In an almost textbook example of what to do, and what not to do when inundated with high levels of traffic to one’s virtual door, ticket websites Fandango and Cinemark had wildly divergent responses to the avalanche of would-be customers trying to buy tickets to the live simulcast of The Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary adventure of Doctor Who, premiering globally on November 23rd.
Dirk Manning is slowly becoming a household name in comics. Currently, he is putting together Tales of Mr. Rhee for kickstarter which is going on right now. You can find it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/devilsdue/tales-of-mr-rhee-hardcover-graphic-novel-by-dirk-m
I talked to Dirk about Mr. Rhee, his kickstarter experiences, and his recent schedule.
Joshua Pantalleresco: So you had a rock band perform at your signing?
Dirk Manning: Absolutely. I go to the signing and they tell me that they are going to have a band perform. The great thing about this is that I know them [Voyag3r]. I said to them as we shook hands that “Guys, it’s me. Remember that music magazine ten years ago and that journalist guy?” They replied “No way…”
JP: It really is a small world.
DM: It really is.
JP: So I think you’re at $5000 now on kickstarter?
DM: Very close. We’re around 4700 in 8 days which isn’t too bad. I haven’t had the chance to really promote this like I really want to. I’ve been busy touring and the kickstarter has pretty much been moving on its own.
JP: So if you describe your kickstarter experience in one word?
DM: Nerve Wracking.
JP: So where did the Mr. Rhee as a character come from?
DM: Originally, Mr. Rhee came from me being contacted by a cable company wanting me to do a horror comic. I offered them Nightmare World, but they told me they wanted something darker.
In Mr. Rhee, the world had survived an apocalypse. It wasn’t like the walking dead per se, but it destroyed society. I always like the Kafkaesque stories where characters have to deal with the tyranny of the majority. Mr. Rhee comes from a world that was invaded for three days by monsters and horrors and everything imaginable. Society rebuilt itself and believed that the monsters are gone. Rhee knows better. Of course the tagline is once you call Mr. Rhee, it is already too late for a happy ending.
Rhee combines the kafka type story with horror and monster with my love of pulp and noir. It’s probably the one character that I think is associated with me and I’m happy it’s that way.
JP: So what’s in the kickstarter?
DM: We’re collecting Volume one – the first 13 eight page stories of Mr. Rhee, plus it’ll include other material. There will be a brand new prose story. One of the bidders had the option to give me a song title and that I would have to write a story about it in Mr. Rhee, and that’ll be included. There is also a hardcover edition exclusive to Kickstarter with the cover illustrated by Riley Rossmo.
JP: I’m so jealous of that. Riley is like one of my favorites.
DM: Mine too. I’m looking at the pieces(hardcover and softcover) right now. If we hit $15000 we’ll include a five page Mr. Rhee story that was available online for a short time. It’s probably one of my favorite stories I’ve ever done. If we go past that and all the stretch goals, what I’d like to do with Mr. Rhee is make a Marvel Handbook like who’s who.
JP: That would be awesome!
DM: There’s this one scene in Mr. Rhee for example where this woman is sitting in a limo that fans of Nightmare World will know who she is, but it would be neat to do a who’s who on her and some of the other characters that appear in the series.
Beyond that, I’ll be adding a couple of new tiers in the kickstarter as well. The nice thing about doing Rhee on kickstarter is that I’m able to reward fans of the series with things like the hardcover. Most of the things I do aren’t collectible. There’s no way to tell if there is a first printing of a Nightmare World softcover. But here, the hardcover will be released for kickstarter and that’s it. Once it’s printed it’s done.
(Update: It is funded. Check it out for stretch goals.)
As promised in my New York Comic Con round-up last week, this week I bring to you the awesome chats I had there with executive producer Ciro Nieli and Michelangelo voice actor Greg Cipes of the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series on Nickelodeon (and if you missed it before, I’ve previously interviewed the spectacular Rob Paulsen, voice of Donatello). Ciro and Greg were both absolutely delightful to speak with, and shared some great insights on the show.
If you haven’t given the current TMNT a shot yet (maybe because you were loyal to the original; or you’ve never watched TMNT before; or you’re an adult so why would you be watching a kids’ show…) you are totally missing out. I’m a fan of the original series (having watched from the very first episode at the age of maybe six or seven), and until this series, haven’t really been interested in any of the ones following that, because they just didn’t grab my attention (and, honestly, the live-action versions just plain freaked me out). But when I learned that Rob Paulsen, voice of the original Raphael, was going to be voicing Donatello, I knew I had to give this show a try.
The first couple of minutes of watching were spent getting used to the unique animation style; and then the rest of the time was spent completely falling in love with the new visual style, the storyline and humor, and the new voices and quirks of the characters. The current show is full of humor, warmth, action, and adventure, and pays homage to the original animated and comic book series’ without being in the least bit stale or unoriginal. It’s also grown over the course of the first season along with the Turtles, who have begun exploring the world outside of the sewers and encountering serious problems and responsibilities. By the end of Season 1 and first episode of Season 2, the show has entered some pretty dark and serious territory; but happily, appears to be holding on to the humor and sense of fun that made the show so appealing in the first place. I can’t wait to see where they go with it from here.
So without further ado, let’s see what a couple of the folks involved had to say about that and the show in general! Read on for the interview transcripts, or head on over to YouTube and watch the video interviews there!
• • • • •
Greg Cipes (voice of Michelangelo)
(YouTube video: Click here.)
Greg, you are known as the voice of Michelangelo on the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show, which is fantastic.
Yes, I am Mikey.
I know that, like me, you were a fan of the original show, because I’ve heard you talk about it on Rob’s Talkin’ Toons podcast. When you were a kid, what else did you watch?
Only the Turtles. Do you mean now, or back then?
Really back then, it was all about the Turtles; and back then I didn’t watch too much TV other than the Turtles because I wanted to go outside and play. I wanted to go outside and skateboard like the Turtles. I wanted to go to karate class and learn martial arts like the Turtles. So it really influenced me a lot.
That’s really cool. How old were you when you first started watching it?
Eight years old.
And was Michelangelo always your favorite?
Yeah, Mikey was always my favorite. Although I probably dressed up as a Turtle for Halloween many, many times; and I’ve probably been all the Turtles.
Have you ever been Splinter?
No, not yet! This Halloween.
Yeah, maybe this Halloween! It’s coming up. So of course you’ve done a lot of voiceover; but as a huge Turtles fan, what was it like getting the role of Michelangelo?
Oh my gosh, when Ciro Nieli told me he was making the new show; I’ve worked with Ciro on Teen Titans, and his show called Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! that he created. It’s a great show. So he said, I’m doing Turtles, and I want you to be a Turtle, and I was like, “What?” It just seemed like a dream, right? I was like, “Really?” And of course I had to go through the casting process, which took like, a year. And then when I got the phone call, and the contract, the deal came through, it was really maybe one of the best days of my life.
That’s really cool. Did you call everybody you knew, like, “Guess what??”
Yeah: “I’m a Turtle!!”
And did they all say, “We knew it would happen someday?”
I guess so, yeah. It just made sense. You know, Nickelodeon hired me because they felt like I really am the real life Mikey.
It sounds like it, from your hobbies and everything. Now of course Rob Paulsen was on the original (1987) series, and is on the new one. What’s it like working with someone who was in the original franchise?
Well, it’s cool. I honestly don’t remember what any of the Turtles sound like from the original show at all; nor did I listen to them – so what I brought to Mikey was just me.
Did you do that on purpose, so you could bring your own spin?
Yeah; well I don’t watch much of anything these days, because I’m still very active. I like to be doing things rather than watching TV; unless the Turtles are on! But I didn’t do any kind of research to go back and listen to anything; I just brought myself to it, and what I felt Mikey would be; which is ultimately me; a dimension of myself.
With the new Turtles, what do you think about the direction of the show, and the look of the show, which is so different?
Oh, it’s so cool. So cool. I think it’s the hottest thing on TV right now; better than any live-action show. It’s set a new standard in the animation world, as far as TV animation goes. Every episode’s a stand-alone movie. Like, a feature film quality animated CG thing; but it’s not just CG, it’s this new mix of…Ciro’s notorious for creating new, groundbreaking styles of animation like he did with Teen Titans. It’s got the anime thing mixed with the comic book thing and the CG thing; and there’s all kinds of…
It looks a little bit like a video game sometimes.
Yes, and that too! It’s just got everything going on. It’s like candy for your eyes.
It is! I actually went into it unsure if I’d like it because I really loved the old one; but then I started watching it and I was like, “This is the best thing!” So with the storylines, do you like where that’s going? Do you know anything about what’s in store for Mikey?
I know everything that’s in store, but I can’t tell you anything! I mean, Mikey’s growing up a little bit; he’s got more experience; he’s wiser. But he really hasn’t changed – he’s still very free-spirited. He’s a “now-ist.” He’s just wild; and it’s really fun to play someone like that. He brings that out in me. But he does become more intelligent based on experience, as we all do; so he kind of maybe steps into the leader roll more.
Cool! I enjoy that it started with them not being so sure of themselves and growing. So do you have a favorite episode from the last season?
My favorite episode from Season 1? Oh my gosh, it’s so hard to go back. I really am a now-ist; I don’t think about the future, I don’t think about the past; so once I’ve experienced it, and I’ve done it, I don’t think about it again. So for me to go back is difficult. Also because we’ve done so many episodes; and I do eight other cartoons; all these different worlds mesh together.
That’s fair! I personally loved the one where he had the tPod.
The tPod, of course! It’s always so fun to play Mikey, that every episode’s really cool; very fun. And they always give me fun situations to be in.
Yes. I’ve heard that recording with everybody can be a lot of fun. Do you have any good stories about that?
Actually, you know what, I do have a good story – working with Roseanne Barr. She plays Kraang Prime; and she’s awesome. She’s so funny. And she’s a friend of mine, and before she got the role, they were like, “Who’s going to play Kraang Prime?” And I was like, “It should be Roseanne.” And it was such a so-far-out-there casting choice, but Ciro was into it, and we made it happen. So it was really cool to have her on the show and work with her.
That’s really neat. So as you said, you’re working on eight other shows. Tell me a bit about what else you’re doing now.
Well, I’m on a show called Teen Titans Go!, which is a wild, crazy, funny, goofy show, that keeps getting crazier. I’m on Ultimate Spider-Man; I play Iron Fist, Danny Rand. And I can’t say much, but I’ve been hired on [The Legend of] Korra. I’m on The Middle on ABC; they keep having me back; and recently I just finished a big arc on Anger Management with Charlie Sheen – these are live-action shows. I’ve got a couple of movies coming out; and I’m also producing and directing my own TV stuff now. I have a company that I just started with Rose McGowan; a television/film production company, called RMGC Productions, and we’re creating our own original content and going around and pitching it, and making these things happen ourselves.
That’s awesome. So are you in the pitching process? Has something been picked up?
I can’t say, but we are pitching a lot of original things that we’ve created.
That’s really cool; and do you have a place where people can keep up on some of that?
Great. Now talking about live-action versus voice over work, what’s the difference in those experiences? Do you prefer one or the other, or have any insights for people who are aspiring to be one or the other?
Well, everyone’s always asked me, “How can you do all of it?” Because not only am I an actor – I’m a musician, I’m a director, I’m a surfer, I’m a painter; but ultimately where I make money is in the entertainment world in general, and specifically acting. And a lot of it’s from animation. But – just do what you love. I do it all. I do movies, TV shows, animation, music, all of it. Just do it. Because if you love it, that’s all that matters. So you just do it, if you love it, and you’ll get better and better at it – and then people will want to hire you.
Excellent advice. Now with music, I know you play guitar and had a CD out. Are you working on something new with that?
Yeah, I’m putting out a solo album, entitled Cipes. That’s coming out soon, and I’m going to start releasing singles, and funny, wild music videos. And I also put a music video out recently; a side project called Super Space Fighters, which is based on a comic book that I’ve created. And there’s a music video right now called “International Kid Notorious” on YouTube. But really I’m focusing on my solo career now. Oh, and I put an album out in 2007, with my band called Cipes and the People, and that was called “The Conscious Revolution.”
That’s really cool; and thank you so much for the interview, Greg.
• • • • •
Ciro Nieli (executive producer)
(YouTube video: Click here.)
I know you were a fan of TMNT as a child, as was I. Coming into this project as someone who was a fan of the franchise, what was your experience getting into the new show?
Well, the one thing about Turtles was that I worked on a lot of projects, and Turtles would always be happening, somewhere, somehow, and I would not be a part of it. And I would just watch it go by and be like, “Damn! I missed Turtles again.” And then I would be like, “Eh, whatever. I did something cool instead, and that’s not my Turtles.” So to be able to finally get to do my Turtles? I mean when I went in to pitch it, it was so exciting to be able to just go, “This is my version of it” and for them to say, “Hey, that sounds good. Let’s try it.”
And a lot of it was just love for the original series. The original comic series; that Mirage Volume One.
Right; and the original animated series was also great. I know that there are some references to the original animated series, as well as, of course, the same mythology. I loved when they had Michelangelo with the 1987 Mikey face over his own [the “tattoo of my face…on my face!” bit]. So is that something that you do, or that everyone does together, or how does that work out?
It depends. Back then, it was more me doing it, because the writers were just kind of more focused on the story. Now I have a little bit of a different relationship with my story editor; so we’ll do things now…where it used to be just the board artists were adding things like what you’re talking about, which is way more visual, now it’s a little more tied in. Like we watch the old series sometimes, and we’ll actually re-use lines and stuff like that. We find ways to slip it in that’s not even overt. It just starts to feel like the brand.
So super-fans might notice, but not everybody.
Yeah, I mean, people will call it out. They’ll be like, “Oh my God, that was like, this episode, where Mikey said this,” and you’ll be like, “Wow, that’s so weird, that you remember that.” Because we’ll watch it, and go, “Oh, let’s write that down.” And then we put it up on the wall.
That’s fantastic. Now of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not your first project. Can you tell me a little about your background in all of this?
I started in animation years ago. When I first got to L.A., my first job was on Family Guy. I was a board artist; actually a revisionist storyboard artist. And then I did a bunch of other stuff online; and then eventually I found my way, in terms of bigger jobs, to Warner Bros. Eventually there I became a director on Teen Titans. That’s where I met Cipes for the first time. He was Beast Boy, Garfield Logan; and then after that…I moved around a lot. I went to Disney; I had my own show there, called Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! Which Cipes was in as well. He was a boy who found a giant robot that was inhabited by cyborg chimps, and he learned the power of Monkey Fu, and fought demons from hell, basically. It was awesome. We did that in Japan; that was a great period in my life.
Were you actually in Japan, doing that? How long were you there?
Yes. We did that project for about four years. And during that time I was back and forth a lot, sometimes months at a time. I learned some Japanese. After that, I bumped back around to the studios. I did some stuff for Warner Bros., some Batman stuff. I was the showrunner on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the first season, which was great, getting to do the Marvel thing. And then I think that kind of segued right into Turtles. I didn’t really have any time off in between those gigs, so…Turtles just kept rolling. Like, that’s what you do, you work – while you’re on one project, you try and get the next one going.
Sure! So as I said, I watched the original, and I hadn’t watched any of the ones between that and this, because they just never appealed to me. But I watched this one, in part because Rob [Paulsen] is on it, and I love Rob as a voice actor; and I just love the new show. It’s fantastic. It has a lot of humor and a lot of heart. Was that part of your vision, that you wanted to bring to it?
I mean, the whole thing that we always wanted to do was to make the fighting more accurate; make the funny funny, and then actually have a strong sense of drama. I’m one of those kids – like, the first movie that kind of blew my mind was Empire Strikes Back, and the thing that you could say about Empire is that that’s the show where the heroes get their ass kicked, and lick their wounds a lot. And there’s something about that – to actually have that sense of gravity and loss and stakes means a lot. So to balance that against humor is perfect. And I work with funny guys. I think we genuinely try to be really funny, and scary, all the time.
I heard that the original 1987 cast is coming back. How is that going to work?
Well, not to blow it out of proportion – it’s just a big cameo. But it’s great. Without giving too much away – the Turtles get lost in some dimensional portals, and they kind of look into the Eighties a little bit.
That’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see it, and thank you so much!
• • • • •
Well, I hope you guys got as big a kick out of these interviews as I did! Thanks again to Ciro and Greg for their time, and the folks at Nickelodeon for setting this up, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold
Last week I wrote about seeing The Wizard of Oz again on the IMAX screen and how, once more, I really enjoyed the film. Since then, I’ve reflected on how my attitude towards the film has changed over the years.
The first time I saw Wizard was in the 50s on a relatively small black and white set. To be honest, I was not very taken with it. I was probably about eight or ten and The Guns of Navarone was far more my speed. Also, as I said, I saw it all in black and white and so the moment when the film transitions to Technicolor was lost on me until we got a color set. That’s when I got it and started to appreciate the film more.
What has really changed over the years has been what I bring to the film as I watch it – or any other film I see again or any book I re-read or piece of music that I listen to more than once. The work itself, in those cases, doesn’t really change. Oh, it might be restored or, in the case of The Wizard of Oz, blown up for the IMAX and have a few 3D effects tossed in. However, the fundamentals of the work do not change. I have changed.
To give an example, when I was in 8th grade at St. Jerome’s RC Grade School, I watched and was taken up with the TV version of Going My Way. This wasn’t the Bing Crosby movie, which I didn’t see until much later. This one starred Gene Kelly in the Bing Crosby role and Leo G. Carroll (previously of the Topper TV series and later of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) in the Barry Fitzgerald role. I was very taken with it and with the idea of being a parish priest, so much so that I signed up for the seminary.
My “vocation” (as such things were called) didn’t last more than my freshman year but that year in seminary had a profound affect on my life and has been highly influential in my writing. It all stems back to that TV series version of Going My Way. I doubt very much it would have the same influence on me today because I’m a different person. I would bring a different self to it. I might find memories – ghosts – of who I was back then but seeing the series again wouldn’t have the same effect on me.
Any artistic work is like a light switch. The potential is there even when the switch closed. However, it takes the person encountering that work to flip that switch so that the electricity flows. That’s when the work is truly experienced. Part of the magic is no two of us experience that same work in exactly the same way.
The work created has the artist’s intent and exists as his or her self-expression. It has a life of its own, often independent of the creator (witness Sherlock Holmes). The experience, where the work really lives, happens only when someone encounters it, takes it in, brings his or her own life to it, when they really participate in it. A good example are comic books – a comic book page exists in a static form but the reader somehow uses the gutters to “see” and experience the action move from one panel to the next.
This essay exists whether you read it or not but it only reaches its full potential when you read it and, even better, it affects you. Then we shall have shared thoughts, feelings – an experience.
So – was it good for you?
MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell
TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten
I’ve mentioned before how I like going to see movies on a big screen and, when I can, on an IMAX screen which is about as large as you can get. I especially like seeing older movies on the big screen; you see them as they were meant to be seen. I still enjoy watching movies on TV although I can’t say I want to watch them on screens much smaller. I know that plenty of folks – especially them younger generation types – prefer watching them at home but I have (and still) argue that the experience just isn’t the same. To each their own.
This week, me and my Mary played hooky to run off and see The Wizard Of Oz remastered for 3D and IMAX before it departed the theaters. I had some apprehension going in. Would the film get stretched to meet the IMAX screen? I’m not always nuts about the results of a film that was not meant for 3D that is manipulated after the fact to make it 3D.
Bottom line – I had a great time. I’ve seen reviews for the BluRay/DVD/kitchen sink combo pack but this is about seeing it in the movie theater, specifically an IMAX theater. So, the images were sharp, the background was a little muddy here and there but I suspect that was in the original and not so much the transfer. It’s more about how the movies were made then than they are now.
How was the 3D? Meh. It didn’t detract but it didn’t add much as far as I was concerned. I guess I was hoping for more. The twister sequence has always been one of the best (if not the best) in films; it’s truly scary. I was hoping 3D would add even more; there was a bit more dust and stuff floating around but that was about it. On the other hand, they didn’t try to add stuff to the sequence and that was a blessing.
I also was hoping for a little more from the attack of the flying monkeys. It did gain some clarity; the images were sharper and that made the flying monkeys even weirder and scarier. They always weirded me out and this edition made that impression stronger.
What really worked for me was the sound quality. IMAX’s sound is almost always superior; immersive, surrounding, and clearer. That was really the case with Wizard Of Oz. The songs, the background music, the cackle of the Wicked Witch, the growls of the Cowardly Lion – all were so crystal clear that it made it as though I were hearing them for the first time.
In fact, that’s what the IMAX version of the film gave me and that I was hoping it would give me – a sense of seeing it anew, of how it must have been when the audiences first experienced it in 1939. Judy Garland’s singing “Over The Rainbow” was stunning; her image fills the IMAX screen and the sound is pristine. It is simple and direct and strikes right to the heart; all the more amazing since it was very nearly cut from the final version of the film. I’ve seen the film many times. Including on the big screen, but never as a big a screen as the IMAX and I saw it with fresh eyes and heard it with new ears.
There are many, many scenes that stood out in this new version: the Munchkinland sequence, with one great song after another, had a sharpness and clarity I had not experienced before. My favorite heroic moment in the film, when the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion march into the Wicked Witch’s castle to go to (so far as they knew) certain death to rescue Dorothy as the score grows (you know the moment – O-EE-O, EE-ORUM!) had me bouncing in my seat, ready to cheer. I think My Mary was very glad there were so few people in the theater for that matinee.
I wish I could’ve told you all about this while you still had a chance to experience it yourself but we very nearly didn’t make it. All I can say is – I’m glad we did. It took me over the rainbow and the experience was very much about the reason I still go out to the movies. As our Brit friends would say, it was Wizard!
MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell
TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten
Our pal Timothy Truman, perhaps best known for his work on such comics features as GrimJack, Conan, Hawkworld, Jonah Hex, Hawken, and Scout, has teamed up with writer Ian Rankin to present a 44 page comics story inspired by the work of rock-and-blues musician Rory Gallagher. From the press release:
“On October 29, 2013, Eagle Rock Entertainment will release Kickback City, a unique immersive album inspired by the crime noir passion and music of Rory Gallagher (MSRP $29.98). Featuring a specially compiled album of Rory Gallagher’s best crime novel-influenced music; the stunning package also includes an exclusive new novella by Ian Rankin, fully illustrated by graphic artist Timothy Truman. This unique immersive album also includes a special narration of the story by actor Aidan Quinn.
“Inspired by Rory Gallagher’s passion for crime novels, Kickback City is a creative collaboration combining the words of Ian Rankin, the illustrations of Timothy Truman and of course the music of Rory Gallagher. The result is a brand new kind of concept album – a must have for fans of Rory Gallagher, Ian Rankin, graphic novels and newcomers alike.”
In addition to being an accomplished writer and artist, Truman is also a journeyman guitar player and has jammed with musicians Carlos Santana, Bill Kirschen and members of the Grateful Dead. Timothy also provides the illustrations for a great many Grateful Dead album covers and posters.
“I was turned on to Rory’s work in 1973 when I was a junior in high school in West Virginia,” Truman noted. “One Friday night, I turned on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and that’s when I first saw Rory. He immediately blew me away. I thought he was the greatest guitarist and performer I’d ever seen and I’ve been a devoted follower of his music ever since.”
Music recorded by both Gallagher and Truman are frequently featured on Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind (I wonder who hosts that show), on ComicMix affiliate The Point Radio . For more information on Rory Gallagher, please visit www.rorygallagher.com.
When I read The Great Gatsby in AP English back in 1975, I knew it was considered a literary classic but didn’t fall in love with it, despite East Egg’s source material, Great Neck, was nearby. It was a world of the wealthy and decadent that didn’t make sense to me. More recently, though, I reread it for the first time in preparation for my teaching career. With some experience, age, and wisdom, I came to see F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose in a new light. I certainly got to appreciate that this was a fresh take class, wealth, and The American Dream.
So, when I heard director Baz Luhrmann was going to bring his visual sensibilities to bringing the novel to the silver screen, I thought this could be a wonderful treat, matching the imaginativeness of his Romeo & Juliet and verve from Moulin Rouge. The casting — from Tobey Maguire’s Nick to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby – sounded spot on, mixing big names with less familiar ones. That it would be shot in 3-D sounded daring but if anyone could turn a novel into a spectacle, it was Luhrmann.
The resulting film, released last May and out this week on home video, proved interesting but ultimately disappointing. It could be, I and others, expected too much from the director or he just didn’t see the world of Jay Gatsby the way we did. It received mixed reviews and tepid box office for what should have been a box office smash.
Part of the problem could be that he amped things up too much. In what could have been an interesting indictment of the 1920’s one percenters, he chose instead to make things so lavish, so big, so indulgent that it staggered the imagination. Compare the party scenes he shot with the ones glimpsed in the trailer for the 1926 silent adaptation, just a few years after the book’s initial publication. Luhrmann made everything so out of scale, perhaps because of the intended 3-D wow factor, that it felt less like a story and more like a fairy tale (or cautionary tale).
Nick Caraway (Maguire) is the audience’s representative as he slowly gets sucked into the world of the ultra-rich, ultra-secretive Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). More stories exist about him than actual facts but over the course of the story, we learn that he went from rags to riches through nefarious means and intends to reclaim Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who is clearly in a loveless marriage with the rough and tumble Tom (Joel Edgerton). There are parties, fights, flirtations, fast cars, loose women, and gallons of champagne until things suddenly come to a stop with a finality that signaled the end of the Roaring Twenties.
Of course, the novel’s entire story had to be condensed and even the final cut got further trimmed as Luhrmann honed in tighter and tighter on the relationship between Nick and Jay. There are 27 minutes of deleted scenes with the director explaining how delightful they were but needed to go to remain on topic.
The movie looks right with an amazing eye for detail from dresses to jewelry to wallpaper. As usual, the soundtrack is a living thing, a mixture of period era jazz and modern rap, pulsing to a beat that defined a generation. The performances are solid but not revelatory although credit goes to Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki for breathing some life into their supporting roles as, respectively, Myrtle and Jordan.
The movie is available in a variety of formats but the combo pack with Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet is the one most likely to be purchased and the one reviewed. The bonus features are of course on the high definition disc. The transfer is stunning in its color and clarity, living up to the expectations where Luhrmann rarely disappoints. Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track properly conveys the aural feel of the era and the music subtly plays away, creating a nice sense of place.
There are a series of short bonus features, mostly Luhrmann talking with plenty of clips from the film and source material. There’s an overview, The Greatness of Gatsby (9:14), then some behind-the-scenes footage called Within and Without with Tobey Maguire (8:41). A highlight is a look at The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby (12:17) as the director, composer Craig Armstrong, Jay-Z, Florence Welch (of Florence & the Machine), Lana Del Rey, Bryan Ferry and The XX discuss how the soundtrack came together. A fine companion piece is The Jazz Age” (15:43), lifting liberally from Ric Burns’ New York documentary.
Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the ‘20s (16:22) has Luhrmann’s wife, and the film’s Costume Designer Catherine Martin reveal how they worked closely with Brooks Brothers, Tiffany & Co. and Prada to revive the look, largely thanks to archival designs and pieces in the various archives.
The author gets his due in Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry (6:55) which also touches on the 3-D process. Then we have four more short behind-the-scenes looks under the umbrella title Gatsby Revealed.
Excuse me if this week’s profundity seems a bit more extemporaneous than usual. It’s been one of those weeks, and at 3:00 yesterday morning Roscoe The Cat literally saved my life and I’m still twitching over that one.
I listen to music all the time. Literally, all the time. I have a very wide range in taste, but most of what I listen to falls under the exceptionally broad category of “kick ass rock’n’blues.” It’s a phrase I use on Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind, my weekly radio indulgence on (ahem) www.getthepointradio.com. Right now, I’m listening to Sterling Koch’s 2010 effort, Steel Guitar Blues. Kick ass music energizes me and takes the pressures of the day and it puts them over there, wherever there is. Music is my drug of choice.
A lot of my friends in the comics racket have a similar relationship to rock’n’blues – it’s crack for those of us with short attention spans. Topping that list is my Team GrimJack mate and awesomely dear friend, Timothy Truman. He’s turned me onto more great music than anybody outside of the amazing disc jockey Terri Hemmert (WXRT; they stream live and are on most of the radio apps). The difference is, it’s Terri’s job to turn us on to music. Timbo’s job is to sit at his drawing board and his computer and knock out the greatest comics the world has ever known.
The energy and the ambiance of kick ass rock’n’blues is reflected in Tim’s work – every damn panel of it. He’d probably do more comics work if he weren’t the artist for The Grateful Dead, and his work as graced the cover of many a recent GD release. He’d probably do less comics work if he had decided to make his career commitment the guitar: he’s one of the finest guitar players I have ever heard. That’s a lot to say, as I spent more than three decades in Chicago and I lived near many of their classic blues clubs. Timothy has jammed with Carlos Santana and Bill Kirchen and sundry of the Dead and a million others and, let me tell you, from the tapes I’ve heard nobody ever had to carry him.
Having worked with him on a zillion projects in the past 30 years – that’s 30 years this year – I can now reveal a secret: I stole Timbo not from TSR, where he was employed prior to Starslayer and GrimJack, but from the world of rock and blues… and for this, I feel guilty.
There are others whose work reflects the energy and spirit of the sound. Lots of so-called underground guys like George Metzger and Rand Holmes and Greg Irons. Erik Larson has more than a bit of that going for him. Howard Chaykin, but not so much rock’n’blues as Hoagy Carmichael and Billie Holiday by way of David Bowie.
But no one ever captured the spirit and the energy of kick ass rock’n’blues the way Jack Kirby did. You could see the shift in his style around the time rock’n’roll hit the airwaves in the mid-50s (check out his Fighting American), and when it came time to co-create the Marvel Universe, well let me tell you, Galactus and Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer and the negative zone and… well, you get the idea. Pure rock energy that carried over to his Fourth World stuff at DC.
Here’s the part that I find overwhelming: there is no recorded evidence that Jack Kirby was a fan of this music, or that he even liked it. He met a few rock’n’rollers; he met Frank Zappa, for crying out loud. But if this isn’t the creative coincidence of all time, then there was something in the air that only Jack Kirby and a couple thousand musicians could inhale.
It was intuitive, the way good comics should be. It was intuitive, the way good music should be.
By the way, I’m now listening to the new album by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Made Up Mind. And yeah, Timothy Truman turned me on to them. Then, I think some rockabilly. Or maybe Bo Diddley.
(Poster artwork by Timothy Truman in promotion of a 2009 Grateful Dead tour, and the Simon and Kirby piece is from Fighting American. Both are probably copyright by somebody appropriate. Oh, yeah. All Rights Reserved. So watch yer ass.)
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil
THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Martin Pasko
Well, actually, he’s a lot of animals. From Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb to Appa and Momo on Avatar: The Last Airbender, voice actor Dee Bradley Baker is the man behind a whole slew of animal and creature sounds you might not even guess could come from a human being. Of course, he also voices awesome speaking characters, such as all of the clones on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Klaus the German fish on American Dad! And then there are all of those video games he’s provided voices or sounds for, like the Halo series, Portal 2, Gears of War 1 – 3, Diablo III, Left 4 Dead 2, the Ben 10 video games, and several Marvel and DC games, including Batman: Arkham City. In fact, if you look over his ridiculously long IMDB page (329 titles!) I think you’ll find that even if you are not a heavy consumer of entertainment, you’ve heard Dee’s voice somewhere and probably didn’t even know it. And that’s the way he likes it.
I had a chance to sit down with Dee at the San Diego Comic-Con and talk about his amazing talents, examples of which you can listen to here, and his experiences as a voice actor (and for those who are interested in getting into voice acting, I recommend Dee’s site, I Want to Be a Voice Actor, as a great resource). It was an awesome interview, which you can watch in its entirety here. Or, read on for the transcript!
You’ve worked on a number of things that are being featured here at SDCC, so please tell me about those.
My first day was a panel for I Know That Voice, which the great John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender and a ton of other voices, is overseeing; and it basically chronicles the history of voice acting and who’s working in voice acting right now – most all of the A-listers – and it also speaks a lot about Comic-Con as well. He just kind of assembled some Avengers of Voice Acting on that panel, and we had a really fun panel. I also did one for Phineas and Ferb, and that went beautifully. I’m Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb (demonstrates Perry). That’s a great and creative show; and I really love that show as a dad, because that’s one you can watch over and over and over again, which is what kids like to do; so that was spectacular. Yesterday we had a big panel in the gigantic hall for American Dad!, which was also a lot of fun. (In character) I’m Klaus the fish on American Dad! And I am in a little bowl.
And what was it that Rob Paulsen said about that voice on the I Know That Voice panel?
It just makes him happy. It makes him happy to hear me speak with a German accent. Or to speak in German, which I will do for him.
It was funny to see the reactions on that panel when you started doing Klaus. I think everybody loves that.
Yes; well, I have a real fondness for the German language. I speak it, and I spent a year in school there, and I studied German writers and philosophers. And it’s just kind of a forgotten language in this country basically since the 20th century, and it’s a fun little thing to pop out and show everyone.
With the German language thing; when you go in and a director says they’re looking for a German voice do you ever do German and they say, “that’s too authentic, we want something hammy”?
No; if they want me to dial down the accent, I’ll do that; but I’ve never gotten that request. I understand what you’re asking; but actually, for me, it usually works out – what’s sometimes difficult for me is if I go in to do a dog or a cat, and they want something that doesn’t sound like a dog or a cat. They want something that’s goofy; or that’s more human. So I have to make myself bend away from something that’s authentic into something that expresses it with the tone that they want.
When you’re doing that process, do you just sit there and try a bunch of noises?
Can you give an example?
Well, if you want, like, a dog bark (demonstrates different dog barks) you can humanize it. You can make it more Scooby, or more like a dog. And then you can dial in whether it’s small or big or whatever. But it’s a little different for every show, and that’s kind of what I do as a voice actor.
That’s great. Now you mentioned philosophy – did you study philosophy?
Yes, I was a philosophy major in college, with practically a minor in German.
So how did you go from philosophy and German to voice acting?
Both coexisted fine, really. I’ve done performing all of my life, and had a lot of fun doing everything from plays and operas and stand-up and children’s theater and improv, to singing telegrams, summer stock, Shakespeare-
Singing telegrams, really? Where do you even find that job?
Oh, just look in the Yellow Pages! Or whatever exists now. You can get money to do a live singing telegram.
Did you have to dance, too?
Well, it depends on the character. On what they want the character to do. Whether it’s like a nerd strip-a-gram, or…there are just various characters that they hand you, with this horrible script, and then you have to walk into a situation where either they’re delighted or they’re just completely mortified, and it’s really uncomfortable. And then you have to try to get them to pay you your money, because the company that hires you is not going to help you with that. It’s actually a fairly unpleasant job for me to do. So I didn’t do that for very long; but I did it for a while. But you know, it’s either that, or work in an office; and I don’t want to work in an office. So – I like performing, and I’m happy to try something stupid in front of people. I always have been, and that’s how I earn my living; is basically that.
And you’re fantastic at it, so that’s great! Now, I looked at your IMDB page. With voice actors, it’s impossible to even remotely cover everything, because you all are so versatile, and you do everything.
Yeah, a lot of us are very versatile, and do a lot of different kinds of voices; we do impressions; you know, I specialize in sounds; some are women who do little boy voices; some are known for the sexy; some are known for the powerful, or the evil, or the big; or maybe they can do them all. So yeah, a lot of us have a lot of different shows that we do. That’s how you earn a living as a voice actor, is to do a lot of shows; as opposed to on-camera, where you’re pretty much just doing one show at a time.
And as I was looking through your IMDB, I never actually got down to the bottom of your very first gig. I was scrolling, and I was like, “I’m never going to get there,” so I’ll just ask: what was your first gig, and also, what was your first experience performing in front of people, like as a child or whatever.
My first performing-in-front-of-people experience was I think in first grade, when they asked me to present flowers at the University of Northern Colorado homecoming queen beauty pageant, and I had to present flowers to the gal who was one of the homecoming queen candidates at the university. My second performance was the lead as Oliver in the play Oliver at my school, which was a K through 12 school in Greeley, Colorado, and that was my first really acting/performing gig, was starring in Oliver. I was in second grade, so about eight years old. My first professional gig, being paid, would be performing Oliver, again, at the Chuckwagon Dinner Playhouse in Greeley, Colorado. They paid me something like thirteen bucks a night to be Oliver. I was probably ten or eleven. I did Oliver in Greeley three times! I did it once at my school, once at the university, which was not paid, and then once for the Chuckwagon Dinner Playhouse, which was paid. And that was my first paying gig.
But when I was a kid, you know, I did ventriloquism; I did plays; they’d bring me over as the boy soprano at the university for Bernstein’s Mass or various productions. That was not paid; that was just for fun. That’s how I came to become enamored of acting and performing, was just doing it for fun.
So what was your first voice acting gig that was professional?
My first paid voice acting gig was doing a non-union commercial in Colorado Springs for Mexicana Airlines, in a horrible Spanish accent. That was my first voiceover gig, if I remember correctly. It was terrible. It was truly terrible, but I got paid to do not-my-voice in a commercial.
And it’s all experience, whether you’re paid or not. That’s the best teacher; that’s what you want. You need experience. Not necessarily classroom study, although that can be a very good thing. But you’ve got to get in front of an audience, and you’ve got to convince people to give you money to do what you like to do.
Now you were saying that you’re known for creatures, which I of course knew and appreciate-
(Dee does animal noises!)
So can I ask you, how do you do…
(Dee does crickets!)
…that. How do you do the crickets? I love the crickets!
(Demonstrating) The crickets are done with the back of the tongue against the soft palate, like you’re gargling; it’s very relaxed back there. You can do it other ways too, actually. You can do it in the front of the mouth. But I do it in the back of the mouth; and then while I’m whistling, I dial in the uvula; and then I whistle with an inhale, which is a higher whistle for me; and then I just do it in reverse. So that’s what you do. But you can do that! You can practice that and you can do that. I’ve shown people how to do it.
I believe you! And I love the crickets.
Everybody loves the crickets. Except for a writer. A writer doesn’t like the crickets. Because you insert the crickets when there’s a pause or when the joke falls flat. So writers don’t like the crickets; that’s one thing I’ve learned.
That makes sense. Now you do tons and tons of creatures. Have you had any particular ones that have been really difficult to come up with, or that really stressed your voice?
Well roaring and screaming like you often do in video games can be really taxing on the voice. But I try to do it in a way that doesn’t tear up my voice. That’s done by relying on – not the voice. By relying on the throat. (demonstrates) Like that – where I’m using not just my voice but other things to make the sound or the effort. It also helps too to use it on an inhale sometimes, because that can get you a lot of sound but is not as hard on the voice. It’s taxing on the voice, but not terribly so.
When you do that in public and people smile like I’m smiling now, do you get a big kick out of that?
I don’t do it in public, and when I do they don’t smile! Well, they do here! It’s gotta be set up right, otherwise, there’s something wrong. There’s something obviously wrong, and they don’t smile.
Well, I was going to ask, also, because a lot of voice actors are known for the voices that they do, what is it like being the creature guy; being a voice actor who’s most known for animal and creature sounds?
I love that. I’m happy not to be known for anything. I don’t need to be known at all; it’s not really on my agenda. It doesn’t serve my life to be known; other than professionally, in professional circles, for people to know that I do creature and animal sounds. But that’s part of the appeal of a voice acting career, is that you’re not saddled with fame. You can live a relatively normal life and have normal relationships, and have to deal with your own human limitations in a more immediate way than you do in the sort of mediated, buffered world that a famous person has to cope with. So that’s part of why I like voice acting and was drawn to it, is that in particular.
Has that changed any for you since YouTube and having voice actors at cons and things are more prevalent now?
I can still go shopping at a grocery store and nobody knows who the heck I am, so no. But! There are a couple more people at a convention that recognize me; that’s fine. But for the most part, they don’t. And that’s okay.
Okay; now with The Clone Wars, you were saying the other day that it’s strange for you to be doing a normal voice. Can you talk about that experience?
Yes, well, when you’re establishing your career in whatever you’re doing, you kind of start with your default strength, and that for me tended to be more (in character) wacky or comedic character roles, that were more broad or cartoony. And I still have that in my wheelhouse. But when I auditioned for and got on Clone Wars, (in character) it is a straight-ahead soldier; I mean that is a normal human being that is as straight-ahead as you can imagine. There’s nothing bizarre or strange about a clone. They are a soldier, and a human, and that is what is interesting about them.
And so I would never have cast myself in doing that kind of a role at that time. That was kind of a mental limitation I had imposed upon myself, just because of what I’d been doing and what worked. But that kind of opened up for me the realization that I can do normal! That I can do normal and variations of normal; and the acting challenge of applying the gradation of character to the clones really opened up my mind in terms of what I can do and how I look at what I can do. So from that, I will occasionally get a villain character. For instance, Tarrlok, in Legend of Korra. (in character) Tarrlok, he speaks mostly as I do. But he is a character who is duplicitous, and you’re not always sure what he’s going to do; if he’s friendly, or if he’s evil…or what’s up with him. And that was another just straight-ahead character; who was kind of unsavory in a lot of ways. But again, I got to do that. Or Ra’s al Ghul in the Batman: Arkham City video game. I mean, that’s a straight-ahead villain. That’s a heavy. And I booked that, whereas I think a decade ago or so, I don’t think I would have even auditioned for it. No one would have thought to, and I wouldn’t have thought to. I would have said, “Nah, that’s not really what I do.”
You’ve worked a lot in both video games and animation. What’s the difference in experiences there? Do you prefer one?
I like video games in general because I think it’s not just an art form, but an evolution in how humans communicate, and what they do. I don’t think normal society really understands that. The sort of established, grown-up society; I don’t think they understand the profundity of what that means in terms of connecting with millions of other people in different countries and doing something together. Like, with World of Warcraft, or on Xbox or something like that, you’re literally playing against the rest of the planet, or you’re playing with them, as you play against them. It’s competitive but at the same time it’s cooperative. And I don’t know what else we’re doing as nations and countries that is like that. I think it’s a really positive and necessary thing, that has the potential to lead to kind of benevolent connections among societies; that we need, as the world seems to be falling apart. I think it’s a thing that brings large groups of people together, who don’t even necessarily speak the same language. And that’s something; that’s unique.
It also brings in a lot of different art forms in addition to writing and acting. It also puts music into the ear of young people who probably aren’t getting that; because arts and other essential education in this country are being cut, because education is not a priority in this country, sadly. Tragically. And so I like that it brings music into the mind and into the ear; as many of the projects that we have here at Comic-Con do. Whether it’s the X-Men feature film, or a Halo game, the music that you’re hearing, this sort of nineteenth century programmatic music, is really marvelous. It’s a marvelous form of expression. We should know it and appreciate it and cultivate that in our world, I think.
I agree. Now speaking of the con again, were you also doing Wolves?
Yes, I did! I was doing wolf sounds for Wolves. I don’t know what I am allowed to tell about it, but it’s David Hayter’s project, and he’s got a great werewolf-type project, and they brought me in to do some wolves. (demonstrates)
That’s fantastic. Are there any other new projects we should be keeping an eye out for?
I wish there were more that I could talk about. I continue to do a lot of stuff for Disney, and for Phineas and Ferb, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and lots of shows that kids really like. For Jake and the Never Land Pirates, I’m the Croc, and – I’m pretty much the animals in that; whether it’s a bee or a plant or a lizard or a bug or whatever it is, they call me in to do that.
What does it make you feel like if you’re watching a show that you’ve done, and there are people talking, and you are all of the background noises or whatever?
I like that. I mean, it’s fun! It’s fun to be in there, and I like it best if people don’t realize that that’s what that is; that there is a human doing that. The goal would be for it to sound natural and seamless and invisible, sort of like a special effect. You don’t want an audience member to think about a special effect. You want them to experience the scene more accurately to what your vision is as a creator. And that’s what I want to be as a voice actor who adds the weird or the animal or the alien, is to make it feel like this is an organic part of what the story is. Not, “Oh, who’s that guy, doing that sound?” That’s what I don’t want.
I think you succeed very well, because I would never know.
• • • • •
Dee is a such pleasure to talk with, and I had a fantastic time interviewing him! And, of course, I asked Dee to do a shout-out for ComicMix, which he was kind enough to do. Don’t miss it at the end of the video!
And until next time, Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Goes Super Nigga!
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Gets Real Small