Q & A with Chris Mancini

Headshot Chris Mancini T-Rex
Chris Mancini (l) and friend (r)

Chris Mancini is a Writer, Director, Comedian, Author, Producer, Podcaster, and Parent, which also makes him very tired. He has also written, directed and produced on everything from soap operas to parenting books to horror films, which are all more closely related than you think.

His feature films include Asylum from Lionsgate Films and Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary from Comedy Dynamics. His award-winning short films include SKINSHitclown, and Rainbow’s End. Chris has screened films and spoken at various prestigious festivals and conventions including Slamdance and Comic-Con in San Diego.

His published works include Pacify Me: A Handbook for the Freaked Out New DadThe Comedy Film Nerds Guide to Movies, and the graphic novel Long Ago and Far Away.

A strong advocate of podcasting, Chris is also the co-founder of Comedyfilmnerds.com with Graham Elwood. The site features a podcast with over 6 million downloads and features comedians and filmmakers talking about movies. His scripted horror anthology podcast Conversations From The Abyss is now in its second season. Chris was also one of the founders of the Los Angeles Podcast Festival.

What’s the last thing you read or watched you thought was incredibly well-written?

The two extremes would be Avengers: Endgame, because it was the culmination of years of storytelling, and Paddleton because it was a small two actor character piece that just sucked you in. The relationship and the drama of the two leads and their interaction was incredibly engaging. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano did an amazing job.

Were you always a writer, or was it something you eventually discovered you had a knack for?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16. I submitted short stories to magazines. Yes, that was a thing. Ironically, I got published first with non-fiction. I was a journalist for a local newspaper for a while (also a thing), starting at age 18.

What are some of your favorite comics and/or webcomics?

I really enjoy Hellboy. I also like anything by Neil Gaiman, and grew up on a healthy dose of Spider-Man and Daredevil. I actually remember when Spider-Man first got his black costume. It was an alien symbiote that came out of some weird machine during Secret Wars. I remember not being happy because I always liked the red and blue one. But you get over these things. I am also reading a lot of kids’ comics with my son, like Cardboard and Amulet which I am really enjoying.

How’d you get your start writing comics?

I kind of made it happen on my own. I’ve always wanted to write comics, and I had a story I thought would be perfect for the medium. I met Mark Waid through a mutual friend and podcast fan and he championed it. So I found an artist I loved and kickstarted it. I was able to fund it thanks to the generosity of the fans and then Starburns Press picked it up. I am very happy to be over there, and I think it’s a great fit for the book. I just got my first offer for a short piece in their next comics anthology. My first comics writing assignment! I’m hoping for many, many more. I would love to write more comics.

A lot of people hear the term “comic book writer”, but don’t really know what the job entails. How would you describe it?

Interestingly, since I have a background in indie film what you’re really doing as a comic book writer is writing and directing. You’re writing the script but also describing the action, pacing, and what goes in each panel. Basically you’re storyboarding like you would for a film. In indie film you have to wear a lot of hats, but with comic book writing you’re not just writing some abstract script. You’re describing each panel and basically directing the book. That’s why it’s so important to have a great artist to be paired with like I was with Fernando Pinto. Eventually you develop a shorthand and it gets quicker.

What inspired you to write your graphic novel Long Ago And Far Away? What was your process for writing it?

I’ve always loved fantasy stories, and growing up was a sucker for the stories about kids from our world who go into a fantasy world to save the day, like The Chronicles of Narnia. But I always thought about what would happen when those kids come back to our world and become adults. How would it have affected them? And then what if they had to go back into that world as an adult? The process was very, very long. I had the story a few years ago and it was in and out of development at various companies as an animated show, etc. But it never moved forward. But it was the kind of story that stays with you, and insists on being told. We all have stories like that; ones that won’t let you go. So I thought that a comic book would be a great way to tell the story. And I wouldn’t have to worry about there not being enough money for computer effects.

LAAFA was funded via crowdfunding. With a lot of comics creators taking that route to self-publish, is it something you’d recommend, and what are some tips you’d offer?

I recommend anyone who wants to create to just get out there and make it happen, any way you can. If someone buys your idea or hires you, great. But more often than not we have to greenlight ourselves. So if you’re a filmmaker, make a short film. If you’re a novelist, self-publish. If you want to make a comic, you need to raise enough money to pay the artist and make the book. But it can be done. Just know that crowdfunding is a full time job for that window of raising money. Don’t just think you can put a project up and money will magically appear. You have to promote, get endorsements from other artists, and also promote. Did I mention promoting?

You’ve also had experience writing for film, both narrative and documentary. How do you compare writing for the screen to the comics page?

I really, really, love it. It’s like filmmaking with an unlimited budget. No one comes back and says “we don’t have the budget to blow up Manhattan” in a comic book. If it can be drawn, it can be in the story. As far as story goes, film story progression and storyboarding can be really instrumental in writing for comics and guiding your panels.

A key component of writing (and not just for comics) is to make the stories and characters relatable. What sort of approaches do you take to accomplish that?

Characters we create often have traits of ourselves or people we know in them. That grounds them and keeps them believable. Even when it’s a supervillain, there’s a relatable trait you can give him or her. I always try to figure out what kind of character they are by how they would react in certain situations. Character reactions can convey lots of information about a character. As far as the story goes, keep the story progression organic. It should only have crazy twists in it if you were slowly leading up to them all along. The best narrative twists are the ones the audience didn’t see coming, but in hindsight were justified from the very beginning.

What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?

Write what you know.

Make the story personal, regardless of the genre or scope of the story.

Get help from other writers, and help them in return.

Don’t write for free for millionaires. If someone is serious about your work, they’ll make a deal with you.

Don’t neglect your body. Take time to exercise and unplug. It will help your mind focus and clear your head, which will improve your writing.

Filmmaker. Comics writer. Podcaster. Stand-up comedian. What’s next?

I really want to focus on writing right now, so I’m taking a break from stand-up, but may return to it at some point.. While I do the Comedy Film Nerds Podcast with Graham Elwood every week, I also have a scripted horror anthology podcast called Conversations From the Abyss that just finished its second season. I’m also hoping to get my next comic project going called Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master with the same team. It’s a martial arts/fantasy/comedy about a small time crook in Los Angeles who gets mixed up in a perennial battle between good and evil from ancient China. I also have various TV and film projects I’m developing and hoping to get into production.

How can people find out more about you and your wide body of work?

My website has links to my books and movies, including Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary. There are also links to the podcasts and my demo reel.

http://www.chrisjmancinionline.com/

http://www.comedyfilmnerds.com/

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Peach. ‘nuff said.

Bonus feature!

Here’s an episode of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast where Chris goes into an extensive recounting of his experience with his film Asylum. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for aspiring filmmakers, plus it’s just an extremely entertaining tale. Well worth the listen.

http://comedyfilmnerds.libsyn.com/ep-219-dean-haglund

peach pie

Bulletin board mode activated!

bulletin board
Always room for one more announcement

Today is all about promoting other folks’ projects. All I get out of it is enjoying helping out some good people.

-Filmmaker and friend of the blog Scotty Cornfield is getting ready to shoot his short Goodbye, NOLA later this year. A crowdfunding campaign will be launching very, very soon. Until then, check out the website or the Facebook page for updates.

-Previous blog interviewee Michele Wallerstein will be teaching a one-day workshop called Find and Keep and AGENT! on Saturday, May 7th in Studio City, CA. She also just launched her online course Moving Your Writing Career Forward.

-Previous blog interviewee Barri Evins will be hosting her Big Ideas Tiki Bar Seminar the weekend of June 10-12 in Los Angeles. Barri’s seminars also include 6 months’ worth of individual mentorship. Expert screenwriting advice, 6 months of help, AND a tiki bar? How could you pass this up?

The Great American Pitchfest is taking place May 20-22 in Burbank. Use code Z15 to get 15% off any package EXCEPT the Writing Partner or Scriptfest ones. But hurry – the code’s only good until May 1st, and the organizers tell me it’s filling up fast. This is a great opportunity to network and hone your pitching skills. I went last year and got a lot out of both.

-I’m a huge fan of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast, and co-host Chris Mancini has launched a Kickstarter campaign for his graphic novel Long Ago and Far Away. As of this posting, they’re getting close to hitting the goal. If you’re a fan of comics and supporting original works, feel free to donate if you can to help get them there.

Got your own project coming up that you’d like to promote? Drop me a line.

Time once again for…

Okay, class. Who's got stuff to talk about?
Okay, class. Who’s got stuff to talk about?

…the much-anticipated Project Status Update!

So simple, anyone can do it in just two easy steps!

Here’s how it works:

1. What you’re currently working on
2. How it’s going

I’ll start the ball rolling.

1. A rewrite of my mystery spec.
2. I’m up to page 82, which places it in the latter half of Act 2. This includes the realization that my “page 75” plot point has changed, but still works.

See? No sweat. Give it a try.

And continuing with the theme of something not seen in a while…

-Movie of the Moment. THE LONE RANGER (2013). Yep. Finally.

It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either. My biggest complaint was that there was just way too much going on. I’m all for an epic western, but this felt like they were trying to jam in as many cliches as possible. They could have totally removed at least two supporting characters and the inane “1933 Tonto telling a story” scenes.

It really seemed like it couldn’t decide what kind of story it wanted to be. Slapstick comedy? Buddy picture? Drama with touches of gore? All these and more on display.

One of the first rules in screenwriting is to make the audience want to root for your main character, which unfortunately doesn’t happen here. I actually thought Armie Hammer was a good choice to play the part, but the material was all wrong. Yes, he’s adapting to the ways of the frontier, but for crying out loud, this is the LONE RANGER. You do not make him a naive doofus.

Regarding Johnny Depp as Tonto, Graham Elwood of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast summed it up perfectly: The name of the movie is THE LONE RANGER, not JACK SPARROW GOES WEST.

One can only hope that the failure of this film will not once again stop the resurgence of the western.

Devilishly handsome? Sure. But lovely…?

One Lovely Blog

You never know who’s reading your stuff.

Such is the case with this blog. All I know about my readers is how many there are and where they’re reading me, geographically speaking.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to get a message from The Novice Screenwriter: “I really enjoy your blog (and might I add your great sense of humor:) and I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award.

In the words of the Cowardly Lion, “Shucks, folks. I’m speechless.”

One of my earlier bosses in radio stressed the importance of PIE. Not the world-changing, life-affirming dessert  (which, granted, is very important), but how your performance should always be Professional, Informative and Entertaining. That’s an acronym I’ve tried to adhere to in all forms of my media output, including this blog, which is why I’m flattered to get this kind of recognition.

And apparently there are rules/guidelines for this as well:

1. Add the “One Lovely Blog” image to your post
2. Share seven things about you
3. Pass the award on to seven nominees
4. Thank the person who nominated you
5. Inform the nominees by posting on their blogs

Thanks to Aarthi at The Novice Screenwriter for the nomination. When somebody tells me they heard me doing traffic on the radio, I always say “It’s nice to know somebody’s listening.” So in this case, it’s nice to know somebody’s reading.

Seven Facts you may or may not know about me:
-I’m the youngest of 5 in a typical Jewish-American family. And by “typical”, I mean there’s a doctor, a lawyer, and the one in showbiz.

-I was born and raised in the great state of New Jersey. The southern half, where there are no accents.

-My wife and I saw HEATHERS on our first date. We’ve been together ever since.

-I really enjoy cooking and baking. One of my specialties is pecan pie from scratch – crust and everything. A friend with strong roots in Georgia was practically orgasmic over it, which must mean something.

-I like to run half-marathons, averaging about 4 a year. My pace is around 9 minutes a mile, with the goal to someday break the 1:55 time limit. The idea of doing a full marathon is intriguing, yet very intimidating.

-I collect comic books, but have never attended Comic-Con in San Diego. Someday I will. In fact, the dream is to be there while The Movie I Wrote is being promoted (with a panel in Hall H and everything!).

-I didn’t go to school for screenwriting. Everything I’ve learned comes from reading books and scripts, watching and studying movies, attending a handful of seminars, and most of all, writing and rewriting.

Here are the seven blogs I heartily recommend:
My Blank Page – good nuts and bolts advice from a working screenwriter
Just Effing Entertain Me – practical advice for writers and a high-profile script competition (hurry! final deadline is Aug 15)
Sex in a Sub – an extremely prolific writer plus fantastic analysis of Hitchcock films
Sprinting to Fade Out – great info for aspiring writers (regrettably on hold for now, but worth checking the archives)
News from ME – a wide variety of topics from a veteran writer-director who works in TV, cartoons and comics
Scott Tipton’s Comics 101 – got a question about comics? More info than you could possibly imagine, especially if you’re a fan of ROM: SPACE KNIGHT
Comedy Film Nerds – actually a podcast about movies, but extremely hilarious, entertaining, informative and very NSFW

I have no idea if there’s an actual award connected with this, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m just happy to be nominated, and will practice my “forced smile to mask my internal pain” look just in case it’s not my name if a winner is ever announced.

That’s me – the human flying buttress

Just offering what little support I can
Just offering whatever support I can

When another writer follows me on Twitter, I’ll send a thank-you DM when applicable and ask how their latest project is coming along. The responses are usually pretty enthusiastic, and it’s great to see such a wide spectrum of material and how each person’s path is developing.

(What writer doesn’t like to talk about their work? I’m no exception either.)

Or maybe they’ve hit a bump in the road. “I’m stuck in Act Two,” “This rewrite’s killing me!” or “I’ve been dragging my feet on getting this draft done.”  Happens to all of us.

Based on how they’re doing, I’ll usually write something like “That’s awesome!” or “Hang in there!”, followed by the ubiquitous “Best of/Good luck!”

And I actually mean it.

Honest.

So it was a little surprising when I got this response during a recent DM chat – “You have a special gift of encouragement. WHO does that these days?”

Really? Nice, supportive people are now considered a rarity?

I’m not an idiot. This is a savage business a lot of us are trying to break into. It’s extremely competitive, and the odds are definitely not in our favor.  It’s extremely easy to get disenhearted and want to throw in the towel after receiving that 97th rejection letter.

A few words of support are never the wrong thing to say, even if it’s something as simple as “Good luck.” That may be just the extra push you need to get yourself to keep going, start again, or what have you.  If you’re lucky, you have loved ones, friends and trusted colleagues who support your efforts, regardless of how long it takes.

And consider me part of that group as well.

-Movie of the Moment – STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013). Nice to look at, but is it really asking too much for an original story and characters – again? I didn’t like the Leonard Nimoy/Spock part of the 2009 movie, and was disappointed at the way this one played out.

For a funnier, NSFW spoiler-filled review, click here.

It bothers me that Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof have become the go-to guys for pop culture sci-fi flicks. Yes, they’ve got talent (to a certain extent), but their work just feels like something’s missing. Maybe too much relying on flashy spectacle and not enough smart storytelling?  The effects should enhance the story, not the other way around.

As much as I enjoy a good fanboy film, I’ll take a solid story over gee-whiz special effects every time.  I suspect a lot of people also feel this way, or at least hope they do.

Trust your audience to be able to follow along; they’ll appreciate it.