Who doesn’t love movies? It is such a vast and varied artform; there is something for everyone and every mindset, from big, dumb special-effects-laden films for those who need escapist entertainment to deep, artsy, intellectual films that make you use your brain. No matter what type of film you are into, however, sometimes the best part of the movie is talking about it afterwards with friends. Movie watching has become sort of a group activity (which is weird since it’s generally something during which nobody talks). Luckily for those who like movie talk, there is a podcast based right here in Louisville devoted to just that. I recently sat down with Bryan Renfro to discuss Movie Meltdown :
Describe the podcast in your own words.
“[It’s] A big conglomeration of movie geekdom. It’s sort of a mesh of everything; it, I think, centers more around conversation than anything. That’s what’s sort of drawn people to it; the fans that we have really like the way that we interact with each other… I think that’s sort of what’s different about this one is just the ridiculousness and camaraderie that sort of has set in… It’s about movies, but I don’t want to make it a movie review show. I think I’ve always had an issue with people who call themselves reviewers; you automatically start looking at it from a very different perspective, and I know I’ve kind of done it… I don’t want to pinpoint good or bad. Everybody, by the end, sort of feels like you’re telling people to go see [the movie], but really, by the end, when we finish the discussion, you better have already seen it because we’ve gone so far into it that there’s nothing left to see. So I feel like it’s sort of a post-movie discussion … sometimes [about] specific movies, sometimes in general what’s going on in the movie geek culture. I think that’s the basic, that half of it, and then the other half is just sort of a generalized, almost a cheesy movie show… I’ve attached myself to… cheesy entertainment shows, especially those that were off the beaten path; I really love ‘The Big Picture’ that used to be on MTV years ago with Chris Connelly. I think that was sort of a major inspiration. It all sort of is this mesh of bad, cheesy entertainment television mixed with a Joe Bob Brigg’s drive-in mentality, and then hanging out with friends talking about movies. Somewhere in-between those ideas is sort of where it’s gelled.”
And you guys get really in-depth. I watched “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” which I’d never seen, for this last podcast, and you guys covered everything.
“And I don’t think that was as lengthy as some of our others! [This podcast ran for 90 minutes.] Occasionally we talk about the movie for as long as the movie... I still try to be a geek and take notes and at least make it official, and I come through it with some sort of a framework for the show, but most of it I just throw out there and let people talk and midway in we realized that the Creature is basically the embodiment of a teenager. It’s like, ‘I feel awkward, I’m hideous, and I look weird, and I’m lustful, all I want to do is hook up with others.’ As much as I like to talk about what’s going on on the screen in the movies, I also like finding that subtext , especially when you go back and look at older movies, how much stuff they were putting in there that they necessarily couldn’t say, or were just trying to work in other themes, so I kind of like the other stuff we find along the way as well. There’s a lot of other stuff going on not on the screen sometimes that we will delve into in ways that we probably shouldn’t at times.”
I love that kind of stuff. It drives my wife crazy. We were watching “Showgirls” the other night and I was trying to find deeper meaning and symbolism, and there’s not really any here, but damn it, I’m gonna make something happen.
“Yeah, ‘Showgirls.’ [whistles] It’s a piece of work, let me tell you. It’s kind of epic bad. You’re listening to some of this dialogue come out of their mouths and you’re just like, ‘Somebody wrote that? Really?’ … There’s an artform to bad movies, so I’m certainly not going to toss something aside because it’s bad. I’ve also noticed you can find so much more in some of these bad movies. Sometimes there’s just layers of this stuff going on. Most people will just sort of shrug it off, say, ‘Oh, this movie’s terrible!’ and then not really pay attention, but if you delve into them there’s some amazing stuff going on… There’s stuff you have to see to believe.”
I recently got on a weird Paul Verhoeven kick because they showed “Total Recall” at the Speed Museum as part of their film series on memory, and Ryan Daly was talking about how it seems like a popcorn movie, but there’s a lot more going on there. I thought, that’s utterly ridiculous, but it’s true, so I had to watch it.
“Well, you look at ‘Robocop,’ it’s kind of that same thing, because if you want, there’s a lot of other stuff going on in that plot, and then if you just want to sit there and watch hands explode and watch people get hit by cars you can settle in and just focus on the gore; but at the same time, that one’s got a lot. ‘Starship Troopers’ is really like that. It could be a big, dumb movie about fighting bugs, which, on some level it is, but then you look at the weird propaganda and all the political stuff and all the messages about World War II he forced into this futuristic war… He’s not stupid; he just occasionally has bad taste.”
So you’ve been doing the podcast for four years now, right?
“We just, actually this week, had our four year anniversary, so we are just now heading into the fourth year of this thing.”
How did you get started in the whole podcast world?
“I think it goes back really, really far as that weird teenager who was watching ‘Pump Up the Volume’ and wanted to have his own radio show… It’s funny how technology has caught up with us and now you can actually have your own audio show and essentially it’s the exact same thing, and it goes out to whoever, and FCC’s not fighting you, so far... As of now you can kind of do whatever you want. So I didn’t really go into the radio end of it, I just sort of had that seed planted. And then I did start doing a lot of interviews; I started doing print interviews with actors - I was doing general people: sometimes musicians, sometimes writers, or a lot of visual artists, but I kept getting drawn more and more towards the movie stuff because I’m such a big movie geek. So as [print stuff] became harder and harder to do, and because I hate transcribing, I’m like, ‘I’m already sitting here with all this audio recording, why don’t I find a way to use that anyway?’ So I sort of took it upon myself to figure out the audio end of it. It’s amazing going from not really knowing anything to being able to produce the show every week and now striving to get good sound everywhere I go, which is an uphill battle… I was bored listening to the same music I have on the iPod and thought, there’s gotta be something else, and I found one [movie podcast] and actually, the first one I listened to, I hated. And I think that’s what kicked in; in the middle of me not liking this show because it was just badly done and badly put together and they weren’t saying anything interesting, I was just like, ‘I can do better than this.’ And that kicked in: if you can do this, then maybe I need to do something like this. So all of those things came together, wanting to continue doing interviews with actors or directors, so I started shifting it more towards the movies and put together the other group discussion thing which I’ve been toying with doing for years.”
As far as the actual discussion goes, do you do much editing of that, or just keep it all in?
“Well, not much anymore. Usually it’s just tightening up spots, like if we’re sitting there for a minute figuring out what to do next - nobody wants to hear that... But in the middle of the discussion, not too much really. I’ve realized it’s almost impossible sometimes because once you get into something and you take something out of the middle, it doesn’t make sense over here anymore... Whatever we’re rambling on about, that’s the ride, and once you get on-board for the show, you go on with it. Who knows what we’re gonna say next, but sometimes it pays off and we have a really great conversation, so I kinda just like to let them go. Same thing with the set up; I’ll sort of have my intro and have a framework of where we’re going by the end of the show, but the rest of it I’m just like, “OK guys, go to town.” None of it is scripted; none of it is planned ahead as far as what we say.”
[Talking further about the structure of the show, Bryan discusses an occasional segment called The Grind.]
“We have somebody come up with a question or general topic to address, and then it’s just a free form, ‘Ok, what do you think of this?’ Those are pretty interesting. The last one we did, we addressed the closing of video stores and there was a lot that came out of that, talking about us being nostalgic and remembering as kids wandering around [the stores]... We tried to pull in a good angle on that and looked at the technology now that is a big boost for filmmakers, but then what happens to the film market when you flood them with all this new stuff. There’s a lot of aspects that come out of those general topics, so I kind of like when we do those episodes.”
How do you go about snagging actors and directors for your show?
“Luck. [Laughs] Luck and determination.”
I’m currently on season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I got excited to see you got Emma Caulfield on the show recently.
“She’s amazing. Yeah, listen to that episode, she is so much fun. I’d sort of seen a little bit of her ahead of time and heard she was kind of a geek.”
Well, she was on Buffy, so…
“Well, yeah, but not necessarily. Sometimes actors are just actors and then you talk to them, and you’re like, ‘oh… they weren’t really cool at all.’ It’s sort of a letdown sometimes. So, from what I’d seen of her she seemed really cool and seemed like she had her own geeky interests so we had that battery of questions I ask our own people when we’re doing our little bio thing... The first half of the show was just her rattling off these answers to ridiculous questions like, ‘what’s the coolest spaceship?’ and ‘who’s your favorite director who’s dead?,’ stuff like that. That one she wasn’t actually physically near, I was just trying to get a hold of her via the internet.”
So they’re not all necessarily here in Louisville.
“Usually they are. I’m not really big on phone interviews; I really don’t like Skype at all... If I can, I really like that dynamic of sitting there with the person… I think you get a very different vibe from sitting there and talking with people in an actual room, so as often as I can I try to actually sit down with them and do it… I don’t think [Emma Caulfield’s] even been in this area. The closest I’ve seen her is Chicago at one of the Comic Cons, but I don’t think she’s been around here, so I figure if we can do it one way or the other I’ll do it via the phone version.”
You said you’ve got a national audience, you go out all over the country…
“Well, it’s internet-based, so technically all over the world. We do occasionally hear back from people in other countries, and it’s kind of weird that first time, like, ‘Hey, we listen to you in Australia,’ and I’m like, ‘really? Ok.’”
And yet you said your lowest numbers are here in Louisville. After four years, how does that happen?
“Yeah, that’s the sad part. Louisville’s got a weird crowd; sometimes they latch onto stuff and they find that niche and they really love it and get into it… I think it’s like that across the board, especially with art-related things. You talk to half the people that had bands in Louisville and their biggest following is in Chicago and Cincinnati and then they come here and they’re just some guy that has a job the rest of the week... There’s stuff that we totally get into and support, and there’s stuff that just kinda gets lost in the cracks… There’s so much out there anyway, it’s hard to find an audience. Especially on the podcast thing, there’s still a good percentage of people (not just here but around the country) that still don’t know what a podcast is, so you’re still fighting that uphill battle of trying to get people into the technology, which isn’t very technical, by the way… Other than that, sometimes I’m not sure, because I’ve put the word out with a lot of people, through the internet, and I’m putting cut-and-paste flyers out there. There’s one behind me right now! I guess there’s only a certain percentage of people, and a very specific type of people I guess, that even still look for that kind of stuff.”
Could you talk about one of your favorite discussions over the last four years? I know it’s a lot…
“At a convention we sat down with one of the directors, Albert Pyun, who is one of those who most people don’t know by name unless you’re into cheesy drive-in movies … I guess probably the biggest he’s directed is ‘Cyborg’ with Jean-Claude Van Damme… We had him sit in for our Sofa Theater discussion. I let him pick, and he picked ‘2001 [A Space Odyssey],’ so we listened to him talk about how much ‘2001’ inspired him. He was a teenager and his dad took him to see it, and he’s sitting there in the theater mesmerized by the orchestra starting and the screen opening up to the super-widescreen format and just the visuals, so you’re sitting there listening to this story of pretty much what turned him into a filmmaker, and I think that’s pretty fascinating.”
What’s your favorite movie, if you could pick one, or a couple…?
[Laughs]” I can’t!”
Yeah, nobody ever knows…
“I know I can’t because when I put together our little list of bio stuff I originally was going to pick ten movies, but I couldn’t even narrow it down to ten. There’s just too much amazing stuff. I think I rounded it off to a big fifty… I think it leaves it incomplete just picking one movie. But, again, I think that’s a geek thing; I think normal people can just be like, ‘Oh, I love “Jaws!”’ and they just pick a movie because it’s not ingrained the way that it is when you’re a hardcore geek… I like everything; I like the ridiculous ones… and we get a lot more interesting conversations out of those, I’ve realized, especially the bad ones. Sometimes you’ll get a way more interesting conversation out of a terrible movie instead of the general praise you’ll end up giving something that’s well-received across the board… I like old-school stuff like Hitchcock, and Orson Welles is amazing… And then I grew up on the drive-in, kind of the drive-in mentality… I like ‘Death Race 2000,’ I love that movie. And when I discovered ‘Faster Pussycat Kill Kill’… Russ Meyer gets no respect for his visuals… He really is kind of a talented director, and doesn’t get credit for that… Sometimes we’ll occasionally go to the movies and watch a normal mainstream kind of movie... I’m somewhere in the middle of that; I’ve kind of got the high-end old-school movie, like classic Hollywood stuff, I still think is amazing… We’ve worked in some of the classic stuff like ‘Harvey’ or ‘Rebecca,’ and then we’ve worked in ‘Showgirls.’”
Could you pick a favorite director?
“I’ve realized over the years how impressive John Carpenter is… I look at how many of his movies are some of my favorites; ‘The Thing’ is at the top of that list… I think story-wise it is just so tight and so suspenseful... That era of special effects was so good - those practical effects still hold up… Every once in a while you can tell it’s prosthetic, but at the same time it still looks ten times better than CGI… He was one of those who was massively influential in the late-seventies, early-eighties run… Each one of his movies there set the bar, like ‘Halloween’ for slashers and ‘The Thing’ for weird sci-fi.”
What kind of plans do you have for the future? Do you want to go another four years?
"I’m fine with that, really. For me, it’s a ridiculous amount of work… but I think the reason I’m ok with doing that much work is that I’ve tried to make it as genuine as possible… I try to make it, like I said, like hanging out with your friends… I would want to be doing that anyway, even if I wasn’t recording, so I make myself a little more work by turning it into a show, but, in a way, I kind of always want to be doing that. So if I can still find a way to make it a show and people want to listen to it, if I still feel like it’s something useful out there, yeah, I kind of like putting it together and I like being able to structure it into a show, as it were. I kind of like turning it into something that otherwise would just be you wasting a weekend on the couch. You can kind of take that and channel it into something productive really, and something that’s kind of interesting."
Movie Meltdown is available for download on Saturdays. Listen in on the next episode for a discussion on “Black Christmas,” a holiday-themed slasher film by director Bob Clark (“A Christmas Story,” “Porky’s”). Episodes can be found through the website, or more directly, here. 
Photo courtesy of the podcast’s website.