Baseball, Culture, Featured, Sports

From Broad Street to the Bronx: Embracing The Evil Empire

There has been a plague slowly overcoming me. Not the kind that destroys the body, but the kind that eats away at the soul. I was recently in New York and went to the new Yankee Stadium for the first time and marveled at the statuesque nature of not just the structure itself, but the grounds surrounding it. There was an unrivaled mysticism to it all; being somewhere you only ever see on television. It felt in a way, like stepping on sacred soil. And this wasn’t even the old Yankee Stadium. Its pristine exterior only rivaled by the billions of dollars poured into the lavish interior; highlighted by a baseball diamond so near perfect that one would believe during its construction the echoing mantra was surely “if you build it, they will come.”

The problem here you see, is that I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan. At least I think I am. I’ve lived through the toils of supporting a franchise with more losses than any other professional team in America. Born a year after their first World Series, I was 27 years old before they won anything of significance. The second baseball game I ever saw was one between the Orioles and the Phillies; so boring and lifeless that a bunt down the left foul line was met with the kind of exuberance reserved for parades down Broad Street.

So these words are hard to write, but ever since I went to see the Yankees play the Mets on June 10th of this year, there has been a slow but growing black tide washing over me. Like the spirit of evil filling my veins; resistance futile. There’s the history, the unmatched global branding in its sport, the legends that have donned the pinstripes and of course, the 27. Winning championships are the pillars of sporting success and with 27, few franchises are held up stronger than the one that calls Yankee Stadium home.

At the game, there was a good spattering of Mets fans. Not sure why or why they exist. But they were there. Hopeful as always, buoyed annually by the promise of hope, but left disappointed by an ineptness that is but the yearly tradition of ‘the Yankees win, the Mets lose’. The Mets lost of course, but it wasn’t just this one game, they’ve been losing forever; a paltry 2 World Series titles to the Yankees 27. If you were living in New York and identified as a New Yorker, why on God’s green Earth would possess you to choose the Mets over the Yankees? I’m sure there’s plenty of that “the team chooses you” nonsense but really? Suppress it, ignore it, will it away. I’ve never understood the choice to be a loser over a winner. Life is about choices. Why pick the Cubs over the White Sox? Why pick Melbourne Heart over Melbourne Victory? Why pick Manchester City over Manchester United (until recently)? Why pick the Mets over the Yankees?

Since I’ve come back to Melbourne, I’ve been in this perpetual rut. At the gym, I’ve started giving the “what’s up?” head nod to the guy always wearing the Yankees shirt (maybe I need to stay away and get a home exercise program, like the Rushfit). Feeling slowly torn from what I thought was right, slowly overcome by an injection of navy blue, white and grey. These colors are bleeding into the red; turning the crimson into night.

Yet, the most obvious and painful realization is that I just like Evil Empires. I am a Manchester United fan, a Melbourne Victory fan and if I lived in Chicago, there is no chance in hell I would suffer a lifetime of being a Cubs fan. I like global corporations, I like law and order, I like money, I like first class and I like nice things. And so maybe the darkness overcoming me is an inevitable turn; an evil just waiting for an Anakin Skywalker or an Eddie Brock to sink its teeth into. I’ve been bitten and the infection is spreading.

The Philadelphia red in me is still fighting; a spirit of brotherhood bred on the tough Philly streets swinging away at Wall Street, but in the end the spirit is always broken. The high rises of success and power are far too great for man to overcome and winning is far too much of an intoxicating brew to pass up. I’ll toss and turn and feel my soul staving off the inevitable, and I will try with every bit of cheese steak left in me to fight away the allure of glory, money and power. Yet I know deep down inside, evil will rise. And I have a feeling it won’t be long before I enjoy wearing my #7 Mantle shirt more than I do any other.

Photos by: Billy Ho
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Featured, Television

In Defence of AMC’s The Killing

Disappointment at a television series’ mismanagement is nothing new, this year I’ve invested my time to several that in a palpable existence would have lasted longer than their actual life spans. I was never a fan of any Stargate series until Universe and was bitterly disappointed that for once, a bunch of people jumping through giant stone hoops was both thrilling and engaging- only for it to get axed after it really got going (2 seasons worth). Then there was FOX’s ham fisted treatment of Shawn Ryan’s The Chicago Code (cancelled after 13 episodes), while restrained due to it being on FOX instead of FX, was easily the best procedural police drama on TV this year.

So now we come to AMC’s The Killing, whose season finale (or as we all thought, the series finale) came to its rather unfruitful conclusion this past Sunday. One of its most vocal critics, ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons, has written a lengthy piece about its “hackery”, its broken promises and unserved dinners. He’s not wrong; I too was rather dumbfounded by the way it unraveled. After so much promise and poise through the season, we neared a much-needed resolve to the murder of Rosie Larsen, but all we got was trickery and overplayed season-ending cliff hangers (the creators of Dallas will forever be blamed) that bordered on justifiably throwing your remote through the television.

Bordered on, but not quite. As frustrating as it was, I’m here to defend The Killing and the way it ended, not so much the contents of the ending itself, but that the potential for the show and all the good things AMC did with it, warrants a second chance.

For those uninitiated, The Killing is AMC’s adaptation of the Danish series Forbrydelsen, a crime drama that took an entire season (20 episodes) to solve its one case. Much of the plot is kept the same; a young girl is murdered to the backdrop of a hotly contested Mayoral race as audiences get a harrowing look at the emotional and physical turmoil the events cause to the family of the victim, the suspects, and the law enforcement officers meant to solve the case.

– SPOILERS AHEAD –

Did this guy kill Rosie Larsen? Maybe, maybe not…

It is a slow moving drama, punctuated by shady characters, ambiguous morals, and some heartbreaking pain- like a good BBC slog through the rainy streets and woodlands of Seattle. We are peppered all through the season with suspects- ranging from obvious to more obscure. I had money on candidate Darren Richmond, his sniveling campaign adviser (both of them), the teacher Bennet Ahmed, a potential terrorist that Ahmed was involved with, Belko and even detective (Sarah) Linden’s fiance who spent all his time trying to get her to move down the coast. All were potential killers- at least that’s the way the plot unfolded- often giving you hints that this particular character had an uncovered layer that led you to believe he or she was capable of such a crime.

By the penultimate episode, we are dropped the bombshell that the killer is evidently future Seattle mayor Darren Richmond. And we expected the final episode to see him finally put to rest as this long winding road finally came to a halt. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As Simmons points out in this piece, the series was recently picked up for a second season, and with this in mind, the brain trust at AMC must have decided to hell with the viewers, let’s stretch this thing out beyond what we initially planned for reasons that most definitely have nothing to do with the artistic integrity of the original series. So came the plot twists and new facts conveniently seeing the light of day as time expires derailing the show’s last hour. It’s like if a band were to re-record Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and leave off “Jungleland”, or if they remade it as a, God forbid, dance/electronic number. They’ve done everything well up to this point, how could they possibly conduct the conclusion with the panache of a DJ horrendously remixing a really great song? Everything had been done the way terrific European television would for the majority of the series, but the show’s American producers decided to end it the way a trust fund kid would torpedo his/her father’s Fortune 500 Company. Sometimes you just have to end your journey the same way you began it. The Killing did not, and they’re getting their just criticism for it.

– END OF SPOILERS –

However, to write off the show and what it did up to the last episode would be unfair (mostly to people like myself who refuse to end it on a note like this) because of all the good they did do. So what’s left? A chance for television redemption. What if AMC took a cue from short run English dramas like Luther and structured the proposed second season as no more than 4-6 episodes? What if they wrap it up and give audiences the ending they hoped for within this short run, a riveting, gritty but concise ending? It’ll prove that AMC still care about the integrity of quality television and aren’t just another television studio playing the ratings game. I think it worked for The Walking Dead, why wouldn’t it work for The Killing Redux? Let’s not drag this case out longer than a few more episodes. Please.

So don’t write off The Killing just yet, and don’t write off AMC. The show is still leaps and bounds better than what any CSI or Criminal Minds can offer. And after watching the first episode of Game Of Thrones, I can stay that at least The Killing is not so uncomfortably ostentatious (medieval breasts are immediately nullified by gratuitous incest). AMC and the show runners made a mistake, but one they can fix if they get what happens next right.

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Featured, Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: Super 8

There was always an aura to Steven Spielberg’s earliest film work; a magical storytelling tone above all else that made films like E.T. and Jaws true cultural icons. Decades removed, J.J.Abrams, a new scholar in the Spielberg filmmaking cannon, does the very best ode to Spielberg in a film not so ironically produced by the man himself. Super 8 is a film borne of the many traits that became the Spielberg palette. It is a wonderful sequence of ideas that has elements of The Goonies, E.T. and yes, Cloverfield as it’s backdrops, juxtaposed together in a colorful weave of 70s nostalgia and the very tool in which a young Spielberg honed his craft; the 8mm film camera.

A group of 12-year-olds, led by Joel Courtney’s Joe Lamb and Riley Griffith’s Charles (a rambunctious filmmaker that is positively a tip to Spielberg’s imagination-laced youth), aspire to film their little 8mm zombie flick before an unexpected military train derails in their fictitious small town of Lillian, Ohio (an in action sequence fitting for one of the best in a very long time). From here, we discover that this Goonies-esque troupe is every bit as resourceful while their town becomes ground zero for unexplained alien-like activities. They band together with childlike wonderment and humor, buoyed by first loves and hopefulness to reach a befitting, heartfelt finality. Elle Fanning is just enough as the film’s primary ingénue and propels much of the young cast’s motivation. Abrams has been very good at divulging to the audience the film in slow trickles- and while the action is loud and eventful, the crux of the story is revealed with a sieve fine enough that it all unfolds with timely gravitas.

This is what is essential to Super 8; because it is not just a monster film and it is not just about a group of teenagers on an adventure of a lifetime, it is all of the wonderment found in good filmmaking that became synonymous with Spielberg. A great deal of Hollywood is as subtle as a hammer to the skull, while arthouse is far too consumed in its self-importance. While it isn’t perfect, Super 8 is simple storytelling made with a seemingly long-gone nuance, like a moonlit bike ride over the forest.

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams
Produced by: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney
Website: http://www.super8-movie.com
[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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Album Reviews, Featured, Music

Review: My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

We have for some time, suspected that My Chemical Romance’s musical influences were much more than guitar riffs ridden with teen angst and emotional instability. From moments hinted on Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge to the rather bombastic leadoff single from The Black Parade, it would seem that the members of the band spent as much time listening to Aerosmith, David Bowie and Queen as they did their punk rock. Any doubt can be put to rest on the band’s foray away from their past- their terrifically outlandish, operatic rock theatre Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.

As the title would imply, the band have not let go of their conceptual theatrics. Their earliest incarnations (their overlooked debut I Bought You Bullets) had already envisioned Bonnie & Clyde narratives, and their latest is probably the most adept telling of the vast, graphic novel universe the members of the band spend much of their creative time in. Danger Days, about the lives of these so-called Killjoys, is glittering dance-infused rock that parlays its love of synthesizers and melody into the best Ziggy Stardust-penned-Steven Tyler-sung songs done with an added sprinkling of Freddie Mercury bravado.

The Killjoys are battling the Draculoids and Better Living Industries, and this galactic-themed conflict unfolds by way of anthemic, call-to-arms rock (“Na Na Na”), angular textures (“Party Poison”), dance-tinged (“Planetary GO!”) pieces that all build up to the stadium-sized side of the rock palette. Songs like “The Only Hope For Me Is You”, “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” and “Summertime” all sound like a Liv Tyler/Alicia Silverstone starring music video, cut from the same mold as the Three Cheers track “The Ghost of You”. Gerard Way’s croon is now far more refined, less angry, and these mid-paced songs benefit from the new vibrant tone. It makes the band come across as far less frenzied than they did on tracks like “Thank You For the Venom” and “Cemetery Drive”, and depending on who you ask, is the band cultivating a new sense of finesse.

The tracks are interlaced with the radio broadcast from the album’s “host”, a Dr. Death Defying, narrated very much like the 1979 film The Warriors. And like the film, Danger Days is a colorful climax of character and weirdly wonderful imagination. Most of it is seamless, but there are a few glaring missteps. “Na Na Na”, while musically sound, does come across as more of a throw away single and tracks like “DESTROYA” and “Vampire Money” do not fit the mold of a band forging new ground. The formatting of these song titles (“S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”?) begs a lot questions too, less a mature simplicity and more of a bored high teenager scribbling in their notebook. Most notably, the inclusion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” done by marching band in “Goodnite, Dr. Death” is inexcusable.

Critics have taken much time to exercise their displeasure in My Chemical Romance’s musical identity in the past. It’s easy to hate something so “blatantly emo” and to cast a net over larger social issues by pointing the finger at tangible targets. But My Chemical Romance have never once wavered from being themselves. So what happens now when the band’s acclaim is more deserving than ever? When we all realize that Danger Days is the sound of a band finally shedding the burden of an entire genre, we will see that My Chemical Romance have been having the last laugh for a very long time.

And as Way closes the chapter of their past in the very apt “The Kids From Yesterday”, singing with great reflection;

“You only live forever in the lights you make / When we were young, we used to say / That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break / Now we are the kids from yesterday”

It is the final salute in what sounds like, and feels like, an honest turning of the page. And if you do in fact, “live forever in the lights you make”, then their lights, for now, shine the brightest. (Reprise / Warner Bros.)

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Culture, Featured

Still Funny: Bovine Hearts, Drug Abuse and Robin Williams

Seeing a post-heart surgery Robin Williams perform stand up, you worry not whether the long time actor/comedian will be funny, but more so that his often chaotic, high energy routine will result in him dying on stage. Anyone who has seen the DVD Robin Williams: Live on Broadway will know that you’re guaranteed one of three things during his stand up routine; frenetic pace (he’s a 59 year old comedian going on 20), copious amounts of sweat and an unrelenting mainstream wit that leaves no situation (and celebrity) unturned.

Remarkably, this was Robin Williams’ first ever trip down to Australia for stand-up, here for his Weapons of Self Destruction tour that sees him through Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in about a week’s worth of shows. And if there were any doubts of his appeal, the 7000+ that turned up each evening through his 3-night stand in Melbourne is proof that while his movies have been erratic for years, his razor sharp comedic tongue is still very much flexing its muscle.

Local comedians the Umbilical Brothers warmed the stage with a brief 15-minute human sound-effect set that would have made Michael Winslow proud. Brief as it was, the brevity of the set was part of its not overstaying its welcome charm. They were however, an almost perfect segue to Williams’ animated and loud routine, opened with the familiar (I hope) Good Morning Vietnam geo-localized call.

“GOOOOD EVEEENINNNGG MELLLBOUURRNEEEE!”

And if with that, there was little, if no respite until the show’s close some hour and a half later. No one was safe. Qantas and Australian flora and fauna got the brunt early on- from kangaroos and koalas (the latter receiving comparisons to Lindsay Lohan) and the poor old platypus which, according to Williams, was God’s joke on humanity created under a drug fuelled haze.

Now bearded and visibly aged, Williams is no stranger to these vices. His documented alcoholism and drug use becomes part of his humor- and when an eager woman in the audience calls out and tells Williams she’s had cassette (ridiculed by Williams because she pronounced it “CASS-SETTE”) tapes of him from the 1980s, he wryly thanked her for paying for his drugs.

Current global issues and American politics are in bulk, a large chunk of his attack. Perhaps he’s just catching up on 10+ years worth of material but George W. Bush jokes, while still on point and ravagingly true, feel a little outdated (“George W is so dumb he waved at Stevie Wonder”).  But when Williams talks about his homosexual dog (performing fellatio on fellow canines), drunk pick up lines (“Were your parents retarded? Because you sure are special”) and Michael Jackson’s use of the drug Propofil (“[He] used it to go to sleep. That is like having chemotherapy because you’re too lazy to shave your head”), his relentless and boundless humor is at a stadium filling best.

Robin Williams is no Bill Hicks, and his comedy is catered to an audience is probably satiated more by his comedic film roles than socially conscious stand-up. He isn’t here to change the world through his words and a lot of his material is easy to get involved with. His routine is perhaps best described by a friend of this writer who has always said that “Robin Williams’ comedy is his drama sped up and his drama is his comedy slowed down”. Yet as he closes to rapturous applause, the night is noted by one striking thing; Williams, sweat and all, appears to have had an absolute blast. Oh, and anyone worried about whether he’s funny or not can rest easy. He’s funny, damn funny.

Robin Williams
w/ The Umbilical Brothers
November 9, 2010
Melbourne, VIC @ Rod Laver Arena

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Featured, Interviews, Music

21st Century Digital Store: An interview with Missing Link Records

Melbourne’s Missing Link Records is more than just a record store. Rich with history, it is less an outlet for selling and buying music than it is a local institution for both national and international based music. Regardless of genre- be it grindcore, metal, punk, hardcore, indie or hip hop, Missing Link Records is ground zero for getting your inside look at music outside of Top 20 Charts, music video hit shows and stadiums.

The store recently went a drastic upgrade as it propels itself well into the new music industry market, opening up an online retail arm to help integrate the name into the massive online terrain of digital music. We spoke to owner Nigel Rennard about Missing Link’s storied history and their burgeoning digital venture.

For those uninitiated, share with us a little bit of Missing Link history and its importance to Melbourne’s underground music scene?

We took over the shop in 1981 after the punk/new wave era had spawned a wealth of new energy and sounds around the World and have continued to import most of the new styles of music since that time. We have always had a strong emphasis on Australian Independent music and have encouraged the sale of all formats brought into the shop, either directly by these artists, or via a distribution network. From Nick Cave to Eddy Current Suppression Ring we have nurtured new talent often losing it to the mainstream after commercial success beckons. Without outlets like Missing Link there would only be gigs and the internet where an artist could sell their music and this is not enough to expose them to both the local and international customers we are in touch with.

Missing Link is now part of the digital world of music sales with its brand new online store- what prompted the change and adoption of the new venture?

We see digital as just another sales format that is now available to music lovers and a format that is becoming a bigger part of the sales environment every year.Unlike some of our fellow store owners we do not see it as a threat or as degrading music.The only threat that all of us should be worried about is the illegal downloading of music through file sharing,etc, but we cannot ignore it and hope that it fails or goes away because it won’t.I remember the change from vinyl to cd and all the doom merchants or purists with their myriad of complaints but here we are 30 years later and both formats still survive.Digital is just another format to offer and rather than just giving up and accepting illegal downloads we decided to try and beat them by joining up.

How important it has been to adapt to the digital age?

It is the format of choice for everybody I see walking around or sitting on a tram on my way to work.I have never seen so many people with headphones or earplugs everywhere.So that tells me that it is big and getting bigger.The dinosaurs were unable to change and adapt and if we don’t our end will come as theirs did.

What have been the immediate benefits to the new digital store?

We haven’t really seen any benefit since we put this together in July and to be frank it is a very long term project. We have no illusions about competing with Apple itunes and we are only offering what we sell instore, if it is available for download, as an option to our customers. We have a lot more to upload and a lot more to do to promote what we have to offer but as mentioned we will not have Justin Beiber or Lady Ga Ga to offer which is where the bulk sales action is. It may take years before we see it being a commercial success but it is the fact that we offer it that counts.

Does an online store mean less in-store staff?

We continue to have a very large focus on our hard copy sales and have increased our stock, diversified our stock and increased our vinyl range and second hand content and in order to do this we need to maintain our staff levels.

You’re working with a select group of indie labels- how important has this partnership been?

Our indie relationships have always been a big part of our business and are important to us and we thank them for getting on board right from the beginning as we are still very much developing the digital part of what we do.

What if the majors come calling- would you consider stocking their goods in the digital store?

Of course we have a history of artists like The Clash, The Cure, Tool, Nine Inch Nails and so forth that are distributed by majors and phase 2 or 3 of our development will hopefully involve the gradual introduction of artists relevant to our store and its history.

What are Missing Link’s plans (both digital and instore) for the upcoming Australian summer?

We are looking at plenty of activity right now including cd reissues of music from Strange Tenants, Corpse Grinders, Huxton Creepers and a new release by Cosmic Psychos, plans for limited edition vinyl 7 inch releases of unreleased tracks by artists from the past and we are also looking at putting together special Missing Link Presents gigs, on a Monthly basis and are in contact with various venues with this in mind. Along with that just an increase in stock levels and ploughing on with more digital material to upload until Xmas.

VIDEO TRAILER (for new digital store):

If you are in Melbourne, be sure to visit the store in person to get the latest in underground music:

Missing Link
Basement
405 Bourke Street
Melbourne, 3000

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Featured, Featured Video, Interviews, Videos

Exile in Oblivion: An interview with Oblivion’s Mike Cuenca

Mike Cuenca is not one to hold back. A self-proclaimed “no budget filmmaker”, he makes movies the DIY way; pulling together resources from every aspect of life with punk rock attitude and a passion unmatched. The Los Angeles based filmmaker takes the bits and pieces of the life around him- the music, the people, the atmosphere- and infuses them into the characters, scenes and settings of his moving pictures. Upon the completion of his movie Scenes From Oblivion, Cuenca took the colorful elements, styles, characters and ideas into episodic web television; the spin off series Oblivion. We chat with Cuenca about the many testing aspects of DIY filmmaking, the drive it takes to get it done, and what it feels like to be exiled in Oblivion.

You can catch the latest episode of the series streaming above.

Tell us a little about Scenes from Oblivion, the film in which this series spun off from.

Scenes from Oblivion is my first feature film. It’s somewhat of a drama and it’s influenced by John Cassavetes’ Shadows. The story is basically: straight-laced boy meets eccentric girl. Straight-laced boy falls for the girl but doesn’t know she’s eccentric. The girl likes the boy since she’s never received much attention. But then boy discovers girl is really a punk rocker and is appalled by it. He wants to change her to fit his idea of the perfect mate. Conflict ensues. It’s also interlaced with my Cuban-American upbringing. It was a great idea at first but it’s poorly executed. There was a lot of tension on set. I had major issues with one of the leads and some of the crew. The leads hated each other. And on camera they were doing a complete role-reversal. Lou Wright who played Tommy was the punk kid in real life, Jen Baute who played Misha was the straight-laced girl….

So the project completely unravelled and because of the conflict I had with the aforementioned lead and I wasn’t able to properly complete it. So we had to improvise with stand-ins, writing additional scenes to further the plot without her. There were reshoots after reshoots after reshoots until I just went, “F-it. I give up. But I’ll make sense of it SOME day.” Since Scenes hasn’t been released, that’s the main critique we initially received on the series: that there are too many characters and we don’t get enough time to become acquainted with them in the pilot. But now that we’re on, what, Episode 6, the same people are saying the opposite. Now they’re saying we love that there’s a million characters on this show, “It keeps things fresh, there’s not a lot of filler, and we have no idea where you’re going with the story.”

What is Oblivion and the motley cast you’ve assembled?

I’m a huge fan of those coming-of-age, large ensemble teen comedies. But specifically Dazed and Confused. I love how when you watch that movie, in its opening scenes, you’re jumping from character to character to character. And they’re all having these interesting conversations. And when the movie ends, you don’t want it to be over. You want to keep hanging out with all these folks. I’ve always wanted to watch a serialized version of that. And so that’s where Oblivion came from. The thing is, unlike Dazed, which is more of a hang-out type of movie, Oblivion is incredibly heavily plotted. The cast of Oblivion is comprised of mainly non-actors, with the exception of a handful of folks who auditioned through casting ads.  Most are friends of mine… Jeff Rice (“Vince”) is one of my best friends. Kim Higgins (“Darla”) is my former girlfriend, and she and Jenn Higgins (“Louise”) are actual sisters. List goes on and on… Most of the cast are also Los Angeles-based musicians, people who are deeply-rooted in their respective music scenes. Max Jones (“Cliff”) is an actual DJ. He has his own soul night called The Velvet Lounge and also runs a Rods vs. Mockers soccer game in Downtown LA every Sunday. Brian Waters (“Cutter”) has his long-running band the Flash Express and is in the amazing Jail Weddings;  Rikk Agnew who plays Ziggy’s publicist “Mud Guts” is of the ‘80s hardcore band the Adolescents and of Christian Death; Don Bolles (“Peyton Shockoe”) is of the legendary Germs.

Where is all the filming done?

All over LA. But we’ve decided that the principle setting for Oblivion, Holwenstall, is pretty much Highland Park, California. It’s one of the oldest cities in LA and one of LA’s few walking districts (everything is in walking distance and the Gold Metro Rail runs right through here). There’s the American Legion Hall music venue, there’s Mr. T’s Bowl which used to be cool. A lot of rockers hang out in HP. You’ll see a bunch of teens that are discovering underground/alternative music roaming around. My buddy Jeremy Price has a punk rock night called “Kick Out the Jams” at the Little Cave (a bat-themed bar) every Wednesday night. In the ‘50s it was also prime spot for Hot Rod enthusiasts and greasers. Hence, it’s the ideal filming location for Oblivion.

Have you created an entire season’s story arc or do you write and change up the story as the season progresses?

Oblivion, as a whole, was envisioned with a beginning, middle and end. We know where all these characters are going to end up at the end of the series. Hence, the first season’s story arc has been entirely plotted out. But the thing is…Oblivion writes itself. Season One was originally going to be 12 episodes. Well, we’re now filming episode 14 and we’re barely hitting the point in which we start confronting this season’s arcs and start tying things up. Why?  Ideas flourish. Something will happen while we’re watching a particular episode in post-production where we go, hmm…what if we did this instead? It’s very much scripted. But I encourage a lot of ad-libbing on set. I tell the actors to make the dialogue their own (which is where most of the non-stop swearing comes from).  So sometimes during rehearsal so-and-so will ignite some spark of genius and so we immediately jot down what they’ve said and write it into the script so they don’t forget.  And then I make these actors rehearse what they’ve ad-libbed. For instance…the opening scene in Episode 4 with Cutter and Bepop. All ad-libbed. They got the basis for the scene, and just rolled with it. Brian Waters is the king of ad-libbing. And it helped matters that he was in a scene with Steve (“Bepop”) who is a contributing writer. But addressing the original question: if what we write is set in stone, or if it’s changed up as we go along… Some stuff is definitely set in stone…

There is a lot of color in the series, and the visuals are rich- how important is this cinematic quality to you as a director/writer?

Incredibly important. Oblivion to me, and you’ll notice as episodes keep airing, is pretty much a live-action comic book. So I wanted that pop-art look. Jessica Gallant (cinematographer) and I, with our budgetary restriction, have come pretty close to the look I’m going for. And then you’ll notice flashback scenes are a bit washed-out and grainy, like a stomped-on old film.

What is it about “punks, mods and rockers” that appeals to you?

Everything. And you can laugh at this…but to me punk falls into my absurdist philosophy on life.  What is the point of finding meaning in anything if no meaning is to be found?  Where is the logic in that?  Which is where a lot of the humor in Oblivion comes from. It becomes very non-sequitur…random at one point. I mean, look at Repo Man one of Oblivion’s biggest influences. But to many, punk is all about thinking outside the box. It’s about not caring for inhibitions and insecurities. WHY should these inhibitions and insecurities become a hurtle? Don’t ask why you’re insecure about something; ask why SHOULD you be insecure? It’s about just DOING what YOU want to do…deep down inside.  You hate your job, you’re tired of living a routine, and you want to travel the world, then quit and become a nomad if that’s what makes you happy. You want to play music but you don’t know how so someone tells you you can’t and you go, fuck it, I’m playing anyway.

To relate, I’ve lost a lot of friends who told me that I was insane for even considering working on Oblivion and that I couldn’t do it without a crew and untrained actors or whatever. I didn’t set out to prove them wrong, but I have. If you have the will, it can be done. Regardless of said friends thinking the show is good or not, I still did it. But another appeal is how seriously these counter-culture lifestyles are taken. Kids in the ’60s in the UK were KILLING each other because of the music styles they were into…Mods vs. Rockers…because of the way they were dressed. And the folks who don’t get this, argue that this is idiotic. But the same people also state that it’s completely reasonable when fans of opposing sports team get into fist fights in a parking lot because one of their teams lost. It’s the same shit. People are passionate about what they’re passionate about. It gives them meaning. Something to root for.

Now me? Do I believe in this conflicting music genre divergence? Hell no. I listen to everything and have been associated with people from all walks of life. And even though the punk rock community has been supportive of us, for the most part, we’ve gotten a lot of angry emails saying what the hell is this? Since when does a punker hang out with a Goth and so and so and on and on. But when I was growing up, the weirdo kids, no matter the genre of music that they were into, ALL hung out with the other weirdo kids because that’s all we had. It’s all about finding someone you can relate to. Are you going to be spoon-fed something by the radio and MTV who say, hey, listen to this because this is what we’re trying to sell and you take it and go yay I don’t like thinking for myself and like what everybody likes because it’s easy to.  Or do you go, well, maybe I could go look for my own thing and make up my own mind about how I feel about music in general. You discover things on your own.  And you also want to discover people like yourself. But I really want to inform the mass public about these alternate lifestyles. I don’t like things being misunderstood.

What is a Mod?  Is punk a music genre, a way of life, not to be taken seriously, a pretentious form of thought, a broad term? Is it called selling-out, or is it called being smart and having a business plan? When do you give up? How long can you live this way? The series addresses all of these things and satirizes it.

There’s a rich quality to your characters too- plenty of them as well- are they inspired by real people in your life?

Not any specific person. Just types. Ziggy is that over-the-top egotistical frontman who believes he’s God’s gift to the music world. We’ve seen plenty of those. Pox is that obnoxious poseur who tries too hard to fit in. And then we break stereotypes too. It turns out Pox is pretty smart and uses a high vocabulary between cuss words. Cliff, a Mod, his best friend is Vince, a greaser. Blair is not this somber Goth girl…she’s happy and full-of life. And we’ve mentioned this before, but most of the actors in true life resemble a lot of the characters. It just happened coincidentally. It’s like most of these people were mean to play these parts. So when we write for the show, we hear the characters voices in our heads. We take some of the actors’ quirks and then incorporate them into their characters as well.

How does a “no budget filmmaker” like yourself create a textured, thoughtful and active series- what techniques, short cuts and methods have you used to help overcome any financial obstacles?

Pull in a lot of favors. That’s how we overcome financial obstacles. Yvonne Trinh gets the wardrobe form thrift stores. We ask bands who donate music to the soundtrack to give us merch (posters, T-shirts) as a form of cross-promotion. We don’t have a location locked, we go in the spot, tell them what we’re doing, and woo our way in. We compliment owners by saying, hey, if you let us use your place, you can be an extra. And they get flattered. We couldn’t afford a certain prop? Well…then let’s experiment with something else. You get very creative. As for techniques on how we get it done and come off like we have a high-budget?  Well, that’s a “superhero secret”.

What are the goals for you and Oblivion in the foreseeable future?

Everyone involved wants to keep this show going. It’s addicting to work on. Incredible fun.  We’re laughing, in tears, on set most of the time. Everybody gets along. We’re friends. I would love nothing more than to focus my attention 100% on the show. But we have day-jobs.  I do 19 hour days. I rarely sleep. I’m writing, editing, rehearsing, scheduling, directing, promoting, etc. etc.  I need to get a proper crew…right now it’s just Jessica, Steve, Gina Clyne (web guru) and whoever else volunteers on whatever set day.  Jessica Gallant and the actors need to get paid. We have to work around everyone’s work schedule.  A few cast members don’t live out here because they can’t afford to live in Los Angeles. You see the conflicts… And we need to keep reaching our audience. Viewers that discover Oblivion love the show.  Especially teenagers. But the first message we receive is them saying that they didn’t know a show like this even existed! Now how do we keep reaching our audience? Word of mouth and the DIY promotions we’ve been doing are great but we need to market the show properly and to market it properly we need secured financing.

Will there be a physical release of the series once the season is complete?

We have a handful of interested distributors. So, yeah, there will be a season one DVD with a slew of bonus features, bloopers, interviews, that sort of stuff.

What can we expect from you and your film company after Oblivion?

I want to help produce a few film ideas some friends have. Round up their resources and cast. I’m currently developing an untitled black and white kitchen sink movie about friendships and sex and comic books told through vignettes. It’ll take me five years to do ‘cause I want the actors to age in real-time. Despite tone or genre, all of my unproduced scripts are set in the same world as Oblivion…so one or two Oblivion characters make a cameo in it.  I also want to do a few interconnected videos for my band The Dignitary Loss once we get our situation worked out. But I’m going into pre-production on a noir period-piece Odium for Ardor. It’s a bit like Sunset Blvd. meets 8 ½ and Faust.  And it doesn’t resemble Oblivion in any form.  It’s pretty grim.  I’ve talked to Gabe Hart (front man of the Jail Weddings – visit jailweddings.net) about playing the lead.  Hopefully we can get rolling on that in January.

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Watch episodes of Oblivion on the official Oblivion website.

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