Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interview with Rodriguez, musician from the documentary Searching For Sugarman

Musician Sixto Rodriguez is the focus of the new award winning documentary Searching For Sugarman, which tells of his seemingly failed music career in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that blossomed in South Africa (as well as Australia which isn’t covered in the film) where, unbeknownst to Rodriguez, he became a huge star. The documentary, by Malik Bendjelloul follows the unlikely story of ‘Sugar’ a Rodriguez fan who followed the legend and attempted to find the real story behind the musician’s rumored onstage suicide only to find him alive and working in Detroit. Meanwhile, Clarence Avant, the record producer who’s label folded, seems to have no idea about profits from the subsequent Rodriguez re-releases. After producing two albums: Cold Fact and Coming from Reality, the singer now has a blossoming music career 40 years later and is on tour across the United States.

What was it like for you receiving the phone call the first time from South Africa (and Australia) and finding out that you are popular there, then shortly after flying out for a concert? That must’ve been intense coming from doing demolition work?

Oh, sheesh, yeah, it was epic! About South Africa and Australia, I consider them virgin territory, they’re beautiful country’s, gorgeous people and they are very outgoing and my fan base in South Africa are Afrikaan. They’ve been down there 200 years and it was pretty amazing. I knew it was genuine because they knew the lyrics to my songs. It was Olympic man! You know what I mean, it was epic, really cool!

Your initial career in music in the 60′s-70′s was short. Aside from playing local bars in Detroit, what were some of your biggest moments? Did you play in any larger theaters?

Well, you know, not anything on this level. Pretty much bars and clubs and lounges in Detroit but I did pop around different places, but nothing as big as this.

Have you continued to write songs throughout your life?

Yes, yes I have but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m just following the film touring since January, 8 months.

You seem to have dealt with everything that’s happened to you very well, but do you have any animosity or regret?

Oh animosity is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like. No, I think that all will be resolved. It’s a long situation, there’s a lot of things people don’t know about this business and I don’t either so I’m pursuing a legal team. I haven’t talked to Clarence Avant in 30 years. The thing is, Clarence gave me my start, he helped me when I was in dire straits, more than once, so I owe Clarence a lot, but after ‘74 I didn’t know him for the next 30 years so I didn’t know the second part of the story. I think it will all be resolved. But right now we’re just following the film.

Well with all this craziness that has happened in your life, how do you look at it? Is it fate that it worked out this way? How do you feel about it?

Oh jeez, now that I don’t know. I’m gonna tell you I’m a very lucky, fortunate person but I had help getting here. I have to mention, Sony Pictures Classics, I have to mention Sony Legacy, I have to mention Light in the Attic, and my family and friends who absolutely helped so much and the curiosity of Sugar, that little spark. It’s Sugar, he’s the hero in this film and my daughter of course but I’m just saying it made the film happen.

A number of your songs have political and social messages to them and I know you actually ran for Mayor of Detroit at one time but now that you have the opportunity to speak to the world, what would you say about what’s going on? How much have things changed?

Well, I think national issues are the same, jobs, people looking for employment, the economy. In the 70’s I said that, the war in Syria, that’s a current issue, how about the war on the border of America and Mexico? I heard 40,000 had been killed, 50 journalists killed in Mexico and you know they gotta fix it, that’s how I feel.

I had a chance to see you perform twice recently, first at Guild Hall for the Hampton’s Film Festival and then at the Newport folk Festival and I’ve seen a number of celebrities and musicians react to your story and your music. Who have you heard from and what were some of these experiences like?

Yeah, Jackson Browne was in the audience at Newport, in New York Bob Geldoff, Alec Baldwin, and Mike Moore. I’m not name dropping but it’s catching their support. They are jumping into this and showing it at their festivals, so yeah I’m happy with the movie, it’s getting me more calls (laughs).

I know the rapper Nas sampled “Sugar Man” on Stillmatic back in the day which is kind of interesting.

Yeah, it was early in the career, maybe about 8 years ago or something. Oh, about the film, the climax of the movie is ’98 but I want to mention that I met Malik (director of Searching For Sugarman) in ’08 and I was reissued in ’08 as well so I always want to make that distinction.

In your live shows I’ve seen you do a few covers of songs like “Only Have Eyes For You” who are some of your favorite musicians?

Oh geez, you know as I research my mind about the kind of music I like I pretty much listen to everything, obscure singers like Johnny Hayes, certainly Jimmy Reed whose not obscure, but those kind of early singers, you know, I’m a solid 70 (years old), I’ve done the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s and I’m working on the 10’s. That music from those eras pretty much stays with me. There are so many genres of music I like. I used the protest song as a vehicle to describe social issues, so my focus is more like that: bringing up stuff about society, police brutality, those harder issues which don’t go quite too well on middle radio, so maybe I made it hard on myself.

Your music is often compared to Dylan and Donavan. I just wanted to know how you feel about those guys and if you’ve heard from them at all.

Bob Dylan is the Shakespeare of rock and roll, he’s written thousands of songs and I met Donavan at Sundance. I saw him perform and I got a little film clip with him. I think Donavan is more Donavan now than he’s ever been (laughs), all this development, you know Dylan is too. It was these voices that helped us get through those 60’s and 70’s eras so the comparison is sweet, they are sweethearts to me.

Finally, I loved your recent performance on Late Night with David Letterman. It was really fantastic with the horns and the strings, it was amazing, what was that like?

The thing is I [had] got a 25 piece orchestra behind me and so the performance was going to be powerful without me (laughs). I just said I was going to do a rhythm section. I didn’t have anything to do with it, I didn’t have anything to do with Malik’s movie either, I’m in the movie with him, I didn’t tell him who to choose to interview, what to say, where to go you know, they did real well with it and I’m really happy for him now. It’s his first film [and] out of 10,000 entries to Sundance he got the People’s Award and People’s Choice award and World Documentary.

From: Short&SweetNYC

Friday, September 14, 2012

The First 9 Days of School

Here's my Instagram photo diary from the First 9 Days of School taken on my iPhone, now for a 4 day weekend...

Interview with Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, directors of Persepolis and Chicken With Plums

The Iranian born Marjane Satrapi quickly became known as one of the foremost graphic novelists of our time after publication of her groundbreaking, autobiographical novel Persepolis and she went on to team up with French graphic novelist Vincent Paronnaud (aka Winshluss) who is known for his interpretation of the classic Pinocchio to co-direct the Oscar nominated animated adaptation which featured Sean Penn and Gena Rowlands vocal work on the English version. Their follow up, the live-action Chicken With Plums, adapted from another of Satrapi’s graphic novels and starring Mathieu Amalric and Isabella Rossellini opened on August 17.

Marjane Satrapi

At the time when your graphic novels came out, it was pretty rare to see a female graphic novelist and coming from Iran and it’s even more rare.

Well I think drawing has been for a long time a thing of distraction, you know, comics are for distraction. People read comic strips in magazines to get distracted but the distractions were for males because the women, they know how to sew and how to make the nice cooking and this and that. They were not supposed to be distracted so much, so if you don’t read something, then why would you make it? You know, I think the question of female/male isn’t a question of genes or anything. A hundred years ago, female, they have six point less IQ then the men, no kidding. Of course, because if you only cook and sew and take care of a baby and if you don’t study and use other part of your brain your IQ cannot go higher. Now, women’s IQs are higher than the men’s because we study more, make more stuff, etc, so it is the same thing, it’s like making comics, being funny, drawing, dedicating your life to your art, all of [these] things were just for men. If you will come to my Iranian side, I absolutely never got an education in “you’re a girl and because you are a girl you have to be pretty,” never, I mean the obsession of my parents would be that I would become an intellectual, that I would study, that I would be economically independent, that I could stand on my boots and fit myself, then, if I marry, ok but I was not supposed to be pretty and try to make the right marriage. The first time I married, I was 21, my mother was devastated. It was really not the best news she had in her life. She told me “if you were accepted in a really good school or if you made something, I would have been happy but you are marrying at 21 and you expect me to be happy for you?” So that was the way it was.

Well, you certainly must have made your parents proud; you certainly accomplished all the things they wanted.

Yeah, they are very proud, certainly, but they don’t talk about it with me. They also pretend that they don’t talk about it with anyone else, which is a lie because a couple of years ago my parents went on a trip to China and they were with a bunch of people and my mother was like “oh when we were taking the bus in this place everyone wants to take a picture with me because I was your mother” and I was like “how did they know you were my mother” and she said “they guessed.” Of course they didn’t guess, of course she said it to them but in front of me she pretends it does not exist because after all, I am her child, you know, famous-not famous, but I am sure they are very proud. They pretend like nothing has happened and that is very cute of them because they don’t add extra weight. It is very bad [if] you start impressing the people who are very close to you because it’s fake. You know, I have the same friends so I just want to have the same kind of relationship with them.

You came from a very tumultuous background and you understand fear and death in a way that other people may not. How do you deal with it?

I know the bad thing with the fear is that it paralyzes your brain. So the moment you are scared, you don’t think. In my country, they try to [create] a situation where everybody is scared of everything. That is the way you control people. Look at America after 9/11. The level is yellow, the level is orange, the level is red, now it is black. It puts people in the situation of fear, so what happens? George Bush he gets elected. That’s what happens when you are full of fear. So, you know, fear is, I would say a very natural, instinctive reaction but we have to learn how to live with it. It’s like when I’m walking very late in the street, I’m like, you know maybe someone like a psycho will come and stab me in the back, I freak out from psychopaths, but at the same time I say if he comes at me with a knife and he stabs me I will suffer a little bit- being like that before that happens means that I have to have a very pragmatic way, of course nobody comes to stab me but it is a very bad feeling. As you have said I have gone through lots of things and when you go through lots of things, you know, the war, that was one thing but when I was living in the streets of Vienna, after that you say to yourself what can happen to me? I have already lived in the street, this is the worst thing that can [happen] to a human being, being homeless, not having anywhere to go, being all alone like that, it really sucks and imagine [as a] 17, 18 years old girl it’s really not fun but once you have lived that, you are quite relaxed in life, worst thing that can happen to me is that I have to go back in the street and you still live.

It’s almost a freedom to hit bottom and know that’s the worst that can happen.

It is. [If] you are extremely over-protected and you don’t go through anything, then the imagination of fear is much bigger than the fear itself. When things happen, you are much less scared. It’s happened to me to be attacked in the street many times because I’m always in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong hour and you fight back and when you have fought 2 or 3 times then you are like, I can fight, no problem, so then you are not scared anymore. Now, of course, I’m still scared of the dark, like when I turn off the light, I don’t like it but I am scared of very childish stuff, like sometimes I go in my house and I’m sure it’s somebody hidden in my closet and then I will take a big knife and I see that there is nothing, but I’m scared of this nonsense stuff like oh, somebody must be under my bed but this is the fear that you have when you are 3 years old.

Well, those childhood fears are powerful ones. I understand totally, it’s funny.

I am scared you know of bullshit stuff. Like I am very scared of cockroaches. If I see one I almost faint but you know a big guy will come with [knife] I am like okay now, I have my bag ready and I am going to punch him in his face.

I work as a high school teacher in a pretty conservative area and your book is part of our curriculum. It’s kind of amazing. Look at how far things have come.

That makes me very happy. Truly, truly.

I was wondering what you would say to those kids, especially with the movie, there is the scene of the Americans that might make them question you?

Well, just consider that a human being in the world is a human being. The privilege of loving your family and being kids and wanting to eat ice cream and going to the movies is not only something you want. Everybody in the whole world, they want to have a peaceful life. We have some psycho people, you have them here too. They are everywhere, you know, they are like ultra-religious or whatever. You have a few of these guys, but unfortunately if they are crazy you hear them much more, than the other ones. From the second that we consider that the “other one” is a human being just like us and that it’s not an abstract notion, you know, “Middle Eastern, Muslim, Axis of Evil” then it will become very difficult to bomb these people. Just consider that the “other one” is just like you wanting to play, wanting to go to the movies, wanting to have, you know, the latest t-shirt that is very much in fashion, listen to the music, falling in love, if they consider that, then you know, this is the only thing that I can say, I don’t have any pretension that is more than that.

That’s terrific. I wanted to ask you, I heard you are working on the new movie The Prophet.

No, I am not doing it. I was supposed to work on it but it was a totally completely different story, then the production decided to make it in another way and in this other way I didn’t see myself beiing part of it.

Oh, that’s too bad. I love Kahul Gibran. What about The Voices?

The Voices is a very cool thing because you know it’s the first time I will be making a film I have not written myself, the story but for me it’s extremely cool and a big intellectual and artistic challenge.

We are coming up on an election here. I don’t know how much you follow American politics, but I was interested in your perspective.

Jesus Christ! First I have to say, for 25 years, you are still going to be the biggest power in the world, until the Chinese take over, still you have for 25 years, the decision of the United States of America effects the whole world so I propose that everybody in the world should be able to vote for the election of America because America makes the decisions for all of us. This is to start with. Then obviously, I cannot be a republican. I cannot be someone who thinks that general health system is not a good idea, someone who is against abortion. I don’t respect that, anyone who is against gays, I cannot respect that, someone who thinks war is the solution to the problem, I cannot respect that, so whatever republicans say I think they all suck, you know, I hate all their ideas so there is not one single idea that I can agree on. The democrats, you know about Barack Obama, I know you can make a lot of criticism but he has inherited a country after 8 years of George Bush and believe me, it’s hard. You know the damage that George Bush has done? You need a century to get over it so 100% Obama, for sure.

Vincent Paronnaud

I found your collaboration with Marjane really interesting because you have very similar content in your work but your style is actually very different, so how did you marry those two?

What interests me is not people who do it the same way I do, it’s the differences. I’m more intrigued and enthralled by a filmmaker or a writer that brings me a new vision or a different vision and Marjane brings me to a universe that is not at all my universe. It’s very different, it’s more naïve, it’s sort of honest, rooted in her culture.

I understand. One of the things that I think is particularly interesting is the mixture of the animation with the live action in the new film. Did you always plan on having animated sequences in the film?

Not really. We had thought it was going to be completely live action but then when we were looking at a scene in terms of sets, it was going to be very expensive and that’s when we thought, hey maybe we could do this in an animated way. But that’s not a problem, I mean I am used to working under certain constraints so if you hit, you know an issue like that then it’s just a question of finding a solution and then applying yourself to making that solution as perfect as possible.

Yeah, well that’s what being an artist is about. The trouble is the fun part to find a solution. You and Marjane worked together on two films, what did you take away from working with her?

Patience (laughs).

So how did you feel when you began working in animation, because you started out as a graphic novelist without any film background right?

No, I started off with no background as a graphic novelist or filmmaking.

Oh, ok nothing?

I was a bad student.

Did you go to art school?


Wow, you just did it, that’s terrific!

I was kicked out of school when I was very young.

So when you started your first graphic novels, you had no background in it, how did that come about? Did you read others and just start doing them yourself?

Yeah, when I was in France I read an enormous about of comic books and I drew, my entire childhood I drew, so I drew and drew until I was 20 and then I stopped drawing for years because I was doing music and I thought I had nothing to say, no stories to tell. I didn’t think it would be interesting and then, you know, I said okay let me give it a shot and it was a long process, you know you have to learn to work, my life at that time was more like staying out all night until 5, it was a long process.

Do you find that you have more focus in your work now that you have gotten older?

Sure. What I mean about learning how to work is that you do one band and then you say, okay, I did one, I can do two and then okay, I did two, I can do more and then say, oh, I did a book, I can do another and it’s that sort of discipline. You know Pinocchio is a very big book and when I started it I was thinking 200 pages and I thought like that because I’ve done a lot of other things so 200 pages is possible so it’s kind of just saying I’m going to go over there and then you gotta go.

So what are you going to work on next?

I am working on a book on the old and the New Testament.

Oh wow, cool! Did you see R.Crumb’s version of Genesis?

Yes, I am not like that, not old enough (laughs)!

For: Short & Sweet NYC

Illustration Friday: Burst

Friday, September 7, 2012

Five Questions for the cast & crew of the new film Robot & Frank

I had an opportunity to talk with actors Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon as well as director Jake Schreier and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford from the upcoming film Robot & Frank about a retired cat burglar in the near future who is given a robot to aid him with his daily life and increasing memory loss.

The robot in the film seems pretty close to what would soon be possible. Where did you get the inspiration for the actual robot and how did you make it? It’s a character that becomes emotionally important. How do you work with a robot in making it an important character?

Jake Schreier: Yeah, it’s not easy. I mean our inspirations were the ones they’re building for old people [which] tend to follow this kind of spaceman motif and we just kind of followed along with that, and the level of reasoning it’s capable of we may not see in the very near future, but I mean I think you will start to see things that look like him and for that purpose. Even right now there are like these little seals

Oh yeah I’ve seen the robotic baby harp seals, I saw them online.

Jake Schreier: They give them to old people just to watch them form an emotional connection and it helps keep them more active and engaged and just kind of go along with that.

This doesn’t really feel like a film from a freshman director. I know you have commercial experience, but what was it like working with luminous actors like Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon?

Jake Schreier: It’s very easy, you just sort of sit back and they do really good acting and then say ‘that was good’. I remember the first two days on set it was Frank and Susan’s scenes, Susan did three days on the movie and those were the first three, and I just like forgot to direct for the first day and a half cause I was just like “wow, that was really good. I guess do that again” and I was like “I should probably do my job at some point and adjust these things” but yeah I don’t think there’s any way we could have gotten it done without [Frank and Susan].

Frank Langella: Well, he had to put a lot of work into convincing me that it was going well because I kept saying “this is a disaster, this is never going to work, nobody will understand this, this, this plot point doesn’t work, I’m lousy in this, my accent’s changing” he had to keep telling me “no you’re good, come on out” that’s what he had to keep doing.

Frank, this movie is really about memory and I know you get really into character. What was it like dealing with the fears of losing your memory, as a person who is of that age when it becomes a possibility?

Frank Langella: Well, I don’t have that fear yet, I haven’t had any trouble with it yet. I was once in an award ceremony where an actress said I wanted to thank my hairdresser and my makeup man for getting me out there and I had already gotten my award but if I had to follow her I would have said I’d like to thank my ego but I don’t have any memory troubles yet- other things are going, I just had cataract surgery so I can see you really clearly but so far I can still remember my address and all the essential things. If it starts, I’ll stop acting, if I don’t have breath and I don’t have energy, I won’t work in the theater anymore [but] you can do very well in films for a long time even if you are decrepit, they can wheel me.

Frank, you wrote the book that everyone’s afraid to write (Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them) and it was fascinating with that kind of honesty but did you get a big backlash from it?

Frank Langella: You know, I must say I was prepared for it, it’s four months practically today, I kept waiting for an angry letter from Mel Brooks, nope, not a word. It’s all been “God I wish I said that,” “I knew him when he was like that,” “you had the courage to say things about people.” I didn’t mean them in a mean way I just said those are my perceptions, so no I haven’t had any backlash.

Susan, I wanted to ask you about marriage. As someone who’s been in a long term relationship, it seems like not getting married is becoming more of a trend. I know that you’ve spoken out and said you didn’t really believe in marriage anymore.

Susan Sarandon: No I believe in marriage for other people, I just never have really liked the idea of institutionalized religion, but I mean I think if it means something, I think it’s great. I think everyone should be able to get married and if you know I think it’s a good party. For me, I just think it’s nice to wake up- now he’s in relationship, (speaking about screenwriter Christopher D Ford), I shouldn’t say this, but he’s engaged so you can ask him, why are you engaged?

Christopher D Ford: Because I want to be married.

Susan Sarandon: Why do you want to be married?

Christopher D Ford: Because I want to be in a family with my girlfriend.

Susan Sarandon: Which means being married. Yeah I think it depends on what it means to you.

Do you think it’s changing, because gay marriage certainly brought up a lot of different issues?

Susan Sarandon: I think more people are getting married more not less. I was married in my 20’s for a brief period of time so as not to get kicked out of school. When I had my first child out of wedlock, I wasn’t married to any of the guys I had children with. That at the time was a major, major thing. Now it’s not such a big deal so I think that has changed. It seems to me more people are interested in getting married younger and I think it’s a really great way to publicly discuss your commitment and it’s a great party. I think the trap of a long term relationship is taking each other for granted and some people when they seal the deal kind of stop trying, they’ve done it, they’ve caught the person, they’ve found the person, they’ve made the contract and then it takes so much work to be in relationship for a long time. It’s just so wonderful to be in one, I’ve always been in committed relationships for long periods of time and if being married makes you commit to trying to improve your skill set and keep that going I think it’s great.

Robot & Frank Opens in Theaters August 17, 2012.
From: Short & Sweet NYC

Illustration Friday: Identical

Here's my submission for Illustration Friday's Identical theme courtesy of Lewis Carroll

Monday, July 16, 2012

Port Jefferson Patch's First Impressions Artist Series

This week a portion of my year-long photo diary shown above (week 13) was chosen for the Port Jefferson Patch's First Impressions Artist Series in which local artists show work and the community reponds to them.  You can click on the image above to see a larger version and check out the project on the Patch!

Interview with musician Pat Grossi of Active Child

I recently chatted with Pat Grossi, aka Active Child, about his musical career—from singing in choirs and chilling with Snoop Dog and Dr.Dre in his youth, to currently eking out a living through touring, remixes, and oh yeah, actual albums.

I read a lot about you doing the choral thing when you were younger. Was it religious, or was it just a public chorus? What was that experience like?

Well, it wasn’t religious at all. I was just singing in my school choir. The director of that choir inspired me to try out for this bigger choir in Philadelphia, because I was living in New Jersey at the time, so I went in and auditioned and got in, and it was amazing. I didn’t really realize how big of a deal it was until I had been in it for about a year. It was kind of a big choir, a hundred boys my age—I was nine years old when I got in—and then there was about seventy-five in the chorale, men who sang bass, baritone, tenor. I mean, we toured the world for four years. I traveled to Australia, South Africa, Europe, and really toured as a performer for the first time, so it was pretty amazing.

That’s really unbelievable as a nine-year-old. That’s amazing. How much did that inspire you to go out and become a musician, you know, having your first couple tours under your belt and an idea of what it was like?

Yeah, it’s funny, I didn’t really think about those days as a touring experience until I started touring with Active Child, and then I started doing a lot of interviews and had questions like this, and it made me really recollect all that stuff and think back on what that was. It was a tour, but I was so young at the time. I grew up, and a lot of the memories from that period kind of just faded away naturally, like a lot of things do, but yeah, definitely, I think it had a massive influence on at least the way I sing now and just the fact that I chose to pursue music in this way. I’m not sure I would be where I am now if I hadn’t been in that choir. Who knows?

Yeah, that makes sense. I read that your dad was working at Priority Records early on, so you had a chance to meet rappers like Snoop and Dr.Dre. Was that around the same time? What was that like for you?

That wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles. My dad was working out of the house in New Jersey for Priority, and then in Hollywood. That’s actually when I left the choir, at age thirteen, then moved to Los Angeles for his job. Once we were out there, it was really flip as far as lifestyle and setting and just everything you know. I went from going to public school to a kind of small private school, and ended up going to his office fairly often in Hollywood, which was pretty cool. You know, I was just this young kid and seeing different artists that I was listening to, like Mack 10 or Ghetto Boys or whoever it was, random artists who don’t really put albums out anymore. I met Bone Thugs, Eminem early on, when he was just getting his sart. It was pretty cool to be into that music, and to be able to connect with artists was a really, really cool experience.

Did you learn a lot from your dad and seeing how a musician’s career works?

You know, I didn’t really get much, as far as that kind of angle on the record industry, until I had record contracts and publishing contracts and lawyers and all of these things falling into my lap once my music starting taking off a little bit. Then he really came in and gave me advice and became my number-one fan, and helper, as far as anything that happened to come in as far as the record industry. He’s been doing this job for thirty-plus years. Still to this day he is my number-one man, other than my manager, of course. We all work hand in hand with whatever is going on, which is great.

That’s great to have that support and that knowledgeable background.

Yeah, it’s amazing because I have my manager, who’s a little bit more my age, and he’s very much on top of what’s current and the reality of the industry now, and my dad’s a little more old school, and so I get a good mixture of both.

Yeah, you might be able to answer this question better than anyone. How much has the industry changed? Active Child is a pretty big name, and you’ve had a lot of success. How difficult is it making a living as a musician?

You know, it’s tough. I always let everyone know that things have changed drastically as far as sales, and it’s just not the same level of people actually going out and buying actual records because everything is digital. When that all changed, the ability to actually make an income from selling your music dropped drastically, and there’s such a tiny fraction of people who can actually pull it off. But you know, there’s still a lot of ways to make it a career and make it financially feasible, and the way that we’ve been doing it, touring nonstop and just playing a lot of shows, trying to build a name. There’s just a massive market for live music, so festivals, obviously, merchandise…There’s all these things. I do a lot of remixing, a great way to keep creative on the road and brush up on production skills and also make a little cash on the side.

But yeah, it’s definitely not easy. I’m not stacking any kind of money in my bank account right now, but I’m definitely surviving, and it’s paying my bills, so I’m happy with that. I’d like to put a couple more zeros in my bank account, but yeah, that might be a little ways off.

You know, you mentioned remixing. One of the things that led me to hear your music in the first place was the Cold War Kids “Louder Than Ever” remix. Who are some of the people you’ve worked with in terms of remixes, and how does it come together?

I’ve done a dozen or more remixes for artists all over the place. I did a recent remix for Julia Stone—she’s kind of a big Australian artist—Anna Cohen, Marina Skyvan, Beta Band, just a lot of different people. It seems like the whole remix world is kind of a polarizing thing with the artists and musicians. Some people are down with it, and they’re cool with the music being remixed, or they are cool with doing remixes. Other people seem very kind of concrete in what they made and they don’t want it touched or reworked in any way or any fashion. I’ve always been very open to having my own work remixed and rethought, and having a chance to rework someone else’s stuff. I just find it interesting. I just have a fun time doing it, and I have a lot of fun listening to what other people have done to my music.

But as far as how it all goes down, I get the e-mail from an artist, or my manager gets an e-mail from someone who is interested and feels like I can do something good with what they’ve got, and we go from there. When I want remixes of my own album, I usually try to put together a list of artists I am listening to or people I think would do something cool or more interesting, and I reach out to them.

When I hear you described, it’s usually “this guy who does this choral thing, and he’s mixing electronic music and harp.” How did you even come about learning to play that these days?

You know, I just approached it the same way I approached playing guitar or any other instrument that I’ve played throughout the years. I was very curious about it, and living in Denver at the time, and I sought one out, went and picked it up, and just taught myself how to play it. I’ve always been pretty adept at picking things up, whether it be a music program or an instrument or whatever and, not necessarily being trained or a mastermind at it, but using it in a way that I think is interesting and that works with the music. Now that I’ve been touring so much, I’ve just grown leaps and bounds from where I started because I play the harp every night and it’s become a big part of my life

That’s cool. One thing I love about your music is it seems to embrace an ’80s pop electronic sound, and it’s funny, because that music gets a little bit of a bad rap these days, and I don’t really know why. How aware were you of an ’80s pop influence when you were figuring out your sound early on?

Yeah, I don’t know. I think maybe it’s gotten a bad name because people look back on it as kind of a novelty. It’s something we can throw on and all laugh and dance to, and have a good time to, but we don’t take it seriously or something.

Yeah, someone like Peter Gabriel was so influential. It’s funny that ’80s pop has such a bad name even though people are ripping it off all the time. It’s crazy.

Yeah, in the future, I will continue to play with those sounds, but really be a little bit more picky in what I choose. I don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into this ’80s vibe, which I kinda think I stepped into briefly early on. I don’t know, we’ll see where it goes.

Yeah, I can tell it’s already changed. Your sound has developed from the EP to the full album quite a bit, actually. One thing I wanted to ask is would you ever consider covering one of the classic sort of choral songs, like something you spent all that time singing back in the day? Would you ever do one of your own versions of one of those songs?

Yeah, I’ve been messing with that idea for a long time now, but haven’t seem to put anything together that I like.

I would love to hear it. You seem to know it, and live in both worlds, really well.

There are definitely a few pieces that stick out in my mind that I would like to try to work into the style I’ve kind of created, so hopefully I can put something together. That would be really cool.

Looking forward to it. So I know you are on tour. Where are you right now?

Yeah, we’re wrapping up a five-week tour. We’re actually driving right now to San Francisco. We have a show there tonight, then a show in L.A. on Thursday, and then were done. So we’re finished up here in the US for about three weeks, and then we go to Europe for a couple weeks, and then we’re pretty much wrapped up for this album and can start writing music for the next release.

Oh excellent. Do you have any ideas for the next release? Have you guys been working on the road, just coming up with the stuff, or you’re going to wait, put that off?

I usually don’t do anything on the road, so I’ve been getting a little bit anxious to get home and start diving into some new ideas, new recordings. I really don’t know where it’s going to take me. We’ll see what happens.

For: Kevchino

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 Photo and Art Diary Project: Halfway there

We just passed the mid point of the year and I hit the half way point of my 2012 Photo and Art Diary Project on my way back from Savannah, Georgia where I was attending the Savannah College of Art and Design's Art Educator's Forum (as pictured above in the last week of June and the begining of July).  To see all of the photographs from the project click the link below and follow me on instagram!

Interview with actor/director Rob Reiner

Rob Reiner started acting early in the footsteps of his father Carl and eventually landed the role as Michael ‘Meathead’ Stivic on All In The Family, which earned him two Emmy awards. He went on to develop into a writer and director with a string of Oscar-nominated movies such as: This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, and A Few Good Men. His new film, The Magic Of Belle Island stars Morgan Freeman and opens in theaters this week.

So I have to start off by asking about Nora Ephron who passed away recently, you are so associated with her because of your work together on When Harry Met Sally so I just wanted to ask you about what it was like working with her and how she’ll be remembered.

Well, she’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest most brilliant observers of men and women and that awkward wonderful dance we do with each other. She was a joy to work with. I mean she’s funny and aside from the fact that she’s brilliant and added so much to all of the work, she was also fun to be with. I mean she made every meal an experience. She ordered just the way Sally did in the movie and she did it one day [while] we were working on the script and we were at lunch and she was ordering like that and I thought- Nora do you see yourself? Look at how you order? I said we gotta put that in the film. I said we gotta make that part of the character and she said ok and we put it in there. When Harry says she orders a meal in a way the chef didn’t know how good it was going to be, that is the way Nora was. She loved to have dinner parties either at her house when she was cooking or at a restaurant and she always loved to order things for people and she loved their reaction to eating them because she got such pleasure out of life. She loved to almost orchestrate each meal, you know, and so you had a great time and a lot of fun and the food was great and the conversation was always good. It was always fun and smart and one of the great thrills was getting an invitation to a Nora Ephron dinner party because you knew you were gonna have a great time and so I miss her for all those reasons.

Ah, that’s fantastic! You know you mention that famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from the film, which made an iconic place even more iconic.

Oh Katz’s, you know, you can go to that place, you can sit at that table, there’s a sign there that tells you that table that Harry and Sally ate at.

Yeah, I was there the other day and everyone still comes in and takes pictures with the sign, what made you choose Katz’s?

Oh, I don’t know, it was one of the most famous delis. We always thought we’d do the scene in a deli, you know, just the idea of her faking an orgasm in a public place, and so you know Katz’s is a great famous deli and so we thought we’d do it there.

That’s great. Well one of the things you’re particularly good at is romantic comedies with equal parts romance and comedy and as a man I never feel embarrassed walking into one: When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. Your new movie The Magic of Belle Island is a lot like that, I was wondering, you have a major star in Morgan Freeman and a great young actress Emma Fuhrmann and it seems like it would have plenty of appeal, I was just wondering why it’s an independent film?

Well because this is the kind of movie that studios are not making at all right now. Studios are only interested in big action franchise tent pole kind of movies, comic book type movies with a lot of visual effects and R rated raunchy comedies. I mean basically those are the only two types of films they make, so everything else you either have to finance independently, very low budget like this one was or go and try to sell foreign presales for like, thrillers. You know, the next one I’m gonna do is a thriller and we’ll have to sell all the foreign rights ahead of time to finance it because the studios are not interested in these kind of films anymore, but they get made and people like them. You know for me as a filmmaker I just wanna tell stories and whatever the best way to finance, that’s what I try to do. I’m not trying to say okay, well studios are only interested in this kind of movie so therefore I’m going to make that kind of movie. I would do it if the story was something interesting to me but I like this story because it’s very similar to what I did with The Bucket List. It’s about you know, embracing life when you don’t have, when you think that that’s all life has to offer. It’s about a guy who’s given up and just like the guys in Bucket List, they realize we only have a short time left, so let’s try to live it as best we can. That’s what this is, it’s about a guy who’s given up on life and he learns to live again because he finds these people that live next door to him in this lake side community. To me, when I turned 60, I started becoming very aware of my own mortality and you have to embrace life and unless you’re Shirley MacLaine, you don’t get another shot at this, so that’s why the story interested me and I didn’t really care whether or not studios would make it because to me, I just wanna tell the stories that I want to tell, you know.

Thanks to Netflix I was watching the first season of Saturday Night Live the other day and you’re in one of those first episodes, and it made me realize that you were like “Mr. 70’s” between All in the Family and I know you wrote the first episode of Happy Days and you had all that stuff going on. What was it like at that time? Did you embrace that tremendous fame?
Well, I’ve always tried to. I learned this from my dad and from Norman Lear. They found a way to express themselves through their work and also to, you know, express political ideas and social ideas through the work and outside the work and have the work inform your real life and have your real life inform the work. That’s what I’ve always tried to do and I was lucky to get with All in the Family. You know we did a lot, we got a lot of people talking.

Yeah, that was an amazing show and then you went on into the 80’s to the 90’s with a string of successful films that are just tremendous: Spinal Tap, A Few Good Men, Misery, The American President, and one of my all-time favorites, Stand By Me.

Oh thank you, that’s my favorite of all the ones that I’ve done.

Is it really? I know that you named your production company Castle Rock after Stephen King’s town. What was it like working with Stephen?

You know, he was a pleasure because once we had done Stand By Me he, at the time, he said this was the best thing that had ever been done of his work [and] he was more than happy to work with us and we did Misery after that. We did seven Stephen King movies and he would always go to us first with his projects because he felt it would be in good hands. We did a couple of supernatural things, but most of the pictures we did of his work were more character based you know, Stand By Me and Misery and even though it was a thriller it was more of a character thriller and certainly Shawshank Redemption and Dolores Claiborne and so on. He’s such a brilliant writer, I mean he’s so underrated because you know, I think people get tricked by the fact that there’s horror or there’s supernatural but if you look underneath it all he writes great characters. I mean the dialogue is sensational and the characters are great so we always had a great relationship because he always respected that we were not going to mess up his books.

That’s terrific. That one book of novellas with Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption is amazing. Those are two of the best films of all time.

And they both come out of the same collection of short stories; those two stories were both in a collection called Different Seasons.

Yeah it’s pretty tremendous. So I wanted to ask you, looking back on your career, you’ve done all these things, you’ve won Emmys, you’ve had the number one TV show, you’ve had all these successful films, what’s your thoughts looking back on your career now, what is your advice?

Well you know, for anybody, try to find something that you really love to do that you are good at and it can’t just be one or the other. In other words, if you are really good at something but you don’t enjoy doing it then don’t do it and you really enjoy doing something but you are not good at it then don’t do it either because you’ll ultimately be unhappy. Find something that you really love doing and your good at it and just do it and follow your own instincts about things, I mean, you can’t look at other people. That’s never going to help. You just have to go your own way. Always find your own way but find the thing that you are really passionate about that you care about and that you are good at and it doesn’t matter what it is and it doesn’t have to be show business, it could be flipping pizzas, I don’t care what it is, if you really enjoy it. Ultimately it is all about process, about the time we spend on the planet, it’s all the journey, it all the getting to, you know, there is no end result to any of it except death you know? So it’s all process so when I make a film or do anything I just want to enjoy what it is that I’m doing, because the experience of making the film is what you look back on. You don’t think about is this good or bad or what is it, did people like it, didn’t like it, the critics they liked it, they didn’t like it, did it get an award, it didn’t get an award. None of that stuff matters because it’s all the process of doing, just doing it, getting up every day and doing this thing and enjoying it if you can, then that’s all there is and then at the end when you’re done then you won’t be doing that anymore.

You know you work as an actor, a director, and as a writer. How different is the process as a creative person? Is it similar in a sense or not really?

Well, I try to take my experiences as an actor, I started as an actor, and try to inform all the work that I do. I don’t ever put an actor in a position that I’m asking him to do something that I knew I couldn’t do. I’m not the best actor in the world, I’m not the worst but I know if I can do it then I know another actor can do it so when I’m working on a script it’s always with that in mind and how it’s ultimately going to be performed. I mean the thing about being a director is you’re like a jack of all trades, a master of none- kind of good at a lot of little things, not great at anything because there’s somebody who can shoot it better, there’s people better with music, there’s people who are better actors, better whatever, but you have a good sense of all of it. You bring your entire life’s experience and all of your abilities to bear on the job and hopefully you have some good instincts and you can make some decisions because that’s what it is, you have a million decisions to make and if you have good instincts then you can do it, you know, you don’t have to be great at any of these things but you have to be kind of good at it or at least have a working knowledge of all these different aspects of film making. I try to bring them all together when I do it and for me acting is just fun, I mean it’s just a fun thing to do, but directing is more all encompassing.

For: Short&SweetNYC

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview with Actor and Director James Franco

From the short-lived series Freaks and Geeks to the blockbuster Spiderman trilogy to his surprising role on the soap opera General Hospital, actor James Franco has kept audiences entertained and interested over the past decade. That’s aside from gaining multiple Master’s degrees from different prestigious universities and his work as an artist and writer. I recently sat down with the prolific 33 year old to discuss his theatrical directorial debut The Broken Tower about the gay poet Hart Crane as well as his process and fears and here's the result, the full interview can be found on Short&SweetNYC.

Monday, May 21, 2012

5 Questions for the director and cast of the new film Hysteria

I recently spoke with director Tanya Wexler and actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy who star in Wexler’s new film Hysteria, a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England.

Hysteria is Tanya Wexler’s third major motion picture, but she stems from a film family which includes her uncle, the award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler and half-sister Daryl Hannah. Hugh Dancy, who began his career with a role in Black Hawk Down has made a name for himself in films like Confessions of a Shopaholic and Our Idiot Brother and he’ll soon be starring as Will Graham on NBC’s Hannibal. Gyllenhaal is well known to movie goer’s from her role in The Dark Knight, her Golden Globe winning role in Secretary, and her Oscar winning performance in Crazy Heart. In Hysteria she plays suffragette Charlotte Dalrymple.

Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal:

Maggie, so many of the roles you play have this sense of sexuality to them. What attracts you to these really sexual roles in different women’s lives?
I don’t know, isn’t everyone attracted and interested in sex and sexuality? I think most people are. Charlotte doesn’t have much sex in this movie, she actually doesn’t have anything to do with the vibrator at all but I do think she’s a sexy woman but she’s not particularly overt about it.

Yeah certainly, but often with your roles the women are very sexually liberated. Were you drawn to them because you were or weren’t that way, do you relate to that in your personal life, is it very different?
Well, like I said, I think everyone is interested in sex and sexuality and I think it’s a part of being human and so and I do think film is an interesting place to explore that, especially because I think sex has been explored in film in a way that’s very unreal and very much based in fantasy. When I see sex scenes in movies that are real and feel like my own experiences of sex, they are so much sexier and I also think it’s very much, I don’t know, like a subtle feminism to be able to express it from a woman’s point of view – what real sex is like and the actresses I see that do that who don’t, you know, where it’s like you’re wearing a black, demi cup Victoria’s Secret bra and it’s lit perfectly and you’re arching your back, where it’s not like that but like actually what it’s like, I kind of feel like, yeah, you’re a sister, I really appreciate that.

I’m a teacher, so I’m particularly interested in your upcoming film Won’t Back Down, about failing inner city schools just because education is becoming more and more of an issue with the elections coming up and different things like that. What did you come away with after working on something like that? Did it change the way you view education?
I guess the major thing I came away with is [that] I don’t see how we can have a democracy that isn’t a total joke unless we educate the people living in this country. You basically need to be able to analyze and assess information in order to choose who you want your leaders to be, if you can’t do that, then you are choosing your president based on his hairdo or based on whatever the radio station that you listen to most often tells you. The thing I came away with was even if you are lucky enough to get through high school, learning how to read and write well and add up a tip on a check, which many, many people aren’t, are you able to get through and make an intelligent personal decision for yourself on who you want your leaders to be and if you’re not, then your leaders can manipulate you to vote however they want. That is what I came away from it with. The point of the movie is, and I do believe this, it’s a commercial movie and in some ways it says it in a simple way but I believe that’s fine, is that if you believe that something is wrong and that something needs to change, you can have a massive effect on changing it, you know, you can. As an individual, this country is set up that way and that is one of the major messages of the movie. I think that there’s a real lethargy in this country, a lot of people kind of don’t believe that and I think it’s difficult and I think you’ll get shot down and I think the story of this movie is a little bit of a fairy tale but the message is try cause you can have an effect.

Actor Hugh Dancy:

This is a comedy, but it’s based on something that actually happened, and it’s kind of crazy. When you were doing research did you look at how prevalent this was and did you have any case studies that you guys looked at specifically?
How prevalent the diagnosis of hysteria was?

Well, I know hysteria was really wide spread, but I’m speaking about the doctors treatment of hysteria (through vaginal stimulation)?
Well, it was the diagnosis for hysteria that it covered, the diagnosis was completely spurious, this is pre-Freud and as it turns out, Freud’s diagnosis was spurious, but as a physical diagnosis the idea [was] that they were shifting the uterus by pelvic manipulation. [Hysteria] covered so many examples of women who were unhappy or frustrated, so, no there was no one case study that we looked at but it baffles me because we know that some men prior to the late 19th century had figured out that women could enjoy sex, because we all read Byron, we knew these guys sorted it out, but a whole body of men, it wasn’t like they were in denial, they just truly didn’t realize what they were doing, it still astonishes me.

I heard that you were going to star in NBC’s upcoming thriller Hannibal, based on Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. It’s a brilliant story and it should be interesting seeing the tale of Hannibal Lector broken up episodically, but what do you hope to be the real focus of the series?
I hope that it explores the psychology of both people, the hunters and hunted. In fact, often they are one and the same thing. The character I’m playing Will Graham and Hannibal and some of the other monsters, they share a lot of qualities and that’s what makes the book, to me, quite interesting and dynamic, more than just an array of hideous crimes. If we can get that balance right and that sense of manipulation that Hannibal Lector is so good at, it’ll be real interesting.

Director Tanya Wexler:

You came from this really successful family with Haskell and all these different people, did you feel pressured to make your own way or were you encouraged by your family? What was it like in that environment?
My family’s great. It’s funny, you know my dad was in real estate, he did really well but was not in the film business although he did help finance a film and then asked for his name to be taken off so he could exist in the business world in Chicago afterwards, but wished he hadn’t but kinda had to. I don’t know, there was never any pressure in a kind of ‘you need to be this or that’ kind of way, there was always a kind of positive pressure of you know, kind of- ‘you’re talented, you’re smart so you need to do your best work, you need to live up to who we think you are’. It wasn’t about achieving any kind of specific status or level, it was just purely you know, pressure ultimately. I used to say to my mom, oh my god, like uuuuh, I’m so stressed out and I even remember that feeling as a kid like what would you do if I ever got like a C? She was like- “you won’t so don’t worry about it” oh, that’s not a good answer and then I found out I was like the best student out of most of my siblings! Being the youngest, there are all these myths, I have 6 sisters and a brother right, so I have his and hers and I’m ours so when you’re the youngest, the youngest by far, which is now, at 41, really fun to say, I think for me, there’s always like this family kind of mythos that gets built up that you just believe. I know I did, maybe I was just naive, I don’t know, I think it was great, you know it was kind of lots of exposure, it was really cool, I got to be 13 on the set of Blade Runner, right that’s one of the best things in the entire world ever, the end, right? It’s just f-ing awesome but no one said, okay, now you get to direct this movie, right, it became tangible to me, I was like, people do this because people I know do this. I think there are other people who are born in LA and that’s the business and everyone they know does it and I think that can be easier because once you have some hint of talent or success you can start to kind of build on it much more quickly. I grew up in Chicago, it was great circumstances but I still had to do it all myself and then now that, finally, all these years later it’s starting to groove, that’s actually when having grown up in that environment and knowing people is paying.

It didn’t open a ton of doors but now that I kind of busted the doors open, now people kind of go, “oh my God, you’re Haskell’s niece” or “I remember you when you were 12” or “you’re Darryl’s sister,” you know, but it reinforces the success you make. At least for me, everyone kind of made their own way but it seems like in our family everyone ended up being a shrink or in real estate or movies… it was kind of that was what you got, you know, you could’ve done anything else but everyone else seemed to want to do that so I don’t know, it was cool though, it was awesome.

For: Short&SweetNYC

Friday, May 11, 2012

This American Life Live 5.10.2012

 Thursday night's This American Life live show at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City exceeded all expectations and that's saying something because the expectations were pretty high but host Ira Glass assembled an amazing show featuring guest such as: the amazing Monica Bill Barnes & Company and Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington as well as two of my favorite writers ever David Sedaris, who showed up in a clown mask, and David Rakoff who turned the tragic loss of his arm into a wonderfully brave moment as he broke into a choreographed dance while performing his new piece.
Comic Tig Notaro also had a wonderful moment after telling a great story about meeting singer Taylor Dayne who then stepped out onstage and sang to her.

The band OK Go performed one of the coolest audience participation songs I've ever witnessed after creating an iPhone and Android app that the audience downloaded we played along with them following cues on the screen.

Also comic Mike Birbiglia presented a terrific short film by featuring NPR icon and Fresh Air host Terri Gross which you can watch below, I love the premise!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Interview with Director Abel Ferrara

Abel Ferrara has made a name for himself directing gritty films about drugs, corruption, and characters on the edge such as King of New York starring Christopher Walken and Laurence Fishburne and Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel. He began in the late 70’s making grindhouse, slasher films like The Driller Killer and developed into a notable indie filmmaker in the 80’s working with a regular crop of actors such as: Dennis Hopper, Forest Whitaker, and Matthew Modine in addition to those that were previously mentioned. In his new film 4:44 Last Day on Earth he tackles the end of the world from the perspective of a character living on the Lower East Side in Manhattan played by another regular Ferrara actor, Willem Dafoe.

I wanted to ask you first, what attracted you to making a film about the end of the world, what drew you to it in the first place?

You know, we are living in that time of life. It’s 2012, shit is happening: earthquakes, volcanoes are going off, people are stranded, and the whole idea of the Al Gore documentary (An Inconvenient Truth). Then, when it comes out, there’s five other movies about it so I guess I’m not the only one thinking about it.

Well, you come with a very different approach, a lot of your films are about a regular character that has to survive in a rough world and here’s a character who is forced to deal with the toughest world because it’s ending. It’s kind of an interesting bookend to a lot of your films, was there any thought about that or did it just work out that way?

Well you know we’re not into bigger than life characters, maybe Driller Killer, but lately…you know we started off with the vampires, gangsters, King of New York and all that crap, but I think we come back around, you know what I mean?

Absolutely. You mention King of New York, I heard rumors that there might be a sequel, any truth to that?

Yeah, we wrote it but I don’t know, it’s caught up in all that other nonsense.

A lot of your films, especially the early ones, are really gritty and tough and you got a reputation for that, how much of that reflects your life, is that the way you saw the world?

I try to make these films as reflective as possible, you know what I mean, obviously a lot is a metaphor but other wise we try to make it as clear a mirror as we can.

You shot this in New York again, you’re a big New York guy, you started off in Union Square with the first film and you even did the documentary Chelsea on the Rocks about the Chelsea Hotel, I mean how much is NY a character in your films?

It always is. I mean Manhattan especially, but you know Manhattan is a very heavily changed place. It’s grown into being an international financial capital, but the problem is the people that it attracts you know? It drives New Yorkers out, I mean New York is now Brooklyn, you know what I mean? Brooklyn is the new Manhattan.

You started out making low budget slasher films and your style developed a lot as you went on and it became more character focused and then you know you really managed to attract tremendous talent to your films, actors like Willem Dafoe, Keitel, and Walken. What do you think it is that draws them to your films?

You know, I think those guys, they’re hungry to make good movies and they’re willing to put it on the line. They’re not interested in the bullshit and the budgets, they’re just looking to make the films.

One of the things I liked about this movie, it all happens in one location for the most part, it’s almost a play in that way you have all this going on with the character in one small space.

Did you see Go Go Tales? Go Go Tales also took place in real time too. You know, even though this film took place over 12 hours I structured it in 6 segments: midday, late in the day, late afternoon (the magic hour), night, darker night and then the finale, but within those segments it was in real time.

Do you shoot a lot of takes when you are shooting this kind of stuff?

No, we shoot fast man, you know, we shot this film in 15 days

Wow, that’s amazing.

Yeah I know, we shot Bad Lieutenant in 18 days, but you know it took awhile in the beginning, Driller Killer took forever, you know we didn’t know how to make films.

That’s always the story of the first film, yeah.

Yeah, yeah we had to friggin figure out how to put wheels on a dolly.

I’m sure you’ve heard many times about how Martin Scorsese named Bad Lieutenant as one of his favorite films of the 90’s. He has a somewhat similar aesthetic. You are both NY born guys, how much does that mean to you?

Well you know we grew up hero-worshiping him, it meant a lot to us.

What directors are out there now that you appreciate?

I work with lots of young guys so now I’m in a different world. I’m mentoring a bunch of young directors, just working with them you know, I’m not going out, I see a few of my contemporaries, Jim Jarmusch is a favorite friend of mine and I saw a film called Johnny Mad Dog by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, you should check that film out.

And how do you feel about the whole Hollywood thing?

You know, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, they just don’t have the appreciation for the director, you know. The director is the last thing in the world they are interested in and you know fine but I’m a director, so you know, it was better going to Europe. Maybe the films don’t all get seen right away, but they’ll all get seen eventually.

Yeah, there’s a different aesthetic there any how, your style fits them.

You know pre-cutting someone else’s film is against the law.

I wanted to ask you about music. It’s sort of a big part of your films. You wrote a lot of music for your films and performed songs in a few of them too.

I’m not a good player, I know enough to get better players to do the music but I’m active in doing it, you know, I play the music. In this one we used a pure blues track which we never did, that’s the music we play and the music we love. We never really had a film that was like so focused on just the blues, the guitar I mean.

I read you did a video for Ben Folds Five track “Don’t Change Your Plans.” How did that come about?

Yeah, we’re not great with the video, I don’t know what he thought it would be, he was a big fan of ours. The funniest part is Ben Folds Five is one guy playing the piano, it’s not a band.

Yeah, it was 3 guys and then just Ben. They’re actually just coming back now and recording a new album. I wanted to ask you a little bit about your early life in the Bronx, I read you grew up in Peeksville, but how long were you in the Bronx before you moved up there?

I was in like 5th grade.

Oh, so you really grew up there. What was your upbringing like, your childhood?
Very loving family you know, big, extended, Italian family, my father was a truck driver, blue collar guy. When I say extended, I mean my cousins and all. I have 2 sisters. I grew up in Peeksville which at that time was like half country/half suburbia you know.

The Catholic element in the films is certainly evident, do you still consider yourself a practicing Catholic or is it just there, just part of who you are?

It’s just such a part of me you know. I mean, I’m into Buddhism a lot now because my old lady is but you know I try to be as spiritual as I can. I find you really need something, you know what I mean, you really need something in this world.

It’s a lot like your characters, I understand. I wanted to ask you about Nick St. John who you collaborated with so often as a writer. You met him in high school, how did you manage to maintain that relationship?

You know, he stopped writing. At a certain point the business, he couldn’t take it, couldn’t stand it, couldn’t stand the people, couldn’t stand the bullshit and you know that’s a drag, you know that really is a drag.

I have to ask you about sex and drugs, you know you certainly seem like you have some experience in the stuff.

Too much. Right now I’m in sobriety because I’m an addict. Maybe for some people it works you know, but for me in the end it don’t work so you know.. sex that’s another thing, I ain’t giving that up!

I understand. Finally, looking back on your career, what are you most happy with as a director?

Just that we are still working, I mean, that we are still doing it, we’re still on it, you know what I’m saying, that we ain’t giving up.

Do you have any big ambitions these days, things you want to do?

I got plenty, jeez, I got plenty, we are doing a film on Pasolini, we are doing a film on Strauss-Kahn, so you know, we are working. We are on our own .com site, you know, our own website,, we are going to make it better, we got a web series coming out called Peace Connection.

In terms of the website, did you just plan putting films out straight to that at some point?


Seems like the future.

That’s the only way to go man, it’s either going to save the day or forget it.

Published in: Short & Sweet NYC

Friday, March 30, 2012

Beauty is Embarrassing

I'm really looking forward to the upcoming documentary about the incredible artist Wayne White titled Beauty is Embarrassing. It seems like it really captures the creative spirit on film and I love the closing quote "Do what you love, it's going to lead to where you want to go"!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys at MSG 3.22.2012

The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys played an amazing show last night at Madison Square Garden to a sold out crowd. The Arctic Monkeys opened up the show with a laid back vibe and some excellent musicianship and even though the crowd was still pouring in throughout their set it was clear the boys from Sheffield had a large loyal audience for their 45 minute set. The Black Keys hit the stage joined by a few backing musicians and some pretty awesome graphic visuals and onstage lighting. After a few intense songs the backing band left the stage and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney showed off how much sound two musicians can deliver by themselves. The show ramped up and the energy intensified leading up to a great encore featuring a giant disco ball and an exhausted crowd.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Don "Draping" is the new Tebowing (which is the new Planking)

Wednesday I read about the new trend of "Draping" like Mad Men's Don Draper, which, granted sounds more like viral marketing than an oddball social trend but since I'm a big fan of the show and I happen to be eating a the legendary P.J. Clarke's for dinner (which has been regularly mentioned on the show) it seemed like it should join the hysteria sweeping the twitterverse.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Educators Study Tour to Japan

I wanted to let any educators that have an interest in traveling to Japan this summer about the Japan Society's fantastic Educators Tours. In 2009 I traveled to Japan for three weeks thanks to the Japan Society's Educators Study Tour and it was a life changing trip which added a number of lessons to my arsenal that I still teach each year soI highly recommend it. It's open nationwide this year and the deadline is this month so here's the information:

Educators Study Tour to Japan Applications due: March 15
Pre-departure orientation: June 28 – June 30
Tour dates: July 1-July 22

Middle and high school educators will be selected to participate in a three-week study tour to Japan in July of 2012. Study tour highlights include visits to local schools, homestays with Japanese families, and a wide range of site visits in Japan including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Aichi and Wakayama, as well as a part of the Tohoku region. Open to educators nationwide.

Cost: $1,000 (includes airfare, accommodations, orientation & meals)
For additional information, please email or call (212) 715-1275

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daily Photo Journal Project 2012

The Port Jefferson Patch featured a photograph from my current art project, a photo diary of each day from 2012 done using just my iPhone and the Instagram application. Below is an example of the images from my vacation last week but to check out all of them add me on Instagram @TimNeedles or view them on web.stagram.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Advice: Carrie Fisher

"Even when you don’t feel inspired, do it anyway"

This week's advice comes from an actress we are all familiar with, Carrie Fisher. She is known for her iconic roles in films such as the Star Wars trilogy, The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally, Austin Powers, and recently on the cartoon Family Guy but in addition to acting Fisher has written a number of plays and books such as Postcards from the Edge which was made into a film directed by Mike Nichols as well as working on screenplays such as Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. I had a chance to interview her while she was working on her most recent play, the autobiographical Wishful Drinking which was recently made into a documentary film which aired on HBO is September.

Mr.Needles: I teach high school and I teach film, screenwriting, and acting. What advice would you give to young creative people in terms of them wanting a career in a creative industry whether it’s writing or acting?

Carrie Fisher: Well it’s a big difference between whether it’s writing or acting. The important thing is to learn as much as you can and to write even when you don’t feel inspired, you know, to do it anyway. Do everything anyway whether you feel confident or not it’s worth going for.

Full Interview: Short & Sweet NYC

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Advice from Mr. Needles

Every Friday in February I'll be posting advice from students culled from some of the interviews I've done with actors, writers, artists, and otherwise interesting people on my school blog Artroom 161. Here are the first two posts:

"My advice would be writing is everything"

As you may know in addition to teaching I also work as a journalist and occasionally have opportunities to interview actors, writers, directors, musicians, and artists for magazines and blogs. In each interview I try to ask a question that might aid my students and throughout this month I'll be sharing some of the advice I've heard from some of the people I've interviewed each Friday.

We'll start it off with actor and screenwriter Jonah Hill; I'm sure most of you are familiar with Jonah from his roles in films such as: Superbad, Knocked Up, Get Him to the Greek, Funny People, and Moneyball (for which he was recently nominated for a Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor) but in addition to acting he's also a prolific screenwriter. I had a chance to sit down with him at the Fox offices last year while he was promoting the independent film Cyrus from the Duplass brothers which also stars John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei and I asked him about his advice:

Mr. Needles: I teach film and screenwriting in high school and wanted to ask on behalf of my students what advice do you have for people who want to succeed in the business?

Jonah Hill: My advice would be writing is everything. You know being an actor and not being able to write is one of the scariest things in the entire world, I know this from friends of mine who are actors and don’t write because a lot of time as an actor, especially starting out you spend 99.9 to 100% of the time unemployed so if you can focus on writing everyday and getting better at writing- you should spend every day getting better at what you are trying to do. If you’re an actor and you want to act there’s not going to be movie parts for years unless you are one in a billion so find some friends who are into writing, write a play with them, and then you guys put it up where ever you can: in someone’s house or at a party or something or whatever, borrow a family members camera make a short film, read plays out loud with your friends… every day should just be spent moving forward at getting better at what you are trying to do. That’s my advice and that’s what I did, I just didn’t waste any day when I wasn’t writing or acting even in the few years of unemployment, you know, you just have to fill that time with things that are positive towards your goal.

Here's a link to more from the interview: Short and Sweet NYC

"Keep growing, keep moving and you’ll find the world that you need"

This Friday's advice comes from Oscar and Grammy nominated actor, singer, and screenwriter John C Reilly who you probably know from films like: Step Brothers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Chicago, Gangs of New York, Boogie Nights, Casualties of War, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and one of my favorites What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He'll be in the upcoming film Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie but I interviewed him for the film Terri last year in which he plays a high school assistant principal.

Mr. Needles: What's your advice for students who are being bullied or having a difficult time in high school?

John C. Reilly: If you’re in high school and you’re freaking out about your place in the pecking order and you feel like a monster or an outcast and you feel like, in the deck of cards that is high school there’s the aces and the kings and queens and you’re like the three of clubs, just know that this is true for every single person in the world- the moment you get out of high school that deck of cards is thrown into the air and those who were kings and queens often end up the assistant manager at the grocery store and those who were the three of clubs end up on press junkets for movies starring themselves, it gets better for everybody, and you just have to get through it. Keep growing, keep moving and you’ll find the world that you need.

Here's a link to more from the interview: Short and Sweet NYC