, about his five muses: Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Chubby Checker, Jimmy Fallon, and Jim Baker.
Given the cover of Romantic Story this is a weird thing to say, but this seems less sexually explicit than your past books.
Heather: I don’t think that’s weird at all! I view this work as way less sexually explicit, too—which is funny, because there are still gaping vaginas everywhere. I guess I’m just desensitized to that. But there’s not really any penetration or actual sexual acts going on, which is unlike my older work. It has to do with what I was saying before, actually, how my work tends to mirror what’s going on in my personal life. Honestly, at the time when I was making work like Sad Sex, I was mirroring exactly what I was feeling, what I was going through in my life: dealing with different partners, different people, trust tissues, the different dynamics of being single and feeling very alone and isolated and messy regardless of whether I was getting some or not. It’s hard to put it into words; I guess that’s why I don’t too often, and why I was making work about it instead. It sounds dumb to me when I try to explain it, but when I was making work that included fucking, it’s because in my life I was dealing with emotions and complications as a result of fucking.
Now I’m making less explicit, less fully pornographic work, because it’s not the dynamics of fucking that I’m grappling with on a daily basis. I’m less interested in how other people made me feel as a result of being involved with them—unlike in Sad Sex, when I was using text in some pieces, like “you make me feel special” or “I masturbate thinking about your boyfriend,” making really blatant statements about how relations between myself and various people affected my self-perception and my experience. I’m now more interested in my own singular experiences with, and within, myself, not those that are explicitly being generated by other people in the present. It’s more introspective and nostalgic, and less about depicting something generating panic and emotion in the moment. This obviously still has a lot to do with sexuality and physicality, but less to do with sexual acts, unless they’re being performed on oneself, or are being looked back on in reflection and anxiety.
I’m the guest on this week’s episode of Chase Thomas’s Cut to the Chase podcast on writers and critics! Chase and I discuss my origin story as a writer, Game of Thrones, Lost, The Affair, Empire, True Detective, Gotham, Daredevil, cartoons, comics, and much more. I hope you enjoy!
Fitting for a show about those occupying society’s technological substrata,Mr. Robot’s characters are often placed at the very bottom of the frame. This leaves massive amounts of headroom that suggests a great weight hanging over their heads, and echoes their isolation: When they’re talking right to each other, they seem alone. In more conventional filmmaking, conversations are cut with the characters looking at each other from opposite ends of the frame, leaving what’s known as “leading room” between their faces that helps convey the physical space they occupy. Mr. Robot inverses the norm by “shortsighting” the characters, positioning their faces at the edge of the frame closest toward the person to whom they’re speaking.
“Shortsighting is unnerving,” Campbell explains. “It further accentuates how fucked-up Elliot’s world is. The idea was to convey the loneliness. That’s the internal dialogue I had with myself: How do we tell that story? How do you get Elliot across?”
The effect goes a long way in selling audiences on the mounting paranoia and dissociation of the show’s main character, hacker Elliot Alderson (Malek). Without the usual pattern to help us intuit spatial relationships, these scenes create the sense that the characters don’t know where they stand in relation to one another. They also remind us of the picture-in-picture, face-against-flat-surface nature of video chatting, which can’t be overlooked on a show this attuned to the alienating effects of technology.
I spoke with Mr. Robot’s director of photography, Tod Campbell, about the show’s gorgeous shot compositions for Vulture. It felt great to write an article about television that focused on pure form. Woo!
It was funny: I haven’t talked to the real person that [Monroe] was based on in a long, long time, but then I saw he was on Facebook. I wrote to him and I asked him if he’d read the book, and he hadn’t, so I sent him a copy. He said he read five pages and couldn’t read any more because it was “too intense.” Then he kept saying he’s going to read it, but he can’t. But when he found out there was a movie, I sent him the trailer, and he was really excited. He showed the trailer to some friend at a bar—I don’t think he’d said that it was supposed to be based on him—and that person said, “Wow, that relationship is really screwed up. Why are you showing me this?” The guy said “What do you mean, ‘screwed up’? That’s a real man!” You know? “He’s a real man! He’s going for it!” You can see that that particular person, that character…I mean, if I treated him correctly, he’s not the type of person who’s able to reflect on any of that. Which contributes to Minnie’s loneliness. It takes her a while to realize that, because she’s thinking she’s in love with him. What do you do when you’re “raped,” in quotes, by someone who’s thoughtless and unaware? There’s no way to have a discussion about that with him because he’s not on the ball enough to even grasp the situation. I don’t know what people think. You could argue rape or not—I mean, I don’t fucking know. It’s a complicated situation.
For my A.V. Club debut, I interviewed Phoebe Gloeckner, my hero, about The Diary Of A Teenage Girl. I first interviewed Phoebe 12 years ago, and she’s been my hero ever since.
The number one question people ask me about the series is whether I think everyone will lose—whether it will end in some horrible apocalypse. I know you can’t speak to that specifically, but as a revisionist of epic fantasy—
I haven’t written the ending yet, so I don’t know, but no. That’s certainly not my intent. I’ve said before that the tone of the ending that I’m going for is bittersweet. I mean, it’s no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings. It ends with victory, but it’s a bittersweet victory. Frodo is never whole again, and he goes away to the Undying Lands, and the other people live their lives. And the scouring of the Shire—brilliant piece of work, which I didn’t understand when I was 13 years old: “Why is this here? The story’s over?” But every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that’s the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge.
At first glance, Review appears to be comedy in which someone makes a major production of doing basic things in a very stiff, social-anthropology, insider-playing-at-outsider way — Sasha Baron Cohen in khakis. This is indeed the basic approach. But the show’s genius is that instead of treating each review as a separate, self-contained event, mined for jokes then never referred to again, there’s continuity between all of them. The magical comedy reset button you’d expect them to hit after Forrest, say, gets addicted to cocaine, overdoses, and goes to rehab, never gets hit. The experiences build one on top of another.
That’s the angle that stands out to actor James Urbaniak, who plays Forrest’s amoral producer/enabler Grant. “There’s an element of it being a satire of reality TV,” he says. “In reality TV, you make decisions that have an emotional effect on people but are restricted by the parameters of the game or the competition. Review “is breaking down those parameters, so he’s making very big decisions, like getting divorced, that affect his whole life.”
“Affect” is an understatement. Even though the only time he acknowledges it before the first season finale is in one brief fit of self-pity while eating an enormous stack of pancakes (don’t ask), Review shows Forrest slowly but surely destroying his life and the lives of everyone around him. His marriage ends. Multiple people get killed. All under the rubric of this preposterous high-concept mockumentary show.
In other words, Review is a satire not just of reality shows, but of New Golden Age of Television antihero dramas, hiding in plain sight. It takes the basic “man ruins all he cares about in the name of something that makes him nominally freer and more powerful” structure of the genre and plays it for deliberate laughs. Instead of a meth empire or a mafia family or a double life, he commits his bad acts in the name of the television show that chronicles them. He’s Walter White, but without the sense that there’s anything tragic about him — he’s just an oblivious faux-smart buffoon. It’s a satire of the middle-class middle-aged white-male entitlement and privilege that all the big dramas treat as the stuff of life.
“He is like Walter White,” Urbaniak says. “I never really thought about it that way, but I like it, and I’m buying it. He’s a guy who’s made, at a certain age, decisions that simultaneously give him some power but also upend his reality and the reality of those around him. Andy, in his comedy before the show, has always explored the disturbing depths within unassuming guys. He’s from New Jersey, but he has a quintessentially midwestern quality. He just seems like a quintessential nice, pleasant-looking, affable American guy; then it’s all about the depths that this guy’s capable of getting himself into, very much on his own. That sort of is like Don Draper and Walter White and those other guys. I dunno—maybe there’s some zeitgeisty thing going on about middle-aged white guys.”
That camaraderie came through on the screen. You can understand why these characters are drawn to working together, even when they’re not getting along. They seem to respect each other.
That’s really great. One of the big differences between season one and season two is that the working relationships in season one were incredibly contentious. The characters would manipulate and lie, and they were really out for themselves. In season two, the working relationship really changed. While it remained contentious, there was a sense that these two women [Donna and Cameron] in particular very deeply respect and value each other, and they’re really trying hard to make it work.
And in many of their disputes, both of the positions on where to take the company are equally reasonable. It’s much more exciting to watch a drama when you genuinely can’t decide what “should” happen.
I love that. That’s what good writing does, to me. All the characters have good reasons to do what they do, so you can understand CameronandDonna, even though they’re making opposite decisions or have opposite priorities. You still feel like they’re both completely justified in the choices they’re making. I concur, I think that’s a really great part of this show.
That carries over to the characters’ personal lives too. The show didn’t pump-fake in the direction of Donna’s abortion — she actually went through with it, and her reasons were presented as sound and strong and nothing to be ashamed of.
That was a fascinating story line, and it was interesting how it all played out. The writers were really intent on making it a confident decision that Donna made. They didn’t want her to be wishy-washy, they didn’t want it to be a thing that [dramatic voice] destroyed her, you know? They did a great job of giving her that backbone. But at the same time, in a bigger-picture way, I didn’t want it to feel like, you know, working women who have a career have to sacrifice, or that given the opportunity women will choose their career over their family. It felt like threading a needle to me. It ended up being a pretty good balance between what the writers needed it to be and what I needed it to do to feel okay about what we were putting out in the world.
Have you ever thought about collecting all the Boy’s Club comics in a single book?
I’ve thought about it. I dunno. The problem with books is I usually end up getting not that great of a deal. If the right situation came along I’d do it, but it’s really not even… I mean, I guess it would be worth it, to have it be easier for fans. But I kind of like it not being easy for people to get. I dunno, it’s kind of funny to see it on eBay for $400 or something. My lady thinks that Pepe’s a self-portrait, in a way—she says I have Pepe’s eyes—so it’s kind of neat to see something that’s so personal to me on some level infiltrate this weird nether-region of the internet. I’ve made my mark on the internet, so I can relax. I’m retired now, living off all the shares and likes.
What was it like going from live action—film, TV, live shows—to a book? How did you translate what you do?
Heidecker: It’s sort of this mixed blessing with Adult Swim where whenever we make stuff for them, it’s their property. Whenever we do something outside of that world, we have to start fresh again. You can’t just recycle stuff. A lot of people would put out a guide to Awesome Show Cinco products or something.
Wareheim: Yeah, we could easily have done a chapter on Business Hugs.
Heidecker: So this was a challenge. You have to start clean and make stuff up from scratch, which is ultimately more satisfying. There was a period where we thought it could be a hybrid of a real story about us that then it turns into this thing, but it just felt more fun to keep it wide open. Zone Theory is so general that you can cram any idea in there and make it work.
Wareheim: It was definitely a new learning experience, but at the core of it, it’s a somewhat similar process, creatively. One of the greatest parts of this is Tim and I getting together and having lunch, laughing about how we were gonna structure this thing. It’s sort of like doing a Bedtime Stories or a movie: “Here’s what we have to do to get enlightened, here are all the steps,” and then we’d go off on our own and write a little bit.
Heidecker: It was a blank slate: ”You guys wanna write a book? Let us know what you wanna write about. It could be anything.” It could have been the history of Tim and Eric, or our guide to being a dad. That was the hard part: focusing what we wanted to do, then populating it with enough jokes and ideas that it felt like something you could sit with for more than ten minutes. Making sure it went somewhere, had a point of view, that it was its own universe and not just total nonsense.
Wareheim: We knew we wanted to have a visual style that’s similar to some of the TV or video elements. We knew we wanted to work with the same designer [Duke Aber] who’s done all of our DVDs and posters. His design is like a character in the book. It really stands out.
You can also show a giant two-page spread of a penis in a book, which you can’t do on a TV show. I got to that part and thought “I’m so happy for these guys! They can take it as far as they want!”
Wareheim: [Laughs] Besides the penis thing, it’s not that much further.
The penis kind of stands out.
Wareheim: Absolutely. We were hoping for that. With that particular thing, I talked to our graphic artist about it. We can’t legally take a penis off the internet, and he didn’t want to photograph one, so he molded that penis out of all these other penises so that it can legally exist. Just that we made some poor guy do that is great.
Heidecker: It also was meant for to you open up the book to that page and go “Gahhhh—they did it again, those assholes!”
What is it like for you to walk into that theater? It’s like being in your living room.
It’s overwhelming. I haven’t found a way to express the super bizarre surrealness of seeing my life on the stage and watching it play out multiple times. It’s a very strange ontological position to occupy. It both is and isn’t my life. I don’t really understand my relationship to the play. I’m still trying to figure that out.
The book received a lot of attention and acclaim as well, but with the musical, there are warm bodies on stage and in the audience. Does that make the enthusiastic reception of the show feel different?
That’s definitely part of it. The amazing risk involved in live theater? I could not bear that. You just count on so many people to get things right. You’re working with this giant team, from the prop manager to the actors, and they all go out on that tightrope every night together. That’s a very intense experience for the audience.
But also, a musical is something designed to have broad appeal. There’s a lot of money invested in this thing. It’s very difficult to get a show produced. What’s amazing to me is that this very weird, very particular, very risky story that’s not conventional Broadway fodder by any means has made it on Broadway! I feel like there’s always a trade-off between the size of your message and the size of your audience — they’re in inverse proportion. But in this case, there’s no skimping on the message. It’s not airbrushed in any way. It’s kind of just gritty and real. And it’s reaching these big Broadway audiences.
Did the sheer size of the collaborative effort involved seem a world away from sitting at your drawing table?
I was struck with that all along. Lisa [Kron, the writer/lyricist] and Jeanine [Tesori, the composer] had to be open to so many people’s input. That would have driven me absolutely nuts, but that’s part of what they love about it. Comics is about as far on the other end of the continuum as you can go. I do all my own set design and costumes. I do all the acting. That’s all me, and that’s the way I like it.