Monday, December 15, 2014

#147. The Importance of Being Ernest: A Conversation with Justin Lloyd about the Life of Actor Jim Varney

"KnoWhutImean" entered my vocabulary as a kid in 1988 when I first encountered Ernest P. Worrell via my parent's television set during a Saturday morning show called "Hey Vern, It's Ernest!"  I found myself asking questions like: Who is this Vern?  Am I Vern?  And what is a Wall Street tycoon?  After a few viewings I was able to sing along with the chaotic and bizarre theme song as I watched the unforgettably unique names of John Cherry and Coke Sams flash by onscreen.  The experience I had with Jim Varney's creation was probably similar to that of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse", but in some ways Ernest's world was even more wonderfully weird.  I mean, how many shows out there included a weekly segment where we journey inside the main character's mouth to have a conversation with their tongue?  This new obsession would quickly snowball into a collection of Ernest toys, books and hours spent in the cinema with my family watching Ernest save Christmas, go to jail and be scared stupid by a lactose-intolerant demonic troll empowered with the ability to turn children into wooden dolls.

In the same way that Chaplin gave us more than the Tramp, Varney gave us more than Ernest. Thanks to his nephew's new book, "The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Actor Jim Varney", Justin Lloyd shows us how much he actually gave and lets us in on stuff that even Vern doesn't know...   
Jason Anders:  So when did the idea to write a book about your uncle first spark, and how long did you toy with it before it became a serious endeavor?

Justin Lloyd:  My mother and aunt (Jim's older sisters) had talked about writing a book together shortly after Jim passed in 2000.  They had come up with an outline and written down a lot of their memories of Jim and their family that focused a good deal on his childhood.  Nothing came of any of this and it was not until 2007 that I noticed what wonderful comments were being left on various Ernest/ Jim Varney YouTube videos that inspired me to share more with his fans.  That led me to a moment in March of 2008 where I just made up my mind that a book needed to be written about Jim.

As silly as it may sound, it almost felt like a calling.  I realized that I was in a unique position as a relative to offer the family perspective but I was also aware of some other influential people in his life that very few others even knew about.  And the rest of my research was straightforward newspaper and magazine research that helped bring everything together.  My book was far more ambitious in scope than the one my mother and aunt had considered.  Of course "more ambitious" equals much more work to do!  I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it as comprehensive as possible and really give my subject the effort I felt his life and legacy deserved.  
JA:  What was it like growing up with Jim Varney as your uncle?

JL:  It was a bit surreal.  The first time I saw him on television was for some regional Convenient Food Mart commercials around 1983.  The Hey Vern, It's My Family Album special aired about a year later and that really blew me away.  All the characters and accents he could do were really amazing.  The Lloyd Worrell (meanest man in the world) sketch was just hilarious and I was soon reciting it verbatim along with my sister.

When he came to town to visit us, it really was an event.  It was obviously extra special to me as a kid because he was famous, but I think it would have been special anyway.  He was so entertaining and different from anyone else I was exposed to growing up.  He would imitate all these characters of his and also famous people such as Johnny Cash.  He always had some new knife or piece of jewelry he would talk at length about.  He just made everything seem cool.  It's so ironic how very "cool" he was and the fact that he was so well known for such a bumbling goofy character.   
JA:  Did you have any idea when you first began researching how much work it would be?

JL:  I really didn't know how much work it would be.  I think I imagined it taking about two years but honestly had no idea.  I just knew I was going to finish it no matter what it took.  I became intensely passionate about it.  I found out so many things I didn't know about him that any outline I would have started out with would have been scrapped almost entirely.  It was all quite bittersweet because I found myself wanting to talk to him so many times as I uncovered new information but obviously could not.  

JA:  What was the biggest challenge for you along the way of completing this book?

JL:  Keeping everything organized was definitely a challenge as I collected three huge binders full of articles.  I pored over them many times to make sure I didn't miss anything important that should be in the book.  Interviewing people was my biggest challenge however just because most of the people I talked to I didn't know and wasn't aware of the nature of their personal relationships with Jim beyond their professional ties.  Some of these people were not exactly fans of the other interviewees either so that made things interesting.  They were all quite welcoming and friendly with me and I felt that had a lot to do with the respect and affection they had for my uncle. 
JA:  What were you most surprised to discover about your uncle?

JL:  I would say our family connection to the Hatfields was most surprising.  The fact that no one in our family knew about it (only that my great-grandfather supposedly went hunting with some of the Hatfields) was really stunning.  But something relating more to Jim's life and career that was a surprise was the extent of his relationship with Johnny Cash.  He first worked with Cash in 1974 when he was cast as an extra on a TV special of Cash's.  The next year Cash saw Jim perform stand-up at a club called the Exit/In in Nashville.  That is when they really got to know each other.  Cash really enjoyed Jim's brand of comedy and eventually cast him on his 1976 summer variety show.  Jim managed to stay in touch with Cash throughout his life.  

JA:  Do you have a favorite film of his?

JL:  Although it's not considered a "film", the Hey Vern, It's My Family Album special is my favorite. I really don't know all that much about the actual shooting of the special.  I know that "Verna" in the Rhetch Worrell sketch is John Cherry's wife.  Maybe one of the most interesting things I found out about this show was that a few years earlier when Jim was living in California, he and his manager were trying to pitch Jim Varney's Family Album.  Other than Jim portraying a variety of characters, this early concept had nothing in common with the Ernest special.  I am thinking that the simple concept of a "family album" came back to Jim when working with John Cherry as a way for him to play a lot of funny and interesting characters.  

I would probably have to say that my favorite Ernest film was Ernest Goes to Camp, which has a slight edge over Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Goes to Jail and Ernest Scared Stupid.
JA:  Do you know much about the production of "Hey Vern, It's Ernest!"?

:  Like so many of the Ernest projects, I can only imagine the fun they had behind-the-scenes and how Jim probably entertained the cast and crew for hours between takes.  I do know that much of the show was shot inside of Jim's actual residence in White House, Tennessee.  He won a Daytime Emmy Award for this show and I know he was extremely proud of that.

JA:  Did you spend any time on the sets of his productions?

JL:  Ultimately, very little.  The only Ernest set I ever visited was one of the Ernest Scared Stupid sets in the summer of 1991 in Nashville.  It was a large warehouse where they had converted it into the woods where Jim (as Ernest) is battling trolls on the back of a pickup truck.  My favorite experience with Jim involving any of his movies was attending a special premiere of the independent movie 100 Proof with my family in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.  I was actually sitting right beside him during the movie and it was so interesting to see people turn around in their seats and look at him and whisper to each other.  It gave me an interesting perspective on how it feels to be famous.
JA:  How did Gailard Sartain and Bill Byrge become involved with Ernest projects?

JL:  I am a huge fan of Gailard Sartain.  I would love to have met him while he was working with my uncle.  I have never met Bill Byrge either but have heard what a really wonderful person he is.  I am not sure how Sartain first became involved with John Cherry.  I know that he and Byrge had shot some "Chuck and Bobby" commercials together for Carden & Cherry before they appeared in any of the Ernest projects.  And of course the first character Sartain played in an Ernest film was the chef named "Jake" in Ernest Goes to Camp.  Sartain has been excellent in dramatic roles over the years from a small role in The Outsiders to the despicable sheriff in Mississippi Burning.  I know that Bill Byrge was working as a librarian in Nashville when he was discovered.    

JA:  Do you think Jim ever realized the true impact he had as an entertainer?

JL:  Because of the amount of people who showed up at his personal appearances for Ernest, I believe that he was quite aware of the impact he was having.  I know he received quite a bit of fan mail and would post artwork from children who would include it in their correspondence.  I think what may have surprised him is the legacy of the character and how so many adults today that were fans of his growing up want to share Ernest with their children.  And the fact that so many families watched Ernest movies together and how it became a part of some of their best memories of spending time together, it's really something special. 
JA:  Was it difficult to watch "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", being that is was released after his passing?

JL:  At that point it really wasn't.  It was more about being really excited to see something else he was connected to that I had never seen before.  I experienced that many times in writing my book where I was able to find quite a bit of old footage of him that kinda brought him back to life in a way. I would probably say, like before, it's a lot of bittersweet feelings where I am excited to see something new but then I want to talk to him about it as soon as I do.  

JA:  Have you considered turning the book into a feature-length documentary?

JL:  I have.  And that is probably what I would have done first because of my love for movies and documentaries.  There is a lot more cost involved and then there is dealing with all the rights and permissions for so much of the content.  I know I would have such an ambitious scope and would want a great variety of clips included.  I have had a few conversations with people about making one and as things begin to settle down in my life here I would like to revisit the possibility of pursuing that.
JA:  If you had to sum up your uncle with just three words, what would they be?

JL:  Born to entertain.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

#146. A Conversation with Camren Bicondova

Actress and dancer Camren Bicondova drops in to discuss her experiences on the set of FOX's television series Gotham where she portrays a young Selina Kyle.  We also talk favorite movies, inspirations and all about her life before landing the "purrfect" role...

Jason Anders: I was just watching a recent episode of Gotham and there is a scene where you're bonding with Bruce Wayne which has become one of my favorite scenes of the series so far.  The whole show is superb and I really love what you bring to the character.

Camren Bicondova: Thank you, I appreciate that!

JA: What is an average day on that set like for you?

CB:  Well it's amazing to be a part of, I'm gonna say that.  My daily agenda would be arriving at the studio, getting into hair and makeup and then doing some schooling.  It's really fun to be able to dress up for Halloween every time I go to work.  Then I go on set, and when I have a break I do some more schooling.  The tricky part is going in and out of schooling.  It's kind of all over the place but organized at the same time.

JA:  I imagine it's a big enough challenge to play one of the biggest characters in comic book history on a major network, but to do that on top of having to go to school day in and day out...

CB:  It is very challenging.  I just have to remember that if I don't do my schoolwork then I can't do Gotham.  I'm a sophomore in high school and there are definitely days I do not want to go, but education is very important.  I think that's how I balance it is by remembering that I need to do it in order to do what I love.
JA:  I think I would have done much better in school if my motivator was that I couldn't be on the Batman show if I didn't finish my homework.

CB: Yeah (laughs).

JA:  Have you always lived in New York or did you grow up somewhere else?

CB:  I was born and raised in San Diego, California.  My dad was in the military and when I was ten we moved to Hawaii.  We eventually moved to Los Angeles so that I could be in the dance industry.

JA:  Do you remember what initially sparked your interest in dance?

CB:  I forget what age I was, but my mom took me to see Movin' Out and I just remember how excited the dancers and performers seemed to be and the fun they were having on stage.  Even if they weren't singing or speaking they were showing so much emotion without saying a word.  I whispered to my mom, "I wanna do that."  Ever since then I've been dancing.
JA:  Can you pinpoint what you love most about dancing?

CB:  I consider it a universal language.  I was very shy as a kid... well, I'm still a kid, but as a younger child... I was always looking down at the ground and didn't really talk much.  I just kind of observed everything.  Dance was a way for me to express myself.  Anything in general that allows you to express your feelings is very unique.

JA:  Do you feel like you've overcome being shy?

CB:  I think I've opened up and am not as much as an introvert.  I think that being on Gotham and going to these amazing events has definitely made me more of a social person.  I would say that there are times when I'm very shy.  If my friends are going to a barbecue I may just want to stay home and bake cookies.

JA:  At what point did your transition from dancer to actress happen?

CB:  It kind of just happened.  I was part of a movie called Battlefield America, cast as a dancer, and the director told me during one scene to say a line.  I'm gonna be honest, I had never acted or thought about acting before... so the way I did that line was not my favorite, but it was my first time.  That day was when I decided I wanted to start acting, and it happened gradually from there.
JA:  What was auditioning for Gotham like?

CB:  I thought that I was auditioning for a girl named Lucy, "a fourteen-year-old street thief pickpocket who is fierce when cornered and skilled at cat movements."  I thought it sounded like Catwoman, but said "oh well, it's Lucy."  I just went in like any other audition, having no idea that it would become what it has become.  I'm very grateful for getting to be a part of a project like this.

When I got the call, the casting director said "Meow."  He said, "You're Selina Kyle!  You're on Gotham!"  I was like "oh my gosh.  This is insane."  I was very happy.

JA:  With so many incarnations of the character, how did you go about deciding how to play her?

CB:  I've been reading comic books and watching the 60's show with Adam West.  I watched some movies, too.  I mixed my research with my own thoughts, fusing my own perspective with the information from the comic books.

My favorite part from the comic books shows a teenage Selina Kyle in an orphanage, and her and this boy would steal jewels for the supervisor.  She never got to keep the jewels for herself, she always had to give them to the orphanage supervisor.  It then flashes back to present-day Gotham with her saying, "And that is why I am who I am."  What I took from that is that she steals for empowerment.
I took that and I use it when I'm doing scenes of street-thieving.

It's really amazing to be playing such an unpredictable character like Selina Kyle.
JA:  Do you ever wake up in the morning worried that this has all been a dream?

CB:  I wake up every morning and pinch myself.  I love New York, I love the food, I love the people and I love how easy it is to navigate around the city.  I love my job, also.  It's amazing to be able to wake up every morning in the city of dreams.

JA:  Isn't it the greatest city in the world?

CB:  It is!  I mean I have to get used to the cold weather, I'm a Cali girl , but other than that I'm loving it.  I'm excited to see snow!  I think we're supposed to get snow this Wednesday, that'll be really fun.  I've seen snow at my Grandparents house but it melted pretty much as soon as it hit the ground, so I don't think that really counts.

JA:  What is your favorite thing about the process of making Gotham?

CB:  I like being able to simply put on a costume and become a different person.  I think it's fascinating that it's you, but not you... if that makes sense.  There's a similarity to dance- when you're dancing, you're you, but you're also becoming the singer and expressing what the singer is singing.
With acting, you're still you, but in my case also Selina Kyle expressing what she is feeling.  I think that is really awesome and it makes me very happy.

JA:  What do you do for fun when you're not working?

CB:  I play with my cats.  I like to run and go to the gym.  I like to eat.  I'm still dancing.

JA:  Do you go to dance classes?

CB:  I've been taking dance classes, but when I don't have the time to go I just go on YouTube and learn choreography off of my computer.  That's pretty much it.  I've been eating a lot since moving to New York so I've been dancing and working out more.
JA:  Is being on Broadway a goal you care about pursuing? 

CB:  I cannot sing for the life of me.  I only sing in the shower when I'm by myself, and I act like I'm at a Beyoncé concert and I'm just loving my life.  I think it would be cool to be a part of a Broadway show, but only as a dancer.  If I sang I would just embarrass myself.  At least at the moment.

I like watching Broadway shows, but all of my focus is on Gotham right now.  I'm just going with the flow and seeing where my destiny takes me.

JA:  Do you collect anything?

CB:  I used to collect nutcrackers.  Every Black Friday my mom and I would go buy them, so I have a bunch, I just haven't collected any recently.  I think they're the coolest things, although I don't think they're used for cracking nuts anymore.  I tried it once and it didn't work, unless I wasn't strong enough.  I'll have to try it again.

Also, my clothes collect cat hair on the daily.  I have to get a lot of lint rollers.

JA:  Nutcrackers and cat hair, there you go.

CB:  Yep! (laughs)
JA:  What are three movies that you love?

CB:  That's so hard!  I recently saw the movie Begin Again with Keira Knightley and it was amazing. Honey with Jessica Alba.  Another one I really love is Stomp the Yard, it's really awesome.  You have to watch them!

JA:  Have you landed on a personal favorite portrayal of Catwoman yet?

CB:  I really love Julie Newmar and her take on Catwoman in the 60's show.  She's just amazing.
My favorite scene is when she was trying to persuade Batman into doing something and he said, "You're very beautiful, Catwoman."  She leaned over the couch and said, "Yes... you're quite right, I am."  I just thought that was the best thing ever.  

JA:  The 60's Batman TV show is what I grew up watching.  The Family Channel showed reruns every afternoon when I was a kid.  It's such a funny show to watch now and see it from a different perspective.

CB:  I feel that way when I watch cartoons now that I used to watch when I was little.  When you're young, you just look at the images and you laugh if it's funny, even if you don't understand what's going on.  I watch some cartoons now and I'm like "whoa, that is an adult joke!  What the heck?"  But it's hilarious.  
JA:  If you had to sum up your life at the moment with just three words, what would they be?

CB:  Hmm.  It may take me a while to answer this question, so beware of the awkward pauses.  I'm very busy so I'm going to say "busy."  It's nice being busy because you have things to focus on and you don't get tired very easily.  I always get more tired if I'm just standing or sitting for long periods of time rather than moving around.

JA:  When you're busy doing things you love, it energizes you.

CB:  Exactamundo!  I'm in New York but my family in in California and Colorado, so I'd also say "cross country."  A word that I feel right now in my life is "grateful."

JA:  I'm glad you're able to appreciate all of the wonderful things that are happening in your life.

CB:  I do!  And thank you.  Thank you for asking me questions!

JA:  Thank you, Camren!

Follow Camren on Twitter: @CamrenBicondova
Follow GOTHAM on Twitter: @Gotham

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#145. A Conversation with Jillian Morgese

Actress Jillian Morgese, notable for her performance in the role of Hero in Joss Whedon's 2012 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, drops by Fulle Circle to discuss her life, career, favorite movies, inspirations and fear of spiders.

Jason Anders:  So let's start with where you were born and what life was like for you growing up- Was acting ever something you enjoyed doing as a kid?

Jillian Morgese:  I was born in Fair Lawn, New Jersey and lived there until I graduated high school. It’s about a twenty-five minute drive from Manhattan, so my parents took my sister and I in quite often growing up.  I can still remember them surprising us one night by taking us on a horse and carriage ride around Central Park and then to see our first Broadway show, Cats.  Needless to say my love for New York City started at a young age.

I did some commercial/print work when I was a kid, but athletics ended up taking over for some time. I competed as a junior Olympic gymnast for almost nine years.  I took my first class when I was six and immediately fell in love with the sport.  I joined the competitive team the following year.  We would train four hours a day, five days a week, and then travel most weekends for competitions.  My teammates and I also competed on the town’s diving team during the summers, which was a lot of fun. I stayed very active.  
JA:  Did you have other plans for your future at the time besides getting in to the Fashion Institute of Technology, or did you know that's where you wanted to be? 

JM:  I’ve been really lucky, in that I’ve had the chance to explore everything I’ve been passionate about.  Gymnastics was a huge part of my life, and for a while my goal was to get an athletic scholarship to the University of Georgia and compete throughout college.  However, by the time I got to high school, and after many injuries including a tumbling accident where I broke both my arms, my focus shifted to fashion. 

I’d always loved fashion styling, and my mom and I even helped design some of the competition leotards that my team and I wore.  I started to take courses at FIT the summer before starting high school and knew pretty quickly that was where I wanted to be.  It was actually the only college I applied to, so I was very excited when I was accepted.  I moved to New York after high school and into the FIT dorms in Chelsea.  I loved every minute of my time there.  I was surrounded by artistic people, learned a lot, and got to experience Fashion Week every season, which was amazing.

While living in the city, I also started to get back into acting.  Over the next couple of years, I would take classes on nights or weekends when I didn’t have school.  I also signed with a commercial agent and began doing some commercial/print work.  I then decided to start doing some extra work as well, to get a feel for what it was like to be on television and film sets. There were very long hours, but I learned a lot from watching everyone work and just really loved being in that atmosphere.  Senior year, I submitted for extra work on a project called Group Hug, which I soon found out was the alias for The Avengers, and everything kind of happened from there. 

By the time I graduated, acting had my heart.  
JA:  What would you say inspires you most in life?

JM:  Every form of art that makes you feel something, opens your mind and makes you think. 

JA:  Let's talk about your cameo in The Avengers- If it were me, it would have made my life if the back of my head ended up on the cutting room floor.  Tell me how this opportunity came about.

JM:  I submitted to extras casting, just like I did on numerous other things, and they were just looking for a background waitress.  It wasn't even through an audition, it was just casting to be an extra. When I booked it, it was for a movie called Group Hug, so I had no idea what it was even for. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary.  I had to go for a fitting to get the waitress outfit... once I walked into the offices there were huge comic book pictures on the wall and I realized I was at Marvel and that it was for The Avengers.  

I loved Joss's work so I'd already been a fan of his and was looking forward to this movie, so I was thrilled that I was going to be a part of it.
JA:  Even after landing big roles, do you still get moments of self-doubt?

JM:  Oh, I think you constantly get those throughout your entire career.  People always say "don't do it" or  "if it's not something you have to do, do anything else" because it's a tough industry... but it's the only thing I want to do.  It's something I need to do.  Self-doubt comes up now and then, but you just have to stay on track, keep training and keep focused.  

JA:  What is it about acting that is so attractive to you?

JM:  First of all, the community of people.  I love other actors and the creative atmosphere that you're always in.  It's exciting to me.  You get to experience things that you otherwise wouldn't ever have the chance to.  I get to travel and meet people that are now some of my best friends.  It's also this emotional outlet that allows you to make connections and feel things you might not otherwise get a chance to in real life, which is rewarding and cool.   

JA: Was landing the role of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing intimidating for you, being that it's William Shakespeare?

JM:  It was for sure intimidating.  On the set of The Avengers Ashley Johnson was the other waitress and we were filming a scene running away from the battle of New York- Joss kept giving me more and more actions like "can you be upset", "can you cry" and "let's see you give up on your life"... I was just like "I am going to give you everything."  They asked me to come back the next day to continue working on it.  
Most of the footage got cut, but I made it in!  When I was leaving at the end of the second day, Joss came up to me with Much Ado in his back pocket and told me and Ashley that he was thinking about doing it.  He asked me to send my headshot and resume and said he'd like to put me on tape if acting was something I'd want to do.  I sent him everything and got an email back a couple of days later saying that he was working on a Shakespeare project and was wondering if I would Skype an audition with him because it was happening very soon.

I had never performed Shakespeare before.  The most I'd ever done was read it in high school, which everyone does, and you never get the full effect when you just read Shakespeare.  My friend in New York was very well-versed in Shakespeare so I asked him to come help me because I had only two days to get this monologue down.  We rented out a studio and worked on this monologue for hours.  
We Skyped the audition the next day- I did the monologue, he gave me a couple of notes, and I did the monologue again.  When I finished he said "I'm actually filming Much Ado About Nothing, it's going to be shot at my house and I'd love for you to play Hero.  We start filming in two weeks.  Are you available?"  I was so in shock that I just remained totally cool on Skype, and then the second I hung up so many emotions took over- I was excited and terrified!      

JA: That's the actor's dream that rarely ever happens...

JM: It's the dream that doesn't happen, so you don't even dream it!  You just hope that someone will talk to you on set.  You just don't even go that far to imagine that could actually happen.  That's what is so amazing about him, that he took the time to say "maybe she has something.  Let's see."  

It happened very fast.  I only had the script for a week and was doing everything I could to try and memorize the lines because I wasn't familiar with the play.  We had a week of rehearsal and filmed the whole movie at his house in fourteen days.  It didn't give me a lot of time to panic.  
JA:  The shoot looks like it was a lot of fun...

JM: It was probably the most fun I've ever had in my life.   Most of the cast had already been friends, so it was a lot like a family home-movie type of thing.  The thought of everyone knowing each other was nerve-racking, but when I got there the nerves went away so fast because everyone in the cast was so kind, generous and open.  We went to a cast dinner on the second night where everybody got to know each other.  It was such an amazing group of people that it felt very comfortable very fast, you felt part of it right away.  Filming was very much like a party, even the dance scene at the end of the movie continued once the cameras stopped rolling.  We just kept dancing!  That's how it was all the time.  

I didn't drive at the time because I was living in New York, and the call times were as early as 4:30 in the morning and went until 11:30 at night, and so I just ended up living there for the shoot.  His family were the most welcoming people.  This was also my first speaking role outside of commercials, so I just wanted to be there all the time and watch these people work because they're such amazing actors.  I just sat behind the monitor when I wasn't working and watched them work.  I could sit there all day learning from everything they were doing.  It was incredible.  

JA: I was at the Cinerama premiere- was that the first time you screened it?

JM:  I think we had all seen it far too many times because we had so much fun watching it.  We did have one cast screening before it was released.  The first time we saw it with an audience was at the Toronto Film Festival, which was in this big grand theater with tons of people.  We were all so nervous going in because you don't know how people are going to respond to a black-and-white Shakespeare movie... at the end there were three standing ovations and we all looked at each other like "is this really happening?"  That was a magical moment.  

Fran and I went to the Boston Film Festival which is near where my family lives, so it was cool to see it with them.  Then we all went to South by Southwest, and then to the ArcLight premiere.  Seeing it with an audience and watching people reacting and laughing to things you hoped would land, and even seeing a grown man cry during the wedding scene, made it so much more special... I was just like "Yes!  We did it!"       
JA: What was the bus tour like for you?  Did you feel like rock stars?

JM:  Oh we totally recreated the "Tiny Dancer" scene from Almost Famous and I'm not kidding.  It was a thirty-hour trip to Austin, we even had a dance party on it.  It was amazing for me and so much fun.   Joss kept us involved in every aspect of it, and so I learned so much about the craft of acting as well as the business.  I got to go to festivals and do panels and interviews, it was a first time for everything for me.  I feel like I was so lucky to have a learning experience like that. You couldn't find a better group to do all of that with because we love each other's company and have so much fun every time we get together.    

JA:  What are three performances in movies that you love?

JM:  Elle Fanning and Felicity Huffman in Phoebe in Wonderland, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids and Evan Rachel Wood in Running with Scissors.  Can I also add Amy Acker in Much Ado?  Because, come on.

JA:  What are three movies you think everyone should see?

JM:  Short Term 12, Boyhood and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

JA:  What advice do you have for aspiring actors?

JM:  Clark Gregg gives the best advice, and I think he summed things up pretty great with this:

“Be gentle with yourself.  The life of an actor can be a long road with crazy highs and serious beat downs.  You’ve got to be in it for the long haul.  That means accepting those ups and downs with a degree of stoicism and ignoring the people who suggest you’ll never “make it.”  Your job is to keep showing up day in and day out and when you do that, before you know it, a little becomes a lot.  So just keep taking the next small step that will make you a little better.  They need someone exactly like you; they just don’t know it yet.”

I will add that it is important to always be open to learn, keep training, and try to surround yourself with a community of creative, driven and supportive people.  It helps you stay focused and it’s nice to be around others that are on the same journey. 
JA:  Do you have any hobbies?

JM:  The athletic side of me is still in there- I love to swim, go for runs on the beach and do lots of hikes.  I’m also really into photography and dance parties.

JA:  What is your favorite thing about living in Los Angeles, and your least favorite?

JM:  My favorite thing is the weather- it's just beautiful every day and I don't have to survive the polar vortex anymore.  I love being outdoors and here I can hike and go to the beach and have bonfires year-round.  The worst thing is 100% the traffic.  That is the only big downfall.  I live in Santa Monica and it takes forever to get to Hollywood.

JA:  Do you have any beauty secrets?

JM:  For a long time it was not going in the sun, when I did I'd always have an umbrella with me.  
Now that I've moved to L.A. I find it very difficult to avoid the sun completely.  

JA:  What is your favorite color?

JM:  Yellow.

JA:  Do you have any phobias?

JM:  Yes, spiders.  We cannot co-exist.  

JA:  What kind of clothes do you like to wear?

JM:  I love fashion and dressing up.  I always find something at Free People and Urban.  I also love vintage stuff. 
JA:  Tell me about your passion for fashion... which I didn't mean to rhyme.

JM:  I guess it's just another creative outlet that I love.  I have fun always putting things together.  I'd always try and shop for my friends and family because it's something I have fun doing.  I love Diane von Fürstenberg and Marc Jacobs.  I just love putting outfits together, the styling part of it.  I think it's just fun to find things from flea markets and stores and mix them all together and try to make an interesting thing happen.

JA:  Do you have a dream date?

JM:  It would definitely include watching the sunset on the beach and dancing.

JA:  If you had to describe yourself with just three words, what would they be?

JM:  Creative.  Empathetic.  Old soul.

Follow Jillian on Twitter: @JillianMorgese

Monday, September 29, 2014

#144. A Conversation with Jymn Magon

Jymn Magon is a television and film writer best known for his work in animation with The Disney Afternoon's ADVENTURES OF THE GUMMI BEARS, DUCK TALES, TALE SPIN, DARKWING DUCK, RESCUE RANGERS, GOOF TROOP and the Walt Disney Pictures animated musical A GOOFY MOVIE.   

Jason Anders:  Do you remember some of the things that first inspired you toward being creative?

Jymn Magon:  I think everyone is born creative; we just follow different paths.  My car mechanic can figure out things about my SUV of which I don't have a clue!  A different creativity than mine.  But since we're talking about animation, I do think there's a DNA thing going on.  I never decided to be creative; it was always there.  Everything that my brain soaked in led me to what I'm doing today.  

So there was Mad Magazine, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Steve Allen, Peter Pan, Bill Cosby, Richard Lester and a host of other stuff that modeled my approach to comedy.  I created amateur skits, song parodies, comic strips, 8mm films and stand-up routines... all dreadful, but stepping stones.  I moved into stage acting, dancing, piano, filmmaking and radio show production... which led to my first job at Disney, which led to my next job at Disney, which led to the shows you enjoy watching.  I was also fortunate to grow up in a family of performers- both my parents were professional dancers and choreographers, so my sister and I have been on stage since we were kids.
JA: Your role as story editor and development for Adventures of the Gummi Bears was your first job on a series, and also Disney's first major serialized animated television show- Although you can never predict something as major as the shows that were to follow as a result, do you remember any of the early conversations about the plans for Walt Disney Television Animation?  When was your first realization that you were making both television and cartoon history?

JM: Well, first of all, the title of “Disney’s first major serialized animated television show” is shared with The Wuzzles.  However, if we’re splitting hairs, The Wuzzles was a toy property, so it came with established characters and a backstory.  Gummi Bears came out of nothing more than the name for a candy - with no established characters or stories, so in a sense that was the first Disney animated series that was created out of whole cloth.  

"Walt Disney Television Animation" was a bigger word than the department itself.  At one point, I was the only “creative” person in the entire department, doing development work on Gummi Bears while still performing my tasks as record producer for Walt Disney Music Company.  So I don’t remember dreams of glory and fame back then; we were simply trying to get a department off the ground with no staff.  

Studio Executive Michael Webster brought in some animation folk from his advertising background, but the real creative force behind the look and tone of WDTVA was Art Vitello, who brought in some of the most amazing art talent I’ve ever worked with.  Vitello drafted Thom Enriquez, Hank Tucker, Ed Wexler, Gary Eggleston, Rob Laduca, etc.  Their artwork became the style by which all future shows were produced.  That’s when we became “Walt Disney Television Animation.”  Gummi Bears not only set the tone for our other shows, it set the bar for the entire TV toon business.  Other studios sat up and took notice.  Again, I don’t remember ever “realizing” that we were making history… we were just too damn busy to think about it.  I do remember thinking, however, when I would watch the shows on TV, “Hey, I worked on that!  Cool!  I’ll bet other people are watching this, too!" 
JA: What are the earliest memories you have of developing the pilot for DuckTales?  What was your biggest challenge in writing for those characters, as well as your favorite aspect?

JM:  The “pilot” for DuckTales was written as a five-part mini-series which was then cut into a two-hour pilot movie.  However, there were scads of DuckTales episodes already being written and produced before our pilot (“Treasure of the Golden Suns”) was ever conceived.  Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron were the shapers and story editors of that series.  They handled all the regular episodes that were shown on a daily basis.  I was brought in after the series was already in the works to do a mini-series (and eventually two more: "Bubba Duck" and "Gizmo Duck").  So even though Tedd and Patsy were the powerhouse behind the series, I was in the sweet position of doing the “first look” that the audience saw.  Not a big challenge - especially when you realize that Carl Barks not only created those characters, he paved the way with years and years of fun adventure story lines!  

Sure, we had some new characters like Launchpad and Webby and Duckworth… but the real guts of the series - Scrooge McDuck, the Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell, the Junior Woodchucks, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone, the Money Vault, Duckburg, plus countless stories were handed to us through the brilliant work of Carl Barks (who never got a “based on the characters and situations created by” credit on the show).

I loved working with the cast; a funny talented bunch.  I had known Alan Young since 1970, so it was a treat to write for him and watch how he guided the series.  Terry McGovern as Launchpad McQuack was also a hoot.  I don’t know anyone who didn’t love writing for that character.  Russi, Chuck, Frank, Hal, June… all brilliant character actors, and a delight to work with.
JA: What is it like to see how big of an impact the work you were doing so early in your career is still having today?  Did you ever anticipate while writing "Treasure of the Golden Suns" that in 2014 you'd still be getting asked about these characters?

JM: Naturally, it’s very gratifying to hear fans rave about these shows.  When they talk about the Disney Afternoon shows, it’s like they turn into kids again… which is weird, because they’re usually standing there with their own kids.  I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact that the internet would have on nostalgia.  Today, fans can easily find each other, blog about their memories or create webpages about obscure Disney characters.  Back in the mid-eighties we had no idea this would happen.  Now everything is precious and collectible.  Then, it was just trying to make a deadline.  I’m glad, however, that people are remembering my work fondly.

JA: When asked what my favorite Disney movie of all time is, I always cite A Goofy Movie.  Not enough has been written about this film's origins and production- What are your earliest memories of developing a story to bring Goofy to the big screen, and what can you tell me about the process of drafting the screenplay?

JM:  Oh, golly.  Goof Troop had just wrapped, and I had written an episode that really touched on the father-son approach/avoidance theme in “Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas.”  (That was the underpinnings of the entire series, mind you.)  I think because of my work on that series, I was chosen to work on the film development.  The concept was the brainchild of Jeffery Katzenberg who had taken a road trip with his daughter in order to reconnect with her, and that became the inspiration for the film.  
I was teamed up briefly with Jerry Rees (The Brave Little Toaster) to rough out the story, but Jerry had to move onto another project.  That’s when Kevin Lima came aboard and things started to really move forward.  Up until then I had spent a lot of time alone in corner office on a separate floor of our building where the film would be produced.  The area was nearly empty at this point.  

Slowly, the offices filled up, but for the most part I worked alone.  Kevin and his skeleton crew (at that time) and me went through a lot of scenes that got drastically changed over the course of the film, such as a video game sequence opening, a wild bungee jump scene and Paco’s Water Park.  
Early on I would go off and write up a revised draft, and then Kevin would turn his storyboard people loose on it.  Brian Pimental was the head of the story department and a pivotal player.  His team brought so much to the film that was wonderful.  My stuff would show up on a story board - vastly different!  The board guys had plussed all the gags.  So I’d incorporate the new angles into the next draft… and the process would continue.  
Eventually I was pulled from the project, because the movie was now in Kevin’s capable hands, and I went back to TV series work.  I felt kind of cheated, because I wanted to stay with the movie until it was done.  I only got to attend two recording sessions and only met with the songwriters a couple times early on.  In TV, a writer like me is often the “show runner,” so being moved off the film was kinda painful.  Television production and film production are two different fish - whereas a TV episode has one or two storyboard folks who follow the script very closely, a film has piles of story people all adding to the final product.  

At one point I had lunch with Kevin and I said, “I feel so horrible.  I did all this writing early on before the art staff came onboard, and now they’re all having fun without me.  Plus, you’re all doing such great things, and my stuff is disappearing.”  Kevin smiled in that amused way he has and assured me, “Jymn, that’s how films get done.  But remember, we’re doing what we’re doing because we’re standing on your shoulders.”  Okay, I get it.

JA: Of all the shows you've written for, which story specifically would be the one piece of work to point people towards as your personal favorite?

JM:  I’ve said this many times before… I loved “Treasure of the Golden Suns,” and Gummi Bears will always be my firstborn… but TaleSpin is probably my fave.  There’s something about that pulp genre and time period.
JA: What inspires you as a writer?

JM:  Everything.  I’m constantly filing away favorite scenes or clever jokes in my mental “Gag File.”  But that’s true of all writers.  We live two lives: our normal everyday life, and the life of the observer who watches the chaos and tries to figure out how to turn it into a story.  

As a writer, I’m sometimes a pain to watch TV or films with because I can see where the story is going.  “Look, a set-up for later!”  Yet sometimes I happen onto something new or clever or painfully true, and I’m sucked in.  That pleases me because I get to be a regular Joe just enjoying the ride.  And that inspires me.

JA: Name three of your favorite films that you think everyone should see.

JM: Waiting for Guffman, Drop Dead Gorgeous and A League of Their Own.  I love the humor of these films, so they are personal faves.  Ask me tomorrow, I’ll give you an entirely different list.  

JA:  What career advice would you give to those who want follow in your footsteps?

JM:  Write, read, connect, take classes, ask questions and get involved.  I started off making student films and writing radio comedies - for money?  No.  Because I wanted to!  You’ve got to love it.  
When I was doing local plays and taking art classes, I never dreamed I’d wind up in Hollywood… but I know now that if my path never led to Disney and animation, I would still be doing something creative at a local level… finding an outlet.  It’s just what creative people do.  They need to draw or dance or be funny, because… it’s who they are.
JA: What is your fondest memory from working on TaleSpin?

JM: Being in the thick of things.  Being surrounded by an army of marvelously talented people who were all sharing the same vision.  Seriously, that’s what stands out to me the most in retrospect.

JA: Do you have any idea yet what is next for you?

JM: Hell, I’m like all writers - always looking for the next gig.  Fortunately I’m doing a lot of work for overseas studios.  Russia, China, Spain, Finland, France, etc.  Much of my work now will probably never be seen by Americans, but I’m having a ball.  I’m also working on a (for now) secret project for Disney comics and going to fan conventions.  Plus, I'm working on a book about my Disney experiences.  Good times.
JA:  If you had to sum up your life with just three words, what would they be?

JM:  Reminds me of a contest Steve Martin once had when he was giving out tickets to one of his stand-up concerts.  Contest rules: write in three words or less why you wanted tickets.  Steve's example?  “Me want go.”  So I’m gonna use that:  “Me want create.”

Follow Jymn's blog here: Fine Tooning

Friday, September 19, 2014

#143. A Conversation with Scott Herriott

Jason welcomes comedian and documentary filmmaker SCOTT HERRIOTT to the podcast to discuss his career on stage, in film and on television as the host of The Disney Channel's Walt Disney World: Inside Out!

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Monday, September 8, 2014

#142. A Conversation with Jim Zub

"Some people see the world as it is.  They believe the environment around them is static, immutable... and that setbacks are a sign they should settle for what they have.  I prefer to think of the world as it could be.  It's a journey to create something bigger and better.  If I don't try, I'll never know how big it could be." - from Issue 001 of FIGMENT

Jason Anders: How familiar were you with the character of Figment and the Epcot attraction before being approached to write this series?

Jim Zub: I knew Journey Into Imagination and Figment, it was one of my favorite attractions when I went to Walt Disney World back when I was twelve, but I didn’t know anything about the changes to the attraction until I did research to write the comic story.

JA: Was it Bill Rosemann's idea to bring Figment to Marvel?

JZ: From what I know, it was part of a larger conversation that Joe Quesada (Marvel Chief Creative Officer) had with executives at Disney about collaborations between the two companies now that Disney owns Marvel.  Much like with Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney has been looking to expand the reach of the attractions beyond just their name, and the Disney Kingdoms line gives them a way to do that by creating more in-depth plot-lines and characterization around the attractions.
I was approached in December by Bill Rosemann, and he asked me if I’d be interested in pitching ideas for Journey Into Imagination. I put together three different possible concepts and the origin of Dreamfinder was the one that the Disney Imagineers and Marvel really keyed into.

JA: In doing research, which elements from the Journey Into Imagination attraction stuck out to you most as an inspiration for your writing?

JZ: Unlike most other rides, Journey Into Imagination really stresses that you are a creative person and your ideas can change the world, whether through science, literature or the arts. It’s entertaining but it also carries a deeper message about inspiration and creativity. That’s the core of the attraction and became the core of my story as well.
JA: Who did you partner with at WDI, and what kind of feedback did you receive about the initial pitch?

JZ: There were quite a few people at Disney Imagineering involved and giving steady feedback: Jim Clark, Brian Crosby, Josh Shipley, Tom Morris, and Andy Digenova. We also received feedback notes from former Imagineering head Tony Baxter and Imagineering Chief Creative Executive Bruce Vaughn.  Ron Schneider, one of the original performers who played Dreamfinder at Epcot, was very complimentary of the story and we’ve corresponded several times since the first issue came out.

Given the pedigree of the characters, I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I sent in my first story outline, but everyone at Disney and Marvel were extremely supportive throughout the process and gave great notes to make sure we hit the mark.

JA: What do you enjoy most about writing for these characters?

JZ: Dreamfinder and Figment are not passive characters. They don’t just wait for things to happen. They build their own success and go forth in search of adventure. I like that uplifting and intrepid approach.
JA: If you could launch another series based around any Disney attraction in history, which do you think you'd enjoy most?

JZ: I joked around to the Imagineering team that I wanted to write a pitch for Ghost Galaxy, the version of Space Mountain that happens only at Halloween, but on further reflection I actually do think it would be neat to tackle.

JA: What kind of feedback have you received from readers of Figment so far?

JZ: The response from readers has been really incredible. Dozens and dozens of people have sent me photos with them holding the comic, or copies of the comic beside their Figment figurines or stuffed toys. Meeting Figment fans in person has also been a real thrill. Their excitement for the series and knowing that they feel it’s a worthy expansion of Dreamfinder and Figment’s story means a lot to me.
JA: How would you sum up the Figment comics with just three words?

JZ: Joyous.  Creative.  Adventure.

JA: What originally inspired you to become a writer?

JZ: I was an avid comic reader growing up, but I didn’t start creating my own stories with gusto until I started playing Dungeons & Dragons with my older brother and cousins. Tabletop RPGs really sparked a desire for storytelling and that was fanned into a flame through high school.

JA: What are three comic books you would recommend as "must-reads"?
JZ: I could recommend dozens, but I’ll limit this to three recent comic series that aren’t super hero titles so it’s a bit more focused: Atomic RoboLocke & Key and The Sixth Gun.

JA: If people want to find out more about you or your other work, where can they go?

JZ: I have my own website: and it’s jam-packed with information on projects I’m working on and convention appearances along with tutorials on how to write stories, pitch concepts to publishers, and break into the comic industry.  I’m also pretty chatty on Twitter.

Follow @JimZub on Twitter!