Comic-Con Museum And More
Cinema Junkie / March 30, 2018
If you are a geek like I am, then the news that Comic-Con is going to open a museum was something to be excited about. Cinema Junkie sits down with executive director Adam Smith to discuss what the museum might be like and if the term is even appropriate to describe what's coming.
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported PBS cinema Junkie podcast Beth Accomando.
If you're a geek like I am the news that comic con was going to open a museum was something to be excited about. The pop culture convention run by geeks for geeks has grown so popular that tickets sell out in hours and many people can no longer attend. Perhaps to address this increased popularity Comic Con has decided to open a museum in the old Hall of Champions building in Balboa Park in San Diego. The nonprofit organization has been a bit tight lipped about when it will open and exactly what it will be. But that Wonder Con this past weekend the person who'll be in charge of the museum Adam Smith was available to finally talk about what this museum might be and whether museum is even the right word for it. He currently signs off on his e-mails as executive director of the Comic Con Center for Popular Culture for this podcast. I speak with Smith about what a center for pop culture could be and about what he geeks out over. Also include a little treat from one Rokan which is comic con sister convention. It's a cold reading of a script by voice actors at the cartoon voice panel. Plus I'll have a little easter egg for you at the end. After all it is Easter this Sunday.
Here's a little tease yes. There's my purr.
But first here's my interview with Adam Smith. We. Are here at wunderkind 2018 and I am speaking with Adam Smith who is the executive director of what we're not sure exactly what it's going to be called. It's been referred to as a comic con museum Comic Con center but we'll get to that later.
But first of all I just wanted to ask you this sounds like a potential dream job. So what is it about you that you think makes you a good person to take on this challenge.
Well it's certainly my dream job. And I I have. Comment This really with a very strong background in museums. When I was a little boy all I ever really wanted to do was to work with history. I have loved old things. And so it was either be an archaeologist or a history teacher or museum burs and then I ended up choosing the museum track and since I was 16 years old I've worked in a museum and I ended up going to museum school in Scotland. Your listeners are probably realizing I wasn't born in America. So basically the last 25 years of my life I've spent in various different kinds of museums I've done a Golf Museum a Coal Mining Museum Victoria and farming and a lot of aviation museums. I arrived with comic con five months ago to try and help pull this amazing project together in Balboa Park and I was saying to someone the other day I feel like. Everything that I've done over the last 25 years feels like it's been preparing me for this moment. I do feel very humbled and very lucky to be in this job because it is really exciting. We're we're we have a very rare opportunity to imagine something from the ground up. There's no there's no baggage here of a previous museum or anything like that. And it's such an exciting organization and such an exciting environment to be part of. You know how can it not be a dream job. It does bring some challenges too because there is a lot of my life I've spent sort of managing expectations so you try and keep everyone's expectations Diron and then you know you deliver something really awesome that exceeds everyone's expectations and I think with comic con it's like it's not possible to do that because everyone already believes it's going to be really awesome. So to some degree I've just got to accept that challenge and we will make it amazing. I think I bring a professional background that is needed in a project like this.
The museum is it is almost a medium unto itself. You know in the world of COMIGO and we have comics and TV and film and I would sort of say a place to visit is a distinct thing that has its own dynamics and sometimes actually I talk to people and they they think of museums like a book. You know there's a the stuff you see on page one and you go through it sequentially and you know one of the things you learn working in museums is that you can imagine it like that. But people don't always walk from point A to Point B B The way you want them to see you have a different design challenge and things like that so I think bring a professional background but this also intercepts my sort of personal passion. And in many ways I think my passion for Comic Con before us sort of talk about what I'm geeky by my passion for Comic Con. It almost starts with people I've always find myself. Drawn to museums and the kinds of institutions. That are what I would call social history kind of museums that are by people. I take a lot of my energy and my interest is in the history of human society and human people and I think that's something really interesting going on in the comic con movement. The growth of fandom in America is something that really fascinates me socially.
And I feel very drawn to the organization and the spirit of comic climate. And it's also I've always found myself a kind of a bottom up kind of person rather as opposed to top down in the sense that a lot of museums are in the mold of. We hire expert curators that develop collections and decide what's important and then present that to the public. Walking around one to come here are comic con in San Diego. Later in the year.
It is a totally farm driven experience as curator driven to experience and we won that we won that vibe too. To run through what we're doing in Balboa Park and that's a way of thinking about museums that have been embracing for for the last 25 years. But truthfully I've sort of sometimes find myself almost fighting with my own profession because they see a different way. But. One of the reasons this is an awesome job for me is that I think.
That sort of where I've always been coming from fits what comic work Comic Con has always been coming from. And then in terms of what am I you know one of my geeky By heck I we actually we did a survey recently and I got I got six news and replies from Comic Con attendees and fans and one of the things we wanted to explore was you know what are you interested in Call Me or film on Tabletop gaming or whatever. An interesting thing for me was the exactly 25 percent of the audience said what I'm interested in is not one thing is everything. That comment counted is a big ten. Thing for me and I just love it and I think I'm definitely I would check that box. I sort of love all of it. But I. Know my personal interest is slightly easier Terry. I am a HUGE geek of pinball machines. It's just something I've always been fascinated as you and I met this morning I was chatting with someone because we were both at Texas pinball festival last weekend just geeking out over the new announcements of the new machines and the famous pinball machine crazes that we met and things like that. And so you know from from a background like that I think I understand the people you know there's obviously so many passions inside a Comic Con and some of the Catherick is a comic con. I think I'm an ordinary person. I watch movies or read comic books I you know play video games and things like that.
But I'm probably I wouldn't consider myself a geek in any of those areas. But. To be truthful part of my job is not to be the expert in everything because I'm surrounded by expert as part of my job is to corral them and make sure that the voices and passions of individual interests are represented in what we do. I think I I think I have to sort of get it. I've got to understand where fans are coming from you know. So that's a very very long winded answer to your question. And it's as you said it's a it's a really fantastic job to be in.
And I feel very lucky. Well you are wearing a doctor who shirt though.
Well one of the interesting things by being with Comac going for the last five months it has made me think more deeply by you know what I'm interested in and what of what I have. The shows that I've watched and the thing in the comic books that I've read and things like that and it made me realize the.
The way you were born and raised has a big influence on your popular culture that you're sort of surrounded by a set of references and a media that will guide you in a certain direction. So like British comic books for example. Heavily influenced by.
Sports most of the coloring books that I read you know from from childhood through my teens were not superheroes at all that genre is very American. But in Britain it was like Roy of the rovers the soccer play you know and we had like cricket heroes and then we even had a comic about going fishing you know and things like that. So Doctor Who is if I can describe my teacher has the logo from the classic era of Doctor Who I think I know a lot about it. From. The 70s and the 80s. I kind of still watch it now but I think everyone has their own favorite doctor mine as the Fourth Doctor Tom Baker. I once got a signed photograph over him when I was a little boy and you know he's he's still he's still my favorite.
Now I mentioned that initially this was going to be called the Comecon museum. You said that you're actually going through kind of a naming process right now so where are you at with that.
Just to zoom out a little bit from that we're actually going through the whole process of just imagining and designing what is this going to be the one known that we have about the project is where it will be. We've got a building in Balboa Park. Which used to be the Hall of Champions so it's down in the Palisades area of the park near the Air and Space Museum. Sixty eight thousand square foot building. It's actually a great building but. We've got a lot of work to do to decide how we're going to lay it. And what kind of. Exhibits event programs you want to have inside it and part of that is deciding even what to call it. And I think it will probably be another month or so before we've decided on an official name and I think the without going too deep into it it probably some of the discussion revolves around the wood museum because on the one hand if we call it common call museum. There's some advantages of that because people kind of understand the museum to be a place that the doors open to the public and they can come and visit and bring the kids and bring a school class and all those kind of things. So there are advantages to the disadvantages. The in some people's mind is sort of old and dusty and it's all by displaying artifacts and things like that and I think we definitely one comic con too. I think there will be some history in there and we will we will. For example we want to tell the story of Comic Con in San Diego. But the driving force. Behind the thing is not really by historical displays or by calling on or you know it. It's as much about the here and now in the future as it is about the past. So I think we're mulling over whether to call it common cause museum or what alternatives might be are there and we'll just we'll just go through that process.
So what is the status of the building now is it pretty much like a gutted facility and then you're going to be able to build from kind of Ground Zero inside the building.
It's a completely empty building if people ever wins in it when it was all the champions just imagine Hall of Champions with all the exhibits removed. That's what it is right now. It's a 3 3 levels as a full basement a full first floor and then sort of a mezzanine level. It's about two thirds of both of us. Something for the bones of the building. Very good it was it was built in 1935 as a permanent structure as it was one of the few buildings in Balboa Park that was originally designed to be permanent. And then by 17 years ago when Hall of Champions was developed they spent a lot of money excavating the basement and putting good the good bones of in terms of electrical and plumbing things like that. So I don't have to worry a lot about the structure but the question of. What the visitor experience will be is front and center right now. We're probably halfway through the process of thinking that through. I think there will be a mix of. Certainly a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits. You know a permanent exhibit is something that you know will be there all the time and will tell of whatever themes and stories you want to tell. But I feel like traveling exhibits and changing exhibits are going to be a huge part of this facility. Partly because it in all museums that help keep you fresh and gives people a reason to come back but also because one of the challenges I've got right now is an overwhelming amount of CALM's and I could fill that building ten times over. So we need a rotation. To allow us to cycle through the different interests and themes and ideas that are inside of Common Core conceptually as we as we mentioned the future of the museum. I'm very interested in. I actually had breakfast with someone this morning and I said it's almost like we we're designing three museums in one building. I said. Museum one is the what I called the daytime Museum which is. Would be relatively familiar to anyone. It's open to the public and it's. You know full of tourists and visitors and schoolchildren and a regular kind of attendance that kind of facility. And they usually stay open from. 9 or 10 in the morning to 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon or evening. Museum number two. We feel that. The marketplace and a location are now subject matter is making this very strongly think think about a museum. Or a place that is open quite long into the evening. So Museum 2 is a more programmed facility where you might comb and see film screenings or do trivia night and the cafe will tend to cosplay workshop in one of the classrooms. You know do table top gaming or a more sort of. Program driven evening entertainment kind of event. And I think as we work on the project we're thinking there's a strong case to to basically stay open all the way from the morning to quite late in the evening. And the Museum 3 is basically a virtual museum of how we conceptualize what we're doing with this project is not just this physical place that someone can visit but as a hub for an organization that has a national slash international scope of reach. So some of the programming we will do in the museum will very deliberately be live streamed so that people can you know that might be two or three hundred people in our building attending a program that could be two or three ideas and watching online impetuses asking questions online and things like that. So I think the whole sort of concepts of how we can projectile cells digitally is something that we're trying to build into the design of the thing. So for example one of the things that I'm pretty sold on is that I think we need to have a really good theater in this space. I know many of your listeners are interested in film and I think a state of the art. Theater where we can do screenings but also have the kind of panels that people are familiar with from Comic Con. You know I think it's going to be. Something that I can't imagine we won't do that. You know some of the other things. There's lots of exhibit ideas are still up still up for grabs but I think we want it to be. We'll wanted to be interactive.
We want it to be a place that people will be able to create something. It's one of the philosophies we're bringing to the project is that. Everyone is a creator. And even if they don't know what we want to we want to have people thinking about buy what they can create with their own with their own hands in mind. I think.
That will be. I think there will be.
We talked a little bit about fans in the Comic Con audience is very very very passionate and is very very deep in it's knowledge and its passions. But we've got to design this place so that is also a fantastic place to visit for someone that isn't fine thing. I think. One of the reasons we're doing this all is to have a gateway into our subject matter so that people can have a nice easy entry and then get more and more engaged and interested in the things that we represent. So. One of the most interesting design challenges we've got is how do you create something that works both for a hard core fan and also for someone walking with basically no knowledge of the subject matter it's challenging but it is doable and if I say if I. Professionally have ever been able to do anything it's kind of that I just came off a couple of aviation museums where I've got these hardcore fans of aeroplanes that really really love and they know everything about every aspect and every airplane.
But I used to measure my Visitacion they represented 11 percent of my audience and I had to make them very happy because if I didn't I would hear about it. But I also had to be 89 percent of people that walked in the door didn't that basically knew very little about airplanes and they kind of won that in you know because they wanted something to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon or whatever. If I think if I've ever been if I've been successful professionally it's actually in solving that problem.
Now having an empty building is a plus in the sense that you can kind of turn it into whatever you want. The downside is I'm sure that costs a lot of money. So what point are you at. In terms of. How you plan to finance it and the fund raising and when something might actually be ready for the public to see. Well right now as as is probably quite clear by now where we're in the design process of thinking about what we want it to be. Simultaneously we are thinking a by okay what will the budget for this be and how much money have we got how much money do we need to raise and I think all of those things will come together in three or four months from now into it into a firm plan.
Calment come as an organization is making a very substantial investment in this project from its own resources but that won't be enough to get us to the kind of facility that I think everybody wants. So I need to be a little bit vague about what the budget is because truthfully we haven't we haven't figured it figured all that out right now. But there will definitely be a fun of fund raising capital campaign to raise the funds for it. And essentially. What I've said to everyone is that it will open approximately 18 months after we've raised the money because it you know there's a point where you say OK we were ready to go and let's let's put all of the exhibit design and construction into into full flow takes the time to to work through and install and everything. So I said to someone recently that my job might be a little bit easier if we actually had no building because because people would understand it takes time because I do have some people that are like why does it take. Taking so long. You have this building why why can't you just get something Oh really really quickly. I feel. We actually could get something open quickly but I don't think it would be very good and we want this. We want to put down the foundations for something that is going to be around for the long term so that people would not just come the first time because comic was where they would come the second time of the third time. And many times and to do something that's got depth and strength it just takes some takes takes some fall and we're going to take the time to do that.
We need to emphasize that 18 months after you raise the funds because I think that'll incentivize people to like let's get them the money fast. You can see this sooner.
Yeah you know I should should say that I'm still getting my first impressions not just of the project but of San Diego. I'm moving here from Dallas and until October 16th when I started this job I know I'd probably spend three days in San Diego my whole life. I feel I'm learning a lot about. How the city sees Comic Con and I really welcome that there's a genuine warmth.
To me personally but more involved to the project to the project that I'm working on. I feel there's a sort of. Even people that don't go to Comic Con seem to generally have a favorable feeling about it. And I felt I had maybe a little concern coming into the job.
Would we fit in in Balboa Park. Because I of a visit to the park and you know the museum as you know there's a lot of museums already that there's a certain kind of cultural.
Feeling about the place and I wonder if Comic Con would fit in or would be welcomed. I mean that concern has completely evaporated because I mean I felt very very warmly welcomed and the more I get to know the park and the more time I spend them the more I realize the icy calm and calm fits in really well. It's been fun learning the history of Balboa Park. I learned recently that in 1915 the very first exposition they had this huge thing called War of the worlds which was as a science fiction extravaganza where Martians attacked New York City. They had signed on lights and explosions and things like that and it's like wow this is over 100 years ago in Balbo. They were doing. You know things that feel kind of like comic calm and they had a whole thing. That was how the movies are made in Hollywood. And you know and so so that which is all this is sometimes new again and I feel like as I said that the welcome I've had from from the community around the park has been unusually warm and I really appreciate that.
And as somebody who has worked in museums for a long time what do you see as the importance of having a museum or a center that's dedicated to pop culture. I think the world is still waking up to pop culture if that made sense the way that the world has viewed culture as I said earlier I think there's been kind of top down that there is a. Fundamentally culture is something the. The educated. Decide what's important and sort of.
Present that to the world. And I think. Pop culture. In its name and in its very essence.
Is coming from a different place it's coming from almost a more democratic way of understanding understanding arts and culture. Essentially the people decide what they like. And I've always loved that and I think. The. I think there's almost a little movement going on right now and it might it might be connected to the millennial generation which is such a strong part of Comic Con is there's almost a little movement of 21st century museums are emerging and I think we're going to be one of them with the Mirror Wolf thing in Santa Fe as you know the wall and even the Museum of ice cream that has been. Up here on the West Coast the day.
Representing a way of presenting arts and culture that is coming from from the people. I think there will be more. Popular culture museums opening all around the country and all around the world. We've got. Right now and we've got Paul Island Museum up in Seattle where we've got George Lucas museum that's going to open in L.A. We've got Comic Con we've got things like me igual and I think we're on the forefront of there will be more of these because there's just more interest in the subject. And to some degree I think we are validating what is validating that this interest is worthy of. A permanent facility and it's a way to get people in a sort of a year random expression of their interest right now. You can go to Comic Con and want to Konno or similar events and you know book. Can you go somewhere on a on a on a Wednesday afternoon and you know in December or whatever you can. And I think it's just part of a natural evolution.
You mentioned you hadn't really been to San Diego much. Does that mean you have yet to attend the Comic Con.
No I did actually come this past this past July. It was actually part of the interview process for the job. And I'm awfully glad that I did it because I'm not sure I could wrap my head around if I if I hadn't I'd been to a couple of small. Pop culture type events on the East Coast previously. I mean Comic Con is just just out of this world. But it is kind of familiar to me in the sense that. I worked. In Oshkosh Wisconsin for 11 years with an organization called AAA and they run. The world's largest Asho so every year. It's very common online. This event takes over an entire time three quarters of a million people Kohm 10000 airplanes fly and. And it's this huge.
You know explosion of passion. So when I came to comment on it although I'd never been to the event before the feeling I felt extremely familiar to me because it was it was exactly the same thing just sort of like happiness in everyone's face. They're here at this amazing event and just immerse themselves in what they love. Before we started the interview you mentioned that at one point you were gathering oral histories for some projects you had been working on is. Something like that possibly going to be included in terms of getting one of the things con has done is it brings these comic artists. Who are now getting considerably older. And.
You know they seem like this wealth of information and resources. And is there a possibility that there'd be some way for the museum to tap into that in terms of recording things from them and keeping them on some sort of permanent record.
Yeah oral history has been a big part of my professional life the very first job I had was recording veterans of World War 1. That's kind of interesting. Every single one of those is you know passed away years ago. And I feel really proud that twenty five years ago I was able to capture the memories you know for forever. And I've done that and lots of different places that I've worked since then. And I do feel drawn to doing some kind of oral history program with comic con because it's from the monthly record in the history of people and the people participated in the event over the years. Generally I don't think we're going to be a big collecting organization. As I mentioned earlier. I've already got. An overwhelming amount of cons and it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to to up a big collection. There are many awesome collections that we can partner with. You know I think we're probably better off using that square footage to display things to them than to store them. But oral history is something I think it might be worth collecting for because I guess there's a little bit of it going on. Bo there's a lot of people's memories of not been captured yet. So at this point in time. What are your feelings right now about where you're at and what you're most looking forward to.
Mosul forward to getting that open. Because. I. Have learned the hard way in my professional life. The. Museums. Or visitor attractions can be kind of the kind of shaky business models that were a little bit like restaurants museums are kind of fundamentally. Failing on some level. I am absolutely driven on this project to get Makos one of the one in time. That is you know is viable as a business entity. I've I've got plenty of scars on my back. You know that made me very afraid walking into this job. You know that. Just. To make sure that we put. The basics in place. The more I've worked on this project the more convinced I become that there is a very strong. Operating Model at the heart of this comment column. So that's not keeping me awake at night. It's all wars in some previous jobs it has. What's keeping me awake at night is just getting the open on a reasonable time frame because. Even the way you framed them the questions today people if they want it to be open not and so.
That can't happen fast enough. So what what do I look forward to honestly raising the money. Because if there's one thing it's hard to accelerate as it's non-profit fundraising I've done a lot of in my life and it's always based on relationships and making your case and Common Core is never really done before. So we've got we've got a lot of fundamentals to put in place. And the success that I've ever had in fund raising is rooted in great relationships and a passion and a love that people have for something and that is just a bond and a comment. So I know we can do well.
It's been a lot of fun talking to you and I hope that we'll be able to check in. Along this journey to find out things are happening Yeah. Look forward to the journey and I think.
Various points along the way. You know we will have things to say and in general I am really intrigued by the idea of being. Of having quite an open process of how we conceptualize the museum. You might be familiar with them to go to Lego Ideas. Lego basically go to the fanbase and say. Hey suggest ideas for kits that we could make and they so people submit ideas and then they have this whole voting process whereby the fans of Lego decide what.
Product the company ends up making them. I think it's five times a year they actually make a kit that came from the public and I am really interested in bringing that kind of idea to do our work so that. We have a methodology where our fans can can suggest ideas and they and our fans can up vote or down vote ideas and we can implement them in the museum. That's. That's. Something.
Over the course of the next year or two I think you'll see is doing that kind of thing.
And if people want to follow this progress is there going to be some place like on the Comecon Web site or are you going to be running a blog or something is there someplace where people can kind of check in and see if those kind of things are being asked of them where they can see what progress is like.
Yes I have it in the e-mail list that people can sign up to it.
You could help.
I actually don't have it you know because we haven't named it yeah. I don't have a website and a R-AL. Although we have reserve lots of names in case anyone is thinking they might want to go on try and grab them all the ones that we might use. I think we've got to go. But I. If you go to. Comment Dasch con Dorji forwards slash op ed and. That will take you to a page where you can join a mailing list. I've got a couple thousand people already on it. That's a way to keep informed by the different twist and turn in the project.
All right. And are you looking forward to any panels or anything today. I'm looking forward to.
The Guardians of the galaxy pinball machine which I believe is in the is there in the hall somewhere to be played.
I'm enjoying I'm enjoying the cost play men's immensely in terms of the panel. I'm I really am interested in ready play a one which is at 12:00 today. Everything I'm reading about that movie is really interesting to me. We didn't talk about it but I'm very interested in what kind of virtual reality and old man's reality experiences we can build into our work and by park and it seems like that that movies totally and that kind of mindset. So I'm hoping maybe to get some inside information before the is released today.
Well and you can also walk down to downtown Disney and they have the void which is a little star wars virtual reality.
I went to it yesterday. In fact we should have talked about that. That absolutely blew my mind. There's been a few times in my life when I had an experience in a museum or theme park or something and I just thought. You know I will never be the same again. And have you been in the void.
We had a little misadventure there last night but we're going on Sunday. Well I don't I don't actually spoil it for you but it was billed.
As you know I read something online that said this is the closest that anyone has ever created to a star trek holodeck. You know when you walk into this virtual world and you interact with it. And I was kind of skeptical you know because that sounded a bit like a hype. But I will say the hit was really mindblowing.
It was I I told we suspended my disbelief. And I was and I was in a Star Wars movie. I thought they do a fantastic job of leading you on that journey and that's where you know my creative juices really start flowing when you see technologies like that and you know you know you have a chance of doing things like that.
All right well I'm excited to see what comes of all this. Look forward to talking to you again. Thank you Beth enjoy the conversation.
That was Adam Smith executive director of the new Comecon center for the popular arts that will hopefully open in the next couple of years. And now for a little treat from wunderkind. It's the cartoon voices panel that Mark Evony a host every year at both wonder con and comic con this year the panel at Wonder Con featured five Masters of voice acting. Neil Ross of Kung Fu Panda legends of awesomeness and transformers Eliza Jane Schneider. A final fantasy and Skylanders Wally Wingert of Batman Arkham Asylum and the Garfield show Julie Nathanson of Marvel Avengers suicide squad hell to pay and far cry 5 and Townson Coleman of teenage mutant ninja turtles and the tick. This is the part of the panel where the actors are given a script they've never seen before and are asked to do a cold reading with some hilarious results. Say this was.
There'll be another cartoon voices panel coming up in July at Comic Con. And now for the Easter egg I promised here's my interview with actor Jeff Goldblum. The fabulous star Buckaroo Bonzai Jurassic Park Earth Girls Are Easy. And so much more he can currently be heard voicing the character of Duke in Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs.
The Japanese Archipelago 20 years in the future. Canine saturation is reached epidemic proportions. An outbreak of dog flu rips through the city of Mexico Mayor Kobayashi issues emergency orders. Calling for a hasty quality trash island becomes an exile called.
The Isle of Dogs. I began my interview by asking him how he prepared to voice a dog.
Well that's a good question. Well with Wes Anderson you know you just hitch up your pants and trust him completely and read the script because he's made a beautiful document in order to finally make this stunning achievement and then well you know my particular character Duke he's a gossiper you start to think about that a little bit but you also think about the main thrust of him and his pack of friends who are just deeply heroically committed sweetly committed to this love project are a really uniting this young boy and his dog. Are just they'll they'll give their lives for it just like real dogs. They're just devoted they become just so such great lovely lovely friends as we all know. I have a dog named Woody. And in preparation for this I looked into his eyes deeply and spend more time with him maybe thought about him a little more and loved him a little bit more.
How do you actually do voiceover work for something like this. Do you do that. Do you read it first.
Then they animate to it or do you get to see the image that you're actually voicing to first recorded that they animate to that although they've got a couple of examples so early on he sent me the script. Wes Anderson and he showed me a couple pictures of things that were going to inspire this whole style and look of things some Japanese drawings and then I think some early you know sculpting of some puppets. But then you do that voice and a thing like this and then they spend three years you know doing gorgeous work where they fill in your performance and move these puppets around and you can see every because how good they are. It seems like all you're thinking and feeling is captured and depicted in their eyes and what they do somehow you know the animation in this is so enchanting.
I think so too. I know.
Did you have any influence or did your performance have any influence on how Duke ended up looking.
You don't know about that. I haven't asked about that specifically. They were generously say these are some artisans and artists who did this that all they were inspired by the voices and the voices gave them something but maybe maybe they did. And you can see yes that with each little breath you know they're following your breath and breathing and thinking and and what seems to be if you take a pause they sort of fill in and depict what you must be thinking and doing during that pause in a kind of a beautiful way so they are working with the voice and a very talented way but I'm sure they had ideas about the kind of breed of dog and what they looked like and I don't know maybe they evolved. I haven't heard Bates talk about it. Maybe they evolved. You know as they were doing it from your from the vocal performance but I'll bet they had very clear ideas about how they wanted everybody's work and had already gotten drawings and all that stuff.
So what are the challenges for an actor when you're doing this kind of voiceover voicing a character as opposed to you know physically acting it out.
Well you know you only have limited you can't make all your faces you know usually try to do a hand put on your nice clothes and say Hey how about these jeans. You know you just go of course with this union. Trust Wes Anderson to make it look great. So you don't have that do you got to do it all with your voice. But it's not so hard. Actually I was in a recording studio. No I don't know a year ago and Wes was on the phone from I think he was in New York where he'd invited me to record with the other with Bill Murray and Bob Taliban and al Norton and Bryan Cranston because we're a pack of dogs. I couldn't do it so I had to do it all by myself. So I just had to listen to his direction kind of do. I'd been studying the script and try to do my lines like I thought they might be done and then he had ideas. You know he wants something subtle and naturalistic and he had great ideas that made me laugh and we worked on it for a while until he was satisfied. But it's pretty easy because you know I did that for a couple three hours and then they went off and worked for three years. Really. And the rest of the performance so I had a comparatively easy.
What kind of a director the to work with. Is he someone who sticks very firmly to the script or does he allow you to have some play with what the dialogue he's written.
That's a very in question. He is a great combination of somebody very meticulous like I think the Coen brothers are in relation to dialogue and Aaron Sorkin. And if you do a play you know if you do a David Mamet play which I've done different plays you know you've got to render the words verbatim and try to make it sound like you're making them up. And he is. Isn't my experience in the few movies I've done something like that. I remember at Grand Budapest Hotel I had a big speech and I'd been working on it conscientiously. After the first or second take he said you know you're changing this and this is literally you're changing this and to the or maybe it was to an end. And he said I said I know but I'm not just doing that carelessly. Here's why I think it feels right to me and he said I understand what you're talking about. Can you please do it the other way and just stick to what I said okey dokey dokey. But having said that within this sort of Bullseye that he has sort of beautifully struck already it feels collaborative and free and you do many takes oftentimes. And within this little sort of idea that he's got which is really a big idea you get to play and it feels it feels like a very active really great actors director and he gives you ideas how to sort of nuance. And he says please do it how you like it. And it's like that. It's a very fun kind of process.
We've also worked with another very independent director who has a very distinct voice to Hal Hartley. You did Faye Grimm.
Oh that's very interesting that you should bring that up. That's right. I loved Hal Hartley. But by the time I worked with him he was in Berlin living in Berlin and Parker Posey was in that movie of course and Saffron Burrows. Yes he's got an individual unique voice doesn't he.
Yes he does. I love his stuff too.
Yeah I know. I'm lucky I'm not getting a chance to work with a white T.T. recently. He's there's nobody like him and he's speaking of which is very improvisational. Does a lot of we did a lot of improvisation in Thor.
Let's stop there. You know what I woke up this morning thinking about a public execution. It really did.
But for now I'll settle for this sweet little is going to get it first. So while you're on the clock.
This means go. Did you not get that. That's the universal sign it was not clear. Heaven's sakes.
And then I worked on that Jurassic World Movie with Cullen Trevor owl who wrote and directed the last one to direct that Jeep commercial that I did where I reprised by Dockery and Malcolm character that they showed during the Super Bowl. How do you like it now. My friend.
Would you like to take it for a test drive. I. Just ahead.
Jay Bono was the director of this next one. And that was a lot of fun. And I did this movie with Jodie Foster called Hotel Didymus. It's going to be out this summer where I played a kind of a bad guy and then I just finished this movie with Rick Halverson called the mountain. And you know who's in that with me as Tye Sheridan and Udo Kier Denise Leval. You may know. I think that's going to be an interesting movie. And then I've got this record that I'm going to make Decca Records is making this record I play jazz piano with a jazz group and we're going to do a record at the Capitol Records building live may 18th and 19th present.
Well you always have fascinating work one of my favorite films since you brought up a few others. I'm going to say that Buckaroo Bonzai. It's one of my all time favorite.
Thank you very much. I like that movie too.
Oh fine fine thank you. More importantly congratulations from your girlfriend throw money. They did a rescue operation hadn't even said anything about it.
This is my friends my colleagues this is why no one on the P.A.. So you can make it because it looks like remaining next to Hanson or.
The next one. But I mean I've got about rendezvousing at this address barely had time to settle back.
I came here to that I like to Ellen Barkin and Peter Weller of Corrish Clancy Brown Yeah that's one of the greatest tragedies is the sequel never came out. I know they had it up their sleeves. I think they had a lot in mind Mr Richter and Earl Mack Rouch but I don't think enough people came that warranted making more.
Well I gave it a positive review when I was writing back then. I loved that movie. Thank you.
I do yeah I like that too and I think Wes admired it. And remember in life aquatic the end scene where we're all kind of join each other for this parade and credits was a little bit like the end of Brucker Bonza in play do what.
What appealed to you most about his character.
Well besides his quirky way of always having some gossip to tell and to kind of I think maybe make himself feel good and a contributing part of the gang. I think he's kind of like minded everybody. They're all sort of in working on the same page in terms of their sweetness and you know willingness to you know risk their lives to for this boy they love this boy who loves his dog and they want to reunite them. And I loved that spine of the character you know. I think they're deeply loving and sweet in our characters.
But we get the idea. You're looking for your lost dog spots. Does anybody know.
No no I have to say that after the film ended I felt like I needed to hug a dog should have. Like dog rescue people out.
Well you're right.
They're going to be so screenies where you can bring your dog and be watching it together and then on the Today show as part of this publicity little tour I went on with the best friends animal society and we had a couple of dogs that we people could adopt call and adopt. And they told me some things that I didn't even know which is that 40 100 roughly. Cats and dogs get killed every day just because there's no room at the shelter and they got to kill them and best friends goal is to by 2025 have no more kills of that kind. So they do good work and yeah I know the movie is very we love dogs. You know that kind of thing you do when you love your dog. I know they're beautiful creatures.
Well in animated creatures are so appealing that you just want to reach out and give them a hug. I know.
I know. I feel the same way. All those all those every dog I mean Liev Schreiber and Bryan Cranston style is so appealing and Scarlett Johansson so beautiful and appealing. I know I like those dogs. How about Tilda Swinton as dog gorgeous little Oracle and yeah they're great.
Do you think you could have done this if you'd been asked to voice the cat.
Yes. There's my prayer. I kind of been a cat catcher are very beautiful too. Cats are very sensual of course and self-possessed I guess is the cliché but I'm sure there are many different kinds of cat psyche's. Oh yeah I can take that. Sometimes I don't like talking animals so much. I like Mister Ed but I like the Wes Anderson version of animals where where they're kind of like interesting people with recognizably people in personality.
Nobody's getting around. And don't you forget ever your you're your boss. I'm a scary indestructible alpha.
Harwood's. What about the film. Two is that the dogs are framed and shot just the way he frames and shoots his live actors and they like the looks and mannerisms that you have seen like in his past movies for.
I know I know he's a genius. I like that. Have you seen that a little behind the scenes interview interviews with the actors. Supposedly it's us improvising this time fully improvising just you know something about how we felt about playing our characters and then they animated it with the same stop motion with our characters and my character. Duke talks about or just I like I like my name like Duke Ellington single Duke Ellington song and they animated that obviously in that.
No I have not. I'm going to look it up. Oh you've got to look that up. And I love his name.
Duke. It reminds me of you know who I'm talking about. If I said singing songs and saying say Bo Vasya activity of Chavez. Would you know who I was talking about. Of course Duke Ellington and saying things over. That's right.
Duke Ellington and they have a version of it for if you go to the theaters in virtual reality. So you can put on those glasses and b be right next to that the character I just cited today it's just kind of spectacular.
And have you gotten to see the finished film yet.
I've seen it three times now and it was so rich and there's so much to take. And it wasn't until the third time that I for that I where I we it in Austin South by Southwest with the audience that was very receptive wildly appreciative and laughed out loud lots and it was you know audibly moved and I felt like I got a lot out of it even more out of it and started to fall even more in love with it. I want to see it again too.
Did anything surprise you when you saw the whole thing finally put together.
Oh my gosh it's all shockingly surprising how gorgeous it is and how every you know it's as you follow my you know your own character that your voice Did you know I didn't know it was going to be doing all sorts of things. And then everything that generally I mean I read the script a couple of times but I don't think I remembered everything that was described. And I'm sure there was stuff in there that wasn't described very surprising and I was surprised how funny it was and how moved I was and how culturally relevant it is now what with anti fear mongering as it is an anti bigotry and pro student uprising. And you know and how it indicts you know corrupt political factions who will deny science. You know for the purposes of their own nefarious profit making of one kind or another. Yeah. And then how moving it was just the story about the boy and his dog and how lovely that was and how it was about dogs not only how we love them but how they love us and how they're you know rightfully are our best friends.
Well I want to thank you very much for your time. Thank you so much. Talking to you and especially today because my car was stolen out of my driveway and I had this to look forward to.
You've gotta be kidding. This is a momentously horrific day. I'm so sorry.
I hope you get it back and I hope so but talking to you made the day brighter so you are so sweet.
Well thanks. Good luck on everything. Thank you and good luck with the film. Thank you very much.
That was actor Jeff Goldblum brightening my day. The stolen car was recovered and more importantly it still had my Totaro and Matrixx umbrellas in the trunk along with a gorilla grabber. So it all turned out ok. If you enjoy this podcast please leave a review on iTunes. Your recommendation is the best way for cinema junkie to build a bigger audience. You can also provide financial support to keep the podcast going by donating online at Cape PBS dot org slash feed the junkie. That's also tax deductible. Thanks for listening and remember to check out the archives on iTunes or at PBS dot org slash Junkie podcast till our next film Fex Ahdaf Amando your resident cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place