Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Christopher “Jack” Nilssen Of "Dark Acre Games"

CHRISTOPHER ‘JACK’ NILSSEN is an independent game developer, science fiction author, runner, yogini, and lover who is awake before you in the morning. He spent his twenties living and working in Tokyo, Japan, where he learned to celebrate diversity and appreciate privacy. When asked what his favorite anything is, he usually responds with “I don’t play favorites“.

What is the current project your working on? 

The main project for the last year has been "The Child", an isometric point-and-click adventure game. There's a secondary project, code-named PREVENGEANCE, that's a 2D tower defense "brawl" for iPad.

How do you measure success?  

If even a single person plays one of my games and gets some tiny iota of entertainment & enjoyment from that, I've done my job.

How do you handle rejection? 

It's hard to get rejected in game development. You either "hit", put together some winning combination of player interaction and content, or you don't. When you don't hit it can feel pretty crappy but you get over it quickly by producing more and more content. Then it just becomes a marathon race with an undetermined finish line.

Did you always want to be a game developer? 

Nah, the first career I remember wanting to have was that of a movie director, like Steven Spielburg. It wasn't really until about 10 years ago at age 27 that I put it all together in my head that making games might be a good thing for me.

What inspires you to create games? 

I love games, I love the interactivity of them. That you can create something that someone else can play with and get their own experience from is fascinating to me. I also have a few stories I want other people to "find" (as opposed to just "telling" them, like books & movies) and games is the perfect platform for that type of narrative delivery.

What is the best thing about being a game developer?  

Sometimes it's cool to think I'm part of a "new media" movement. A lot of the stuff we do, if we do it well, no one's ever experienced before. There's a lot of "explorer reward" to that, like being the first person in space, or on the bottom of the sea.  Also making the attempt to be in tune with the games industry unearths a lot of rare gems in the form of games "normal" gamers may never hear of.

What is the worst thing about being one? 

Creating a videogame (or analog game) that WORKS, one that runs or plays without fault, is easily communicated to a player, and provides some form of enjoyment is a HARD LABOR. Thinking up the initial idea is easy, almost anyone can do that, but carrying that idea through the execution process to completion is one of the most difficult things to do. Why do you think the major game studios require a hundred people working a whole year to produce a game? And even then those games come out with bugs and problems. At the core of it, game development is hard work, and for solo or small-team independents like myself it's just that much harder.
That and not being able to really explain to anyone else what is precisely that I do, beyond "make games". That can be frustrating.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on? 

At the time of this interview I've been a game developer for 3 years, and I've published 22 games and abandoned 5. I have yet to publish a game for money, and I believe at most my games have gotten perhaps 10K plays.

What is your favorite game of all time? 

I don't play favorites, but the game I've most enjoyed in recent memory has been Polytron's absolutely phenomenal FEZ. If you own an XBOX 360 and love charming, exploration-based platforming with unique mechanics and style, you've got to check it out. It's this generation's "A Link to the Past".

How has your life changed since you created "Dark Acre Game Development"? 

I don't punch a clock anymore. I'm not beholden to a boss. The profit of my labor is solely mine. I don't need to wear pants. I go hungry a lot yet am somehow getting fatter...

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become a game developer?

I can only really speak to those with independent aspirations: Be prepared to work hard, and to fail. Don't be afraid to publish. Have enough money in the bank to survive for 5 years without a payday. Never give up, never stop learning. Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done; prove it to yourself.

What do you like to do besides creating games?

I'm a science fiction author with 3 published stories and more to come. I'm an avid runner when the weather's right, and just an annoyed one when it's not. I enjoy ashtanga yoga. And of course, playing games both analog & digital.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a game developer?

Yeah, I've done all kinds of stuff. A lot of kitchen work as a youngster, from dishwashing up the chain to chef. I've been a security guard, an errand boy, and an accounting assistant. In my "dark years" I was a drug dealer & a bit of a gangster. The longest and most profitable stretch so far was 10 years in Japan as an English teacher.

How would you describe your education? 

A waste of time and money. Aside from the basics, all post-secondary has taught me is that if you know what you want to do go out and do it. Unless of course it's brain surgery then you're probably better off getting professional guidance. Personally, I wish they'd do away with standardized education and bring back wholesale apprenticeships.

How would you describe the gaming "scene" where you live? 

Surprisingly, even though Vancouver is considered something of a mecca for game development on the West Coast, there's a much less-active gaming scene than other places in Canada like Toronto. Then again for me the majority of my gaming happens in virtual space, and that's been constantly growing for years.

How has social media changed the gaming industry?

Obviously the desire to create a hit "social game" has become the major focus of a lot of studios, though no one can really define what that ideal social game is! You've got games that can Tweet stuff to other people, and games that rely on social networking to function, but all of that still remains secondary to crafting a good, core player experience.

In terms of how social media has helped developers, especially independents like myself, it's become the water cooler. Twitter and other hubs are places where independents can find one an other and exchange ideas and quips pretty easily, so levering that to get some form of social activity has become pretty important for a lot of us. Also it functions well as a grassroots marketing engine, places where we can promote our games and raise awareness.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding? 

When I first started planning for life as an independent I could never have foreseen things like Kickstarter. Sure, we had PayPal donation systems back then, but even pre-orders for games were an alien concept. Now it seems a lot of people are willing to throw their money at ghosts and promises and as a businessperson I don't like it. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't believe in charging people money for things that "might be". But I do think it's great that there's a platform for those that do.

How do independent games differ from the mainstream? 

I think that the main difference is budget and time spent perfecting what you're delivering to your players. An independent can craft something that's every bit as good as something a major studio comes up with, it just takes longer and is more prone to failure. Personally I think an independent would do well to avoid the stigma of being an "indie" and try to present themselves as professionals, if the end goal is competing with the big boys. But the wonderful thing about being independent is you can do whatever you feel.

You could go back in time and see any game being made. Which game would it be and why? 

There really haven't been a lot of games that struck me as "holy crap how did they do that"? In fact, it's really only FEZ that's had me scratching my head and trying to figure out how it's done. As for learning someone else's process I'm not really keen on that. I think we can learn fundamental principles, but it's up to each of us to suss out our own methods of working through attempting to execute.

What's your favorite quote and why?  

"Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid." - John Wayne. Basically, never overestimate the other person's (or your own!) intelligence.

What is your opinion on game to movie adaptions? 

It seems like they really could be good. Look at the Halo, Mass Effect, and more recently Prototype 2 TV commercials. There's potential in there to craft really great movies using these properties. I think they've gotten this stigma because of people like Uwe Boll who make garbage films as slush funds, and the studios who give the rights so that it happens. Perhaps we're in the same bad old days that comic book movies were in. If it follows that trend then maybe in a few years we'll start seeing some really great adaptations of video game properties on the silver screen.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Buy (or borrow for free if you're an Amazon Prime member) my eBooks! If you like science fiction I think they're decent stories, and those pennies are currently the only active commercial funding channels for Dark Acre Games, since I don't take donations.

Aside from that selfish plug, I'd encourage anyone who's ever thought about making games to go ahead and give it a try. The tools are getting easier and easier to use, and I think it's only a matter of time before pretty much anyone can make games. I ESPECIALLY recommend spending a couple of months in your part time to learn something like Unity or Flash and come up with some simple games to see if you even like doing it, before dropping thousands of dollars on school or several years in a career you might wind up hating.  Thanks for the questions and if you've got any more feel free to hit me on Formspring:



I've seen FEZ via the documentary "Indie Game: The Movie". It looks crazy awesome. I wish you all the best with "The Child", "PREVENGEANCE", your future projects and books.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Artist Kyle Cassidy

When not traipsing off with rock stars Kyle Cassidy vacillates between serious documentary photography and works of sinister whimsey. His critically acclaimed 2007 photo book "Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes" won praise from a broad swath of reviewers from the Washington Post, to Vanity Fair, to Field & Stream. It won's "10 Best Art Books" and "100 best books" medals the year of it's publication. His most recent book, "War Paint: Tattoo Culture and the Armed Forces" (Schiffer, 2012) documents the tattoos and stories of American war veterans. Kyle's spent five days photographing the Dalai Lama, a week photographing the opening of tombs at the Great Pyramids in Cairo, another week in the sewers underneath Romania photographing homeless orphans, and his "In the Hive" project allowed him to trip the shutters of cameras carried by 25 people all across America at random times and photograph whatever happened to be in front of them. In addition to this he photographed the covers for the Amanda Palmer albums "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" and "Map of Tasmania" as well as being one of the principle photographers for "The Big Book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer". He's done numerous projects which you can read about at as well as see an awful lot of photos of his cats.

What is the current project you are working on?

Right now I'm finishing up the Bed Song Book with Neil Gaiman, that's something coming together this summer (2012) that will be done & out probably in September. It's a limited edition art book available only though Amanda Palmer's kickstarter as a $1,000 reward. It's a script by Neil that I photographed based on a song by Amanda.

I'm also working on a huge portrait project of roller derby players -- you can see some of that at I was inspired by the individuality as well as the athleticism and I'd never photographed sports before. After seeing a game last year I was really motivated to try and capture some of the personalities. That's really the big thing. I've been traveling all across the country working on these portraits and it's coming out really well.

How do you balance your professional and personal life?

It can be tough. I"m away from home a lot which is difficult but my wife is an actress and she's got her career and is very supportive and I actually think that celebrating one another's accomplishments while apart has been a good part of our relationship. Being away means you get to come home more. Also, a lot of the time the two collide so it's exciting for me to hang out with actors and go to my wife's opening nights and cast parties and things like that and she's often along while I'm working so there's a constant flux of rock stars and models and writers and playwrights in our lives.

I think one key to having a public life is to be very decisive from the beginning about what's public and what's private and drawing those lines very distinctly and not going over them.

Do you prefer to use a digital camera or film camera when taking photos?

Digital. I don't like having to wait a week to see if I screwed up the lighting. That said, I have a lot of film cameras that I love -- I've never had a love affair with a digital camera the way that I have with film cameras, sadly, they've become just tools -- the romance is gone but that's not a bad thing. Taking photos because you like holding cameras is sort of like having babies because you like naming them. If you're not in it for the work, for the final product, you're probably not doing the best work.

How do you measure success?

Well, there are a lot of ways, it's not as simple as counting up Twitter followers and the number of people buying your books -- I remember the day I found out that Kurt Cobain had killed himself -- he was one of my idols and really, it seemed to me, at the top of the world. Realizing that I was happier than him, sharing a one bedroom apartment above a noisy tire store, living on $5,000 a year -- that had a profound impact on the way in which I measured how well I was doing.

There's a formula that includes "how much have I produced?" and "how happy am i?" and contrary to popular belief it's not just "how happy am I?" either -- I'm pretty happy sitting on my sofa and watching Frasier on Netflix. And I'm certainly miserable standing in the security line at an airport with 50 pounds of photo equipment strapped to my back trying to take my shoes off wobbling about on one foot -- but the discomfort there is rewarded in accomplishment -- so you give up some happiness and you get back something you produce, the work, and hopefully you realize that the discomfort is temporary and important to the final thing. It hinges on that. I'd rather sell 50,000 books and be happy in moderate obscurity than sell twenty million and be like Kurt Cobain.

There are other little things too -- the number of times you get recognized on the street, people who send you meaningful letters about how you've affected them, those are all points along the way. And, invariably, you compare yourself to your friends. I think that's inevitable. You're sitting at the dinner table looking across and your friends trying to calculate if they've been on the radio more last week than you or if they got a better review than you or some fancy gallery show, but that internal nagging monologue is motivational, and it's entirely human; it doesn't go away but you try and recognize it for what it is.

How do you handle rejection?

Usually with astonishment, but also great resilience. By the time you've gotten successful you've been rejected over and over and over and over so you're used to it, but you get to a point where it stops happening with any regularity because you know what works, and you know what you're good at and you know how to package things. So when something does get rejected I'm usually really surprised, but you bounce off of that and charge ahead because you've read all  those stories about how many times the Cat in the Hat was rejected or whatever. I don't usually spend a lot time thinking about that, but just where to go next. "No" just means you haven't asked the right person, so when you get rejected you try again right away with someone else.

Did you always want to be an artist?

I wanted to be a reporter first. Which is still kind of what I am sometimes.

What is the best thing about being an artist?

The company you keep and the realization that at night when you go to bed something beautiful exists that didn't exist that morning and wouldn't exist at all without your having made it.

What is the worst thing about being one?

The worst thing is that people seem to think that artists don't need to get paid. We live in a society surrounded by artists that undervalues what they do.

What is the estimated number of projects you've worked on?

I couldn't really say, and it wouldn't be a useful number anyway. I mean there are things that you knock out in a day and there are things that take years to finish and there are ones you're not even sure if you should count. But there are usually three or four going on at a time.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become an artist?

Bring art into your life and study it, make it a part of your every day, surround yourself with artists.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Jaws, The Exorcist, Troll Hunter, Lost, Breaking Bad, Rare Exports, I'm really liking Game of Thrones right now.

How has social media changed the art industry?

It's allowed artists to very easily stay in touch with the people who like their art. It's helped to cut out the middleman whose job used to be "make sure fans know about this"

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

We live in the world of ten-dollar Medici's. It's a good thing and a bad thing. It serves to democratize things but that's not always where art flourishes best -- sometimes you need the one person at the studio who says "nobody wants this film, but I believe in it and I'm going to fund it!".

How does independent differ from the mainstream?

Usually one's built upon spectacle and the other from story. Spectacle is easy to understand, it's made of broad strokes and loud sounds and flashy costumes. There's time and place for both. Independent often requires much more work from the audience and more of an understanding of not just the work you're looking at, but related works. You don't go home from watching Speed talking about the difficult questions of life. But independent isn't necessarily a synonym for good, it just means "less money". Sometimes there's a reason for that. And mainstream doesn't necessarily mean bad.

You could go back in time and see any piece of art created for the first time? Which would it be and why?

The Sphinx. I would have liked to see the planning that went into it, the architects, the artisans, the craftspeople and the laborers working together. I wonder what that construction site must have looked like, how everybody got fed, who might come in and look at things and say "thin up the beard" or whatever.


Thank you so much for doing the interview Kyle. I'll be sure to check out your artwork when Amanda & The Grand Theft Orchestra come to Boston in August. I will check out & spread the word about your roller derby portrait project.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Musician Chad Raines

While in Austin, TX, Chad Raines found his musical niche, becoming a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing everything from bluegrass banjo to salsa trumpet and most everything in between.

At 19 he became a late night television personality on Austin Music Network – a cable channel that featured Texas artists and on cable access television producing bazaar television shows (Eccentrics Anonymous) as a visual aid for his music using experimental video production techniques and super 8mm film and animation.

He formed the Elastic Wasteband after writing music for his first play at the Doghouse Theate, which formed a chamber music ensemble that would perform original music for dance, theater and clubs around town.

From that he studied music theory and composition at Texas State University.

In 2005 he joined the Stingers, a roots-ska band that toured Europe with Jamaican legends such as Desmond Dekker, Doreen Shafer and Laurel Aitken as a keyboard/trumpet/guitarist/vocalist.

After moving to New Haven, CT he soon earned critical acclaim with The Simple Pleasure, an electronic rock band for which he fronted and wrote music for, With that band he wrote an original score for Yale University’s production of Bertold Brecht’s “Baal” as well as playing with such acts as White Denim and Ra Ra Riot.

Yale Summer cabaret productions starred him as Tommy of “The Who’s Tommy” and “Hedwig” getting rave reviews as a theatrical rock star.

While at the theatrical Sound Design program at the Yale School of Drama, he wrote and premiered works such as “Missed Connections” and “Project Realms: The World of Henry Darger” as well as designing and composing for Yale School and Repertory productions.

Currently, he lives with his wife and daughter and plays with Amanda Fucking Palmer and performs, composes and designs in the New York area.

What is the current project your working on?

Right now, I'm working on three things intermittently. I'm finishing up an EP with my pop music group The Simple Pleasure - for whom I sing and write for - Its a lot of fun and its sounding great - some final mixes and a few vocal takes and its done - also, I'm in the middle of a technical rehearsal for a new play entitled "From White Plains" written by Michael Perlman. I'm doing sound design for it now and tomorrow is the last day I have to get all the music cued up and ready for showtime! You can check that out here - - And of coarse not to mention touring and recording with Amanda Fucking Palmer. YOW!

How do you measure success?

Happiness really - having the luxury to focus on things you care about. And how many times I get to ride in a limo - or ride first class, which as of now I'm failing miserably. I don't think I've ever been in a limo. Jeez, I don't know if thats a good or a bad thing. Lots of things could go wrong in Limos. I almost bought a limo with Zebra stripes that was on sale for 2 months in Hyde Park Austin, TX when I lived there. That would have been a good investment.

How do you handle rejection?

Rejection just makes me want to prove the rejectors wrong. It inspires me to work harder. Or to say "fuck them, they don't know what they're missing!" - so I guess not very well.

Did you always want to be in a band?

No. - OH DID I? - I thought you typed DO YOU - my bad. UH.....

I just always wanted to make music - being in a band is awesome- but only if you're making music. Otherwise your just masturbating together in a circle. Big fucking mess in the middle. That tends to happen a lot.

What inspired you to become a musician?

Um. I've never been able to adequately express myself through language. It's something I've been working on. I think it is born out of frustration. Also, I've been exposed to a lot of strange stuff - things haunt me and I have to exorcise the demons.

Who is your favorite musician of all time?

Thats a hard question - There are musicians and there are artists who happen to play music. I think they are very different things and sometimes there are artist who are virtuosos. I think thats rare. OK so - favorite musician of all time...

I know its a cop-out but its gotta be Beethoven. Sturm and Drang baby! virtuoso pianist - first freelancer - deaf? -Didn't bow to no Hapsburg - didn't need to. The beginning of Romanticism the end of Feudalism. The last piano concertos...

How has your life changed since you became a musician?

Well, shit. Right now is the first time I can call myself a professional musician - as in. I make all my money now - doing musical things. No student, no daytime job. Its great doing what you love and what you're good at. Its called "living the dream". Except "living the dream" is such a harder life. There is no clocking out of the dream. There are no 5 week holidays away from the dream. You won't even be able to enjoy yourself because you know there is still so much to do.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become a musician?

Travel. Meet lots of people. Keep in touch. Do what you want to do.

What do you like to do when your not creating and/or playing music?

I like cooking. Staying at home. Cuttin' Loose. Reading. Staying physically active somehow. Outdorsing. Electronics - Circuit Bending.

How would you describe your education?

I'm an overeducated twit. A near high school dropout that accidentally got a master's at Yale. I still think I'm self-taught for some reason. Sounds better.

How would you describe the music "scene" where you live?

I live in New Haven now, have been for 7 years I guess. New Haven is a very transient town (in more ways than one). People are always in and out - and that's mostly Yale's doing (though not all). I think the state of CT is ranked 49th in keeping young people in their state. And it shows. With so many other places to go so near by, its like - why stay? But that might be changing. The city is becoming a better place to live - and if more Yalies decide to stick around instead of fleeing immediately - there would be such a better "scene". Also - Yalies tend to get to busy to venture outside of their 3 block perimeter of study.

How has social media changed the music industry?

Provided a lot more noise - we go through filters (blogs, twitter)to help identify things we like from the barrage of information. Each person is not competing with other local bands or shows for attention anymore - they are trying to compete with the rest of the world in their particular genre.So artists try to entertain filters with hot web presence. Have you tried to entertain a filter? Then their stage show is weak. Thats ok though - as long as you got banging music videos.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

Awesome. I love what its doing to the music industry.I wonder how long it will last though? Like pledge drives for public radio? I mean, shit - I can go out and buy a tshirt for $10. Why do I need to give you $50 for that shirt -a warm and fuzzy feeling? I can get that for another $10 of Makers.

How does independent music differ from the mainstream?

Mainstream goes: boom si boom si boom si boom si

Independent goes: neener neener neener neener neener neener neener

You could go back in time and see any band play for the first time? Which would it be and why?

An Ottoman Military Band in the 17th century. Mozart heard them on the doorstep of Vienna -so impressed by their exotics, he wrote Rondo a la Turk (sp?). That shit must have sounded like outer space and probably still does. Shifting rhythms and time signatures played by an army of heathens thirsty for the slaughter. Must have raised some hairs.

Music before and after war - that would be a good study.


Thanks for doing the interview Chad. I wish you all the best with your projects. I'll be attending the rock show in Boston in August. Hopefully, we  can meet in person.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"CandyLand" webseries creators Ali Scher & Damian Horan

A child at heart, Ali Scher has always found a way to infuse whimsy and fantasy into her work and life. Originally from Toronto, Ali began directing and acting in theater at a very young age. She went on to receive a degree in Theater and Literature from Smith College, transitioning to film after spending a summer as a research intern for the television show “ER.” She attended USC School of Cinematic Arts, where play is pursued with the utmost dedication and seriousness. Last year Ali received the DGA (Directors Guild of America) Jury Award for Best Woman Filmmaker of 2011. On her USC Thesis film, "The Maiden and The Princess" Ali had the opportunity to work with David Anders of “Alias” and “Vampire Diaries,” Julian Sands of “Room With A View“ and “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and Broadways Megan Hilty of “Smash.” Her thesis film has played at over fifty festivals worldwide and won countless awards, including the 2012 USC Faculty Award for Best Directing and a Student Emmy.

An award-winning filmmaker from Houston, Damian moved out to Los Angeles in 2007 to join the production program at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. His thesis film, "Children of the Air" is currently playing across the festival circuit. The film stars Katheryn Winnick ("Love and Other Drugs" & "Bones") and Travis Van Winkle ("Friday the 13th" and "Transformers"). Damian is a narrative filmmaker who enjoys telling stories visually. He has shot pieces for the Foo Fighters, Coca-Cola, Sony, and Forever 21/Hello Kitty to name a few. His narrative work can be seen on several films currently playing on the festival circuit. Damian studied directing and cinematography at USC, where he had the opportunity to work under such legendary cinematographers as the late William Fraker. He and his wife are living happily ever after in California.

What are the current project your working on?

Ali: I'm nearing the end of my first year on the festival circuit with my short film, "The Maiden and The Princess." We've played at over 50 film festivals (both in the US and abroad), and it's been a fantastic ride! The film has won quite a few awards, including a Student Emmy, the 2011 DGA Jury Award for Best Female Director, and the 2012 USC Faculty Award for Best Director. Aside from Candyland, I’m currently working to adapt a really exciting magic realism book (set in 13th century Italy) into a screenplay with my writing partner from Maiden, Joe Swanson. We have an amazing producer attached and I truly believe we're gonna get this made! Fingers crossed :) 

Damian: I'm currently working on a project called "CandyLand" with my good friend Ali Scher. "Lying, cheating, seduction, betrayal...preschool ain't so sweet anymore."

We created the show around the premise of taking the wonderful melodrama of classic high school shows like the original 90210, Dawson's Creek, and My So Called Life and twisting it into a dark comedy with preschoolers dealing with the intense drama of preschool life. It's a funny twist on the classic melodrama we all grew up watching on TV. You can find more information, including a promo video on our Kickstarter Page: or on our Facebook Page:

I've also been screening my USC Graduate Thesis Film, "Children of the Air", across the festival circuit. We've been lucky to have quite a few screenings across the country and world and have been lucky enough to bring back some awards from a few of them. The film stars Katheryn Winnick ("Love and Other Drugs" and "Bones") and Travis Van Winkle ("Transformers" and "Friday the 13th") and is a dark contemporary allegory to the original fairytale version of the Little Mermaid. You can find more information on the film at or

In addition, my first feature-length film, "Barbarian Days", can also be seen at various festivals across the country. The films follows a legion of loyal fans who travel down to Cross Plains, TX once a year to celebrate the life and works of Robert E. Howard, creator of "Conan the Barbarian." You can find more information on the film at

I'm also writing a feature dark comedy that deals a lot with the themes we explored in "Children of the Air"; the idea of fleeting memory and wanting to change the past but being impotent to do so. It's a very whimsical piece that is a lot of fun but also has a lot of heart at the core.

What was it like work with such a young cast?

 Ali: It's actually been fantastic! I acted as casting director for the webseries, and the trick is to see as many kids as possible (as many casting sessions as it takes) until you find talented kids who also really want to be there. You can always tell the kids who want it from the kids with parents who want it for them. I have a lot of experience working with child actors, from my thesis film, "The Maiden and The Princess," as well as from my theater background, so it's nothing new for me. Kids can actually be easier than adults to work with sometimes. They don't internalize their emotions, so words like "sad" and "happy" have very clear, definitive meanings for them. We have a really amazing group of kids on Candyland. I'm so excited to get to work with each and every one of them. 

Damian: We were incredibly lucky and found an amazingly talented cast that has been a ton of fun to work with. Honestly about 90% of the work of the entire show was completed when we found our cast because they are that good. It's a lot of fun working with kids because of their energy and unbridled excitement. 

Why did you decide to collaborate on "Candyland"?

 Ali: Damian and I were in school together at USC and I've always had a lot of respect for his visual artistry. We've been wanting to collaborate for a long time and this just seemed like the perfect project to do it.

 Damian: Ali and I were in the same class at USC so I got to see a lot of her work throughout our years in the graduate film production program, and I really thought she'd be the perfect partner for a show like this. She is a very talented filmmaker that has a very unique whimsical but edgy child-like nature to her work, and that was exactly the type tone we wanted for CandyLand; she was really born for a show like this. I have a lot respect for her as a filmmaker and have really enjoyed partnering up with her on this project. 

Why did you decide to make it a webseries instead of a film? 

 Damian: We had initially discussed the possibility of writing a feature-length script for it instead (which we are still looking to do in the future), and actually pitched it to a couple different TV Studios, but in the end we felt like at this point in time a Webseries format would be easier to get in front of a lot of people. We looked at old shows like Saved By The Bell, and realized the classic 30 minute sitcom without commercials was actually quite close to a Webseries type format or length. The tough thing about doing a good Webseries is finding a concept that is strong enough to capture and entertain an audience in such a short time-frame. We really love the concept of CandyLand, and think it's the type of show that will immediately grab your attention and hold onto it. 

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

 Damian: Crowdfunding is a really wonderful thing because it has created an opportunity for thousands of artistic endeavors that may have never been created without its support. There are a ton of talented starving artists out there in the world and there a ton of people that want to support the arts, and websites like Kickstarter allow those people to find each other and identify projects where they may share a similar like or interest. 

What is your favorite film festival you've been to so far?

Ali: I'd have to say that HATCH Fest was my favorite! Though Outfest is a very close second! I'd never heard of Hatch before when I got in, so I didn't really know what to expect. Having attended only 5 festivals beforehand, I was prepared for the same competitive atmosphere, cold handshakes, empty congratulations... What I found was a living, breathing community of people passionately trying to change the world. Unlike any film festival I've attended since, Hatch is not just for films, but for inventors, scientists and anyone looking to creatively make a difference. It's about finding smart, creative people in all different fields and bringing them together to try and make the world a better place. I got to see how a 3D printer works and why hybrid technology is going to change the planet. It was a pretty life changing experience :)
What's your favorite quote and why?

Ali: Amanda Pope, an amazing documentary filmmaker and one of my mentors from USC always told me - "never ask for permission. Just do it (whatever it is) and ask for forgiveness later!" It's the perfect bit of advice as nothing is ever handed to you on a silver platter in this industry. It's all about making daring moves and just hoping they pay off. 

 Damian: My favorite quote is actually from "Joe Vs. the Volcano" and it goes something like, "My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement." I think it's a really beautiful thought, because as you grow up your vision narrows a bit, and reality tends to tarnish the magic that was once there and if you are not careful it can fade away for good, but if you can fight to keep your eyes open, you'll see, even in the smallest of places, that the world is a pretty amazing place. Also Meg Ryan said the line at the time, and I had a huge crush on her in the early 90's. 

Is there anything you'd like to add?

 Ali: Yes! We have exactly 4 days left on our Candyland Kickstarter campaign:http://www.kickstarter.comprojects/1396193475/candyland

Check out our hilarious promo and please, donate if you can! Even just $5 really helps and will go a long way toward making this project.


Thank you Ali and Damian for doing the interview. I'll be sure to check out "The Maiden and The Princess" and "Children of the Air" ASAP and write reviews of the films. I wish you the best of luck with "CandyLand" and your future projects.

Readers can see my interview with Ali for her thesis film here :

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Filmmaker Justin Calen Chenn

[caption id="attachment_2808" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Justin Calen Chenn being interviewed at the Action on Film Intl. Film Festival in 2011"][/caption]

Born in Whittier, California, Justin Calen Chenn has battled and survived being homeless, self mutilation, criminal behavior, and many self destructive habits before finally turning his life around and focusing on film at age 24 and then, making three features by age 29.

Justin was living a comfortable well-to-do life before things started to spiral down at age 10. At age 16, Justin, his mother, and his sister lost everything including their home, and from there, things only worsened. After getting kicked out of his first college, Justin's goal was then to become a "criminal with a lot of scars." But he eventually put his demons to rest and was admitted as an illustration major to the prestigious Pasadena Art Center College of Design, despite no formal training in the arts. However, halfway through his education, he decided to turn his attention to film.

In 2007 and inspired by British filmmakers Mike Leigh & Ken Loach plus the stye of American visionary Tim Burton, Justin decided a feature was going to be the first thing he would do as a filmmaker. For the film, which eventually became THE WAY OF SNOW (2008), Justin self taught himself every facet of production and sold things like his vintage toy collection to raise for the Super 16 drama. He also served as lead actor, writer, director, editor, DP, and sound recordist. The film was semi-autobiographical and told the true story of Justin's battle with self mutilation. The host of branded scars on Justin's arm seen in the film are real and added to the haunting power that drives the film.

Justin and the film went on to premiere at the UK Bradford Film Festival in England in 2008. He was also nominated for Best Director at another festival and picked up an Honorable Mention as well as awards for Best Editing, and Best Production Design at the 2010 LA New Wave Intl. Film Festival. Since then, Justin has made another micro-budget feature, titled EMBERS OF THE SKY (2010) which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress at the 2011 Action on Film International Film Festival.

Justin is a first generation Chinese American who enjoys speaking his native tongue, Mandarin Chinese. He has lived and worked in motels for a large potion of his life and attributes the molding of his personality to some of the things he's experienced, which includes running a motel in a gang and crime infested city. He continues to be an avid British cinema enthusiast, and is also content now to let the past be the past.


What did it feel like when you found out "Folklore" won Best Director and Best Acting Ensemble at Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival?

I was incredibly excited because it was the first time I had won  anything in film! It’ll definitely be something that I will remember forever. And I was especially happy for the cast because film is all about collaboration and sharing, so with those two awards, I felt like we all won together.

Where will your film be screening next?

Folklore will be screening at the Phoenix Film Festival in the International Horror and Sci-Fi section of the fest in early April. Hopefully, there will be a lot more to come after that.

How do you handle rejection?

I think I handle it well, because it’s something I’ve learned to thrive on. Maybe it’s because I have a nasty competitive streak like many people that have played competitive sports, I’m not sure. Whatever it is, I find it a bit of a thrill. I don’t know if that’s good or bad!

What is your writing process like?

It’s a mix. Sometimes, I write ideas longhand on paper first, and then slowly start to flesh out the entire structure from there. On paper is where things always come together for me. I have to feel myself writing with a pen in order to get the creative motor in my head running full blast.

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

No, sir. I never even thought about it until I was 24 years old. Before that, my goal was to become a criminal with a lot of scars.  I know that sounds quite dumb, but it was true. I am quite thankful for film though because it took me away from a lot of troubling things.

What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

British director Mike Leigh and his [Oscar nominated] movie, Secrets and Lies (1996). The emotions he tapped into during that movie were revelatory to me at a time when I desperately needed an outlet. After I saw that movie, I decided I wanted to make a feature film. That became my debut, The Way of Snow (2008). I ended up writing/directing/producing/starring/editing the film and to boot, I shot it on Super 16. It was quite the experience.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

I’m a bit of an anglophile, so Mike Leigh is tops. In terms of what I want to accomplish career wise, I would point to Tim Burton, David Fincher, and JJ Abrams for their otherworldliness, precision with darkness, and mastery of genre scope, respectively.

And of course, I’m inspired by all the legendary big names (Wilder, Spielberg, etc.) because I hope to achieve what they’ve achieved one day! 

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

I’m a sports fanatic, especially with soccer (aka football) and basketball. My favorite club is Chelsea FC and the Toronto Raptors. I also like to play sports too but injuries have sort of stopped me from doing it as much. I also like to read books that range from historical to fluff. I hope to get back into painting one day because that’s what I studied. I’m also an avid collector of 80’s vintage toys (Battle Beast, He-Man, Centurions, etc), though I sold a lot of them to finance my debut feature back in 2008. One day, I plan to buy them all back when I have money!

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

I know there are a ton of great TV shows on these days, but my TV only has HBO and a scattering of other channels, so I don’t and can’t watch a lot sadly. Film wise, some of my favorites, both American and foreign, are Mike Leigh’s Career Girls, Edward Scissorhands, anything with Audrey Hepburn, any films of Ken Loach,The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. There’s a ton more, naturally, but those are some of the stickers.

How would you describe your film education?

Hmmm. I would say I was self taught. The first thing I ever did with film was make a feature, so my education was just trial by fire. I figured everything out as I went along, and just made features while doing it. It’s not something I’d recommend to anyone because it’s mad to work that way, but that was just my way.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

[Justin’s sci-fi comedy] ‘Folklore’ was funded by Kickstarter, so I am all for crowdfunding and support it very much. You’ve got to thank the guys who came up with the idea because it’s given little filmmakers like myself a chance to keep going after their dream.

What current projects are you working on?

I’ve got a no-budget monster movie short film I want to do soon as to keep the creative juices flowing. You know how it is at the micro level: keep making product, keep moving forward.

Feature film wise though, I have a small scale sci-fi drama I’d love to do next at a level one notch higher. The micro/no-budget level has been great for me and working on such an intimate scale is a treasure, but I hope, with ‘Folklore, an opportunity will come where I will get to move a step up and work with a bigger budget.

I’ve also been writing a ton as well, screenplays that are all in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but we’ll have to see where it all goes. I remain optimistic that great chances will come.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I found a sort of inner peace in 2012 that had been out of my reach for years, and film had a lot to do with that. It has calmed a lot of demons that I had. That’s why I genuinely hope that I will keep getting the opportunity to do more with film. Thank you for the opportunity to interview, John. Much appreciated.


Thanks so much for doing the interview Justin. I really enjoyed seeing "Folklore" at Boston Sci Fi. It was a pleasure meeting you there as well. I'll do what I can to spread the word about you and your film.

Below is a picture taken of me and Justin at the Boston Sci Fi Film Festival

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Author Judith Deborah

Judith Deborah is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She grew up about forty minutes outside midtown Manhattan and was educated at Duke and Oxford. She recently published a mystery novel, A Falling Knifeand started a pop-culture website. She's passionate about good writing, good mysteries, good movies, good wine, and good food, although she's been known to take great pleasure in terrible examples of all of those things.

Judith's novel has just received a glowing notice from Kirkus Reviews, in which it is described as satisfying, witty and sophisticated. The full review can be found here.

What is the current project you are working on?

I’m weighing some ideas for another book in the Evan Adair mystery series, but am also in the early stages of a novel that’s outside the mystery genre. It’s more along the lines of a comedy of manners. I’m also putting together a collection of short stories.

How do you define success?

Doing a job you love, doing it the best you possibly can, and getting paid for it.

How do you handle rejection?

Either by shifting gears and starting a whole new project -- which tells me I wasn’t that sold on the original project myself -- or by looking for a new way to make it viable. That can mean either tweaking it or changing the approach to selling it (or both, as happened with A Falling Knife).

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes. I started writing stories when I was six. I’ve taken some pretty big detours, but writing has always been at the center of my professional life in one way or another. And I’ve known since I was a kid that ultimately I’d be writing fiction.

What inspired you to become a writer?

Two people inspired me to take the idea seriously: Laurie Colwin and Reynolds Price.

The first book of Colwin’s that I ever read was her collection of short stories, The Lone Pilgrim, which was recommended to me when I was a freshman in college. She wrote in a sunny, wry, sophisticated way about people who are very intelligent but completely confused in their personal lives -- articulate, warm, domestically inclined people who felt very familiar to me. She also did some wonderful (and very funny) food writing. I felt a certain kinship with her, with her style and personality as well as with her life choices, and she made me hopeful that if she could pull off the writing life -- make it a reality and not just wishful thinking -- maybe I could too. (I actually wrote her a fan letter once and she wrote back. She told me that she was writing a novel and having a baby, which was a combination she highly recommended. We lost her very young -- she died at 48 -- but she was a treasure.)

I studied writing with Reynolds Price while I was at Duke as a graduate student. He did a great deal for my confidence as a writer, and his example was a huge inspiration.

What is the best thing about being one?

Positive feedback from readers. I know I should hear “hey, liked the book!” with a mature, sober equanimity, but it always makes me feel like dancing on tables.

What is the worst thing about being one?

Waiting months for a response to a query and having it slowly dawn on you that the silence is itself the answer -- ugh. Not being able to see the end of a project. And of course the days when you can’t write your way out of a paper bag. We all have times when we either can’t crank anything out at all or can only seem to write garbage, and the harder we try, the more craptabulous the stuff gets. Days like that are enough to make you want to get back in bed, pull the covers over your head, and not come out for a couple of months.

Who is your favorite author?

P.G. Wodehouse. Laurie Colwin (see above). And I’m very attached to a whole roster of mystery authors, including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Reginald Hill, and Colin Dexter. There are some individual works that mean a lot to me, too, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Richard Price’s novel Lush Life. All of Lush Life is amazing, but the prologue in particular is a master class.

How has your life changed since you became writer?

No more regular paycheck, which is both disorienting and highly motivating.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to be a writer?

Two things. First, prepare yourself for a lifetime of much more rejection than approbation, and consider if that’s really something you want to take on. And second, be absolutely, positively sure there isn’t something you’d rather do, or even something you’d just like to explore before committing. If there’s anything else you’re seriously considering -- furniture making or investment banking or dog breeding or marine biology -- do that other thing, because your odds of success will be better. It’ll also give you something to write about with some authority later, if you’ve still got the itch. Your writing will almost certainly be a lot more interesting.

What do you like to do besides writing?

Cook, blog, go to the movies, do crosswords, listen to audiobooks, eat, tinker with martini and gimlet proportions, listen to the Larry Miller podcast, and hang out with my kids.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a writer?

I worked as a financial editor at investment banks in New York for a while. I also spent about a year and a half writing digests of the financial news for an online investment information resource. Nowadays, my main job is as mother to three young kids. Motherhood and writerhood segue rather neatly, I find (I have only mornings to work in because of school/activity schedules, and I’m the kind of writer who works much better with externally imposed time restrictions and deadlines).

How would you describe your education?

As an extremely lucky one. I studied English and US history at Duke with a whole lineup of great people. I also studied International Relations at Balliol College, Oxford, which was one of the best experiences of my life in pretty much every respect you can imagine.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Oh boy -- I could go on all day with this one. Off the top of my head:

American films: Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, Desk Set, The Philadelphia Story (detecting a pattern here?), My Favorite Year, Young Frankenstein, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (what can I tell you? I think I injured myself laughing), Best In Show,  The Rookie, 61*. Pretty much anything containing Allison Janney, Madeline Kahn, or Patricia Clarkson.

Foreign films: Diva, A Sunday in the Country, The Band’s Visit, The Lives of Others, Local Hero, Withnail & I, Mostly Martha, Strictly Ballroom, The Lion in Winter, Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers

Television shows: The West Wing, Mad Men, Northern Exposure, Inspector Morse, Sherlock Holmes (with Jeremy Brett), Columbo, The Good Neighbors (called The Good Life in Britain, a 70s-era comedy with Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers), Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister, House of Cards with Ian Richardson, Reckless with Francesca Annis and Michael Kitchen

How has social media changed the publishing industry?

Radically, and largely for the better.

You could have any first edition book. Which book would it be and why?

I actually have them already: Laurie Colwin’s novel Happy All the Time and P.G. Wodehouse’s Pigs Have Wings, which was a gift from my husband.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

“I’m wearing a cardboard belt!” -- bellowed by Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) to Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) in The Producers, one of my favorite Mel Brooks movies. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to holler this at each other and then fall over laughing. It’s a lot to freight one sentence with, but for some reason this line evokes summer at my old house growing up, smearing a slice of rye bread around the bottom of the salad bowl to soak up the tomato juice and vinegar, and my dad laughing.

Oh, and one other one: Ruth Hussey saying “Belts will be worn tighter this year” in The Philadelphia Story, which exemplifies how terrific that script was. (Belts seem to be a theme. I have no idea why.)

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

Sequels can be great. Batman: The Dark Knight, for example, was an outstanding followup to Batman Begins, which had set a very high bar. I’m less sold on remakes, though. I can’t think of a single remake that was superior to, or even equal to, the original. I’m a big proponent of the American movie industry, but it has to be said that the pitiful American remake of a fabulous European movie is almost a genre unto itself. (I haven’t seen the US-made Dragon Tattoo yet, but the Swedish one was excellent. It didn’t need a remake, especially not so soon. I’m open to counterargument, though, particularly when it’s delivered by Daniel Craig.)

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptations?

They’re great if done well. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for instance, was a terrific adaptation of a book. And that was a book I really loved, so I was apprehensive about the movie. In some ways I liked the movie better than the book.

That adaptation was pretty literal, but I also enjoy adaptations that take a whole new approach to the telling of a story -- Clueless, for example, which sets Jane Austen’s Emma in a California high school. That movie worked brilliantly.

There are certainly instances where the movie adaptation diminishes the book -- The Help comes to mind -- but in general I think they’re fine.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that I hope you’ll give my novel a whirl, and if you do, I hope you enjoy it! It’s called A Falling Knife and is available in paperback and for the Kindle. You’re also welcome to pop by my website,, or my Facebook page, and I’d love it if you followed me on Twitter: @JudithDeborah


Thank you for doing the interview Judith. I will  read A Falling Knife ASAP. I don't have much time to read these days.  Good luck with your short stories and other books.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Writer/Filmmaker & Expat Marco North

Why exactly are you living in forced exile in Russia?

My daughter was kidnapped here five years ago by her mother, now my ex-wife. As my daughter cannot legally leave the country until she is 14, the only way for me to actively be her father and protect her means I have to live in Moscow. I have explored every way to bring my daughter back to the US where she was born, but there is no legal precedent.

Where are you from originally?


What is the worst thing about being a single dad?

When I need to understand the nuances of a troubled six-year old girl, I often second-guess myself. Being a single parent is a complete burn-out, a marathon. It just gets very ugly sometimes. You can’t get sick. You have to come up with endless reserves of energy and positivity. You kid sees everything. If you are waking up angry and resentful, they do the same…so if you can wake up and somehow make jokes and pancakes your kid is going to be fine.

What is the best thing about being a single parent?

Doing something very difficult makes you feel like nothing can stop you.

How do you explain to your daughter what is going on between you and her mother?

She is a very intuitive child. She remembers things from when she was three. I am surprised by how much she processes all by herself. We have a lot of quiet, serious talks when I do the listening and she does the talking. I try to make the messy stuff really simple. So far, it works.

How do you balance your family life and your professional life?

I work from home, which means I am not wasting time going to and from an office. I work before my daughter wakes up. I work long after she has gone to sleep, and I take breaks in the middle to do dad stuff. My daughter loves seeing me working, and sometimes she collaborates with me. Making films in our living room feels very natural to me, and to her.

Do you and your daughter both speak fluent Russian?

My daughter speaks fluent English as well as Russian, and can communicate in four other languages. My Russian is great in restaurants, but I never try to speak Russian for anything serious. I destroy the language all the time, unintentionally. What’s funny is this – some Russians completely understand what I am trying to say, others have no idea.

How are Russia and America different, how are they similar?

You know, as many things that are different, there are just as many that are the same – the middle class in America supports the country, and the middle class in Russia barely exists. The corruption, the PR machine and the misperceptions? That’s universal. There are racist Russians and racist Americans. There are good, kind people everywhere.

I will say that lying, cheating and stealing are not frowned upon in Russia. If you get fooled, you are just seen as weak and foolish. There is a harsher morality here – one closer to survival, less about wanting to be perceived as a good, compassionate person. If you smile at someone in the street in Moscow, people think you are either on drugs or just got out of a mental institution.

What is the current project you are working on?

On a personal level - multiple ones. A book of short stories that is almost done. An art book that will combine my photographs with text – it’s a story that will eventually be a film. Creating the outline for a book inspired by my highly successful blog, Impressions of an Expat.

I just launched an independent press - Bittersweet Editions. It is an outgrowth of my longstanding “day job” an agency/design studio called Bittersweet Group. I'll spare the soapbox pitch and just say – it is very artist based, all about supporting the writer the way they wish a press would. We’re way past genres – all about the strength of honest writing in forms common and very uncommon. “Truth lies in words.” That’s our mantra.

How do you define success?

It’s personal. It’s about crossing a threshold and knowing that you have accomplished what you set out to do, and maybe surprised yourself.

How do you handle rejection?

I fully accept the fact that there are people out there that do not connect with what I want to express. If everyone liked what I do, I would probably feel like a failure. Rejection reminds me I am wasting time trying to relate to people who have other interests. I know damn well if I have good work and when I don’t.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Actually, yes. I have a third grade teacher who kept all of these wild stories I wrote and illustrated in his class. It took me a long time to develop, and as I said – pass that threshold. For me, publishing my first novel was a watershed moment.

What inspired you to become a writer?

People confess things to me. I probably could have been a priest. They trust their regrets, their dreams, their secrets to me, and I try to honor them in my writing. I have something of a photographic memory, even for dialogue. I find that writing helps me put the mess of the world in a picture frame, maybe fabricate some perspective on the madness and the joy.

What is the best thing about being one?

Well, the paper is my only real obstacle. To make a film you need money for things like lunch for the crew and locations and makeup. To write a book, the only physical limit is you and maybe a nice pen to write with.

What is the worst thing about being one?

I love writing too much to say anything bad about it.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on? 

Large projects – six. Small projects, hundreds.

Who is your favorite author?

I am inspired by Kawabata and Rilke, but my favorite writer is John Fante.

How has your life changed since you became writer?

I would say once I really understood I could write really well, I suddenly felt like I had come home to myself. I also felt a deep responsibility to accomplish something.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to be a writer?

It’s not a vanity process. Ignore the noise. It takes a hell of a lot of hard work and brutal self-criticism to become a solid writer. Trust your instincts. Learn how to know if something works or not without begging other people to tell you.

What do you like to do besides writing?

I have a pretty successful alter-ego -  Martin Ruby. He just recorded the soundtrack to a great little film called Gone Elvis directed by David Newhoff. Martin keeps buying guitars and leaves them in my living room, and then my daughter plays them.

I also cook very seriously. Cooking is the one thing I do every single day to remain sane.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a writer?

Circus worker. Short order cook. Welder. Cinematographer.

How would you describe your education?

Pretty freaking amazing. I went to SUNY Purchase and studied film with some top-notch professors like Tom Gunning and Mimi Arsham, critical theory with guys who were from Yale, photography with Jan Groover, Jed Devine, John Cohen. I followed my heart and mind every single day there, and it has fueled my work for twenty years without any sign of letting up.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Badlands by Terrence Malick. Au Hazard, Bathazar by Robert Bresson. Breaking Bad created by Vince Gilligan.

 How would you describe the writing "scene" where you live?

I have no idea. I never really connected with writers this way, even when I lived in NYC.

 How has social media changed the publishing industry?

The obvious democratization is empowering. It also means there are countless books out there now that have not gone through a critical process.

How does independent differ from the mainstream?

I don’t think many independent presses or studios are really independent. They are often just fledgling versions of their mainstream counterparts. Black Sparrow press is an independent press. It always was. I don’t see many new ones like them.

 You could have any first edition book. Which book would it be and why?

Ask the Dust by John Fante. It is the one book that forced me to understand that if you can write, you better do it. No excuses.

Do you believe in life on other planets?

Why the hell not?

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

Peter Falk, in A Woman Under the Influence directed by John Cassavetes. “Here kid, have a beer. Y'll sleep like rocks.” He says this to his young son, in a devastating moment. It’s such a crude gesture – the man has no idea what to do or say – so he just blurts something out. It is just very very human.

 What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

It’s subjective and personal, but I think they are quite foolish – just some cautious marketing people trying to make money. Make a film inspired by an old film – that’s much more interesting.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

I think it was Mailer who said you give Hollywood a cow and they come back with a cup of beef bullion and say “here, we made your book into a movie”.  Honestly, it depends on the book and the director. The End of the Road by Terry Southern was adapted to film by one of professors, Aram Avakian and I think it was remarkable. There is a film adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novella A Gentle Creature  - Une Femme Douce directed by Robert Bresson. I love both the book and the film.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Writing my blog Impressions of an Expat every Monday is extremely challenging. Writing something that is deeply personal and honest yet meaningful to an audience of strangers is a very tall order. I live a bizarre life in Moscow. I have stories to tell, about getting dragged to police stations, about falling in love, about the amazing kid I have. I am humbled by the comments and reactions I get each week from readers in over 40 countries. The blog probably saved my life.


Thank you for doing the interview Marco. I wish you all the best with your projects. I'll do what I can to spread the word about them and blog.  My thoughts/prayers are with you. I hope you'll be able to bring your daughter back to the USA with you soon.