R. Lee Fleming Jr. [Interview]



We have a very cool interview for you fine Folks today here at Trainwreck’d Society. Today we are talking with a brilliant writer and producer of film and television, the wonderful R. Lee Fleming Jr.! There was a wonderful time in the late 90’s and early 00’s where the idea of turning Shakespeare and other pieces of classic literature into high school comedies and/or dramas. I absolutely loved this period. I loved it so much. From the John Leguizamo vehicle that was Romeo & Juliet (I know, that is not an appropriate way to describe the film, but I’m gonna do it!) to the Julia Stiles fronted O and 10 Things Hate About You (which was a Laris Oleynik vehicle, in my own opinion…fight me!), I loved them all. And today’s interview subject happened to be a man who brought us two of my favorite films of this era that were not previously mentioned, but were on par with, and possibly even better than, the films previously mentioned. Fleming gave us the absolutely incredible films we all know and love known as She’s All That and Get Over It. The first one being one of the most legendary films of this era, without question. The latter being an absolute perfect film in my opinion (and a wonderful Sisqo vehicle…yes, I will run with this bit FOREVER!).I was intrigued to learn a bit more about Lee and get his perspective on this time period, and what it was like to create a teenage based classic film. And in doing this I discovered that he not only worked on the legendary television series Friends right around the end of the series, but actually has a wonderful Hulu Original series coming very soon that I am so damn excited about called Light As A Feather, which will premiere on October 12th. I love this man’s body of work, and I am so excited to check out his new show that I am certain will be amazing.So Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from the brilliant R. Lee Fleming Jr. right now! Enjoy!
When did you first discover that you had a talent for the world of storytelling? When did you decide that it was what you wanted to do for a living?
I’ve always been drawn to storytelling.  I think part of it is because my mom, a former elementary school teacher, read to me a ton when I was very little and encouraged me to be creative.  I still have cassette tapes of me at 5 or 6 putting on my own “radio” plays for which I’d written the scripts and played all the parts.  Then later, at St. John’s School in Houston, I had several really influential English teachers who were quite supportive of my creative writing pursuits.
So basically, I’ve had a lot of tremendous teachers in my life.  Also, I was completely mediocre in all my other subjects, so that contributed my love of storytelling, too, if only by default.

I didn’t decide that I might be able to make a career out of writing, though, until my senior year of college when everyone else was being accepted to med school or getting jobs on Wall Street and I took a playwriting class and thought, “Hmm… maybe this could be a thing I do for a living.”

What was the very first work in the world of film or television that you remember having released? Do you remember what you were doing when you learned that your work was coming to life? And do you remember how you felt at the time?
The first thing I had released… well, it wasn’t actually released, at least in the United States.  My first job out of the Warner Bros. Sitcom Writers Workshop was on a Friday night family sitcom called Meego starring Bronson Pinchot as an alien nanny.  We filmed 13 episodes.  I wrote episodes 11 and 13, but we were cancelled after episode 6.
The episodes still came out somewhere, though. I know I got a check from Bulgaria or someplace at come point.  And truthfully, it was so much fun seeing something I’d written being filmed in front of a studio audience that I didn’t really care that it was never released here.

I vividly remember the feeling of having actors — Bronson and Andrea Martin from SCTV were in the scene — delivering the very first joke I’d been paid to write.  It wasn’t a great joke, but it was definitely an exciting moment.  The punchline, as I recall, was “I left my shoes there.”  I’m not sure what the setup was.  Perhaps I’ve blocked it out.

The late 90’s and early 00’s were a definite heyday for the world of teen comedies, and you were right there in the center of it all with one of the most quintessential films of that era, with your work on the classic She’s All That. I’m curious to know how you managed to develop this story? Was anything in the film taken from personal experiences? Or was it a total outsider’s perspective?
I was hired to write She’s All That by a small company, Tapestry Films, who’d read the first screenplay I wrote (which I’d started writing in college) called Getting Over Allison (it later became the movie Get Over It). Clueless, which was based on Emma, had come out a couple of years earlier, and so lots of places were developing teen comedies based on classic literature. Tapestry had the idea of using Pygmalion, and so I just ran with that.

Yes, personal experiences always inform everything I do, and I’d imagine that’s usually the case with all writers.  I still find myself writing about my high school experiences today.

One thing that always fascinates me is the evolution of coming from the script to the page. And I always like to ask screenwriters about their thoughts of the final product that eventually makes it to screen. So with that, what were some things from your original story that may not have made it into She’s All That, but you wish had remained? And what were some things that were maybe added to the film that you believe aided your story?

It’s not always the case, but with She’s All That, the final product really closely resembled the movie I saw in my head as I was writing it.  I initially worked on the script for about a year, I think.  After that, M. Night Shyamalan came on and did a rewrite, which added a number of elements — including Zack’s hacky sack scene — that really added to the film.  After he did his pass, I got the script back and continued to rewrite all the way through production. I remember that Zack was originally a football player in the movie, which could have been interesting. But honestly, She’s All That, was one of those rare experiences when, at least in my opinion, all the best stuff actually stayed in.

Shortly after She’s All That was released, you began duties as a story editor on the wildly successful television series, Friends. The show had already been on for a while, and had become a staple in the world of television sitcoms. So, what was it like to walk into an already well established community of individuals, and joining them on their journey to create, and eventually wrap up, one of the most successful television series of all time? Was it a welcoming experience? And what exactly are the duties of a story editor, for those of us who are so uninformed?
A Story Editor is really just another fancy(ish) writing title, so there’s no actual editing done.  It’s a junior position, one level up from Staff Writer.

Coming to Friends Season 8 was a great experience, although it was also intimidating.  The writing staff was huge — 16 people, I think, and everyone was really, really good.  I’ve likened it in the past to getting called up by the Yankees.  Everything moved so fast!  Lots of incredibly funny people, which made it especially satisfying whenever I got a joke in.

 
When you look back on your career spanning over a couple of decades (with many more to come!), what are you the most proud of over all?
 I think I’m most proud of the fact that I’m still here doing it. I just feel incredibly grateful to still be making  a living as a writer.

We recently finished a new TV show for Hulu called Light As A Feather, and I’m as excited about that as I’ve been about anything so far in my career.

 
What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Oh, I guess I just mentioned it.  Light As A Feather — it’s fun, it’s soapy and it’s really, really scary!  Coming to Hulu this October!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Waking up this morning at 5 like I’ve been doing throughout production on LAAF, which just wrapped on Monday, and realizing I could sleep in for a change!

Check out the trailer for R. Lee Fleming’s new series, Light As A Feather, which premieres on Hulu on October 12th:

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Demond Wilson [Interview]


Today we are so honored to feature some kind words from one of the most legendary figures we have had the pleasure of featuring here on Trainwreck’d Society. Today we are sharing words from the legendary actor Demond Wilson! Demond is most likely known for his role as Lamont Sanford on the legendary television show Sanford and Son, which was a very important show to me growing up, for so many different reasons. This show taught me so much about race, relationships, and really just comedy in general. Which are some topics that are discussed in these amazing words from this legendary figure below.

Since Sanford and Son, Demond has gone on to do some amazing work not only in the world of film and television, but in philanthropy as well. All of which will be discussed in this wonderfully candid interview we have to share with you all today. We are so excited to have Mr. Wilson on the site today, and hope that you all enjoy some amazing words from a man who is an absolute living legend. So, without further babbling, please enjoy some great words from the brilliant Demond Wilson!

I understand that you began performing at a very young age. I am always curious as to what compelled you to begin working in the world of acting at such a young age? And what was it that kept you working in this world?

My parents recognized I was talented as a toddler and placed me in the Hoskins School of Culture which specialized in dance/elocution which led to radio spots at the age of 8 and later a Broadway show.

As a lifelong fan of Sanford & Son, I know why I find to be special and one of the finest programs in television history. But, as one of the legendary figures that made the show amazing, I am curious to know what it is about the program that sets itself apart from others? What is it about Sanford & Son that makes it still remain a classic?

It was about the love of a parent to a child which transcends time, race, and gender.  It could have been a mother and a daughter. It reveals the undying love of a parent to a child in a comedic way.  Our personalities and the brilliant comedic talent of Redd Foxx who put the Character of Fred Sanford on like a tailored made suit.

In your truly amazing career as a performer, you have had amazing success in television, film, theatre, and more. When you look back on your many accomplishments, what field would you say you are most proud of?

Simply the body of work. Chiefly Sanford & Son that is a part of “Pop Culture.”

Beyond the world of performances, you are also an accomplished author, as well as a devoted minister. You combined these two with your book you released 20 years ago entitled The New Age Millenium: An Expose of Symbols, Slogans and Hidden Agendas. I am curious to know what inspired you to write this book? And for those who may not have been able to check it out yet, can you tell us a bit about it?

The subject matter contained in The New Age Millennium labeled me (20) years ago a “Conspiracy Theorist.”  Now the book has relevance in that which hidden to the general public is now plainly taking place.

I am very intrigued by your work in the world of philanthropy as well, especially your work with the Restoration House, which is a program to rehabilitate prisoners, and is extremely important and honorable. What was it that made you want to begin doing this work?

It started as I visited major penal institutions across the nation while ministering.  And realizing not all incarcerated are arch criminals who once released have few alternatives.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Have a couple of books that I am currently working on and a TV series I authored.  (Not for me to act in)

I will be in NYC on Nov 1st. They are awarding me a special comedy TV award at the 2nd Annual LOL award ceremony.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The last thing that made me smile was the knowledge that the path my life has taken was indeed going in the right direction!

Camille Winbush [Interview]


Today’s interview subject is a wonderful person who I feel as though I have literally watched grow up and become the amazing performer that is making incredible moves in the world of film and television today. It’s Camille Winbush! She appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s absolutely incredible cult classic film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai before she was even aged into double digits. She showed a flair for the world of acting, and has only gone on to prove herself to be one of the finest actresses of our time.

Seriously folks, from watching her battle it out on screen with the legendary Bernie Mac for 5 seasons on one of the greatest television sitcoms of all time known as The Bernie Mac Show, to her success on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, right on up to the film Bachelor Lions that was released this year, Camille has proven herself to be an unstoppable force who can not be stopped. We have some wonderful words from her below, most notably that she has come to the realization that creating her own content is absolutely crucial, and that is the path she is on now. I cannot tell you how amazing this sounds to me! I am so excited to see what the future holds for Winbush, although obvious further success is almost guaranteed with her level of talent.

So Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from the immensely talented individual that is Camille Winbush!

You have been acting for practically your entire life! When did you personally decide that the world of acting was one that you want to make a living in?

I started acting when I was two years old. At that time I had no idea what acting was! It was just something I grew up doing. Honestly, I don’t think I really appreciated or understood the magnitude of the business until I was about nineteen or so. 

What was your very first gig you can remember getting? How old were you, and do you remember anything from that experience that you still incorporate into your work as well?

The first job that I can remember doing was a show called Viper, which was about a talking smart car. I believe I was around four at the time. There was a big fight scene in which the guy who played my dad got punched in the face and I started crying because I thought he was really hurt. The director loved my reaction and thought I was the best little actress he’d ever seen. And then my mom had to explain to me it was all pretend. I learned that real tears help book jobs and to this day I can make myself cry in less than five minutes. 

You role as Pearline in the cult classic Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai was just downright delightful! Has there ever been talk about doing a Pearline-centric sequel given that she read the Hagakure? If it were to happen, what direction would you want to take her in as an adult?

Let me start by saying that Forrest Whitaker and Isaac de Bankolé were such cool guys to work with. They both had a calming presence on set. Jim Jarmusch was also great, and a real character in his own right. There has been fan talk about RZA producing a sequel with Pearline as the lead, but I don’t know that it will ever happen. If it did, I’d love to see her take on some of the same characteristics as Ghost Dog and become a bad ass neighborhood underground superhero of sorts. 

You spent some of your formative years brilliantly portraying Nessa on The Bernie Mac Show, which is one of the greatest of all time, in my opinion. We’ve spoken with a few other folks who have spent a lot of years inside a world with a TV family, and I am always curious to know how closely it really felt like a family? Did you have a sense of closeness with your on screen family members?

The Bernie Mac Show definitely left a lasting positive impact on my life. I spent five years with that cast and crew, and essentially we were together on set more than we were at home. We were blessed enough to actually like each other so we did become a real family. So much so that every Friday night after wrap we would all get together for what we called “the bump and grind” which was the whole cast and crew partying together doing karaoke, eating, and dancing. We pretty much had a family reunion every weekend. I like to think everyone on that set had a part in shaping me to be the actor and woman I am now. 

If you were handed the opportunity to portray any inspirational figure in American history, who would it be?

I would love to play a young Maya Angelou or Nina Simone. I feel like there is so much depth to them and their stories need to be told the right way. (No shade) So to be able to play either of them would be a welcome challenge and an honor. 

We always like to ask this question to our statue award friends: Where do you physically keep your well deserved NAACP Image Awards? And does their physical location hold any sort of significance to you?

My NAACP Image awards, along with every award I’ve ever gotten in life ranging from gymnastics to young entrepreneur, is kept at my parents house. Not saying that I don’t appreciate them, but I’ve never been the type to dwell on physical memories of achievement. So I don’t need to see them everyday as a reminder of what I’ve accomplished. I think my parents have earned the right to show them off. Without them I wouldn’t have any of them anyway!

 


What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I recently came to the conclusion that I am meant to be self sufficient and can no longer work for other people. With that being said, my future will revolve around projects that I create. With everything from owning a small business, to producing my own shows and movies. I also filmed a project earlier this year called FraXtur with a great team of people so hopefully that will be out soon. And follow me on social media because you know, 2018. Instagram & Twitter- @camilleSwinbush 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The last thing that made me smile was my five year old cousin asking for an Eskimo kiss. Which she calls “Nose”. 

Sarah Darer Littman [Interview] (By Ava Trembath)

Editor’s Note: So, regular readers of TWS will know that we just did a book review for Sarah Darer Littman’s novel Anything But Okay, available October 9th. I have to let you all know that it was not my own original curiosity that led me to wanting to talk with Sarah and check out her latest book. It was actually my soon to be teenaged daughter Ava Trembath who asked me if I could reach out to Sarah Darer Littman to do an interview. So, of course, in wanting to be a cool Dad, I did just that. I had no idea that Littman would ended up being one of the nicest people I would ever digitally meet, and become someone I would dare call a friend! So, while all credit is due to Ava for constructing the idea to have Sarah on the site, I thought it was only right that I let her take the reigns, and have her ask the questions on this go around.

And if I am being honest and candid here, I have spent the last two months talking with folks from the world of horror, so I am probably not in the best mental state to be asking questions to the greatest Young Adult novelist of this day and age. So, who better to chat it up with a YA mastermind that an actually young adult themselves, my amazing daughter and future astronaut for NASA or that weirdo Elon Musk or that weirdo “president” of our’s so called “Space Force” who digest a new novel a day on average. So, ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy some amazing words from the brilliant Sarah Darer Littman with questions by the amazing Ava Trembath. Enjoy!

Ava Trembath on Anything But Okay:

I really liked this book because it had real life problems that are happening today.I liked that it would switch between Stella and her brother and that her brother’s point of view was in emails and texts to his friend even after he died.I also liked that it was told from his sister’s point of view.Some authors would write it from the main person who’s affected by what’s happening not from the rest of the family.In this book it shows that it affects all of the family and even friends.I love this book because it is interesting, sad, funny, and amazing.

What was your favorite book to write and why?

LOL, I always compare this to someone asking which is my favorite child. I suppose there are a few that are special to me in different ways. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite book to write – it was probably one of the harder ones given the circumstance, but In Case You Missed It is very much a book of my heart. It sold to Scholastic and that evening I went to an author event with Gregory McGuire at the public library with my mom. We had a wonderful time, and when I dropped her back at her apartment, I told her “I love you, I’ll see you when I get back,” because my son and I were invited to TED in Vancouver to see Dave Isay of StoryCorps accept the TED award. We had an amazing time, and I was texting Mom pictures. When I got off the plane my phone rang, and my boyfriend called and said Mom was dead. I compare the feeling of that call to having a limb ripped off without anesthetic.

That was in mid March, and the book I’d just sold on proposal was due in August. Writing that book was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it ended up that one of the themes of the book was learning how to carry on when everything feels completely bleak and the future is uncertain. It ends with hope, but without everything tied up neatly in a bow and happily ever after.

I also love my middle grade fairy tale retellings, Charmed I’m Sure and Fairest of Them All CHARMED I’M SURE, because I got a chance to go back to the original (vs the Disney) fairy tales and examine them in a humorous way with a modern feminist perspective, by telling the story through the teenage daughters of the original characters. There’s another book in that universe coming out in 2019.

 What is your favorite type of books to read?

I like reading books – Fiction, Non-Fiction, YA and middle grade, historical fiction, historical biography, poetry, picture books. I think that’s what has enabled me to be a versatile writer – able to write edgy YA, humorous middle grade, to do business writing and write political opinion. Reading widely helps me make connections that other people might not make.  

What is a type a book that you want to write, but haven’t yet?

I’d love to write a picture book. Note I say write, not illustrate – I am artistically challenged. Stick figures are about the best I can manage.

I’d also like to write a dystopian novel because there seems to be more inspiration every day when I read the news. I keep bookmarking news stories in a “Book Ideas” folder. I’m particularly interested in the intersection between teenagers and technology, because I see how much new technologies impact my teen readers, both positively and negatively. It’s not just the teen readers either. When I visit with classrooms, either in real life or via Skype, I ask classes that have read my cyberbullying novel, Backlash, to raise their hand if they’ve had something hurtful written about them online. Inevitably, most of the kids in class raise their hands. I tell them that as adults, we’re supposed to be modeling the behavior, and we’re not doing a very good job of it. That’s one of the reasons I gave up regular political writing in mid-2017 – it just got so toxic that it was affecting my ability to write fiction, and fiction is what pays for my mortgage and health insurance.

Are you a cat or dog person? Or both?

I am most definitely a dog person. I LOVE dogs, and always felt there was something missing in my life during the (thankfully short) periods of my life when I wasn’t able to have a dog. True story: Mom prohibited Dad and me from going to pet stores together, because every time we did that we came home with a dog!

I actually like cats, too,  but unfortunately I’m seriously allergic to them. Just another reason to be a dog person.

What is your favorite place to write/read?

I was a single mom when I started my writing career, so I’ve learned to be able to write anywhere and everywhere. I’d write in the carpool pickup line, in cafes, on the train, in doctor office waiting rooms, you name it. Now that my kids are older, my favorite place to write is my study, where I’m surrounded by bookshelves with my favorite books. Here are are two walls of bookshelves – there are more on the other walls and downstairs. My favorite place to read is everywhere! I have library books downloaded onto my phone so I can read if I have a moment while I’m out and about. I also love taking relaxing baths at the end of the day and read in the bath. So far have managed not to drop the iPad in the water, but did ruin a book once : )

 What made you want to write?

I’ve always loved to write as a way of self expression. As an introvert, I’ve always found it easier to find my voice in writing than through speaking out loud. But it’s more than that. By nature, I’m a very curious person, and I write to answer questions. Through researching the questions and the act of writing about them through whether it’s for a column or my fiction, I’m able to find some clarity – and hopefully pass that on to readers.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

I’m more of an early bird, although I’ve worked to become slightly more of a night owl because my husband is one. Otherwise there are times when we’re both working intensively on our separate projects where we end up being like two ships that pass in the night for weeks on end. I’m definitely more focused in the morning, especially if I work out.

Do you think that people other than young adults would like your books?

I do! My books are classified as young adult and marketed to that audience, but as far as I’m concerned I write for thinking human beings of all ages and gender identities. It’s one of the reasons I get frustrated about how my cover designs tend to be very gendered, as compared to male authors who write books with female protagonists. I wrote a blog post about that for #kidlitwomen month. http://sarahdlittman.blogspot.com/2018/03/branding-or-gendering.html

What is your favorite book/author and why?

Ha! That’s another really difficult question. I love so many books it’s hard to chose just one. But if you force me, I’d probably say The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. My most influential author is George Orwell. I have my MFA students read his essay “Politics and the English Language” because I think it’s so important to the understanding of good writing, and how language can be used for both clarity and for obfuscation, particularly in politics.

Do you like to write with pen and pencil or typing on a computer better and why?

I like to jot down ideas with a pen and paper, especially when I’m trying to brainstorm or work out a problem. I do most of my serious writing on a laptop, however,  because I can type as fast as I think. Writing longhand is too slow for my brain when it comes to getting words on the page.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My dog Benny (aka “the writing assistant”) makes me laugh constantly, especially when he throws his toys up in the air and they land behind him and he’s like “Where did it go?”  Reading Ava’s review definitely made me smile!

 

 

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman [Book]

“Stella and Farida have been best friends forever, but lately things have been tense. It all started when Stella’s brother came home from his latest tour with the US Marines in Afghanistan paranoid and angry. But Stella won’t talk about it, and Farida can tell she’s keeping something from her.Desperate to help Rob, Stella thinks she just needs to get him out of the house. She definitely didn’t expect going to the movies to end with Rob in handcuffs for assaulting one of her classmates after his anger spiraled out of control.When a video of the fight goes viral, everyone has an opinion of Stella and her “violent vet” brother.The entire school takes sides, the media labels Rob a terrorist sympathizer, and even Farida is dragged into the mess despite not being there. As the story continues trending, Stella will have to decide just how far she’s willing to go for the truth, even if it means admitting her own failures.” – sarahdarerlittman.com

I feel the need to preface this piece by stating one simple fact that I hope you all acknowledge and know that I am dead serious about…..this is an absolutely amazing book, and even more, I feel as though it should be required reading for every single student, teacher, parent, hell, PERSON, who is ever going to try even in the slightest to understand the youth of today, especially when it comes to anyone attempting to understand the trials and down-right hardships of anyone who is coming back from “Over There”, as well as the families who are forced to deal with the reprecusions of a war that no one can understand.

I also have to state a fact that has been in my brain since reading Anything But Okay, and that is this: I don’t believe I have ever read a “Young Adult” novel before. I was a young adult once, but even then I don’t believe I ever managed to partake in YA reading. When I was in 6th grade, my mother had to be called to my elementary school because my teacher was concerned about me reading Howard Stern’s Private Parts at such a young age. True story. I did read Goosebumps as a younger child, but I never even manage to move into Fear Street as a pre-teen or teenager. I jumped right into the Fletch series, and Hemingway very early on. That same 6th grade year, I also had to have my mom come to my school to defend my school project on Tim Allen where I casually mentioned that the huge Home Improvement star once sold cocaine for a living, and then show a clip to the class from Toy Story. Basically I was a pretty messed up kid, and grew up way too fast. But, that’s not important here. The point is, I have never been well-informed on the YA world. Until now.

And I am honestly convinced that I am not in the wrong for my aversion to the YA world when I was an actual young adult. I firmly believe that they were not writing books like Sarah Darer Littman is writing now. To be honest, maybe the lack of the internet, and the fact that I was a latch-key kid from the 90’s might have something to do with it, but I honestly don’t remember being taught or reading anything that was as compelling and tragic and inspiring as I have read in Littman’s Anything But Okay. I came into adolescences during a time when things seemed pretty much okay. If everything was trembling around us, we didn’t really seem to notice. That is definitely not the case for the characters that Littman is currently writing about, and is definitely not the case for her readers in this day and age.

Anything But Okay is an absolutely brilliant depiction of what it means to be an American teenager in this day and age. While the storyline seems so specific at first, you would soon realize that is really isn’t. This is a far too common storyline, and that definitely makes me sad. The plot points of this amazing novel are not only accurate, but entirely plausible in the saddest ways possible. Littman obviously did some incredible research when she decided to tackle the idea of PTSD in the modern world. And what makes it so much more special is that it comes from the perspective someone close by, and actually focused on their own personal struggles in dealing with the situation.

And while the idea of PTSD is definitely a major plot point in the book, it’s not the only lesson to be learned within this text. Throughout my reading of this amazing novel, I became enthralled with the character that is Farida. I truly believe that if you read this book, your perception of the character Farida will truly say a lot about your own personality. Read the book, you will get it. Farida simply tells it like it is. And Sarah Darer Littman perfectly drives the point home when she mentions the idea that Farida is expected to represent her entire culture each and every day just be living as a kid of Iraqi descent. This is a concept that I truly believe that people really don’t think about enough. But this is just a testament to the amazing talent of Littman.

Folks, young and old, you NEED to check out this book. It’s one of the best novels the decade. And if it doesn’t change your life in a positive way, you should probably reevaluate your entire existence.

Anything But Okay will be available on October 9th, 2018 from Scholastic Press. Discover more info at sarahdarerlittman.com

 

Greg Edmonson [Interview]


I am so damn excited to share this incredible interview with you fine folks today! But, first I want to take you on a personal journey as to why I am so personally affected by today’s guest, the Award-winning and absolutely brilliant musical mastermind, Greg Edmonson.

As many of you may know, I am not particularly the most knowledgable person, or even a fan of, the world of science fiction. I am always under the opinion that the real world is scary enough (and this was pre-November 4th 2016 America & Brexit-era UK, even). In fact, I have been known to call in some friends to help me out when we have guests on that may have had some great success on projects like Star Trek, Star Wars (DO NOT confuse them, all my fellow casual series watchers! Also the Captain Kirk/Star Wars joke isn’t funny. I know, I tried it.), or anything that has really had an impact in the world of fantasy and science fiction. Specifically I tend to call on my dear friends over at the Super Geeky Playdate podcast, as Brady, Bryan, & Adam are my most trusted confidants in the world of geekdom. If you’re not already listening to them, you owe it to yourself to do that.

But, I do tend to find myself dabbling in the field ever so slightly, which can even lead to unhealthy obsessions which seem to be a real commonplace for fans of these genres. But for me, it’s always with projects that sort of teeter along the lines of fantasy and science fiction, but don’t contain a completely impossible sense of realism. It’s as though they have taken something that may seem impossible at the time, but have simply implemented the impossible into true to life scenarios. And that is the paradox that I love and enjoy in projects like the series Black Mirror, the video games in the Fallout franchise, the entire catalog of writer/director Charlie Kaufman, and of course…..FIREFLY!

I was a late addition to the world of Firefly. I knew the show existed, but didn’t get into it until about 8 years ago on a Sunday sitting in a trailer in the desert outside of Doha, Qatar. I watched the entire series in a day + Serenity, and instantly joined the plethora of fans in the Firefly cult following who are rightfully pissed that the show never got to continue on. I could rant about this part of the show’s history, but that proverbial horse has been beaten into non-existence at this point. If you are unfamiliar, a quick Google/YouTube search will have you spiraling down an enraging rabbit hole worse than anything Tim Burton could have ever put out.

And I am not trying to blow smoke up my guests ass as I segway into finally talking about our amazing guest today when I say that the score and original music of Firefly is absolutely incredible and extremely crucial to what the show became. I’m not sure if this has already be proclaimed, and I’m not likely to look it up, I am going to say it now: If the ship Serenity is the 10th member of the crew, the music is the 11th. It’s that damn empowering, and not to mention the BEST opening title song from any television series in history. I wouldn’t even say it is “arguably the best”, because it’s really not up for debate. I honestly feel as though a proclamation of this nature will not require any gear up for on-line hatred. Who can really debate this?

So with all of that blabbering in mind, I am just so damn excited to share some words from the man who performed a crucial element in the world created by Joss Whedon. The show would have been great without Greg’s involvement, but I dare say it wouldn’t have been OUTSTANDING had he not been so kind to throw his amazing abilities into the already extremely talented mix of artists who made the show possible. And the amazing Mr. Edmonson has been so kind to tell us all about it right here, Folks! And as our guest tend to do, he has also gone on to do even more amazing work! In fact, some of you may be tuning in for different reasons than Firefly, and are screaming at your keyboards right hoping I wrap this shit up, or have not even read this portion. And that’s okay. I just hope that you enjoy this amazing interview with one of the most talented humans the world as known that we are so fortunate to have grace our digital pages.

So Folks, pleas enjoy some great words from the brilliant Greg Edmonson!

*****

How did you find yourself working as a composer of film, television, and more? What drew you to this line of work? Was it a deep-rooted ambition that you can always remember having, or did you simply find yourself in this world one day?

I originally moved to Los Angeles to work as a guitarist, but early on I got an opportunity to write for Hanna Barbera (the animation company). Soon that led to working with Mike Post who was doing quite a lot of television (L.A.Law, Quantum Leap, etc). I found that I really enjoyed writing to picture. The difference between being a composer versus being a player is a little like the difference between being a director as opposed to being an actor. The director has much more responsibility, but is ultimately in control of how the project turns out.

Also working with the brilliant musicians in Los Angeles was and remains such a joy. To hear them bring something to life that you wrote is a wonderment that I have never tired of. I find myself incredibly grateful every single time that I set foot on a recording stage.

So even though I was trained as a musician, the opportunity to work as a composer just fell in my lap and I ran with it! I think that it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I will just come out and say it right from the jump, and I believe that many of our readers will agree with me here…..Your work as a composer on the cult classic television series Firefly is hands down the best there ever was. I will argue that forever and with anyone. With that, I am curious to know what your thought process was in scoring this legendary program that was taken from us far too early? What elements from the show did you feel needed to be emphasized with your work?

How I got the gig was somewhat of a miracle. Everyone in town wanted to work with Joss Whedon, given his great success with Buffy & Angel. But Joss wasn’t really taking calls from agents, so his office just told you to send in a CD and they would get back to you if they were interested. So I sent in a CD and promptly moved on to something else.

But one day the phone rang, and his office asked if I would be free to take a meeting with Joss.

Our 5 minute meeting stretched into something much longer. We were just having fun talking about music and arguing about what was the best Jeff Beck tune (ha). We really hit it off and as I was leaving he told me to tell my agent that I had the gig. To this day I don’t have any idea what they responded to on my demo CD—-but I was thrilled.

They gave me the 2 hour pilot which was so good that I truly thought—I am working for 10 years on this show, because I saw what Joss had done. He had created a fantastic universe with 9 main characters who had such wildly divergent pasts that the story lines could go on forever without repeating themselves! Genius!

I loved every single member of the main cast. They were all so very unique! For instance, every one of the 4 women characters (Jewel, Summer, Morena & Gina) were incredibly strong— BUT in completely different ways. Nathan, Adam, Ron, Alan & Sean were just perfect. Anytime that our cast was on screen (especially all together) it was a joy to write for them. I still think that Firefly had the best casting job of any show that I have ever seen.

TV shows rarely hit their stride until the secondd half of the season, or even the start of Season 2. It takes a while to see what is really working and then build on that. Firefly had the magic from day one and it only would have gotten better as time went on. Joss had created this amazing post-apocalyptic world, where your resources determined your life parameters (not unlike the history of our country)—-so you could have six shooters and laser guns all exist in the same world. Anything could work! And since the cultures were all thrown together the music could be anything that the picture justified. So we mixed in all manner of ethnic instrumentation along with traditional instruments and I have used that combination ever since. Thank you Joss!

The work schedule was grueling, but not one single time did I ever sit down to write when I didn’t consider myself the luckiest man on the planet to be working on that show. So many wonderful opportunities to write. Big action cues, quirky & suspenseful music, all alongside emotional and heartfelt – it was all there in one fantastic show.

It was always fun to write for Mal and Inara—he loved her but he could never quite actually say the words. It just left him too vulnerable. But great writing and great acting revealed what was in their hearts in spite of their words. That type of nuance is a treat to write music for—sometimes music can say what the words don’t say. 

As you probably know after the show was canceled, I wrote a piece at the end of “The Message” to try to say goodbye to the show. It was a funeral scene with the whole cast standing in the falling snow and it just felt like I needed to find some closure to this incredible journey. I was deeply saddened to see Firefly end so prematurely, because I knew that the best was yet to come. It was already great and it was only going to get better (and better)! This was a show that just doesn’t come around very often.

To this day I remain in love with all things Firefly. It was an honor and a privilege to work on it.

You have had so much amazing success in the world of film and television, and especially in the world of video games. For the latter, I am very curious to know what it is like to compose the music to a video game in comparison to a feature film or television series? What sets it apart? And having worked on all three iterations of the Uncharted series in a 4 year span, what did you find to be the most challenging on the second and third go around? What were some things to wanted to accomplish whilst working on these projects that would set each game apart from the other?

I think that writing music for video games is very different from film or TV. In film & TV you get a final edited version of the picture and your job is to become a part of the story telling process. Games are never really done until the very end, so you must rely on the game director (Amy Hennig on “Uncharted”) and the team that puts the music into the game (Jonathan Mayer and the Sony team) to help guide you. With this guidance you use your imagination to visualize what the final product might look like. And then you start writing.

Games allow you a freedom that seldom exits in other formats—since there is no dialogue yet, you can write grand melodic gestures that would not be possible if all of the dialogue was in place. Also the time that you have to write is really incredible with a game. Sometimes it can stretch over a period of years. Film/TV is mostly limited to weeks or maybe a couple of months depending on the project. I so loved my time on “Uncharted”. It was a joy to write that music and I was surrounded by a supporting team that is as good as it gets.

As we moved on from Uncharted 1, it actually got easier for me to write the music. I knew the characters and what Amy was trying to accomplish. It really hit a sweet spot starting with Uncharted 2 which raised the bar for the whole video game universe. The score to Uncharted 3 was recorded at Abbey Road in London and is my best work in games so far. How very lucky I was to have been involved with such a great project!


For your work on Uncharted, you were awarded a pair of BAFTA trophies. We always like to ask our statue holding friends this one question: Where do you physically keep these awards? And does their physical location have any kind of significance?

I keep my award stuff in my studio, but for me, at least, it just documents a point in time. What I love and what matters more to me are the relationships and the friendships that are ongoing. While I am honored and thrilled to win awards, I am even more thrilled to have friends that will last a lifetime.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Who knows what the future holds? I am actively seeking projects that I really can find an emotional connection with. I really love to write melodic music that has some emotional impact to it, and if I can help to bring that out in a story—mission accomplished!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I do a lot of it. For a thousand different reasons, I consider my life to be so very fortunate. And more than anything else these days, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had. And I am excited to see where the journey leads next!

Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story!

Check out this wonderful video that a fan isolated for the aforementioned scene from “The Messenger” featuring Greg Edmonson’s amazing work. If this doesn’t make you choke up in at least the slightest, please check that you are indeed human:

 

Erin Whitehead [Interview]

Hello Folks! I am STOKED to have today’s guest on our digital pages. She is an absolutely hilarious person, and has some great words to share with us today. It’s Erin Whitehead! She is fantastic, and also happens to be 1/4 of the comedy group Wild Horses, which we have had the great fortune to have had 2 of this amazing group’s other members on the site previously! We have had Stephanie Allyne, Mary Holland, and now the wonderful Erin Whitehead! That’s 3/4 of this amazing group you should all know and love. So….Lauren Lapkus? What’s up?!

I can honestly say that I am most bummed that I live about as far as you can get from the Los Angeles area when I see any one of the Wild Horses stars promoting their show, or showcasing how awesome it inevitably turned out.  But thankfully, the internet exists, and Erin has done so many amazing things that you all already know and love! She’s worked on brilliant comedy series like HBO’s Animals, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, the previously mentioned Stephanie Allyne directed short film The Fun Company, and so much more!

Again, we are so excited to have Erin become a part of the TWS family! She gave us some wonderful answers, and we are so excited to share it with you all today! Enjoy!

When did you first decide that you wanted to join the world of comedy? When did you decide that making people laugh was how you wanted to earn a living?

For years, the idea of professional comedy wasn’t something I was drawn to. Even though I’ve always loved eliciting laughter from family or in any social situation, I saw myself as a serious, dramatic actor. I had done improv in college, majored in writing, and then moved to LA and immediately dropped both those things in lieu of intense method acting classes. It was years of paying thousands of dollars to insane teachers whose style was “break you down to build you back up” before I realized it was kind of awful and decided to take a break and get into an improv class just for fun. And that’s when I found UCB. In my very first 101 class I was like, oh, this it for me.

We have had the honor and privilege to have already spoken with two of your three other Wild Horses co-stars, Stephanie Allynne and Mary Holland. But, its been a year since we last spoke with Mary, so I am curious to know how things are going? How are you enjoying working on the show?

Wild Horses has now been together for 5 years and I still think how lucky we got to somehow come together. It’s the most fun I have onstage – having conversations with people with whom I share as many similarities as differences. I’m constantly astounded by or learning from a different point of view and getting to entertain an audience at the same time. It’s this really fun, easy chemistry that feels so rare and has sustained itself. We currently have two monthly live shows at Largo and UCB. I still think it would make a great tv show, which was something we tried to get off the ground a while back and didn’t end up happening, so who knows what the future may hold for us.

And we never got to properly ask Stephanie and Mary because I am a stupid, stupid person, but, how did the 4 of you manage to team up? What made you all decide that you wanted to work together on a show like Wild Horses?

Hey, listen, don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m so stupid I once watched the 1998 movie The Avengers on cable all the way through thinking it was the 2012 Marvel Avengers and going, how does anyone think this a superhero movie?

[Editor’s Note: 1998’s The Avengers was directed by our old friend Jeremiah S. Chechik. It’s not the best, but you know, we love Jeremiah!]

So, Wild Horses happened sort of by chance. The four of us were friends who had started hanging out as a foursome occasionally (craft nights hosted by Lauren, a Beyonce concert). And then the Portland comedy festival All Jane asked Lauren if she had an all female team she could bring up to perform. I think she just asked the people she figured would be fun to travel with and do a couple shows with. It was just a free friend trip and some improv. We performed together and it was just so fun and effortless so we continued when we got back to LA. The format of our show The Perspective came about because we liked the idea of a comedic version of The View; Women sitting around talking, except it’s rarely about current events and we all genuinely like each other. It’s essentially how we are if we’re all out to dinner, only onstage.

And now for the dreaded question that I almost hate to bring up, but feel like if we don’t keep the conversation going, nothing will change: What are your thoughts on the world of comedy for women right now? With everything that has occurred in the last year or so, are things getting any better for women? What do you still believe needs to be done in order for real change to occur?

I don’t really differentiate women in comedy from just women in the world, specifically in this country for the purposes of this conversation. Celebrities and comedians have a public platform and have been able to bring some horrible but unsurprising behavior to light, but it’s just a small sampling of what women everywhere deal with from men. I’m sure everyone’s tired of the word “Patriarchy” (a guy I know recently joked it’s his “trigger” word haha) but that’s what we’ve been living in and what’s been normalized for generations. I think you pretty much answered your own question, which is we have to keep the conversation going. Keep peeling back the layers of this deeply ingrained misogyny that lives in both men and women. Less than a year after #metoo becoming a hashtag, the conversation is already shifting to what this means for men, how to heal the men who have mistreated women. I’ve heard a few men express how scary it is to be in this time where anyone can say anything and they’re believed… which is of course the same as saying they don’t believe women. We’re still very concerned with how this is an imposition to men. Why? It seems so straightforward to me: Women are less violent, smarter, funnier, better at communicating and emotionally more intelligent than men; just let us run everything.

Between acting, improv, stand up, writing, and more, you have manage to delve into just about every possible way of being hilarious in front of audiences. I am curious to know what you preferred method of creating comedy would be? If you were destined to only work in one field, what would you want it to be?

I’ve actually never done standup! I have pages and pages of notes and scraps that are waiting for me to get over my fear of learning and failing publicly (necessary steps in becoming good I am told, ugh). I love both writing and acting (I include improv as part of acting) and choosing between them feels like choosing between two selves. Ultimately, though, I feel more freedom and joy when I’m performing. I have so much fun feeling out viscerally what works and what doesn’t and adjusting as I go. The most gratifying laughs I’ve gotten have been when I’m performing my own material – it’s like the writer and actor both get credit and neither feel left out. So, I guess my ultimate career would be acting in a show or movie of my own creation. Although honestly, if I could get paid to just come up with ideas that other people execute that would be fine, too.

[Editor’s Note: Please refer to the “stupid, stupid man” comment from earlier when I mentioned something about Erin’s “stand up”. Making assumptions is a terrible idea, people. Trust me]

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I honestly have no idea… hopefully something involving the above answer?

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Walking into my grandparents’ house in Maine and smelling the familiar scent of pine and wood and salt air and fireplace and plain bar soap.

Also, a dumb joke in an old Archie comic I was reading. All their stories seem to end in terrible puns and I just adore terrible puns.