Monthly Archives: January 2017

Interview #14 – Mike White from The Projection Booth Podcast

Mike White - The Projection Booth PodcastOver the past decade film criticism/discussion has found new and innovative ways to embrace new media. One example of this is not in written form but audio. What started in print and then onto blogs, film discussion has moved into the world of podcast.

The good movie podcasts don’t just review film but they discuss and analyse why a film is either good/bad.  The great podcasts do more than this, they explore cinematic history and talk passionately not just about films that’re popular but also films that are (in some instances) forgotten but are worthy of discussion/attention. It’s in this category where you’ll find The Projection Booth podcast.

I’ve spent many hours listening to these guys so it’s an absolute pleasure to have them agree to do an interview with us.

 

For anyone unaware of The Projection Booth podcast, how would you describe your style/format?

Every week we look at a particular film and try to examine the plot, the creation, and the impact of the work. Whenever possible, we try to get supporting interviews with the people involved in the production or experts on the subject matter.  Over the years I’ve had two main co-hosts, “Mondo” Justin Bozung and Rob St. Mary.  They’ve both since left to pursue writing projects.  For the last year I’ve had a rotating group of guest co-hosts who have brought a wide variety of viewpoints and opinions to the fray, all in the name of furthering the discussion of film.

Projection Booth podcast

How long did it take for you to find a style for the podcast, particularly with regards to length and tone?

For the first few months we were beholden to an hour length as we were being re-broadcast on a terrestrial radio station out West.  However, it was after just a handful of episodes that we began to find it impossible to keep things under an hour.   It might have been the Freaked show (Episode 11) or shortly before that but we quickly adopted what Rob St. Mary called “The Fight Club Rule of Podcasts” in that “Episodes will go on for as long as they have to.”   

In regard to tone, I think things were a bit more humorous in the beginning when Mondo Justin (Justin Bozung) was my co-host.  I’ve cut out a lot of the jokes, though I will often use sound clips as punch lines or counter-voices to discussions.  The tone of the show depends a lot on the movie being discussed but the overall “Projection Booth”-ness settled into place about a year after we started doing the show.  

A couple people have said that there’s an NPR vibe to the show, which makes sense, I suppose, as I wanted to emulate shows like Studio 360 and RadioLab.

How do you go about picking the films for each podcast?

I’ve had a working list of episodes going from about three months before the first episode ever aired.  This list could last into 2021 if I didn’t add anything to it but things are constantly being introduced and shuffled around.  

Ed Neumeier, Writer of Robocop and Starship Toopers

Ed Neumeier, Writer of Robocop and Starship Toopers

On the rare occasion, an interview opportunity will land in my lap.  Otherwise, I’ll see who I can get for a particular film before really considering doing an episode about it.  And, if I do land an interview, I’ll immediately think of other films in that person’s oeuvre that I would also want to discuss for another episode.   For example, if I can talk to an Ed Neumeier about Robocop, it’s natural that I’ll want to speak to him about Starship Troopers.    

There are a few movies that have been discussed where finding even a tangential interview subject proved challenging but that’s when it’s time to get creative.  I try to balance episodes without interviews with those that have them.  I’ve gotten a little paranoid that some people only listen to the show for the interviews… for some reason I’m suddenly reminded of Playboy.

At the end of the day, I’m choosing films that I’d like to discuss, that I think need more attention, that I think are misunderstood.  I occasionally get a suggestion from a co-host and will try my best to make a show out of those.  In 2018 I’m going to try something unusual and break open the Suggestion Box we keep on the site and see what kind of episodes I can make of them.  

Your podcasts can vary in length with some reaching the five hour mark, how long (on average) does it take to produce and create the Projection Booth podcast?

The longest episode we’ve done so far was the Conan the Barbarian show which clocked in at almost eight hours. The average length of shows is closer to two or three hours.   If one were to count all the planning, the researching, the phone calls, the editing, and the final file creation a typical show might take around 200 hours to produce.  That’s on top of my working a day job and trying to have some kind of social and family life.  Fortunately, I plan ahead quite a bit.   

I think that might also be what helps make The Projection Booth what it is; my obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m not satisfied to watch a movie and talk about it.  If I can, I want to read the book on which it was based, various drafts of the screenplay, reviews, essays, and more.  When I can, I try to dig out as many pieces about a particular film as I possibly can and create a “course pack” of material to read (and share with my co-hosts) with the hope that these various pieces can help inform the discussion even if we don’t specifically speak to them.  

Your conversational approach allows for more of an analytical study of the films you discuss on the podcast, how important is the editing process to allow for this?

Fortunately, the conversations we have on the show are pretty terrific.  I use editing to help shape them but it’s the rare occasion where I have to move sections of discussion around.  I’m usually editing out the errant “ums” or some of the more tin-eared jokes I throw out.  Honestly, I think that I cut out 5% of what my co-hosts say and 15-20% of what I have to say.  So, imagine that next time you listen to a show and hear me droning on.  My poor co-hosts have to hear even more of that!  Oh, and my obnoxious, braying laughter.

I think the most fun I have during the editing process is when I pull in sound clips as quotes from the film we’re discussing or, moreover, the clips that call back to the references that we may make.

How do you think podcasting could change film criticism?

One of my goals with the show is to bring immediacy to film.  At the same time, I’m trying my best to fill in some gaps where possible.  If anything ever smells odd about the “facts” of a film’s history, I will try to find clarity, often by going straight to the horse’s mouth.  

The preponderance of apocryphal blog posts, YouTube “essays”, and podcasts that just skim the surface and never go deeper than essentially eating each other’s vomit won’t do anything or film criticism. However, there are particular critics who do dive deep and while I don’t see them changing film criticism, I see them working more in the theoretical realm where we’re going beyond simply recapping plots and pithy comments.  It’s easy to say that a film is “good” or “bad” but it’s quite another to say why.  People remember the thumbs up or down from Siskel and Ebert but they forget the discussion that lead to the thumbs.  

Sorry for jumping on my soapbox but film criticism can be as simple as saying, “Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes” or it can be something far richer.  

Your Mulholland Drive podcast is a personal favourite, how easy is it to get the likes of Laura Harring and Patrick Fischler to appear on the podcast?

I was kind of shocked that I was able to land those interviews!  I simply reached out to their representatives and they both agreed to be a part of the show.  Laura Harring really did her research on me and I’m wondering if my casual friendship with director Greydon Clark (who cast her in The Forbidden Dance, one of her early roles) had something to do with her coming on.

Laura Harring Mulholland Drive

I find that it never hurts to ask if someone will be on the show — if I can find a good contact method.  The closer I can get to the person I want to interview, that is, if I can ask them directly, I usually get a yes.  If I have to work through a publicist, I get refusals more than I get agreements.

Fortunately, that’s another area where my OCD can be a boon. I love to put on my deerstalker and tracking down addresses and contact information.

Patrick Fischler Mulholland Drive

And, by the way, I’m glad you enjoyed the Mulholland Drive episode.  I’ve had a lot of fun discussing the films of David Lynch over the last five, going on six, years and I look forward to the next one.   Perhaps one of these days I’ll get to speak to Mr. Lynch himself.

How do you compare and contrast the approach to film criticism in this verbal form compared to written?

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to visually demonstrating my points and the lack of footnotes though that’s what the obligatory “show notes” can provide.   I’m at an advantage when it comes to having multiple points-of-view on each episode and being able to build on each other’s thoughts.   I’ll admit, too, that there have been times while I’m talking about a film I’ll suddenly make a point that I’d never considered before.  Verbalizing helps me think. And being in a “safe space” among friends can lead to throwing out some off-the-wall ideas and seeing how they play.  

Obviously, I don’t think that I can go as deep as a 5,000 word essay but I have hope that some of the interviews and discussions on the show might lead to further research by those so inclined.

Do you listen to any other film podcasts?

I do!  I really admire the amount of research that comes through in the discussions of The Feminine Critique, and Daughters of Darkness. I also frequently listen to Outside the Cinema, F This Movie, Kulture Shocked, Talk Without Rhythm, The After Movie Diner, and Badasses Boobs and Bodycounts.  You might not think so, but the two shows that I refuse to miss are comic discussions of film; We Hate Movies and God Awful Movies.

Do you think podcasting can improve considering the popularity the medium has found over the past few years?

I definitely do.  For one thing, the term “podcast” is still a foreign one to a lot of people.   I still find myself explaining

NPR’s Serial

the concept and how one can gain access to podcasts.  It’s a hidden world to too many potential listeners. NPR’s Serial helped a bring awareness to the medium though I think it could use another boost.  

One of the great things about podcasting is that anyone can do it.  It always reminds me of the old days of fanzines.  Just like with fanzines, the quality of the presentation can overshadow the content of the message — good or bad.  That said, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to technical prowess.  I own that The Projection Booth can sound better.   I’m constantly re-investing in the show though, and endeavor to do that in the future.

Do you have any tips/advice for anyone looking to start their own podcast?

The one thing that I’ve stressed to people who have asked me the same question is that podcasting doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition.  The barrier to entry is such that one can start a fairly decent show for $65.  If you don’t mind, allow me to pimp a book I wrote on that very subject, Podcasting on a Budget:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/mike-white/podcasting-on-a-budget/paperback/product-18671821.html

Additionally, I’d stress the before the microphone even goes on to decide what kind of show you’re going to have: the tone, the ground rules, and what will set you apart from other shows that might live in the same space.

You can find The Projection Booth via the links below.

Website:  http://www.projection-booth.com

Twitter:  @proboothcast

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/theprojectionbooth

 

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Films Seen By Outward This Week


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Remake, Reboot and Franchise: The Hollywood Cycle.

Hollywood remakes reboots franchiseAs the world enters a period of anger and fear, we must look to the arts to provide reflection and to document who we are during these times of governmental and economical transition. As filmmakers we can contribute to this, we can add to the discussion, film can be a release during a period where opinion is more visible and influential than ever.

We’ve seen how a businessman can become President of the United States just by supposedly sharing opinions which go against the so-called corrupt elite. We’ve seen social media erupt and become the zeitgeist for a generation. The world is undergoing change, a change in how we digest the news, a change in how we see people from different backgrounds and a change in how we communicate with people from all corners of the world.

Film has the potential to embrace this. The films we make could become part of this global conversation, presenting us with a potentially exciting period in film-making history. If we can’t find originality during these testing times then, are we as filmmakers failing? With money in short supply the films that get funded will no doubt all look and feel the same in order to please those profiting. This is no more evident than within the penthouse of the film-making world, Hollywood.

Point BreakWhether you’re a fan of Hollywood or not, it’s easy to register that the current roll-out of big budgeted Hollywood movies consists of remakes, reboots or franchises, (prequels/sequels/threequels?) You don’t have to be a cynic to see that Hollywood have embraced an approach to making film that leans more toward tried and tested iconography rather than telling reflective, original stories. Originality is needed now more than ever and it’s unfortunate that the film industry dominating populist culture is more focused on recycling stories and visuals.

This revivalist obsessed culture is dangerous in many ways. Firstly, by allowing this cycle to continue, we’ll forget how important innovation and originality is. All the films we know and love spurned from innovation and originality. We’re on the verge of losing the sense of experimentation and exploration in film; by selling repetition we’re lowering the bar to the point where films that were bad ten years ago will be now seen as modern classics. Secondly, these reboots/remakes/franchises do not challenge us. Are we truly challenged by modern Hollywood? There are a few filmmakers who do try, the obvious being Christopher Nolan, but all things considered Hollywood has resorted to join-the-dots film-making.

What once offered an interesting insight into the mind of a character, now the reboot formula has become clichéd and predictable. Is it acceptable to reboot a franchise that was rebooted a decade ago? The only way you can answer yes is if you look at it from a financial perspective. The motive to make money has become more obvious, this has replaced the need for cinema to challenge us. The summer of 1999 which gave us Fight Club and The Matrix seems like a distant dream compared to what Hollywood produces today.

Fight Club

Finally, Hollywood clearly has no interest in demand and supply. They’re green lighting projects at a rate that’s impossible to keep up with. Do a search online about films set for remakes. The list is scary – Splash. Mary Poppins. The Craft. Wargames. Commando. Overboard. An American Werewolf in London. Wild Bunch (ugh). Jumanji.  Police Academy. These are just a few green lit for remakes. Quite simply, how many of these are needed? There’s a clear intent here and that’s to alter people’s experiences of films they’ve grown up loving, a direct attack on nostalgia you could say.

One way Hollywood avoids criticism is to exploit social media. Hollywood in some ways is similar to Donald Trump. Hollywood guide conversation on social media, just like Donald Trump. They can avoid criticism and often do, if people were to talk about Hollywood running out of ideas then people might choose to avoid these films and ergo Hollywood won’t see financial rewards. But Hollywood have succeeded in creating debate where there is none. Social media explodes when a female actor has been chosen to play what was originally a male character. Social media explodes when an actor doesn’t match the race of the character. Social media is used as a tool to divert attention from the discussion that Hollywood have accepted to produce lower quality, familiar films for financial rewards. Like Trump, Hollywood decides what you discuss online even though you’re led to believe it’s your opinion. Angry people are great for attention, if you want more people to see your product/brand then do something that you know will get people angry and feel the need to rant about online. Driving up anger and frustration makes people go online and talk, this leads to trending. Getting a film trending is the objective of the marketing team and it makes no difference if people are applauding or ranting. To have something trend is the ultimate measure of success.

In any other industry a lack of ideas and innovation would signal a need for change. By remaining static your competitors can take the lead and gain the customers that you lose. In Hollywood, however, they’re constantly succeeding with films that offer nothing new. It’s been mentioned numerous times that a film succeeding at the box office doesn’t mean it’s a good film. They constantly make profit and any film that fails is quickly forgotten about and inevitably given a reboot a few years later. The cycle is influenced not by wanting to provide something of quality but for the need to make more money..aka greed.

marvelIn their eyes they have a successful business plan, the plan is quite simple…it doesn’t matter if a film is good or bad, if you tick certain boxes you will make a profit. The only way we can hope for a change is for Hollywood to lose money. If they only listen to money then as soon as they realize reboots/remakes/franchises aren’t profitable, then they will move on from this period of repetition. I personally don’t think we’ll see this day. I’ve encountered numerous people who criticize a film and then go to the cinema to prove it’s as bad as they expected/predicted. The scenario here is the prime example of the modern day Hollywood system. Ruffle a few feathers by announcing another remake/reboot, make something with minimum expenditure, watch people criticize, watch the same people prove themselves right by going to the multiplex. It’s a win-win for Hollywood.

There’s no easy solution, we can only hope for two things. The people who dismiss something do exactly that. They dismiss it. They don’t spend a week discussing and eventually go to the cinema to watch it. If you think something looks poor then why invest any time discussing or watching it? If people didn’t watch the films they thought looked rubbish then Hollywood would lose money. Finally, we need to stop categorizing people the people who criticize Hollywood. It’s possible to dislike Hollywood but still have an interest in mainstream cinema. The normal reaction to anyone criticizing the Hollywood slate is to refer to them as a film snob. By calling someone a snob you immediately dismiss opinions and again, Hollywood feed off this. It doesn’t matter if a film is made in Hollywood, London, Sydney or Abuja. A good film is a good film. There’s no one way of making film and it’s healthy to remind ourselves of that at times when the mainstream aren’t trying.

If we let this current cycle continue then film-making will become very predictable and lack relevance. In 2030 will we see a remake or reboot of Avatar? It seems silly but not impossible. It’s unfortunate that populist film has disconnected from a world in transition, escapism is healthy but in moderation. We as filmmakers need some sense of reality, innovation and originality to push our medium forward. Without these we have nothing more than a big shiny spoon to gaze at.



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Films Seen By Outward This Week




Films Seen By Outward