Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pheaturing Phile Alum Gary Gerani

Hey, kids, welcome to the Phile for a Sunday... not just any Sunday it's Super Bowl Sunday, and today for one day only I'm a Falcons fan. Congrats! In Trump's new alternative facts, America, your favorite team already won Super Bowl LI! Tell your bookie to pay up! Hey remember nine years ago when the Giants beat the Patriots... destroying their perfect season? Hahaha.
Lady Gaga's whole shtick is being weird. And as such, she's set up a problem for herself, wherein she must out-weird herself at every turn, continually heightening the absurdity and changing direction so that we remain unable to predict her. We had the meat dress, the flying dress, the time she arrived to the Grammys in an egg... the list goes on. It sounds exhausting, but hey, she chose this life. So, when it was announced that Lady Gaga would be performing the Super Bowl halftime people began to wonder: just how weird could and would she get on prime time TV? The Super Bowl itself feels like such a normal, all-American affair that it's strange to imagine Gaga taking the stage. But we have a hint at what's to come, as CNN Tech reported that there would be "hundreds of drones" used during the performance. Do you think that she'll be making a commentary on surveillance? I honestly can't think of anything more terrifying or more American than the deafening buzz of hundreds of drones flying over an emotionally-charged football stadium.
Things are scary and sad right now, but here's a great story coming out of the Faith in Humanity Restored department. In the small town of Victoria, Texas, there are multiple churches, but only one synagogue and one mosque. The Islamic Center of Victoria was destroyed in a fire, a day after Donald Trump signed his Muslim Ban executive order and a week after the mosque was burglarized and vandalized. With their neighbors in need, the Forward reports that the Jews of Victoria handed the Muslim community keys to their building, so they have a place to pray. “This is sad for everyone in the community and as Jews we especially have to feel for the Muslim community. When a calamity like this happens, we have to stand together,” Robert Loeb, the president of Congregation Bnai Israel, said. Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a surgeon and one of the founders of the mosque, added, “Jewish community members walked into my home and gave me a key to the synagogue.” The two communities can join together in the spot for the ultimate no bacon party. The Victoria Islamic Center has already raised over a million dollars on gofundme to rebuild. Donald Trump might not care for people, but thankfully, the people still care for people.
In all the excitement/dread over Donald Trump's inauguration as president, somehow we missed the unveiling of Madame Tussauds' official wax figure of the man. For years, this museum and tourist trap staple has created perfect replicas of each new president, painstakingly rendered in wax. For their Trump statue, Madame Tussauds' sculptors outdid themselves, spending twice as long as normal. But it was worth it. Their creation is both eerily realistic and totally horrifying. Like the man himself, you don't want to believe it's real, but you have no choice. And Madame Tussauds couldn't be prouder of their accomplishment.

I think I've finally figured out what makes Wax Trump so accurate and so unsettling at the same time. It's that the real Donald Trump already looks like he's made of wax.
First Lady Melania Trump might be working from home like many a millennial. "Us Weekly" reports that FLOTUS just may never move down to the White House, granting her a safe 200 miles away from the Donald. The activism of the #FreeMelania movement just might have worked after all. It was established that Melania Trump and 10-year-old Barron will stay in New York to finish the school year. Even if Donald isn't impeached by June, they might not make the move, because Barron will continue having to go to school as the years unfold. "They will reevaluate toward the end of the school year if they will keep this arrangement or if Melania and Barron will move to Washington," a "family source" allegedly told "Us," "They could go either way right now. They will ultimately do what's best for Barron." While this is good news for Melania, it's bad news for taxpayers and people who like the arts. Donald Trump told ABC News anchor David Muir that he doesn't really miss his wife and son that much. Asked if he was feeling lonely, he said, "No, because I end up working longer. And that's okay." Hmmm. Is "working longer" a euphemism for cheating? Or is he actually taking his job seriously? Stay tuned to find out!
While President Trump continued to tweet his campaign slogan in ALL CAPS and wonder aloud why a judge could halt his illegal travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries, LGBT demonstrators in New York took to the streets to remind him that more than one community stands against his executive orders. Lambda Independent Democrats organized the rally at Manhattan's historic Stonewall Inn, the site of a 1969 LGBT uprising after an early-morning raid on the bar that now figures prominently in the narrative of gay liberation in the U.S. Protesters did not disappoint. This is one of my favorite signs...

Is it just me, or have thousands of Americans taken to the streets to rail against President Trump's nonsense every single day he's been in office? And somehow they've never run out of creative new ways to mock his ignorance? Democracy is lit, y'all.
Well, as you know the Super Bowl is today and I think I know who you're rooting for thanks to this graph...

Hey, have you seen the new Lego set that just came out?

That looks like a really easy set. Haha. So, Trump signed a new executive order again yesterday...

Wait a minute... that's not an executive order. By the way, a lot of people think Pokémon is Japanese but it's really British. Here's proof...

See? It has a British name. Hahaha. So, did you hear Disney has changed a look of some of the princesses recently? Take a look to see what they did to the Little Mermaid...

She actually looks good. Hey, are you wondering what Obama has been doing since he left the White House? Well, wonder no more, people...

So, I saw pic this pic the other day...

And it reminded me of something. Then it hit me...

So sweet. I have to show you this...

The article apparently had nothing to do with Foghat but the person that wrote it had to be a Foghat fan I am guessing. So, there's a few Trump products out there and not all are flattering. Like the Donald Trump cloth sanitary pads...

That's real, people, found on Etsy. And now from the home office in Port Jefferson, New York, here is...

Top Phive Signs Your Super Bowl Party Sucks
5. Instead of wings, you serve a giant oven roaster that has to be be passed from guest to guest.
4. They were working just fine... and then right before kickoff, your rabbit ears go kabloole.
3. Your guest lost is packed with friends from Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, Lubya, Somalia and Syria.
2. None of your guests are laughing at all the Tom Brady "deflated ball" jokes you wrote.
And the number one sign your Super Bowl party sucks is...
1. Everyone learns a valuable lesson about buying asparagus dip at the dollar store.

If you spot the Mindphuck let me know. My son and I were talking recently how we used to watch "Sesame Street" together when he was a kid. Well, that show has pretty much changed over the years.

F is for Freedom, as Grover proceeds to expose himself above the city, to the horror of the adults and the delight of Ernie.

Vince Lombardi Trophy
The Vince Lombardi Trophy us the largest repository of Super Bowl Champion fingerprints outside of the Baltimore County Jail.

The Oscars a few weeks away so once again I would like to give you an Oscar fact for you to share.
How many actresses can win awards for best and worst actress in the same weekend? Sandra Bullock pulled off that feat in 2010, when she was awarded the Oscar for best actress for Oscar The Blind Side a day after receiving the Golden Raspberry for worst actress in All About Steve. She attended both ceremonies.

Okay, today's guest is a Phile Alum and the author of "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two (Topps Star Wars)," the 56th book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club. Please welcome back to the Phile... Gary Gerani!

Me: Gary, welcome back to the Phile! I wanted to have you here again last year but I don't know what happened. My fault. Anyway, how have you been?

Gary: I’ve been fine. And busy, as usual…

Me: Your book "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two" is the latest book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club. Was this book easier to put together than the first Star Wars one?

Gary: Yes and no. I was now used to the Abrams format of extended introduction and commentary, but the first book dealt with the Star Wars phenomenon coming out of nowhere, how tough a sell it was to management, etc. With Empire, everyone was on the same page from day one and earlier. So I had to think about what else I could write about that was equally interesting. Discussing specifics about the creative components of the set was a given, of course.

Me: Is Empire Strikes Back your favorite Star Wars movie? It is mine. The reason it's mine is when the first movie came out I watched it over and over again... my dad got a copy of it on Betamax from someone before it was released to buy so I not only saw it pretty much every weekend in the theatre I watched it on TV. My friends thought I was the shit. Anyway, with that movie and the Marvel comics I didn't think they'll be any other Star Wars movie or story (except for the "Holiday Special"). Then when I first saw pics from Empire in "Starlog" magazine and other magazines I couldn't believe it. More adventures with my favorite characters... and they wore different clothes and they had new characters. Then when I saw that movie I had a whole new feeling. Alas, Empire is my favorite. It's the movie that so many other movies are compared to. Anyway, what did you like about it?

Gary: The truth is, I prefer Star Wars, which was closer in feel to George Lucas’ earlier, looser movies (American Graffiti I comes to mind). Empire is certainly great, a wonderful continuation of the Saga, but for me, it lacks the ‘film student’ cinematic flourishes that distinguished Star Wars. To this day, the escape from the Death Star sequence in Star Wars, with Leia’s turning head ‘morphing' into Chewbacca during the ballet-like attack (editor Marcia Lucas, take a bow) elevated the movie from crowd-pleasing space adventure to work of art.

Me: Did you get the script or an outline of the movie before you wrote the Topps cards? 

Gary: Yes. Everyone was prepared when it came to Empire. I was shown footage in advance (the Walkers... wow!) and given a script to read. This script had the big father-son revelation omitted, of course.

Me: What did you think when you read it?

Gary: I enjoyed it immensely. I remember thinking that Yoda was going to steal the show.

Me: You got to add some of your own dialogue on the cards, am I right?

Gary: Yes indeed. I’m amazed I got away with that. “Hate me, Luke! Destroy me!” But, you know, it was in keeping with the flavor of the piece...

Me: So, any cards in this series with an odd story like the infamous Threepio card from the original series?

Gary: Nothing could top that one!

Me: George Lucas was involved with Empire the least out of the first trilogy... was he involved with the card series or did you work with somebody else?

Gary: I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Lucas wasn’t heavily involved with Empire... he re-wrote most of the screenplay and was obsessed with getting Yoda right. In all fairness, he really wasn’t involved with the 1977 card set to any degree, other than telling the Fox licensing people, “Sure, let’s do trading cards.”

Me: I loved the stickers in this series... I had fun trying to spell out my name. Was it your idea to have the alphabet with the characters?

Gary: Honestly, I don’t remember. Something tells me it was a gimmick format we probably used on earlier products (monster initials?).

Me: Gary, how long did it take you to put this book together?

Gary: For me, it meant writing an introduction/overview, and providing commentary for various cards. About a week’s work.

Me: Alright, while we are still talking about Star Wars... I am sure you saw Force Awakens and Rogue One. What did you think of those movies? 

Gary: I really shouldn’t talk about Rogue One just yet. But I very much enjoyed Force Awakens.  Sure, it was an obvious reworking of the New Hope plot formula, but the characters were fresh and vital, the tone exciting. And it was great to see Harrison Ford as Han Solo again.

Me: They have card sets out as well... did you write those cards as well?

Gary: I do non-stop Star Wars card sets for Topps, it seems… I’ve just finished one and I’m starting another. I wrote The Force Awakens Widevision cards about six months ago, but the card sets that are issued in conjunction with the films’ actual release are always limited now, and in some cases these sets are not written at all. Disney wants to keep a lot of stuff top secret, which makes it rather difficult for some of the licensees with story-dependent products to create.

Me: Let's talk about a few things not Star Wars... you starred and wrote in a short called Confessions of a Teenage Supergirl. I have to show the poster for it...

Me: Who approached you to work on this project, Gary?

Gary: My good friend, Daniel Nastro, has a wonderful son, Dan Nastro, who always looked up to me (the Topps work, film books, Pumpkinhead, etc.) and wanted to become a filmmaker. He suggested a Supergirl fan film and I said, “Let’s turn it into a TV pilot.” So I wrote the thing and Danny directed it. Katie Norris was our Supergirl, and I thought she was just terrific… especially as Linda. Katie even wrote a wonderful, sad little song called “The Three Faces of Kara.” We included a comprehensive TV proposal on that original DVD, including plot lines for an entire season of episodes!

Me: Have you done a lot of acting before this?

Gary: I show up a couple of times in the Vampirella TV movie, which I wrote for Roger Corman. I’m a vampire sentry in one scene and a Mafia-like vampire overlord in another. Only one line of dialogue, thank Christ.

Me: So, who do you play in the Supergirl film?

Gary: I play Prof. Elias Thorne, a character I created (and “played”) in my 1988 Topps trading card set, "Dinosaurs Attack!"  So, in a way, Confessions is a Topps/DC crossover film!

Me: I had to look up "Dinosaurs Attacks!" and saw this card.

Me: It's funny. Where was the Supergirl shown and where can someone see this film now?

Gary: We showed it in a few places (both Topps and DC), and ultimately it hit the gray market for DVDs. I’m sure you can find it on the net and download it any time you need too.

Me: It came out in 2006, am I right?

Gary: About ten years ago, yes. My hair was thicker and darker then! 

Me: Where was it filmed?

Gary: Ridewood, New Jersey, mostly.

Me: So, what was the story line about, Gary?

Gary: I used the old “hero behind the eight ball” approach, since I had grown up reading Spider-Man comics in the ‘60s. Linda Lee was a lot like Peter Parker, an insecure person who does wonderful things as a super-hero, but always winds up depressed and in trouble by the end of the story. I also remembered an old Supergirl comic cover, where she’s crying because she can do all this and Heaven too, but can’t get a date for Saturday night. So I sent poor Linda on her date and naturally, she has to dash out and take care of some criminals, which makes mincemeat of her romantic evening. We also introduced The Dark Figure, a mysterious, shrouded demon that haunts Supergirl in her sleep.

Me: Have you seen the new TV show "Supergirl"? I only saw the first episode and wasn't too crazy about it.

Gary: I like the fact that they focus on character, and Melissa Benosit is giving the part everything she’s got, which is considerable. She’s no Katie Norris, of course, but who is?

Me: There's a documentary about Garbage Pail Kids called "30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story." You're in the documentary, right?

Gary: Yep. I turn up in a couple of places. And they have an entire interview with me in the extras. 

Me: I heard of Garbage Pail Kids but don't know the story behind them. They were a spoof on Cabbage Patch Kids, am I right?

Gary: Oh, yes! And they became a nationwide phenomenon, possibly bigger than their inspiration. 

Me: Did you create the characters?

Gary: I wasn’t part of the specific creative team that developed GPK, but I worked in the same New Product Development department. I contributed a prototype drawing that was very influential.

Me: Were they toys? A cartoon? 

Gary: No, they were funny stickers with a central illustrated, cartoon-image… imagine "Mad Magazine" doing a parody of those dumb Cabbage Patch faces. Like "Mars Attacks" and "Dinosaurs Attack!, "GPK" was a self-created property. It was very much in the tradition of Wacky Packages, stickers which featured "Mad"-like parodies of household products. Topps could be gleefully subversive at times.

Me: Was it fun writing this series of cards?

Gary: I didn’t contribute much to GPK, because it really wasn’t my project. Just that prototype and the "Mars Attacks!", "Garbage Pail Kid" we did... 

Me: What other card series did you work on?

Gary: Literally hundreds and hundreds of card sets, licensed and self-created. Probably 95% of Topps movie/TV tie-ins since 1972. Add to that countless magazines and sticker albums. And candy products. And special posters and photo cards. And Lord knows what else…!

Me: So, are you working on a current book right now? What's your latest project?

Gary: Just finishing up "Top 100 Comic Book Movies," the latest and last in my Top 100 trade paperback series (IDW/Fantastic Press). I’ve got a book about legendary Hollywood movie poster painter Joe Smith coming out this year (hopefully) from Hermes Press, and I’m supposed to begin a film noir book as well.

Me: You are known for being one of the writers for the movie Pumpkinhead... how many movies were there?

Gary: The first one is the classic; none of the others measure up. There was one theatrical sequel (Blood Wings), and a couple of TV movies. I remember thinking one of those TV movies was better than I expected.

Me: You just worked on the first one, right?

Gary: Very proud of that. Pumpkinhead is everything we wanted it to be. It's like watching atmospheric episodes of "Thriller" or "The Outer Limits" in color.

Me: There's talk about a reboot of that series... have you heard of that?

Gary: The property’s now in fresh new hands… we shall see what we shall see.

Me: Okay, so, the Topps card book about Return of the Jedi is coming out, so you know in a few months I have to have you back to talk about that one... right?

Gary: Haha. I’ll be here!

Me: Gary, thanks so much for being back on the Phile. Go ahead and plug your website and anything you wanna and I'll have you back here soon. Deal?

Gary: Fair enough. And you’re welcome. Let’s see… other than the projects I’ve mentioned, I’ve co-authored an original screenplay that goes into production later this year, with a screen legend in the lead. Can’t say much about that at the moment, but hopefully it’ll be a reality the next time we chat. In any event, this interview was fun, and I look forward to additional ‘chewing the fat’ sessions down the line. Take care!

Me: Very cool. Take care, and I'll have you back here soon.

That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to Gary Gerani for another great interview. The Phile will be off tomorrow but back next Thursday with Canadian singer Katey Bulley. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Enjoy the game!

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker

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