SMC Spotlight No.1 | Mike Rogers ‘Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock & Roll Ghost Story’ Exclusive!

By Candice Anne Marshall

When we talk about Halloween, we are encompassing all it entails: witches, black cats, vampires, monsters, and…. ghosts. This leads into today’s epic launch which I personally have been beyond excited to finally be able to share. Here’s why…

In October of 2015, I promoted a video for fashion art rock band Palaye Royale for their song ‘White’ off their upcoming ‘Boom Boom Room Side A’ album. The video content included an intro from InterFM897 Japans ‘WhatTheFunday’ radio show for the band. The show was hosted in part by Mr. Mike Rogers and after tagging it in our SMC post, Mike and I connected. What a ride it’s been too! In the two years that I have known Mike, we have conversed, collaborated, shared mutual likes of the Artists we support, laughed, and networked like crazy. This has led to some of the most prominent stories on the SMC Spotlight platform with notables such as Mr. John Ferriter, The Tearaways, Stephen David Brooks, Chris Craker (Karma Sound Studios), and The Fontaines. This is just scratching the surface too.

There is so much that goes into the background of someone as interesting as Mike Rogers and this goes beyond his vast connections: it is the fact that he speaks candidly, honestly, and humorously in his own blog ‘Marketing Japan’ (see here). This is something this world really needs: honest and factual journalism and the fact that Mike is willing to write a truthful account of his experience with ‘Sex PistolsJohn Lydon aka: ‘Johnny Rotten’ in ‘I Interviewed Johnny Rotten – The True Story’ was, in my opinion, deserving of a massive applause. It isn’t often these days that many are willing to write responsible journalism, and Mike is. That bodes well in my books! Enough that I have formally invited Mike to be supported on the SMC Spotlight website and he has agreed. If you look to the right of this feature (desktop) or below it (mobile or tablet), you will see that his blog has been added to our roster with ‘The Chronicles’, ‘Little Black Book Club’, and ‘SMC Artist of the Year’. Take a moment to read it, there’s a lot to learn from someone who has the background he has…

Which leads me into Mike’s background: he’s been a Musician (The Rotters), General Manager of a major Japanese broadcasting station (TV Tokyo owned InterFM), produced smash hit programs and several of Japan’s highest rated and most famous radio programs, and most recently, Wrote and produced full-length motion picture “Ghostroads – A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story“. This bringing me to the purpose of launching his first ever SMC Spotlight fittingly, today, Halloween day. This is a film, is a truly entertaining thrill ride from start to finish and has earned some serious awards and nods at prestigious Film Festivals worldwide including the Raindance Film Festival. The story line is both humorous and steeped in truths: ‘what would you do for fame?’ being the tagline. It is reflective of an individual who has not only seen the best and the worst of the entertainment industry, he has lived them.

The vibrancy and quality of this film, featuring brilliant music by some of Japans most famous bands (The Neatbeats, The Privates, The 50 Kaitenz) show Mikes serious credibility in his role of Director and Producer. I recommend anyone who is looking for something to take them away from their day to day grind or the negativity of what’s going on in the world today and turn their attention to this film. It is quickly becoming an iconic rock and roll (and dare I say, Halloween) music cult classic which I can easily put up there with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I know what you are thinking: ‘Did she just say that?’ Yes, yes I did because undoubtedly, in my mind, it’s something you will want to watch every year!

Editor’s Note: Mike, I am personally congratulating you on your accomplishment with this film. I realize and can appreciate how much strategy, planning, and hard work goes into these kinds of projects from start to finish. So, I will say to you this: I am very picky with the kinds of art I will lend my praise to – it must be exceptional. With ‘Ghostroads’, you have created a masterpiece and I look forward to supporting you on your future projects going forward. This film, honestly, gets a five out of five Starlight Music Chronicles star rating. Congrats!

Mike Rogers on the red carpet in London
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Mike Rogers ‘Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story’

SMC – Hello Mike! This Spotlight has been a very long time coming my friend! Let’s begin with a little bit of a back story on who you are and how you evolved into your career today. Can you tell us what new readers to our site will want to know about Mike Rogers?

Mike – OK. You can ask me anything. Like about the time I was the driver (and booze runner) for Burt Reynolds on the set of the film Boogie Nights in 1997. Or how about the time when Justin Beiber, in a foaming-at-the-mouth rage, tried to stab me in the shoulder with a butter knife at Mick Jagger’s pool party because a drunk and topless Selena Gomez was riding on my shoulders and screaming at him and singing “I’m so over you!”… I have lots of those!

Ghostroads Film Festival award accomplishments
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers
Official Ghostroads Movie Poster with awards
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

Ghostroads

SMC – I am going to get right into this interview with your film ‘Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story’, which has been getting some major traction on the film festival circuit. Which awards, or accomplishments have you won or been acknowledge for to date?

Mike – Well, the biggest thing so far is getting selected at Raindance Film Festival in London. Raindance is one of the most famous and respected film festivals in the world, so even though we didn’t win any big high-falutin’ awards, just being selected at Raindance is incredible. Many film makers try all their lives and never get into a festival like Raindance. I have to thank my “Cinema Sensei,” Stephen David Brooks, (see Stephen David Brooks interview here) who actually, has become one of my very best friends, for all the coaching and advice. Without him, we’d have never gotten into that festival. That’s not bullshit, it’s true. And a big thanks to John Ferriter for introducing me to Stephen. John Ferriter is tops too (and plays lead tambourine for the rock band, The Tearaways), as your readers already know! (see John Ferriter interview here)

We’ve been in several other festivals as “also-ran” but, actually, we’ve only won one award so far. It was for “2nd Place” in the “Best Foreign Feature Category.” I think the official award title for second-place is “The Film That Sucks Less Than the Others” award…. Or something like that.

SMC – I have personally seen this film and can NOT say enough good about it. There are no films like it on the market today which not only have appealed to foreign culture in Japan and the UK, but has also been getting attention in North America as well. (which is where we are based) What is the greatest compliment you have received on this film so far?

Mike – Hmmm? That’s a hard one. I figured out that, naturally, when someone is making their first movie, no one expects much… So, I’ve gotten remarks like, “Wow! That was better than I expected.” Or, “I’ve seen other films that friends made and they were all bad. This was really good!” Or, from my wife’s mom and dad, scratching their heads after watching the film and asking, “What was that all about?”

I guess the best compliment was from the top program director of Raindance who wrote, “Congratulations on a truly great film.” That blew my mind… I can’t imagine a higher compliment than that. I cried the night when I read that comment from her.

SMC – The synopsis of this film is basically selling your soul to the Devil (Ghost) for instant fame. We see this all the time in our industry. Is this a personal experience you have had or seen happen?

Mike – Yes. You guys are going to think I am nuts, so you can skip over this next part if you wish, but I have seen this personally. Now, I am not a religious person and I follow no organized religion, but I personally know people who made deals (by prayer to somebody) for fame… (As Bobby Dylan says, “It may be heaven, or it may be hell, but you gotta serve somebody.”)

I also saw and heard bad things that happened to them and their families…. I don’t know why these bad things happened to them. Was it because of the deal? Was it bad karma? I don’t know….

But, entertain me for a second here. What is “fame”?

If you make a deal with a Manager, Agent, label, or Publisher or, yes, even the Devil for “fame” then you’d have to damn well know and write down what exactly “fame” means. You know that guy in town whose always drunk and getting into fights down by the billiard hall? Yeah. Everyone knows who he is.

He’s famous, isn’t he?

There are conceited jerks I’ve met who played infield for a famous professional baseball team here in Japan… They were “famous.” But what is famous? You don’t know their names. I don’t know their names. The average person walking on the street wouldn’t recognize them if they saw them. But they are “famous.”

There are many levels of fame. I think that “famous,” I mean, really “famous,” means that anywhere in the world where you walked, many people would recognize you; that’s famous.

So, being in some rock band, having a hit on the charts, being a radio DJ, etc. etc. That’s not really famous…. Michael Jackson? David Bowie? Adolf Hitler? Winston Churchill? Donald Trump? Yeah… People would recognize them. They are famous.

Is this a good thing?

That’s about all I can say on this subject… I could write a book about things I’ve seen involving this person – these people – who I know made a deal for fame….

But the devil doesn’t exist, right?

As for me, I believe in these things much like the great American writer, Samuel Clemens who was also known as Mark Twain; once said, “I do not believe in ghosts, but I sure am afraid of them.”

The old saying goes, “You’d better be careful of what you wish for.”

Scene from the film ‘Ghostroads: A Japaneze Rock & Roll Ghost Story
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC – From start to finish, what was the length of time spent getting this film made?

Mike – I almost died in a hospital in Sept 2014. It was there where I decided to make a film before I died and wrote the first idea on a napkin. The film was completed in May 2017. So almost 2 1/2 years from conception to finish.

SMC – Tell us about the selection of brilliant talent you have in this film – I can see that you carefully chose some pretty stellar talent from Japan!

Mike – I chose the bands, the Neatbeats, the Privates, the 50 Kaitenz, because those three are my favorite Japanese bands of all-time. Foreigners don’t usually know good Japanese bands because the only Japanese acts that people know outside of Japan are released on major labels. Take Baby Metal (please!) these big money labels create these acts and sell them… It’s OK, I get it. When I was a kid, I liked the Monkees too… But, I am astounded at how I sometimes talk to foreigners (who are over 12 years old) who like stuff like Baby Metal.

The Neatbeats, the Privates, the 50 Kaitenz, are the real thing. They are DIY indies acts. They have all been offered deals with majors, but they do things the indies way… Why? Because everyone knows, major labels have a way of screwing up good indies acts. It is common knowledge, isn’t it?

Also, I chose those bands because they are easy to explain to a foreign audience in just a few words. The Neatbeats are the ‘Japanese Beatles,’ the Privates are the ‘Japanese Buzzcocks,’ the 50 Kaitenz are the ‘Japanese Ramones.” Simple is always best, especially when making a sales presentation… And, in life, nearly everything is a “sales presentation.”

The other actors and actresses in the movie I found because I have always been impressed by European films and off-beat movies that have strong and unforgettable characters – unlike American films which always have people who look like fashion models in them with perfect teeth. In a nutshell, in my movies, I want many to look like the circus act on the cover of the classic album by the Doors, “Strange Days.” I want people who look like freaks – because we are all freaks somewhere deep down inside – and I want strange people because, as the song goes, “People are strange.” We are all strange.

In fact, if you really stop to think about it, the more you get to know people, the stranger they become.

Besides the strangers, I also have one of Japan’s top sex symbol girls in the film, Mina Shirakawa, and Miwa Rock who is one of Japan’s most famous burlesque dancers.

So, there’s something for everybody.

Scene from the film ‘Ghostroads: A Japaneze Rock & Roll Ghost Story
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC – You also have a cameo in this film as the narrator. Is this your first role in a movie?

Mike – Oh no. I had been in many famous Japanese TV dramas in the eighties; with lots of Japan’s most famous stars! In Ghostroads, I only narrate in the trailer. That’s my voice in the trailer saying, “A struggling Japanese rocker finds a haunted amp with a ghost who promises fame.” (see at end of this interview). I am in the actual movie several times though. You know the scene where the girl throws a beer can out the window of the car? I’m driving.

In fact, that girl is/was one of Japan’s most famous actresses. She has been a big star since the 1980s. She was a sex symbol and starred in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows and commercials galore. Everyone in Japan knows who she is. But she only appears for a split second, so only a few people have spotted her so far… It’s like, well, imagine getting Lindsay Wagner out of retirement and cameo in your film? Or getting Lillian Gish to appear in Whales of August?…. That’s what it is like having this former super-star in the film.

Also, when the story teller is showing the high school yearbook and mentioning about how some jerk acts like your friend, but he steals your girlfriend and you hate that guy forever? That’s my high school senior year photo he is looking at.

SMC – Can you tell me the behind-the-scenes story while making this film?

Mike – I tried to run this film as a business with a profit motive. I am reminded of an anecdote about a very famous businessman and industrialist named John D. Rockefeller. One time, newspaper reporters were interviewing Rockefeller and they attacked him as not being especially knowledgeable about trains or the steel industry. Rockefeller responded by saying, “Perhaps I am not an expert on these subjects, but I am smart enough to hire people around me who are experts.” I never forget that.

As one of the most important jobs of any Producer (be they the manager or founder of a business, or whatever) is to get people around you who are better than you are. It is also wise for any business owner or producer to hire people who are smarter than they are. The smartest management hire smart people so that these smart people tell them what to do. Of course! What’s the point of hiring people who are smarter or more talented than we are if we are going to tell them what to do?

So, when I started out this film, and a big reason it came out so well is that, my #1 priority was not protection of my position, but the success of the project. So, I went out and got a director who was better than me; he had a much better eye for design and composition. He was a true artist. I also hired a cameraman who is really top class and stubborn as hell; he’s stubborn because he’s great at what he does. Of course, my partner, Ken Nishikawa, is a genius at editing and musical styling. Ken is one of the top in his field in Japan and the best editor I’ve ever met. So, with every job, I tried to get people better than me to do specific tasks. I think that is the core reason the film looks the way it does and has enjoyed the success it has; I could have never done this without that great team.

So, we had an Italian director; an American cameraman; a Japanese editor and actors and actresses; Darrell Harris from Nebraska (as a ghost) and me. It was often chaos at the shoots.

Oh, by the way, a guy named Yuji Wada, was our lighting “sensei.” Yuji is a famous Hollywood lighting director. You all know the Bill Murray film, “Lost in Translation”? Yuji does all the lighting for Sophie Coppola’s films. Yuji was my friend and next-door neighbor for ten years… I asked him to help and one day he came and showed us how to do the lighting. I like to think I am a fast learner and I am good at copying people, so when Yuji showed us how to light scenes, we merely mimicked what he showed us. That’s why the film has the lighting it does. Of course, if Yuji could have done it for us himself, we’d be talking about winning an Academy Award, but, beggars can’t be choosers.

Because I am a radio show host and producer, I also am a professional talker; so, I went out to Phillips Electronics (technology company) and convinced them to just give me a thousand dollars (USD) of high tech lighting equipment for absolutely free in trade for putting their name in the credits. When I went there to ask for these high-tech lights I was surprised they eagerly said, “Yes!” so quickly. I actually said to them, “Wait! What? OK? Don’t I have to grovel or something?”

The point is that if you are making a record or a movie, you need to be flamboyant and you need to overcome insecurities and your own fears. Asking for something doesn’t cost anything and there is no risk; all they can do is say, ‘No!’ But you have to have a professional presentation prepared and you must have confidence.

I was prepared for the meeting with Phillips. I had a great trailer, printed synopsis and staff and actors and actresses lists. I had mentally prepared and I knew in my heart that them giving me those lights was a good deal for them too! I know now that they were very happy with the film. I was happy to save a few thousand dollars on lighting.

SMC – You are the Producer/Writer/Director for this film. Do you feel that you had greater creative control of this film by wearing all three hats?

Mike – Yes. I always had the veto over everything… I do realize that I did fail in one thing though; during shooting, we often had a problem with important staff being constantly late. Other issues occurred with arguments over absurd things with the staff. Much later, when the editor and I finished the film and I had informed the editor that we had been accepted at Raindance, the world-famous festival, and I had sold the right for sales and distribution of the film – along with a healthy advance – to a very famous Japanese major film company, my partner, Ken, was almost speechless.

He said to me, “None of us ever thought, in our wildest dreams, that we’d come this far with this movie. In fact, the director and the cameraman were convinced we didn’t even have enough footage for a proper feature film! For a trailer? Maybe. But not a film. Only, you, Mike. You were the only one who believed from the start to the finish that this could happen.”

When he told me this, I wasn’t especially happy because I realized that I had failed in an important part of the project; I had failed to properly explain to the staff what we were going to do. I had failed to get them to realize the vision and the dream. I then understood why the director was always late; why the cameraman would complain about ridiculous things; they didn’t believe that this would become a proper film; they didn’t believe it would be entered in festivals and win awards (hell, they didn’t even believe it would be completed). They never believed for a second that the film would be sold to a Japanese major film studio. So, this was my failure; I didn’t get them to understand the dream and the vision.

We did this well, with people who had no belief or confidence? Imagine how much better it could have been if they believed and became better than themselves? I will always regret this shortcoming of mine.

But, even in the bible Jesus talks about this: I guess it doesn’t matter what others believe. It only matters what I believe. I believed we could do this and be successful.

Though, that the film has done this well and is so successful is nothing short of a miracle. Next film, will astound people even more. I really believe that too.

Scene from the film ‘Ghostroads: A Japaneze Rock & Roll Ghost Story
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC – While doing my research, I came across a video of you wearing a sandwich board shaking a rattle for the Raindance viewing of your film. Great Stuff! What kind of reaction did you get from that?

Mike – When I was in London at the theater, some friends told me that they had been to some film screenings and, in a theater that seats 200 people, there would only be three to eight people in paid attendance!

I couldn’t believe it!

I was shocked. I thought about my wife. What would she say if I had spent three years of my life making a movie, spent another $2000 going 6000 miles to the other side of the earth only to have it viewed by four people (including me?)

So, with that, I decided what my mission was: I had decided to sell out our screenings or, if I couldn’t, to at least give it the good old samurai try (try or die trying!)

I decided that since we couldn’t hang posters at the theater, I’d take my biggest poster and make a sandwich sign. Then I’d stand in front of the theater wearing the sign every day.

I went to an art shop and bought the supplies for making the sandwich sign. I then went home and constructed it with more loving care than mom making Christmas dinner. The next morning, I went back to the theater with my sandwich sign and put it on and I stood there; in the heat and the sun… I would stand in front of the theater with my sign for four and a half or five hours every day.

I wondered why other filmmakers are so self-conscious and embarrassed that they refuse to promote their own films in this way? Nobody really cares what we do. Nobody watches us as much as we like to think they do.

I was a curiosity to the other people at the film festival. Many ridiculed me, some laughed; others just gawked. A few said that I was an inspiration and wondered why other filmmakers didn’t promote their films this way… One time two young filmmakers walked past me, laughed and pointed at me, and one said, “That’s what we should be doing. I wonder how much that costs?”

A few days later, I was informed that the World Premiere of my movie, “Ghostroads – a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story” was sold out; one of the few films that were sold out!

People had laughed at me as Sandwich Man! But there also is an old saying, “He who laughs last, laughs best.” I laughed so hard I almost cried when I heard we had sold out the first night and the second night was nearly sold out. I felt redeemed.

I wrote all about it here (I think it’s a pretty funny story with an important lessons for filmmakers and musicians alike)

SMC – What was your experience like working with The Neatbeats for this film?

Mike – Before shooting started, I was very good friends with the Neatbeats and, especially their leader, Mr. Pan. But, as I mentioned above, there were all sorts of problems during shooting. The worst problem was important staff being constantly late. Being late like this is out of the question in Japan, so Mr. Pan would get angry with me about it.

You see, in Japan, for any mistake or screw-up, management will never blame the staff. I was the producer; I was captain of the ship, so if we hit an iceberg, it was my fault. This is the Japanese way. In the Japanese way of doing things, no matter what happens, the boss takes responsibility.

The top boss is always the person responsible for what goes on. The captain could never say to the crew and passengers, “That idiot navigator didn’t see the iceberg. So, we hit it.”

That would never happen in Japan.

I often had frank discussions with the critical person who was often late and told him the ways of the locals and so, he came to understand the cultural differences between his country and Japan. This is only an example of many issues that occurred with regularity.

But, in many cases, the damage was done. The leader of the Neatbeats, Mr. Pan would call me on the phone and start berating me in local-dialect Japanese (which was difficult to understand – but I knew he was mad). I know the way of the people of this country, so I know that it would be best to handle it the Japanese way: I had to take responsibility. I was, indeed, my fault. I could not blame the guilty party. Why? Because I hired him. It is my fault.

I would allow Mr. Pan to yell at me on the phone for 30 or 40 minutes straight and I would merely reply, “Yes. I know” or “Yes. I think so.” I would do this and not talk back until Mr. Pan grew weary of shouting at me and he’d finally calm down. I’d eventually tell him I would try to rectify the situation and then I would smooth things over.

That was my biggest job as producer: keeping the team together, keeping the peace and trying to keep the boat from capsizing.

I thank a famous producer in Japan named Motoyoshi Tai who showed me that the best way to handle pissed off people is to let them yell at you (agreeing with them) until they tire out and then promising that you’d do your best to remedy the situation.

I think many Americans would do themselves well to learn this way; getting into a hellacious fight and then people quitting mid-project is never a good result for anyone. A smart Producer knows how to handle it.

SMC –  What is one thing you wish you could do differently for this film if you had the opportunity?

Mike – As I mentioned above, I would have taken more time to explain to people what was going on and to get them to understand the vision. I think about it now, and I have made very famous programs and TV shows here in Japan, some of them with millions of viewers (10 million in 6 months on an internet TV show).  But I guess the staff didn’t know that or they didn’t understand or didn’t believe in what we were trying to accomplish.

Next time I will make sure everyone understands and is on board 120%. If they aren’t or they don’t “get it,” I will patiently keep trying to get them to understand. If they don’t, I will replace them.

SMC – What kind of competition is there in the film industry in Japan?

Mike – In Japan, in films, like music, the majors have total control. The difference is that, in Tokyo, there are 3000+ bars and clubs and so-called “Live Houses” where musicians can come and play and hone their craft every night of the week. Some can even break and become famous. There is no such a situation for independent filmmakers like that in Japan. I want to change that.

SMC – What do you find is the most difficult thing to do when promoting your own project?

Mike – In the case of Ghostroads, I had sold it off to a Japanese company before it was even completed, so I don’t really have any stories (besides frustration) at watching how other people handle things… I reckon the biggest problems was, is and will always be budget.

SMC – Can you tell us if there are any upcoming film festivals that this film will be a part of?

Mike – The next big festival is very soon in Europe, but I can’t announce it yet. It’s a big deal but everything seems so cloak and dagger. I’m hoping the win the Golden Tupperware Award (like Stephen David Brooks has) or, maybe I can get some 50% discount tickets on fries at Burger-O-Rama. We’ll see.

Fact: The Golden Tupperware Award is an extremely rare award, and few have ever seen one, even fewer own it.

Trivia: What’s really cool about the coveted Golden Tupperware Award for best film, actor or director is that, even though the base of the award is solid 24 carat gold, the top lid is still, to this day, made of pink plastic as engineers have yet to figure out how to make a solid gold lid malleable enough to snap into an out of an airtight fit. Once they do, the Golden Tupperware Award will truly become a proud member of the Tupperware family.

SMC – Ken Nishikawa is also the co-Director, Editor, Sound Designer, and Translator for this film. What was it like working with him?

Mike – Ken Nishikawa is the nicest guy anyone could ever hope to meet. I’m damned dead serious about that too. He never has a bad word about anyone and I have never heard anyone say anything unpleasant about Ken. No Kidding. I want to be like Ken when I grow up. Ken is a sort of legendary person too as he comes from a famous family. Really. His mom is very famous as she is one of the last true remaining geishas in Japan and Ken is almost done with a documentary about her. It is a wild story: Matsuchiyo – Life of a Geisha.

SMC – Once Ghostroads has circled the film festival circuit, will you be working on another film project?

Mike – I have already started working on another project now. Ghostroads is finishing its festival course. We got very lucky and had our World Premiere at Raindance. Entering smaller festivals (that aren’t famous) is meaningless for sales and promotion. I have a few more festivals coming up (that I signed up for months ago) but I will not be signing up for any new festivals. I will now focus on getting distribution and sales and letting some company handle the rest of the life of this film.

SMC – Who would you like to work with in the future in terms of film?

Mike – Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles and Cecil B. DeMille. But, alas, none of those guys ever answer my emails, so I wrote to Stephen David Brooks instead. Now he and I going to try to make a movie together. I say “try,” and I think Stephen will agree with me, because whenever anyone can actually complete a movie, it is a miracle.

SMC – What advice would you give to someone new wanting to begin a film project?

Mike – Run it like you would any business. If your idea is good, then you should be able to find financing and investment partners. Blowing your parents money on a crap vanity project is no good for you or your parents.

The best advice I ever received from anyone was when Stephen David Brooks told me to read the bible of script writing: “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (here) and I recommend, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell (here).

Mike Rogers (far left) interviews John Lydon (The Sex Pistols) recently.
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

Career/History

SMC – You have (had) a show on WhatTheFunday at InterFM897 Radio in Japan which I believe is where we met via Palaye Royale – I believe it was after we did a Spotlight on the band for their single ‘White’ (see original post here). Can you tell us how long you have been with the station?

Mike – I can proudly say that I am the only DJ in Tokyo, that has been fired from every radio station in Tokyo at least once. You name it, they’ve canned me. But since FM radio in Tokyo is so lame, I wear that as a stinky badge of honor. I have been fired from InterFM three times now, but they keep hiring me back because I make the best shows. I have been with them since 1996.

I have a new show, The Mike Rogers Show, that starts on Nov. 5, 2017. It’s going to be like a BBC morning show on acid.

SMC – I love seeing the posts on your blog ‘Marketing Japan’ and would love to link it up to this feature as well as our site! You have some of the greatest stories, tips, and shared memories on there with some pretty fantastic people. Can you tell us some back stories that haven’t been shared on that platform?

Mike – I once had to fly to Canada and back on the same day, just so I could sleep with the editor of SMC just to get this interview. Hey! I need the promotion.

SMC – You recently did an interview with John Lydon while you were at Raindance Film Festival. WOW. This is the reason I asked you the previous question. I have to say I truly admire honesty. Way too many will write a fluff or ‘Pollyanna’ story about some of the behaviors of the ‘professionals’ in this music industry. I am happy to see you are not – you write it as you see it – for the facts. What kind of a response did you get from people after you posted that?

Mike – Oh? Mr. Rotten? That’s probably best if the readers go directly and read the entire details by themselves. The article is here: “I Interviewed Johnny Rotten – the True Story.

The festival people and the Theater Manager and staff were furious at John Lydon and his posse. But, I am not mad at the guy and he is still my hero. I totally understand his desire for respect and status. We all have it… So, just because he was drunk and rude to me (well, all of us) it would be childish of me to now say, “I don’t like Johnny Rotten because he was a right ass to me when we met.” Nothing he could do now erases what he did in the past. I just figure that he delivered what was expected of him that night in London. Nothing more. Nothing less.

SMC – I know that you have met a lot of music industry peers over the years. Tell us of a pleasant story that you have a great memory of?

Mike – I think the most formidable and imposing person I have ever met was Siouxsie Sioux. My radio show was so popular in the nineties that we presented her band and concerts, The Creatures, in Japan (the station didn’t present that the concert, my program did!) The Creatures had awesome shows. I think one of the best songs of the nineties was the Creatures’ “Second Floor”.

Siouxsie and her then husband Budgie came to the studio at InterFM. She was a dominating, imposing figure. We were all totally intimidated by her. She was a giant twenty-foot tall rock goddess made of marble, ice and ivory.

Into the studio she strode with Budgie right behind and as she sat on her chair, she looked me straight in the eye, lit a cigarette (she knows there’s no smoking in a radio studio), and said to me, “It’s alright if I smoke, isn’t it?”

We all froze. I didn’t know what to say. Wide-eyed, I gulped and stuttered, “Er, uh, the rules do not apply to the queen.”

After that, we then had a great time and a fantastic interview. She was the most awesome, fearsome musician I have ever met. Later on, we all got to hangout backstage with Siouxsie! How many people can say that?

SMC – Are there any charities or organizations that you support or are passionate about?

Mike – I have always supported Children With Incurable Diseases Charity in Japan. It is called, “Nanbyo.net.” “Nanbyo” means “incurable disease.” (Nanbyonet)

SMC – What do you think is lacking in the music industry today?

Mike – Musicians who have business sense as well as musical talent. People hate the business side of things, but a negative attitude towards an integral part of the business and success is self-defeating and short sighted. The most famous musicians knew this. Michael Jackson and David Bowie were astute businessmen.

SMC – Can you tell us your top indie bands that you like to support?

Mike – There are the rock bands from Japan that I like best (Some of these videos I made with Ken Nishikawa):

The Neatbeats

The Privates

The 50 Kaitenz

The Routes

Taffy

Su Ko D Koi

Moja

The Pats Pats

The Stephanies

The Stompin’ Riff Raffs

These are my favorite bands in Japan.

Oh, and my favorite new foreign band of the year are from Australia. A young band that plays their own instruments and rocks out? I’m in love!

Amyl & The Sniffers

SMC – You have delved in music yourself! I remember reading on your blog that an original record of yours sold for a hefty price too! Tell us about your history in music….

Mike – When I was young, I was in a “One-Hit Wonder” Punk Rock Band. The band’s name was “The Rotters.” We played with the Dead Kennedys, Fear, Black Flag, the Germs, Angry Samoans and a bunch of other 1978~79 Los Angeles Punk Band’s whose names I can’t remember. I’ve written about it here: I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker – Why Dedication Beats Fanaticism Anyday! Even for Punk Rock or Success in Any Field!

After that band broke up, I floundered in a few other bands, but never really did anything that was as exciting as the Rotters… I thought. The band I was in after the Rotters? The Wuffy Dogs? I am told that the single we made is now the “Holy Grail” of late 1970s L.A. Punk singles and sells for nearly $1800. Why? I’m guessing it’s because that band had two former Rotters, the guy who would later become the drummer for M.I.A., and the original guitarist for Berlin (who got kicked out of Berlin because he wanted screaming guitars and Berlin wanted to make pop tunes like, “Take My Breath Away.”)

SMC – What was the turning point in going from a music career to film and where you are today with radio?

Mike – After my band broke up, I wanted to stay in Los Angeles. As a suburban boy, I found L.A. exciting as hell. So, one day, I asked Rodney Bingenheimer (Rodney on the Roq – KROQ Los Angeles) if I could be his assistant. I told him I didn’t need to be paid. He said “OK” and so I was an unpaid Gofer for the World-Famous KROQ’s Rodney on the Roq for about 16 months between mid-1980 – 1981. I would clean up and organize albums that were scattered about in some rooms and also carry records for Rodney to and from his car. The best part of the job was answering the door at KROQ for Rodney and greeting guests who came to be on his show. Through that I got to meet Clem Burke of Blondie, the Ramones, and a bunch of other super famous punk stars whose names escape me at the moment. I used to get stoned with Dee Dee Ramone! I wrote about that here: “Belinda Carlisle Naked, The Ramones, Rodney Bingenheimer and Me – Another True Story

The first time I got to meet Phil Spector was Christmas of 1980 and when he arrived at the door, he didn’t look like a Punk (he looked like my dad!) so I was rude to him (like an idiot!) I didn’t find out until much later who he was!… Doh!

I used to go with Rodney to that all-night diner he lives at (Canter’s Deli) too after almost every show. There I met lots of people who were famous or to become extremely famous later…

I never told people in Japan about that because they wouldn’t believe me. But, one day, Rodney came to Japan and I got to be his tour guide and take care of him for 5 days in Tokyo, so I could pay back, a little bit, all he did for me. (I wrote about that here)

So, had I not been Rodney’s assistant, I probably would have never become a radio DJ.

SMC – I like to ask this question because it means different things to different people: What does ‘Success’ mean to you?

Mike – Being able to live and eat and have a happy family doing what you like. Diana Ross once said, “Show business is not success, it is survival.” So, if you can survive and be happy doing what you want, then that is success.

SMC – Which social media platform are you most active on and why?

Mike – I do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and I blog. As far as Social Media is concerned, I think one must focus. Social Media is like going to parties. If you are doing too much and too many Social Media (going to too many parties at once), you can’t spend time at any party getting to know people well. I think it’s better to go to a few parties and be able to spend time and talk with friends than having to rush around to a dozen parties, just say, “Hi!” and then leave.

SMC – What are the top attributes you look for when aligning yourself with industry peers for future projects or even simply to network? We all have certain ‘deal-breakers’ when it comes to a certain type of person…

Mike – I like honest people. There are so many dishonest people, it astounds me. And these people are quite easy to pick out as they contradict themselves constantly (though it seems they don’t realize it). I have a bad memory for names and tasks I have to do so I always take notes and I always try to tell the truth. Why? Because, once again, as Mark Twain says, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

It’s too much trouble lying and then having to remember what you told to who. So, it’s just better to tell the truth.

People who lie habitually, about shit that doesn’t matter, fail to realize it when they contradict themselves. They are their own worst enemy.

May I recommend two very important books?

The Road Less Traveled” and the sequel, “People of the Lie” by F. Scott Peck. Both discuss telling the truth all the time and the second discusses how some people will go to extreme lengths, even kill, in order to protect the lie. The last few chapters of “People of the Lie” are frightening.

SMC – Okay, final question: What in project you would love to get involved in or work on in future?

Mike – Now I am franchising one of the world’s most famous film festivals and bringing it into Japan. I cannot mention the name of the film festival because I have signed a confidentiality agreement. We are now setting up a consortium of some of Japan’s most famous corporations to support this project. It’s going to be huge news all over the world. We will be able to announce it later this year. Think Big!

_________________

Social Media & Media Links for Mike Rogers (click to view)

Mike Rogers Twitter

WhatTheFunday Facebook

Robot55 Facebook

Ghostroads Trailer

Instagram

Confessions of a Sandwich Man

Sochi International Film Festival and Awards

Matsuchiyo – Life of a Geisha

I Interviewed Johnny Rotten – the True Story

The Creatures’ “Second Floor”

“Belinda Carlisle Naked, The Ramones, Rodney Bingenheimer and Me – Another True Story”

Nanbyonet

The Neatbeats

The Privates

The 50 Kaitenz

The Routes

Taffy

Su Ko D Koi

Moja

The Pats Pats

The Stephanies

The Stompin’ Riff Raffs

Amyl & The Sniffers

I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker – Why Dedication Beats Fanaticism Anyday! Even for Punk Rock or Success in Any Field!

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)

The Road Less Traveled by F. Scott Peck

People of the Lie by F. Scott Peck

 

SMC SPOTLIGHT Interview | Actor: Mateus Ward is ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’

By Candice Anne Marshall

How do you begin a review of an Actor who, at the age of only 18 has surpassed any milestone that the average young adult has? I mean, we’re not talking about the first car, first girlfriend, first job, and graduation kind of milestones here either…this is something on a much grander scale…..

I am referring to the kind of milestones that only Los Angeles, California-based Actor Mateus Ward has come to achieve in his short, but very accomplished acting career thus far. In fact, his very persona reminds me of a middle-aged Johnny Cash: cool, confident, and bonafide talented without ever giving an air of pretension. I have observed him in interviews since the launch of the film ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ in the Film Festival circuit, (where he plays lead Actor) and without fail, he exudes these aforementioned traits. I have also read interviews where he has been referred to as ‘an old soul’ and his responses are concise, sometimes cheeky, and brimming with mature sophistication. Ward has also mentioned his early talent for Elvis impersonations (he loves Elvis) at a musical theater debut which later earned him scores of wicked television roles (see film and television credits below his social media links) and an impressive roster of film credits under his belt as well. He has often played dark characters and delivers them with the kind of graceful, undaunted candor that, in relation to the acting realm, I can only compare to a young Marlon Brando. In fact, looking further into Wards’ background, I would never have guessed that his portrayal of Clyde Thompson in ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ was that of a man half that age. (see my interview with his Father, Director of the film, Justin Ward here)

In this true-story film of convicted murderer Clyde Thompson, Ward manages to take this role from an innocent boy, to an aggressive and hostile young man, to a redeemed middle-aged man of faith seamlessly all in a matter of an intense 105-minute thrill-ride. The accuracy to which he portrays Thompsons’ character in this film is genuine in delivery and fiery in emotional display. Because his performance was so historically accurate to the original Clyde Thompson, Ward (recently) earned himself the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the IndieFEST Film awards in Florida. This doesn’t surprise me, in fact, I predict this to be the start of a successful string of awards to come. It does take a lot for young Hollywood to impress me since the days of Molly Ringwald and the ‘Brat Pack’(and even the original ‘rat pack’ for that matter), but Ward has earned the utmost respect from me for his ability to take this role at such a young age and make it undeniably twenty-four carat authentic. If you have any opportunity to attend a Film Festival where ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ is showing, make sure you are there!

So, here’s my summation of Mateus Ward: undeniably, for me, he has earned the right to be compared to the reputable likes of Johnny Cash (even arriving to premieres all in black) and Marlon Brando (that confidence!). Yet, even with all comparisons to music and Hollywood royalty aside, there really is only one Mateus Ward, and he really is that predominantly paramount, remarkably distinguished, and naturally skilled. AND – he will always dance to the beat of his own drum.  Period.

I connected recently with Ward for an exclusive interview for our SMC SPOTLIGHT. Here is what he had to say:

 

(l-r) ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ lead Actors Mateus Ward and Alexandra Bard Photo credit and courtesy of: Joshua Shultz | Bellus Magazine

SMC SPOTLIGHT Interview | Actor: Mateus Ward ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’

May 9th, 2017

SMC – Hello Mateus! Welcome to the SMC SPOTLIGHT! We have been profiling some of the industry’s top Actors, Musicians, and Fashion celebrity profiles for a couple years now and are happy to add you to this roster. Let’s begin with an introduction: we discovered you via our friend and peer Joshua Shultz (Bellus Magazine) who also Directed the short film ‘STROBE’ which you have a starring role in. What are your thoughts on how the film will have in terms of an impact on society?

Mateus – I believe that STROBE will shock people into realizing the collateral danger of hard drugs.

SMC – Do you think that this film could be an educational tool on the effects of drugs and how they impact people’s lives?

Mateus – Absolutely! I really think it will wake people up!

SMC – What was it like working with Joshua Shultz (Director | STROBE)?

Mateus – Josh is a great friend of mine! He’s a true artist in every sense of the word. Working with him was a true pleasure and such a blast.

SMC – Okay, so let’s get into your film credentials – your film reel roster is impressive! Which films/TV shows are/were your favorite to be a part of and why?

Mateus – I have so many amazing memories from all of these sets, I’ve created amazing friendships with people. Tyrel Jackson Williams (Lab Rats, Brockmire) and I still hang out, and I’m always in touch with my onscreen sister Quinn Shephard (Hostages, Blame) I’ve kept in touch with most of the people I have worked with, but if I had to chose, the two best work environments had to be “Murder in the First” and “The Meanest Man in Texas.” The cast and crew on each of them were like a family!

SMC – What is it like for you to prepare for a role? You go from being a meth addict in ‘STROBE’ to being a hardcore criminal in ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’ to a Disney XD role on Lab Rats…. this has to involve some devoted time to studying for these kinds of roles and becoming the characters you are portraying. Tell us what your process is like when preparing for a role.

Mateus – I think each actor has their own process.  I like to start with research of the world or time period, then answer all the motivation and intention questions of the character and get to know them, then find their physicality.

SMC – Let’s get into your role as Clyde Thompson in The Meanest Man in Texas – can you tell us how you landed this?

Mateus – Pure nepotism! Just kidding, my father was offered to direct the film and I set out to prove to him and the producers I could play this part.  I read the book, studied the history, learned the accent, and eventually won the part.

**Spoiler Alert**

SMC – There are some pretty intense scenes in this film that I have to give you a ‘hat’s off’ nod to. For instance, the scene where you took a ‘whupping’ from ‘Captain Colt’ (played by Actor Jamie McShane) – wow! These are things that not very many youth today know anything about. How did you prepare mentally for that kind of a situation?

Mateus – I focus on the situation, and play it as real as I can.  For that scene, I honestly don’t remember much. I was just going through it.

SMC – In terms of the emotion portrayed in your character…. scenes like when Clyde is told his father has passed away, how do you prepare yourself for that kind of emotional expression? What frame of mind do you have to be in to get the emotions right?

Mateus – For me, as an actor, it always comes down to being in the moment. I tend to stay away from “tricks” or “substitutions.” That is not to say that I don’t use them. I think an actor needs to utilize whatever is necessary to convey a moment. I have always had an intense imagination, so putting myself in someone else’s shoes was always easy for me, once I’ve put in the work to know everything I can about a character.

SMC – Some of the scenes were played so well, I had actual tears! What are your thoughts on the story line and events that happened in the life of the real Clyde Thompson?

Mateus – It’s hard to believe all of these things actually happened to him.  His story is unreal in so many ways, I felt an obligation to play it all as real as I could.

SMC – The scene where your father (played by Ben Reed) comes to you and encourages you to have faith in God…your reaction to him was pretty intense! (‘There ain’t no God! There ain’t no word!’) Can you tell us what filming scenes like that were for you? Religion is such a controversy these days….

Mateus – When playing any character, no matter who they are, you have to throw out all of your pre-conceived notions and beliefs. I believe I really learned this while playing a school shooter on “Murder in the First.” There is a certain level of separation that has to be done before you can play a character truthfully. I personally am not religious, but Clyde was. This story is about Clyde’s redemption he so happened to find through faith. Therefore, it is my job as an actor to put all my personal opinions to rest, so Clyde’s could come out to play. I always find that once I do that, I fall in love with every character I play. In that particular scene, it’s all about where Clyde is, mentally, at that point. So, I guess, in short form, I just played what Clyde was going through.

(l-r) Justin Ward, MateusWard, JamieMcShane
Photo by: Ryan Gunnerson

SMC – I love the ‘Got a Light?’ smart-alec comebacks woven in throughout…. you have one of those faces that can portray an angelic innocent young man and then a devilish hell-child (laughs)…. which of the two personalities can you relate to more?

Mateus – Depends on the day…

SMC- (laughs) Fair comment! Your on-screen chemistry with ‘Julia’ (played by Alexandra Bard) was also intense. Can you tell us a few words about your thoughts on her performance in this film?

Mateus – She made it easy to have that chemistry.  She is an amazing actress and we had a blast on set.

SMC – I am going to ask the inevitable: what was it like working with your father on this project? (Justin Ward: Director of The Meanest Man in Texas)

Mateus – It was incredible! We read each other’s mind the whole time! He would go “Hey MC, how about—” and I’d reply, “I was just thinking that!”

SMC – On May 6th, you earned the award for ‘Best Actor’ at the ICFF (International Christian Film Festival) – That’s impressive! What are your thoughts on that?

Mateus – It is such an honor to be recognized for my work.

SMC – Can you tell us which other accomplishments in your career you are particularly proud of and why?

Mateus – Getting a chance to do what I love is the best accomplishment.

SMC – Can you tell us the most memorable fan moment you have had in your career?

Mateus – I was in New York on Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Hostages” and we took a family trip out to Mantauk.  I tweeted I was there, and on our way back that night, my sister saw a tweet from a fan, so she got her address and we paid a surprise visit.  Our families met and it was really cool.  Another great moment, was meeting young women with scoliosis in Nashville during the film festival.  These girls are so courageous and it was great to meet them and their mothers and hear their stories.

SMC – What are five unique things about you that no one else knows about? (our readers love this one)

Mateus – I am obsessed with Elvis.  I love to draw and paint.  I play piano.  I have a 1953 Chevy truck.  I am unhealthily addicted to superheroes and comic books.

SMC – I read that you have lived in Hawaii for a few years before pursuing a career in acting. Can you tell us what lead to your family’s move to LA?

Mateus – I like to believe it’s because I wanted to pursue acting, but I think it was during the recession, it was a tough time and we moved back where there was more work.

SMC – What inspired you to pursue a career in acting?

Mateus – I have always been a performer.  I was super shy, and it was a way to hide behind characters.  I didn’t even need an audience.  I just liked pretending and using my imagination.  I was a little Elvis impersonator at like 5, and I think that sparked the acting thing.

SMC – Which of your peers in the film have you created a bond with as a result of your character in the film?

Mateus – Alex and I have become close because of filming and on the festival circuit.  But the most entertaining friendship is the bizarre “Tron” inside joke between Anthony Guerino and I, who plays Barney in the film.  On set he suddenly approached me and asked, “Did someone say Tron?” It became a running joke.  Now we text each other with Tron mimes, gifs and jokes all the time.  He’s so funny!

SMC – Your whole family has such amazing talent! I did read about your sister as well – has she been involved in any of the projects you have worked on?

Mateus – It was a family production.  Our company is Ohana Films, Inc. Ohana means family in Hawaiian.

SMC – That’s lovely! What has the family support been like for your career?

Mateus – I honestly couldn’t have done what I have done without my family and their support.  My mother is the best.  She used to own a salon and stopped working to make sure I could follow my dream.

SMC – Can you tell us your thoughts on your father’s work on this film?

Mateus – He did alright… I mean for his first film.  Just kidding!  Who gets to act in a film their father directs?  It was incredible.  He was so prepared, had such a clear vision, and yet, since we didn’t have much time, he was able to improvise and shoot on the fly in order to make the days.  All the actors and crew respected him, and went the extra mile for him.  It was an amazing experience.

(l-r) Justin Ward, MateusWard
Photo Property of ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’
Provided by: Justin Ward

SMC – For an Actor so young, did you feel intimidated by this role at all? You did so well!

Mateus – Thank you! It was one of those things that I was always worried about. I wasn’t necessarily worried about doing it. I knew that once I put in the work, I could get there. I was mostly worried about how people would receive it. The title of the movie has the word “Man” in it! I knew it would cause shock and a lot of doubt from the audience before hand, but the way the movie is formatted I think it works very well. I have always been told I have an old soul, and to be honest, it was more challenging to play the young version of Clyde.

SMC – Have you had any personal experiences that have shaped you personally and prepared you for the kinds of roles you have been playing as of late?

Mateus – Let’s see an evil robot who shoots lazers and is telekinetic, a smart-ass son of a drug dealer, an actual drug dealer, a school shooter and a 40-year-old man convicted of three murders?  Hmmm… can’t really say I’ve had any of those personal experiences…

SMC -Ha ha ha – fair enough…. Where can the general public see The Meanest Man in Texas?

Mateus – We are still on the festival circuit.  But check out our social media, all #TheMeanestManInTexas for updates.

SMC – Have you been approached for other roles as a result of this film?

Mateus – Not that I can discuss…

SMC – What advice can you give to new Actors pursuing a career in Hollywood?

Mateus – Work, work, work! Study film, watch as many old and new programs as you can. Challenge yourself! Make sure it is truly what you love, because it’s not easy.

SMC – Since we are also a Music website – can you tell us who the top five Artists are in your favorites playlist?

Mateus – Jason Mraz, Chance the Rapper, Elvis Presley, Childish Gambino, and Panic! at the Disco

SMC – We would like to continue profiling you via our SMC SPOTLIGHT Numbered Series. This is a documented chronological journey of our most celebrated Artists throughout their career. Is this something that would appeal to you?

Mateus – Sounds great!

SMC – Alright, final question…finish this sentence: If I didn’t pursue a career in Acting, I would be………

Mateus – I don’t know what I’d be if I weren’t an actor… I’ve never had a back up plan!

SMC – Thank you Mateus!

____________________

Actor Mateus Ward is ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ Photo by: Deborah Kolb

Mateus Wards’ Social Media links (click to view)

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Actor Mateus Ward at the Red Carpet Premiere in Los Angeles May 5th, 2017
Photo property of ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’
Provided by: Justin Ward

Film and Television: Wards television credits include: Murder in the First, Hostages, NCIS, Disney XD’s Lab Rats, Weeds, Parenthood, Norn MacDonald Show, Outnumbered (Pilot), Criminal Minds, Pit Boss, and The Incredible Bean (Pilot). Film credits include: Lonely Boy, House Painting, The Afterlife, The Hall Monitor, Devil’s Eyes, Love in the Time of Flannel, STROBE, and now, The Meanest Man In Texas.

DIRECTOR: JUSTIN WARD ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’ | Exclusive SMC SPOTLIGHT Interview

By Candice Anne Marshall

Recently, we posted a SPOTLIGHT on Director Joshua Shultz for his short film ‘STROBE’ complete with an in-depth interview with he and his leading lady for the film, Chelsea Debo. In researching the background on other Actors in the film a little further, I discovered Los Angeles, California-based Actor Mateus Ward (see Mateus Wards’ in-depth SMC SPOTLIGHT interview/review here). His role as a meth addict in this film was so convincing, I decided I needed to know more about him. That’s when I stumbled across his Facebook Fan page and discovered he was cast as lead Actor in the upcoming film, ‘The Meanest Man in Texas‘(just hitting the Film Festival circuit now). This lead me down the rabbit hole and what I discovered was a kaleidoscope of magnificent talent and that talent has a name: Justin Ward.

Ward is the Director and genius behind this compelling film and it is evident in every detail that was portrayed historically and thematically. ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’ is a true story account (set in the late 1920’s and onward) following the life of Clyde Thompson, who, at the age of 17 was convicted of murder (self-defense) and sentenced to death in the electric chair. Within hours of his inevitable fate, Texas Governor Ross Sterling reduced his sentence to life in prison. This began the true account story (title of the same name) written in the early 1980’s by Author Don Umphrey who compiled a detailed and documented account of what turned this young man into what the media would later label ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’.

Photo still of Actor Captain Colt played by Jamie McShane at the Prison Farm where Clyde Thompson was placed.
Photo by: Ryan Gunnerson

Aesthetically, this film scores high in my list of epic true-story cinematography: I have always been a fan of vintage films and the imagery, costumes, sets and final produced result of this film is exquisite. Lead Actors Mateus Ward (yes, he is Justin’s son, also, plays Clyde Thompson), and Alexandra Bard (Julia, Thompson’s love interest and savior) bring depth and emotion with conviction. I admit, I was a blubbering mess each time their on-screen relationship was tested with inevitable challenges and hurdles.

Actor Jamie McShane lends combustible energy to his role as Captain Colt. Now, I don’t want to give too many of the details away (you’ll just have to attend the Film Festival circuit to see what I mean!), but let’s just say that the friction between Wards’ and McShanes’ characters was on-the-seat-of-your-chair gripping, explosive, sometimes humorous, and compassionate. Characters throughout the film such as Ben Reed (Thompson’s grief-stricken Father), and Casey Bond (Preacher) lend depth to this already intense story. My hats’ off to Casting Director Laura Ward who, clearly, has a true penchant for recognizing strengths and weaknesses in each Actor and has suitably matched them for every role in this film – brilliant! A full list of the cast and crew for this film can be found (here).

There aren’t a lot of films anymore that motivate me to head to the theater and feel inspired by their stories and I am also not the kind of individual to watch even much television these days. For me to sit more than 10 minutes during any film, whether it be in the theater or in the comfort of my office or home, it must be compelling in its content, visuals, and supported by stellar performances. ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’ is this complete package delivered by a ‘Rolls Royce’ caliber cast and crew. Having a Journalist background, I am drawn to factual-based films where accuracy portrayed in the overall details, visual, and acting is congruent to the time/era it takes place in. In my opinion, Justin Ward along with Producers Casey Bond and Brad Wilson (Higher Purpose Entertainment, in association with OHAHA FILMS, Inc.) have brought truth, humor, emotion, and enlightenment to this otherwise dark story that I am certain will inspire viewers to look beyond misfortune to know that there is always hope and the ability to achieve a positive outcome.

If you haven’t heard about this film yet or the cast and crew mentioned, I encourage you to check out the social media links after this interview and stay tapped in to find out when it will be available for public viewing and where. In the meantime, spend two minutes of your day and check out the trailer to this incredible film below.

And did I mention the films ‘Rolls Royce’ caliber?

You’re welcome.

Director Justin Ward Photo by: Joshua Shultz Provided by: Justin Ward

SMC SPOTLIGHT Exclusive Interview | DIRECTOR: JUSTIN WARD ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’

May 9th, 2017

SMC – Hello Justin! Welcome to the SMC SPOTLIGHT! We have begun expanding SMC into other areas of the arts such as the Film Industry. We are thrilled to be talking to you today about your new film ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’. Let’s begin first with some background questions…. can you tell us about your role in the making of this film?

JUSTIN: Thank you.  I am the director and co-writer of the film. 

SMC – Can you share your career background with us?

JUSTIN: I began my career working for Mick Jagger at Jagged Films, his film production company.  I went on to work as an assistant to the producers on several studio feature films, and was fortunate enough to work with and observe such producers and directors as Robert Redford, Norman Jewison, James L. Brooks, Richard Donner, Ron Shelton, Arnon Milchan, Joel Silver, and Grant Hill.  I developed a documentary sports series for extreme sports for ESPN, and produced and directed over 300 hours of programming from 1999-2005 on that network.  In 2006, I was the Showrunner on a magazine TV series called “Inside the UFC” for Spike TV. I also created and was the Showrunner of “The BJ Penn Show,” and in 2011, I created, directed and Executive Produced the documentary film series “Rock Stars” on National Geographic.  In 2015, I directed the award-winning syndicated farm-to-table series “Localicious.” I have also produced, directed and edited for The UFC, The USSA, The ParaOlympics, Nascar, Warner Bros. Marketing, CBS, NBC, FOX, The Travel Channel and the NFL.  This is my feature film directorial debut.

SMC – What lead you to this story about the life of Clyde Thompson aka: ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’?

JUSTIN: Mateus Ward and I wrote an anti-bully film called REBEL in 2014, and I shot a teaser to help raise financing.  Brad Wilson, one of the producers of “The Meanest Man In Texas” read the script and saw my teaser.  He and his partner Casey Bond brought the project to me and asked me to direct it.  I worked with writer Don Umphrey on the script for a few months, then we jumped right into production.  It all happened very quickly.

SMC – Let’s get into the details of the film itself: how much of Clyde’s life story was accurate in this film? Sometimes in films, there is a true account of the biographical story and in others, it’s a ‘based on’ account….

JUSTIN: When I read the book, it was hard to believe any of this could have happened to one man!  I was blown away by this unbelievable story.  So, it wasn’t hard to stick to the truth—it was more dramatic and exciting than any fiction.  Don Umphrey had spent years talking to Clyde Thompson and others to get all the facts, and we felt it was important to stay as close as we could to his true story.  All the situations actually happened, and are true.  However, we flushed out a few characters that Clyde knew or mentioned, but didn’t give much detail about.  When I started on the script, I wanted to really explore more deeply Clyde and Julia and Clyde and Capt. Colt’s relationships. 

SMC – Can you tell us what the importance of telling this story though film was to you? How did it resonate with you personally?

JUSTIN: I was so moved by this story, I had to tell it.  There were so many themes that resonated with me in the story.  First, I think it is a powerful story about redemption.  That no matter how dark things get, there is always hope.  The other theme I wanted to explore is the idea of how a corrupt justice and penal system can change you.  Clyde went into prison a typical teenager, quite innocent in many ways, and soon gained the moniker “the Meanest Man In Texas.”  I wanted to make a film that asks the fundamental question: do circumstances define who we are, or can we become the person we want to be in life, no matter our circumstances?  Once I started re-writing the script, what really resonated with me in the true story was the unconditional love between Clyde and Julia, so I wanted to make sure we flush that element out more.  Society wants to put us in boxes, they try and label us, for example he’s “a killer” and she’s a “hunchback,” but this is a story about two people who didn’t accept those labels—in fact, they defied them—and loved each other unconditionally regardless of how society saw them.   So, for me, it became a powerful story about redemption, forgiveness and acceptance, and that was the film I wanted to make. 

(l-r) Justin Ward, Mateus Ward, Jamie McShane
Photo by: Ryan Gunnerson

SMC – I also see that Don Umphrey, the author who wrote ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’ was involved in this project as well. Can you tell us how much of a benefit he was to have included in the making of this film?

JUSTIN: Don was a wealth of information. Having met and spoken with Clyde himself was a huge resource.  It took Don 39 years to get this story to the big screen.  I was very respectful when changing the script and ran everything by him, just to make sure it was historically correct.

SMC – Your Casting Director Laura Ward did an excellent job at assembling the Actor profiles for this film! Can you tell us a little bit about her background and what vision she had for the film also? (this could even be a question you could let her answer)

JUSTIN: Laura was amazing. Laura has a phenomenal eye and worked around the clock to find the best actors for every single role.  Every actor we cast was incredibly talented!  It was such a joy collaborating on this with my wife.  I knew we had little time for rehearsal with the actors, and most likely we would get no more than a couple of takes, so we were really looking at auditions and audition tapes where the actors were “performance ready,” with maybe a few adjustments.  

LAURA WARD:  It was really important for us to find actors that looked vintage, as if they were from that era.  We saw a lot of actors from popular shows, but it was important to find classic faces and great acting.  During the process, it was great to see how many actors came really prepared and embodied the character they were portraying.  I come from an acting background and have studied with some great teachers.  Being the mother of a young actor, and watching roles being put out on breakdown, cast and then filmed, I was able to use that experience in searching for our cast.  I was seeking actors who brought something special to each character.  I am so very proud of this cast!

SMC – In conversation with you, this past weekend you earned ‘Best Picture’ at the ICFF (International Christian Film Festival) Film Festival in Florida! What an accomplishment! What are your thoughts on this?

JUSTIN: It is such an honor to win a Best Picture award. The festival also gave Mateus Ward a Best Actor in a Feature Film award.  Brad Wilson, our producer, was in Orlando for ICFF, and said it was an extremely successful screening and festival. 

SMC – Tell us about your LA premiere? Can you tell us what some of the reactions to the film were?

JUSTIN: I was thrilled we were accepted to the Independent Filmmakers Showcase Film Festival in Beverly Hills.  It was great to show the film to our friends, family and industry peers.  The reaction was amazing, and many people stayed after the Q&A to continue to discuss the film, which was incredible.

SMC – The emotion that was expressed in this film was very intense and laced with some humor throughout (‘Got a light?’) – can you tell us if that was your personal touch to the film or if those were true accounts of the kinds of things the real Clyde would have said or done?

JUSTIN: I have to admit, the line “Got a light?” was my addition.  However, it was based on Clyde Thompson’s type of humor.  I like to think it was something he would have said.  I didn’t have much time, but I did my best to add humor and charm into the film where we could, since it was such a dark series of situations.  The casting director and I wanted to make sure that the actor Barney had a great sense of humor, and Anthony Guerino brought in a lot of awkward charm and humor to the role.

(l-r) Justin Ward, Mateus Ward
Photo Property of: ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’
Provided by: Justin Ward

SMC – What are your thoughts on Mateus’s skill as an Actor in this film?

JUSTIN:  I can’t explain how extraordinary it was to work with my son on this project.  I may be biased, but I believe he is one of the most talented actors of his generation.  The fact that he’s won 3 lead actor awards for this film, backs up my belief.  I don’t know any 17-year-old that could pull off what he did in this film, let alone many actors of any age.  Not only did he lose 17 pounds for the role, research for months, reached out to the family, but he also learned a very difficult accent and certain cadence, aged himself up physically and vocally, and carried the film.  The role required so much emotional, mental and physical range, and he nailed it.  I am extremely proud of his work on this film. 

SMC – I discovered your film through an industry peer – Joshua Shultz (Bellus Magazine, Director: STROBE), can you tell us what your connection with Joshua is?

JUSTIN: We met Joshua through an article he was doing on Mateus back in 2013.  We have all kept in touch, and Joshua asked Mateus to be in his anti-drug film STROBE.

SMC – With the SMC SPOTLIGHT, we have begun a ‘Spotlight numbered series’ with some of our high-profile clients and would like to continue following your journey and career. Is this something that would interest you?

JUSTIN: Yes.  Of course.  We would love to be a part of the Spotlight Numbered Series. 

SMC – What do you think is the value in having the support of media platforms such as SMC?

JUSTIN: SMC is such a great publication, with incredible talent and interesting interviews, I am honored to be included.  I think there is huge value in SMC sharing indie films to their audience.  Our goal as filmmakers is to make films so people can see them, and we are able to reach new audiences through publications like SMC.

SMC – Can you tell us which industry peers have been most supportive of your film? Who would you like to give a ‘shout out’ to?

JUSTIN: The success of the film is a culmination of everyone who worked on, acted in and helped support this film.  First, the executive producers Don Umphrey and Marshall Danby, have been incredible to work with on this project.  I have to thank the Producers Brad Wilson and Casey Bond, who hired me.  My wife Laura, son Mateus, and daughter Adiana for their constant support.  Shirley Roberts and Clyde Echols are members of the family who helped fill in the gaps.   It was my first film, so I reached out to a few people in the industry for advice, like Ralph Bertelle VP of Production at Paramount, Greg Berry an incredible art director and production designer, and Clenet Verdi-Rose a director and 1st AD.  So many people were so supportive, I’m sure I have missed some, but I am humbled by so much support by people like Dennis Lavalle, Eric Swanson, Andrew Morgado, PJ Ochelan and Joshua Shultz.

(l-r) Mateus Ward, Isabella Acres
Photo Property of: ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’
Provided by: Justin Ward

SMC – What are some of the projects you have coming up? Are you able to share that info with our readers?

JUSTIN: I have a couple of projects that I am trying to package right now, a feature film and a music documentary.  Mateus and I are also seeking financing on the anti-bully film we wrote together called REBEL.

SMC – Will you be including Mateus in on more future projects?

JUSTIN: This was such an incredible experience for both of us, we hope to continue to work on projects together.

SMC – Pardon my ignorance, but I have never asked this question before: what is the process of getting a film completed? Can you give us a play by play from first concept to final output?

JUSTIN: Basically, it’s like bearing a child.  For this film, we had a short window of pre-production which included budgeting, scheduling, re-writes, finding locations, casting and wardrobe.  Production was 11 days.  Post production included 4 weeks of editing, color, mixing and final output. 

SMC – You had mentioned to me that this film took only 11days to complete – wow! That’s some intense shooting! Can you tell us what a typical day would be like on set from start to finish?

JUSTIN: Having only 11 days meant everyone had to be extremely prepared.  I had every shot, every angle, every beat planed out.  Then, when we got pressed for time, I had to throw away the game plan, and in the moment, create a way to get the scene shot in just one shot, with no coverage.  This happened several times a day.  The cast and crew all had to adapt and be fluid, because I refused to throw out scenes, I threw out set ups and coverage instead.  We made every day.  I couldn’t have done it without my first Assistant Director and the Cinematographer Will Barratt, or with a different cast and crew.

SMC – Can you tell us what the next several weeks and months look like in terms of Film Festivals and promotion of this film?

JUSTIN: As of now, we are waiting on a couple more film festivals, and just trying to create some buzz and get people excited about the film.

SMC – I have to say that I was pretty impressed by the portrayal Alexandra Bard gave of Julia in this film. Can you tell us what working with Alexandra was like?

JUSTIN: Alex walked into the audition and had morphed herself into Julia.  I remember after she left, I asked the casting director for her headshot, thinking I found my Julia.  When she handed me Alexandra’s headshot, it was a glamor shot of this gorgeous woman, I said, “No, the one who JUST auditioned.”  Alex is one of the actresses every director dreams to cast.  She was 100% committed to the role, did her homework, transformed herself for the role, never complained, took direction, and gave a stellar performance that has left audiences in tears.  We lucked out that she walked through the door that day.  I knew from her first audition she was our Julia.

Alexandra Bard (Julia)
Photo by: Deborah Kolb

SMC – Some of the other Actors in the film had some pretty stellar skills presented in the film also. Ben Reed, who played Clyde’s Father was compelling! Jamie McShane as Captain Colt – that was also intense! How do you feel about the skills that these two gentlemen portrayed?

JUSTIN: I am proud of every actor in this film.  We assembled some amazingly talented actors, and they all stepped up and delivered strong performances.  I cannot say enough about Jamie McShane.  In New York, he won Best Supporting Actor at the Film Festival, and deserves many more awards for his performance.  Jamie was a pleasure to work with and he stepped in and accepted this part late in the game.  He didn’t have much time to prepare.   He was so respectful of the script and my vision, yet brought so much to the role. We had some incredible discussions about Capt. Colt and his journey. Besides being a great actor, he is an extraordinary human being.  Great example of the kind of actor / person he is, Jamie arrived on day 1, and it was over 100 degrees outside.  Hotter inside the Morgue.  Jamie shows up with 2 huge cases of water on his shoulders, and passes them out to the crew.  Then stepped in, and delivered that performance that left us all mesmerized. 

SMC – At the end of shooting, and it’s time to attend Film Festivals, do you feel like the cast has become a family? I mean, this is a story about a young man whose life was changed forever but there were key people along the way that helped to bring him to this epiphany in life…. surely this is the kind of thing that would connect people.

JUSTIN: Yes.  Well, some of the cast and crew are actually family.  Seriously, there is a certain connection with people when you make a film.  This team was especially special.  We were fortunate that the entire cast and crew were all really great people, besides being so talented.  It made an impossible task fun, and everyone has been so supportive during the festival circuit.  We have all gotten very close. 

Still from ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ with Cast
Photo property of: ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’
Provided by: Justin Ward

SMC – Can you tell us all the film Festivals that ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’ has been a part of and which are coming up?

JUSTIN:  We have been accepted to 7 film festivals, including the Nashville Film Festival, The New York City International Film Festival, The Beverly Hills Film Festival, IndieFEST, The International Christian Film Festival, The Los Angeles Cinefest of Hollywood, and The Independent Filmmakers Showcase Film Festival.

SMC – What accomplishments overall can you list for us that the film has earned so far?

JUSTIN: It has been accepted to 7 festivals, with over 20 nominations and 10 wins, including a Best Picture. 

SMC – Where will the general public be able to see this film?

JUSTIN: We are still on the film festival circuit, but check our social media for any updates on distribution.

SMC – How can one of our readers reach out to find out where they can see this film?

JUSTIN: Follow us on social media for more information and updates:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

SMC – Finish this sentence: If I was not pursuing my career in Film, I would have been a……

JUSTIN: Theater Director… or a scuba or kayak instructor.

SMC – Okay, final question: Can you tell us what your thoughts are on the future of film and the role independent films play?

JUSTIN: I think studio films play a great role as pure entertainment, but it is the indie films that filmmakers have a voice.  Films such as “Mean Streets,” “Momento,” “Resevoir Dogs,” “Precious,” and “Moonlight,”  are all independent films and have very unique cinematic voices.   I think Indie films are essential to the industry, it is where stories like this can be told.

SMMC – We couldn’t agree more Justin! Fabulous work!

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Film poster for: ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’ Photo provided by: Justin Ward Property of: ‘The Meanest Man In Texas’

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