Kevin Hamedani [Interview]

Kevin Hamedani2
The world of independent filmmaking is rapidly changing and, in so many ways, improving.  Much like the heyday in the 90’s, there is so much talent lurking behind the big red curtain of Hollywood that have so much damn talent that it is almost ridiculous.  Only these days, it seems easier to get recognized.  Of course this is not an all inclusive observation as there are definitely still thousands of un-tapped souls out there trying to “break through”, whatever that really means these days.
One fine soul who has managed to move beyond the curtain and create some amazing work in his own way is the illustrious Kevin Hamedani.  Back in 2009 he brought the world his brilliant take on the zombie takeover with his excellent debut Zombies of Mass Destruction.  And most recently he takes on the world of film festivals with his amazing new feature, Junk.  The greatest bit of irony being that Kevin has had some great success in the film festival world.  But, that is enough explaining, lets talk to Kevin himself to see what he thinks of this day and age of filmmaking and what it means to be an artist in his time.  So check it out!
What initially drew you in to the world of filmmaking?

I remember being about 7 years old and watching Back to the Future over and over again. I then started writing short stories around that time. So I’d say at a very young age I just knew, for better or worse, that I was obsessed with movies and wanted to make my own.

You made your directoral debut in a feature film with 2009’s Zombies of Mass Destruction.  How was that experience?  What sort of things did you learn as a first timer in the feature film directing?

It was a great experience but also very frustrating. I knew very little about how a film set worked so I made a lot of mistakes. Luckily I had a wonderfully talented and experience DP John Guleserian who helped me make it through. One big lesson I learned from him was when I was blocking a scene and I had the actors stand close together like it were a stage play. That’s when the DP said: “This isn’t a play! Why are they standing next to each other!” That was a HUGE wake up call. I learned then that you can and should use the space around you because the camera will find the actor…big lesson.

How did you come up with the idea for your latest film, Junk?

My co-writer Ramon Isao and I were at the Austin Film Festival in 2009 for ZMD when we  met another filmmaking duo who had a similar  script they wanted to pitch to a big actor guest at that year’s fest. That planted the seed for JUNK. That and the fact I had done a year of film festivals and that world is bizarre, incredibly exciting and filled with colorful characters. I had yet to see a movie that took place at a fest so that was the final push to make JUNK.

Junk1Where you at all surprised about the backlash several film festivals gave the film by not letting it in?Yes, very. I did a private screening once the film was complete in Los Angeles,  A friend of mine, Scott Sanders (who directed Black Dynamite) took me aside after the screening and told me how impressed he was. That was big coming from him because Sanders is the most brutally honest friend I know. But then he said we probably screwed ourselves w/ film festivals by making a movie about it. I didn’t believe him but eventually I realized he was right. Even my hometown of Seattle rejected JUNK w/out so much as a rejection email. I think this movie really pissed some programmers off. That’s too bad. i thought they’d have a sense of humor but they take themselves very seriously. The ironic thing is that I made this movie with love for film festivals, but the reaction has lead me to really despise that whole world. So many great films fall through the cracks due to politics, lack of star power, etc…

What was it like wearing all those damn hats during the making of Junk?  Do you think you would do it again?

It wasn’t fun. I will never act and direct again unless I have a bigger budget.

Is there any other aspect of filmmaking, or any other field in general, that you are interested in jumping in as well?  Stunt player, maybe?  Craft services?  Anything? 

Music composing would be the only other job on a film that I could potentially do. I love music and play a little but I’m not very good so it wouldn’t be that great.

You had a stellar supporting cast on Junk, including James Hong, Brett Davern, Jake Johnson, and so many more.  How happy were you with the cast and the supporting characters?  Did you manage to have your vision told accurately through the characters?  

I am so happy w/ my cast. Leads and supporting. I managed, somehow, to keep my vision intact.  With the supporting cast and the colors they bring to JUNK, it resembles the crazy world I intended to create.

I am told you are a Seattle native.  Being from the Northwest as well, I have to ask…..What sort of influence to you think your homeland has on your work, if any?

The Northwest has a beautiful, gloomy feel to it which is why I’ve shot both my features there. It’s a beautiful place with an underlying haunting, cold pulse that brings more layers to your work than you intended.

What is next for you?  Any new projects in the works?

I have a few projects in development. I hope this family drama called Prince Ali moves forward. It’d be a great change to do something that isn’t a comedy

Junk2What was the last thing that made you smile?That’s a hard one….I don’t know.  I met Vince Gilligan recently and had a nice long chat with him about The X-Files, Breaking Bad, etc… I had a smile for a week after that….

The Slants and the Trademark Race Case [Feature]

The_Slants_pressshot03_hiresPortland, Oregon-based Asian American dance-rock band The Slants has been fighting the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for nearly four years over the right to to trademark their name. The USPTO previously refused the band’s application on the grounds that the term is disparaging to persons of Asian descent. The application process began in 2009, with appeals from the band including numerous articles by Asian American media sources, letters of support from Asian American activists, an expert report by noted linguistics scholar Dr. Ron Butters, several independent national surveys, and a case file totaling over 2,000 pages of evidence. The USPTO stood by its rejection, however, citing urbandictionary.com for evidence and citing the ethnic background of applicant/band manager, Simon Tam.

In 2011, The Slants filed a new trademark application with no “Asian-related” content, but was again rejecting on the ground of disparagement, even though no new evidence of supposedly disparaging use of the trademark was cited by the Trademark Office, which essentially cut and paste its earlier rejection.

Ronald Coleman of Goetz Fitzpatrick LLP, the law firm representing The Slants and a leading commentator on trademark law, says “As it stands now, therefore, there is nothing our client can do, or not do, if he wants to register the SLANTS trademark.  The Trademark Trials and Appeals Board says he personally supplies, the offensive “context” to what is an otherwise plain English word just by being too Asian.”

According to U.S Trademark Office records, over 760 applications have been received for some variation on the term “slant.” However, “The Slants” is the only one in U.S. history that was denied based on an accusation that it was disparaging to persons of Asian descent — even though the band’s most recent application made no reference to Asian heritage at all. In its papers, the Trademark Office admits that, unlike most ethnic terms, the term is not inherently offensive, which is why it hasn’t been a problem in the past. Yet, Trademark Office attributed it to the band because “it is uncontested that applicant is a founding member of a band…composed of members of Asian descent…thus, the association.”

The Trademark Office justified making its decision based on Tam’s race, saying “we are faced with a term that necessarily identifies people, i.e., the live performers. Thus, those who attend the live performances will necessarily understand THE SLANTS to refer to the persons who comprise the musical band.”

Tam says, “Their reasoning had nothing to do with our intentions or whether or not Asian Americans were actually being disparaged. Their only justification for applying an accusation of disparagement on our case but no other applicant was based on my race. In fact, the implication is that if we weren’t Asian, there wouldn’t be any problems because people wouldn’t associate our name with an obscure racial slur. And while it’s true that the people in the band can be identified by a band’s name, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the members literally embody the name of the band. No one thinks ‘The Rolling Stones’ are literal masses of undulating rock or that ‘Led Zeppelin’ is a metallic reincarnation of the Hindenburg blimp.”

The law states that a “substantial composite of the referenced group must find it disparaging.” Despite this requirement, the Trademark Office failed to cite any Asian American individuals or organizations that were actually deeply offended by the name, relying only on a media report of an incident in 2009 where an invitation for The Slants to perform at the Asian American Youth Leadership Conference was cancelled.  In fact, those very event organizers wrote a letter to the Trademark Office, clarifying that the reason for the withdrawn invitation was due to lyrical content and logistical procedures, not the band name itself. The event still published the “The Slants” on the event website as well as their program, and received no complaints at all.

In fact, the band has had a history of constructive involvement with the Asian American community. In addition to performing at anime conventions and Asian American festivals throughout North America, the band regularly lead workshops on social justice and antiracism. They are often featured by some of the most influential voices in the Asian and Asian American communities, including Angry Asian Man, the Asian Reporter, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and many more. Furthermore, they’ve led numerous fundraisers for charitable causes, including helping raise over $34,000 for the Japan Red Cross weeks after the Fukushima disaster.

Despite the band’s longstanding history and involvement with the Asian American community, the Trademark Office continued to deny The Slants’ application, using wiki-sources, anonymous websites and obscure reference books to support its decision.

Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, an Executive Director for the Asian Pacific Network of Oregon and longtime policy advocate for the API community, states that “the use of the name The Slants by the musical group of that name does not disparage or offend the Asian and Pacific Islander community, both because of the explicit claiming of the term in a collective sense and because of the obscure nature of the term as a racial epithet. The reclaiming of an obscure term that has been used to discriminate has a constructive impact when used by a group that also self-identifies as Asian and/or Pacific Islander.”
After an appeal to the Trademark Trials and Appeals Board, the Trademark Office’s rulings were upheld. Attorney  Coleman explains, “We are planning an appeal to the Federal Circuit, and in anticipation of this result we have already lined up a number of civil rights groups who expressed great interest in filing amicus briefs if it came to that.”

“I’m glad to be moving away from the bureaucracy of the Trademark Office,” says Tam. “I hope that the federal court can take an objective view of our case, not only in light of the work we’ve done in the Asian American community, but on the merits of free speech as well. Whether one finds our band name agreeable or not, I think we can all come to the consensus on the fact that nobody should be denied rights simply because of their race.”

The band is currently seeking help from individuals and organizations who would like to assist. Interested parties should contact band manager Simon Tam at theslants@theslants.com
Also check out the band’s WEBSITE, to check out the beautiful dance rock sound the band creates amidst the struggle.  And stay tuned for another feature of The Slants right here in the near future.

Lisa Hammer [Interview]

LisaHammer2013j

In the 90’s it meant something completely different to be an “underground filmmaker/musician/artist/etc.”.  Just as the terms “alternative” and “independent” have become so skewed lately that it is hard to tell what or who is true to its/their origin and might be considered “underground”.  Of course, many technological advances have been made to make such a jaunting insight a true reality, some of which really isn’t such a bad thing.  But for me, and I hope many others, these terms meant nothing more than the act of being an artist with a specific taste and desire to create only what they feel is worthy of being shown, at least in their own heart.  Sure there are common characteristics such as being off-putting or risque that seem to be a commanility as well that most likely were the initial push “underground” as they say.  But in all actuality, that was the point!  Doing something different!  Different only in the manner that is pleases your own eye, even if it isn’t something you are used to seeing or hearing during the prime times or spot lights of our lives.

And in the 90’s, and thankfully to this day, there has been one woman who was and will always be in the upper echelon of the underground world.  Yes, I understand the bizarre sound that may make when you say it out loud (sort of like an “Anarchist Leader”, right?), but it is the truth.  There will always be somebody who’s work stands out amongst the rest of the rest of the rest.  And that woman is without a doubt the brilliant musician and filmmaker Lisa Hammer.  She has been grinding the gears of the weird for several decades, creating some of the finest underground works to date.  Whether it is masterminding German Expressionist masterpieces, or doing voice over work for Adult Swim cartoons, this is a woman who may not do everything she wants, but she certainly does only what she wants.  So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, the lovely and talented Lisa Hammer!

What initially drew you in to the world of German Expressionist films?

In film school I saw Sunrise by FW Murnau and I was mesmerized by the beauty and timelessness of the story and the gorgeous scenery and cinematography. The film made me cry with no words spoken, only titles. That is so powerful. From there I was hooked.

Who would you consider your greatest personal influence in the medium?  

It’s a mash-up of Murnau in my silent films, Cocteau with my surrealist fairy tales, Bunuel for my sacrilege, Lynch for my dream imagery, Busby Berkley for the musical aspects, and John Waters for my camp. I aspire to reach the comedic genius heights of: Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Blake Edwards, Roman Polanski and George Cukor, to name a few. Too many to name!

Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in Miranda July’s Joanie4Jackie film anthology?  How did your participation in the anthology come to be?

She asked me to submit my film Empire of Ache with Dame Darcy for her video chain letter project, (the short films created by several women circulated the world for a few years.) I don’t really know how she heard about us, it just came out of nowhere but I was very happy to participate!

You have been in the world of music and film for a lot of years now.  In your expert opinion, how do you feel the worlds have changed with the introduction of technology, social media, etc.?  Are the changes positive, negative, or both?

Since the technology for both music and film has become affordable and easy to use, anyone and everyone is both a filmmaker and in a band now. The market is flooded with artists and amateurs. Andy Warhol’s prediction that everyone would get 15 minutes of fame has actually happened. It’s great to see so many people being creative, but I think I preferred it when there were only a handful of us, it was a bit harder to create our films and music, but we got much more attention. Now it’s hard to get noticed at all, thank god I already have a history and a group of loyal fans! The trick now is to get noticed and it makes me want to go back to school to study marketing. Ha!

On that note, what do you believe the term “underground” means today, as compared to what it may have meant 20 years ago? 

20 years ago I was noted as one of the very few underground experimental female filmmakers in the industry, I got a lot more attention from magazines and distributors. My colleagues were very few and also got tons of attention. People like Nick Zedd, Jim Jarmusch and Richard Kern, to name a few in the NY circle.  Now I don’t see an underground per se, I see everyone grabbing a cheap digital camera and uploading their films and web series to youtube. It’s hard to find the actual underground film projects, you have to sift through lots of amateur shorts and web series, and an awful lot of videos of cats doing silly things. It does raise the bar for filmmakers, as we have to create the best work of our lives and get it into festivals and create a buzz in the industry. The competition is healthy.

Lisa Hammer3What do you personally believe to be the highlight of your career thus far?  What accomplishment(s) make you the most proud?

I have so many, every film has been my favorite, from the insanity of Pus$bucket, to the artistry of The Invisible Life of Thomas Lynch, where I got to mentor with amazing director James Merendino (SLC Punk.) I loved filming POX where I got to write with Ben Edlund (Firefly) and Doc Hammer (The Venture Brothers) and direct an incredible cast in a haunted silent film star mansion in Hollywood (I lived there!), and recently the filming of  The Sisters Plotz with my partner in crime Lisa Ferber has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.

I’ve been really lucky. I have been blessed to direct the amazing talents of celebrity guest stars: Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch), James Duval (Donnie Darko), Clayne Crawford (Swimfan), Allen Lewis Rickman (Boardwalk Empire), H. Jon Benjamin (Archer), Jonathan Katz (Dr. Katz), Arden Myrin (Mad TV), Leo Allen (SNL), Aryn Cole (All My Children), Yelena Shmulenson (A Serious Man) and I lived through directing Courtney Love! I get to work with my talented husband Levi Wilson (Not Fade Away) on all my projects, which is the best thing of all. We have so much fun on every project. 

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming film The Sisters Plotz?

The Sisters Plotz is a frothy romp through the world of three eccentric heiresses who live in a townhouse with their butler, who is really an earl, but is slumming it. These kooky aristocrats have no idea what year it is, don’t know how to do anything for themselves, and rely on their servants to do everything for them. It’s a slapstick musical comedy with amazing songs by Lisa Ferber and May Feinsinger. We all get to sing and dance, but it’s not corny, it’s a bit surreal and campy, as if John Waters and Busby Berkley had created a love child. Lisa Ferber wrote it and I helped create the story, and then I directed it. Eve Plumb plays our sister Celestia, a Dada poetess. Levi plays the sarcastic butler, Reginald. Lisa Ferber plays my sister Whimsellica, a dreamy painter, and I play the dangerously recreational inventor, Ladybug.

It started as a web series and got to be a top 5 most watched video on Funny or Die. I decided it needed a longer format to tell the whole story. I’m editing the feature film right now and it should be done by 2014. And… we added a PIE FIGHT.

You are a filmmaker, screenwriter, musician, composer, so on and so on.  Of all the trades you have racked your resume with, what is your absolute favorite?  

I am more talented at music than filmmaking, but I seem to gravitate towards directing film. I’m really a mediocre filmmaker, so maybe I am striving to improve in areas I lack in? I really have been neglecting my music a bit, but I’m a little sad as my wonderful guitarist from Radiana (Steven Deal) passed away a few months ago, and I feel lost without him. By 2014 I will seek out new band members and continue the band in his honor. It’s hard to sing with a broken heart.

Least favorite?  

I love all of it! Except: I hate creating shot lists and breaking the script down to make a budget. If anyone out there wants to help me with line producer duties on the next film, please email me! Hahaha!

With so many different forms of art already under your belt, is there any form that you have yet to tackle that you would like to? 

Lisa Hammer2I’m an aspiring novelty inventor. A few of the inventions seen in The Sisters Plotz are actual inventions I am developing. I just need help from a patent lawyer, if any readers are patent lawyers, also please email me. Hahaha!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My absurdly gorgeous Himilayan cat, we call her Missy Shitepants, as she has long white hairpants and she often doesn’t clean them well. It’s pretty gross but it makes me laugh. Also the Hulu show “Quickdraw” makes my sides split. And my awesome husband Levi, who cracks me up constantly.

John Hamburg [Interview]

John Hamburg

It is no secret that there are a couple of dozen folks who are currently running the world of comedy as we speak.  Essentially, the cast of Zoolander and Old School run the show.  Throw in SNL and The Office, basically all of NBC comedy.  As well as anyone who makes their way in to a Judd Apatow production of any kind (even his “failed” television shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared).  We continue to see the same faces appearing alongside one another consistently.  We could speculate as to why this truly has come to be, but let’s just stick with the facts…..  they are hilarious and crazy talented.  But even they can’t do it all on their own.  It is the writers and filmmakers that bring their comedic wit and genius to the screen.  It’s obvious if you think about it.  These are the people who come up with this shit!

And one of the highlighted films of the Hollywood illuminati, and my personal favorite of the batch, was 2009’s I Love You Man starring Paul Rudd, Jason Siegel, Rashida Jones, Andy Sandberg, Thomas Lennon, and so many more regularly casted members of today’s comedy world.  It is a beautiful tale of man who needs to find another man…..just as a friend.  It also happens to be spawned from acclaimed screenwriter/filmmaker  John Hamburg.  And surprise!  Hamburg is the amazing mastermind behind none other than the likes of Safe Men, Zoolander, the critically acclaimed Fokker series, and the hilarious and also Ben Stiller fronted film Along Came Polly.  Yes, John Hamburg is obviously a key player in the world of comedy today.  He has proved himself time and time again as one of the finest filmmakers and screenwriters of this day and age.  And we are extremely excited that he has agreed to share a few words with us, and talk to us about some of his past works and what the future holds for him and the world of comedy as we know it.  It is an incredible honor to have John Hamburg join the Trainwreck’d Society family.  So bow your heads everyone!  Now look up, and read on with our interview with the legendary John Hamburg!

What draws you to write and create in the world of comedy? Have you ever considered experimenting in other genres?

I simply see the world in comedic terms. I always have. Even the most dramatic or tragic situations – I tend to see the comedy in them. So it is not really by choice, it is just my nature. I have considered making movies or tv in other genres, but I think no matter the genre, my work will always have some kind of comic bend to it.

You’ve written no less than 5 screenplays that featured actor Ben Stiller. Is there something about his acting chops that intrigues you? If so, what? Or is it sort of a friends helping friends sort of set up?

Ben and I met after he saw my first movie, SAFE MEN, at the Nantucket Film Festival. I was already a huge fan of his from his early movies and The Ben Stiller Show on Fox. He is an incredible and underrated actor. I think his performance in MEET THE PARENTS is one of the great comic performances of all time. He doesn’t always get credit for being such a great actor, because his work can be very subtle and he is comfortable reacting to other actors in the scene. Ben and I click on many levels — but I think the idea of being sort of befuddled by the world, confused, anxious, tense, and finding ourselves in awkward situations is something I am interested in as a writer (and human being!) and that Ben connects to brilliantly as an actor.

How did you come up with the concept for the Fokker series?

I did not come up with the concept for the Focker series. It was based on a short film that Jim Herzfeld developed as a screenwriter. I came on to the first MEET THE PARENTS after several drafts had been written, primarily by Jim, and did many drafts of my own both before and during production.

You made your break with one of my personally favorite indie comedies, Safe Men. But, a couple of years prior to that films release, you had a short entitled Tick. Can you tell us a bit about this project? How did it come to life?

First off, I am deeply appreciative of the SAFE MEN fans out there, so thanks for saying that about my first feature. TICK was a short film that I made while at grad school at NYU Film School. At the time, Hollywood was making these big high-concept comedies (many of which I loved, some of which I thought were terrible), and I thought it would be funny to do a high concept comedy, but make the execution very lo-fi. So I came up with an idea about two slacker bomb-defusers in a town where bombs keep going off. There was very little danger to it, the bombs were basically harmless and the tone was very light. But something about the idea of two guys who were in a very dangerous field, but totally inept and, spending more time on romance and personal grievances when they were supposed to be defusing bombs struck me as a very funny idea for a 10 minute short.

The movie got into the Sundance Film Festival, and basically jump-started my career, because a Hollywood agent saw it, some producers saw it and were interested in doing a feature with me, etc. We did a special 10 year anniversary SAFE MEN DVD and I actually put TICK on the DVD.

John Hamburg3What do you personally consider your greatest achievement in your career?

On a macro-level, my greatest achievement is just being able to do the very thing that I dreamt about doing when I was a teenager – writing and directing comedy, be it in film, tv or commercials which I also direct on occasion. On a more specific level, while I’m both proud of (and find huge flaws!) in everything I’ve done, the movie I LOVE YOU, MAN, which I wrote, directed and produced, achieved a kind of tone that I had been working towards for many years. I was happy that it did well critically and commercially, but more importantly than that, was the idea that I made the exact movie that I set out to make, which can be a very challenging thing, especially in the studio system.

Was Rush always your band of choice when writing the script for I Love You Man? If so, what makes them so special? What other groups might you have considered?

RUSH was always the band. I love their music – they are incredible musicians – but also, they are a band that tends to have primarily male fans. And they are, of course, very popular, but not in the league of, say, The Rolling Stones, or The Who. People are fervent RUSH fans, but there are also many folks who just don’t “get’ them. So I felt that RUSH was the perfect band for two dudes to bond over in a movie about male friendship.

And it also turns out, having worked with them, and gotten to know them, that they are the most hard-working, grateful, and nicest guys in the world (they are Canadian after all). Forming a relationship with them has been one of the great by-products of the I LOVE YOU, MAN experience.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming project, Brother From Another Mother? Are you excited to get back in the director’s chair on a feature film?

BROTHER FROM ANOTHER MOTHER is a movie I wrote (my good friend and collaborator Ian Helfer co-wrote the story with me) about a 30 year old guy who escorts his 16 year old half-brother on his college tour. They go to the alma mater where the older brother dropped out of… and a lot of comedy, drama and awkward and painful family dynamics occur on the trip.

It’s been a challenging project to put together — I think it has a chance of being my funniest and most emotional movie — but it’s not a down the middle comedy — which is a lot of what is getting made by the studios right now. Fortunately, we are now working with a great independent financier to put the movie together, so hopefully, if it all comes together, I’ll shoot it within the next year.

I am every excited to direct another feature. Believe me, I hate having a long gap in between “Directed by” credits – even though I know that I’m not just taking a vacation between directing movies – I’m working on various things the whole time, I promise!

In the past few years I’ve written TV shows, directed commercials, produced other movies — but my true passion is writing/directing/producing feature films, so I can’t wait to get back that.

If you could create a biopic about any famous stand up comedian, who hasn’t had one yet, who would it be?  And who could you see as the lead?

Oh, man that’s a tough one. I’d have to say Steve Martin. His book BORN STANDING UP is one of the great stories ever written about what it means to be an artist – and in particular an artist who expresses himself through comedy. I grew up listening to his comedy albums – my dad would play them on long car rides — he is the funniest, most unique stand-up I’ve ever experienced.

Who would play him? I have no freakin’ clue — maybe some brilliant actor who’s yet to be discovered.

So what is next for you? Any new projects in the works?

I have several projects in the works. In addition to BROTHER FROM ANOTHER MOTHER, I am about to write two more features I’ve been developing. I’m producing some television this year as well, and I also produced an insanely funny, filthy super low-budget movie that Paramount is releasing this year… I would tell you the title but we may be changing it, so suffice it to say — it’s about a DESTINATION WEDDING that goes awry. A super-talented young guy named Nick Weiss directed it with a cast of really great young actors, and it’s been a ton of fun to work on.

John Hamburg2What was the last thing that made you smile?

This morning, my two year old daughter told me to act like a sea lion (which I did, of course) and then she started feeding me fish. That really put a smile on my face.

J.B. Ghuman Jr.[Interview]

JB Ghuman1A couple of years ago I saw this great little indie flick called Dakota Skye.  It wasn’t the most memorable of films, but it had an amazing cast of actors and actresses whose performances always stuck with me as a terrific example of un-tapped indie talent.  Especially with the film’s bad boy J.B. Ghuman.  He played the one you wanted to hate so much, but found yourself siding with his ill ways out of love for him.  I spent a lot of time thinking about the film, and decided that I would like to speak with somebody involved, especially J.B. himself if I could reach him.  Well not only did I reach Mr. Ghuman, but I became so enthralled with the cat when I realized he was actually a very accomplished filmmaker as well.  He was actually the man behind another beautiful indie gem that I always loved and adored, Spork.  Spork is a film about a transgendered 14-year-old girl who deals with the everyday pressures of high school that so many kids face, but about twice as difficult as your average new teenager.  It is beautifully shot, funny as hell, and even pulls at the old heart strings a bit.  I came to learn that this was J.B. Ghuman’s true talent.  He is a gifted actor, but has chosen to leave that world behind to live behind the camera.  And there are so many other fantastic things to say about this guy, with his own unique brand of art creativity.  Hell, even his manner in interviews is unique and refreshing!  But, I think I will let the man speak for himself.  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. J.B. Ghuman!

When did you first realize that you wanted to live, work, and breath in the world of art, no matter the medium?

Oh gosh…hmm. Well…i’d say the first time I discovered a passion for a sort of “art” if no medium matters at least…would be when I was around 10 yrs old or so…I used to write poems for both my mother and sister and then slip them under their doors randomly throughout the day. At first they used to get touched by this…later they simply would forget to tell me they read them. I’d get upset and storm off. Why do you ask, love? ox jBjR!

Your beautifully dark and edgy indie film Spork has enjoyed a great amount of success since its release.  Tell us, what was your general rhyme and reason for making this film?  What was your inspiration, so to speak?

To be honest, I don’t have a specific “Reason” to writing the film. In danger of sounding a bit too bohemian, I tend to get a bit “possessed” with an idea at the most random times and then simply become hell bent on seeing it come to fruition. As far as inspiration goes…I’ve heard I think the most from folks that my film rips a lot on “Napoleon Dynamite” and whereas I did not actually rip from that film…I did in fact rip from a even more profound and dark film by the title of “Welcome To The Dollhouse” while writing “SPORK”. Todd Solondz is a true maverick in story telling and his skillful yet careless way of crass language and serious under tones was a major influence as far as dialogue and vibe. Though John Waters is king of surrealism and false realities with there bright colors and over the top personas. I just adore the child in him…he/she is so wild and fun in a sort of sinister way. But…a’dunno…I worship the dark, magical stuff in Tim Burton’s skull. He’s got this strong way about him that…ya know…lets you know he’s coming from a mile away. It’s neato…but doesn’t feel that “cool”…like a car chase or big action film director can do…rather a bit more etherial…more subtle tone of flare. I dig it…a’dig em’all, man. The music is a uber soft touch on Baz Lurhmans kneck. Not really a tap or even a pinch…i’d def. say a soft touch. So music was added…I had been walking home from the gym and this song came on…”Is it cos’im cool”. So random…never really got big in the states, and whatnot. I had been staring at spork for so long and then jus took a break. I started to sort of dance on my way home to it and it just felt so…a’dunno…so bitchy. It made me laugh. I rushed and added it before I forgot it to the script. I filmed it a bit more fun too. There’s this amazing scene when Betsy and all the girls grab their asses and it’s right into camera. It was in the film all the way up till it’s initial export before Tribeca cause my producers said the mothers wanted it out. I was like “Wtf…why?!?! We can have black face but not little bratty white girls grab there clothed ass in a comedy? Absurd.” Gosh, I ramble a lot. So weird…how we are all getting so comfortable…with typing…it’s like i can hear my thoughts as i….type them. (sniff, eye rub)…so…what’s the next question?

IMDB_SPORK_WREKIN HILL_TRAILER_POSTERWere you at all surprised by the success of this film?  And do you think audiences have understood what exactly it is you where trying to convey?

That is…a full question, my dearest. I mean…cheese, man. Well…(neck-crack)…i was actually. I dunno…i guess i was. I had some wacky family stuff going on at the time. I’m not big on talking about it to be honest but a’will say that it was just like…ya know…a pinch in time, dark. Like…black hole dark. So..when shit gets like that…and i’m sure some people understand…you don’t really care about anything else. Though…as the film started to climb, awards, traveling…the countries and smiles…a’dunno…it did sort of surprise me i guess…cause…i mean…if i had known how happy the films success would have made me…a’think I would have just gotten happy ahead of time. And I did not…so…yea, it surprised me. In the most awesome way, though. In that sort of way, given all that was going on, where it doesn’t make you puff out your chest and feel better than anyone…but like…in that way that makes you wanna shrink…so small that you can only see the shine of it and it makes you teary eyed and shit. And hell yea, dude…i do think audiences understood. I mean…let’s put this shit this way…I was in brazil…literally i’ve said this story a thousand fukin times, but i don’t care…i was in brazil..and i literally…could give a shit about anything. zero magic, zero care of the air…moon, sun…whatever…i just wanna go back to bed…and not think…about anything. I walk downstairs…watch my film in another fuckin language…Portuguese…and it’s not even like the exact translation. i was like…”Wtf…this isn’t evan landing right…the jokes an shit?” Sigh…i jus sat there…pondering if I should do something crazy…sleep on the street or some shit…i dunno. We walk out and this bum stops me…he yanks on my arm and keeps trying to say something. They push him and i’m all “nah, nah…let’em speak…sup, bud?” He starts to wave his hands and ramble some toothless speech. He gets teary eyed…i stare back…i start to get teary eyed…dunno even know why yet…i ask the lady next to me “what…what is he saying…?” she listens and then says back to me…”he says your movie…is like medicine…for the heart”…and then…i kid you not..i fucking…lost it. Like…started balling and hugged this smelly ass homeless man. No lie, hand to the stars. So yea…they did…and I think they did cause it’s not me I’m talking about in the film…it’s basically a human experience to find yourself and be happy. I simply said it in a fun and sort of dark, comedic way. With like…random shit.

I first became interested in hearing from you to talk about your role in the 2008 flick, Dakota Skye, in which you performed so delightfully.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you geared up for that role, and what was it like being a part of that project?

Geared up for that role? I mean…I read a book on punk and then just sort of had fun on set. It was cool…really cool. The last time I really tried the whole acting thing. I dunno…it’s just not for me…i get nervous now in front of crowds and…i’m just not that guy anymore. But the director was a total sweetheart…same with the writer and cast. All we’re chill… 🙂

I’ve noticed that you have seemed to have taken a break from the acting world lately.  Is this a positive step for you, or do you miss the world and plan to return?  Or is it all up in the air?  

A’mean…you really go for it with these questions, gurl. (nsert wipe of brow) Well…yea…i’d say it was positive. To be honest being an actor taught me sort of how to brand my own self with my art…but at the same time…give me the confidence to know I’m simply not the Dorothy…I’m the wizard. And I’m happy with that…with my social anxieties now and jus…i’m off the grid to be honest and enjoy my sort of “in the shadows” life…It allows me see things in a way I think is good for me given what i’d like to say in my work. That makes sense, right…? I think so…

Is there any word on your script for Rhino?  Is there a chance we might be able to see it become a reality soon?

Oh gosh…honey…You mos’def. will see RHiNO! soon. I have passed on so much shit that would have made me so much money, eaten so much fucking pizza and literally have almost broken my creative back…(nsert slam of foot on floor)….to stretch my creative eye to the point it no longer blinks. It’s been tuff, gurl…everyone wanted me to simply jump on a teen comedy to move into the matrix right away and cash in…i was so high on the magic that SPORK had given me…i simply…a’dunno…a’jus…a’jus couldn’t imagine pushing RHiNO! aside doing something for money when what I am trying to do with RHiNO! could do for someone what SPORK…did for me. I know it sounds cheesy and stupid…and almost self driven. But…a’swear, it’s not. And the funny thing is I think the stars had planned for me have to wait for it this the whole time. Cause I look at SPORK and the stuff I’m making now if even as a personal installation or even a music video with hardly no budget..and like…it’s working. I’m totally…growing. I’m learning more and more on just how to get the things I share to look exactly like i see it and if not…then at the very least…better. Whether it’s from anothers input or simply a road block that turns into the best exit. But…who knows…i pray it lights up soon. I do know one thing…no matter how much time it takes…i’ll simply be that much more of a stronger director to bring my mamma to life.

So, what else have you been up to lately?  What are some of your latest works?

MMmm…i dunno. It’s been so creative weird and hectic for me. I’m trying to really take things to a higher level and sort of get my slant out their but in the business realm of things. I did a music video for LIL DEBBIE and then CAZWELL, LUCIANA, etc. I’ve got another Lady Tigra video in the can and two more music videos I just shot in the can as well…but there wicked rad looking…so I’m pumped to stitch them all together. But then I did this really neato-beato photo-installation shoot in Palm Springs with Jake Shears and Amanda Lepore. Jakes one of my tight boys and I’m a huge Amanda fan so it was jus dope as fuck and the shots are sick looking so it’s gonna be a cool installation once it’s done. Did another installation with David Woodman, the cat who was apart of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and shit…oh, and talking with Miley Cyrus for something a bit off the cuff but sorta dope as hell as well..can’t say much but i’m uuuuber stoked to shoot it. Holy shit i need a dish washer.

I understand you grew up as a B-Boy as a youth.  As the years go by, do you still participate in break dancing, or have you had to hang that coat up?

Are you crazy…I breakdance weekly, punk. (insert beat-box / shoulder floss) Nah…I mean I do…and surf and all that “i’m so hot” guy stuff. But to be honest…i’m approaching my mid-thirties now, honey. My back hurts, my shoulders been pulled for 3 months and this kid wizard has so much on his plate yet at the same time is doing it all for the shine with shadows darting left and right. I try and break as much as i can, esp. on my roof with my head phones. But it’s getting to be very rare these days.

JB Ghuman2What have been some of your favorite films from 2013?

Er…i’m a little behind to be honest. Is it lame if I say THE LITTLE MERMAID on BluRay 3D?

What was the last thing that made you smile? 

Aww…I wanna say so badly that “it’s the question itself” but that’d be so cheesy, no…so obvious…right? Grrrr….hmm…whatever. It is…it’s the question itself. So what….eat me.

ox jBjR!

George Glass: Welcome Home [Album]

George Glass - Welcome HomeDo you ever have those moments when you hear an upbeat indie band start to strum their hearts out…..and you really want a beer.  Maybe not so much the urge to get drunk, but just nice cold god damned beer.  I’m sure there is some psychological analysis that could prove this is the hearing and taste elements of ourselves working in unison, but we don’t have time for that.  We are sitting at a bar in L.A. listening to the tenaciously beautiful vibes of George Glass as they strum along to witty songs about travel and triumph and all those wonderful things.  Or, we are sitting in a dark room in a far away land sitting behind a MacBook listening to their recently released album Welcome Home.  Either way, one thing is for certain:  This is music that goes down great with a deliciously cold beer.

The fact that George Glass was originally formed by some friends in a bar in Los Angeles should not be at all surprising.  This is music made to have fun with, and to simply be merry.  Sure, some tracks are bit slower and more heartfelt, but the overall appeasement of the album is one of sheer joy and bittersweet happiness.  If it were necessary to pick out a star track from Welcome Home, “Side Effects May Include” could be a safe bet.  It’s pure “indie” rock, dating back to the times when that meant something entirely different.  Probably around the time most of these guys were born.  And who can pass up a gem like “One Liner” that is a prime example of just how great harmonized western rock/folk music can truly be.

Welcome Home is an album that draws you in like a japanese horror flick with its oh so appealing, beer yearning charisma.  But one of the greatest assets of this album, and probably George Glass as a whole, has to be the bitterness you feel when the album ends, and you simply want more.  Of course you can always rinse, wash, repeat.  But, there is no beating the lost feeling you may get when you have taken a stroll through the

Alison Becker [Interview]

Alison Becker HEADSHOT

There seems to be a whole new breed of comedians showing up on the scene these days.  And there also seems to be clan of young writers and comedians that have been recruited for some sort of army of laughter, hosted by the crazy son of a bitches at NBC.  Between The Office, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock, there certainly seems to be a stronghold in the wave of comedy.  Not that this is new in any way.  There was always the Friends, Frasier, and Seinfeld scenario in the 90’s.  The main difference is the great new talent, who were likely influenced by some of those great talents in the 90’s.

And one of those fine talents out there is the delightfully hilarious Alison Becker.  Probably best known for her work as VJ on VH1 hosting the Top Twenty Countdown, she has continued to prove herself as one of the finest comedians on the scene.  Her reoccurring role on Parks and Recreations initially drew me to her work.  A role, I might add, that really needs to be made in to a regular gig, or give the lady her own damn show or something of that nature.  It also turns out that she is one cool chick who supports the little guys like us, and was willing to share a few words with us.  So enjoy!

Your on again off again role as Shauna Malwae-Tweep on Parks and Recreation is absolutely hilarious, and should be more frequent.  How much of this role is personal to you directly?

Thanks! I’m so grateful to be able to work on such an amazing show. On the surface, Shauna Malwae-Tweep is just a small town newspaper reporter, whose reporting sometimes creates little obstacles for Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). But the writers of “Parks” – and Dan Goor and Mike Schur in particular – added this other fun layer to Shauna where she’s chronically unlucky in love. Shauna desperately goes after guys, and often gets the short end of the stick, which I think we can all relate to. One of my favorite Shauna lines was after she tried to ask out Chris Pratt’s character: “I can’t even land the shoe shine guy.”

Last season, Shauna was dating Rob Lowe’s character (swoon!), and I thought it was hilarious how she finally gets this great guy and won’t commit to him. I can certainly relate to that personally…I’ve dated some lovely guys and yet somehow, I eff it up. Only recently have I learned not to do that anymore. I hope Shauna learns too!

What was your experience like with The Upright Citizens Brigade?  How much did you take away from that experience?  Is your work there on going?

I started taking classes at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City over 13 years ago. Since then, I’ve performed improv, sketch and variety shows at the UCB theatres in both New York and LA. Becoming part of the UCB community – especially so early on – was invaluable to me. And not just in the way of learning comedy and improvisation, but also in the building of friendships and working relationships.

Without UCB, there is no way I would be where I am now as a working actor and writer. UCB has become such an institution in the comedy world, that now aspiring comedians know that their path will most likely include UCB classes. But when I first started at UCB, there was no “clear path” as to what aspiring comedians and actors should pursue. We just gravitated towards this little comedy theatre in New York because we had done improv in college, and we has seen Amy, Ian, Matt and Matt perform before in tiny, grungy little rooms in NYC. We looked up to them, and we wanted to do what they were doing – it did not occur to us at the time that we could make a career out of it. When UCB Theatre opened in New York, the only audience members were other improvisers. Now, it’s widely accepted, understood, and loved by so many. It’s really been amazing to see it grow like that.

I used to perform at UCB on a regular basis, but now I only find myself onstage a few times a year. This is mostly just due to me working more, so I don’t have as much time to commit to live performances. But I will always feel like I am a part of that community.

Alison BeckerWhat was it like going in to work everyday at VH1?  Is it littered with swanky break rooms and lots of bottled water as I always imagine?

As a teen, I always dreamed of working at MTV or VH1, so I was very honored to be a part of that family. But, as with anything, it’s a lot less glamorous when you see what’s behind the curtain! When I was a VJ at Vh1, the network couldn’t afford a studio, so we’d shoot every show “on location,” which most often meant on the streets of Manhattan. In other words, we’d shoot in 100 degree heat, or sub-zero temperatures, in loud places, and there were ALWAYS people jumping into the shot screaming. I didn’t have cue cards or a prompter, and each section was about 2 minutes long. And there were usually about 30-40 sections throughout a day. So I’d have to memorize each two minute chunk and get the whole thing in one take, with no edits. I’d often make it all the way to the end and then some random would run up to the camera and go nuts. We’d have to explain to him that this WASN’T live, and then I’d have to do the whole thing over again. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the gig! I learned a lot and it taught me how to memorize lines super fast, which is still useful. And I was able to interview some incredible people, including Jon Bon Jovi, who I’ve had a crush on since I was 11.

You have been making quite a splash in the world of web series lately.  Do you foresee this medium as being the future of television?  What do you think is so appealing about this medium?

Thanks! I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some really great web shows, including Dating Rules from My Future Self, Mayne Street, Yahoo!’s Sketchy, and most recently, “The Morning After.” Of course the web is the fasting growing medium in the world of entertainment, and performers are drawn to it because we have more freedom than we would on television. It also makes production more accessible for lower budget projects. But, as a performer, when I get approached about a “web show,” it’s sometimes hard to tell up front if it’s a legit project or just a shoot in someone’s basement. And the union still has a ways to go on getting a handle on all web production so that actors can actually make a living on it. If a webshow is getting as much exposure as a TV show (and many of them are), then people shouldn’t be getting short changed. It’s just going to take awhile for the paradigm shift to happen with advertisers and whatnot.

If you could do a comedic performance of any notable female in American history, who would it be? 

I’d love to play Jackie Mitchell, that female baseball player who struck out Babe Ruth AND Lou Gehrig. There’s a lot of parallels between women in sports and women in comedy, especially early on.

Are there any of fields in the world of film and television that you would like to explore that you have yet to do? 

I’ve only done a few horror projects, but never a full length horror film. I think that’d be so fun, but I’m also on the fence because it may just scare the crap out of me.

For young people out ther who might be interested in becoming stand up comedians, what is some advice you would give those looking to make their way in to the field?

Perform, perform, perform! It’s so easy to find open mics and get stage time. Plus, you meet other comedians and you can collaborate together. You’ve got to put in the work if you want to get good.

Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming television show The Goodwin Games?  What will you be doing on the show’s debut?

Alison Becker 2O boy. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the show was put on hiatus by Fox. So only one of my episodes aired. It’s such a shame that they didn’t give this show more of a chance, because it’s funny and heartwarming. And the cast and crew are just lovely people.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I just watched a video of my 5 year old nephew playing ice hockey. It’s like watching a drunk monkey try to ice skate. Absolutely adorable.