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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Interview: Comics writer Daniel Way on going indie again after superhero success

Posted by on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 10:01 AM

Comic book writer Daniel Way and filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska - PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIEL WAY
  • photo courtesy of Daniel Way
  • Comic book writer Daniel Way and filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska
After getting his start in self-publishing, comics writer Daniel Way made his name in the mainstream superhero world, especially with a long run scripting the irreverent Marvel Comics character Deadpool, who is to be played by Ryan Reynolds in a feature film next year.

But these days, Way is focused on his own, even more off-center creations—and living in Morrisville, to which he moved from Georgia about 18 months ago. He chose to bypass the big publishers and their distribution systems for his upcoming title, returning to his independent roots with the kind of sex-and-violence satire the mainstream usually avoids.

Way has raised more than $34,000 and counting on Kickstarter, exceeding his goal with weeks to spare (though you can still donate through May 8) for the “VERY graphic novel” Kill-Crazy Nymphos ATTACK!, which is already upgraded from softcover to hardcover thanks to the additional funding. He co-created and co-wrote the book with Vancouver's Jen and Sylvia Soska, who create horror films as Twisted Twins Productions. Rob Dumo will draw the interior art.

The book is an homage to grindhouse-style action, with a side order of social and religious satire, about a virus that turns housewives into … well, the title says it all. It’s safe to say it won’t be for everyone—which is to say, it’s the kind of book crowd-funding was made for. We spoke with Way about the unique challenges and rewards of going indie again and find out how he wound up in Morrisville.

INDY: You had a previous [unsuccessful] Kickstarter for your book Gun Theory, what did you learn from that?

DANIEL WAY: The main thing was to ask for less than we really needed at first—once a project hits its funding goal, it tends to speed up; I don’t know the psychology behind it. Some people want to wait to see if it will go anywhere. We also learned a lot about promoting, we’re doing a big fundraiser in Vancouver at the end of the month, before Free Comic Book Day.

I started out in self-publishing, so I knew a lot about fulfillment already. And Kickstarter has new tools that let you figure out shipping rates easily. A lot of us are used to doing the work and just handing it off to an editor. I worked at Marvel for 13 years, so I know all about that. But I also know what’s required to get a book out the door independently, and so do my collaborators. 

How does it feel to have met your initial funding?

Good, but the amount we asked for was just the bare minimum to do the book. I wrote the book for free, Jen and Sylvia worked on it for free. We’re really hoping to push it quite a bit further, because that’s going to allow us to do a hell of a lot more with it. But it’s a relief!

You have some unique rewards.

You can be a character in the book, drawn in as a background character. And there’s one where you can have a Skype date with the [Soska] twins.

You’re clearly going outside of the mainstream with a title like yours.

You want your title to be provocative. But if you read it, you’ll see that it’s, on one level, a grindhouse flick, but on another, a social commentary. Dawn of the Dead was a commentary on consumerist society, for example. A lot of things we want to talk about in the book, we don’t do so overtly, but we get to sneak it in there. If someone picks this up just thinking they’re going to see a lot of tits, they’re going to be shocked. [Laughs]

Why do you make your base in Morrisville now?

My fiancée worked at [Cary-based video-game company] Red Storm, and we really liked having a home base here. The airport’s right here; there’s local culture right here. It’s just so cool, with so many things well represented. I had studio space in Durham for a while, and you can’t help but notice how many people are working in the arts. It’s great when you have that in the area—I feed into it, but I also feed from it.

Do you see yourself doing more Kickstarter stuff in the future?

I only do creator-owned stuff now, and I definitely see myself doing more with Kickstarter. You are able to speak and sell directly to your audience without all the machinery that’s usually placed between you. It’s sometimes crushing to realize that out of everyone who’s getting a piece of your work, you’re getting one of the smallest pieces.

And it also feels more pure somehow—you can call a book Kill-Crazy Nymphos ATTACK! and not have to tone it down, or try to sell it through a comic shop that is mainly superhero books, where people might regard it as a niche within a niche within a niche. So stuff like this rarely makes it to the market, and Kickstarter’s just been awesome to work with.

Do you have any connection with the Deadpool film?

I can confirm no official involvement with the film. But I can say we’re doing our fundraising party in Vancouver in a few weeks, where they’re filming that, so you’ll probably see some pictures of me on set in my Twitter account.
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    We also learn why Way, a former Marvel Comics writer now crowd-funding the grindhouse satire Kill-Crazy Nymphos ATTACK!, moved to the Triangle.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Interview: Barney Frank discusses his new memoir of a life in progressive politics

Posted by on Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 3:26 PM

Barney Frank
NCSU Hunt Library Auditorium
Monday, April 13, 7 p.m.

Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank is known primarily for three things: Being the first openly gay member of the House of Representatives, co-sponsoring the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act after the 2008 financial crisis, and wielding a candid, sometimes lacerating sense of humor to win debates. All three entwine in his new memoir of "a life in politics from the Great Society to same-sex marriage," which takes advantage of an irresistible double-meaning in its title, Frank.

Before he visits N.C. State on Monday for a conversation with Frank Stasio and a signing line (buying the book from Quail Ridge Books gets you into both; admission-only tickets are $5), we reached Frank by phone to learn about his perspective on the progress of various civil rights battles, the books that influenced him, the ways that his passionate faith in government might be restored throughout America, and the “bizarre” New York Times review of Frank, which seemed to suggest he should have dished about his sex life more.

INDY: It's standard for politicians to write memoirs, but yours is unique because of your coming-out story. What made this the right time to tell it?

BARNEY FRANK: Well, for starters, I wanted to put my voice down, but writing does not come as easily to me as talking, so there was no way I could've written the book while I was still in office. I couldn’t have focused, and I didn’t want to have it ghost-written. Secondly, I think it’s a critical moment. It’s interesting that news on the LGBT front continues to get better, and I’m struck by the fact that conservative Republicans are now having to apologize for doing things that they thought were going to be slam dunks in discrimination. But I am even more troubled by this lack of support for government, and I wanted to make the argument for those of us who believe in government to vindicate it.

You write about how you used to get praise for your faith in government and pushback for your sexual orientation, and now that’s kind of reversed.

My marriage to Jim appeared to be better received by the public than the Financial Reform Bill.

How do you think that faith in government can be restored at this point?

Well, I think you have a particular segment of people that I want to address—white working-class men. The kind of people who, years ago, because they're willing to work, even if they didn’t have any specialized skills they could earn a decent living. The way the economy has evolved internationally, especially in America, they're at an economic disadvantage if they don’t have advanced degrees or technical skills. So they’re angry. And paradoxically, I think it’s because they believe in government that they're so opposed to what's happening now. They think that if the government was interested in their welfare, it would show it.

So I believe we should be freeing up resources that we're now spending unwisely—particularly in military interventions, like in Iraq, and in protecting Western Europe long after they should have been protecting themselves, and in prosecuting people for their use of recreational drugs—and use some of that money to make it possible for children of working-class families to get a higher education without going deeply in debt, to put construction workers back to work building the roads, bridges and other infrastructure that we need.

And I would extend Medicare rather than cutting back. I think it’s been really good for people and I would extend it downward so people can get Medicare at 55 and not worry about paying medical bills, and heavy health insurance could diminish. So my view is, the way to make people be more supportive of government is to have the government do things that are good for them, particularly with that segment of the American economy that is suffering from increasing inequality. If we could alleviate that with the kind of things I talked about, you'd have people saying, “Gee I guess the government can work for me.”

You mentioned not punishing recreational drugs so harshly. There’s obviously still much to be done in terms of gay rights, but beyond that, is the drug war the next big civil rights battle for America to face?

I think you have to do them one at a time, and there are still some areas we need to deal with—obviously employment discrimination, with there being some LGBT people who want to come out and discrimination pushing them back. I do think that since white people first came here with slaves in the 17th century, the race situation is now tied up with the enforcement of the drug laws. I would say the major source of racial unfairness in America today stems from the unequal way that recreational drug laws are enforced.

I’m curious if you read a lot of political memoirs, any that influenced you?

I do read a lot of political books. There were two in particular that influenced me. A professor at Columbia named Charles Hamilton wrote a very interesting book, [Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma.] Powell was the third black member of the House in the 20th century. He was the first to really challenge racism. When he got to the House in the ’40s, he was told that as a black man, he couldn’t use the House barbershop, the House gym or the House restaurant. He said, “the hell with it,” and he did. I kind of took [inspiration] from him, as the first openly gay member of the House with a partner, and how I want to be treated. Secondly, I read Robert Caro's chapters about Lyndon Johnson as Minority Leader just about the time that I was becoming the Minority Leader of the Financial Services Committee, ultimately to face a very hard job of trying to deal with the financial crisis.

Did you feel that telling the story of your coming out was important for America, or was it important for you personally?

Well, it was more important for the country, though I suppose it was a little bit of self-justification. I begin by saying, in effect, I was willing to be a coward but not a hypocrite. I didn’t think that I was going to be able to come out at first, and I didn’t for a while, but I never let that deter me from being a gay rights supporter. I wasn’t afraid of all the people saying, “Well, he wouldn’t do that if he weren’t gay himself,” and I’m very proud of that. Beyond that, I did want to give some encouragement to others who still have to weigh this, where prejudice in some parts of the country could still be a problem. Especially, I wanted to give some advice to younger gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people entering politics

Did you grapple with how to balance the book between the political and the personal, how much you wanted to tell about your personal life?

Very simply, yes. I wanted it to be more political, my editor wanted it to be more personal, and we compromised. Neither one of us anticipated the bizarre review by Frank Bruni, in The New York Times, where he complained that I didn’t talk about how much sex I was having. Frankly, I just could not believe that he would say that. For a gay man to insist that another gay man … well, he must have wanted Fifty Shades of Frank. I was appalled. “How much sex are you having or how much do you want to have?” I don’t understand how the Times could allow that into a supposedly serious publication.

Do you worry that your personal story might overshadow legislative achievements such as Wall Street Reform?

Well, what’s to worry about? It is what it is.

When you were growing up in New Jersey, could you predict the America of today at all?

Absolutely not. It’s quite the opposite. I got into this fight in 1972 when I founded the first Gay Rights Movement in Massachusetts history, and over these past 40 years, I keep underestimating the rate of the progress. In 1954, I would have laughed if anybody told me that I would wind up being an influential member of Congress who was marrying a man while I was still in office.

If you were starting your political career in today’s climate, how do you think things would have been different?

In the areas in which I ran, I would have been open about being gay from the beginning.

And you may have been able to take on different kinds of political battles?

You know, I appreciate that I was too flippant when I talked about whether my sexual orientation overshadowed my career. Obviously, I was proud to be out, but I would not have wanted that to be the only thing I am. During the financial crisis, both in dealing with the crisis and working with the Bush administration to pass the bill, that impression of me became more clear to people. At that point, I was the one who would remind people from time to time that I was gay. What I said was, “Look, I’m a big shot now and that’s very nice, but I used to be a frightened 15-year-old, so I don’t want people to forget that I’m part of this group that you’ve been prejudiced against.”

The wit you're known for comes through in the book. That’s obviously useful for an author, but what about as a political tool?

Sure, first of all, it keeps me from getting bored, and I have a low threshold for boredom. And secondly, you are trying to get people to pay attention to what you say in a welter of information. If you can say something in a way that's funny, it’s going to be more memorable. It’s useful in debate, if you’re trying to win an argument and persuade people with your viewpoint over somebody else’s, to make fun of them. But I’ve always tried to focus on making fun of people's arguments, not their personalities.

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    The former congressman visits N.C. State's Hunt Library Auditorium for a public interview and signing line Monday, April 13.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Television: Twice Born follows challenging parental journey of Raleigh couple and others

Posted by on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 11:07 AM

  • courtesy of PBS
  • Twice Born
Fetal surgery is barely 30 years old, with the first in utero intervention taking place in 1981. While breakthroughs in stem cell and gene therapy might some day make fetal surgery obsolete, today it remains a cutting-edge, highly sophisticated surgical procedure reserved for the most complex birth defects.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is among the handful of medical facilities in the world that perform fetal surgeries. The hospital is also the setting for Twice Born: Stories from the Special Delivery Unit, a three-part documentary series premiering on PBS. The series primarily follows the experiences of four families at Children's Hospital, including a couple from Raleigh. It airs on UNC-TV this Thursday, April 2, at 10 p.m. The second and third episodes will air April 7 and April 14 at 8 p.m.

Produced and directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Monica Lange, Twice Born spans 14 months when Lange and her film crew were embedded at CHOP and captured both the medical professionals at the forefront of fetal surgery and families who participate in this physically and emotionally invasive procedure. After principal filming was completed, the editing and post-production process took place at Raleigh’s Trailblazer Studios.

The INDY spoke with Lange about the film, which she describes as having “the arc of a drama.” Two families are introduced in episode one and remain throughout the series, while the stories of two other families develop in the latter episodes.

INDY: Most of your past documentaries address child medical issues, including autism, conjoined twins and multiple births. Did that influence your interest in fetal surgery and research for Twice Born?

MONICA LANGE: My interest in fetal surgery has been there for a while. But fetal surgery needed to come to a point of maturity in order for it to be made into a series. In 2011, there was a huge [National Institutes of Health] study led by Dr. Scott Adzick of CHOP. That study was stopped short because the effectiveness of fetal surgery was considered to be so great that it was unethical to deprive the control group of its benefits. When that happened, the field had reached a point where it was something that was standard-of-care that could be made into a film series. Also, the patients coming through CHOP who actually get fetal surgery—which number about 150 per year—meant we could logistically do a series. The time was right, and I also wanted to be the first [filmmaker] to do it.

Was CHOP looking for someone to make a film about them and fetal surgery?

The hospital was not looking for someone and not standing there with open arms. It took powers of persuasion, both with PBS and the hospital itself. And I had to have my homework done, I had to let Dr. Adzick quiz me about what I knew about fetal surgery and their work and research. I had to show him I was serious. He asked me how long would the [film project] take. I told him four years and his eyes popped open. But I also know that made him realize we were really serious. They had been approached by other [filmmakers] both before and during our filming, and they turned them down.

Was the early skepticism over fetal surgery from a medical or ethical viewpoint?

I can’t really tell you any ethical concerns that might have been swirling around this [procedure] … We didn’t go deep historically into an overview of fetal surgery. The show deals with patients who go through the program and what happens to them … It’s the experiences of four families, two of whom are seen throughout the entire 3-hour show and two of whom are seen in individual 1-hour episodes. We also go quite far into discussing the doctors’ own lives and some of the parenting experiences they have, which in one particular case are quite surprising. A lot of this is about what being a parent really means in a profound way.

From the perspective of fetal surgery candidates, is there any information in the film about how people are chosen for the fetal surgery program?

That’s a huge topic of the film. There are a number of factors, some of them related to the potential benefit. First, will the baby benefit enough for the risk to be taken? Each syndrome has its own criteria, where you’re weighing physiologic benefits versus risk. The second consideration is whether the parents can logistically pull it off, because between the time of the fetal surgery and the time the baby is delivered [the mother] has to stay in Philadelphia. The reason is if something suddenly happens, [CHOP] are the ones who are going to deal with it. She also has to have someone with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So it’s an enormous commitment on the family’s part to do this for their child. And at the same time they don’t know if it’s going to turn out well. These families make a huge sacrifice to do this, and it’s not a slam dunk. The third criteria is psychological. You see in the film what happens with these moms and what they go through. It’s not for the faint of heart.

How many subjects did you follow and film versus the four families that ended up in the film?

All the families we followed and filmed are in the film. Four families were chosen and four families are in the film. The first mom we got was so powerful and such an amazing screen presence. Her story was remarkable. Same deal with the second mom. And then the other two families, which are the shorter stories, each has something very poignant about them.

How do you convince these people to open up their lives under such trying circumstances to appear in a film?

My feeling is that people who are in extremis want someone to bear witness to their story. You feel like nobody understands what you’re going through. So when you come to someone and say, ‘I’m going to tell your story, I’m going to tell the world and your family and friends what you’ve done for your child,’ people say yes. I tell them I’m going to be very honest about this and with them a lot. They do have the right to tell us we need to stop. And I very rarely in all my filmmaking experience have people say no after hearing that.

Tell me about Geneva and Reggie from Raleigh, one of the families featured in the film.

They had a baby with LUTO—Lower Urinary Tract Obstruction. They came to CHOP from Raleigh desperate because LUTO can be fatal. [The urinary tract] backs up and ultimately there’s no more amniotic fluid and the baby dies. At the time they came to CHOP they were at risk of losing their baby or could have chosen to get an abortion. CHOP has an intervention for babies with LUTO, and you’ll have to watch the series to see what happens to them.
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    The new PBS documentary series presents stories of families navigating the fetal surgery process.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Interview: Trying to keep up with prolific children's book author Gordon Korman

Posted by on Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 10:24 AM

  • courtesy of Balzer + Bray
  • Gordon Korman
Gordon Korman
Quail Ridge Books & Music
Monday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m.

Gordon Korman penned his first children’s book, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, as a writing assignment in middle school—and has been publishing continuously ever since.

The Canadian author earned a devoted cult following in the 1980s for his ability to capture the quirkiness of young adulthood in comic novels where offbeat protagonists—from the rebellious private-school students of the Macdonald Hall series and the hyperactive teen drummer Bugs Potter to the luckless Raymond Jardine of A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag and the “Attack Jelly”-selling entrepreneur of No Coins, Please—caused chaos all around them, resulting in exploding limousines, flooded summer camps, FBI raids and an army of Manchurian Bush Hamsters emerging from beneath a school’s football bleachers during the big game.

Korman has continued his comic tales with series such as Swindle and more straightforward adventure stories—he was part of the group of authors behind bestselling series The 39 Clues. His latest children’s series, the SF-tinged thriller Masterminds, recently premiered its first book, which Korman will be promoting at Quail Ridge Books & Music tonight.

We spoke with Korman while he was on the road about the past, present and future of one of the most prolific children’s authors around.

INDY: How many books have you written at this point? I was reminded on the Quail Ridge website that your backlog is so large that only two older books can be signed per customer.

It’s probably like 85 books now.

Good grief.

Well, don’t forget—it dates back to my seventh-grade English assignment, so it goes back a while.

Some of the stories I read about the origins of your career keep making you younger and younger, until it’s like you were writing in the crib.

I was 12 when I wrote the first book. I actually sent it into Scholastic the following summer, so I was 13 when I signed the contract. That’s where the “13” number comes from [in some press releases]. And it came out when I was 14, when I was a freshman in high school.

Did that make you more popular with girls? Because it should have.

[Laughs] Nah, it didn’t. I wasn’t that kind of kid anyway. But I appreciate the thought.

Re-reading some of your books, and I can definitely see a middle-school perspective versus a high-school perspective in A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag and Son of Interflux.

Well, I was probably writing one age range below—so when I was in college, I wrote about high school, when I was in high school, I wrote about middle school. Until I became an adult, and started writing all over the place.

Do you have any kids yourself now?

Yes, I have three kids.

How does your perspective change, writing about children when you have kids? Bruno and Boots is a great perspective on being a kid and rebelling against authority, but I imagine when you get older, you’re going to be thinking more like The Fish, Bruno and Boots’ headmaster and friendly nemesis.

You know, there’s like a lot of great stories in children’s books—the Judy Blumes, the Norma Kleins—people who started writing when they were parents. I still try to think from the kids’ perspective. I still think of the characters as younger versions of myself more than I do as, say, my little kids.

And your kid characters were always very adult even when you were a kid—there’s always the straight man, then the one who’s kind of off in their own, absurd world.

Very true.

I admit, as a kid with ADD, I related to this a little too much. But it meant a lot to me, having kids who kind of seemed like me be the heroes.

[Laughs] I get that a lot, and it means a lot every time! There’s a whole generation that reached.

Any chance that your earlier work could come back into print in the U.S.? I feel like a new generation needs No Coins, Please.

Well, the industry here is into the new—very much “feed me more.” They’re always looking for what the new thing is. But we have Macdonald Hall back, and I’m hoping to get the whole series in print. And some of the old teen books, such as Don’t Care High and Semester and Son of Interflux are available as eBooks in Canada and the U.S. [eBooks are] going to be very good for backlists, I think.

Let’s talk about the new book, Masterminds.

Basically, looking at my own kids from my perspective, and wondering why they do the crazy things they do, and the crazy things I do. I started thinking of something very high-concept, the whole “Nature vs. Nurture” thing—are people born the way they are, or does it come from how they’re raised?

So I thought of these kids who are growing up in this very perfect town, or so they think, and they realize that they are actually part of an experiment to determine Nature vs. Nurture called “Project Osiris,” where master criminals in the prison system were cloned to create evil babies—or at least, babies with the DNA and potential to be evil. But they were raised in this “perfect” environment, with no reference to fighting or war or evil, just to see how they would turn out.

The problem is, the older these kids get, the more they are able to realize there is something very messed up about their so-called perfect town. And once they realize their whole lives are an experiment, they escape. It’s the first book of a trilogy.

That’s a pretty terrifying premise.

It’s certainly way, way heavier than Macdonald Hall or I Want to Go Home!. But that’s definitely part of kids’ books right now. Things tend to be a little bit heavier; the implications tend to be a bit larger; the stakes are definitely higher than when I first started writing.

You’ve still done some humorous books—No More Dead Dogs, for example—but you’ve also worked more in the adventure genre recently.

You mean Island, Everest, those adventure trilogies? Yeah, I’ve sort of been bouncing around a bit. Obviously, I started out very much a comedy guy, and then kind of went to these more adventure/survival type of stories.

But then I’ve had this series called Swindle, which is very popular, and that’s more of a throwback to Macdonald Hall—the kids aren’t private school kids, but it’s about capers and plotting. And I’ve been experimenting. There’s this series I do, The Hypnotist, which is very paranormal adventure-based.

What’s it been like working on collaborative series such as The 39 Clues, which has been very popular?

That’s been a lot of fun, because the job of writing is obviously very isolating. So having co-workers is a real treat, and a real thrill. What happens is, someone does an outline. It’s very much a Scholastic gig—Rick Riordan plotted out the first arc, Jude Watson plotted the second and third, and so on. I got to read the first couple books and I knew what was happening in upcoming books, so I worked the plot around those elements, but had plenty of freedom to do my own thing.

The interesting thing is, you’d think it’d limit your creativity to be given this much structure to write within. But I actually find that it helps—I’m more creative, and it gets me places that my imagination would not get on my own, and I find that’s really special for a writer. 

How many different projects do you have coming up over the next year?

It’s certainly a great time for me, because I’m striking while the iron is hot. Masterminds is a trilogy; there’s The Hypnotist, where the third book is still coming out this summer; and Swindle is still going on. So I’ve got three series going on at once.

But if you really wanted to cash in, you could have the Masterminds and the Swindle kids meet the Hypnotist, and they could all converge at Macdonald Hall.

It’s funny—kids say that all the time! Even back in the beginning, kids would ask me—“What if Bruno and Boots met Rudy and Mike from I Want to Go Home! or Artie Geller from No Coins, Please?” I almost had a resistance to that “worlds collide” kind of story, but fans love them. They always ask about that.
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    The Canadian author, who has been publishing since he was a teenager, promotes new series Masterminds at Quail Ridge Books & Music tonight.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Catching up with John Woodard of Chapel Hill landmark Sutton's Drug Store

Posted by on Thu, Feb 5, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Sutton's Drug Store first opened its doors on Franklin Street in 1923. - PHOTO BY FRED WASSER
  • photo by Fred Wasser
  • Sutton's Drug Store first opened its doors on Franklin Street in 1923.
Hollie knows that I need cream for my coffee and that I don’t need syrup for my pancakes.

“We haven’t seen you in a while,” she says. It’s been about a month. It seems I’m now a regular at Sutton’s food counter, and that I was missed.

After the morning rush, owner John Woodard is also drinking coffee at the food counter. He looks great. Well rested. “That’s what people have been telling me,” he says.

The sign above the front door still reads Sutton’s Drug Store, but it’s now a drug store in name only. Woodard was the pharmacist at Sutton’s. But, last June, Woodard sold the pharmacy part of the business to CVS, which opened a few doors up the street on East Franklin in Chapel Hill.

John Woodard at the former pharmacy counter. The shelves seem to contain newly stocked pill bottles. “They’re empty,” says Woodard. “A display.” - PHOTO BY FRED WASSER
  • photo by Fred Wasser
  • John Woodard at the former pharmacy counter. The shelves seem to contain newly stocked pill bottles. “They’re empty,” says Woodard. “A display.”
Even without the pharmacy, Sutton’s is still Sutton’s. The food counter seems busy. Various odds and ends are sold on the store’s open shelves: Candy, snacks, newspapers, cigarettes and an impressive array of bottled sodas. Stacked next to the front register are free copies of a 2015 wall calendar with illustrations by Norman Rockwell.

INDY: How has your life changed since you closed the pharmacy?

: The wonderful thing about it is that I don’t have the stress and the irritation of fighting with the insurance companies. It’s so nice not having to worry about that. Being able to stay afloat as a small independent—it’s just hard to do. It all comes down to profit. When you can’t make enough profit off the prescription volume, you need to cut and make some changes. I still come in every day just as if we were still open as a full-fledged drug store. This is my home away from home. This is where all my friends come.

Sutton’s first opened its doors in 1923. What was the place like in 1977 when you took over?

At that time, the store was full of all kinds of merchandise just like all the other stores up and down the block. We had lots of over-the-counter medications as well as toiletries. Even cleaning supplies. Most drug stores didn’t have food counters at the time. There were several stores that had a soda fountain where they served drinks and ice cream, but not much in the way of food.

Food counter at Sutton’s, 1984 - COURTESY OF JOHN WOODARD
  • courtesy of John Woodard
  • Food counter at Sutton’s, 1984
I understand there used to be a cosmetics counter, and toys, too.

There was a toy store down in the basement. Mrs. Sutton had an incredible cosmetics counter, which I inherited when I bought the store. 

You worked the pharmacy counter. Did you ever work behind the food counter or the soda fountain?

Oh gosh, yes. The first four or five years the prescription part of the store was struggling with all the competition up and down the block. There was plenty of time for me to learn what it was like to be an employee at the soda fountain. I loved to make the milk shakes. It got to be where I could make them pretty fast. I got to meet so many people by simply pouring coffee. I was taking food orders when it got busy as well as ringing up sales at the cash register.

The photos of Sutton’s customers on the walls, the Carolina basketball jerseys hanging from the walls and the ceiling—they’re a dominant feature of Sutton’s. How did the photo taking get started?

The wall of photos at Sutton's. - PHOTO BY FRED WASSER
  • photo by Fred Wasser
  • The wall of photos at Sutton's.
It was at that time in the early 1980s when the buying habits of the public started changing whenever the big box stores started coming. Don Pinney [now the store manager] and I went over to Durham and bought four booths that someone was trying to get rid of. We had them set up to see what we could do to increase the sales at the food counter. But the pegboard walls looked so bare. [Longtime Sutton’s cook] Willie Mae Houk and I were thinking: what in the world can we put on these walls to make them not look so bad? And she said: don’t you have pictures you took of some of the ball players when they’d come in to eat? I went upstairs and found 11 8x10s I had taken. And the next thing you know, we were getting people requesting: can we get our picture up there on that wall, too? The number of photos just mushroomed. I still have to have a camera here because you never know who is going to want to have their picture taken.

*   *   *

  • photo by Fred Wasser
Sutton’s Drug Store has expanded beyond Franklin Street. Since August, in partnership with the sports bar Pantana Bob’s, Sutton’s has been operating a food truck.

The truck is parked at the 300 block of West Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, next to Pantana Bob’s. Hours of operation: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Breakfast hours resume in the spring.

“The tater tots are the biggest thing,” says Lynn Brammer, who works the food truck. “Between midnight and three I get really busy. A lot of students are regulars. If you can believe it, I have a following!”

In general, the menu dovetails with Sutton’s on Franklin. It includes burgers, hotdogs, French fries, chicken tenders and barbecue.

“Cheap price, good food,” says Corey Davis, Lynn’s colleague at the truck, about what they offer.

Fred Wasser is a radio and print journalist based in Chapel Hill. Contact him via Breathing Room Radio.
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    Though Sutton's is now a drug store in name only, its food counter and truck are alive and well.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Interview: A resurgent Paul Reiser on life after Mad About You

Posted by on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 11:23 AM

  • courtesy of the Carolina Theatre
  • Paul Reiser
Paul Reiser
The Carolina Theatre, Durham
Saturday, Jan. 31, 8 p.m.

Even Paul Reiser admits that he’ll probably always be most remembered for his Emmy-winning 1990s sitcom Mad About You, but the veteran actor, writer and comedian has enjoyed a renewed profile recently, including a supporting turn in Best Picture Oscar nominee Whiplash as well as roles on the FX series Married and Amazon’s Red Oaks—and now, a new stand-up comedy tour, coming to the Carolina Theatre this weekend. We recently spoke with Reiser about the surprise success of a small film, the changing entertainment business and whether he’s ready to become an action figure.

INDY: So I have to warn you—I wrote a blurb about your appearance, and it was a bit gushy.

PAUL REISER: Ooh, gushy!

I was saying I felt that you’ve been doing the best work of your career lately, with Whiplash, Married and Red Oaks.

Hold on, let me get my tape recorder. I need this for posterity!

They’re all very different projects, and different types of roles.

Yeah, it’s been weird to even try and figure out where all these roles come from, and why they seem to come in clusters. When I started stand-up a thousand years ago, I always said stand-up was my main thing, and everything else, the acting, it was kind of a bonus. I was kind of laying low by design, and about three years ago, I got back into doing stand-up. Coincidentally or not, everything else started to happen. Such is life! These things all generated from the filmmakers, who all had different things in mind. So it was very easy for me to say yes to all of them—the roles were great and the commitments were limited.

It’s certainly interesting to be in your 50s and get different roles than you would in your 20s. Red Oaks reminded me of Richard Crenna in The Flamingo Kid, and not that long ago I could have been the younger guy. But there’s something to be said about being the older guy. I find that true with stand-up as well—you have a lot more to say than in your 20s. You might think you know more when you’re starting out, but you really do know more when you’re in your 50s.

Congratulations to everyone on Whiplash for the Oscar nominations, by the way.

It was a very pleasant surprise. I knew Whiplash would be great because I saw the short, and that was great in and of itself. Everyone who saw the movie was knocked out by it, but because it was so small, we thought it might get overwhelmed by bigger films. But J.K. Simmons—that performance is just so overwhelming. And Miles Teller—I feel like that performance is overlooked. It’s as good as J.K. Simmons, but it’s quieter.

I thought your part was important because it was the anti-Simmons character—the angel on the kid’s shoulder. A good man, very kind and concerned for his son, but with a level of comfort that could represent holding yourself back from genius. There’s a lot you have to convey with that.

[Writer/director Damien Chazelle] wrote a lot of subtext in there, really beautiful. The truth is, as a father, I can see this—when your kids reach a certain age, you never stop wanting to protect them, but when you see them heading down a certain road, sometimes you have to let it happen. Miles’ character sees his father as a failure. We don’t know if the father is unhappy. He wanted to be a novelist and he teaches high-school English. That wasn’t his dream come true, but he doesn’t seem unhappy.

But it’s the kid’s rejection of that failed dream that makes him ripe for the picking. Someone says, “Hey, you want to aspire to greatness?” and he’s going to do it. It’s “I love my dad, but I don’t want to be my dad.” You push away the one you love because you want to be your own man. All that was in the script in very subtle and measured ways. And it made me very pleased to see it get recognized.

What’s the focus of your show at the Carolina Theatre?

It’s funny—I realize I’ve taken such a long break from doing stand-up that not a lot has changed. The material is all new, but my take on the world is very similar to what it used to be. Some people might only know me from Mad About You, and they’re not going to be surprised. [Laughs] The guy on Mad About You was designed to be like me so I wouldn’t have to act so much!

I can talk about stuff that amuses me and confounds me, like trying to raise kids, or talk about marriage—Mad About You was born out of my stand-up, being a newlywed and trying to figure that out. A lot has changed in 25 years, but there’s a certain relatability that’s still there. The best compliment people would give me was, “That sounded just like a fight I had at my house!” And now people are coming out of my show and going, “That was exactly right!” I say comedians are like everyone else, but they write everything down.

It’s an interesting time for stand-up because of new outlets such as iTunes or YouTube.

That old model of going on The Tonight Show and killing it—that hasn’t been the case in decades. There’s plenty of comedians who are building a base on YouTube or through podcasts, but quality rises to the top. If someone’s good, if they’re doing something different, they’re going to get noticed. But [YouTube] is not my path—I’m never going to pop out of the box. I’m slow and steady. I’m never like, “Let’s put some clips out there!” I’m more “Let’s go to the club, go to the theater!”

It’s the old-school way of refining your act, building it up, versus the newer way, where you don’t have to sand down your edges for a mass audience, but if you bomb, people will be Tweeting about it as it happens.

Yeah, that’s very true. Someone can see your clip and go “I gotta see that guy when he’s coming to town!” but if you’re having a bad night, and we all do … I’ve been doing different venues such as clubs, this beautiful theater, even casinos, and it’s a different feel, mixing it up. That helps things be more consistent, in a way.

What’s coming up for you?

I just finished a small part in a big movie, Concussion, with Will Smith—that’s coming out this Christmas. It’s about the NFL. And I’ve got a couple of TV things. I’m doing another season of Married, I’m doing a season of Red Oaks and I’m writing a thing for Amazon. They’re going to look at it and see if they want to do a pilot.

Amazon’s really changing the game, expanding on the Netflix originals with their pilot seasons.

It’s for the better! There’s more outlets, so you don’t just have to pitch to three or four networks, and you don’t need the same numbers to qualify as a success. Transparent just won the Golden Globe, and however many people saw it, I bet it would have gotten it canceled on a network. And you only have to do 10 [episodes], so it’s almost like watching a long movie chopped up into little pieces. It’s a very different way to proceed, and more comfortable than 22 half-hours or even hours per year.

I have friends who work in TV, and they talk about the challenge of coming up with enough story to keep it going.

Yeah, it’s a challenge! Every week, you go, “We faked them out again—fooled them until next week.” I’m reading Norman Lear’s book [Even This I Get to Experience] and at one point he had seven—seven!—hit shows on the air at once. It’s inconceivable.

When Mad About You started, I met Larry Gelbart, who created M*A*S*H, the TV show. This was the middle of the first season, and battle fatigue had set in. I asked him, “How do you do it?” And he said, “You have to remember—your shows are like your children. You’re going to make 22 children a year, and not all of them are going to be beautiful. A couple are going to be genius—you’re going to be so proud of their accomplishments. A couple, you’re going to want to keep in the house, don’t let 'em be seen. And the vast majority will be just fine. They’ll be upstanding citizens, they’re not going to hurt anybody, they’re okay.”

And it turned out to be about right. Every season, you’ll have a couple where you’ll go, “Put them in the vault! That’s classic!” You have two or three where you go, “Whew, got through that one. Don’t look too closely at the packaging.” And the majority, you’ll go, “That was fun. Got another show to make next week.” Which brings me back to Amazon—you get to do 10, you can write them all in a row and you’re not chasing your tail. It’s almost a luxury.

OK, we’re about out of time and I have one goofy fanboy question for you. Brace yourself.

Doing it.

They’ve been doing action figures from Aliens lately. As a great fan of the movie and your character, Carter Burke, I have to ask—are you ready for the world to potentially have a Paul Reiser action figure?

I am. I am sitting by, posing, in case they’re ready to call. You know, the Burke action figure’s gonna be a little dull. [Laughs] All the other actors had like two weeks of boot camp. They were learning to handle their guns and belts and all this great gear. I showed up and I got a little binder. I had a little diary I took onboard. The soldiers had all the cool stuff, and I had a pencil. That’s what the Burke figure would come with, a Filofax notebook. 
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    A lively chat with the actor and comedian, fresh off roles in Whiplash, Married and Red Oaks, who comes to the Carolina Theatre on Jan. 31.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Interview: Downton Abbey historical advisor Alastair Bruce visits the Triangle

Posted by on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Downton Abbey historical advisor Alastair Bruce greets UNC-TV guests at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary. - COURTESY OF LIZ BOWLES / UNC-TV
  • courtesy of Liz Bowles / UNC-TV
  • Downton Abbey historical advisor Alastair Bruce greets UNC-TV guests at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary.
When Downton Abbey premieres its anxiously anticipated fifth season on Sunday, Jan. 4, at 9:00 p.m. on UNC-TV, fans will revel in the lives and loves of the Earl of Grantham and his extended family—and the de facto family of servants with whom their lives are closely intertwined. But an important part of the show’s appeal is its meticulous attention to historical detail. For that, you can thank not just the pen of series creator Julian Fellowes, but also the strict yet kind supervision of historical advisor Alastair Bruce, OBE, Queen’s Herald, Territorial Army Colonel and Equerry to Prince Edward.

Bruce has been touring stateside to promote the new season as well as a documentary about his tenure as Downton historical advisor, which will air immediately following the Season 5 premiere. I asked him how he analyzed the appeal of the show, which might have been relished by specialist audiences only, but is instead watched in 200 countries by an estimated 120 million viewers.

He thinks the appeal has several parts. Many people with European backgrounds are descended from someone who either lived in a grand house or, more likely, served below stairs. And in a “free and open society," we live in a culture without much structure. Although the stratification depicted at Downton is intrinsically unfair, “everyone had a place and felt that they were contributing to the great scheme of things,” Bruce says.

“People long for the strong bonds of courtesy that feed through it all," he continues. "You were respected, regardless of your place. And although human beings will always be sinners, there was a clear idea of what was right and what was wrong. If you wanted to have an affair, you knew it was wrong; the social contracts were absolutely clear.”

When the series first appeared, I assumed that the appeal was largely for Americans, who sometimes seem to long for a hereditary aristocracy to solve troublesome leadership vacuums. But the show was strongly popular in the UK from the first episode. Bruce says that for the British, now is a time when they can embrace their own national history in a time of renewal.

In 1832, the First Reform Act initiated electoral reforms in Britain, which continued as class boundaries eroded further during the conflagration of the Great War of 1914–’18—one reason why Downton Abbey is set in this time period.

“For a long time, particularly in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, British films and television were extremely uncomfortable with an aristocratic past, showing their members as stupid or bad, upper class twits and malevolent villains,” Bruce says. “But there has been an evolution in Britain. Since Tony Blair abolished hereditary peerages, so even members who had traditionally inherited a seat had to be elected by their constituencies, British society has been evolving so as not to be offended by their past.” Instead, they embrace it in all its splendor, as it appears in Downton Abbey.

One aspect of the show that puzzles some viewers is the extraordinary closeness of the upstairs and downstairs people. After all, you have another person dressing you and coming into the bedroom when you are in bed with your spouse. Bruce says that that a class structure in which everyone clearly knows their place facilitates the relationship of the Earl of Grantham and his valet, who served closely with him during the Second Boer War. Although they would not dream of socializing with one another, in the privileged space of their personal relationship, a strong bond is formed.

Bruce is a stickler for minute historical details, from dress to manners, dining to driving. His one regret has to do with the character played by Shirley MacLaine, the Earl’s wife’s nouveau riche American mother. “I let her down by not persevering in helping her to temper her brilliant performance,” he says. Because many Americans who suddenly became rich were self-conscious about appearing unpolished, they were “almost more perfect in manner than the British.” There would not have been a hint of her working class origins.

I suggested that part of the show's appeal was how it deals with contemporary issues in a historical setting—particularly the gay footman, Thomas, and the African-American bandleader who made a brief appearance as a romantic interest for saucy Lady Rose. “We can never escape from the environment in which we live,” Bruce says. “It has to tell a story in the present. It is a great sadness to me that Thomas hasn’t had a romantic relationship as other characters have. Many footmen were gay. If you had five sons, and one of them was attractive and tall, you would have taken him up to the big house to be a footman. It may be too much of a generalization, but a footman had to have a great sense of self, be impeccably turned out and be brilliant at it, because his good appearance reflected on the house. Thomas would have found soul-mates.”

Bruce does not anticipate this storyline soon, though. “Some parts of society [today] are more generous,” he says, “and others more intolerant in reaction.”

What kinds of incongruities bother him in other period pieces? “What really annoys me are incorrect medal ribbons,” he replies. “Someone in the armed forces can identify everything about the person they’re talking to. You can see if someone is brave, and if they have a good conduct medal. Anyone who had been in the military for a long time without one would be suspect. In one scene, a person appeared without his World War I medals. I insisted that extras appeared in the scene with the correct medals. It’s not hard to do it correctly, you can find it on Wikipedia. Still, you see productions in which ribbons are worn upside down. I vilify productions fearful of doing it right.”

But Downton Abbey doesn’t hesitate to call Bruce to confer on the tiniest details. Individuals are addressed correctly, by their station, not their first names, which would have been shocking to the Edwardians. Swearing is taboo. Posture is important, as is the way one behaves at a meal (no leaning on the table, please). No profligate touching, either. “We shake hands and kiss because we have antibiotics,” Bruce says.

One extraordinary aspect of the show is the attention paid to the costumes, which have evolved from Edwardian elegance to the more revealing styles of the 1920s—with more flappers to come, I suspect. The detailed, scrupulously correct garments (and undergarments) vividly create character. An exhibition of Downton Abbey costumes, which spent the summer at Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, is coming to Biltmore House in Asheville from February 5–May 25

As at Winterthur, Biltmore will contrast the daily life of grand houses in England and America. The exhibit reveals that the show is visually accurate because designer Caroline McCall has repurposed unique, fragile vintage pieces in new gowns that can withstand the rigors of filming. Bruce says that the costume department works hard “sewing beads on as they fall off” fragments of antique beaded dresses.

Would Bruce like to have lived in a different historical period? Emphatically not. He sees the role of a historian as being to “challenge people to examine the past and be kinder to each other,” especially younger audiences, whom he wishes would be more engaged with history.

As such, he cares deeply about every detail. After all, it is his hands we see in the opening credits, using a ruler to align place settings at the table. As for quibbles over a bit of a language snafu here and there? Bruce is constantly on the alert, rebuking “OK” and other modern phrases. He says, “If you hear a word or phrase on the show, Julian [Fellowes] has a source for it.” But Bruce embraces the attacks of fellow nitpickers. It means people are enjoying the story, so he just “gets the pen and paper out to crack on.”
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    The beloved British class drama returns for a fifth season on Sunday, Jan. 4.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Return of Dr. Thunder: One cat’s journey from Texas to North Carolina to the afterlife—and back

Posted by , and on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 1:29 PM

photo courtesy of Kellie Hamilton - TINY MONTY ... OR DR. THUNDER?
  • Tiny Monty ... or Dr. Thunder?
  • photo courtesy of Kellie Hamilton
There is something about cats that makes you ponder the uncanny.

In "The Return of Dr. Thunder," Kellie Hamilton shares the story of how one cat traveled from Texas to North Carolina to the Great Beyond. And then, possibly, back again.

We love the quirky humor of this story, and the gentle way that the narrator approaches it. The cat's owner later said that he felt silly revealing his belief in reincarnated pets, but as the ending shows, he's not the only one out there wondering if his cat is a part of something larger—some vast unknown, a cosmic cattery we can only glimpse.

"Whether a lot of us admit it or not, many of us have a similar sense of having known a person or a pet before," says Kellie. "To have somebody who's willing to go into it and talk about it—to me, that was a gift."

Kellie lives on a small farm in Rougemont with her husband, son and daughter. In addition to producing audio stories, Kellie works as a technical writer, project manager, equestrian, donkey breeder and fainting goat broker.

For her next assignment, she's collecting stories of vacations gone awry. Email your tales of airport misadventures and other lost-in-translation moments to and we’ll pass them along.

Audio Under the Stars is an outdoor community listening party. Each summer, we curate a monthly playlist of interesting, funny, or otherwise compelling audio stories around a specific theme, and invite everyone to join us to share them under the stars. We welcome great stories from all over, but some of our favorites have a local flavor. Many are produced by the audiophiles at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies. We welcome submissions or ideas at You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter @AudioStars.

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    An audio tale of feline reincarnation, courtesy of Audio Under the Stars

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Is the Hopscotch Design Festival for you?

Posted by on Mon, Sep 1, 2014 at 2:22 PM

Matt Muñoz and Greg Lowenhagen at the Federal - PHOTO BY BRIAN HOWE
  • photo by Brian Howe
  • Matt Muñoz and Greg Lowenhagen at the Federal
Hopscotch Design Festival
Sept. 3 and 4

If you’re a hardcore design head—architectural or digital, graphic or urban—then the new Hopscotch Design Festival, a collaboration between Hopscotch Music and Raleigh design firm New Kind, is a no-brainer. Following the music festival’s example, it brings more than 25 events with 36 local and national design leaders—from fields as diverse as video games, music and sustainable transit—to a walk-able spread of venues in downtown Raleigh.

But for the casual observer, who is asked to pay $150 (or $75 as an add-on to a Hopscotch Music wristband) for two days of design talks in the middle of the work week, the attraction is less obvious. And while most people know what a music festival is, what is a design festival anyway?

We reported on the origins of Hopscotch Design when it was first announced in March. Now, as it prepares to kick off Wednesday and Thursday (tickets are still available), we sat down at The Federal in Durham with cofounders Greg Lowenhagen, the majority owner of Hopscotch, and Matt Muñoz, chief design officer of New Kind, to answer some of our lingering questions.

INDY: What was the rationale behind adding another festival to Hopscotch?

Greg Lowenhagen: We had no grand design to add anything, but you’re always curious about what you can do next. I was meeting with city councilors and starting to take a more city-wide view. When I heard from Councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin that Matt [Muñoz] and Jonathan Opp from New Kind were thinking about doing a design day or two, we met for coffee and started talking about it. If we were going to do something different, it had to be something personally interesting because of the time and effort it takes. And the secondary thing is, does it work financially, is it going to hurt us, is it too odd of a brand fit? All of those answers came out to, “Let’s do this.”

INDY: How did it fit the brand? Hopscotch is a young music festival, and if you’re going to add a sub-festival, the most obvious candidates are things people are already familiar with—a film festival or even a tech fest, which people have the SXSW precedent for.

GL: Those have been pitched to us. But when I think of Raleigh I don’t think of film. It’s done really well elsewhere, including here in Durham, which has Full Frame. And we have a nice tech component to Design and that will continue to grow. But there’s the Internet Summit in Raleigh. As you mentioned, SXSW has Interactive, which is the preeminent one nationally. There are a lot of tech conferences. I think people might be tired of talking about tech in its own column.

I like the Design piece because it’s broad, the way we program Hopscotch; it offers the ability to learn a little bit from a lot of different people in different fields who are really good at what they do, whether it’s architecture, graphic design, music, film, food, manufacturing. What are they making; how are they doing it? That’s really relevant in growing global cities—in Asia, in the Middle East and here. Raleigh’s one of those, Durham’s one of those, Carrboro’s one of those. We think Hopscotch Music really fits because it’s community-based first. Design is an integral component of cities here and it’s becoming more so, and we want to produce an event for those folks.

Matt Muñoz: There’s such an amazing design community around here. It’s not always about being a professional as an architect or graphic designer or urban planner. It’s people who have a way of thinking about their vision and putting it into action. Entrepreneurs, start-ups. The mayor’s State of the City address was about how Raleigh is on the top of so many lists because of intentional, thoughtful design. That’s one of the fundamental ways we think about design: It’s creation with intent. We wanted to bring people who are doing those things together to cross-pollinate ideas.

INDY: I definitely see how the concept of design fits Raleigh. What I’m curious about is how it fits a festival model. What makes this a festival for a general audience and not a trade show for specialists?

MM: With a trade show, it’s usually a conference environment. You’re in one location and you have very specific trade-oriented things you’re doing. This is sort of a mash-up. There are elements of a design conference, because we’ve got speakers. But play is such an integral part of creating something. It can open the mind up. That’s why the Hopscotch Music model is such an interesting, unique thing. You can jump around, discover new music. It might be bands on the international stage or bands in your back yard. But it’s this really casual, bouncing-around experience. We thought, “How can we create something that provides the same level of inspiration, networking, parties, fun?”

GL: What makes it a festival is what makes Hopscotch Music a festival. It’s an opportunity for somebody, whether they’re a professional designer or a casual architecture fan or a tech dabbler, to see all these people in one place. If you’re out in San Francisco, you might catch a couple of shows or a talk. The music festival costs $150 for three days, and there’s a chance that you might see more shows than you see in the next six months or year. This is the same with Design. You can’t dedicate a ton of time to TED Talks online, but here you have the ability to see an amalgamation of these folks over two days. It isn’t just academic, it’s a social thing.

INDY: I did wonder if TED Talks were a good point of reference here—big ideas talks?

GL: I watched 30 of them on Netflix that were design-oriented this year, but I did it in my bedroom. Doing it at CAM with 200 other people, or with 40 people at a cool, intimate space like Flanders Gallery, and being able to talk to people when it’s over? It’s just different from reading their book.

MM: It’s not a formal conference where it’s like, “You can’t come into this room.” You’re going to be walking around on the same streets as the speakers whose ideas you’ve just fallen in love with. You’re able to talk to them and ask them questions. We’ve got Elle Luna on Twitter communicating with attendees in Raleigh, already talking about getting together. That’s not the usual conversation.

GL: That doesn’t really happen at music festivals either. There’s a conversational piece to this that’s really cool. I think there’s going to be a certain informality. The simple answer of why we don’t call it a conference is: What does a conference connote in your mind?

INDY: Boring.

GL: Boring. But this is going to be fun. There was no consideration of ever calling it a conference or expo or summit. It’s a festival, people gathering in venues.

MM: But beyond being a festival, it’s about ongoing education and discovery and curiosity. One of the things we’re still working on is, for example, AIA architects getting credits for coming. It’s serious play.

INDY: Did you ever consider putting it all in one space or bundling it with Hopscotch Music entry to get people in for the first year?

MM: That was a part of some earlier conversations. But one of the elements of the Hopscotch experience is that you’re jumping around, so that was quickly off the table. And we’ve done some add-ons where you can buy a Design pass for $75, but that’s as integrated as we could get it for the first year.

INDY: Any sense of who is buying these tickets, whether its predominantly people who are in the design world or laypeople?

GL: There’s no metric for that yet. My sense is that, as you’d expect, a lot are designers, but there are indications that there are lots of other people too. We set the capacity at 600 each day. We have already hit our target for how many people we thought might add Design for $75. They could be designers who also have music passes, but I get the sense they might be, as you said, laypeople—non-designers who are interested in experiencing another piece of Hopscotch.

INDY: Is it important to you to reach laypeople or is it OK just being for designers?

MM: We’re OK with however it settles out this year, of course. But whether you’re a teacher creating a classroom with round desks to have more conversation, or a fashion designer, you’re both doing the same thing. There’s a certain amount of courage and creativity and grit that goes into creating an idea.

GL: I think that’s where our growth will come first—the design community, people who are on teams at local firms. But I think eventually it does reach a wider audience because it’s going to be interesting and spread word-of-mouth, the way Music did. Part of the charm of Hopscotch is freedom of choice. You spent your hard-earned money for your wristband and feel empowered to say, “Cool, they gave me 12 different choices for this time slot.” That’s the beauty of it. I think with Design, it’s going to work the same way. We’ll see this week.

MM: You choose your own adventure; we’re just providing the grid. Our partners, like Joule and Morning Times and Five Star—you go to these places and bring your badge and get drink specials, so we start to create some gravitation to these spaces for this community, and the conversation continues.

GL: The diversity of interest in Music attendees has led us to believe there’s the same diversity of interest in Design attendees. We don’t funnel you toward one stage and you don’t have to sit through something if you’re not interested. Large festivals usually pen you in and you’ve got to buy their beer and food. Here, you can get up halfway through a talk, or catch parts of three in one time slot. But three rooms won’t be empty while one has every attendee in it.

MM: That freedom of choice also extends to the speakers. We haven’t told them what they have to talk about. We’ve chosen them because we think they’re a cultural and intellectual fit. We want to know what they’re working on now, what they want to share with people.

INDY: What kinds of things can people expect besides talks?

MM: You’ve got the interactive Hopscotch Lab. And we partner with the Jamie Hahn Foundation for a “Designing a Better Food System” lunch after two keynotes on Wednesday morning.

GL: We’ve got a concert on Wednesday at Lincoln Theater, Lost in the Trees and Gross Ghost. That’s just a Wednesday-night cut-loose party. After a full day of listening, learning and talking, at some point, you just want to have a cocktail and get a bite to eat.

INDY: In assembling the lineup, did you start with a big wish list, or start with a few people you knew and chase the connections out from there?

GL: Exactly like that. We wanted Rob Cotter from Organic Transit, Pierce Freelon and Apple Juice Kid from Beat Making Lab, Matt Tomasulo in Raleigh—a leader crop doing very interesting things in their fields. But wouldn’t it be neat if they were with people from San Francisco, Austin, Dublin, Chicago, L.A., who work at Pinterest or IBM or do films with Wes Anderson? One difference between booking Music and Design is that Music is a very totalitarian process. [Laughs] We’ll take some suggestions, but we’re pretty close to the vest. With Design, from the outset, we had an advisory committee of influencers in the community. We asked, “Who would you like to see? No guarantees, but we’d love ideas.”

INDY: What binds all these people from different fields together?

MM: Rob Cotter says, “How can we have light sustainable transportation devices?” That doesn’t exist out there, so he’s created it. Matt Tomasulo sees an empty space and says, “What happens if we turn a shipping container into a biergarten?” and it wins a Sir Walter Raleigh Design Award. Sarah Miller Caldicott, who’s channeling Edison, her great-grandfather, is figuring out how to bring people together to invent. They’re all asking, “How do I make this vision happen in whatever field I’m passionate about?”

INDY: What would a win look like for Hopscotch Design, attendance-wise?

GL: We’re probably not going to hit the full-on 600 sell-out cap, but we’re real happy with the numbers right now. We were right, barring any catastrophe in the next week, that it was a measured fiscal risk. It’s definitely not going to damage Hopscotch Music Festival in any way, which was key to me from the beginning. Our expenses aren’t crazy, and if we did sell out, we’d make a good bit of money this year. As it stands, we’re breaking even for certain.

MM: And people are excited about it.

INDY: How do you know they’re excited?

MM: They’re telling us on Facebook and Twitter. We’ve gotten emails from people saying, “Hey, we are so excited to meet Doug Powell, he’s working at IBM and we’ve run a big corporate office, any chance that we could meet?”

GL: Excited to the point where they’re sending me emails for next year’s speakers. You know when you’re getting emails to the “info@” address that there’s interest out there.

INDY: The pitch to design heads is crystal clear to me. What’s your elevator pitch to the layperson, and what are you doing to communicate it to them?

GL: You can’t see this assemblage of thinkers, makers, storytellers and doers in all these different fields under the umbrella of design assembled anywhere else in North Carolina. There’s life lessons for CEOs, midlevel executives, college students, everyone. If you’re a banker, it could still matter to you. Does that mean everyone’s going to come? No, but if it interests you enough once you’ve looked at who the speakers are, you should come.

MM: It’s for the layperson with a particular mindset. “I’m creative, I care about doing things that excite me.” Those people are a sponge for everything, and to them, this is like the best thing ever.

INDY: So you’re casting a broad net, but it’s one that’s going to catch a certain kind of person.

MM: That’s exactly right.

GG: Something I learned in year one of Hopscotch Music is that it’s a mistake to pigeonhole what people are interested in, because you’d be shocked at how diverse people’s interests are. I really have no idea who’s showing up next week, I just know there’s going to be several hundred of them and I expect them to come from all different walks of life.

Look for more in the INDY's Hopscotch package in the Sept. 3 issue.

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    We ask cofounders Greg Lowenhagen and Matt Muñoz some of our lingering questions about Hopscotch’s new component

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Monday, August 18, 2014

One: A Story of Love and Equality at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Posted by on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Becca Roth had never actually been to North Carolina before starting work on her award-winning documentary One: A Story of Love and Equality, which chronicles her interactions with people on both sides of a controversial anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment. Still, the state and its rocky history with gay rights had always intrigued her.

“I had a friend from college who was from Hendersonville,” says Roth, “and she always talked about the difference between being in Hendersonville, having to be completely closeted, and going 30 minutes to Asheville, where you can do whatever you want. So I was interested in doing a film to understand where people were coming from on both sides."

“When I found out about Amendment One, it seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Roth continues. “Even though it did pass, North Carolina seemed like one of the most mixed states in terms of the issue, and that’s what I wanted to explore with the film.”

On Sunday, Roth’s film had its first public screening in the state for a crowd of about 100 at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. (If you missed it, it screens again this Thursday.)
Roth says she hadn’t been to the festival before, but was impressed by what she experienced. “There’s a real loyalty in the festival’s audience,” she says. “When I’m here, I feel the impact on everyone watching it and how it’s close to their lives. It’s one of the most responsive audiences we’ve had.”

According to Roth’s director’s statement, the film grew out of an experience in high school when she organized an LGBT prom in rural Ohio that was met with heated protests. “We called them ignorant,” she writes. “They called us sinners.” Roth says that the most meaningful part of making the film was exploring these different attitudes from an empathetic perspective.

“If you want to further the discussion, you can’t just tell people that they’re wrong—you have to meet them where they are and let them share their stories and experiences and reveal their humanity,” she says. ”That’s kind of the whole purpose of the film. It’s important for people on both sides of the community to have conversations about it, even if they’re coming from different places.”

One: A Story of Love and Equality screens at 7:20 p.m. on Thursday, Aug.21 at the Carolina Theatre as part of the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The festival runs through Aug. 24. This week, it also features a new “Retrofantastique” series of double-features of older movies that have LGBT themes or have traditionally been popular with LGBT audiences. For more information, visit the Carolina Theatre’s website.
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    The festival, currently in progress at the Carolina Theatre, runs through Aug. 24

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