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Category — Interviews

Director Interview – JOSH JOHNSON

Filmmaker Josh Johnson sits down with our very own video clerk and resident tapehead, Rockie Juarez, to discuss his documentary Rewind This!, an ode to the VHS age:

Hey film fan – you may have heard a rumor floating around out there saying VHS is dead. I’m here to tell you you’re listening to the wrong people. Please allow me to aim your senses in a different direction – one that acknowledges the vital role VHS plays in pop and film culture history. I’d like you to meet a true believer in the format, a freedom fighter for VHS: the humble magnificent Josh Johnson. In the mere months I’ve known him, we’ve talked, seen (Jaws in 35mm!!), and eaten movies in a way that’s changed me forever. And as soon as I learned of his project – a documentary all about the mighty VHS format called Rewind This! – I knew I had to back it one hundred percent. Preserving the rich history of cinema and all the formats that have changed the way we ingest the sweet art should be a holy task of our Public schools, but seeing as how I’m not King of the World™, I figure I should teach the children through other channels – like this one you’ve come to at Isle of Cinema. So let’s jump right in and meet Josh, and learn about this important documentary! But before we do, just take a look at his picture – how can you not fall in love?

Josh Johnson

Hey Josh, thanks for taking time out of your day to rap with us about your amazing project. How’d it all start?  I imagine taking on a documentary has got to be a daunting task. There were two core ideas that really launched the project. The first was the realization that the story of home video and its impact has never been told on film. The other was the discovery of how many people were still buying VHS tapes on a regular basis because they contained rare content that wasn’t available by any other means. It seemed that there was an opportunity to construct a narrative about the significance of video that would show how we got where we are now and explore where we might be going. I started working with two partners on developing the project and we began small – by interviewing the relevant individuals that we had immediate access to in the Austin area. This enabled us to collect a significant amount of footage before the need to travel arose. Once we reached the point where we needed to start flying around the country to conduct interviews, we were far enough along that we were able to get support through local fundraisers. So while the scope of the project is daunting, there seems to be a lot of support for what we’re doing.

I’ve been in and out of video stores as far back as I remember, and I currently work at Vulcan Video in Austin, so personally this project speaks to me. And the masses agree – I saw you guys catch fire on the Twitter: was it overwhelming, seeing all that love, and was it a validation of what you guys were doing? Both. It is validating for sure and really encouraging to see that the audience for the film might be larger than we suspected. It’s also been completely overwhelming and emotional – the three of us working on this project frequently speak to each other in complete disbelief about how enthusiastic the response has been. This subject means a lot to us and we obviously assumed it would be meaningful to a certain segment of the populace but we clearly underestimated how many people feel passionately about the importance of home video. This process has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.

Click to check out Stephanie Vanelli’s print over at Etsy!

You mentioned your partners in crime on this project and their contributions. Yeah. Carolee Mitchell, who is acting as producer and Christopher Palmer, who is acting as co-director and both shoots and edits our footage. Since we’re a small team there are of course a variety of other roles that everyone has to step and fill on occasion as well.

Several big names were tweeting and spreading the word about it, too. Just so people have an idea, how fast did it take to hit your goal on Kickstarter? And who was your most “flattering” supporter? It took us 112 hours to reach our funding goal. We were expecting it to take the full 30 days but the response just exploded right away. The Kickstarter concluded about a week ago and we exceeded our goal by 53% which has enabled us to add two more production trips and at least 20 more interviews. I don’t know if there is anyone in particular that I would describe as the most flattering supporter but something that has been really satisfying is the broad range of people who have wanted to get involved. There is diverse spectrum of people from different continents and of different ages/backgrounds which I wouldn’t have anticipated.

I’m afraid tears of joy might soak my shirt if I perchance-d to gaze upon those numbers. As far as getting interviews, was it brutal locking down ‘celebs’ or were they on board from the get go? For the most part securing interviews has been fairly stress-free. In a lot of cases we had mutual friends who were able to put us in touch which is always helpful. We’ve also had a surprising amount of success reaching out to people through managers and agents. I think the main reason that the people we’ve contacted have been so receptive is that they are being offered a chance to preserve their own legacy. They contributed to a revolution that hasn’t received its due and our motivation is to acknowledge and celebrate their work. Something that a lot of people might not be aware of is that we haven’t paid for a single one of our interviews. Everybody who has agreed to participate has done so purely out of an interest in getting their story heard.

Hangin’ with the Troma team

So when can we see it!? I know that’s a rough question considering you’re still banging it out so I’ll rephrase that – what’s the projected release date? (Soon, I hope) Our final production trip is in May so we’ll be done filming at that point. We’re editing now so the film itself will be completed shortly thereafter. As for when people will see it that is less clear. We’re currently planning to show at film festivals with an eye towards distribution after that.

It’s going to be gangbusters at festivals. Not to jinx you, but I’d expect it to be picked up fairly quickly – valid subject with valid backers. Well Josh, I want to thank you for taking a minute to talk to me about a project so dear. How can all the interested parties out there follow your progress? In case they’d like to stalk you? Our website is www.rewindthismovie.com which should be getting revamped soon with a new look and more content. For day to day updates you can follow us on Twitter @RewindThisMovie. If you have too much time on your hands you can also follow my personal account(@VHSisthetruth) to learn more about what movies I’m watching, what desserts I’m enjoying, and what sort of awkward experiences I’m having with women.

Doin’ the VHS shuffle.


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March 5, 2012   1 Comment

Artist Interview – RICK TREMBLES

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Before there was Harry Knowles, before thousands of bloggers were clogging the web with opinions, there was Rick Trembles with his unique take on film review. I first came across his art more than 15 years ago, while I was a video clerk at Vulcan Video in Austin, TX – and now that I run this little blog I thought I’d seek him out for an interview, which he graciously agreed to grant. To those familiar with his work this interview will serve as a recap, but to the uninitiated I hope it’ll be an eye opener, so you can search out more of his awesome art.

How would you describe your work? I draw a weekly movie review/preview comic-strip/column hybrid.

How’d you start doing what you do? What was the first movie you ever drew? I was getting my more experimental post-underground comix published in various punk & post-punk zines in the 70’s & early 80’s, and when Montreal’s first alternative weekly The Montreal Mirror was being put together they remembered that stuff & asked if I’d be into contributing. Tobe Hooper’s outer space vampire flick Lifeforce was my first review.

When you’re watching a movie, do you start imagining your response during the viewing or after? What’s your process? I take notes as I’m watching, mostly to jog my memory later when I’m writing and have to keep proper track of the chronology of events from the film. Also to retain juicy quotes. For some reason I usually come up with my initial ideas on how I’m gonna tackle the whole strip while I’m in the shower before getting down to work. Maybe there’s a connection there with why people like to sing in the shower so much. I figure it’s because the water drowns out any bum notes making you think you’re sounding better than you actually do. So probably the same goes for brainstorming.

What’s it take for a movie to inspire a drawing? Does every film you watch get a response or just a select few? I often have no choice, whether I’m inspired or not, because I have to meet my deadline. If a film inspires nothing in me, then sometimes I’ll just come up with a ridiculous non sequitur review so I can at least have some fun with it. If a film is really horrible and I’d rather not mouth off about how bad it is, like if it’s some kinda zero-budget DIY thing that had to have been painful to complete, and the last thing the filmmakers need is to get dissed (especially if I actually know them personally), then I’ll choose another film at the last minute to do instead. If it’s bad, billion-dollar H’wood crap though, then I have no problem calling it what it is.

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What emotional reaction makes the best fuel for your drawings? Do you prefer writing about movies you like or dislike? Disliking can be fun, especially, like I said, when it’s ridiculously wasteful garbage from tinsel-town made for enough money to feed a small country. Poking fun at it helps let off steam. Liking can be fun too, but then it’s harder work because I get obsessed and overwrite, and that means more time-consuming editing when I’m transcribing it into a comic. I only have so much space to work with and it can get pretty cramped.

Has the strip changed at all since you first started drawing it? Do you still feel as moved by the movies you review as you used to? The very first reviews weren’t even called Motion Picture Purgatory yet; they were just single gag panels with the title of the movie on top & cartoon drawings with a buncha text. My drawing style changed a lot in the 25 years I’ve been doing it. It’s more streamlined now. I draw tinier & the cartoon characters look more like hieroglyphics so I can fit in more words. It’s probably gonna make me go blind. I’ve had to start wearing bifocals since drawing this thing. And now I have to use a magnifying glass lamp for the inking process. Feeling moved depends on the movie. If a movie moves me, I can still get moved about trying to convince people how moving the movie is.

Do you have a favorite type of movie to draw? A favorite director? Directors change. Cronenberg’s early stuff had a giant impact on me but now he seems to be doing Harlequin Romances. John Waters too, but some of his more recent stuff doesn’t seem to have as sharp a bite. Thing is, even if a recent film of theirs might not be as groundbreaking as their older stuff from start to finish, there’s always at least one spark of brilliance lurking somewhere in it that’ll stand out and make it worthwhile, so I tend to trudge through no matter what. I’m pretty loyal. It’s tricky to stay consistent and grow at the same time. The Kuchar Bros have been at it since the 50’s and have managed to do it though, and thankfully their body of work is so gigantic it’ll take me ages before I see everything they’ve ever done. Graphically, I like it when the bulk of a picture takes place in one building so I can draw an x-ray vision cutaway of it and show the key people interacting inside like a stage-play.

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How long does it take you – on average – to complete a piece? Have there been certain movies you remember wrestling with more than others? Takes me a whole day and wipes me out. When I spread it out 2 days my brain hurts less. If it’s something special or difficult that I really wanna yammer about, I go outta my way to do it in 2 days, separating the writing & drawing. I like to have a night to sleep on the writing so I can read it over again with fresh eyes the next day. They turn out better that way, when I’m not being rushed. But most of the time I have no choice but to do it all in one day.

How do you differ from most critics or movie reviewers (besides the obvious fact that you draw)? I don’t generally like movie critics unless they’re serious academics or infuse a personal touch into their writing with all their own quirks and peccadilloes. Most critics sound so similar to me they’re interchangeable, lazily wallowing in publicists’ hype from film companies. Hip tastemakers can be really annoying in their predictability. Eccentric, passionate, obsessive, controversial rants cut through best for me. Audiences who’d rather read capsule comments use film criticism as a consumer guide and nothing else, but what can you do? You can’t force-feed them convoluted points of view when all they wanna know is how best to kill a few hours in a movie theatre. It comes down to what people actually want out of the movies. Most not only want escapism inside their films but consider the whole film-going process as escapism in itself. But I can be like that sometimes too so I’m not gonna knock it.

Are you aware of public reaction to the films you review as you begin your review, and does it in any way color your response? I sometimes check other generic reviews just to get a refresher on the film’s synopsis before I work. Also, I like to read at least one extremely bad review and one extremely rave review to see what the polar opposites are.

What are your thoughts on the state of Hollywood & the movies coming out of it today? Crappy.

Are you a fan of the 3D format? Yes. I like a good gimmick.

Do you think CGI has hurt the craftsmanship of genre filmmaking? The process bores me to tears but they’re doing some mind-blowing stuff.

Have you ever revisited a piece? Changed your mind about a movie & redrawn it? Nope. It’s written and drawn in stone. Ghost World I kinda regret because that movie hit a nerve with me. It gave me an overload and I burned myself out trying to figure how to write about it, so out of exasperation I ended up doing something non sequitur, which backfired. I wouldn’t mind revisiting that one, but I wouldn’t do away with my old review because it captures how I initially felt about it, no matter how mixed up. Videodrome I’d like to do multiple strips with because it’s one of my fave horror flicks ever and I find there’s endless stuff to say about it. My review for that one only isolated one of the many sequences I liked in it. I should cartoonicize every sequence in the film.

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You ever get in trouble because of your work? Death threats once. Some hate mail.

You seem to like movies that provoke & push boundaries… Do you think this should be an agenda of film? Yes.

Every so often your comic strip contains biographical vignettes from your life. Ever regret sharing? Nope.

Without your comic strip I would’ve never sought out movies such as Death Bed, Lemora, Ace in the Hole, Valerie & her Week of Wonders, or Thundercrack! Who’s going to carry on the tradition of sifting through the mainstream clutter to find diamonds in the rough for like-minded adventurers? Well even I had to somehow find them to begin with, and often they were recommended to me by fellow enthusiasts, so you’ll just have to hang with the right peeps. Spread the love.

How do you think movie-going will change, given the changing landscape of distribution and home video? Everything’s already on YouTube & Bit Torrents. It’s kind of over already. That’s why all the recent gimmicks like 3D. They’re trying to make movies you can only see in a theatre instead of your laptop.

Do you give the Trembles treatment to other forms of media? I wanted to start doing horror video game reviews back when I was getting into Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Shadow of the Colossus, etc, but I had no venue for it, and I’d need to get paid properly for that because they’re way longer and more multilayered than the average movie, so it’d be more work. I was also toying with the idea of criticizing TV ads using the same comix technique. Ads just come and go so quick, and some are so preposterous I thought they should be immortalized. Because when most current TV ads are gone, they’re really gone forever, from our collective memories as well as the boob tube. I even pitched that idea to The Montreal Mirror but they thought it might be too esoteric, or the shelf-life on these ads might be so brief that by the time the strips came out, already nobody would know what the hell I was talking about anymore.

Do you still play music? How would you characterize your art beyond the sphere of movie reviews? I’ve been playing guitar & singing as long as I’ve been cartooning. I’m still in my post-punk band The American Devices (founded in 1980). I often draw comix about the band and sometimes even sing about the comix I’ve drawn about the band about the comix. And then I make animated movies about that. It’s all one big meta-muddle.

How can I (or other filmmakers out there) get my movie drawn by you? Send me a screener.

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Check out Rick’s website, http://snubdom.com, and buy Motion Picture Purgatory Volumes 1 & 2 here and here.

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August 23, 2010   2 Comments

Director Interview – RONA MARK

RONA MARK is the director of the upcoming movie, The Crab. We first met in Austin two years ago while she was traveling the country with her first film, Strange Girls. It was at that time that she first told me about an idea for a movie about a guy with a deformed hand who’s a complete dick to everyone.  Lo and behold, 2 years later, the feature is done and she has just completed the first trailer. Here it is:

I called Rona and asked her for an interview, and she graciously agreed. We sat down at New York’s famous Hungarian Pastry Shop over Hamentashen and discussed things, a small portion of which you’ll find below:

From the trailer it seems to me to be more a character piece than a horror movie… I like to say that it’s a monster movie, but it’s not a horror movie. The kind of monster you meet at parties.

Your first film, Strange Girls, was also a character study, right? Some people think of it as a horror movie, I mean I thought I was making a horror movie, but then when I directed it I didn’t treat it that way. I treated it like I was making a coming of age film.

All this horror-by-way-of character study is pretty highbrow stuff, isn’t it? Highbrow meets lowbrow is what I’d call it. I think my storytelling is pretty traditional, actually- I’m not trying to be original or anything, I’m just saying what I gotta say. I hate to say this but for me personally, they’re [movies are] kind of therapeutic to write. I mean, I don’t want people to feel like they’re sitting on the couch with me, but I do hope they’re relateable to other people too. Like this one [The Crab] was all about the despair I felt after the last one.

Did you find inspiration for it in any particular films? The Crab’s inspirations came more from literature. Levi’s an academic, his field is American poetry, so there’s some of those references. There was a part in there which we ended up cutting where he references Mein Kampf, but I don’t know if anybody would’ve gotten it unless they read it recently.

So he’s an intellectual? A failed intellectual.

With a deformity. And very much an anti hero. Yeah, he goes around provoking people, antagonizing people, he has a girlfriend but he doesn’t like her. He has one friend left who sticks by him even though he’s a big drunk asshole all the time, but he kind of thinks he’s funny or charming. They’ve been friends since high school so he doesn’t really get rid of him, even though he should. And this friend starts seeing this girl, and he [Levi] decides that he likes her and starts to stalk her… that’s sort of the plot.

Guy Whitney as Levi in Rona Mark's The Crab

Do you meet unhappy people and say to yourself, “I’m going to make a movie about this person?” (Hesitates) Alright, so he’s a little bit of a composite character. (laughing) There’s a lot of me, obviously, in most of my leads, and him too. There’s also a little bit of this boyfriend I had for many years. The movie starts with Levi defending his thesis – he wrote this large volume about the history of American poetry but refused to put citations in it on principle, like a big “fuck you.” I had a boyfriend who did that. All he needed to get his master’s was to put citations in his thesis and he just wouldn’t do it. I mean, I’m sure his reasons were different. My guy [Levi] doesn’t want to finish it because if he finishes it and nobody likes it then he’s just a circus freak with a book. Insert movie instead of book and you have me.

Does the entire process for you begin with character? I think so. I think that’s what’s happening. I mean, I never really knew how I work, but the more I’m doing it, I’m beginning to realize that I like characters that nobody likes, and I want to try to make an audience care for them. That seems to be my goal as a filmmaker: to make people care about the people nobody likes. Murderers, assholes…

Did you do research? About people with deformities? Oh, no… When I did Strange Girls everyone asked if I did a lot of research about twins, and I mean… someone made a documentary about twins, they don’t need me… I’m about the drama, I’m not particularly interested in the science that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m not making an issue movie.

How hard was it to cast the character of Levi, going into production? I feel like 85% of my job as director is casting. And I have to cast just right. It doesn’t have to be exactly the way that I imagined the character, as long as the essentials are there. If he can get to that place, wherever it is, then if he’s tall or short or whatever, I can work with that, but he has to be able to emotionally get there. And that’s the hardest thing. He [Levi] wasn’t easy to find. We put out a couple of calls and got 1200 head-shots, ‘cos if you write “drunk, lobster claws,” every actor in the world thinks they want to do it. But then when they arrive… (laughing). I think one day we saw  30 guys for the lead and I’d say 24 of them were completely incompetent, 5 were deranged, and one was good but not right, and I didn’t think he would be, no matter what. So our casting director, she basically just called in some friends to audition, and the one guy that we went with [Guy Whitney], his first read was good – but angry – and Levi has to also be funny. But I guess she told him, and at the call back he turned it on and it was good. And he’s super dedicated, he had just quit his job and needed to get another one but decided he wasn’t going to, he was just going to live in character for the 6 weeks before we started shooting. I just hoped he didn’t get arrested. But you can feel it when someone’s committed, in their performance… you can’t deny it makes a difference.

Did you learn anything from Strange Girls, about getting the performance out of him? Well, it was different. I had more aesthetic distance with Strange Girls. My leads were twins, and they had worked together a lot, the relationship between them was already there, which made it easier. This one – you know, he did most of the work. I mean, we talked a lot about the character, for weeks, but I could count on him to do the grunt work, it became a matter of refining it, and working with him and the other actors. I learned about myself as a director, that I don’t have a lot of separation between me and my work, so it made it difficult to direct this character, because he was so troubled that I found myself feeling sorry for him all the time, found myself on-set trying to mother him, I felt bad, you know, I cried when he cried, that’s when I realized that I don’t separate at all. It was easier in Strange Girls because there were horror conventions, which is what I mean by distance – one more layer between you and the content. Just a little less real, in a way. You know what I mean?

Rona Mark directing Guy Whitney in The Crab

So you weren’t kidding when you said it is very emotional, a therapeutic journey? Put it this way. I’m not getting any money to do these. I’m only doing them because I want to, so I’m gonna put as much into it to make it worth my while as possible. As much of myself into it. I have to really care to do it because it’s so hard to do.

Do you ever find yourself doubting whether to continue making movies? No. As long as I can I want to continue making movies. But the thing is, it has to get easier at some point or I don’t know just how, physically, stamina-wise, much more I can do. If I don’t get some money injected in there at some point, I just don’t know.

Do you like the film festival circuit? Or find it frustrating? Anything that’s organized like a contest in film I find very frustrating, you know, unless I get in, and then it’s not (laughing). I mean, I think it’s bullshit, you just never know why people choose or don’t choose you. It doesn’t mean anything about your work. I mean, I guess if you get rejected with every single thing you ever apply to, maybe you should listen, but otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. They program all kinds of shit, at all the festivals. so it doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. But there definitely is this feeling, that you have to have a famous person in your film for it to be good. If I would’ve waited for that to happen I probably never would have had any film made, let alone 2 features. ‘Cos it just makes everything take forever. What am I gonna do, wait ten years to get so and so attached in order to raise the money to do it properly? I can’t do that, I gotta keep going…

Rona and Cass Bugge in a scene from The Crab

Do you feel like having one under your belt is going to help the Crab? Well it definitely helped me make it. I mean, there’s that education by fire. I was able to do this one much more efficiently, and also my priorities during production were really different. My biggest problem with Strange Girls was that I couldn’t direct everything to the fullest because I had production issues, and I was directing and producing. What I learned from that one was that I need to gel with all the people working with me. I can’t just hire them – I have to really vet them for personality, to make sure their film-making personalities mesh with mine, and that they can get with the culture of our production- especially the DP. We don’t care about getting a glint off the Fichus. That’s low priority. We shot like 8-10 pages a day on The Crab, and it was fine, it wasn’t a problem.

So it was easier to get this one made? Yeah. My producing partner [Craig Schober], we’ve known each other for a while, he wanted to shoot a feature, he owns his equipment and everything and I was like, if you want to make one, I’ve got one. Let’s go. So that’s how it came about. We didn’t have to pay for equipment, and by design it was a smaller project. We had a crew of like 8 people on this one.

Are you currently developing anything? Your next film? My producing partner’s company is called Tridango, the next project I’m doing is with him. He’s spearheading it but I’m helping him produce and write it. It’s a choose your own adventure zombie apocalypse sort of thing. It’s for the iPad or iPhone or something- he knows all that tech stuff- my only thing was there has to be a gang of vigilante children. Like a gang of tough little kids that are fighting zombies. If you have that, then I’ll work with you. The main guy has to encounter them. You decide whether to go with them, kill them, whatever. And I have other things I want to do too.

Do you have that “million dollar script” waiting for that “golden” opportunity, when The Crab takes off and becomes a hit? I have like 17 screenplays sitting in my computer (laughing). I’ve got the 2 million dollar screenplay that if I can get the money I’ll do, but I also have the one that if I don’t get any money I’m going to do next. On some level, I feel kinda like I don’t even want to write things anymore that I don’t know that I can make myself. Because, like I said, I have 17 sitting in my computer that might never get made.

When you’re not making movies, you teach, at Sarah Lawrence. Do you enjoy it? I’m liking it more and more, because I feel like I’m getting better at it… but I’d rather be making films 24/7. As far as day-jobs go, it’s pretty awesome. But there’s a problem with film education. You gotta teach them [students] something, so you find yourself teaching rules that you don’t necessarily believe. And whenever someone really gets the bug, I always feel like I’ve done them a disservice- like, “wow, I just ruined your life, ‘cos now you’re gonna suffer like I have, and feel how I feel.”

The Crab’s world premiere will be at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Be sure to look for it at other film festivals and select theaters in the near future. And check IsleofCinema for reviews of both of Rona Mark’s films, coming soon!

June 1, 2010   1 Comment

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