Earlier this week, Derrick Ferguson interviewed me for his blog Ferguson Ink! I discussed my favorite movies, my reviewing philosophy, and a lot of other things! Please read this interview and also check out Derrick’s sites, Ferguson Ink and The Ferguson Theater, as well as his patreon site! Thank you!
What allows for some artists to succeed?
I have known many artists and being able to support oneself with one’s art is a rare thing, demanding respect and investigation. A friend told me that even the piano singer at a hotel singing “Summer Winds”, if he is supporting himself solely with his art, he is a rare success in the echelon of the .0001% of artists. It is with that understanding and respect that I bring you Gentle Reader to my discussion with Director – Guy Bee.
Guy Bee’s IMDB page reads like a TV Fan’s dream resume. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0066218/
Guy came to Hollywood via Florida to California in 1987; he obtained a job working for a camera and camera equipment leasing company. As Guy put it, “I came in early and stayed late.” He managed their books, meaning he logged the equipment that was checked in and out, he cleaned an repaired the equipment, and drove the company truck. Guy’s diligence impressed his boss who offered to let him go to a Steadicam workshop because he wanted him to keep track of the equipment that was leant to the workshop, allowing Guy to attend a free Steadicam workshop. As Guy leased this equipment he, would meet more and more Directors and Producers. This led to a string of short projects while he continued to work at the leasing shop, which slowly built up his reel (segments showing his camera work) on VHS TAPE.
Guy states that “You live and die by the reputation that you can handle anything without being rattled.” This philosophy set the stage for Guy’s shot at Directing. By working diligently and establishing relationships with the cast, crew, directors, and producers of “Third Watch”, Guy was given his first professional directing opportunity, which would grow into 13 episodes of directing. His success as a director on “Third Watch” led to “Alias” which led to one of my favorite shows of ALL TIME: “Jericho”. “Jericho”, for the uninitiated, is the story of a Kansas town holding together in the wake of Nuclear War. Guy described the show as – “Every scene was important and the stakes were always high. There was no ‘C Story’.” Guy directed three episodes of this show that was gone too soon.
Protips? Flexibility. “If you’re behind because of lighting or someone’s late, you still have to figure out how to get it done in time”. Why? Budgets! Once you cross 12 hours of shooting, everyone’s rates go up. “It takes seven days prep for eight to nine days of filming.” These principles took him to three of my favorite shows: “Supernatural”, “Arrow”, “The Magicians”, and “iZombie”.
The question I had was how was he able to keep working and have one show feed into the next? “[He] never turned down work.” On “Supernatural”, he met Erik Kripke, Kim Manners, Bob Singer, and Sera Gamble and each of these producers led him to other episodes and new shows.
Where does he do the bulk of his work? Not in Hollywood. Why? “New York is busy because the tax incentives have made it sexy to shoot there.” This dates me a bit, but is there a true hiatus anymore? “Everything has changed. Filming used to be from July through April. Now, with basic cable, it’s year round production.”
Protips: I have an artsy daughter- what have I learned from Guy that I can impart to her to help her support herself in the arts?
Be versatile. Guy has more than one skill. If she were interested in filmmaking, I would advise her to not just be a writer. I’m a writer and it’s fallow … A LOT. If she wanted to be a writer, I would tell her that she should also understand how to put together budgets for stories she’s writing. Similarly, Guy has skills as a camera operator, which led to and helped him as a director- the skills were synergistic.
Build relationships. I would tell my daughter to be totally reliable and pleasant to work with (I apologize for ending with a preposition). Guy worked on every project with diligence, never complained, and never turned down work, enabling him to continue working in the arts without a day job.
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!
“America is the best country in the world.” — Tommy Wiseau
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Tommy Wiseau, the director of the cult hit, The Room and the man behind the online series, The Neighbors.
In a perfect world, everyone would get to spend 30 minutes talking to Tommy Wiseau. For someone who has watched The Room over a hundred times, it was at first overwhelming to hear that famous accent and that equally famous chuckle over the telephone. Once you start talking to Tommy, it is hard not to get caught up in his energy and his enthusiasm.
During our conversation, Tommy frequently returned to the theme that, as he put it, “America is the best country in the world.” Both The Room and Tommy Wiseau are American success stories. Along with writing and directing The Room, Wiseau also starred as Johnny, a banker who lives with and loves his “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle). What he does not know is that Lisa is having an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Meanwhile, Johnny’s ward, Denny, is stalked by a drug dealer, Lisa’s friend tries to find enough privacy to make out with her boyfriend, a guy that nobody has seen before suddenly shows up towards the end of the film and somehow knows about everything that has been going on, Mark nearly tosses a man off a rooftop, and Johnny and his friends spend a lot of time playing football while wearing tuxedos.
When The Room was first released in 2003, it played in two theaters and it easily could have gone the way of many other forgotten independent films. However, through word of mouth, people started to discover The Room and now, in the tradition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Room has become a midnight movie success. Fans come to showings dressed like their favorite characters, repeat the film’s dialogue, talk back to the characters, and throw plastic spoons at the screen. (Go to a showing and you will understand.) Co-star Greg Sestero has written a book, The Disaster Artist, about the making of The Room. (When I asked Wiseau how accurate he felt the book was, he replied, “40%, no more than that.” He also told me that, despite what some people in the media may be claiming, reports that he was no longer talking to Greg Sestero were totally incorrect.) I was first introduced to The Room by Lisa Marie (not to be mistaken for Lisa, Johnny’s future wife) and we have both lost track of how many midnight showing we have attended at the Inwood Theater.
As The Room has become better known, so has Tommy Wiseau. When I asked him if he found all of the fame to be overwhelming, Wiseau told me, “Not overwhelming. Because it’s fun. You have to believe in what you want to create.”
Wiseau has another reason to be excited, because the guys from Rifftrax will soon be bringing The Room to a whole new audience. Rifftrax will be hosting a showing and live commentary at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17th and then Rifftrax Live: The Room will screen in 700 theaters across the United States and Canada on May 6th and May 12th.
The Rifftrax guys are Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. They are probably best known for their previous work on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In many ways, MST 3K is as much of an American success story as The Room. If you grew up in the 90s, it is likely that MST 3K shaped the way that you viewed everything from culture to politics to entertainment to whether or not it was okay to talk during a movie. Rifftrax presenting The Room feels like the perfect marriage of two phenomenons of American pop culture.
There are a few famous stories of actors and filmmakers who did not appreciate having their films screened by the MST 3K guys. On the DVD for MST 3K‘s take on Time Chasers, Mike Nelson mentions that the film’s producers had a party to view the show and that some of them did not take the ribbing as well as others. The internet is full of rumors that actor Joe Don Baker is still angry over what was said about his performances in Mitchell and Fatal Justice.
However, Tommy Wiseau is encouraging everyone to see Rifftrax Live: The Room. When I asked him how he felt about Rifftrax, he replied, “They’re very nice people.” He went on to explain that he’s very excited and enthusiastic about the Rifftrax presentation of The Room and he’s looking forward to a whole new audience discovering the film.
Wiseau is also hoping that people will continue to discover The Neighbors, his online series that is currently available on Hulu. When I asked him what had inspired The Neighbors, he replied that it was based on a true life. In regard to one character who is obsessed with a chicken, Wiseau explained, “My aunt used to have a chicken.” He went on to explain that, like the characters in The Neighbors, “We are all human, we are all multicultural.”
We also talked about Wiseau’s first film, the documentary Homeless in America. Tommy Wiseau really impressed me with the obvious passion that he felt for the topic. “I wanted to know about what was happening,” he explained as to why he had made the documentary, adding that not all of the homeless are mentally ill and they not all of them are criminals. “You cannot eliminate the homeless,” he said. Homeless in America can be ordered from Amazon.
When asked what movies he would recommend that aspiring filmmakers should watch, Wiseau immediately said, “Citizen Kane.” “Citizen Kane isn’t cookie cutter from Hollywood,” he explained. “If Hollywood had made The Room, it would be a totally different story.” Tommy also suggested watching Giant and “Clint Eastwood movies.”
As for the future, James Franco is currently working on an adaptation of Sestero’s The Disaster Artist but Wiseau can not talk about the production. However, he did say about Franco, “He likes James Dean, I like James Dean.” Wiseau is looking forward to more filmmaking. He’s currently working on a new film called Foreclosure and, in June, there will be four more episodes of The Neighbors on Hulu.
And, of course, Rifftrax Live: The Room will be in 700 theaters on May 6th and May 12th.
I asked Wiseau if there was anything he would like to say to his fans.
“Yes,” he said, “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other.”
Those are words to live by.
(Thank you, Tommy Wiseau, for taking the time to talk to us!)