The Way of the Word

8. October 2011

I (Heart) Christopher Lee – Postscript

It’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of Christopher Lee.

I even made some cartoons about it:

I (Heart) Christopher Lee
Meeting the Legend

If you wish, you could refer to the strips’s backstory, which I explained in a different post here on this blog. Essentially, the strips are a spoof of what might happen if I ever got the chance to meet Christopher Lee.

He was in Hamburg last Sunday. Presenting his new movie.

AND NOBODY TOLD ME!!!!!!!

Translation: considering that he’s 89 years old, this was probably the only chance ever to meet him, AND NOBODY TOLD ME!!!!

(slinks into a corner to cry)

24. September 2010

Q&A With Jim Turner

A couple of days ago, I reviewed James M. Turner’s autobiographical novel Beyond the Comfort Zone.

For those who like e-books, the book is also available for the Kindle.

Jim took the time to answer a few questions about the book and the story behind the story.

1) What compelled you to write Comfort Zone?

I knew it was an interesting story involving important social issues and I didn’t want the events and things brought to light in the book to be just consigned to the memory banks. I’m not a great lover of quotes, but I will say this: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

I think that applies to the writing of the book. I’m aware that I have possibly put myself in jeopardy by writing the book, but you either stand and do something or you look away. I couldn’t do that.

2) It seems odd that, as a performing artist, you would choose to write a book about your experience, rather than try to turn it into a movie. Why did you make that choice?

A movie is a very different proposition from a book. It involves a lot of other people right from the start of the process. For myself I needed to feel confident that the story stood up as a narrative that would hold together for the course of a book. After that, making the leap to film is in some ways easier because the plot is mapped out and the book fits neatly into three acts I think. Going: Book, screenplay, film is a lot easier than trying to go in the opposite direction.

3) Will there be a movie, eventually?

I can’t guarantee that there will be a movie. But I am in talks at the moment with three prospective film makers. I would like to think a movie will see the light of day at some point. As anyone who’s read the book or knows me will testify – I don’t give up easily!

4) How authentic is your story? To which extent did you change real events (if you did)?

Some of the names are changed to keep the individuals concerned safe. The final timeline is condensed a little, but not much. Other than that the events rolled out just as they did in the narrative of the book.

5) You said that writing the book required two years and was emotionally very exhausting. How did you see it through?

Through gritted teeth! Application of disciplines I learnt as both an athlete and musician. Each word written is one step closer to the finish. Don’t procrastinate, stop whining, get on with it – that’s my mantra.

6) Have you been back to Thailand since then?

Yes I try to get back as often as possible, it still feels like my true home which is strange as it is so very different from where I was born. Home is where the heart is I suppose.

7) Are you still in touch with Franco, Nok and Jack? Where are they now? Do you know what became of Franco’s Contact?

Nok is married, happily I hope. Jack has moved on to fight battles elsewhere. The contact’s future was set out when he made the choice to cross that border. I feel sure that he is languishing in a Thai prison somehwhere, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that, though not having participated in the trial I don’t know for certain.

Franco? Franco has melted into the background somewhere. I was in fairly frequent contact with him until some months ago. His whereabouts are a mystery. I wish him safe passage wherever he is.

8) You’re still involved in the fight against this child trafficking, I gather? Although no longer so directly?

Well just having the book out for people to read is an involvement by increasing awareness. But, I guess you are refering to my establishing a fund to help both the unfortunate victims of not only trafficking but any child who needs a better start in life to overcome the cards that fate has dealt them. I’m hoping to either support existing establishments or, if the funding levels allow it, to create my own infrastructure. People can read about it at the link further down the page.

9) What’s next for you? Will you ever tell the tsunami story?

Next is my TV series and a couple of other films I’m involved with the production of. I’ve got another fermenting idea for a fictional thriller, but the Tsunami story? I don’t know. I’m not sure I can rake up that particular emotional adventure any time soon.

10) If anyone wants to help these children, what can they do? To whom can they turn?

Well, they can donate to my fund here if they specifically want to help children in South East Asia, or, of course there are many children focussed charities out there that offer a broad range of support for children in need. Two that spring to mind are ‘Children in Need’ and ‘Save the Children’

15. September 2010

Made of Fail Backstory: Christopher Lee

Two things you need to know about me:

One is that, among other things, I work as a freelance entertainment journalist. (If anyone wants to hire me, my rates are competitive.) As such, I write for movie magazines, and I’ve met and interviewed my share of celebrities. I like to think that I’m pretty good at it.

The other is that I’m a big fan of Sir Christopher Lee.

Knowing these two little factoids, you probably understand that Craig, in the two-part Christopher Lee-joke, (I (heart) Christopher Lee and Meeting the Legend) is much less an amalgamation of several people as usual. He is, for all intents and purposes, yours truly.

Except for one thing: I’ve yet to get the chance to meet and interview Sir Christopher. So wait, if Craig is me in this one, and Made of Fail is usually based on true stories, how come…?

Simple: MoF is not based on true stories, the strips are inspired by true stories. That means that what happens here didn’t really happen, but it makes fun of people and events. In this case, I once joked to someone that if I ever got to meet Sir Christopher, it might be difficult to keep my inner fanboy in check.

I’m usually good enough at that — I kept my inner fanboy in check when I interviewed Danny Trejo, for example. But Sir Christopher Lee… He’s a class in himself. That means the Christopher Lee two-parter is spoofing my own worst-case scenario of what might happen if I ever met him.

Two more things before I go. You’ve probably noticed that I cut Sir Christopher off at the neck. The reason for that is that, as I’m sure regular readers know, I suck at liknesses. I had considered using a photo, but then I remembered that Sir Christopher is very tall — and decided to build a joke from that. The Maud he talks at in Meeting the Legend is a bow to Maud Adams. Back in 1974, she played the assistant of Scaramanga, the villain in the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun. And Scaramanga was, of course, played by Sir Christopher Lee.

9. December 2009

Interlude: Travelog

Filed under: movies,workblog — jensaltmann @ 11:27
Tags: , , , , ,

As apparently nobody noticed, I wasn’t here the last two days. I was in Berlin, attending an Avatar press junket.

I’ll blog about the movie later this week.

I arrived in Berlin on Monday afternoon, checked in at the hotel and walked to the cinema where they were showing the preview. On the way, I checked out Checkpoint Charlie and the Christmas market around the Alexanderplatz.

I was very impressed with that Christmas market. It’s unlike every other Christmas market we’ve visited. The one around Alexanderplatz is more like a carnival than a Christmas market. Very fun.

The last time I actually had time to sightsee in Berlin was on September 14, 2001. Obviously not the best time to visit, but we had planned that several months in advance and it was too late to return the tickets. Plus, the weather had sucked.

I had a bit of time to sightsee this time (unlike my previous visits to Berlin in the last couple of months), and I was amazed to see just how much the city has changed in the last 8 years.

On Tuesday, I went to the press junket, where I was part of roundtables interviewing producer Jon Landau, as well as Stephen Lang and Zoe Saldana.

You’ll have to read upcoming issues of Nautilus: Abenteuer und Phantastik for the interviews.

Landau is very enthusiastic about filmmaking, and easily communicates that enthusiasm.

Stephen Lang is not nearly as intimidating in real life. Instead, he’s actually quite friendly and personable. Unless, of course, that is the act. 🙂

Zoe Saldana is even prettier in real life than she is on the screen. Part of that comes from her exuberant and energetic personality. She’s vibrant and funny.

The interviews were fun, all three of them.

6. December 2009

About Interviews – Part 2 of 3

Filed under: writing — jensaltmann @ 17:18
Tags: , , , ,

You think being interviewed is easy? That all you need to do is sit there, let someone else do all the heavy lifting (= ask the questions), and just feed them a soundbite or two?

That’s gonna bite you in the backend.

Before I continue, I feel the need to remind you that the interviewer and the interviewee aren’t opponents. Well, perhaps in political reporting, but not in entertainment journalism. When I interview a celebrity about their latest movie or book, it’s part of my job to make them sound coherent and intelligent. For that, I need their help.

When I transcribe an interview, I always have much more material than I need. More than I can use. Which means I get to pick and choose which parts I put into the final article. (Sometimes I damn the proverbial torpedoes, just write it all down, and let the editor cut it down to size — that always depends on my briefing.) What the final article looks like depends on how the interview went. And that’s where the interiewee comes in.

A part of it is chemistry. Sometimes the interviewee and the interviewer hit it off. The interview becomes a chat, a friendly conversation. Until the press person pops in and declares that time’s up. And you’re sorry it is.

Sometimes the chemistry doesn’t happen. You’re given 20 minutes, you prepare your questions. The interviewee is cooperative, but not really motivated, so you wrap the thing up sooner than expected.

That timing can also happen when the interviewee is motivated and actually answers as-yet-unasked questions, so that you get to wrap things up quicker than expected.

Sometimes the interview is hostile. For some reason, interviewer and interviewee don’t like one another. That’s the worst-case-scenario. In those instances, the interviewee needs to remember that the interviewer can make them sound like a moron, or a major jerk, or even worse. In this case of recording devices, the interviewee might not even have the “I never said that” defense. “Yes you did, here’s the recording.” “That’s totally out of context!” “So what?”

The interviewer’s responsibility is to remember that the interview isn’t for or about them, it’s about the interviewee and their audience. That means you don’t get to do what I just described above.

In 20 years of interviewing, I had exactly one hostile interview. The interviewee had forgotten that we had arranged a time for the phone interview. They were busy with something else, and resented having to take the time. At my end, I had come down with high fever and would have liked to call this off as well, if not for my deadline. If I ever meet the interviewee from back then, I’ll apologize — even though they’ve probably forgotten all about it by now.

One thing that is similar to a hostile interview, and can lead to that, is the indifferent interviewee. The one who clearly doesn’t want to be there, but they have to because of some contractual obligation, so get this over with already man. If the interviewee is rude enough, they will make it clear just how bored and uninterested they are, and it’s up to the interviewer to not let that influence the interview. The only way to hide something like that is during an e-mail interview. Anywhere else, the interviewer will notice it.

So, what do we learn from that? If you get interviewed, you need to be all there. You need to pay attention to what’s being asked, and ideally you know what you’re talking about. You pay no attention to the fact that you’re being asked the same questions over and over again. If you’re an actor, it might help if you pretend you’re shooting a boring talking-heads scene a dozen times or so. 🙂 Just remember that the person who interviews you is as much a professional at what they do as you are at what you do, and pay some professional respect. Then you’ll get the same in return. Basically, the one thing you need to do: you need to focus.

In the next installment, I’ll provide some case studies of actual interviews to illustrate what I discussed yesterday and today.

5. December 2009

About Interviews – Part 1 of 3

Filed under: writing — jensaltmann @ 10:58
Tags: , , , ,

Interviews are tricky things – for both sides.

The first question, for both the interviewer and the interviewee, is the setting. Is it an e-mail interview, a face-to-face interview, a phone interview, a roundtable or a press conference? That’s actually more important than the question of who you are going to interview. The who may have that whole coolness factor going on. Plus, it and the subject of the interview determine what you ask. But that’s settled with some research, which is the part that doesn’t change. The setting of the interview, however, is a major factor in determining how it will go.

The e-mail interview is the easiest. You prepare your questions, send them to the interviewee. The interviewee then mails you their answers. There may or may not be a follow up to one or two of the questions. But that’s it.

To be honest, I’m not sure if the face-to-face interview or the phone interview is more challenging. As the interviewer, you need to be on top of your game for either one. You can slack off a bit if you do a phone interview, simply because the interviewee doesn’t see you, but that’s also the biggest drawback: that you can’t see the interviewee. You can’t see their reactions to your questions, and it’s difficult to tell if they’re actually giving you their full attention, or if they are doing something else at the same time.

For both of these, you need to be about as well prepared as a lawyer in court. You need to know your subject, you need to prepare your questions. It doesn’t hurt to prepare more questions than you think you’ll need. I’ve had it happen that interviewees answered several questions with a single reply, or that an answer revealed that one of my prepared questions was off-beat (because it was based on misinformation, false assumptions, whatever). You also need to be ready to veer off-course, to toss aside whatever you’ve prepared if the interview takes a more interesting turn than you had anticipated.

Roundtables (where several interviewers sit at a table with the interviewee) and press conferences are easiest. You can even slack off a bit. There will be other interviewers asking questions. Odds are that the questions they have prepared are the same that you have prepared. So all you need to do is sit there, let them do the heavy lifting, and just record everything. I don’t recommend that, however. If you do that frequently, your editor will stop sending you to interview people, and it’s also frustrating. I know I was frustrated as heck when I was sent to a roundtable, and everyone else asked my questions before I got around to do it.

Working out the questions can be a major problem. You need to forget or at least ignore what you would like to ask. You need to figure out what your audience might want to know of the person you are going to interview. Why is this a problem? Because every other interviewer (at last the competent ones) are thinking along the same lines. Interviewers also need to consider how much their readership overlaps with that of other magazines whose writers are also going to interview that person.

That’s the explanation for why interviewers usually all ask similar questions, by the way.

What I try to do is dig a bit deeper, in order to find something that nobody else might think of, and that the interviewee might not expect. An example: I recently interviewed Mark Neveltine and Brian Taylor about their movie Gamer. During my research, I discovered that a lot of computer gamers complained on message boards about how the movie promotes the negative stereotypes of computer gaming. I pointed that out to them and asked them what they would tell those gamers. It turned out that they had no idea that gamers thought that way.

Tomorrow: Interviews are also tricky for the interviewee

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