Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Shaman Entertainment Brings The Flash to the Screen

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Earlier this month, a mysterious fan film trailer hit the web. But for fans of DC Comics, the minute-and-a-half clip definitely had a familiar vibe to it…

Indeed, director Shawn Shaman and the filmmakers at Shaman Entertainment, who recently gave us Red Rising, are bringing their take on The Flash to the web. This trailer came on the heels of the recent rumor that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are planning to release a Flash film of their own in 2016, and that a new Flash TV series is in development at the CW.

Obviously, Shaman’s trailer leaves fans with plenty of questions. Shaman himself recently corresponded with Primary Ignition, and sheds a bit of light on what fans can expect. As it turns out, this may be more than just a one-shot deal…

1. So give me the basic 411 on the new Flash trailer we saw on the Shaman Entertainment YouTube channel. What can we expect? What’s the story about? How long is this movie?

We’ve been working on the concept for quite a long time actually. It was kind of something I thought about when I was much younger. Middle school years probably. I thought Flash was a character made for the big screen. His power is speed, and so much fun could be had with that in a feature-length film. So after pitching the idea around with the crew, and after the success of the Mortal Kombat online series, we thought the storyline we had in place for this version of Flash was perfect for this scenario. He’s young, doesn’t know the abilities he’s about to stumble upon, and after he gets them, what could he do with them? How does it effect those around him, including himself? What physically happens to him? So with all that in mind, it’s very much more like Smallville than Arrow. We shot one episode … and have an entire season written and ready to go in front of cameras. We just need to know the fans want it. The first episode will be approximately 10-15 minutes long, and will obviously be more story-heavy then anything else.

2. Is this the same crew from Red Rising?

For the most part, with a few key producers attached, bless them for making this happen! They helped a great deal. No one from Red Rising is in front of the camera this time around. We had actors screen test for their roles.

3. Why do a Flash flick? What attracted you to the character?

Flash is awesome, I’ve always enjoyed the character. His speed, the way he can handle situations and maybe be in more places than one. When I was in high school, my nickname was the Flash, because I was pretty quick. I’ve kind of idolized the character since I was young. It stuns me actually, that there’s a Thor flick out there and not a Flash one. A Green Lantern film, and still no Flash. Hell I’m hearing Ant-Man is on his way to the silver screen. For me, Flash is up there with Batman and Superman. … I love his power. So much fun can be had with it.

4. Is this Barry Allen? Wally West? Jay Garrick? Someone else?

Barry Allen was my favorite. I enjoyed all of them, but Barry was who I grew up with. He’s much younger in this film, a college student.

5. Have you read any of the Flash comic books? If so, which stories and moments are your favorites? Were you a fan of the ’90s TV show?

I haven’t read too many of the comics, to be honest. The ones I read jumped around frequently, and were a bit difficult to follow. I mean, at one point he times travels because of his speed, and runs into a previous version of himself. I was a fan of the 90′s show. It’s cool to see any superhero on TV when you’re that young. Seeing a guy run fast in a cool suit? Count me in.

6. With Red Rising, you had some budget constraints to work with. How is this movie different in that respect?

Very very different. With Red Rising, it really was more like a zero budget thing. We didn’t have too much time to work with the material, and it was a blue print. Almost like a moving story board. With this ,we actually had a shoot schedule (five days), a call-sheet, and everyone knew what they had to do each day. We had a makeup department. We traveled for location scouting. We definitely had a budget. From pre to post … I’m sure you’ll see the difference within the first minute of the short. We got top notch camera gear, we shot this with a Canon C100 with a ninja 2 recorder attached for extremely hi-res shooting. We were, for the first time, limited by the question of how much story should we tell. People who saw Red Rising for the action will notice instantly this is more of a character piece. It’s how Barry Allen became The Flash. A lot of the complaints we got from Red Rising were addressed here. “No character development, no story, etc.” That’s what we set out to show people.

7. Let’s talk mainstream superhero flicks for a bit. We got some HUGE news at Comic-Con International: San Diego this year. Not only are we getting a Superman/Batman flick, but we learned a little bit about the sequel to The Avengers. What’s your gut tell you about this news?

I’m super excited!  A ton of people out there are kind of sick of the whole superhero genre. To them I say, when great stories need to be told, they will. And from a business stand point, it makes sense for these things to keep coming out. When I saw the logo for Superman/Batman, I jumped up and down with excitement.

8. I remember reading in Entertainment Weekly a few years back, some douchebag writer (not that I’m one to talk, I suppose) said that all superhero movies are, in fact, the same. As much as I hate that sentiment, there IS some validity to it, what with all the origin stories that have hit theaters in the past 10 years. What do you think?

Listen, it’s like a recipe to a really good dinner. The recipe brings in crowds, and a ton of money is being made each time. Why on Earth would you want to stray away from that recipe? That being said, the average moviegoer could walk into a movie like The Dark Knight Rises, and say something silly like, “Jeez didn’t that new Spider-Man movie just come out?” What does one have to do with the other? Nothing! These movies are made for fans (and to bring a lot of money in). But fans know the difference. We can see it from a mile away. We know the difference between Spider-Man and Batman, and why both movies should exist.

9. What’s your personal favorite superhero movie? Which one inspires you as a filmmaker?

That’s a tough one. … I thoroughly enjoyed the first Crow movie, in terms of the cinematography and technical achievements for its time. The color palette stayed as close to the comics as possible. I thought that was brave. Watchmen is also up there for me. Watching that movie makes me smile. The themes are dark, and the movie doesn’t rely on action pieces to carry it over to the next scene. Rather, it’s the story, the character dynamics. I like what Zack [Snyder] did with it. It’s definitely up there for me.

10. Anything else you’d like to add?

When we release The Flash in September, I hope everyone enjoys it. A lot of hard work was put into it. We already started work on our next project, which should be lots of fun. Can’t wait to share more. To see what the team is up to, always visit our YouTube channel or visit PlanetariumPictures.com. You can always follow me on Twitter @shawnshaman!

Front page image from comicsforever.tumblr.com. Image 1 from alexrossart.com. Image 2 from alienbee.com. Image 3 courtesy of Shaman. 

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Mickie James: Pro Wrestling’s Newest Renaissance Woman

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since the rock ‘n wrestling connection in the ’80s, professional wrestling has seen its share of “renaissance men,” so to speak. In addition to being gifted athletes and performers, numerous wrestlers have gone on to have success in other mediums, either during or after their active wrestling careers. Obviously, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a movie star. Before him, Hulk Hogan starred in movies, and also dabbled in music. Mick Foley became a multiple-time New York Times best-selling author. The list goes on: Diamond Dallas Page runs DDP Yoga, Jeff Hardy is a painter, and we’ve seen rap albums from the likes of John Cena, R-Truth, and the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

But in the last 10 years, it can be argued we’ve seen the emergence of something fairly new to pro wrestling: The renaissance woman. Since the emergence of the WWE “Divas” in the late ’90s, a select few of pro wrestling’s female stars have been able to take their star power and apply it to other arenas to great success. Multiple-time Women’s Champion and WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus now runs Stratusphere Yoga, billed as Canada’s largest eco-friendly yoga studio. She also hosts Stratusphere on Discovery HD and Travel+Escape. Since her retirement, Amy Dumas, a.k.a Lita, has performed with a punk band called the Luchagors, and hosted Amy’s Dischordia on SFMTV.com.

And then there’s Mickie James, who just may be the most widely talented of the breed. By anyone’s standards, she’s had an extremely successful pro wrestling career. She’s the only woman in the history of the industry to have held the WWE Women’s Championship, the WWE Divas Championship, and the TNA Knockouts Championship. She’s also an accomplished horseback rider, and holds a business degree in operations management.

As if that weren’t enough, on May 7 James released her second country music album, Somebody’s Gonna Pay. But she didn’t do it alone. The album was partially funded by James’ fans via Kickstarter. As thankful for her fans as she’s ever been, James remains open and receptive to them. As such, I was fortunate enough to  to correspond with James via email regarding her new album, her wrestling career, and even an alarming moment with an over-excited fan at Best Buy!

1. Mickie, the first time I heard you sing, I can honestly say I was taken aback by how good you were. I don’t say that to understate your talent, but at that point your name wasn’t exactly synonymous with singing or music. How long have you been singing? Has that side of you always existed, and just needed to come out at the right time?

Well, I’m glad I could at least surprise you in a good way. Haha! Thank you so much. I can’t sit here and say that I am a professionally trained singer by any means. But I love to sing! I’ve always wanted to ever since I was a little girl recording my own demos for my mom to play in the car. I’m sure she enjoyed that phase! I sang in the car, in my shower, and of course karaoke, but I never thought I would be dong this for real! I had no idea what I was doing when I headed to Nashville with a handful of songs that I had written on the road with WWE. I just knew that this was something I’ve always wanted to do. Yet was always a bit fearful and ignorant on how to. I didn’t care if nothing ever came of it. I just wanted to try. Out of that, this amazing journey began for me, as well as a new level of love and respect for the entire industry.

2. As a musician, I’m curious as to what you listen to at home or on the road. What are, say, the top 5 most listened to songs on your iPod right now?

 1. Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay – Percy Sledge
2. Red Ragtop – Tim McGraw
3. Seven Spanish Angels – Willy Nelson & Ray Charles
4. Two Step – Dave Matthews Band
5. Chasing Pavements – Adele

3. Your new album, Somebody’s Gonna Pay, owes a strong portion of its existence to crowd-funding, via Kickstarter. You asked for $5,000 and got $16,500. I think we can go out on a limb and call that a successful campaign. Considering all you’ve done in the wrestling business, we’ve got to assume a decent amount of that came from wrestling fans. What do you think that kind of response says not only about the connection you have with your fans, but about the loyalty of wrestling fans in general?

When we first did the Kickstarter campaign I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t sure how it would be perceived by the public. But once I spoke more to my management about it, I knew what we were really giving them was a one-of-a-kind experience. To be a part of something unique and special to me. I set the bar low knowing real costs, but was amazed when we reached our goal in less than a few days. I wasn’t expecting the incredible support I got from the all the people who chose to be a part. Hopefully they enjoyed it as well. From the updates, concerts, executive producers, to the personalized thank yous, even the 200 hand-painted t-shirts I made, which I felt took a year but were totally worth it! We were able to launch this project, and get it a quarter of the way through because of it. I like to think I have some of the best fans in the world. I know how loyal wrestling fans are as a whole and I love that. But the fact that they have stood so proudly behind me in something that was completely outside of the ring is truly touching.

4. Their loyalty notwithstanding, wrestling fans can be a bit…eccentric. What would you say was your most eccentric, aw heck let’s just say it, your weirdest or most awkward experience with a wrestling fan?

Oh gosh, I’ve had way to many to even say. I guess the most memorable crazy thing that ever happened was at a signing in Orlando. I was with Torrie Wilson at a Best Buy, I believe before Wrestlemania, when a young man, Chris, comes up to get an autograph. He has a bag full of stuff for me to sign and is super excited… perhaps even overwhelmed! There were a couple hundred people still in line and so security is trying to politely move the line along. But he is overcome with excitement. I can see him starting to shake and the next thing I know he’s on the ground having a seizure. Torrie and I were in complete shock as well as security and well… everyone. Luckily there was a volunteer EMT in line and was a saint in the situation. We waited and held the line 45 minutes until everything was okay. We signed for everyone in that line that day… Even Chris, who refused to go to the hospital (We learned later he has epilepsy so if very familiar with the whole ordeal), and came back at the end of the signing to get his autograph and picture taken. That was the WOWEST of days.

5. What’s the biggest difference between the pro wrestling audience and the country music audience? Is there a big difference?

It’s hard to say what the biggest difference is. Actually I find them more similar than not…Their loyalty and passion for what they love. When they stand behind someone it’s forever! They will come out to see you perform, to meet you, and just to have a good time for miles. I love that fact. I’m so blessed to have the fans I have because without them…I wouldn’t be able to go out there and do what I love to do every night of my life!

6. The video for “Somebody’s Gonna Pay” is pretty aggressive! Granted, Magnus was being a total dick. But why so much aggression? What inspired “Somebody’s Gonna Pay?”

LOL. Wow! Well,… I feel ;ike it’s a song that most, of not all of us can relate to, at least at some point in our lives! I felt the lyrics and the attitude inspired the way the video actually went. The cool thing was that I had worked with my producer Blake Judd and his team before. I did a small cameo in the Bucky Covington and Shooter Jennings “Drinking Side Of Country” video. We hit it off right away. He’s awesome and a blast to work with. When I found out he was a big wrestling fan it was just icing on the cake. He’s incredible and was so much fun to work with. We tried to bring the wrestling world in with friends and fight. With guest appearances from my girl Trish Stratus as the kick-ass bartender, and Nick a.k.a. Magnus as the scum-bag ex boyfriend, it was sure to be filled with excitement. I also had a bunch of my Nashville musician pals come in for the day to just hang out, play as well Joe and Jose come from Ohio Valley Wrestling to be Nick’s boys. We had such a great time!  We were all able to work together with the vision to make it rockin’…Plus I’ve always wanted to swing a guitar!

7. Your old WWE rival Trish Stratus has a pretty prominent role in that video. Trish actually name dropped you among a pretty elite list of female wrestlers during her WWE Hall of Fame speech last month. What’s your relationship with Trish like today, and has she gotten you to try Stratusphere Yoga?

I was honored to have her in the video and definitely called in a huge favor for that one! Haha! She was a scene stealer as usual and just amazing. Plus, it was fun to reunite and make complete fools of ourselves as only we can. I have been to her studio Stratusphere, and if you live in the area and you haven’t…well that’s just silly! It’s so gorgeous and just has a great vibe along with a variety of classes for all levels. The day I went I was with a big group of the divas. We went with the hot yoga session and it kicked our butts! I also have her DVD, which I do incorporate in my weekly routine. I love how supportive we all are in wanting everyone to be happy, and successful. The fact that she chose to not just mention me, but a long line of talented ladies, in the middle of “her” moment, just shows the type of person she is. I have nothing but the utmost love and respect for Trish as a friend, and a colleague. She’s as true as they come…

8. What was your creative process like for this new album? As they say, you’ve got your whole life to do the first one. When did you start working on Somebody’s Gonna Pay? What was the process like from start to finish?

It took almost a year to finish this album, but I wanted to do it right. I went through a wave of creative ups and downs, thinking and emotions to try to make this album the absolute best I could. I started working with my first producer Jamie Lee Thurston in early 2012. We co-wrote a song with Porter Howell from Little Texas that made it in the cut called, “Best Damn Night.” It’s a fun, upbeat party song about a wild spirited girl asking the world, “Can you handle me?!”  I find that the song selection process is probably the hardest for me. We literally listen to hundreds of songs before we narrowed it down to the ones that felt the best and told the story. Also, there is a bit of an ego check when you’re listening to your songs next to the ones coming in from the publishing companies from songwriters all over. You have to ask yourself: “Do my songs measure up?”

Just when we had the first six songs ready to go, and were about to release the EP on my own I had a stroke of fate. I had a meeting with Van Fletcher from eOne Music Nashville, and we hit it off immediately. He’s so smart and has such a love and genuine passion for music, real music, and the entire industry! So when he told me he really dug what I was doing and he liked my stuff I was over the moon. When he said they wanted to sign me and go back in the studio to complete this project for one full on bad ass album I wanted to cry! Those words were the song I’d been longing to hear. We went back into the studio with RS Field and took this album to a whole new level. I wasn’t sure how having two producers on the album was going to effect the finished product. But once I heard it, I was blown away. I can’t say enough kind words about RS. He pulled out the very best in me and we just had a wonderful time that those long studio days seemed to float by. We wrapped in the studio in mid October and by the new year “Somebody’s Gonna Pay” was complete!

9. Corny question time: What inspires you? Whether we’re talking about wrestling, singing, or something else, where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in a lot of things. In the ring I find inspiration in those that paved the way before me…Those who I think might be better than mem because lets face it, We Can’t HAve That!! LOL. And I find a lot of inspiration in those hungry-eyed ones climbing the ladder themselves trying to make a name for themselves, because I remember that. I remember what it was like to want it so bad you can taste it. The funny thing is, is when you really want it, that taste never goes away. On stage I find inspiration in the eyes looking back at me, who can feel the words I’m singing and give it right back. That is an incredible feeling. When I write, ironically, I always find my best inspiration in the extremest of my emotions. Whether it be happy and at one with the world on the back of one of my horses, laughing hysterically over a story that will last a lifetime, or heartbroken and crying in the floor, these are where I feel my best lyrics come from. But most importantly in life: Faith inspires me. Love inspires me. Selflessness inspires me. Gratitude inspires me. Forgiveness and kindness…All of these things inspire me. The will to fight, to overcome adversity and obstacles to achieve a dream, and the story that we make for ourselves doing so. Most of my inspirations are things, people, events, and fights that make me want to be a better person, to change lives, to help others. So when I see people, real people, everyday you and me people, doing things to make this world a better place, that inspires me!

10. Put somebody over, Mickie. Who’s an underrated performer out their today? Be it a wrestler, a singer, an actor, a juggler, who’s somebody that deserves a push in their chosen field?

Wow! Thats a hard one. The thing is I know there are so many out there, whether they be underrated or just not discovered yet. But that doesn’t mean it’s not meant to be. I am a firm believer that if you can dream it, then you can obtain it. You just have to truly want it, believe its yours for the taking, and go after it fearlessly with your whole heart. The beauty of life is that we are all blessed with our own uniques talents, and none of us have the same heart’s desires. So the possibilities are endless! The biggest thing that holds us back is fear and doubt in ourselves. I have, and we all have fallen vicim to this. We live, learn, dust ourselves off, and get after it again.

But since you posed this question I would say, in my opinion,t here 2 girls off the top of my head that I have yet to see shine in the light they honestly deserve in the ring. One being Serena Deeb, who I watched grow as a worker and performer since she began. And some may think I am biased because there is no denying she is a dear friend of mine and I adore her. I’ve only had a chance to actually step in the ring with her twice. The first in Corbin, KY, for OVW, after I had moved up to TV, and came back to face the “New Girl On The Block.” The second just recently at TNA’s One Night Only all Knockouts PPV. Both times it was magic. We have the same style, the same thoughts, we just flow! Although she did make it to [WWE] and did an amazing job in that role, I know that is not where she glows. I honestly believe that if she had been given a chance to wrestle it would have made for some epic matches, and perhaps a fresh change in the division at that time.

The second lady is Ms. Sara Del Ray who I unfortunately have never had the chance to step in the ring with…Yet! I have admired her for so long, She’s so different, looks and stylistically, not to mention one hell of a performer. She came up and learned the hard way which I have nothing but admiration and respect for. If she was to debut today she would bulldoze through almost the entire roster because she’s that good, that solid, and that original. But listen, just because they aren’t gracing our TVs right now doesn’t mean the won’t be. I just hope when it is, I’m the one in the opposite corner.

11. Let’s shift gears a bit, and talk wrestling. What did your family, friends, and I suppose the public in general, react when they learned you wanted to be a pro wrestler? I’m always interested to hear how that journey starts for women.

Are you kidding?! Well, at first they thought it was a joke! They also thought I was nuts, which they aren’t far off there. I remember the Sunday after I had signed up for training at the family dinner…”So I signed up for wrestling school on Thursday.” My moms eyes as big as walnuts, my step dad said “Oh that ol’ phony bull$hit! Except the Undertaker.” Of Course! And when I told my dad, who was an avid wrestling fan, he was so confused and excited. I think mostly because he could find out all the ins and outs he’d been dying to know for years. LOL Regardless they were always super supportive of me. I’m certain the first year they thought it was just a fad because wrestling was so hot then. As I kept at it I had mixed reactions from my friends and family. Most assumed it was just a hobby for me that I’d soon get over as real life set in. But I think after about the fourth year of wrestling they had realized that this wasn’t just a hobby, as I had really started to hustle and build a credible name for myself.

My dad was actually the first person to have “the talk” with me after I got back from driving 18 hours to a tryout in Florida. This was about my fifth visit to WWE Raw and Smackdown. I was so broke I drove as far as I could until just before sunrise, took a two hour nap in my car at a rest area with my blanket completely over me, got up and drove the rest of the way home. That was a real humbling moment, because at that point I realized this was my make or break. A few days later my daddy said to me: “Now honey, you know I love you, and to see you go after this is really great, it really is, but..what if it’s not meant to be? What if you don’t make it? What if you get hurt? Have you thought about what you want to do?” The real answer was no. I hadn’t thought about that. That thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I had no idea what I would do if this didn’t happen, because in my heart…even in doubt…I knew it would. But my answer wasn’t that. I said “I don’t know daddy, I really don’t know. All I know is that I want this really bad, I’m trying so hard.”

12. Whenever I interview wrestlers, I’m always wary of asking tired questions, i.e. talking to Mick Foley about Hell in a Cell. What’s a question or a topic that fans seem to bring up to you all the time? And do you ever get tired of going over it again and again?

Haha! I think the first comment or question usually goes back to the storyline with Trish….As it should! And no I never get tired of it. That was such a magically moment. Not just for me, but for the fans, the division, the whole show. It defined my entire path and career since, as it built me and my credibility as a performer. I could not have asked for a better introduction into the WWE or a better partner for the ride. I was so blessed and that is a story that I can relive long after the boots are hung.

13. You’re a two-time TNA Knockouts Champion. How does holding that championship compare with some of the other titles you’ve worn in your career? What does it mean to you?

It means you’re the best!!! You’re the best in the company, in the division, in that locker room, and on that television screen. I hold every championship I’ve ever won in very high regard, because of the fight to get it in and out of the ring. Not only is the faith of the company in your hands, but you are setting the standard for your division at that time. To me the Ladies Championship Belt is my “World title.” There is nothing bigger than that! And for the record… I intend on being 3 time… in no time!

14. In addition to wrestling and music, fans know you’ve also got a passion for horses. Several years ago in a magazine, I recall you being quoted saying something to the effect of: “Never pretend to like horses if you really don’t.” Would I be right to guess that happened to you on a date once?

That makes me chuckle. And yes, that did happen on kind of a date. Actually there was a boy I was seeing in high school who I’d only been on a date or two with. Skate-land and the movies. He came to see me at the farm one day over a weekend, but was completely frightened by the horses. Needless to say we didn’t see each other much after that. You’d think I would’ve taken a mental note then that would have saved me some trouble down the line. But no…Because I’m stubborn. But I soon realized that because it’s such a massive passion of mine that you have to at least love that about me, to not let it drive you crazy. Or it will never work. Because I will come home some days sweaty, dirty, smelling like horse and poop. And if you cant love that…well then you can’t love me!

15. So in terms of major interests, we’ve got pro wrestling, music, horseback riding…am I missing anything? Is there another major passion you have that fans don’t know about? Not that you need more! You seem more than busy!

I wish I knew more about my heritage. I am about 1/4 Powhatan Native American. Our reservation is the oldest and smallest in the country, named after our leader at the time Chief Powhatan, and we still have Pocahontas’ necklace in our little museum. I go to some Pow-wow’s when I’m home. I know some of the herbs, stones, a few rituals, and a handful of dances. But that’s about the extent of it. Our culture is a dying breed getting further and further lost with each generation. My great late great uncle was a medicine man, and he truly lived in the culture. I wish I had taken advantage of that opportunity and tried to learn from him before he passed. He could speak the language fluently and was so immersed in it wholly that I just found him fascinating. I think to be that at one with the universe has got to be incredible. I’ve tried to read and study a few books on it, but I feel that it’s something you have to dive head first into in order to truly grasp it. So there’s my next task!

16. You’ve been able to do so much with your life and career. What’s the next notch you want to put on your belt. What’s your next big goal? Aside from the success of Somebody’s Gonna Pay, obviously…

Oh gosh… I don’t know… President?! Haha… I’m kidding. I can barely keep my own life in check I don’t know if I could manage a whole nation. I don’t know. I always set my bar high and dream as big as I can imagine… So who knows? I’m just enjoying the ride and praying for the absolute best!

17. Anything else you’d like to add?

I would just like to say thank you. Thank you to all who took the time to read this. Thank you to all my fans who have stood beside me on this rolle rcoaster of a ride I call my life, who’ve supported me through it all. I’ve alway tried to be real with you in the sense that without my fans, there would be no Mickie James. I hope you know and understand how much that means to me. Because that type of love, loyalty, and respect cannot be bought. And it’s something that can’t ever be taken away. If I have inspired anyone along the way, to chase their dream, to believe in themselves, and to reach for the stars, then I know I’ve done something in my life. That lets me lay my head on my pillow every night with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart. I am far from perfect, I know that, I just strive to be me, and the best me I can be. I do hope you all enjoy my new album Somebody’s Gonna Pay as much as I enjoyed making it. Please keep up with me on Twitter @MickieJames, on Facebook at Facebook.com/MickieLJames and of course MickieJames.com to see where am at, and what I’m up too, and hopefully I will see you all on the road. I love you all!

Front page image/image 1 courtesy of Wortman Works. Image 3 from tnastars.com. Image 4 from musiccityencore.com. Image 5, 6 and 9 from wwe.com. Image 7 from dailyknockoutsblog.net. Image 8 from myspace.com. Image 10 from wrestlingfusion.net.
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Shawn Shaman Gives a New Edge to Power Rangers in Red Rising

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

September 4 marked the debut of a fan film with a definite nostalgic flair to it, mixed with an undeniable modern edge.

Even with its modest 3 minute and 50 second duration, Red Rising is one of only a handful of entirely original fan films to ever pay tribute to the widely popular Power Rangers franchise. Specifically the original incarnation, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which became a phenomenon during the mid ’90s.

The film sees Jason, the leader of the original Mighty Morphin team, morph into action against a trio of thugs in an alley. Though the Red Ranger’s helmet is the same one we remember, the rest of his costume has been changed. Gone is the trademark Power Ranger spandex, replaced with a red and white biker jacket and gloves.

Though the film had its share of limitations in terms of execution, director and co-producer Shawn Shaman, co-producer Carlos Shabo, and the rest of the cast and crew at Planetarium Pictures deserve a great deal of credit for being able to bring their unique take on Power Rangers to life, if only for a short time.

Primary Ignition recently corresponded with Shawn Shaman via email to discuss Red Rising, the challenges of making the film, and whether we’ll see more from this crew in the future…

1. Shawn, tell us a little bit about yourself. Your background, career, etc. etc.

For as long as I can remember, I always knew I wanted to make movies. When I was younger, my family owned a video store, I basically grew up in there. When I would watch movies, I wouldn’t just be in awe with the imagery, but I’d really want to know how it was done. So, I made that a goal. I wanted to explore every last bit of it. Not just directing, but producing, editing, lighting, and really understanding the tech that went behind film making. Back in 2006, WOW! Cable (Wide Open West) was holding a commercial contest. I decided to submit an entry, not really thinking anything of it. You never really hear about who wins those things. About a month later I got a call saying I was in the top ten…I was shocked. What we shot, it was pretty bad. I never thought I’d achieve that. About a week later I received another phone call saying I was the grand prize winner. My TV commercial went on to air nationwide where WOW! was available. That was when I knew I could do this.

2. What other projects had you worked on leading up to your work on Red Rising? Where else might we have seen you?

I’ve worked on several projects before Red Rising. I got my big break when I got to work for DreamWorks pictures during production of Real Steel. I started as an Office PA, but I was promoted to VFX Technical Supervisor about 2 months into production. There’s actually a sequence in the movie where I talked the art department into throwing my name onto one of the posters in the background. That scene made it into the final movie. The cool thing is, the visual effects team was nominated for an Oscar. We lost, but it’s still pretty neat to see I was a part of that. After that I worked briefly for Discovery Channel as a camera tech during a shoot here in Detroit. I also worked for Universal Pictures during production of The Five-Year Engagement, I was the Digital Media Manager. Earlier this year, an opportunity came up from a producer friend of mine. He contacted me and said D12 rapper Kon Artis (now known as Denaun Porter) wanted to shoot a music video with me. I directed that as well. You can see that and some of my other work on my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/ShamanEntertainment)

3. Before we dive into Red Rising, it’s definitely worth mentioning that Power Rangers just turned 19. That’s actually kind of scary, isn’t it? Do you remember when you first saw the show? Were you a fan from episode one, or did you jump on the bandwagon later? Do you have a favorite episode?

It is scary! I remember setting my VCR every morning just before the episode would start. I still have a few of those VHS tapes. I was definitely a fan since day one. Truth is, when I first saw they were doing Power Rangers… I thought it was incredibly similar to Voltron. So seeing Power Rangers as a live action TV show, I was pretty excited. It’s safe to say after the first episode I was hooked.

4. What do you think it is about Power Rangers that has allowed it to last as long as it has? What was it about the show that captured the imaginations of so many young fans?

I think it has a lot to do with the characters, their relationships, and the amazing things they do. It gets you hooked. It’s not just one superhero, it’s a team. I think people enjoy watching that. Especially after the success of The Avengers.

5. To even attempt to make a Power Rangers fan film is gutsy, because every story involves some kind of out of this world transformation, space age technology, and we certainly can’t forget the giant robots. Where did the idea for Red Rising come from, and how does one even begin to approach a project like this?

We, Carlos (the producer) and I knew it was gutsy from the get-go. We started to discuss it last year, but I got caught up in other projects. I think we knew from the start the tone we wanted to set. When getting into something like this, you need to consider your limitations. What resources do we actually have access to, what kind of film gear do we have, etc. All those considered, we built the project up around that. All the characters in MMPR are larger then life. How would they look in a familiar setting, in the world we live in today? This was more of a pitch. We wanted to create a sense of community after the initial pitch was made. It’s kind of like a blueprint. People see what we are capable of and what we can create. We opened the discussion, and that was exactly what we wanted to do.

6 .Did any other fan films inspire your approach?

To be 100 percent honest, I didn’t watch any fan films prior to creating this. I didn’t want to have influence from anything that was done previously. I wanted to create my own blueprint, and then see where fans would want us to take it. If we are given the opportunity, we will build on what we’ve been told.

7. Some of the publicity I’ve seen done for this film indicates that you and the other filmmakers wanted to make this film look akin to Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Avengers, etc. Why is that? What went into deciding how the Red Ranger would look?

Well, we wanted to ground it a bit. See what the Rangers would possibly look like in our world. We definitely wanted to make it our own. Comic book movies today are either pretty dark, like Watchmen and the Dark Knight trilogy, or they have a family friendly appeal to them like Avengers, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. We didn’t want to create something dark, or go for that gritty look. That’s not Power Rangers. I wanted there to be a middle ground, more so towards the likes of Iron Man and The Avengers than The Dark Knight. But bringing some of that real world feel, I think helps relate a bit more. It’s not so superficial anymore once you do that. If we do another one, you’ll see more of this world we were building.

8. Let’s talk a little bit about continuity. Is this film meant to be a part of the ongoing PR continuity, or is it meant to stand on its own the way Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie did? Part of the premise of this film is that it takes place five years after the “last alien invasion.” Does that mean five years since Jason and the others saw battle? Or say, five years since whoever the last Ranger team consisted of defended the Earth from some kind of threat?

This is an alternate universe. It’s a stand alone thing. There have been many different versions of Power Rangers over the years, we didn’t want to just pick one and go from there. All fans have their own version of what should happen. We wanted to create our own, but with the original characters. Five years after the last alien invasion… five years since the team last fought together. Whether Jason had been exiled from the group, or just chose to quit, this was part of the story we were telling. But it wouldn’t just center on one Ranger, as I’m sure fans would love to see what’s going on with everyone else. A lot of what I’m seeing is people saying in response to the film is: “Zordon taught the Rangers to never use their powers for personal gain.” We don’t know what state Jason is in when he does this, as the story didn’t develop enough for this statement to be made. Maybe he’s become a rebellious vigilante type, using his powers for more then just fighting off aliens… after all it has been five years since he last fought them. Maybe he lost his cool and calm? Is it out of character, maybe? But a lot can change in five years.

9. In your mind, what has Jason been doing since he last saw action? Has he always had his powers?

I kind of want to keep the first part of that question open for discussion. It makes things a bit more interesting I believe. We have our intentions in developing that story over the next few episodes (should we do them). Yes, he’s had these powers since they were introduced to him by Zordon.

10. Our lead actor is Kelsey Bashi. What led you to choose him for the role of Jason? Was he simply a friend who was right for the role, or was there a kind of informal audition process?

Kelsey is a friend of mine, but that didn’t give him a walk on role. He had the right build and look for it. We had him perform a bit and interact with the other Rangers we had in place for other episodes. It worked, he did good and we ran with it.

11. How long did the project take to film? How challenging was it, if at all?

It took a total of five days to film, and it was incredibly challenging given the resources we had. As you can see, it was a night shoot. Our gear was really pushed to its limits. We didn’t have much to work with, and we’ve been saying we created something out of nothing, this is true. We had one camera, Canon T2i, with two lenses. Neither of which are good in low light. A decent tripod, a crane (which added nice production value), and a flood light. That’s literally it. All audio was dubbed later using an iPhone. So planning how to shoot this thing was huge. We built car rigs for the motorcycle shots out of 2×4′s (special thanks to our set’s swiss army knife Jason Salmo for that.) Then we got incredibly lucky when we got hooked up with the owner of the motorcycle. It totally looks like what the Red Ranger would own. Segi (the owner of the bike) did all the stunt work on the bike, Kelsey never even sat on it.

12. During the fight, we never pan down below Red Ranger’s waist. Was this a costuming issue? A choreography issue? Or was it simply a style choice?

It was a costume issue, so we had to plan around it. The pants weren’t ready in time for the shoot, I was pretty ticked. But, sometimes productions throw curve balls at you and you just need to do your best to pull it off.

13. The music was an interesting creative choice. What went into deciding on the soundtrack?

Let me get this out the way now, Carlos never wanted it. He hated the dubstep. The intro is more metal/tech with it leading into dubstep during the fight. Originally, the motorcycle sequence was going to have Zordon’s voice over, basically going over the synopsis. I ultimately decided to leave that out. I wanted this to be more of a community thing, rather then us telling the story. Have fans come up with their own stories. Deciding on dubstep, again, was my decision. The whole emergence scene, with him getting into the shot, and then showing the technology of the suit, I felt like it fit. This isn’t the ’90s TV show. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about it, even people complaining about the metal/tech music in the beginning of the short. If I remember correctly, the first MMPR movie opened with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while the Rangers sky dived. I didn’t have that kind of production money, so I had to compromise a bi

14. At the end, we see our hero face some sort of green glow. Might this be a new villain calling the Rangers back into battle? Or could this be our old friend the Green Ranger?

Or could the Green Ranger be the bad guy in our version? Maybe he is the alien threat that’s on it’s way to earth. Or maybe he’s there to stop Jason from the rampage he’s on? There’s a lot of ways you could cut it. We do have the story line in place, but I’ll leave this part of the short up for discussion amongst the fans!

15. Do you have a favorite part of the film? Is there anything you would change if you could?

When the Red Ranger rises into frame for the first time. I love that shot. As a film maker, I’m my own hardest critique I think. It’s very hard for me to watch my work in front of others. When we showed this for the first time, I hid in the background. I knew it’s weaknesses, I am a film maker after all. I knew the limitations we had, but only I know that, not the viewer. No film maker wants to explain themselves as to why certain things were done a specific way when fans ask. There are things I would change, but I’m very happy with my crew and what we were able to do with so little. I’m happy with the final product, and stand behind it.

 16. Is this the first in a series of short films, or is Red Rising meant to stand on its own?

We’ll have to see, it really does depend on how well this one is received. We would love to carry on with Rangers and explore all the other Rangers. Now that the cat is out the bag, we can get the community more involved. I think it stands on its own, but definitely leaves with a nice little cliff hanger.

17. How hard is it to promote a fan film, or ANY kind of film these days? What steps have you been taking to make sure it gets seen?

Fan films can be tricky. Once the word is out that you’re working on one, it basically promotes itself. I think getting community involved is huge in promoting the video. For an example, we let out exclusive behind-the-scenes images to RangerBoard.com, plus a poster with a date and time. Eventually we let the community see it a half hour before anyone else. Give the fans what they want, and everything will fall into place and the video will promote itself.

18. What’s next for you and the folks at Planetarium Pictures?

We have a ton of projects lined up. Whether it’s another Ranger short or not, I’m not sure yet. I can say this, if we go forward with another Ranger episode, it wouldn’t just be one. We would kind of have to dedicate to the fans at least two or three more of these. We do have other projects we would like to get off the ground, though.

19. Anything else you’d like to add?

Just a big thank you to the fans of the series. We made it to 10K views in just four days. The only reason why this was created was for them. Without them, there wouldn’t be a point. It wasn’t for self gain, or recognition. We have other projects we could have done that with. We are at an age in film making where it doesn’t have to be a dictatorship. It doesn’t have to be the filmmaker alone in the kitchen. We’re able to communicate in ways never before possible. Community film making. It’s a new breed in this industry, and I love it. We understand it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but we’ll sure as hell try.

Front page image, and images 1, 3, 5, 6 and 8 courtesy of Shaman. Image 2 from skipraid.com. Image 4 from orendsrange.blogspot.com. Image 8 from henshinjustice.com. 

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Interview: Polaris Banks, Director of Casey Jones

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It takes a pretty ambitious filmmaker to tackle the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their world. But Polaris Banks does it in his new 35-minute fan film, Casey Jones, which can be seen for free at CaseyJonesTheMovie.com.

The film focuses on Casey Jones, a  hockey mask wearing, hockey stick swinging vigilante who frequently partners with the Turtles. With a gritty, street-level tone, the movie sees Jones go from an overconfident hockey player, to the rage-fueled anti-hero Turtles fans know and love.

Banks wore several hats for the film. He directed, wrote, edited, executive produced, and handled the cinematography. He also appeared in the film as Sid, Casey’s cousin. Banks recently took the time to correspond with Primary Ignition about Casey Jones.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Your info says you’re an actor from Texas. Have you been performing long? Have you made previous films?

I’ve known that I wanted to direct movies since I was seven years old, and I’ve been doing so ever since. Casey Jones is the first film that I’ve decided to openly release, though. My other movies were more practice and experimentation, acquiring the skills to tell the kind of stories I’m interested in sharing. I initially got into performing to better understand how to communicate with actors, and it has really been invaluable in getting what I need out of a rehearsal.

2. How long have you been a Ninja Turtles fan? Given the music in the trailer and the look of Casey’s mask, I’ve got to assume at least as far back as the original Steve Barron film. Are you at all interested in Nickelodeon’s upcoming series?

Being born in the mid ’80s, I grew up watching the earliest versions of the Ninja Turtles since as far back as I can remember. My favorite is still the Steve Barron live action film, but I’ll always be fond of the first cartoon series as well. I actually got into the original run of the Mirage comics while researching for Casey Jones. They had a huge influence on how I decided to make the movie, especially the lighting and art design.

I’m a little dubious about the new television show from Nickelodeon. Modern children’s animation is mostly all flash and no heart, and the advertising for the new series hasn’t convinced me that this will be an exception. If they want to bring me back audience members, the new series needs to be charming most of all. Old animated shows from the ’90s like Batman: The Animated Series and Gargoyles set the bar pretty high for children’s adventure programming. I’d really like to see a TMNT show with that much thoughtful directing.

3. Tell us about Casey Jones. What’s the film about? Where does it take us?

There’s a brief period in Casey’s history, after he becomes a vigilante and before he befriends the Ninja Turtles, that is undocumented in any previous version of the TMNT. It’s a time when Casey stalked the streets alone, without any crime fighting partners to prevent him from acting on his brutal impulses. That is the what our movie depicts. It’s an uncensored look at the dangerous path Casey was headed down before the Ninja Turtles intervened to keep him from going over the edge. It focuses less on his origins and more on what he does before and after his transformation. The movie is not a literal translation of any one version of Casey’s beginnings. It is its own entity that draws heavily from the incarnations that came before. Because the movie didn’t have to answer to any studio though, we were able to take the character to a much darker place than he’s ever been in a motion picture.

4. How did Casey Jones come about? When did this idea first come to the surface?

I’ve directed a variety of different genres, but my specialty has always been action/adventure. The idea came to me when my roommate Oliver Luke sculpted a miniature Michelangelo statue as a birthday present for my actor friend Chris Frasier. Oliver is a talented special effects artist who had always wanted to do a full creature suit, and being a big fan of Mikey, Chris already knew the character thoroughly and is an expert with nunchucks. So they made the perfect team to put together a terrific Michelangelo performance. My actor brother Hilarion also always strongly resembled Casey Jones to me. So a Casey Jones and Michelangelo team-up movie seemed like the perfect project to best utilize the resources that were available, and once the concept had entered my mind, I was way too excited about it to not follow through. It was exactly the kind of film I’d want to see as an audience member myself.

5. Taking on a project this ambitious must have been intimidating. Between conception and completion, how long was the film in development? What’s the run time on it?

I was never really intimidated by the project. I was confident from the start that me and my team could pull it off. I just hadn’t proved it yet. Believe it or not, the original script was even more ambitious. I just pushed the limits as far as I could, making cuts and adjustments along the way when necessary, but I think everyone involved was surprised at just how much of the screenplay made it into the film. Often on set, I’d explain to the cast and crew what I wanted for the shot, and they’d say, “Well I don’t know how the hell you plan on doing that, but I’m in.” The trick was just taking it one step at a time.

A big movie like this seems daunting on such a limited budget, but if you break it down to what each individual shot requires, it’s very doable. Because Hilarion was attending UCLA at the time, we could only shoot in Texas on his quarterly breaks, which slowed production down quite a bit. We utilized the time while he was in class though to fabricate the elaborate practical effects. Post production was also an extended process because the audio professionals could only work on the film between higher paying gigs. Over all, we picked at the project for a little over two years. We treated it more like a hobby than a job, but time is money. So if you don’t have enough money, you have to spend more time. The length of the movie is 35 minutes all together. At first I was planning on making it around 10 minutes long, but since this could be the only solo film the character ever gets, I wanted to make sure to take the time to tell the story right.

6. One thing that really struck me about the trailer was the intensity that seemed to radiate off the character. He’s smashing things in a junkyard, he’s doing pull ups off a fire escape, he’s smashing people in the head with hockey sticks. Obviously that’s a side of Casey we’ve seen time and time again. But was that something Hilarion Banks brought to the table himself, or did you need to push that? Were you looking to see something akin to what Elias Koteas brought to the table in the Barron film?

My brother Hilarion and I collaborated very closely on the character. It was not an effortless transformation. From the first rehearsal, it was clear that I wanted something very specific, and Hilarion’s performance I nit picked constantly up until we began shooting. Casey is a delicate balance of naivete, sadism, ego, recklessness, and downright crazy. If you let one of those elements take over too much, the whole thing falls apart. It would have been easy to just do another Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, but Casey is more complicated than that.

The challenge with Casey is that he’s a despicable person in a lot of ways. He’s often cruel, self centered, chauvinistic, and confrontational, even more than your average antihero. It’s really easy to lose the audience’s favor with such an extreme personality. So what Hilarion brought to it, which is the most important part, is undeniable likability. Casey needs to be naturally playful and fun to even out his dark side, and Hilarion has that in spades. So once the cameras started rolling, Hilarion brought the charm, and I made sure to keep pushing his malicious tendencies. What we came up with was just the right mixture. Yes, we wanted to make sure not to lose the great elements that Elias Koteas (shown right) brought to the character, but I wanted something beyond just imitating what was done before. Our version is an attempt to incorporate the essential parts from every previous incarnation. We trimmed away the fat to find the through line that connects all the portrayals, looking for the overall essence of what makes the character so great. Then once we had that base, we added our own unique touches.

7. I’m always interested to see how the process works when directors appear in their own films, and what it’s like for them to essentially direct themselves. In this film, you appear as Sid Jones, Casey’s cousin. How big is Sid’s role in the film, and what was it like to appear on camera in your own film?

I actually appear in almost all the movies I direct. It’s not as much of a challenge to act while you’re directing. It’s more difficult to direct while you’re acting. In order for the performance to come off well, I can’t pay any attention to the camera and crew at all. So I have to work with people that I really trust in order to let go. The trick is being as thorough and articulate about what you want as possible. Then they can just let you know from take to take if they got what you need. Clear communication is the most important part of directing. You save a lot of time not having to re-explain everything. As for the acting process, I don’t have a director to guide me through the performance, and there’s usually not enough time to watch playback. So I just have to be as well prepared as possible beforehand. All the experimentation and fine tuning is done several nights before the shoot, so that I can focus instead on directing the other actors in the scene. Sid plays a small role in the film, but his appearances are key to the plot development.

8. Robbie Rist, who provided the voice for Michaelangelo in the Steve Barron film, as well as the second and third movies, also provides the character’s voice in your movie. How did that come about, and how much did you geek out when you heard him voice the character again?

Hiring Robbie Rist was actually suggested to me by Josh Yawn, the voice of Leonardo in our movie. He had met Robbie before and offered to contact him about reprising his role. Rist was up for it immediately after seeing the footage, but it took months and months of hounding to finally get him into the recording room. It was a pretty surreal experience to hear the words I had written being spoken by the real Michelangelo himself, but I geeked out even more once I set the dialogue to picture. Mikey came to life, fully resurrected from my childhood. There was one heartbreaking moment though. While recording the dialogue, I mentioned a “shell shock,” and Robbie didn’t know what that was. He said he hadn’t really seen the movies since they first came out. How could the real Mikey not know what a “shell shock” is?!

9. Bringing an anthropomorphic turtle to life would be a challenge for ANY studio. How did you pull the Michelangelo costume(s) together? What’s it made out of? How difficult (if at all) was it for Chris Fraiser to maneuver in it?

The costume was by far the biggest challenge we faced, but it all came together thanks to the brilliant work of our special effects designer, Oliver Luke. All in all, we toiled over the creature suit construction for almost a year. Studios use dozens of people to do the same job that four of us took on, and without the use of the advanced equipment they implement either. There were many failures, and a lot of expensive materials were wasted. We ended up making the main body suit out of slip cast latex. Foam latex would have been much lighter, but we didn’t have the proper facilities to make a piece that big. It took weeks for the latex to set in the huge cast. I ended up using the film’s lighting equipment as heat lamps to speed up the process. The hands, head, and feet were made of dragon skin silicon, which had to be constantly replaced as the stunt performers wore them out. It was not too restrictive at first, but as the Texas heat got to the performers inside, they would swell up, limiting their movement. Sweat would pour from Frasier’s hands, making it very difficult to use his nunchucks. Most nights we could only do three separate set-ups maximum, because any more would cause the body suit performer to get heat exhaustion.

All in all, the suit weighed about 50 pounds, making the acrobatic stunts much more cumbersome. Michelangelo was actually played by six different specialty performers. Chris Frasier handled the close-ups and nunchuck choreography. Marty Moreno did much of the full body acting. Victor Zorilla performed the amazing kicks and flips, and a few others filled in when these three weren’t available. As you can imagine, putting six different people into the same tailor fitted turtle suite became very uncomfortable, but they all showed incredible strength, pushing through each take until they got it right.

10. The stunts in this film appear to be very ambitious. Do you recall which one was the most challenging to pull off?

While in the full Michelangelo body suit, stunt performer Devin Martin did a front flip off of a one story ledge onto a single mattress below. I’m sure that took a lot of guts. We only got a few tries to make it work, but the results look incredible.

11. What do you hope viewers will be thinking as they walk out of Casey Jones?

I want them to feel like kids again, walking out of the first live action Ninja Turtles movie back in 1990. This project was an attempt to a recapture the feeling that the original movie series encited in its viewers, only those children are all grown up now. So the movie has to engage them on a more mature level as well.

12. What’s next for you? Obviously a film like this is a nice addition to anyone’s resume. Where do you go from here?

I have a few features I’d like to get started on, but I’ll have to see what kind of interest this movie generated before I decide on what project to push forward next.

14. Anything else you’d like to add?

A lot of the fans are confused as to why I decided to go with Michelangelo instead of Raphael, but when you change the point of view of the story, other elements have to adjust as well. I wanted this film to be able to stand alone as its own entity. So I had to make my story decisions with that in mind. Mikey makes a much better foil for Casey Jones as a character. They’re complete opposites. Using Raphael would have just been one hothead antagonizing another. In the original comic book first meeting, Raphael is in a much softer mood because of a sobering incident with the other Turtles, but in a Casey Jones centered film, we don’t get that back story to explain Raphael’s temporary change in demeanor.

Also, Michelangelo is the least explored Turtle as an action hero. His dazzling nunchuck technique and flare for acrobatics are often passed over because of their technical difficulty, but I wanted to break new ground. I think once the fans watch the completed movie, they will see just how well the scenes play with Mikey, and Casey has already had notable team ups in the comic books with Raphael, Donatello, April, and Splinter. So his chemistry with Michelangelo is something new to explore.

Front page image from twothreefive.com. Banks image from myspace.com. Image 2 from caseyjonesthemovie.com. Image 3 from toyriffic.blogspot.com. Koteas image from trailershut.com. Image 5 from nerdreactor.com. Behind the scenes image from jessecrouch.com. Image 7 from gogreenmachine.org.

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Interview: Captain Atom Artist Freddie E. Williams II

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been about six years since Freddie E. Williams II was discovered by DC Comics during a talent search. Now, after lending his artistic talents to titles like Robin and JSA All-Stars, the Lee Summit, Missouri, resident will soon have a hand in changing the DC Universe forever.

On September 21, Captain Atom will be just one of DC’s “New 52,” the company’s soft reboot initiative which will see many characters revamped for a new age. Williams, whose art is entirely digital, is manning the interior art, while J.T. Krul (Green Arrow, Teen Titans) is writing.

Williams recently corresponded with Primary Ignition via email, discussing his career, his artistic style, and what readers can expect from Captain Atom.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? General background type stuff…
I’m Freddie E Williams II, artist for DC Comics for about 6 years now. I was fortunate enough to break into mainstream comics in 2005, when I was picked up at the San Diego Comicon, in DC’s talent search. Since then I’ve illustrated a variety of titles for DC Comics, including Robin, The Flash, Countdown, JSA All-Stars, Captain Atom (for the new 52). I also wrote and illustrated The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics.

2. When did you first become interested in art and drawing? Were you an artist as a child?
Yeah, I’ve been interested in drawing my whole life. Some of my earlier memories are asking my 2nd grade teacher to let me stay in from recess, so I could draw. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and I was always the quite kid in class that sat in the corner and drew while listen to the teacher gave lectures.

3. You’re strictly a digital artist, though as I understand it, you’ve been trained traditionally as well. Where did you learn to apply your craft digitally, and how does the process work?
For the last several months, I’ve been working exclusively in the “Hybrid Ink” workflow, as described in my how to book, “the DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics”. Each Comic Book pages start off digitally, with traditional execution of the pages, using standard inking tools on Bristol board.

4. Do you think digital art is the future of the medium, or is it simply another unique style unto itself?
Artists using digital tools IS the new standard. Again, even if there is a traditional execution to the art, digital tools make pages faster to draw, increase versatility in layout design, and give a cleaner / more exact end result. That is too powerful for artists to ignore.

5. How did you get into comics? Were you picking them up as a little boy, or did you fall into it as an adult? Do you remember the first comic book you ever read?
I seem to remember having some ‘hand me down’ issues of Superman, Spider-Man, and the Hulk, when I was a kid, but we were pretty poor, so I wasn’t able to really get into comics until I was old enough to start earning my own money. Jim Lee’s X-Men #272 was the first comic that captured me.

 6. What inspired you to actually get into the comic book industry? Do you remember what goals you had, and what you wanted to do? What are your goals nowadays?
Drawing comics is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I wouldn’t know any other way to live.

7. My understanding of your career is that you submitted your portfolio to DC Comics for a talent search in 2005, and as a result, were hired. Can you walk us through that a bit? Had you done submissions like that before and been turned down? What was your reaction when you were actually picked up by one of the big two?
 Unlike many other industry professionals, I got into the industry through “the front door”. I didn’t know anyone that got me a contact, or come in as an intern and work my up from there, I just worked hard on creating a good portfolio, and DC liked it – the front door. There was a long road leading up to that, including years of failed portfolios, rejection letters, false starts, near missed with editors, even one with a former President of Marvel… I struggled and clawed my way to get in, and got lucky enough to finally break through.

8. Since 2005, you’ve worked on books like Robin, The Flash and JSA All Stars. As an artist, is there ever any pressure in handling characters that in some cases are downright iconic? Some of these characters have been around almost as long as the medium itself…
Yes there is pressure, though I try not to think about that pressure very much! I just draw a few sketches of the character, and try to get a feel, for the spin I’d like to apply to them, make them my own, while still making them consistent.

9. You had quite a lengthy run on Robin. Just out of curiosity, what’s your take on Tim Drake/Red Robin’s new costume in Teen Titans? It’s certainly different…
I’m reserving judgment, on all of these redesigns, until the books start coming out, and I can take in the book as a whole.

 10. As someone who works for DC, how soon did you know about the big relaunch? What was your initial reaction, both as a fan and an artist? It’s obviously quite ambitious.
When I was approached about doing Captain Atom, and about that same time the Flashpoint map – I knew something HUGE was on the horizon! Everything was so hush hush, even for me, that I was completely surprised when the scope of the New 52 was announced!

 11. Fans can see your work in the pages of Captain Atom next month, as the DC Universe reboot kicks off. Captain Atom’s a character that doesn’t always get a lot of love. How underrated is Captain Atom (if at all)?
Captain Atom has much untapped potential as a character, and J.T. Krul and I are exploring every aspect of him, this book has a very unique, because Captain Atom is a great balance of superhero action, sci-fi and esoteric elements, in other words, it’s a fun and original book! Readers should Pick up Captain Atom because it is the best work myself or J.T. Krul have done in our careers.

12. Again, without specifics if necessary, what can we expect from Freddie E. Williams II in the coming months?
You can expect to see lot’s of Captain Atom, and the announcement of a new how to project

13. Anything else you’d like to add?

 A bunch of links!

Check out my site: http://freddieart.com/
Watch me draw Flash: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBFFgQD7sec
Watch me draw Batman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbAL2VJrMAA
Take a look at my commissions: http://twitpic.com/photos/Freddieart
Watch me on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/FreddieArtMedia
Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FreddieArt
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Freddieart

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Talking Comics With WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes

By Adam Testa
Contributor, Secret Weapon

Fans of professional wrestling know WWE superstar Cody Rhodes as many things: the son of Hall of Famer “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, a former tag team champion and a talented young athlete.

The 26-year-old Georgia native, whose character wears a mask due to self-perceived disfigurement, is presented as all three of those things each week on WWE’s Smackdown show, broadcast on the SyFy network.

But the man behind the television character has a different side. Admittedly shy and reserved, quite contradictary to his on-screen persona, Rhodes’ interests and hobbies fall in line with a growing trend in American culture.

“We live in a day and age where nerds are cool, and it didn’t used to be that way. I think pop culture, movies and TV have been heavily influenced by nerds,” said Rhodes, who used to have a Legend of Zelda Triforce featured on his wrestling boots.

“I won’t say I’m a nerd, but I will say I’m an avid comic book reader,” Rhodes continued. There isn’t a day go by that I don’t read a single issue of something.”

While wrestling and comics have much audience crossover, they also seem to be miles apart on the surface. But, as Rhodes points out, both media share one common thread necessary for success: Quality writing.

Rhodes admits he’s flat-out lifted lines and quotes from comic books for use in his on-screen character, but he does so out of respect.

“A lot of what inspires me is great writing,” he said. “I’m the biggest fan of Grant Morrison, who writes Batman. I probably have angered him from time to time because I have stolen multiple sayings from him and used them on TV.”

But even Morrison’s Batman isn’t enough to lure Rhodes’ loyalty to the DC Universe. While he reads titles from both DC and Marvel, the latter is in the lead with him right now, largely because of the ongoing Schism story in the X-Men titles.

Ironically, Rey Mysterio, Rhodes’ opponent at the highly publicized Wrestlemania XXVI this past Spring, wore a modified Captain America costume, which naturally lent itself to the masked wrestler’s look.

And with so many professional wrestlers seeking acting careers and so many movie studios producing comic book adaptations, Rhodes would love the opportunity to star in one. The answer to which one, however, isn’t so simple.

“That is a tough question,” he said. “That’s like asking someone what kind of super powers they would want. For me, I think at the end of the day, if they went ahead and made an X4, if we made a fourth X-Men that wasn’t an origins tale and was right up currently, I’d like to be part of that.”

Adam Testa also writes for The Southern Illinoisan newspaper in Carbondale, IL. For more from his interview with Rhodes, click here

Image 1 from bleacherreport.com. Image 2 from wrestlingfeed.com. Image 3 from wwe.com. 

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Interview: The OneUps

Photo by Duncan Skiles, from facebook.com/theoneups.

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

Justin Polak
Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

There’s bands that play video game music, and then there’s The OneUps. Employing a style of Jazz-Funk with touches of a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure, they’re a breath of fresh air in a style of music that tends to stick to aggressive or electronic approaches.

We were fans of their latest work, Intergalactic Redux, released last month, which brought their style to new heights, with interesting recreations of some pretty iconic songs from Zelda, Super Metroid, Castlevania, and a few others. That being said, we were more than happy to get in touch with William Reyes, rhythm guitarist of the group, to talk about their style and influences, as well as why the classic games tend to lend themselves more often to recreation than newer soundtracks.

1. Most bands that cover video game music usually opt to go the route of metal or electronic music usually. Did you guys consciously decide to go on the more jazzy funk path or did that style naturally develop? Are there any other elements that you’re looking to incorporate into the band’s sound?

We did consciously decide to make our arrangements more jazz/funk. Many of the video game tunes that we first started arranging already lend themselves to be adapted into a jazz piece. Music from the Super Mario Bros. series, Mario Paint, and even the Zelda series have a great deal of Latin and jazz influence. Due to the character of the chords and melodies, we were easily able to arrange them for a live band similar to what would be in jazz standard form. The more we played in local bars however, the more we found out that we needed to change our sound and arrangements. Funk seemed to be a good common ground while still keeping some of the jazz elements with which we were already familiar. Over the past several years, we’ve made arrangements that incorporate various other styles including hard rock/metal, electronic, disco, and even modern classical.

2. How exactly did the band come together?

Photo by Chris Serani. Courtesy of The OneUps.

As I remember it, the band started with Mr. Mustin, Nathan McLeod, and William Reyes discussing how great it would be to start playing video game music as a live band. One of the tunes discussed was “Koopa Beach” from Super Mario Kart. Later that year, a recording was made of an arrangement Mustin had put together of “Costa Del Sol” from Final Fantasy VII. The concept of the band was then solidified.

3. Everyone goes by pseudonyms in the band. How come? Also, are there any interesting meanings behind the names?

The pseudonyms are merely for fun.

4. What do you guys do in your free time? Are any of the members involved in any other musical projects?

Free time is spent continuing work for some, and recreation for others, or a combination of the two. Each member is involved in other musical projects. Mustin continues to arrange video game music on his own and works on original compositions as well. William composes and arranges pieces for solo guitar and works with three other musical groups outside of The OneUps. Jared is a singer/songwriter. He records his songs locally and is also involved in other bands. Tim continues to perform with several bands and is also putting together his own collection of original works.

5. A lot of jazz music tends to be born out of improvisation and jamming. What’s the typical songwriting process for The OneUps?

Because we stopped arranging pieces as Jazz forms several years ago, we have found it necessary to incorporate other musical elements and gather input from all the members. We start by either listening to or reading the melody and chords. We try altering them both in tasteful ways. When a member has an idea, we usually try it in order to hear how it sounds, then we keep experimenting with ideas over the span of several hours until we all like what we hear. We write down the form, record an excerpt, and that keeps us satisfied until the next rehearsal.

Photo by Chris Serani. Courtesy of The OneUps.

6. Not very much video game music has been published in tablature format. How hard is it to figure out the songs by ear, and then put your own spin on them?

It’s not terribly difficult. We certainly don’t count on finding the piece written in standard notation. Music has a been a part of our lives for decades, so we have been able to successfully develop our aural perception to a degree in which matching pitches and rhythms is as simple as an everyday task. As individual musicians, we all try to put our own spin on some part of the arrangement.

7. Have any particular artists (or composers, games, etc.) inspired your music?

Many many artists, composers and games have inspired our music. To name only a few: artists/composers such as James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Greyboy Allstars, video game composers such as Koji Kondo, Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, and game series such as the Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metroid and Castlevania games.

8. You’ve dedicated an entire album to Super Mario Kart. Any other game soundtracks you plan on focusing on in the future?

There’s been talk of Toe Jam and Earl, but nothing is set in stone.

9. A lot of the music The OneUps cover is typically from older games. Why do you think older video game music is so memorable?

I can’t say for sure, but it may be partially because older video game music has become standard repertoire for other video game bands. The people who were finally old enough to start a band drew from the music they loved when they were first playing video games, many of which were in the late 80s and 90s. Also, much of the music is reused in the later games of a series, and therefore has more of a chance of becoming popular. In addition, a lot of the older games were remade for newer systems and brought back the same music, thus giving even more opportunities to make the tunes memorable. It should also be noted that any music of a popular game when heard for hours on end on a loop becomes memorable.

10. Have there been any newer game soundtracks that caught your ear?

For some of us, the newer music is so very well orchestrated and complex that we continue to listen to older game music for our arrangements. However, we all love the music to the God of War series as well as a few others.

11. When playing live, do you guys try to recreate the songs the way you recorded them, or is there a lot of improvisation going on? Do you guys favor any particular songs over others when playing live?

We try to limit improvisation to sections of the music that call for it (guitar solos, drum solos etc..). We try to have consistency in our performance, although we oftentimes change the pieces during practice after we’ve recorded them. Recently our favorite songs to play have been from our newest album: Intergalactic Redux available at http://theoneups.bandcamp.com/album/intergalactic-redux

Photo by Chris Serani. Courtesy of The OneUps.

12. What’s a typical tour or concert like for the band? What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys while on the road?

So far, our “tours” have been one gig at a time. We usually fly out to another city for a weekend, perform for one night and try to sell some of our merchandise before returning home. Thankfully nothing too crazy has happened to us while on the road, but we like to have a crazy fun time while visiting these other cities.

13. One of the coolest things about The OneUps is that you can pretty much listen to it without even realizing that the music is covers of video game songs. Do you have any plans of ever releasing original music at any point?

All of the members compose original music, some with the intention of releasing it. As for The OneUps, we plan to continue arranging only video game music in as many interesting ways as possible.

14. Anything you’d like to add?

We truly appreciate all of our fans and anyone who cares to listen.

Front page photo by Tim Ryan Smith, from facebook.com/theoneups.

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Interview: Composer Mattias Häggström Gerdt

Photo courtesy of Mattias Häggström Gerdt.

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

Justin Polak
Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

When playing video games, one of the most noticeable (and oftentimes memorable) aspects is the music. Sometimes, the music can be so iconic that you end up remembering the songs without even realizing it, and other times, they’re good for setting the mood or tone of a video game.

While you might not have heard of him yet, Mattias Häggström Gerdt is a promising composer of video game music, as well as being obsessed with music—both video game and otherwise—and gaming. On top of that, he also remixes video game music tracks for compilations and serves on the judges panel over at Overclocked Remix, a community “dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form,” as well as one of the best places to find some of the greatest fan-made arrangements of video game music, period.

Mattias has contributed a number of tracks to some high profile arrangement compilations, such as the Final Fantasy VII tribute album Voices of the Lifestream and Serious Monkey Business, a tribute to the music of Donkey Kong Country 2. Most recently, you could hear his work on The Answer: Armored Core Tribute Album, and one of his remixes found its way onto the Super Meat Boy Soundtrack.

This is all on top of his pretty hectic schedule composing original works for a number of independent games, such as the still in-development Cobalt, along with Kaleidoscope and Artoon. Luckily, Mattias had a little bit of time to correspond with Primary Ignition via email to discuss the ins and outs of video games and music, as well as the combination of the two.

1. What inspired you to compose video game music? Do you create any non-video game related music?

I’ve played video games more or less frequently since I was around…4, or maybe 5. I’ve enjoyed and played music for even longer. There’s almost a sense of nostalgia for music and games, which is rather strange considering how extremely broad it is to just say “music” or “games.” I think I just wanted to combine my two biggest interests and composing game music was the absolute best way to do it.

I also compose non-game music but much less frequently. I was in a “deathrock” band for a few years and toured a bit in Europe (even though we were only 17-18!) and I’ve written a lot of original music. The game music is always there in the back of my head though…even on original albums I imagine them as being game music, just without a game.

2. You’ve said that your work on the Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix soundtrack really got you into composing for games. That’s a pretty high profile first gig. How’d that even happen ?

Well I had been involved in the OverClocked ReMix community since…2006? Or maybe 2007. OCR was my way in to make computer-based music really. I got involved when I applied for the Voices of the Lifestream album and [OCR remixer, composer and producer] Andrew “Zircon” Aversa really took me under his wing and helped me improve; maybe he saw something in my music or just wanted to help out, but in any case I’m eternally grateful for that. After that I got quite a few arrangements posted on the site and joined the judges panel, I even got a bit of a reputation for finishing tracks extremely fast.

Image from streetfighter.wikia.com.

When OCR got asked by Capcom/Backbone Entertainment to use an improved and expanded version of their Street Fighter II album as the soundtrack for a new HD SFII remake they were quick to accept. Nearing the end of the project though, they realized that some tracks hadn’t been spoken for and that they needed these tracks really quick because of the approaching deadline. They contacted me, I accepted and went on to crank out the credits theme and the “Here Comes a New Challenger!” jingle. I’m still rather happy with those even though it was a LONG time ago in “music years.”

Things kind of went from there. I thought “Ok, I’ve got a really high-profile game music gig on my resumé,” and began posting at some forums (among others, the XNA dev forum). I got some small jobs from this and it was essentially the beginning of my career as it were. It was really surreal for me, like, I didn’t take it very seriously. In my mind I was still a huge beginner and I couldn’t understand why they’d want my music in their games. I even did it while studying full-time and working part-time at a grocery store… But yeah, I’m rambling a bit. SSFIITHDR and OCR basically brought me to where I am today. I’ve wanted to do music for games for a much longer time but that really made me realize that it was a possibility.

3. How did you get on board for the Super Meat Boy soundtrack? Have you played the game? If so, what did you think?

Danny Baranowsky also has a background as an artist at OCR and he was on the judges panel too, like myself. I was familiar with his work, Canabalt especially, and decided to just chat for a bit one day. If I remember it correctly (chances are I really don’t) I hunted down his AIM or MSN Messenger account.. or maybe it was on IRC? In any case we talked a bit and started talking about Super Meat Boy and that he wanted arrangements for the soundtrack release. Before I know what hit me he had sent me the in-game tracks (unmastered!!!) so I could start jamming. I think it took me one or two days and then I sent him the pretty-much-final version of “Mattias’ Manmeat Mix” that’s now on the album.

Danny’s a real friendly guy and a composer I truly respect so I’m happy to have had that opportunity. Collaborating with other indie game composers are really fun and interesting since it brings more awareness to everyone involved, something game composers in general don’t get enough of, especially indie game composers. Since then I’ve gotten to know quite a few awesome guys in the same field as me (Josh Whelchel, Chris from HyperDuck, C418, SoulEye etc. etc.) and I’m looking forward to appear on their soundtracks too and hopefully vice versa! Spread the love or something like that.

Oh and I have played Super Meat Boy (who hasn’t?) on 360 and it’s quite spectacular. I’ve always been really bad at platform games though, I’ve never finished a Mario game for example, so I quickly wanted to slam my head against a wall. I guess my patience isn’t what it used to be and neither is the time I can spend on gaming. What I did play was great though and the soundtrack really works amazingly well in context.

4. Who are some of your favorite composers? Have any particular video game composers influenced your work? If you could work with any one, who would it be and why?

This is always a really hard question for me. I listen to a LOT of game music and my favorite soundtracks vary pretty much daily. Some of the top composers (and my favorite works of theirs) are: Manabu Namiki (Mushihimesama Futari, Espgaluda II), Kimitaka Matsumae (Jade Cocoon, Kileak the Blood),  Kota Hoshino (Armored Core series, Evergrace), GUST Sound Team (Ar Tonelico series), Ryu Umemoto (EVE burst error, Espgaluda II Black Label), Yoshitaka Hirota (Shadow Hearts series), Kou Hayashi & Daisuke Nagata (ChaosField, Radirgy), Yasuhisa Watanabe (Senko no Ronde), Nobuyoshi Sano (Tekken, Ridge Racer) and…wow, there are so many more I want to mention. I’ll stop now though, can’t make the interview just namedropping!

Ryu Umemoto (center) with Mattias. Photo from hardcoregaming101.net.

Composers that have really influenced my work though…that’s a bit easier. Kimitaka Matsumae’s low-key, ambient style with simple melodies and lush sounds has really influenced me. The soundtrack for Jade Cocoon is utterly brilliant, I even wrote a paper on it, and Kileak the Blood is intense in its minimalist style. Nobuo Uematsu is the composer I’ve most likely listened the most to, even though it’s less nowadays, and I think he’s influenced me a lot indirectly…just like styles of music that fit certain environments and such. Finally SuperSweep and the Namco Sound Team have influenced me a lot since they are making some of the best electronic game music ever made.

If I could work with one composer I think it would be Ryu Umemoto. He visited me in Stockholm last December and stayed at my place for a night. He’s an incredibly talented composer that was very easy to get along with and I consider him a good friend. Umemoto’s passion for his work, music or otherwise, is incredible too! He’s got a thought behind pretty much everything and genuinely pours his heart and soul into everything. I think we would work well together too because our styles are quite different but would complement each other well. While he does amazing melodies and very complex pieces of music I tend to gravitate more towards a mood or “sound”. If you combine these you basically have the best of both worlds!

5. You mention on your website your vast love of video game soundtracks and how you collect them. What are some of your most prized soundtracks, and why?

Hmm.. I have a pretty good collection of Cave (developer of games such as DoDonPachi) soundtracks that I really treasure! Most soundtracks for Cave’s games are printed in VERY limited amounts, never released outside Japan and often only at their offline event called “Cave Matsuri” that happens once or twice a year. Thanks to some great connections and buying used albums at VGMdb’s marketplace I currently have 15 Cave releases when writing this. Some of the more rare stuff there includes the first print limited edition of Mushihimesama Futari and a signed copy of Akai-Katana by Ryu Umemoto.

My other “holy grail” is my collection of Kimitaka Matsumae soundtracks. I have his compilations of original music, You Are The Fox 1-4, and other rarities, all signed by the man himself!

6. Aside from the video game stuff, what kind of music are you into? How does that affect your compositions?

Hmm…this also varies a LOT but I have some artists/bands/composers that have stuck with me. I’m completely in love with everything Steve Reich does and his music has really influenced a lot of mine. While it might not be obvious, his minimalist style and thoughts about music made ME think about music in a completely different way. I always come back to these thoughts when composing. Like, for example, you can create much more tension and “action” by restraining yourself musically than trying to overdo it with tons of instrument and really advanced writing.

Magma. Photo from mitkadem2.homestead.com.

On the other end of the spectrum though we find the french progressive rock/jazz constellation Magma. While Steve Reich can most likely be enjoyed by everyone, Magma feels to me like music for musicians. Their compositions are like these amazing 45 minute space operas with influences ranging from Stravinsky (who I also love) to Miles Davis. Their leader, Christian Vander, even made up an original language to sing in and this incredible semi-religious story that all their works are based around. This kind of elaborate creation of a musical “world” has really inspired me and made me think about what’s cohesive in a completely new way. Their use of thematic material (that’s not always super obvious) has also made their mark on my music.

Just to prove I’m not a snob on a high horse I’ll mention I also love Blink-182, Soundgarden, Tool, Shpongle, Plaid, Xploding Plastix, Underworld, Andrew W.K. Perfume and SO many other artists. They all probably have influenced my way to compose too but it’s harder for me to state exactly how.

7. I’ve noticed that your remixes tend to use a very wide range of styles and instruments, with some being very electronic sounding, and others having more of a rock influence. Do you have a preference between electronic-based music and more traditional instrumentation?

I think my preference IS this mix of things. I love finding/making synth sounds. There’s something amazing about using sounds that most people don’t already have a connection to. That way you can make sure a certain synth sound is used at a certain place or in a certain context and the player/listener will have no problem associating these elements. There’s much less chance of an existing social and cultural meaning, or some kind of association, with “new” (or at least to the listener) synth sounds.

This is exactly the reason why I like “traditional” instrumentation too. People WILL think “jungle” when you start using handdrums, kalimbas and marimbas for example. They WILL sub-consciously associate a lone oboe with love or sadness (depending on context). It’s very effective to use these instruments that everyone is familiar with when the context calls for them. Combining these with synth sounds really gives you the whole palette.

8. Let’s talk about video games a little bit. What are some of your favorites? Have any of them inspired your work?

Again with the favorites…so hard! I’m partial to JRPGs, both unique ones like the Shin Megami Tensei series, “plain” ones like Atelier Iris and good ‘ol Final Fantasy. I’m also very fond of shmups. For example I love the bullet hell games by previously mentioned company Cave, I love R-Type and I completely adore Space Giraffe by Jeff Minter. Then I really fancy a gazillion other games… I have like 400+ games sitting in the shelf beside me while I’m answering this question! And before you ask, I’m not rich at all, I just happen to have been working steadily while studying since I was 15 and I lived at home until just recently.

All the games I’ve played have in some way shaped my work I think. As soon as I play a game I consciously (and subconsciously) think about the music and how it’s used. I get new ideas for how to use music myself (imitation is the highest form of flattery), I discover conventions and even learn what you just should not do. I think the more games you play, the more comfortable you get with the gaming medium and that really helps when you end up behind a game in a creative position. How many movie stars haven’t grown up watching movies? That’s the same thing!

9. What’s the typical process like for creating new music for a game? Does the game’s experience play into your compositions? If so, how?

I typically get a briefing with the developer, most often with a following discussion, on what kind of game he/she is making and what he/she thinks the music should accomplish and sound like. I’ll most likely get some screenshots or maybe even an early demonstration video which gives me a relatively good idea of what the game’s about and how it behaves. Then it kind of depends on the project, what really catches my attention and becomes the main “inspiration” for the music.

For example, with Cobalt, one of the developers, Daniel “thewreck” Brynolf, really took a lot of time to just talk about his visions for the game and everything related to it with me. He talked about the story, the mood, the gameplay, deep philosophical discussions and tons of interesting thoughts on the game. After this he basically said “do exactly what you want”. This lead to me really getting to figure out the most important aspects I wanted to “musically enhance” by myself, but with a great source of information. I think working this way, and working really closely with the developers on a daily basis online, was one of the reasons the music became quite good and earned the Excellence in Audio nomination at IGF [Independent Games Festival]. For other projects, for example Blind Edge (in development) I might just get some level mock-ups and some tracks the developer thought would fit and take it from there. That’s also a great way to work!

I must admit though, I tend to first and foremost think of the game as a game. I try to pinpoint what the main features are, how is the gameplay, the speed of the game etc. Having this in the back of my head, especially considering all games I’ve played and soundtracks I’ve heard, really helps and serves as kind of a “frame” for it all. After that it’s more about the “experience” as you put it. Inside the “game frame”, to use that analogy, I paint much more freely than I would if I just painted on the wall.

Screenshot of Cobalt. Image from oxeyegames.com.

10. What do you find more fun and/or enjoyable, remixing/recreating songs or composing your own pieces for games?

Definitely composing my own pieces for games, no contest. Arranging is really fun and often very educational in a way but going through the process I outlined above and being a part of a greater context is so incredibly rewarding. This might sound a bit self-centered but there are few things I enjoy more than hearing my music in context of the game when everything is said and done, regardless of if the game turned out amazing or just decent.

11. What was your favorite project you’ve worked on?

That’s hard to answer and by answering it I feel like I’m being rude to the developers of the projects I’m NOT mentioning…but okay, it has to be Cobalt. Like I said before it was great to work so closely with the developers. We had a period before the IGF deadline where we stayed at [Cobalt developer] Kinten’s place and worked on the game together in the same room until the middle of the night. I ended up sleeping on his couch. That was very rewarding and inspiring in a way, to have a team in the same room working together on a project. Then when Cobalt got nominated for Excellence in Audio at IGF (with honorable mentions in Technical Excellence and Excellence in Visual Art) it was basically one of the best moments in my life (thus far).

Photo courtesy of Mattias Häggström Gerdt.

12. You also serve on the Judges Panel over at Overclocked Remix. What exactly do you do there and how did that come about? How long have you been working with them?

The judges panel is a group of selected people that applies a set of “standards” to arrangements submitted to OverClocked ReMix. The purpose of these standards is to keep quality relatively high and encourage more developed arrangements of game music compared to for example straight covers. What we do is basically vote YES or NO (with an optional “resubmit”) on tracks that are candidates to be posted on the site and write out why it was/wasn’t accepted and try to give some constructive feedback in the process. I’ve been a judge since summer 2008 I think.

13. People who frequent OCRemix might only recognize you under your alias, Another Soundscape, or AnoSou. Are there any other names that listeners might know you as?

Well, I’ve officially left “Another Soundscape” behind me. I never particularly liked that alias except in the very beginning. At OCR I know officially go by my real name, as with basically all game/album credits, while Anosou is used by my company/label “Anosou Music”. I’ve also adopted Anosou as my online name pretty much everywhere too. It’s short, it’s super Google-able and it has no umlauts.

14. What should we expect from you in the future?

Hopefully lots and lots of game music, original or arrangements. Right this moment I’m finishing up the score to game I can’t yet reveal and I recently finished two arrangements for two really cool game arrangement albums. There is also some more cool stuff in the works, including finishing Cobalt one day! We’re currently working on a new-and-improved build for the IGF exhibit at GDC [Game Developers Conference], taking the game in an entirely different direction, and I’m reworking some of the music and planning some new tracks.

I really just want to write as much music as possible for as many different games/things as possible and hopefully be able to make a living by only doing that. I hope some people will appreciate my music while I continue to follow my dream. As a huge game music fan myself I will do my absolute best to release as much music as possible for everyone to enjoy at will.

For more on Mattias Häggström Gerdt, visit his website, anosou.com, or visit his artist page at Overclocked Remix.

Front page photo from ocremix.org.

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Interview: Author Joe Schreiber

Schreiber. Photo from mlive.com.

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Zombies and Star Wars: Not a pairing people are quick to make, but Joe Schreiber has proven they can compliment each other quite well.

In 2009, Schreiber became a New York Times best-selling author with Death Troopers, a book about a plague that turns humans and aliens into rabid zombies. The concept seemed to fascinate the fandom. A video teaser contest was even held in anticipation for the book. Then on December 28, a prequel called Red Harvest was released. Harvest lets readers in on the origin story of the plague, and how it originated in a Sith temple thousands of years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Like it’s predecessor, Red Harvest is a New York Times best-seller.

But Schreiber’s work isn’t exclusive to Star Wars. He’s published three original horror novels: Eat The Dark, Chasing the Dead and No Doors, No Windows. In spring 2010, his book Supernatural: The Unholy Cause was released, based on the popular CW show.

Schreiber is a man who knows his horror, and Primary Ignition recently corresponded with him via email to talk Star Wars, zombies, and just what scares HIM…

1. Your blog is called The Scary Parent. I have to ask…is that just a cool title, or a name affectionately given by the wife and kids?

The blog was started as a place to put the scary stories I told my kids, back in 2006…a long time ago. It just stuck. I don’t even tell scary stories to my kids anymore — they now prefer stories about 50s-era pop culture alternate history with aliens and government agencies, most of which I make up while driving them to music class or sleepovers. Sometimes I think about changing it, but then I realize how much lazier I’ve become since then and decided, I guess I can just stay scary.

2. Talk to me about your background a bit. When did you first discover you had a talent for writing, horror writing nonetheless?

I don’t know about discovering the talent. I basically discovered the desire to write stories a long time ago, and I found out how much gratification I got out of writing — I’d read echoes of it in essays by guys like Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, who talked about writing like some holy, all-consuming mission that they really didn’t have much choice about, and I identified with that. I didn’t really care who read my stories, or even how good they were at first…I just wanted to lose myself in something that I cared more intensely about than anything I’d ever discovered before or since. I was reading a ton of Stephen King around this time too and he also had a lot to say about the process of being a writer and what it meant to more or less discover this involuntary story-making machine in your head. It struck me then, as now, that it was a very romantic idea of giving yourself up to the creative process entirely. The whole horror thing, though, was more of an afterthought — I was writing crime stories, melodrama, short Super 8 movies (yes, I am that old), even poetry and plays. It was ultimately the horror that got published and then like that, I was a horror writer.

Photo from thementalcavity.blogspot.com.

3. Thanks to Death Troopers and Red Harvest, you’re now a two-time New York Times best-selling author. Was that a goal you’d set for yourself as an author, or just one of those things that would happen be cool if you got it? What’s it like to carry that title?

It was really exciting because even before Death Troopers came out, there was a ton of buzz about the book. Somebody told me that Shelly Shapiro, my editor at Del Rey, and a kind of goddess figure in this whole universe, works from her home office up in Maine, and they said, “Well, when every single one of your writers is a New York Times best-seller, you can work wherever you want.” And I was like, gulp. Because you don’t want to be the one who breaks the streak, you know what I mean? I got back from the Death Troopers tour and got an email saying guess what, you’re on the list. I was out with my family for dinner and I just about started crying like a little girl, because that’s how I roll.

4. Your book jacket says you’ve got several original Star Wars action figures. What’s the crown jewel of your collection?

I’ve got a Chewie with the original blaster and everything. All my original collection is long gone, so these are ones that I bought back on eBay, and it’s pretty limited. I’ve got a Boba Fett I’m pretty fond of too. None of it holds a candle to the original 18” Kenner Alien doll with original packaging that my wife bought me a few years ago. If I’ve got a crown jewel, it’s that one — I’ve wanted it since I was 10.

5. In order to get into Red Harvest, we’ve got to talk about Death Troopers. Before that book was released, you’d already established yourself with books like Chasing the Dead and No Doors, No Windows. Was Death Troopers something you’d originally pitched or something you were approached about? In general, how did that project come about?

My agent called one day and asked if I’d be interested in doing a Star Wars zombie novel. It sounded too good to be true. It turned out that my editor at the time, a guy named Keith Clayton, at Del Rey, was involved with the Expanded Universe and he and some other guys had basically been bullshitting at the bar at some convention and they were like, how about a Star Wars horror novel? Why don’t we ask Joe what he can come up with. And I was like, whoa, baby.

I did one outline which nobody liked in particular — it relied way too much on too many established characters and action and not enough atmosphere and frisson — and then I did a rewrite, and eventually it was like, this is it. This is what we want. Because of the process of getting it vetted by Lucas and Del Rey and everybody else, by the time I got the okay, I was dying to jump in and get writing. I think you can feel that on the page, the sense of this guy who’s just champing at the bit to get into the story.

6. To say the least, Death Troopers and Red Harvest are two of a great many places zombies have been popping up lately. What do you think it is about zombies that has the public so enthralled with them lately?

I guess if I had to posit a theory, I would say that zombies feed into a lot of the dark fascinations of modern culture, ideas about contagion and overpopulation, and our susceptability to viral threats, and just the general finicky and untrustworthy nature of all the good, modern conveniences that we naturally feel entitled to, being good citizens of the 21st century. We’re fascinated by how quickly all of this could be stripped away and how utterly screwed we’d be when the corpses start knocking out the cable and the internet and find their way into our gated communities and homes.

7. I remember there was a lot of anticipation for Death Troopers. I assume that’s because it was so different. That cover (by Indika Studios and David Stevenson) said it all. We were going someplace we’d never gone before. There was even a fan-made video teaser contest. Once the hype started to build, did you feel the pressure of living up to it?

Keith told me one piece of advice — stay off the boards.  Don’t even read what they’re saying out there.  It was great advice, and I tried to follow it. I still read the reviews when they came in, but I tried not to worry about it. That kind of pressure doesn’t bother me, actually.  The pressure that gets to me is the pressure that I feel at the very beginning, when the page is blank and it’s just you and the screen down in the basement at 9 a.m. and you’re trying to find your way into the story, working on nothing but black coffee and blind faith. Now that’s scary.

Photo from manhalo.com.

8. One of the things that surprised me about Death Troopers was that about a hundred pages in, Han Solo and Chewbacca showed up. Were they always part of the story, or were they added later on?

Han and Chewie were actually a much bigger part of the original outline, and it was pointed out to me that the more I relied on established characters, the less the reader was going to worry about really bad things happening to them. Of course, this is absolutely right, and I went back and winnowed them down to where they are now — supporting characters, which is the way it should be.

9. Being a Star Wars fan yourself, was it at all nerve-wracking to work in a universe that so many people around the world love so much, writing characters like Han and Chewie? Or did part of you simply revert back to being that kid playing with his action figures?

Again, not that nerve-wracking at all. If you grow up with the movies, then you hear Harrison Ford’s voice in your head. You hear the droids. You hear the music, and you see the cold steel corridors and weird octagonal airlocks. It’s all there. So once I got the access codes right, it was basically playtime.

10. In Death Troopers, you introduced a zombifying sickness that grips an entire Star Destroyer. In Red Harvest, we learn where that sickness originated. When you wrote Death Troopers, did you already know where the sickness came from, when it was created, etc?

Not a clue. When I started writing Death Troopers, I didn’t know how that book was going to end. For me, a lot of the time, the outline is the thing I write to show people that I think I know what I’m doing — which is actually very rarely the case.

11. Red Harvest takes place in the “Sith Era,” a thousand years before Luke Skywalker or Han Solo are around. Characters like Darth Scabrous and Hestizo Trace are all new. Were you nervous about writing all new characters in a time period not quite as many fans are accustomed to reading about?

No, not really. My feeling is, if I can create a sympathetic and familiar group of characters, relationships that resonate with the reader on a comfortable and recognizable level, then it doesn’t really matter what era we’re dealing with. You can pick the most familiar era in pop culture history but if your people stumble around like bad claymation, doing and saying the things that the writer demands that they do and say, the result is going to suck regardless.

12. Is there a Star Wars character you’d love to write, but haven’t gotten the chance to yet?

Vader.  Back when we didn’t know what era it was going to be set in, Red Harvest was being referred to as 28 DAYS VADER.  (Then it became The Exorsith).

13. Judging from your Star Wars books, as well as Eat The Dark, you seem to really like trapping your characters in places they can’t escape from, with things that are out to get them. I would imagine that’s a scenario that puts a good amount of fear into you, as well. What does scare “The Scary Parent?”

Losing sight of my kids in a public place. Back in November we took a family trip to Europe and there were a few moments — just a few, thank God — where I suddenly realized I didn’t know one or the other had taken off to. Besides that, just the usual stuff, I guess…chemical weapons, politicians, angry teens with weapons fetishes, the odd noises that wake you up in the middle of the night wondering if it was just the house settling on its foundation.

14. You’ve got a young adult book coming out this fall, Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick. Can you tell us a bit about that?

It’s about a kid who discovers that the female foreign exchange student living in his house is actually an assassin with five targets to hit in New York City before she flies home. It’s the the John Hughes movie that Luc Besson never directed.

Photo from onlinemovieshut.com.

15. It seems like more and more “adult” authors, like James Patterson and Carl Hiaasen are dabbling in the world of YA books. Why do you think that is?

The market is — or used to be — wide open. It’s getting a bit crowded now. But there are still readers out there, and I think “adult” writers have started getting hip to the potential new audience, to varying success. I never thought of Au Revoir as a YA novel until my agent started shopping to YA imprints, and then it was like, I guess this is what I did. That’s how you find out what kind of writer you really are, it turns out…from the people who market you.

16. Planning to come back to the Star Wars universe again, soon? It’s hard to argue with two best-sellers.

That’s up to greater minds than mine at Lucasfilm and Del Rey. Both SW novels were written by invitation, and if they want another one, then I’ll be happy to oblige. So far, nothing’s been said.

17. Anything else you’d like to add? Anything else coming up that we can look forward to?

I’m writing the sequel to Au Revoir now, due out sometime in 2012. I’m also doing the screenplay adaptation of Ryan Brown’s high school zombie football movie Play Dead, which is supposed to start shooting sometime late this year, if I can get the thing done. We’ll see.

Click here to visit Joe Schreiber’s Amazon.com page.
Front page image from giantkillersquid.com.

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Interview: Musician Tristan Clopet

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

You may not have heard of Tristan Clopet yet, but if he has his way, you will soon.

The Toronto native has been making some noise in the local Miami and New York music scenes. His first EP, Duende, was released in 2009, and was followed by an 11 city tour. He also appeared on the Florida Grammy Awards, and the local CBS Morning Show in Florida. His second EP, Purple, came out last January. Clopet has also opened for Grammy Award winners Inner Circle, Academy Award winners The Swell Season, and platinum recording artist Sandi Thom.

Clopet’s music has a groovy and heartfelt aura about it. His songs can be heard free of charge at TristanClopet.com. Clopet recently corresponded with Primary Ignition via email to talk about his music, some of his higher profile gigs, and his plans for the future.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. You were born in Toronto, right? How did you initially become interested in music?

Born in Toronto. Lived there until I was about five. I moved with my mom and sister to Raleigh, North Carolina. Once I got into the swing of things, my dear old mum told me I have to start taking music lessons. A child should be so lucky but at the time, I was pissed she rejected my first choice (drums.) I had tinkered around on the piano before, so the choice was natural. Though I really wonder if it wasn’t written in the cards. My mom played piano and my grandmother was a church organist. Genetics is so interesting.

2. Your bio says you went to the University of Miami. When did you attend, what was your major, and what made you end up deciding to be a full time performer?

I transferred from Brooklyn College in ’07. In ’09 at Miami, I was about two semesters from graduating when I thought it would be pointless to continue. Originally, I went to acting school in New York out of high school. I always knew I wanted to perform in some facet and the point of enrolling in college was to secure a ‘back up plan.’ Whatever. Both schools introduced me to English teachers I was so lucky to meet, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I learned a hell of a lot but, unfortunately, the proportionate “cost-to-learning something that will help me in future” ratio was too small to continue.

3. Talk to me about breaking into the Miami music scene. How hard (if at all) is it to get those first few gigs?

Not at all, which was a blessing. I remember just going to venues by myself with a CD, completely naive, asking for a slot. Most asked about my experience, some didn’t and a few booked me. I soon discovered that it’s all about ‘How many people can you bring?’ At first, you get your friends to come. If you’re good, they’ll tell their friends and so on. Music is tough in Miami. It’s just not something people wish to do with their evening, which is why my band and I spend so much time touring.

4. Every city has its own unique traits, and is its own unique character. What kind of character is Miami? What are some of the pros and cons of playing in that city?

Miami is the guy from your high school whose dad bought him the red Ferrari and all the girls really liked him, until they spoke to him. Then they realized he was kind of a tool. Still, that’s not to say there aren’t people who dig live music. We’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of cool people down here who like our music. It’s a tightly knit circle of outcast friends.

5. Your MySpace page describes your genre as “Alternative/Funk/Ghettotech.” More casual music fans like me might not understand what you’re getting at. How would you define your style?

Honestly, I’m not really sure what Ghettotech means either, I just like the word. I have a new album coming out in the spring. I’m so proud, I can’t wait to share it but this sound is slightly different from Purple and Duende. More me. New sound = the love child of britpop, indie rock and dramatic progressive rock. The stuff will be great to play live, too. We’re all very excited.

6. Personally, I can hear a little bit of Hendrix, a little bit of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in some of your songs. Who would you cite among your musical influences?

Well Hendrix was the greatest influence on the Chili Peppers so a very acute observation on your part. The Peppers were a big influence for me early on. They’re still my favorite band of all time. On this new record, you can hear bits of Blur, Local Natives, Arctic Monkeys and perhaps still a bit of the good ol’ Chilis.

7. Talk to me about the feeling you get when performing in front of people. Being an entertainer in any era is tough, because you don’t always know when your next paycheck is coming. So what is it about what you do that makes it worth it for you?

Great question. Simply put, it’s the only thing in the world that makes me feel alive. Who cares where my next paycheck is coming from? I don’t have kids. I can live off soup. What’s the point of going through the drudges of stereotypical life just because it’s the norm. I’d rather try and make a difference doing what I love and die trying than live the 9 to 5. And if you love the 9 to 5 and that’s the thing that makes you feel alive, then you’re better off than most of us.

8. You have your second EP, Purple, available as a ‘Pay What You Want’ download on your site. What made you decide to go that route, and how has it affected your exposure to music fans?

The music business is the most dynamic in the world. As we speak, it’s going through a revolution. Right or wrong, the consumer found out it doesn’t have to pay for music anymore. So the whole art shifts to being focused on live act. Coupled with that, technology has made the songwriter one of the most common artists out there. So there’s a lot more ‘noise’ that a musician has to compete with for their listener’s attention. In our opinion, we should have the least amount of barricades standing between our music and the listener. If they like it, they’ll buy a ticket to the show and maybe get a t-shirt. That will help us keep doing what we’re doing. Everyone’s a winner.

With the pay what you want scheme, if someone’s in a position to donate for an album, that helps us enormously and it’s no skin off their back.

9. We all know that the music industry isn’t what it used to be. Do you find it easier to go independent in such a fashion rather than being affiliated with any type of record label?

No. An artist needs a record label to stay above water for the long haul. That’s a fact. No performer out there has enough money to support themselves, enough time and energy to promote, market, manage, book, blah blah blah. But you certainly don’t need a MAJOR record label. Most independent labels are ideal fits for actual artists and not pop-star ‘tween puppets.

10. What’s your songwriting process like? Does it start with a pad and paper? Does it start with you just sort of playing and searching for something? Let’s use “Proximity Bomb” as an example. Where did that song come from?

Thanks for the song example because it truly is different for each song. Mostly it starts with an individual part of music. And I build piece by piece after that. With Proximity Bomb, I played the main bass line on the piano and then added the drums. Once I got the rhythm down, I thought about melody. Once the melody was done (and I had basically scatted how I wanted the vocal part to be), I thought about what type of lyric would fit. I had wanted to write about the fear of commitment for a while and the analogy of a ‘proximity bomb’ and asking someone not to get too close both made the point and had the energy desired. Then I wrote the lyric. Once everything was written out, I gave it to the band who offered their arranging suggestions and we arrived at what you hear on the album.

11. You’ve opened for Sandi Thom, The Inner Circle and The Swell Session. Those certainly aren’t bad names to have on your resume. How did those gigs come about, and what sticks out in your mind about some of them? Did Sandi or any of the other artists offer you any praise or advice?

Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate to play with all three. If you work as hard as you can, are nice to people and stay positive in adversity, you will succeed. It’s as plain as that. It’s actually the praise from each artist that was the greatest compliment. It’s one thing to hear your friend tell you she likes the new tune but when someone as successful as one of them tells you they love your voice, it’s just an awesome feeling. I think the biggest compliment I’ve ever received was Glen Hansard asking me to join him and The Swell Season for their encore in Orlando. It was the second night of a back-to-back and I’m watching them from the wings with my best friend and tour manager, Chase, and they come off and Glen comes right over to me and says, “Tristan, we want you to come on for the encore. It’s a real simple song. Just G and A with a C# minor thrown in there somewhere. Cool? Awesome pal. See you in five.” And walks away. I looked at Chase, and he looked at me and he said, “Good luck with that C# minor.” It was a great night.

12. You also had a gig on your local CBS affiliate in Miami. Camera shy? Or are you used to it all by now?

You know I’ve never understood being nervous about tapings. I’m lucky enough to not really get nervous for much but I surely never get nervous for performing in front of a camera. Even if it’s live. I’ll tell you what does make me nervous, driving in England. I always have to think twice about which lane to get in.

13. What’s next for you? And where else can curious readers find you online?

We’re focusing all our efforts on our full-length release this April/May. It’s a big one for us. The album will be on offer at TristanClopet.com. It will probably be ‘pay what you want.’ That’s the best place to go for news but we always update our Facebook too.

Front page image from flickr.com.

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