The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Greg Mottola (“Clear History”)

Greg Mottola first came to prominence as the director of the indie comedy “The Daytrippers,” but he began a much quicker rise in mainstream recognition when he helmed the comedies “Superbad” and “Adventureland.” Currently, Mottola is making the rounds to support his work as the director of Larry David’s new HBO movie, “Clear History,” but he’s not entirely confident if the word “director” really sums up his efforts on the film. Bullz-Eye chatted with Mottola during the TCA press tour, and we talked about how surprisingly easy David is to work with, how he came to appear in a couple of Woody Allen films as an actor, and what a hassle – and what fun – it was to make “Paul.”

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Bullz-Eye: So directing Larry David has got to be at least somewhat of a challenge.

Greg Mottola: Um…

BE: I’m not saying good or bad, just…challenging.

GM: It’s… Well, I mean, the process was so specific. I don’t even know if my job title should be called “director” on this movie. [Laughs.] “Associate collaborator” is probably closer to it. But that’s the way it should be. I’m not sure if, in the press notes, they talk so much about how we made it, but essentially it’s the same way Larry does “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with some key differences. But Larry writes a script-ment, they call it, so this was about 35 pages of paragraphs of what happens in this scene, with an occasional line of dialogue or joke that Larry or his co-writers thought, “Oh, we should definitely get that in.” So they write that in, but, really, no other dialogue.

And we get to the set, we walk through the scene, and we’ll just sort of block it very generally. Like, “You’re gonna enter from that door, you’re gonna be sitting here, you’re gonna come over here, talk about this, you’re gonna leave.” Y’know, just sort of walk through all the little bits of blocking, but never rehearse it at all. So the first time anyone is acting, the cameras are rolling. And it’s usually two cameras, sometimes three if we can squeeze another one in there. And Larry by and large never does the same thing twice. [Laughs.] So as a director, you’re constantly strategizing, “Okay, we did that one time, I’d like to try and get something like that line, maybe in a tighter size, so…let’s switch lenses right now while we’re in the zone, and we’ll swap back and do wide shots again.” So you’re constantly just sort of improvising the directing style as everyone’s improvising the lines.

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So directing Larry is just sort of endless conferences between takes about, “We’d like this from that, we didn’t like that,” just sort of honing in on what worked, sometimes stopping entirely and saying, “This doesn’t work at all, let’s start from scratch and just approach it completely differently and do a different version of the scene.” And that happened a few times. We’d have two completely different versions of the same scene…and usually the one that ends up in the movie is the second one. You know, the one thing about Larry is that he’s an absolute pleasure to work with. Despite his sort of screen persona and his point of view about human nature, which—between “Seinfeld” and “Curb”—is pretty clear… [Laughs.] He’s a really happy guy! He’s a guy who walks around whistling and practicing his golf swing. He’s, like, in a good mood 99% of the time. So it’s great to work with him.

BE: I…can’t really wrap my head around that.

GM: [Laughs.] It is hard to believe.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Michael Dorn (‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’)

Michael Dorn may have come to be known best for his work as Worf, the most famous Klingon in the ‘Star Trek’ universe, but his acting career was already off and running well before he found his way onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Dorn in connection with the Blu-ray release of ‘Star trek: The Next Generation – The Complete Fourth Season,’ and he discussed some of his pre-’Trek’ roles, including working with Bruce Jenner and Sylvester Stallone, in addition to revisiting his work as Worf and commenting on how things are going with the ‘Captain Worf’ series he’s been hoping to make

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Bullz-Eye: So how have you been enjoying seeing the ‘Next Generation’ episodes on Blu-ray?

Michael Dorn: Well, I haven’t seen this season’s yet, but the other ones have looked great. Just beautiful.

BE: When they first started rolling them out, I was really rather startled by the difference. I knew it’d look better, but it never occurred to me that it’d be quite that substantial.

MD: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s one of those things that makes you realize just how much technology and other things have changed. When we were doing our show in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we looked at the original series and we were, like, “Ah, we’re so far ahead of that!” And now we look at our show side by side, and it’s, like, “Oh, my God…” [Laughs.] Technology has just grown by leaps and bounds. But it looks spectacular.

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The Light from the TV Shows: 10 Highlights from ESPN’s ‘Olbermann’ Panel

When it comes to sports, I have a longstanding history of being the least-knowledgeable member of the Bullz-Eye staff by far – I’ve lost track of how many editorial meetings have found me drifting into silence as the topic of conversation shifted into talk of this team’s record or that player’s performance – so I hope you can appreciate just how much of a pop culture figure Keith Olbermann has become if I’m dedicating my TV column to his return to ESPN. By all rights, I really shouldn’t care.

Like, at all.

There’s something about Olbermann, though, that I’ve always found entertaining, no matter what he’s talking about or whether I fundamentally agree with it. As such, when it was announced that he’d be attending the summer TCA tour to hype his return to ESPN, I actually wanted to be there and hear what he had to say. Unsurprisingly, he kept the crowd of TV critics happy by providing quick quips and well-considered answers to their questions, enough that I was able to put together a list of 10 highlights from his panel.

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1. “For all of you who had (August 26) in your pool as to when I would return to do ESPN, congratulations. Any span over, like, 40 years, you could have picked that date. You got it right. So very well done.”

2. ” I’m not intending to talk about politics, certainly not in the partisan sense and not in the sense that I did in the last ten years of work that I’ve done, for the simple reason that it’s a sports show. And there will be occasions in which, as I said in the news conference we had last week, if Barack Obama runs onto the field during the all star game, we will have to talk about the ramifications of that during the game and perhaps for his political future. But it will not be the intent to say, you know, ‘The Chicago White Sox moved to Vancouver, Canada, today; but, first, let’s talk about what Speaker Boehner said.’ I’ve done and enjoy and own the work that I did in politics and news, but that’s not what this is. I wanted to go back into sports, and I wanted to repair some transportation means with my former employer, and I got to do both.”

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Joe Mantegna (“Gun Stories”)

Fans of CBS’s “Criminal Minds” have been watching Joe Mantegna on a weekly basis since 2007, but for the past few years, the man who plays FBI Special Agent David Rossi has been keeping busy during his downtime by hosting the Outdoor Channel series, “Gun Stories,” which recently returned to the network for its third season. Mantegna took some time to talk to Bullz-Eye about how he came about the series and what he’s learned in his time as its host, but he also discussed his work on “Criminal Minds” as well as how much fun he’s had giving voice to Fat Tony on “The Simpsons.”

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Bullz-Eye: So how did you first fall into the Outdoor Channel’s gravitational field?

Joe Mantegna: [Laughs.] Well, you know, it was nothing more complicated than them sending me an email. I got an email that Michael Bane and Tim Cremin, the two fellas who produce, direct, and write the shows, and…they sent it to my website, and my assistant, Dan, came to me with this email, saying, “You know, these guys from Outdoor Channel are interested in doing a show,” and he kind of spelled out basically what they had in mind. And they must’ve read somewhere that, throughout my life, I’ve had an interest in the shooting sports. So it was just one of those things where it hit enough of a hot button for me that I said, “Well, you know what? Let’s just see how serious this is!” You know, that it’s not just some weird scheme by somebody out there who’s pretending to be somebody. [Laughs.]

So we contacted them, and they flew in from Oklahoma and Colorado, respectively, and met me at my trailer at “Criminal Minds” one day, and we talked it out, and I said, “You know what? It sounds interesting.” And it’s kind of funny because…Tim tells a story now about how we did our first shoot at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, and how, after I flew in, when he saw me walking towards the museum, the first thing he thought was, “Oh, my God, he actually showed up!” [Laughs.] It was, like, right up until that moment, I think everybody was not sure whether it was going to happen or not. But that was three years ago, and I’ve had nothing but a good time with everyone involved, and I’m enjoying it. It’s been kind of a great way to spend my hiatus from my day job.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Ted Nugent (“Spirit of the Wild”)

There was a time when Ted Nugent was known only for his contributions to rock ‘n’ roll (one of the greatest of which, of course, is giving the world a song entitled “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”), but that time has long since passed. These days, Nugent is certainly still well regarded as a rocker, but he’s at least as readily identified by his political stances and his profound enjoyment of hunting. Believe it or not…and I couldn’t believe it, so I looked it up, but, yep, it’s true…Nugent has been hosting his own outdoor series for 25 years now, and the series in question – “Spirit of the Wild” – is now back on the Outdoor Channel for another season. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to chat with Nugent in conjunction with the series’ return, and you will not be surprised to hear that he had a great deal to say.

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Bullz-Eye: Well, I’m sure you’re thrilled that “Spirit of the Wild” is back again, but it’s almost incomprehensible that this is its 25th season.

Ted Nugent: How ‘bout that? Am I adorable or what? [Laughs.] Isn’t there an award for being the most precious, adorable bow hunter in the world?

BE: Yes, I believe it’s called the Nugent.

TN: I believe you’re right! [Laughs.]

BE: I’m curious about the origins of the show, since the math makes it clear that it’s been around longer than the Outdoor Channel.  How did it first come about? And how did it come to end up on the Outdoor Channel?

TN: Well, you know, this is a story that… I’m shocked. Well, I guess I’m not shocked. Barack Obama’s the President. [Laughs.] How much shock can we handle? Our Attorney General runs guns to Mexican drug gangs! Is there any shock left? Our government picks out people to harass with the tax agency! I guess my shock cup runneth over. But I’m equally shocked, I’ve gotta tell you, that this story has not been pursued.

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