Monday, March 21, 2005

Dumpster Bust Interviews: Michael Geoghegan of Reel Reviews - Part I

While still in its infancy, podcasting is one fast-growing baby (Wikipedia defines podcasting as “a web-based broadcast medium… like an audio magazine subscription.”) Cheap to produce, easy and free to access, and wide open and unregulated in format, podcasts are the new frontier in audio content.

Reel Reviews, hosted by Michael Geoghegan, is already a podcasting must-listen. Armed with a love for film, an easy going and engaging style, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history, Geoghegan has quickly ascended to the podcasting elite.

In this first of two installments, Michael talks about the intimacy and immediacy of podcasting, some of his favorite films of all time and how they fit into Reel Review’s “Cinephile Series, and the best directors his friends have never heard of.

Read Part II of the interview here.


Eric Berlin: How do you go about putting each show together?

Michael Geoghegan: It’s pretty easy in the sense that it’s fun for me. I have a theater in my house, and I’ve got close to 1,000 DVDs down there and God knows how many laser discs. I’ve been addicted to film forever, and so I’ll just think of some movie I’m interested in and I’ll generally watch it, and then about a day or two later if it’s still floating around in my head, and I’ve got some thoughts that have percolated to the top, I’ll sit down and do a little bit of research just to make sure I’ve got everyone’s name correct and that kind of thing. And I write six bullet points, the main things I want to talk about. Then I just go downstairs. I have my audio equipment downstairs in the basement. Basically I just flip it on and go through my show.

I don’t have a script. It’s not outlined step-by-step or anything like that. I’ll generally have something like, “Talk about Robbie Muller’s use of color in the cinematography.” “Talk about Michael Mann and the importance of the scene with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino at the table.”

At one point I tried to come up with all of these great notes, and I found that that just wasn’t a good style for me. I spent more time trying to hit all the notes I had written down.

Ultimately, I’m just trying to record the essence of the conversation you might have with your friends, and encouraging them to see a good film. You want to tell them enough to get excited, but not too much to ruin the movie experience.

EB: It seems to me that’s almost one of the revolutionary parts about podcasting – that you get that kind of a feel to it.

MG: Yeah, and hopefully you can tell when I’m getting excited about something I’m talking about. And if I were to write that, that would never come through.

What I’m trying to do with Reel Reviews is to bridge the gap between the “thumbs up thumbs down” approach – see it or don’t see it – and the approach that a lot of people in Los Angeles who are really involved in the industry have, who know the people and know every little bit about the film. I would call that the much more academic approach.

I’m trying to bridge the gap so that I can flesh out a little bit more than that. My goal is that when you’re done listening to the show, you’ll want to see the film. I think the biggest compliment I ever got was someone who said, “If you haven’t seen the film, listen to the Reel Review first, because you’ll enjoy the movie even more.”

As you hear about some of the characters, as one or two of the critical scenes come up, I’ve given you some background where you can put that whole thing into context.

When I first got involved, I was thinking, “Well, there’s plenty of people who know more about films than me.” There are guys who make films for a living! But the reality is that that’s not necessarily who I’m talking to. I’m talking to my buddies, with that film they’ve never seen and I’m really trying to encourage them to go see it.

EB: Speaking of excitement, how does a film get anointed to the lofty status of ‘Cinephile Series’?

MG: Well, those are a little different. Those are harder to do. [laughs]

I end up watching the film three or four times. I mean, it takes some time! Generally, I reserve that for films that I deem worthy, or have just enough going on that people have something to talk about. It’s important that you saw the film first.

So as an example, it would be really hard to do a Reel Review of Mulholland Drive. It would be too confusing because there’s too much you can’t tell someone, otherwise you’d ruin it. Another example is Memento. In those cases, what we do is announce the film about three weeks in advance, telling everybody this is the movie we’re going to do. It gives everybody a chance to go out and rent it or, if they’ve got it in their collection, re-watch it.

And then the Cinephile Series goes a bit longer, but the idea there is that everything’s fair game. We don’t have to worry about spoilers, We can start out, if we want, talking about the very end of the film. The understanding is that everyone has seen it, or at least when they’re listening to it, they’re agreeing to the fact that they’re going to be hearing everything about this film. But hopefully the kinds of things that we flesh out will make another viewing of the film – even after that – more interesting.

Memento’s a perfect example – I found out a ton of stuff about it going through it for the Cinephile Series that I didn’t even know. When you sit down and really start to study a film – rather than just seeing a film and walking out of the theater and talking about it over a cup of coffee – you’re really going to start to put the pieces in place, because you’re spending some time with it.

EB: That DVD was a puzzle and a huge treasure trove in itself, as I remember.

MG: Yeah. In fact, one of the things I tried to do in that [podcast] was to give instructions to get the movie to play in order. And just other things: finally putting the film together to make sure all the scenes make sense: black and white and color and how they all line up.

The neat thing for me – as much as people seem to enjoy what I’m doing – is that I’m the guy that’s getting the biggest kick out of this whole thing. I get to really find out more about the films that I’m passionate about.

Sometimes I’m asked by reporters why I never pan a film. Well, we started off calling it Reel Reviews, but it’s really more like “Reel Recommendations.” And that’s why I have the tagline, “Films Worth Watching.” Since they’re my movies, and I’ve got to talk about them, why pick something that’s no good? I pick the films that I want to see, and that I want to talk about.

EB: Let me ask you a couple of movie-related questions. What kind of era do you think we’re in for movies right now, and the sort of related question is: what would you consider to be the best era for films?

MG: Well, I’m 36. My favorite films come out of the early to mid-70s. It’s that kind of golden era where you had Robert Evans at Paramount, and some great directors, with [Francis Ford] Coppola coming out, Scorsese’s really starting to put some things together. And so those films from maybe even the very late 60s through the mid- to late-70s. There’s just a treasure trove of great films in there.

We’ve actually done a lot of them. The first film I ever did was a Peckinpah film, The Getaway. I just did Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. We just did Apocalypse Now. We’ve done Patton, which was around 1970 or so, so we’ve done a ton of films in there.

I’m answering the end of your question first. Pretty much across the board, there’s always some good films here and there. I really think though that Hollywood got in this thing where the studio structure hadn’t totally ruined everything yet and there were some fresh voices available. Now, there are so many complicated decisions and so much of an investment involved in film. It’s starting to become so calculated, that I usually find a lot of the more interesting films are some of the smaller stuff that bubbles to the top.

I’m also really excited with the fact that the barrier to entry is dropping so dramatically. Somebody with a video camera and a computer can put together a great looking film. And even if it doesn’t have all the polish of a huge studio production, I don’t think that matters. If you go to see a Spiderman film – and Spider-Man 2 was a pretty good movie – all that money is going toward making it look perfect. There are some of these small films coming out now with just a three-chip video camera that are really making a difference.

It’s a little like in the blog world, where they talk about “democratization of communication.” I think that’s starting to happen with film, and obviously some people are really going to explode. We saw that with [Richard] Linklater and Kevin Smith with Clerks, but even with those films, they had to go out and raise a significant amount of money, given their ages: $50,000 or $150,000.

EB: I heard that Kevin Smith maxed out his credit cards for that one.

MG: Yeah, exactly. So to me, that’s exciting. And the way that that those are going to be distributed – you may not be able to distribute them mass market, but as bandwidth and the computers get faster, you might end up with a lot of nice short-subject films traded back-and-forth on computers.

Much like podcasting, I think you’ll find a situation that really allows people to work through and build a book of work that they can really start to capitalize on.

EB: I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the first episode of Project Greenlight, which is being shown on Bravo. That’s the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck project…

MG: They’re doing a horror film this year, right?

EB: Yeah, and it’s just amazing because it goes into how hard it is to make a good film in Hollywood, with how many barriers there are. How it almost happens by accident.

MG: Had you seen the previous two Project Greenlights?

EB: I have not. I’d like to very much though.

MG: Both the movies turned out to be… no good. [laughs] But it was fun to watch.

EB: Right. Who’s the best director that most people have never heard of?

MG: I’m going to answer that a little differently. I think Sam Peckinpah is the best director that none of my friends have ever heard of. And I know that anybody that knows anything about films is going to say, “Hey, wait a minute, everybody’s heard of that guy.”

But the one thing that you really seem to find out is the difference between the people who enjoy movies and people that love movies. I am constantly amazed at how many people haven’t seen some of the films that seem to be ingrained in pop culture. “Mine goes to eleven…” There’s a lot of people who laugh at that but who have never seen [This is] Spinal Tap.

To me, what I like is to talk about a film like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I get a lot of e-mails saying, “I think I heard of that film once,” or “I’ve never heard of that film. I saw it, I loved it, I’m so glad you pointed me to it.”

Another one is Samuel Fuller. That’s a name that probably very few people today even know who that is. And he’s got some tremendous films. Obviously, you can go down arcane little corridors and come up with people that nobody’s ever heard of! But I like the fact that I introduce people to films and directors in which the product is easily available.

EB: It seems that that’s the beauty of Reel Reviews. I can tell you that more than more person – including yours truly – put The Conversation on their Netflix list based upon your show.

MG: You know, as a film fan, I’m thinking, “Who has not seen The Conversation?" Well, in reality, nobody’s seen the movie!

I was talking with Doug Kaye, who does IT Conversations. He’s got a background in audio, which The Conversation focuses on. It’s a favorite of his and mine. We were talking about it over dinner one night. But none of my day-to-day friends have ever seen it, much less heard of that movie.

And so that’s the great thing, that there are just so many super films out there that are available now on DVD, that are easy to get. You can go to Blockbuster or Netflix, or even walk into your local Best Buy, and they’re sitting there on the shelf. And they trump some of the stuff that everyone runs out on a Tuesday to buy right now as they get released!

EB: What films are you excited about right now, and do you see any Cinephile Series potential in any films that have come out over the last few years?

MG: Well, here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t go out to the movies very much anymore. Quite frankly, I have a comfortable set-up at home, so I usually just wait for them to come out on DVD.

There’s been a lot of good re-issues recently. Heat came out again. I’m beating a dead horse, but I was just so happy when Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia came out, and it actually gets released on Tuesday. The Grape Radio guys and I are going to try and do something with Sideways. We’re looking forward to that.

But as far as the Cinephile Series, until I’ve seen the movie, I don’t know whether it will make a good Cinephile one! There’s been a lot of really good recommendations. I’d like to do a Scorsese film as a Cinephile Series, and frankly I’d like to do some [Akira] Kurosawa. I have not done any foreign films yet, and I’ve got a ton of it. I’m addicted to Kurosawa. I really like some of the French stuff, but I’m also aware of the fact that I have to find something that’s accessible. If I try to do something like Hiroshima, Mi Amor, no one’s going to find that. I don’t know that they’ll necessarily go for it.

So I’ll do The Seven Samurai, or for Christmas, my wife got me Throne of Blood. I think Kagemusha’s coming out on re-release, so that might be a good one.

EB: Tough question, and I’ll go Nick Hornby on you: top five favorite films?

MG: Top five all-time favorite films! [laughs] You know, I have to start out good, take it up a notch, and then pull it back down, right?

EB: Exactly.

MG: Citizen Kane, right off the top. I would say right behind that would be The Seven Samurai… and then it gets hard!

EB: Most people don’t get to two, so that’s pretty good.

MG: I can name my top 30! Right after The Seven Samurai, I’d have to say Patton. I can watch that one over and over again, so I’ll throw that one in. Invariably, anybody can debate all of these.

I’d throw in Apocalypse Now, The Wild Bunch, and now I can name another fifteen! I know for sure my top two, but after that it gets hard.


DB Note: Reel Reviews can now be found online at a new URL,

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