Great writers have a knack for storytelling. Larry Toppman is one of them. Over the years I have enjoyed reading his film reviews AND hearing his stories, the latter shared over coffee, lunch or at screenings. Some of my favorite Larry stories have included a Bermuda cruise that almost sank, a high school reunion run amok, and some crazy happenings in Las Vegas.
This 1K podcast allows Larry to tell stories related to his interactions with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Over four decades as an award-winning movie critic, there is almost no one Larry has not interviewed. You combine that access with a great storyteller and…well, it’s 1K magic!
In this podcast we hear about Larry’s bizarre encounter with an enigmatic Ed Harris, the sweet motherly concern of Meryl Streep, a phenomenally honest Forrest Whitaker, perhaps an even more “available” Jack Black, and an equally inquisitive Oprah Winfrey.
Finally, the fact that Larry has had such a successful 40-year career as a movie critic is an interesting story in and of itself. Let’s just say that he got off to rather inauspicious start. In 1977, Larry predicted that a new film by George Lucas would flop at the box office. That film was Star Wars.
There are a lot of jobs in TV and film production that, if done right, are often underappreciated. For example, you don’t hear many people raving about the art of costume designing and making unless it’s a period piece with flowy ballgowns. But behind every item of clothing on any film or TV show, is a choice. Whether you actively think about it or not, everything a character wears tells you something about who they are, where they are, and when they are.
Our guest this week is Hollywood costume designer and maker Lisa Davis. She’s worked on all manner of projects, from the Oscars to Crank Yankers…Aquaman to Hannah Montana. And, if I can offer my own opinion, she’s responsible for the costume that resulted in one of the best jokes in Arrested Development’s fourth season (David Cross’s “The Thing” costume, seen below).
Other standout topics in this episode include the tricky maintenance of vomit-spewing puppets, strange showbiz meetings that take place in strip clubs, last minute latex allergies, and attempting to costume Shaquille O’Neal without the opportunity to measure him in person.
Infectious enthusiasm for creativity abounds in this episode of 1K with Charlotte’s own Renaissance Man, Matt Olin. We’re not just blowing smoke. As a professional theater producer, the Broadway productions he had his hands in earned serious recognition at the Tony Awards (14 wins, 50 noms). He’s toured the country playing keyboard in a rock band. He does right-brained thinking for left-brained people, writing jingles, commercial scripts, and other creative copy. And for the past two and a half years, he’s hosted the monthly speaker series CreativeMornings/Charlotte.
His CreativeMornings role—one he volunteers for—is what first brought him on our radar. In this podcast, Matt tells us more about that role. If you couldn’t tell from his varied background, he’s a man overflowing with and driven by curiosity. It’s that curiosity that helps him and his team find compelling speakers, whether it’s a pizza-obsessed baker or a former inmate turned Washington Post journalist.
Other episode highlights include elevating the creative class in a city known for banking, Matt’s secret super power for spotting creative talent, how being an identical twin steeped him in the art of differentiation from an early age, and listening to binaural sounds to get the brain juices flowing.
Rob Treveiler has a name my dyslexic brain wants to misspell and/or mispronounce. It’s a shame because I really like the guy. He has always been kind, accessible and very talented. I remember watching him a few years ago on set. He introduced himself to the extras, his fellow actors and talked to the crew. Then, right before filming began, he fell into his character. It was special.
Over the last couple of years Rob’s talents have been justifiably recognized. He has landed roles in big movies like The Accountant and Sully. Many know him for his ongoing role as Sheriff John Nix in the Netflix hit series Ozark. (Please note this podcast premieres on the same day that Ozark season two debuts. How about that for marketing?)
In this podcast Rob shares how college transformed him. As a pre-law student he was required to take an “artsy” elective. Rob chose acting and as a result the country lost a future barrister.
We also talk film incentives and the boon they have been for Atlanta. Rob offers insights on being directed by everyone from Jason Bateman to some octogenarian named Eastwood. He also explains the differences in acting on stage vis-à-vis the camera.
One addition… I mention Karen Young. Karen is a terrific actress you may remember from The Sopranos or the movie Heading South. I met her a few years ago at the 100 Words Film Festival. I told Karen my belief that she is as relaxed as anyone I have ever seen on camera. She shared a story somewhat similar to Rob about making the adjustment from the stage to film. In addition to limiting her movements, a director told her early in her career that the most important part of her body to keep still is her head. She attributes that tip to her relaxed demeanor.
Last year a 22-year-old named Quinn Shephard took the Tribeca Film Festival by storm. She wrote, directed and starred in the award-winning film Blame. Inspired by Arthur Miller’s Crucible, Quinn started writing the screenplay about coming of age in high school, while she was doing just that…in high school.
Write what you know. But, also what you loathe? Quinn shares how hard high school was for her. She was a loner who struggled to make friends and was often bullied. Fast forward a few years past graduation and Quinn returns to the same New Jersey high school with more than a backpack—she has her own film crew. In the podcast, she talks about that remarkable experience.
The podcast also addresses arguably the most difficult part of independent filmmaking: financing. Halfway through filming Blame, a big investor walked away from the project. When that happens, it’s kind of like being on a flight from L.A. to Honolulu and learning you’re low on gas. Turning around doesn’t really help. To finish the film, Quinn and her family had to do some crazy things.
Quinn Shephard makes you feel good about the future of film. She is smart, passionate and talented. And, as I learn from our conversation, when you’re born in 1995 you can refer to Winona Ryder’s early works as “classics” and be completely genuine.
Ken Ludwig is a Tony Award-winning playwright whose 25 plays and musicals have spawned six Broadway productions and seven in London’s West End. His first trip to Broadway materialized when an English director friend passed along the play that would become Lend Me a Tenor to a “producer friend” you might have heard of: Andrew Lloyd Webber. He loved the play, and six months later, it opened in the West End. Not long after that, Tenor hopped across the pond to Broadway.
Referred to as “America’s preeminent comic playwright,” he’s received acclaim for his original works (Lend Me a Tenor, Leading Ladies) as well as his adaptations of literary classics like Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers.
For a man of his talent, he’s exceedingly humble and not sensitive about his writing. In this podcast, he discusses his recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which found him taking notes from the Queen of Mystery’s grandson, “How would legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot deliver this line?”
More highlights from Ludwig include the joy when great actors breathe life into his words, the seemingly daunting task of teaching children Shakespeare, how writing plays longhand gives a better connection to the material, and, as an author who’s penned stories about both Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, he gives his own take on who is the better detective.
Charna Halpern has spent her life helping others, especially those without a Y chromosome. Her career began as teacher in a school for juvenile delinquent girls. That all changed one night in Dixon—an Illinois town of less than 25,000—more than 100 miles west of her hometown Chicago.
In this podcast, Charna shares that story and how it led her from one classroom into a completely different one: teaching improv and shaping comedy history. Her students have included Chris Farley, Steve Carrell, Mike Myers, Adam McKay and Jason Sudeikis. But in a male-dominated industry, Charna has never forgotten her girls. In the mid-90s, she noticed two talented young women taking improv classes on different days. One was from Philadelphia, the other Boston. Charna asked them to start learning together because she believed they would not only hold their own, they might show up some of their misogynistic fellow prodigies. It worked…and still does 25 years later.
Other podcast highlights include Charna explaining the revolutionary idea of long format improv, working with Lorne Michaels, and convincing a young woman in her box office to step out and audition for Saturday Night Live. The woman reluctantly agreed and today is a comedic fixture on the show.
Finally, any real talk with a Chicago native has to address pizza. Charna cites her favorites in the podcast, including Pizzeria Uno (River North).
Brian Lafontaine is a talented actor of film, television, stage and voice-over. This makes him a rarity in our modern world in that his vocation and passion align. It’s important that they do because it is the joy of acting that helps Brian get through the hard parts: the incredible amount of time it takes to memorize scripts…the fruitless auditions. Muhammad Ali’s quote rings true, There’s nothing wrong with getting knocked down, as long as you get right back up.
Brian’s advice for aspiring actors begins with a question: Why do you want to act? This fundamental ask often generates the response, Because I want to be famous. That answer is problematic. Acting is not about individual advancement. It is working as a collective in a quest to create the best possible outcome. In the few times I have had the pleasure to work with Brian, he has always been excited about the possibilities of the next take.
In this podcast our conversation takes a completely unexpected and humorous turn that earns us our first explicit rating. A little backstory on the exchange. I had no idea. None! I don’t write this to absolve myself but to share what happened in studio. If you listen closely, when I start to pose the question that takes us down the naughty path, Brian laughs immediately. His laugh is so early I thought it had to be about something else. I turned to producer Jordan Snyder and watched Jordan’s confused look turn into a smile as Brian began to reveal the story.
Finally, the IMDB game we discuss is a wonderful way to spend a lot of time being completely unproductive. Was that a young Jake Gyllenhaal in Homicide? Equally important, how do you spell Gyllenhaal? The podcast mentions 1970s game show maven Elaine Joyce. I stumbled across her name and credits in my fourth hour of exploring Match Game ’75. After we recorded the podcast, further Elaine Joyce research revealed that for the past 20 years she has been married to legendary playwright Neil Simon.
Season 2 of our 1K podcast debuts with movie critic Sean O’Connell, a man whose reviews appear in the Washington Post, USA Today and many other national outlets.
Sean is a self-described “story-telling junkie,” who grew up watching movies on VHS tapes he borrowed from a benevolent video store manager. That arrangement brought Sean joy and cultivated an impressive breadth of film knowledge. 1,000 seconds has never felt shorter, despite the fact we both talk fast.
Podcast highlights include a revealing story about the dazzling, but disingenuous charm of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the authenticity of writer/director John Hughes, awkward encounters with directors AFTER unflattering reviews, and an amazing occurrence in a London theater. There are also interesting talks about the film critiquing process, writing “real” dialogue, shifting distribution models, the fate of foreign films, important movie books, and a disagreement over the value of superhero films. One of us believes they are fun and relevant. The other believes they simply suck.
Finally, a little more about a foreign film mentioned in the podcast. The movie is the 2005 Finnish film “Mother of Mine.” I met the filmmakers years ago at a party at the Heartland Film Festival. They were nice guys and so I wanted to see their film. The next day I walked into an Indianapolis theater with one of the film’s producers to catch a matinee screening. I loved it. The film is beautifully shot, the lead actress is astounding, and the story offers a glimpse into a World War II event I never knew.
I encourage you to go out and find this film. You will enjoy it and be supporting a group of talented, delightful Finns.
Winona Meringolo is the Vice President of Development for Investigation Discovery and the American Heroes Channel. She’s helped several popular series come to fruition and might be the only TV executive working in the true crime genre with a phobia of blood.
And if you accidentally split your pants while pitching her a show, she’ll help you escape without embarrassment.