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Category Archive for ‘Interviews’ at Inside ontheinside.info

Archive for the 'Interviews' Category

Interview with Engadget’s Ryan Block

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Ryan Block is the editor-in-chief of tech and gadget news blog Engadget.

Where did you grow up and when did you move to New York?
I grew up in Southern California, in Orange County. I moved to New York in 2001. I had like $400 in the bank account and I just figured I’d try to make a go of it. So I shipped whatever I could out here.

What neighborhood did you move to?
I was living in this rat nest in Jersey City. I could talk about that one apartment and my roommate there for an hour, that’s like a whole in and of itself. But I stayed there my first four months and then I spent the next three years moving constantly. I temporarily moved to the border of West Village/Soho on King Street, and then back and forth between the East Village and Williamsburg, which was my last stop before I moved to San Francisco last year.

How did you get started with Engadget?
My friend Peter [Rojas] moved out here just a couple months after I did and later started a new site called Engadget. We hadn’t talked for a while because we were kind of on weird, if not bad, terms, because the first time we’d met we’d gotten into an argument about Linux, which is totally random. I think we didn’t realize it at the time, but we were too similar and had a clashing of similar personalities. I saw that he’d left his previous site, Gizmodo, started Engadget, so I sent him a tip on some news item and he wrote me back and asked me if I wanted to try my hand at writing about technology. Which, looking back on it is so completely obvious, I love technology, I love writing, why did I never even think to write about technology, so you know I guess I’ve got to hand it to Pete for giving me some pretty obvious direction there.

And it makes sense when it all clicks into place, it’s just, it’s so beautiful. Everything started to take off, Engadget blew up really quickly, we were having such a good time and eventually we got acquired by AOL and we were able to really take the site and the publication to the next level. You know, it’s just one of those things where I feel unbelievably lucky and blessed to have fallen into it. I mean, I never would’ve thought that it would be like this, I just thought it was something fun that we would do and have fun and play with toys and enjoy ourselves.

At what point did Engadget become a full-time job for you?
I started in June of 2004 and I quit my day job to write full time in June 2005. So basically one year after it started. It was a pretty rapid growth overall. I think over the last couple of years everyone has really become a consumer electronics buyer and you know, in many ways everyone’s become really obsessed with consumer electronics in ways that they weren’t, basically ever.

How big is Engadget now?
We’re at about 10 million unique readers a month, we’re still growing. Surprisingly, we’re still growing. I thought that we were going to plateau or at least really slow down by mid-2006, and we did for a while, but by fall of 2006 we’d picked up growth again and we doubled our traffic and readership in about a year. So I mean either we’re doing something right or the amount of people who want to read about technology news is constantly growing—I have a feeling it’s a combination of the two.

Would you attribute some of this success to New York?
I feel like the things that Pete and I were able to do in the early days and the opportunities that we had had so much to do with where we were, in the sense that we were accessible to a lot of the companies who had presences in New York. It is such a media centered town and there are so many media companies here. So I think Engadget’s success, and my own personal success at Engadget, has had everything to do with New York. And if I’d have started doing Engadget, say from San Francisco, I don’t know how things would’ve been. At least not for me, you know. I might still have a day job, I might have never gotten really wrapped into this and eventually taken over as editor-in-chief and all those things. The reason that I agreed to do this [ontheinside.info profile] even knowing that I don’t live in New York anymore is because New York has really defined who I am as a person, you know, from the moment I lived here until today. And I think that it would be pretty naïve of me to suggest that I would never live here again because I miss it, a lot. And there are a lot of things that just keep me coming back, five, six times a year, constantly. And it’s become so intertwined with my own personality and my career.

How was it moving to San Francisco?
It was really emotional for me, because I did love, and I do love being here in NY so much and I do miss it. And I was in a lot of ways unsure that this was the right decision for me to make. I mean I know in hindsight that it was and I’m very happy in San Francisco. I just think that the city is kind of strange right now. I hadn’t really tried to think about it too much, or to codify it, but I was listening to that, I hate to drop the name, but I was listening to an LCD Soundsystem record, the new one, and he has that song, New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. James Murphy is a big New York scenester and he’s talking about how depressing New York has gotten and how it’s kind of just filled with boring people and he kind of writes the same song over and over. I think it really spoke to how important New York is but how it can just really wear on you after a while. It’s like living here is like being in a relationship, you have to really put a lot of work into it and you have to really love it a lot. And if you don’t just love it completely, and if you’re not really prepared to put a lot of work into it, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. You shouldn’t be in it. It’s not a city that caters to you. I don’t necessarily think a city should cater to you, but as time went on, and as my personal life continuously got more hectic and my career got much more busy with Engadget, it started becoming a bit of a hindrance in some ways. You know, fighting the weather, ridiculously hot summers, unbelievably cold winters, how some things like shopping, getting fresh produce and things like that are so difficult, so I think there were a lot of appealing things about moving. But there’s no place that could ever replace New York, that could endear me to it like New York did. I think that’s how most New York ex-pats feel. Like they never get over living here.

What advice would you give to someone moving here?
You can’t just move to New York and not work your ass off, right? I mean, you have to be prepared to do that, you really have to be willing to step up your own game when you come here and just do whatever is necessary, because it’s so incredible and dynamic here but it’s also so much competition from all sides. So many people from so many walks of life with different perspectives on everything, different talents, different abilities—think of anything and you’re going up against a crowd to do it. That’s why it still kind of surprises me that we found this niche, this opportunity and it kind of blew up, especially given all of the talent in New York, but I guess we were some of that talent too.

Can you tell us briefly, what’s a typical day for you? Or is there a typical day?
No two days are alike. Everything is constantly in flux and there are so many balls in motion at any given time. I mean, a typical day is, wake up at 7:30-8 in the morning, head straight to my computer, read news feeds, triage email, write some stories, work on some features, and then you know probably take an appointment or two with a company that’s in town and wants to show a new gadget or something. I’ll probably get visits from FedEx, DHL, and UPS each delivering new products from whatever company, and if I’m not too busy I’ll try to sit down and play around with the new devices I just got and if I am too busy then I’ll ship it out to somebody else.

So you get first dibs on any product to play with it and then write about?
Yeah, I mean I’m not doing as much news content as I used to, we’ve got a pretty good team and they do a really amazing job at keeping the site going. There’s a lot of managerial overhead that goes into any publication, especially one that’s scaled to millions of readers. So I do have to spend a lot of time interfacing with our AOL side. And then you know, we’re also looking at all manner of things that come through, anything from content syndication deals to you know, getting Engadget integrated on devices. There’s just always so much going on. The demand and the number of companies that want a piece of your time, it’s just absolutely enormous in the consumer electronics industry.

What were some of the jobs you had before Engadget?
I was doing a lot of freelance technology, I was working at a software company doing system administration. I’d never really written professionally. I’d written a lot, but I’d never really sought to get it published. It was one of those things I figured I would do eventually, but it wasn’t an itch that I was burning to scratch. So yeah, I mean, things really, I’m kind of a believer that you find the best things when you’re not looking for them.

What should we look out for in 2008 from a tech perspective?
You know you never really know what’s around the corner. I mean, you do, and that’s why people read Engadget is because we tell you what’s around the corner, but in terms of like larger trends, it’s not so easy to say. What I will say, here’s something really interesting that’s going to go out in January—federal government is going to auction off a bunch of wireless spectrum, 700 megahertz spectrum that used to be used as UHF channels. The government has mandated that we’re all switching off analog broadcasts and switching to digital broadcasts. So they have all this wireless spectrum that they’re not using so they’re auctioning it off to companies. So a bunch of companies like AT&T, Verizon, possibly Google, Frontline Wireless, a bunch of these companies are going to bid on this wireless spectrum. And it also looks like the 700 megahertz spectrum could become a worldwide standard. If that happens, this might be the first time we’ve had a single ubiquitous worldwide wide range wireless standard. For most people it’s not going to matter for a while, but that could become a turning point for mobile electronics for the next 50 years. Devices would become more ubiquitous and open, they would transmit data faster and possibly use less power and best of all, everybody would be able to rally around a single standard. The way wireless works for most of the world, besides stuff like wi-fi, look at cell phones, it’s all very regional cause everyone has different wireless spectrum standards, especially America, we have like our own thing for everything, so it’s really fragmented and it’s really kept devices, like the ipod which for all intents and purposes should have wireless access, from doing that, because there’s no real standard to bring all the stuff together. You know, they add wi-fi and stuff, but it’s not the real deal. Think about what it would be like if your ipod was kind of like a cell phone and you picked up your ipod and you were able to just get on the internet anywhere. And maybe it was free, maybe it was really cheap, that’s what the future’s going to be like. And the 700 megahertz auctions next year are going to have a really big part in that.

- interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher.

See Ryan Block’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/ryan-block.

Interview with cartoonist Matt Diffee

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You’ve lived in NY for eight years now, did you want to move to the city growing up?
I love the country, I grew up in Texas and North Carolina. But if you’re going to move to a big city, this is the one. There was always a bit of a New York fantasy in my mind. Early in my life, I wanted to be a gallery artist, move to New York, have an artist’s loft and walk around with paint smeared jeans. I was also interested in comedy. And certainly this is the place for that too, you know come here and be a Saturday Night Live writer or have a sketch comedy team.

How did you become a cartoonist?
I was pursuing art and comedy at the same time, but I never thought of putting the two together because I guess I was kind of a snob on both ends I guess. I was living in Boston in ‘98 when I saw this Frontline or Nightline special about the first ever cartoon issue of the New Yorker. I went out and picked up a copy at the newsstand and inside there was a contest form that the New Yorker and the Algonquin Hotel were co-sponsoring. You were supposed to send in your best cartoon idea that had to do with hotels, or hotel life. I spent a few weeks on it and sent some things in. Bob Mankoff, the current cartoon editor at the New Yorker, was the juror of the contest. I was one of the three finalists and got to come down to New York and I met Bob and a couple of the other cartoonists, and I ended up winning the whole thing. So Bob suggested I submit for the magazine. From then on I was doing three cartoon ideas a week and sending them down from Boston. And the third week I sold one, which was just a huge validation. I’d done everything to try to make the rent and to be a comedian and an artist, trying to get in those doors. So to get into a door like the New Yorker, especially something that I’d never intended to do, it really felt like, “ok, this is probably what I am supposed to do”. And so, after you sell your first one you can come down and turn in your ideas in person on Tuesday mornings to the New Yorker. You’re kind of in the club, at least enough to come in on pitch day.

And so you became a New Yorker?
Yes, but I should tell you the bad end of that story. I came down and was doing three ideas a week. You know I’d write a lot of ideas but I’d pick three good ones and pitch them every week. At that point Bob told me ‘you know most cartoonists do about ten a week’. So I started doing fifteen a week because I was wanting to be the young impressive guy. And that whole first year I sold a total of four. It wasn’t a meteoric rise, I definitely had to pay some dues. Each year got a little better, but I wasn’t able to make a living from it for probably four years. And the last four years I’ve been able to. But even now, I mean at the very best, when you turn in your ten, you’re lucky to sell one. So 90% of your stuff gets rejected every week. And that’s top tier, that’s if you’re really hitting, and there’s certainly weeks where you don’t sell any.

That ties right into the books you edited The Rejection Collection, right?
It was an idea I had when I started gathering a pile of rejected cartoons that I still liked. I knew all these other cartoonists who had been doing it for 50 years must also have huge piles of rejects. So I just talked to them and got all their favorites and we’ve done two volumes of The Rejection Collection now (volume 1, volume 2: The Cream of the Crap). Hopefully, we’ll keep going.

What kind of cartoon can we expect in the books?
A lot of the stuff in The Rejection Collection is right for this type of book but very wrong for the New Yorker. To me that adds a level of comedy to it—if you see a joke that’s really sort of tasteless and lowbrow or just stupid, you know the New Yorker’s not going to buy it, but the idea that the cartoonist did it, and actually pitched it to the New Yorker, makes it even funnier to me, like ‘what were they thinking’? These are cartoonists whose work is regularly in the New Yorker, and this is the stuff that they’ve never been able to sell to the magazine over the years. And most of it, yeah, most of it’s outrageous and racy and politcally incorrect.

Also the New Yorker cartoons are famous, but hardly anyone knows the New Yorker cartoonists. So it was a big part of the book for me to share these personalities. In both of the books we have photographs to show you what the cartoonist looks like and then questionnaires about their craft and the way they think. Volume 2 has an appendix about the life of being a cartoonist. A lot of people don’t realize that we’re scraping by, hoping to sell. And that’s my career in a nutshell. I tried a lot of stuff, I’ve been third shift convenience store and done construction and road work, and every other thing. It is the truth that something takes way longer than you think. Like the people who are “overnight successes” you look at it and they’ve been doing it for 10 years in one way or another.

How long does it take to conceptualize a single cartoon?
It varies hugely, sometimes an idea will come to you fully formed, instantaneously while you’re making coffee and you have no idea where it came from. And then other times you just sit there and grind it out and write a lot of really bad ideas and then eventually something comes together. I wish there was an easier way, cause it’s not easy, just sitting there, forcing myself to think of something. For example I’ll start thinking ‘igloos’. Then I go from there to ‘eskimos’ and from ‘eskimos’ to ‘whale blubber’ and maybe there’s a joke about you know some sort of blubber product and then that doesn’t go anywhere so you go back to ‘eskimos’ and say ok, I’ll do an eskimo on a sled and his dogs are, instead of dogs they’re cats. It’s a concept.

Can you take us through the pitching process with the New Yorker?
At the end of each week I take my best ideas and sketch up the best ten, you know, the ten that I can live with. I do that pretty quick, fifteen minutes a sketch probably, maybe less. And then if they buy one I have to do a finished version of it, art-wise. That can take hours, sometimes weeks.

Do the publishers ever send back the finished version?
Not really. You finish it to your liking and you take it in and occasionally they’ll point out something, like the fact checking-department will point out something. The classic is that your buttons are going the wrong way for a men’s shirt or a women’s shirt, or patterns on a bird’s wing are wrong. Their fact-checking department is pretty legendary at the New Yorker, for their articles, but also for the cartoons. But it’s kind of funny because you’re nit-picking about the plumage of a bird not being accurate but ignoring the fact that the bird is talking. Which is also not factually correct.

At what point do you come up with the caption?
That’s the bulk of what I spend my time doing, writing words. I don’t draw anything until I’ve got a good joke or a gag or a concept. It’s word based but there has to be some added element in the visual. Because I had a tendency, coming from a stand up background, to write a one-liner joke and then just draw somebody saying it. Which is not really a pure cartoon, there’s gotta be something in the visual that is essential to get the joke.

Would you say cartoon styles go in and out of fashion over time?
There’s a difference in the drawing style when you look at the old magazines. They were really rich and well-drawn, and today it’s almost better to be ‘badly’ drawn, in a way, it frees up the joke a little more. I tend to draw in an old fashioned way, kind of overly. And sometimes I have to bring it back to keep it funny, otherwise it gets real stale. Like you draw it too well and suddenly it’s not a cartoon, it’s a documentary moment.

But in my work, and in the New Yorker cartoons in general, there’s a dryness to the delivery that typifies them. To me it’s the equivalent of a stand up comedian who does his stuff with a straight face without overselling it with the energy of his delivery. There’s a lot of comedy that is about the momentum that you build in the room. Dane Cook might be a good example of this, it’s more about the energy of him as a performer rather than just the thought behind the joke. He’s almost surfing the audience’s energy, whereas a Steven Wright or somebody, almost lets the energy dissipate in order to focus on the next thought he’s going to give you. Two different things, I personally gravitate to the latter.

Do you perform stand up in the city?
Yeah occasionally. Mostly within the context of speaking as a cartoonist and showing cartoons. But I still occasionally write a random one-liner joke that I can’t fit into a cartoon so I try to tell it on stage.

Do you think New York is a good place to be a cartoonist?
Tremendously. I think what people like about the New Yorker, even if they don’t live here, is that it’s about New York. There’s certainly that element. Because people everywhere used to live here or maybe wished they lived here. So we almost have a responsibility to report in a comedic way what’s going on in New York. And just walking around, you constantly see typical New Yorker set-ups. You know, the hot dog vending cart with a scene taking place, or a homeless guy with a sign, that’s a classic, or even the crazy street prophets, all that stuff. The only thing you don’t see is the desert island, that’s not in New York much.

- interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher.

See Matthew Diffee’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/matthew-diffee.

See Matthew Diffee’s cartoons at the Cartoon Bank here.

Film Producer Celine Rattray Interview

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Film producer Celine Rattray shares the struggles and rewards of film producing and running a company in New York.

Plum Pictures is a company of three women, what do you each bring to the table that makes it work?
All three of us are very different. That has really helped us over the years because we bring different perspective on a script, on a piece of material, or on a cut of a film. We all come from very different angles and I think it’s having smart debates that has helped us do better work. I think Galt [Niederhoffer] is an intensively creative person, she’s someone who tackles everything from a creative standpoint. I come from a business background, so my approach to solving problem or to thinking about problems is to thinking about business solutions and how it will affect our business. And then Daniela [Taplin] is someone who is extremely personable and kind and good with people and she approaches problems from that angle. And so I think the fact that the three of us are very different is actually very good for the company.

How did you start the company?
When we started we wrote a 5-page business plan and looked for investors and we found our first investor who backed our company for the first three years in terms of salary and development money and then we put together a slate of films, and we basically optioned scripts for a dollar each and just try to find as many projects as possible and we got to a place where we had a slate of 10 films and probably half of them were no good and the other half were decent. Then we did everything we could to get them made and we got 2 movies made in the first year. One of them was Lonesome Jim and the other one was The Baxter, and then from that moment onwards it was really about keep trying to find great material, keep trying to get movies made, do good work, hope that little by little it will get acknowledged. And this year has been the most exciting year for our company because this year we had 3 movies at Sundance and they all sold in big ways, two of them to the Weinstein’s and one to Magnolia. It felt like a reward for 3 years of very, very hard work that culminated in Sundance. And then since Sundance, it’s been very exciting because people liked those three films and thought we did interesting work and we’ve been able to make 4 more films in the last 6 months which has been really thrilling because it’s really what it’s about—getting the movies made.

Can you tell us more about your experience at Sundance?

Sundance was the first time we had a bidding war. And the bidding war is the most thrilling and exciting thing a film producer can ever go through. I wish it on everyone because it’s an amazing life experience. We showed two of our films, one was Grace is Gone and one was Dedication and from the second that the screenings ended all the distrubtors were swarming around and approached us at various times and said “we’re planning to make a bid for your movie”. And then a couple hours later we went to a condo and there were distributors in every room of the condo, and we the producers with our lawyers would go from room to room and negotiate with all the different companies and the prices kept going higher and higher, till we closed. We actually closed both movies with the Weinstein’s. It was very, very thrilling that multiple people like and appreciate and want your film because all along the way of making the film, all you hear is ‘no’, you hear people not like a script, you hear actors don’t like a script, or directors don’t like a script, or you hear investors don’t like the script, or crews don’t like the script. You hear so many no’s along the way and usually these films, the reason they’re made for such tiny budgets is that the distributors don’t want to make them in a bigger way. So then to get to the point where all the people who said no along the way now want your movie because it came out well and it was well executed. That is very thrilling because you believed it for the two years you worked on it but very few people around you did. So it’s a really lovely moment.

How do you keep your faith against so many obstacles and no’s along the way?
I think you have to really love a piece of material. I think the lesson is you can’t get a movie made unless you think that script is extraordinary, because there are so many battles to get there that if you’re not completely convinced that it’s an interesting project from a creative and business standpoint, that this movie has a chance of breaking out and pleasing audiences, to me it doesn’t feel worthwhile. You have to have such belief. You need to have a belief in the piece of material, you have to have a belief in the director that you pick and the cast that you pick, you have to really see a vision for what the material is.

What do you look for in a script?
We look for material that we think is intelligent, that has something interesting to say. We look for material that is touching in some way, that will move people, will move them to laugh or cry or create emotion in people. We look for good roles because we know that if there’s a good role that makes it easier to attract a well-known actor and therefore easier for the movie to get made. I think we look for something that’s a little bit different to other things that have been made. We try to pick things that we think have something new and original to say. And then we look for something that strikes the balance of critical and commercial which is a hard thing to do because the two don’t go hand in hand: to find something that we think will be able to get into the festivals and will be able to possibly win awards but at the same time has a broad concept, and that people all over the country and all over the world might be interested in going to see. So we try to balance all these things and it’s hard. You get 50 scripts submitted to you every day and you’re lucky if once a month a great script comes along and you’re often competing against a lot of other companies to get that great script.

How do you make the close to obtain rights to a script that you like?
When we talk to our filmmakers, we let them know that the chances of it getting made are higher with us, with our company. We make 5 movies a year and we’re very quick from the moment that we option the script to when the movie gets made. For us we put our energy behind fewer projects. I think some bigger producers, also from studios, might option a hundred scripts and only make 10. We really say if we take the project, we’re taking it on to make it, not to develop it.

Can you describe your duties on set?
Pre-production is actually probably the most important part of the producer’s job. Pre-production is planning every part, every logistic of the shoot. In pre-production you hire the crew, you plan the schedule, you plan the locations, you plan the order of shots and you really plan every aspect of what the shoot will be, so if a movie is very well prepped, theoretically a shoot should go very smoothly. I think one of the things that we’ve learned is to have long pre-productions periods. If you prepped a movie very well, all you’re doing during the shoot is dealing with new problems that arise that were not anticipated in pre-production.

For example, a rain storm sets in and you have to choose to go to another location because you can’t shoot in your exterior location. So you have to decide how to move that schedule around. Or an actor is having a disagreement with someone so you have to step in and resolve, or you have an unhappy crew member. There’s a hundred people working on our movies and there’s always tension between different groups. The producer tries to identify that problem and step in and solve the problem. Part of it is morale and making sure the people are happy and bringing coffee to the crew, making sure the people are having a good experience. And then a part of it is also being the right hand to the director and being there by the monitor and when a director may have missed something because they’re looking out for a 100 things, suggesting some different ways you might do a take that will help you ultimately in the edit room because if an actor for example has done 3 or 4 takes that are intense in one direction but you think it might help you to have an alternative, you’re the one to maybe suggest it to the director.

And then also keep an eye on costs in general, so depending on the length of the day of your shoot or what time you have lunch, if you go into overtime at lunch or at the end of the day- you have to make a decision as a producer sometime: do you keep going for a couple of hours to get that shot and we go into overtime, or do we move that shot to the next day and if we move the shot to the next day what does that mean for tomorrow, and weighing decisions ultimately with the good of the movie as your number one objective but then getting the movie delivered on time and on budget being a secondary very critical objective also.

Why did you choose to start Plum Pictures in New York?
To me what’s so exciting is the creative community that’s here with fantastic writers and directors and actors. And then I also feel the energy of New York, people and the pace is very exciting and moves you in this really exciting rhythm. So it feels like a dynamic place to start a young company.

What did you learn from the movie industry since you started?
How completely really difficult it is. Everytime a movie gets made, even a terrible movie, it’s a miracle. Getting a movie made is like pushing a huge rock up a hill and you’re the only one pushing. I think with every movie, between actors getting a different offer on something else, or the financiers keep changing their minds, for all the things to go right and a movie to actually get made to me is a miracle. Every single movie I made, on the first day of the shoot I have a massive relief because i feel nothing more can go wrong now, no person can change their mind, the movie is happening. It was much harder than i thought when I started out.

When we were just starting out, we were thinking it’s so hard to get something made so we need to have 10 at any point just be lucky enough to have one, and a very good friend of mine introduced me to Oliver Stone early on in our company and he was like “no, no, no, 10 is not enough you actually need to have 30 developments to actually get one made’. There’s really a lot of truth to that, it’s extremely hard to create the momentum to get something to happen. Which ties it to what we were talking about earlier that you need to have such a belief that it’s something that is worth making.

Who are people in the business whose careers inspire you or who you look up to?
There’s a couple of people who I really admire in film. I really admire Scott Rudin because he has extraordinary taste. He has great taste across independent films and studio films. He really seems to fight for directors and protect directors and get their visions realized and he just has such extraordinary taste across everything; books that eventually get made into films, plays and remakes and original screenplays. We have a much much younger company than his, but he’s certainly a role model and inspiration to us. I really admire Anthony Bregman who is a younger producer but had made fantastic films and is also a wonderful human being and a great father and a great husband and is someone to that seems to balance it all and I really admire him for that.

How do you balance it all?
It’s very hard. When you’re in production it’s usually all consuming and your life stops. All my friends have become patient with me that they understand that I don’t return calls for a couple of months. And my family understands, and then when you’re not in production and you have more time on your hands you try to make it up to everyone, being able to spend good time with your husband, and friends and family. So it’s definitely a balancing act. It’s difficult. I had a movie that I made this summer, where in a period of a week I forgot one of my closest friend and my dad’s birthday because we were shooting nights and I was so tired, so I don’t always do it well.

How has it been like working with so many great actors?
The last couple of years have been incredible, we’ve worked with so many actors… John Cusack, Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson, Lucy Liu, Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen, Hilary Swank, Matthew Perry, Michelle Monaghan, Benjamin Bratt, William H Macy- that are extraordinary but also some actors that I’ve admired since I was a young girl. This year we made a movie with Alan Alda who for so many years I’ve been watching in films and on TV. To be able to experience the work of someone like that and watch them on the monitor and see how professional and hard working they are. That was a particularly exciting experience to me, to see someone who’s 71 years old and who has no reason on a $2m film to work that hard and yet he’s there every day on time working as hard as he could possibly work with so much enthusiasm and so much to give. It’s really thrilling and gives you so much faith in filmmaking.

What is your view on the indie film industry today?
I think there are a lot of big challenges. One of very positive things that happened over the last few years is that Wall Street have invested a lot of money into films and into independent films and it’s probably easier than ever to get Wall Street financing for independent films. There’s so many ways to access money, so you’re no longer dependent on getting movies made through the studios or the distributions companies. So that’s been really exciting development for independent film producers.

One of the challenges that have come with that is that so many movies have gotten made and are getting made and so many new distribution companies have also come up that right now the marketplace is incredibly crowded. And it’s crowded in the studio world and it’s also crowded in the independent world. And as a result of this, from September 1st to Christmas this year, there’s 8 new releases every weekend and the market is flooded with films and it’s so hard for any films, even studio films to stand out, that let alone your little independent. It’s very very difficult and you see it this season, so many good films have gotten completely lost because of the crowded marketplace. So I think that’s a real challenge, I think it’s probably harder than ever to make a little indedpendent film without a big star and have that film succeed. Your independent film really needs to be a small version of a studio film to have a fighting chance. Also the execution needs to be perfect. Eight years ago a small independent film that maybe didn’t look that good production-value wise might have succeded if it was a good story, but in this day and age with the crowded marketplaces you need to have it all. You need to have extraodinary performances, extraordinary production value. It really needs to be A+ along every aspect to have a chance to succeed.

How do you see your career evolving?
I think we want to continue to do films that we really believe in, that we think are good films to make, i think we’d like to do bigger budgets films because it’s been a great and exciting challenge to do $2-3 million films but it’s the idea of what you can do production-value wise with a $20 or 30 million film is really exciting to us as producers. So we’d love to try and see if we can get a bigger film made and what the challenges and the logistics of production are on a film like that. So that’s what I hope we will do in the next year or so. And I think we’d love at some point to do a television show although I’m sure that has its own sets of challenges and difficulties.

How many films do you see a week?
I love to go to the movie house at noon on a Saturday or a Sunday and then spend the afternoon there and see two or three films in a row. It’s really my favorite thing to do on weekends. I try to go and see every film that comes out, whatever the film is, you always have something to learn, you always discover an interesting theme, or an interesting way of editing a film or an interesting actor. I feel like you always have things to learn by seeing a movie. There’s no movie that comes out that I wouldn’t be curious to see if i had enough time. I typically see at least 5 films a week and then I read a lot of scripts on top of that. But if a week goes by where I’ve seen less than 5, I would feel unhappy about that week.

- interview by Alvina Collardeau, photo by Samantha Gattsek

See Celine Rattray’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/celine-rattray.

Victoria Redel on The Border of Truth

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Victoria Redel: My latest novel is called The Border of Truth. In my work, short stories and poems, the whole question of first generation, or the question of what’s the methodology of what you bring with you when you have family that comes from another place or from a place of war, it’s an interest of mine. In this novel, I roughly took the passage my father had made from the bombing of Brussels through France to Spain and then to Lisbon and on a ship called the Quanza, which was an actual ship that came across, and his parents and some other passengers were refused entry into New York, and again their transit visas were denied in Mexico and they were being sent back to Europe.

So my novel starts with a young boy who’s 17, at the point when the ship is being loaded with coal in Virginia to be sent back to Europe, and he begins his obsessive sequence of letter writing to Eleanor Roosevelt because he’s heard that she could be helpful and because other people are contacting whoever they can contact. He’s a boy, he’s very American-drawn in his fascination. He wants to tell her about his adventures, he sees the whole thing as a really fabulous adventure, getting out of Brussels. In the beginning of the novel he says ‘I know this sounds terrible to say but when the Germans bombed, I was rooting for the Germans so I could get the hell out of there’. Basically what he’s saying—he’s a kid, you know. Brussels is provincial and he wants to get to Paris and he wants to get to America and he sees himself as indestructible, and he embraces the adventure of it. He also has something he wants to confess eventually, a shame that he wants to confess.

And the other piece of the novel is contemporary, it’s 2003 and there’s a woman who’s 40, a single woman who wants to adopt a child, and in the process of adoption they start saying ‘what’s your family’s story?’ and she realizes that she knows nothing of her father’s history, that he’s been a wall of silence. It’s not a secret in the book, you quickly realize the old man was that young boy and the kind of carelessness and aggressiveness of that kid has become a kind of silent wall, as it is for a lot of survivors or refugees. And she becomes a reluctant detetective of her father’s story and very quickly she stumbles on something that would indicate that the one thing he’s told her, which is that he was on the ship with his mother, is untrue. She wants to refuse to believe that it could be untrue.

So the novel is sort of an investigation into what are the secretes inside of a family, not just a refugee family but any family, and what does it matter if you know them, how does it change if you know what your parents have done, can you love people and not judge their secrets—which I think ultimately is yes.

- Photo by Claudio Papapietro for http://ontheinside.info.

See Victoria Redel’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/victoria-redel.

Interview with TooFly

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Ontheinside.info: Where did you grow up?
Toofly: I was born in Ecuador, and I came to the United States on Christmas 1985. I was 7 years old. That’s when I moved to Corona, Queens where my grandparents had a house. It was just like a little one family house with a basement that my grandfather built and fixed up. Everything was there to make us all comfortable. I grew up with my family, like with everybody there and you know your cheesy little pool that they would buy at Woolworth or something. Just growing up, little Queens girl in the neighborhood.

Q: Where did you go to school?
TooFly: I went to IS 61 junior high in Queens like right near my neighborhood, then I went to fashion Industries high school in the city. I thought I wanted to do fashion because I used to play with this little girl across the street, with Barbies and shit. She wanted to go to fashion school so I decided to follow her. When I got to fashion I learned that all I really wanted to do was draw and paint, not design clothes. So I switched to be an art major. I remember going into the classrooms and seeing a whole bunch of graffiti on the tables. They had these wooden tables for the fashion kids who would do patterns and clothes. Almost every class had these huge tables with illustrations of characters and graffiti tags and it would follow on to the walls and hallways. It wasn’t like, dirty dirty, but every now and then you would see it, when someone went crazy tagging and drawing. It would be cleaned up the next day of course.

Q: Did graffiti come easy to you?
TooFly: Well, a lot of my work revolves around this female image that I feel should look really strong and fierce and beautiful but like, edgy. I really want to put that energy in my work. And then I start layering it up with all kinds of marks that i like. I think back sometimes how it all came together. I used to draw mermaids, and characters from comic books. My uncle had a stash of X-Men, when I was growing up. Then I got into Wildcats and Gen 13 on my own. I enjoyed re-drawing the illustrations of the women in these comics. Graffiti wasn’t even in my life then, it was just comic books. When I went to high school I would take the 7 train and always look out the window and I would see graffiti everywhere, all over the rooftops, on my way home, walking, everything was just covered with graffiti and there were certain graffiti writers in the neighborhood whose styles I felt were really inspiring me. But I wasn’t doing anything about it. When I got to high school I started seeing it everywhere too. It wasn’t just on the walls, it was on the tables, hallways, lockers, books. Then I met this graffiti writer artist and his graffiti style blew my mind. It was then that it all came clear to me I knew what I wanted to be.

Q: Did something just click one day or was it over a course of time?
TooFly: I think now it’s clicking but before I think I was just going through self-discovery, you know like young people and their different phases and I think by having a name and by claiming that I was a female and then getting involved in graffiti where you start by just tagging your name up in a neighborhood or you start drawing in these black books that passes around different high schools and it goes from borough to borough and it comes back to you and it comes back with all these famous writers that, you know they’re like twice your age but they’ve seen your work and then they write you comments. Some of it will be mean, like ‘who’s this little girl trying to be like a graffiti writer’, but they just couldn’t deny that my illustrations were like - ‘yo, who is this?’ And I feel like that just made me kind of more excited, cause I was like, oh they’re taking notice, you know like I admire their stuff and I hear their names and they’re known and I’m like, damn but I just don’t have the balls to go and paint on the walls!

But also the greatest story that I tell is that my mom supported my art so much that she would drive me in the neighborhood to just go and do graffiti. She would literally wake up at 4 in the morning cause I would beg her, cause I was like such a teenager like, c’mon ma, I really want to be paint, these people see my work but they’re not going to respect what I do cause I just do it on paper and I want to start doing this on the walls, I know I can do it. Of course, you know, cops and everything, she didn’t want me to hang out with the guys like really late so she was like, I’ll just take you out. She would go with me to rooftops where I would get to paint, she would be my lookout is what we would call it, my mom was the lookout. And she’d be like opening the door and she’s like alright, hurry up - you know, like all nervous.

Those memories mean so much because I’m not your typical graffiti person that’s like you know, maybe has bad relationship with their parents and they’re sneaking out at night and they’re getting in trouble with the cops. I just don’t fit some of that criteria and that’s why some people are like, iffy about what I do but man if they only knew the pleasure of doing what I do, shit I’m a good ass role model to young women that’s more than all the tags combined out there. Their kids are looking up to my work. Young girls these days just can’t be hanging out so late at night bullshitting our life away. They need better examples, like how do I flip it!. So you show them. These guys are underneath trains and subways, scary situations. Many of them have died doing graff. I just feel like in time I’ve shown people that I grew up with a this culture, hip-hop, everything that makes me, and breaks me, with that I was able to transform it into something positiive that I can share with everyone because at the end of the day it’s about your story, your style, your flow, it’s about showing the experience we have lived through. Good or bad, and also there wasn’t many women that represented back then. Just a very few. There was always all these guys, all this graffiti everywhere, everything was just guys. Along comes around something different, a woman doing it differently.

Q: How much of a problem is the illegal aspect in the city?
TooFly: I think graffiti writers are the only ones that could understand that. I know we destroy property and we deface things and it’s not okay to do stuff on churches but there’s such an art form with calligraphy and the way we do tags and the way we communicate just through our writings, that’s just an underground thing, like it’s only among us. But for me, like I can’t write my name anymore on the walls. Like as a teenager, yeah, nobody knew who the hell I was, but as soon as I started putting myself out there, doing more public works or working with young people, I just kind of had to switch it a little bit and just kind of not do that anymore. If I do it it’ll be like some other name that nobody knows about. Because we can’t get away from the art form, the freedom of just writing on a surface is like nothing else. Only we get it. Yea some of us are sorry that we’re messing up your wall but it’s just the way it is in this city so deal with it. That’s what makes New York, at least what’s left of it.

Q: Have you had run-ins with the police?
TooFly: Yeah, I mean, different run-ins then what the writers go through. For public walls, most of the times we have the permit and then sometimes you know, permit’s not enough and we have to stop, we have to put our paint away and they’ll tell us that it’s about the environment like you know the spray is like getting into the air and we’re like destroying the ozone layer and all this stuff. So then we just have to stop and come back another day. But it’s usually somebody in the neighborhood like calling on us. Or just people that know we’re there and they’ll do it on purpose and call the cops.

Q: Are you part of a crew?
TooFly: I never wanted to be down with any crew because I didn’t want to just belong to them and then they had beef with somebody else and then there’d be problems just cause you’re part of their crew, it’s just like nonsense to me. Like a lot of the guy stuff that goes on, the politics, is just retarded. I just I don’t want no part in it. I go, I paint, and I leave. I got my own little circle of friends. I would love to build with writers but they’re just on some other shit. Politics ruin everything I rather not get involved with the bullshit, there’s more important things in life. I just want to paint, build with good people, and get better at my craft.

Q: If you’re not part of a crew, is it hard to keep working?
TooFly: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of exclusivity and then there’s some people that are just cool with everybody and just invite people to walls. So there’s all kinds of stuff. But now it just feels like we gotta create our own because we run into that beef situation, people going over people’s work so most of us just have to try to get our own spaces. The New York mentality, wants to hold down the real graffiti shit and I understand that 100% but there’s like so many levels to the culture now you can’t just keep it to one idea. People want to paint all mixed up, people want to do community, people want to be hardcore and stay real, or people want to have commercial success, then there’s those that want it all, that’s what gives everyone a place to grow and explore shit. A lot of the public doesn’t know that but there’s so much going on, just with graffiti, it has it’s own world. Then women got their own shit too, but that’s why there’s this whole women’s movement now where we have our own book dedicated to our work, called Graffiti Women and it’s just like all these women from all over the world who are getting highlighted for their graffiti works. And I know we all want to be artists and just not be just considered women but there’s a strength to that. At least in my community there is. It is more necessary to my people than maybe to others who grew up differently.

Q: Do you have a day job?
TooFly: I freelance at a licensing company 3 days a week and that allows me to just live comfortable enough, pay my rent, hang out, and eat here and there. But then the rest of the days I do my paintings, I sell things on my own shop, I make my own shirts, I design, I do graffiti events where I paint live and I’ll get to paint my own art, not doing some like commercial crap. I’ve done a tiny bit of that but I’m trying to stay away from that cause I feel like I’m just selling out the art instead of just keeping it true to like the people and the neighborhood. They pay good money but now I’m just like being cautious about those type of projects cause I still want to keep the integrity of my art and what it means to do what I do. So yeah, I mean, I’ll have to continue to figure that out, it’s complicated. People will offer me mad money but I’m just like, no, I can’t. I could buy a house with that but I’m like, something’s wrong with the end picture. I guess that’s why they consider us all starving artists, but we’re really not, we got gigs coming from all kinds of places. We work with independent labels that we believe in or we do our own projects where people support us or we do our own events, like we just do our own stuff. It’s so much more rewarding because your learning how to run your business without someone else running it for you, or doing it for you. You have total creative control of your work and the message behind it.

Q: How about community service?
TooFly: I’ve done a lot of community work, I get so much of it because being a female in the graffiti hip hop culture is scarce still. There’s all these hip-hop events, and there’s not a lot of people stepping in to share their stories. A lot of graffiti artists don’t, and I understand why. Many have not had the experiences I’ve had, or have understood why this is necessary. I’ve chosen to share and do workshops with kids, I speak to them about the history, the motivation it takes to stand up for something. A lot of people feel like I could inspire young people in the inner city because they can relate to me. People say graffiti is negative but I’m like ‘look what we’ve done with it so far’. We’ve been able to, sustain ourselves, get projects here and there, go and present graffiti as an art form to different countries, at different hip hop events, be like someone visible that’s doing graffiti but that’s not getting in trouble. Now I’m workin on this project called Younity that’s gonna work to put together dope ass art events where we’ll paint live or do art exhibits creative collaborations, and we’ll involve young people to help assist us and then we’ll nurture them and teach them the process so they can in turn run their own shit too in the future.

- Interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by B.A. Van Sise for http://ontheinside.info

See Toofly’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/toofly.

Interview with David Hochbaum

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Ontheinside.info: So you were born and grew up in New York?
David Hochbaum: Yeah, I grew up right outside here. I first was in Brooklyn in Island Park, then my folks moved upstate like 20 miles north. But my parents split and my pop had a place here at 1st and 1st in the 80’s. And also when I was real young my dad had a business here as well so there was a lot of time spent in Manhattan.

Q: So you were roaming the East Village as a kid?
DH: Yeah, my dad was, he was a party guy and he had all his friends living in this neighborhood, so pretty much when I was that age I was depending on where he was taking me.

Q: Have you notice a change in the East Village over the years?
DH: There’s a good reason why people romanticize it a lot, just cause that’s what happens, but a lot of that is definitely true. You know the reasons why I fell in love with the city was because, just the way I was growing up, it wasn’t like the average kid in the upper middle class neighborhood. Coming around here, there were a lot more, I guess, freaks around. You know, you wouldn’t see a lot of those kind of people in more suburban areas, you know, the punks, the fags, the junkies, they’d be walking around. But it really was sort of a natural environment for them. It wasn’t like, oh, look at the weirdos, It was kind of like being anonymous yet being able to be individualistic compared to the norm. So that’s what I was really turned on about. And now of course it’s very different.

Q: Can you describe how it’s different?
DH: Yeah, I mean, first off I think it just got really popular cause it was so cool, so everybody sort of migrated to the area. And for the most part it became so popular that all the reasons that made it so cool were pushed out because of the real estate, you know people take advantage of that, real estate goes up and then all the artists, musicians, and writers had to move away. And so, it kind of left everybody just walking around, looking around for the things that they got attracted to, but it was just a lot of walking around, looking around, showing off rather than doing. The organic sort of progression of the creative environment forces diluted and got pushed away.

Q: But you didn’t get pushed out?
DH: Yeah I kind of stuck to my guns and don’t want to leave, even though I feel like I’m a lot more of a minority, and lucky enough to still be able to maintain a studio and apartment here because of circumstances and friends who have their cheaper leases, whatever. I like to maintain that sort of energy here too by, you know, periodically throwing events in my space, from art exhibitions from artists internationally and around the U.S. and have a lot of parties here, you know like silk-screen parties, so it’s sort of like an interactive artist environment thing going on. But it’s just a party too at the same time, it’s not like trying to show anything off rather than just like getting people together and having a decent time.

Q: How did your art career develop?
DH: I went to the Museum school in Boston, and I’d say halfway through, by the second year, I had to make a decision, you know, if I was going to pursue art or am I going to try to find a way to find some kind of career, do graphic design or film or something. But I was really gung-ho about it, I just wanted to make art. I was into mixed media, and fine arts and conceptualizing fine art. You know, just working through projects, so I just decided to go full force and take a chance. Cause I knew it was an absolutely ridiculous career move, it’s fickle and it’s tough. But, I moved back to New York in ‘95, back to the East Village and spent about 11 months couch surfing, looking for jobs, not making any art for like a year. And then getting settled and just like starting from scratch like anybody else I think, who moves to New York, no matter where you’re from, here or anywhere else, you move back you’ve got to start from scratch and pay your dues. I went through it you know, painting, pushing my work, peddling stuff, carrying stuff to restaurants, cafes, bars, hanging art anywhere possible, working as much as possible, and doing shows that got me nothing, doing shows that sometimes make a little bit of money but not really making any money off the art, working in bars mostly, bartending for like 10 years now in New York. Still do a couple days a week to guarantee the bills are paid. Over at Hi-Fi.

Q: How did you develop your multi-media art? What role did New York play in that, if at all?
DH: I sort of started discovering the media while I was at school. First I wanted to make films. Film was too expensive and time consuming so I went back to photography which I was playing around with a little bit. But it was boring as far as the process. I really enjoyed the darkroom but it’s very precise. And I like getting my hands dirty. So I started exploring more things like sculpture and painting, drawing. I love that sort of organic raw quality from that, where photography’s kind of, pretty, what you see is what you get. So I started mixing, not being able to afford frames I’d find wood in the trash and start just framing my own stuff out like that. You know, not being able to photograph everything I’d want I’d paint in things, eliminate things, start really, you know, messing with the media a lot and getting turned on by a lot of other artist I looked at like Mike and Doug Starn, Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, Werner Herzog or Alejandro Jodorowsky, and you know, getting inspired by that approach and working through it.

I don’t know how much New York City played a part in sort of directing how and what my media was. Definitely the raw, urban quality of the city helps a lot, the energy. It’s kind of like, very layered, very multi-layered, textural, and chaotic. New York’s great for found objects, New York’s great for the fact that anything you need or want to use you can find, you can get any material you want pretty quick and easy. It’s easy to expose yourself on many levels, as basic as you know, showing in cafes and bars, or if you want to hound down galleries you can get there, walk over there and start just pounding on people’s doors and there are a lot of eyes to look at what you’re doing. As long as you keep and maintain, that energy’s there pushing you a lot, there’s a lot of pressure in the city.

Q: What would you tell a young artist coming to the city?
DH: Expect a transition. Expect maybe a lull in productivity, but that doesn’t mean that you know, you really lose anything cause you can’t really tame the city, a lot of people try to conquer the city, the idea of, oh I’m going to conquer New York—New York’s not to be conquered. New York is to be, I think, adapted to and taken into your psyche and the way that you do things. That’s fine, that’s why you come here. It’s a great city for that. To exploit that, be able to use that.

Q: You’re a big fan of collaboration right?
DH: I’m a big fan, first of all, of acknowledging my inspirations, a lot of artists tend to find their whatever, their technique or their kitschy thing, the thing that they keep on doing, and sort of hold on that. It’s become very romanticized, the idea of the artist in the studio alone and blah blah blah, don’t want to share their contacts or whatever hookups they can have with other people or their ideas, they’re afraid of being ripped off. I don’t think it’s really possible to not be inspired by someone or something that gets into your work. And I think to emulate something is a lot more admirable than to disregard and not acknowledge your inspirations. There’s, I think, fear of being unoriginal and that’s something you have to work through as you work as an artist and you start to—as long as you’re really working from your heart it’s going to come through. And if it looks like something that someone else is doing that’s natural, there’s this, you know, a common social unconsciousness that everyone’s sort of on. Especially if you’re in a city like this where a lot of people are getting fed the same kind of vibe. You’re bound to pick up the same thing other people are picking up and it’s going to come through in the work. But if you have your own voice then you really don’t have anything to worry about, it’s just going to happen.

Q: What are your inspirations?
DH: I’m constantly inspired cause I’m surrounded by some pretty amazing and talented people. I’d say my most immediate inspirations are my peers and the people I work with in my collaborative group, The Goldmine Shithouse, and they’re the artists Travis Lindquist and Colin Burns, cause they motivate me and push me in not so much like an academic way, like if you were in school being pushed by professors or whatever. They motivate me from their passion and their ideas, they teach me a lot about painting, and printmaking, things they do in their work that eventually gets mixed into my work and vice versa you know it happens to them as well. Plus a lot of the other artists I hang around with, the models I work with, cause all my work, the majority of the work I do… I shoot all the photos and they’re all from people I know, they’re either friends or friends of friends or people who’ve contacted me, you know, sort of given themselves up to me. And I depend a lot on them to capture the image and I also work with other photographers in the studio to help me with lighting, so things are not always consistent 100%, you know I like things to vary and change, and working with other artists I learn. And you know we learn from each other, and we push each other and we support each other a lot. I think that creates a nice strong sort of community of artists. And anybody takes another step up a level, we’re always there to pull them up in any way we can. If this works for so-and-so, doesn’t work for me, but I know you can get a hookup from this, I’m gonna call this guy up and be like, hey you should check this out, or we’ve got something going on, I got an event going on, ok I can pull people in on it.

Interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher for http://ontheinside.info

See David Hochbaum’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/david-hochbaum.

Interview with Beat The Devil

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Q: How did Beat The Devil come about?
Shilpa:Three years ago, I went to Sidewalk Cafe after I kept hearing from a couple people that you can go there and sing stuff and it’s a pretty loose open mic. I didn’t know how to really start cause I never played in a band. So I was writing my own stuff and I went there and I didn’t have any instruments on me or anything, so I just sang it a capella. The guy that runs it, Latch, was like “you should come more often” and I did and then eventually got a set. Then, I wanted add drums to this, so I called up my friend, our first drummer, and I asked him if he wanted to play. And then it started out as a duo and then we wanted a bassist so we put out an ad.

Q: So you started out with just voice?
Shilpa: Yeah, and then I started lugging my harmonium down.

Q: Were you trained in singing?
Shilpa: Yeah, yeah. I was trained in singing—I never wanted to do it, for like, a real thing. But I was classically trained in North Indian classical music when I was a kid and then I guess when I hit my teenage years I really resented it. I didn’t like it a lot cause I couldn’t understand a word I was saying and anything structured really sucks when you’re like 16. So I was like, I don’t want to do this, this is bullshit. And then when I was in college I’d just find that I would hang out by myself a lot and smoke a lot of pot and listen to music. And then I wanted to sing along so I started singing along and I really wanted to do it, like I wanted to play.

Q: Did you start writing pieces?
Shilpa: Slowly. I mean, I didn’t really know how to write a song, so I started mostly writing poetry. I’ve always written poetry, it’s something I like to do. So, I always start writing first. It wasn’t till actually I started playing at the Sidewalk and listening to other people that play there, that I was like, ohhh, so if you put this chord and this chord together it works. You know, it starts making more sense. So, I mean, that helped a lot, like I took it, like fish to water, it felt very natural to me.

Q: How did you hook up with Mishka?
Shilpa: It was Craigslist.
Mishka: Yeah, her ad was like, “harmonium and drums duo seeks bass player. Influences—Can, The Fall, and Howlin’ Wolf.” and I was like, I haven’t heard your band but I’m the fucking bass player for this band.
Shilpa: You wrote us a really long letter, I remember that. I was like, who is this guy? This is the longest letter, saying “I’m in Portland right now, I’ve played in so many bands.”

Q: Did you interview a lot of bass players?
Shilpa: Yeah, I mean we tried talking to others. The thing you learn about Craigslist is, the response is just the first stage. Cause like after that it’s the phone tag—are they gonna still stay for the phone tag. And if they stay, are they going to make it through 2 practice sessions, and then after that it’s like, are they gonna make it the month, you never know.

Q: You went through a rotation of drummers too right? Mitchell’s been in it how long?
Shilpa: Since February, so it’s been 6 months.
Mitchell: It’s been a long 6 months though.
Shilpa: Yeah, look at him. When we first met him he had a twinkle in his eye, now he wears sunglasses in the dark. (laughs)

Q: So you guys all work day jobs?
Mishka: Yes. We all work. Too much. And have too many day jobs.

Q: What kind of jobs?
Mishka: I work for a construction company.
Shilpa: I work a customer service job for an online eyeglass company and I also work sales at a dress shop.
Mitchell: And I’m a real estate agent.

Q: Let’s talk a little about New York and the neighborhoods you lived in and maybe your history, when you first came here.
Mitchell: I’m from Georgia originally, I just moved here about 3 years ago, 3 1/2 years ago. And I live in Brooklyn in Kensington right now, just below Park Slope and I love it here. I moved here for, I don’t know, something different than what I had always known—rural southeast. And I definitely got it.

Q: Where were you in Georgia?
Mitchell: Northeast, kind of northeast corner, where the Appalachian Trail starts. Very pretty, very nice. Kind of, about 12-15 years behind the cultural curve.
Shilpa: Did you guys have donkeys in your yard too?
Mitchell: We had donkeys in the house actually (laughs).

Q: So were you in a band in Georgia? Did you come here seeking that?
Mitchell: Nah, I really don’t know why the fuck I moved. I had a couple thousand dollars in my pocket and I thought that was big money so I was like, let’s go to New York. I found out about 4 days later that that wasn’t big money. I managed to make it work though. And then I just kind of fell into music. I played when I was in Georgia but nothing really seriously you know, I would pick up stuff. Not in any like, touring bands or anything. But um, I always wanted to be in a touring band and I dug these guys, so it worked out.

Q: Was it also through Craigslist?
Mitchell: Yeah, yeah, same thing. Craigslist yeah.
Mishka: Careful what you wish for with a fucking touring band.
Mitchell: Well my tenure might be about up, I mean you know, we’re reaching the 6 or 7 month mark.
Mishka: This is the point where drummers burst into flames.

Q: So you [Shilpa] grew up near the city?
Shilpa: I grew up in Jersey. I went to school in Philadelphia and after I graduated I guess I also had some big dreams about living in New York. But I don’t know, I have like younger-child-syndrome where I don’t save up and I’m pretty irresponsible.
Mitchell: I have that same syndrome and I’m the older child.
Shilpa: I had like $200 in my pocket and I’m like, I’m going to live in New York!! So I lived in a couple living rooms for a while and I just moved in last year actually to my first room that has, like, a window and a door and I was so psyched. I was like, I have a room with a window and a door! I have 3 windows! Not one but 3 windows! So I got really excited about that.

Q: What neighborhood have you lived in?
Shilpa: Um, I first moved to Astoria and then after Astoria, Washington Heights. After that I lived in a windowless room in Greenpoint, and after that I lived in Bed-Stuy in a loft with no walls or doors, sharing with our first drummer which is insane, don’t do that.
Mishka: Which is exactly what I said when you guys were doing it.
Shilpa: And then I finally live in Greenpoint again by McCarren Park and it’s fun.

Q: How has the city shaped or influenced you and your music?
Shilpa: I think from when I was 3 the city has shaped me. Cause my dad used to commute here and I grew up like an hour outside. And I mean, when you’re living in suburban New Jersey you’re like, I want to go to the city, I want to be cool and go to the city. You would like sneak out of the house at 12:00 when your parents are asleep and you’d go take the train up and go to the city. So everything for me was like, I would read books about it, I knew everything about the whole Pop Art - Andy Warhol thing when I was in like middle school, high school and stuff. And I would just dream about coming to the city and something wonderful and big was going to happen. But it gives you a kick in the ass you know, when you really live there. And you’re like, oh, I’ve gotta work in a basement full of rats—whoops. So much for the city. I still love it though. It’s great.

Q: What about you Mishka?
Mishka: I moved here from Colorado with $200. And I lived in a one room apartment with my step-brother. Eating hot dogs every day. I’ve been here for 10 years and I moved here like, yeah I’m going to take over this town, I’m going to make it big in the big city. And I’ve been here for 10 years and I work for a construction company. I don’t know I’ve just always been like, hustling in New York and I always—being from, I mean I was born in Canada and always lived incredible far from New York, there was always sort of this legend in your mind as to what New York is like. It’s almost like a cartoon or something, you know. My mom got me a subscription to the New Yorker when I was 16 because she was like, oh you’re going to be a writer, this is the best writing magazine. So I was reading all this stuff about like, John Spencer playing in New York City and I was like, oh man, it’s so fucking cool.

Q: Do you see yourself here for a long time?
Mishka: I keep thinking like, man it would be awesome to get out of New York and then I’m like, well where am I gonna fucking go after this, you know? It’s kind of like getting hooked on drugs or like a bad relationship or something, you know, it spoils you for anything else. You get it in your blood. Regardless of how long we’re gone, if we’re gone for 2 days or if we’re gone for 2 months, whenever we’re getting back to New York I’m like, oh man, I can’t fucking wait to get back to New York. I’m gonna go get like, you know a cup of coffee at the deli and like, the 25 cent granola bar.

Q: Do you feel a connection to New York Mitchell?
Mitchell: Uh, not totally yet. I mean I don’t feel like I’m a lifetime New Yorker, but it grows on me every day. There are definitely those days when I love it and those days that I hate it.

Interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Sumeet Singh for http://ontheinside.info

To check out Beat The Devil’s profile and favorite NY places at ontheinside.info, click here.