How to be a fulfilled artist… A Discussion with Tom Abernathy

I’m sitting in my office with the speakerphone on and listening to one of my artistic heroes – Tom Abernathy – speak as his creation The Freak from Destroy All Humans! 2.  Yes, this really happened and it was …. awesome.

Our discussion covers how Tom started his career, his past achievements, and what more he wants to give us.

When I first started speaking with him, I didn’t understand him.  Where was the angst-ridden melancholy that is so familiar in so many artists? Where was the bitterness?  I realized that his artistic process was totally different from that of a TV and movie writer who spends their artistic career in a great deal of isolation punctuated by a team of constructive criticism and clearly defined tasks.  His job touches all facets of the creative process, allowing him to fully realize his creative voice and vision.

Tom’s video game narrative career influenced or decided the dialogue, direction, and casting of many of our most beloved games. His career began in Los Angeles doing coverage – summarizing and reviewing scripts to determine if they were worth making.  He did this job for twenty-five dollars a script.  Through a connection, Joseph Donaldson, Tom was able to get a job writing scripts for Activision Studios.  It was not like today. Tom said, “The writing [for games] was terrible then.”  The video game writing done by the designers and producers who had little need for professional writers at that time.  His first game “Dark Reign 2” did not do well and Tom’s future as a professional game writer was uncertain.  However, something occurred in 2004 that made him eagerly look for work in TV, Film, or Games – he had a baby on the way.

Once again, Joseph Donaldson pushed Tom’s name forward as the head writer.  This was for Destroy All Humans!, a Mars Attacks set in the 1950s where you played the Alien Invader.   Tom had a unique take on both the people who inhabited the world and the Hero of the game – Crypto.

Tom brought the satirical humor to DAH!  Tom created the premise that “the 50s were Ward and June Clever and Eisenhower exterior, but everything going on in their minds must be depraved and wild.” Since Crypto was able to read minds, as he leveled towns and harvested human brains, we got to read and hear the unspoken, providing both comic relief and clues to completing missions.  He wanted Crypto to be “two parts Jack Nicholson and one part Charlton Heston.”

This was revolutionary because unlike the characters in “Doom” and other FPS, Crypto had a personality and a story.  Although Crypto would be insulted to read this, he had real humanity.  This will shock many fans, but “the original [Crypto voice] had a stilted tone like the 50s saucer movies”.  YIKES!   Tom wanted Crypto to be a “cowboy walking id, very American individualist.”  Therefore, it was “Jack Nicholson for id and Charlton Heston for cowboy.” He continued.  “[Crypto] needed the pomposity of Charlton Heston, [he] needed arrogance/confidence with swagger like Soylent Green. TOUGH!”

What was Tom’s role besides being the writer?  Were people lording over him? How much freedom did he have?  It turns out that he had A LOT of artistic control.  Why? “The [game developers] were in Brisbane and [he] only interacted with them by phone and email.”  Therefore, the geographic separation allowed Tom to have immense creative influence that would not have been afforded to him otherwise.  For example, Tom knew what he wanted Crypto to sound like and Tom was able to do the casting.  Yes, creatives – he got to do the casting.

DAH!2 Crypto was pitched as a James Bond/Austin Powers.  There was a pause in the discussion and I had to ask about The Freak and if it was true that he was the voice?  Yes!!! “The voice director, Doug Carrigan, and I realized that, in all our months-long work to get the important parts cast and recorded, there was one reasonably significant role we had totally forgotten about: The Freak. [We] were out of money and time, we had no choice but for me to hop in the booth and perform The Freak myself in what was probably the final 15 minutes of the entire series of recording sessions.  Apologies to Bobcat Goldthwaite; I had zero time to come up with an original take on the character, so I just decided to commit to the idea of Goldthwaite on a really bad acid trip.”  Yes, he did the voice for me and it was …. EPIC!!!

I asked him about the DAH!2 side missions.  “Leanne Taylor did a ton of work [assigned] late in production.”  Leanne Taylor – from me- THANK YOU!!!

I asked him about getting Anthony Stewart Head to play Ponsonby, who would’ve been a get for the time.  This was an interesting story because it not only reflected the creative process for a narrative, but also the limits of their power.  Tom had directed and recorded another actor to play Poncenby.  “I had cast an older man who brought out the humor and after he was recorded, THQ UK Marketing emails – “We want you to cast a ‘name’ actor from the UK so we can sell more units over here.”  I was curious as to Tom’s reaction.  “Not great. No one ever bought a game because someone voice acted in it because you don’t see the actors!”

What’s Happening Now?

“The story is like Matrix meets Fringe. “There are mechs, known as Metamods, that come in both software and hardware version.  The hardware versions are actual 3-D printed action figures as much as ten or twelve inches tall, with 200 coats of paint and more than 20 points of articulation.” I didn’t really understand this until I watched the above video.  There are toys and a video game component.  In other words, this will be really badass.  Most importantly, “you don’t have to pour tons of money into the game to be successful! Jumo the company behind the game- wants players to get value with or without investing money.” There are RPG components, platform, and toy components!

Given Tom’s track record of bringing story and humanity to games, this will be a MUST BUY for the holidays!


International Weirdness : “Apartment 143” (A.K.A. “Emergo”)

Trash Film Guru


You know how it goes — you hear reasonably decent things about a film for some time, but for whatever reason, you just never get around to watching it. There’s always something else to see, read, or otherwise pay attention to, and something that you know you really should check out just ends up getting buried further and further down in the old baket of priorities.

Such was the case with me and Apartment 143 (or, as it’s known in its native Spain, Emergo), a Barcelona-filmed “found footage” number from 2011 directed by then-first-timer Carles Torrens and written by Buried director Rodrigo Cortes that’s been available on Netflix (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) for some time. Plenty of folks whose opinions I generally respect have had plenty good to say about it, but it never worked its way to the top of my “must-see” list for whatever reason…

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International Weirdness : “Jeruzalem”

Trash Film Guru


I suppose it was inevitable at some point : having emptied the respective wells of every single “found footage” framing device well past the point most of us would consider to be bone dry,  a couple of enterprising young indie filmmakers — in this case Israeli low-budget would-be auteurs Doron and Yoav Paz (who have upped the ante in the self-branding department by capitalizing their collective “handle” of “The PAZ Brothers”) — have gone and given us the first “mockumentary” horror filmed through a pair of Google Glasses with their 2015 effort Jeruzalem. It’s a clever enough conceit (that will certainly be done to death within a few years) to keep you watching , to be sure — but is what our protagonist is seeing through her prescription-specific toy worth keeping an eye on? I’ll give you the particulars and you can decide for yourself :

Vacationing students Sarah…

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Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)

cracked rear viewer


Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!


All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder…

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Music Video of the Day: Down Under by Men At Work (1983, dir. Tony Stevens)

First things first. What exactly was America’s obsession with Australia in the 1980s? Paul Hogan was taming dogs, carrying around big knives, and having no shame when grabbing testicles in New York City. We brought over Bryan Brown to pull pranks on Brian Dennehy in F/X (1986), then battling bad guys in the sequel with a robotic clown. We slowly, but surely coaxed Sam Neill over here because only he could fight velociraptors. The Facts of Life even did a whole film called The Facts of Life Down Under (1987). We snatched up Peter Weir too. The list seems to go on and on.

Edit: Thanks to Gary in the comments–the answer is Mel Gibson in Mad Max. I completely forgot about him and that series of movies.

Now I normally like to focus on the music video and the people who worked on it, but this time around there is quite a bit of backstory on the song to discuss. It’s a mess that is shameful when you think about it.

The main riff of the song is played on the flute. The flute part was based on a well-known Australian children’s rhyme called Kookaburra. There was a woman named Marion Sinclair who was a music teacher that got involved with the Australian equivalent of the Girl Scouts known as the Girl Guides. In 1934 she wrote it, and submitted the song in a contest the Girl Guides were holding. It became rather well-known after that.

She passed away in 1988, which according to Australian law meant that it was still under copyright. The publishing rights are held by Larrikin Music, and those rights are administered by Music Sales Corporation in New York City.

There was an Australian music-themed game show called Spicks and Specks. They asked a question on the show about the use of Kookaburra in the song Down Under in 2008. In June of 2009, Larrikin Music sued Men at Work for copyright infringement. The band’s legal counsel tried to argue that the song was actually held by the Girl Guides. The court ruled in favor of Larrikin Music giving them 5% of the royalties backdated to 2002. You can imagine how large a number that must be. Up till then it was thought that the song was in the public domain.

This song is so beloved by Australia that it was even played by Men at Work during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics among many other uses. Australians didn’t take kindly to this as you would expect.

What a ridiculous example of greed run amok without any consideration to an entire nation who for all intents and purposes consider the song, and Kookaburra, to be a national anthem.

Speaking of greed, co-writer Colin Hay was quoted in an interview with Songfacts as saying this about the song:

“The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the overdevelopment of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It’s really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It’s really more than that.”

It makes sense when you know that the exterior shots for the music video were shot at the Cronulla sand dunes near Sydney. The Cronulla sand dunes have been a major source of controversy over development and exploitation of the territory for a long time. There’s an article explaining it’s history over on Wikipedia. One of the very noteworthy things about it, considering the lyrics of the song, is that sand mining which lasted from the 1930s till 1990 has left the area more susceptible to storms like those that happened in May and June of 1974. That, and it tying in with the lyrics about thunder. Either that, or the thunder represents a storm of development and exploitation omnipresent in Australia.

You can see the theme that Colin Hay was talking about in the music video itself. The hippies coming for a spiritual experience, which is followed shortly by someone who tells the band that the land has been sold. Then we get the flute riff being played in a tree next to a stuffed Koala bear that appears to have hung itself. You can even see a direct reference to the sand mining during the dance part which has three members digging sand and throwing it behind them. There’s also the obvious references to beer at several points in the video along with the Australian Vegemite Sandwich.

The music video also has the celebration of the country when the band meets Australians, or at least those who are fascinated by the country, in different parts of the world.

In the end, they walk far enough that we can see this vast national treasure has power lines running next to or through it. I’m not sure what the appearance of what looks like a coffin near the end is a reference to except that there was a famous crime committed in Cronulla known as the Wanda Beach Murders. That, or more likely it’s a reference to the way Australians treated the Aborigines who have a history in the Cronulla sand dunes seeing as the ones being whipped are covered in black while the band is dressed in white. The ones in black are even carrying the band’s equipment in what appears like a coffin. You can also see a member of the band on a cellphone as well as another member that appears to be dragging the Koala bear from earlier behind him.

Tony Stevens directed the music video, and seems to have only done several music videos for Men at Work. According to IMDb, he seems to be an editor who is still working today–primarily in documentary films.

Enjoy this music video and song that I had no idea came with so much history and significance.