By Jeremy Konrad
When I got my first iPod, the only thing I could think about doing was download podcasts. The fact that there were shows geared toward things that interested me was a dream come true. While most people I knew preferred music, I loved talk radio. I love hearing people talk passionately about their interests, and there are fewer people that do so with as much vigor and resourcefulness as one Arnie Carvalho.
Carvalho runs Venganza Media, which hosts podcasts devoted to movies, Star Wars and Marvel collectibles, book reviews, and many other interests. The most popular on the site is their movies podcast Now Playing, where Carvalho and his co-hosts (usually Brock and Stuart) go in-depth with a major release. The twist here is that if the film is part of a series: they cover the whole series. And I mean all of it. Case in point: they recently wrapped their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and not only did they review the 4 major studio releases, they talk more than anyone should have to about this.
Recently, Carvalho announced a unique review series. He is turning 40 this year, and he has decided to review a movie a day for 40 days up until the milestone is reached. One of the coolest parts of Now Playing is that they infuse a lot of their personal histories into the film going experience, and this is the ultimate version of that. I talked to Carvalho about the project and many other topics recently.
Jeremy Konrad: How did you come up with such a cleaver concept to celebrate your 40th Birthday?
Arnie Carvalho: This was an idea that grew over some time. As I started to approach this milestone birthday I felt I needed to do something to truly reflect back on my life. While working on Now Playing a few months ago I realized it is certainly one of the most significant projects I've ever undertaken, and that movies have been a major and influential part of my life. As such the two ideas merged and I decided to look at one film per year.
The idea evolved a bit. Initially I was going to discuss my favorite film from each year, but that is a tricky proposition as rankings may shift over time. More, it seemed less interesting to just sing the praises of film every day. I decided to go for films that really stuck with me, in both positive and negative ways. It seemed more interesting for me to write, and hopefully for people to read. Rather than just your standard movie review, this allows me to be a bit more personal and explain what movies have influenced my life and, thus, my reviews of all other films.
JK: Will each article you write be a snapshot of where you were in life at that time?
AC: To a degree, yes, some of these articles will be very much about where I was in life when I saw the film, but I think it's important to stress this is not a journal of my life. My primary topic is always the film and how it influenced me. In cases where my point in life was important, I include that, and if not then it is glossed over. Certain movies I chose were heavily influenced by my age and original viewing experience. That said, listeners of Now Playing have always said they enjoy some of the personal stories we share in our reviews, from Lawnmower Man T-Shirts to Freddy masks to Howard the Duck Rorschach tests. So I will certainly include a few of those along the way.
JK: How massive an undertaking is this? Is it fun to reminisce like this?
AC: I would call this a "medium" undertaking. I decided early on that I wouldn't rewatch all 40 films I'm discussing–that, plus the work we're doing for Now Playing, would be too great a task in the time provided. That said, I am rewatching some of the films and certainly doing quite a bit of research. I was afraid going in about deadlines. I did not want to begin this project and not be able to meet my goal of one review per day. If the last article is not posted on September 12 then the entire point of the project is lost. As such, I started writing in early June and I am a couple weeks ahead on final drafts of the articles (though I do seem to go back and tweak up to the moment of posting). Only after I felt I had a good enough head start that I can keep the pace did I announce the project.
But while this project is work, it certainly is fun, like everything I do for Now Playing. I enjoy films, and love to talk about them. I push myself to be thorough and to write to the best of my ability, and I'm loving the opportunity to discuss over three dozen films that matter to me.
JK: As a longtime listener, there are certain movies I have always wanted you guys to tackle on Now Playing, but you haven't. If you write about a movie, does that mean that it will not be reviewed on the podcast?
AC: Oh no, this is not voiding anything Now Playing may do, nor is it repeating anything Now Playing has done. It's important to note that these articles are written only by me, so no other hosts' viewpoints are included. More, these articles are not the plot-point by plot-point analysis that Now Playing does, but more a discussion of the overall impact of the movie in question. Inclusion of a movie as part of this written series will have no impact on the possibility of it someday being reviewed by Now Playing. Obviously, though, if I say a film had a huge impact on me, positive or negative, then it's likely also a movie I'd love to cover in more depth on the podcast.
Likewise, I'm hoping to not just ape Now Playing's previous reviews, yet I found it impossible to completely exclude every film the podcast has covered from my list. Several films are on my list specifically because of Now Playing. Over the past seven years Now Playing and its listeners have become one of the most important aspects of my life, and have greatly furthered my knowledge of movies and moviemaking.
So for example, in the first article of the 40-Year-Old Cricic series I discussed 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and I took care not to repeat what I've already said (as Now Playing reviewed that film back in 2010). But had I written these articles when I was 30 Texas Chain Saw wouldn't have made the list–it was watching and researching for that retrospective when I realized the film's importance. So in the weeks to come there will be a good mix of movies Now Playing has done, some Now Playing may someday do, and likely some too obscure for us ever to cover in a podcast (such as 1990's Pump Up the Volume).
JK: What do your co-hosts think of this idea?
AC: All the feedback I've been given is very positive, but these articles were written without their input or involvement. All of the written reviews each of us do, be they longer reviews for the Venganza Media Gazette or shorter reviews for Facebook, are done individually.
JK: Your Spring Pledge Drive just ended. One of the things I like about it every year is the bonus content you guys provide with a donation. Is it difficult to determine which films will make up that bonus content?
AC: Scheduling Now Playing is a constant negotiation. Over the past few years Stuart has taken charge over the actual dates and moving things around, but the inclusion or exclusion of every series is something discussed and debated. Time is often a factor, with discussions such as "We have 2 weeks with no shows here, but part 5 of this series is being released there". We really strive to keep series contiguous, but it really is challenging. Additionally, we try to match up with our listeners' interests and tie into new release films, and ever-shifting Hollywood release dates make things even more difficult. But the bonus donation shows are shows we wouldn't normally have done. Our main feed has a calendar of its own that this year has been fairly dominated by Stephen King adaptations. When we see there are series that we want to do, or that listeners have requested, that wouldn't fit our schedule, those often become bonus donation series.
We also try to keep the donation series a bit more niche. We realize series like Child's Play and Leprechaun may have a more narrow audience than The Avengers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so we try to match accordingly.
JK: How does it feel to be so high on the iTunes charts with Now Playing?
AC: Our iTunes ranking is surreal, as in it feels completely unreal. I can go to iTunes and see us very high up, but then my day progresses just as it did when our rank was lower. We still work hard at getting new listeners and keeping the level of high quality our listeners have come to expect, so no magic doors were opened and we do not feel able to rest on these laurels.
Make no mistake, all of us who work on Now Playing are honored and humbled by listener support. We put a lot of work into this show from researching to recording to editing, and it is the listeners who make that work feel rewarding. That our audience cares to subscribe to us in iTunes, leaves us positive reviews, and takes whatever other actions iTunes factors into its rankings so that Now Playing regularly stands in the Top 10 is an amazing thing. I again use the word "surreal" to describe the feeling I experience seeing our show listed alongside podcasts by ESPN, NPR, Rotten Tomatoes, and Nerdist. It really is astounding to us.
That said, I don't put too much stock in the iTunes ranks. I can't get too happy when it's high, nor too sad when it's low. iTunes is a black box and Apple will not share the metrics they use for these numbers. The Top Podcasts list shifts every few hours it seems. It's important to me that the listeners are engaged, be it through iTunes, our web site, Facebook, Twitter, however. The audience, they're what's important. iTunes' charts measures only one outlet through which our show is heard.The most important part of the ranking, for me, is that more iTunes users may see our show and give it a try. Hopefully they like it!
JK: As an avid collector of Star Wars and Marvel memorabilia, how important a role does podcasting play in the hobby?
AC: Collecting got me started as a podcaster. Since 1996 I'd worked on making a Star Wars collecting web site, but in 2005 I decided to try audio podcasting instead and created Star Wars Action News. I had looked for a Star Wars collecting podcast and, back then, none existed, so I made one. From Star Wars Action News we branched out to do several different podcasts, some of which are ongoing, some of which have ended. Some, like Marvelicious Toys, are about collecting but most, like the Star Wars Action News Book Club, Republic Forces Radio Network, Books & Nachos, and Now Playing, are not.
So I wouldn't say podcasting plays an important part in my collecting. I have always been a collector, since childhood. Through podcasting I get to interact with other collectors, which is a great joy, but it doesn't influence my collecting habits very much. I will admit that there were times where I bought items just to review them on the podcasts. I have tried to step back from that, though, as there are way too many collectibles available to spend money on those I don't think I'll love.
No, I'd say that collecting influences my podcasting, for if I didn't collect then two of my shows would have nothing to discuss, but podcasting does not influence my collecting. More, Now Playing and Books & Nachos would continue even if I were to stop collecting, as neither of them are collecting related.
JK: Do you ever worry about alienating any of the major toy companies by being critical of their policies and products?
AC: I studied journalism as an undergraduate student. To me, it is important to always be fair and accurate in reporting information on all of our shows. More, there is no company that is all good or all bad. Most companies run the gamut of making great products and then releasing shoddy ones. So I really try not to say statements like "This company is terrible" or "That company always makes trash". Those could be alienating to companies, and, worse, they're untrue exaggeration. I really try to measure all statements, and to compare apples to apples. If Hasbro has a terrible figure then I would compare it to other Hasbro figures, or other items along the same price and size.
Finally, I don't think we are overly critical of any company. There is no fun in being negative all the time. We do our collecting podcasts Marvelicious Toys and Star Wars Action News out of love of the hobby and the collectibles. If there is a company we constantly don't like then we don't dwell on them. Instead we focus on the companies we do like. We are fans making a show for other fans, and I don't think any fan wants to tune in for an hour to hear us say "everything is terrible". If we reached that point I'd want to quit because the joy of collecting would be gone.
So, in short, I don't feel we've got a show that would be alienating to any company. For every bad review we give there are usually 2 to 3 good reviews for that same manufacturer. More, if any company's representative approached me about a review or a statement I would happily have them on to debate the factual nature of our statements. Sure, it's always possible that a company could hear one negative review and hold it against us, but if we are not honest in our coverage then we are wasting our time. Collectors should know when a product is worth their money and when a company is operating in ways that serve collector interests. More, virtually every product we review was paid for out of our own pockets. We are not on some magical list where companies send us free statues or figures. In the rare case where we are given a product to review we follow FTC laws and state that openly before a review. Listen to our shows, you'll find very few instances of that. So even if a company were to get upset it is not as if we'd suddenly have no products to review.
JK: Serious question: House fire happens, and everyone is out safe. You can grab either your Star Wars collection or your Marvel collection. Which one are you going for first?
AC: Well, that would be one slow-moving fire where I could save either of my collections! Many of the pieces are fragile and moving them hurriedly would cause nearly as much damage as heat, flame, and water. Plus the number of trips I would need to take in and out of the house–it's not one box ready to grab, and carry! My Star Wars Arcade Game took 4 large men to get in my basement, so in a fire I'd need them back to help me get it out.
But I think the crux of your question is which of my collections is more important to me? That is like asking a parent to choose between his children, there's no good answer to that. More, if you look at the items I value the most they do not come down the lines between Star Wars and Marvel. Most of the items in my collection are easily replaced and mass-produced. Hasbro figures, Sideshow statues, Gentle Giant Mini-Busts, all of these can be easily recollected on eBay. The cost may be higher than I originally paid (or, in many cases, perhaps lower!) and I would not invite the effort required to gather and curate these items again, but I am insured and could replace almost everything. Even the Star Wars toys I still have from my childhood, they're important in that I've owned them for over 35 years, but they could be replaced. The items I would regret losing in a fire are the ones that, no matter how much money, could not be replaced. First are the personal items that have no relation to collectibles, such as family photo albums and, honestly, hard drives with pictures and memories.
As for the collections, perhaps number one save is a tie between two items. Likely, due to being portable, I'd first grab my Star Wars autograph books. DK Books has a series of oversized hardbacks called the "Star Wars Visual Dictionaries" and in 2002 I started using those books to collect the autograph of every Star Wars film actor I could. There are some hard-to-get signatures in there, such as George Lucas and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as some actors who have passed away such as William Hootkins (Porkins in Star Wars, Eckhardt in Batman) and Phil Brown (Uncle Owen in the original Star Wars). I was present as each person signed their name in the books, so this is a physical representation of my memory of meeting these celebrities. I have gathered well over 100 autographs in those books, most personalized to me. They are in a special location in the house, and being only 4 thin volumes I could probably grab them and not suffer third-degree burns.
But tied for that, though harder to gather in an emergency, would be my original art, and I have that for both Marvel and Star Wars. Over the years I have gotten as gifts, or purchased, commissioned art at conventions or online. I have several of these framed and hanging on my recording studio walls, and some elsewhere in the house. Some of these were drawn by well-known artists like Tom Beland, Adi Granov, J. Scott Campbell, Adam Hughes, Skottie Young, and Humberto Ramos, but I also have some great art from newer talent like Jon Hughes, Chris Hamer, and Scott Blair. Then there are pieces of art from professional artists with whom I've become friends. These are insanely personal items that I could not stand to lose, and could never be replaced.
Third would be the items I recently obtained from the film Howard the Duck, but that leads to your next question…
JK: Lastly, you have a HUGE collection of Howard The Duck memorabilia. How happy were you at the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy? Hoping for a new Howard film?
AC: I wouldn't say my Howard the Duck collection is huge. It is difficult to have a huge Howard the Duck collection–I think that's one of the reasons I like him so much! I have the Bowen statue and the trading cards, candy heads, and a few other items from the 1986 movie. I think the items to which you refer, though, are some production pieces from the 1986 movie. Recently one of the gentlemen who helped do the make-up and effects for Howard the Duck sold some items and I feel very lucky to have obtained a foam Howard the Duck test head (not screen used but a proof-of-concept for the design), molds of actor Jeffrey Jones' face, some production art, draft scripts, and a couple other items.
Howard the Duck is a film that has become important to me (and will be the 1986 installment of my 40-Year-Old Critic series!). I love to root for the underdog and to love the unloved. As such, when I heard rumors Howard could appear in Guardians of the Galaxy I was ecstatic. Having seen the film, hey, it's a gag. I don't think they're teasing a new Howard film; Marvel editor Tom Brevoort recently lamented poor sales of the Original Sin comic in which Howard appeared. If he can't carry a comic he surely won't get a film.
That said, do we need one? 1986's film is a perfect disaster right there. With Guardians making nearly 100 million in its opening weekend (domestically) I think Marvel could make a successful movie starring anyone…even Howard the Duck–and who would want that? The reason Howard was a punch-line in Guardians is because his movie was so terrible. Would audiences truly want a good Howard the Duck film?
If they made one I'd be first in line, but I'm not pining for it. Especially not with the character design used in the Guardians film…I much preferred the costume-looking 1986 design to this mangy looking water fowl they showed in Guardians…I half expected him to say "Aflac".
Jeremy Konrad is the Senior Star Wars Correspondent for Bleeding Cool. Talk Star Wars, action figures, and whatever else you want with him on Twitter @jeremyohio