Thursday, August 7, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with A BRONY TALE director BRENT HODGE!

My Little Brony:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     Let’s face it, folks – the ‘geeks’ shall inherit the earth.  Yes, that is a bold statement, but almost every facet of the entertainment industry NEEDS fanboys and fangirls to embrace their passions and spend their hard-earned cash.  This keeps the fans happy and the industry profitable.  But it wasn’t always this way.  It usually takes years before corporations realize that they are sitting on a goldmine – Marvel being the most obvious example.  It took many false starts before the Marvel universe finally connected with audiences around the world.  And those ‘geeks’ that people once laughed at are the very same ones that are either making these movies or spending hard earned cash to see them. While many of these hardcore fans are now showing up on the ‘hip’ radar, it has been a long, hard journey for the ‘geeks’ of the world.  Three decades ago, fans of Star Trek (Trekkies or Trekkers, depending on who you talk to) were ridiculed for their over-obsessive passion for everything connected to the Trek universe; comic book fans were labeled as harmless yet slightly creepy nerds (and worse); and music ‘geeks’ had more white label test pressings than girlfriends.  But that has all changed – hardcore fans have become the demographic for movie studios and record labels alike.  Even the word ‘geek’ is being put out to pasture, replaced by the far less derogatory fanboy/fangirl. 
     But that doesn’t mean that all fans have it that easy these days.  More specifically, Bronies seem to have it particularly tough.  What is a Brony?  In general terms, it is a male between the ages of 15 and 50 who is obsessed with the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Yes, the cartoon that was initially targeted at little girls has become a phenomenon with men who some would claim are ‘old enough to know better.’ Trying to explain their passion for this innocent slice of fun is like trying to explain why girls of all ages are fascinated by sparkly, pancake-faced vampires who could easily lose in a fistfight with Justin Beiber. To be honest, it doesn’t matter.  Bronies find joy in My Little Pony and there is nothing wrong with that. 
    The new documentary A Brony Tale, directed by Brent Hodge, doesn’t try to delve into the psyche of Bronies and present these men as outcasts, geeks and freaks -  in fact, it celebrates Brony-ism by casting no judgment at all.  The movie alternates between the world of the Bronies and the journey of My Little Pony voice actress Ashleigh Ball as she accepts the concept of Brony-ism and attends her first Brony convention.  The film, which was co-produced by Morgan Spurlock, is an honest, humorous and touching look at boys and men who have no interest in conforming to society’s definition of masculinity. They are real guys who connect with My Little Pony for a myriad of reasons, but each of their reasons are as unique as their individual personalities.  Bronies are not rebellious, confused or unstable  - they are just regular guys who happen to be obsessed by a TV show originally created for young girls.  There’s really not a difference between them and some 50 year old guy searching for a rare Donny Osmond 45 on Ebay.  In the end, A Brony Tale doesn’t try to answer questions – it merely offers a peek inside a world that many will never understand. And that, my friends, is OK.  You don’t need to understand everything.  You just need to be a little more tolerant when you discover that your best male friend has become hooked on a particular cartoon that he doesn’t want to talk about… Yes, Bronies are everywhere!
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Brent Hodge and talk about the movie, Bronies and ‘geeks’ in general…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  A Brony Tale is just about to be released.  How are you feeling about the reaction you’ve had to the film overall?
BRENT HODGE:  I feel pretty great.  I mean, this is a film I made in like 2012 with my handheld camera and it’s just had this crazy life.  So, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been incredible. 

SPAZ:    Now, let’s get this out of the way early… are you now or were you ever a Brony?
BRENT:  (chuckles)  No, I’m not.  Everyone asks me this too, and you know, I tried.  I tried it.  Their community is cool.   I like them.  They fly me in to see what they stand for.  But, you know, I sat and watched the show and it just didn’t fly as much for me.   I mean, I get it.   I get what they’re about, but the show just didn’t hook me.

SPAZ:  Ashleigh initially seemed really hesitant to embrace the whole Brony thing and attend the convention.  How did you feel about it when you first became aware of the whole movement?
BRENT:  Oh, I thought it was hilarious.  With Ashleigh, I used to joke with her that I think this is so funny that these guys liked your show… because she had been doing so many shows.  She did Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake and she had never really run across any fans.  I think she went to like one fan convention thing before the whole Brony thing.  It was all little girls that wanted autographs.  So, this was something else.  She just kept getting a lot of emails.  She would forward me the emails and say, “Look, I got another one.  Look at this guy.  He says he’s 50 and lives in Virginia and he loves Rainbow Dash”  and she just thought this isn’t going to go away and it’s gotten bigger and bigger and more and more emails.  She still gets them.   She still gets fan letters all the time, and so I just thought we have to film this.

SPAZ:  Were you thinking about filming it before you heard about a convention or it just happened that the convention was coming up?
BRENT:  We started to talk about it as the emails were coming in, and we said we should film this and then the convention - we had a lot of lead time before the convention.  The big trigger was the media, like how it’s starting.   Fox News, and Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert started doing bits about Bronies and then we were always talking about it, and I said I think this is a thing.  This is gonna be a big thing, and it started becoming a thing.  So, we were right there as it started.  We just didn’t know what the conclusion was gonna be.  That’s probably what took us so long to get it done.  But the convention definitely push-started us to really start filming.

SPAZ:  When you approached the people that you interviewed, were you initially amused or intrigued by the whole thing?
BRENT:    Oh, I was absolutely fascinated.  I think it was amusing as well, but I was just fascinated at why they were emailing Ashleigh.  The first guy I met was Dusty, the malest Brony in the world, that works at a bike shop.  I had to find a way to go see him.  I had to find a way to interview this guy no matter where it was gonna go.  I didn’t care if this went to a movie.  I just thought, this guy is such a character.  I got to hear his story.    I spent hours with him.  He only made a small cut of the film, I think an important cut of the film.  I got the liberty to do that too with this doc because we self-funded it.  I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time besides myself, and some of the guys in the film I suppose – if you want to call it wasting the time interviewing them.  But,  I definitely took my time when it came to getting what I needed in interviewing them.

SPAZ:  I think the film has this nice balance between Ashleigh accepting the whole concept, her journey to the convention, and then you also exploring the world of Bronies.  When you first started, were you thinking of focusing more on the Bronies or more on Ashleigh?
BRENT:  I definitely wanted it to be more Ashleigh and then I realized that it was a film about guys who like My Little Pony versus a voice actress.  But, I think she really led us through it and I really feel like that audience really relates to how Ashleigh is feeling.  I definitely wanted it to be more her story, and I’d say it probably came out 50/50 actually in the end.  Only because her story of going to BronyCon can only last so long.   That’s like a 20 minute documentary.  She really only has maybe 25 minutes of screen time.  And I just needed those other characters here.  Like, Bryan’s story – the military Brony, pretty much hooked me, but then the other guys - like the guy who works out all the time.  There’s some funny characters.  Could they lead a whole film or documentary?  No, probably not, but they were definitely great anecdotes through the whole thing.

SPAZ:  I think that the whole Brony thing gets a bad rap from people because it’s just like the whole Trekkie/Trekker thing. I feel that these people who are obsessed with My Little Pony or Star Trek are not that much different than a sports fanatic who sits in front of the TV set and always refers to their team as “we.”
BRENT:  Yeah, exactly.   You’re absolutely right.  The Bronies do get a really bad rap because they are going against counter pop culture, and they are challenging the status quo of that.  So, people are going to react, and people’s heads do turn.  It’s become really normal in the last few years.  You see a Brony now and it’s almost become a hipster thing versus a year or two ago where it was almost wrong to do it.  Now people seem to embrace it a little more.

SPAZ:  I think the movie has a lot of humor, but it doesn’t make fun of anyone. I think people will walk into this movie saying, “Oh I want to laugh at these people,” but they can’t because these people are real.  They’re honest.  They’re human. 
BRENT:  I’m really honored that you said that.  It’s like Morgan Spurlock and his team –they got involved, and that meant a lot to me because I’ve always felt that they take on massive subjects, like obesity in Super Size Me, but they do it in a way where you don’t leave the theater feeling horrible about yourself.  You know, like what you eat, what you do.  But, instead you’ve gone through this journey with Morgan and he’s the one that gained the weight, and you still laugh.  You go through it and you have fun, but at the end you still feel like you learned something or there’s a takeaway.  I just wanted to do the same thing with Brony.  They respected me as a filmmaker, and they respect themselves as a community.  So, I think it’s definitely my duty to make a respectful film.  That’s how it came out in the end, I think.  It’s that it is funny.   It’s quirky.  It’s cartoons.     And that’s why I wanted to also show in the doc – I wanted it to be fast and have a lot of fun like a cartoon does.  But I didn’t want to make fun of these people.  It was a challenge just making sure that I didn’t totally put my opinion forward all the time.  And my opinion started changing too.  It’s like I realized, these guys are okay.

SPAZ:  I think the movie ends up celebrating the whole thing rather than being mean spirited and poking fun. 
BRENT: Yeah.  You can still celebrate something, but allow people to still think it’s weird.  And that’s fine.  You got to go through, at least get an inner look through Ashleigh’s eyes and through the Bronies’ eyes and what they go through and now you definitely have the choice to formulate an opinion.
SPAZ:  It’s no different than us geeks who go to record swap meets.
BRENT:  Exactly.  I almost feel like everyone has their own ‘geek.’  I’m a huge hockey fan.  I’m an Oiler’s fan.  They’re the worst team for the last five years.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m always gonna be an Oiler’s fan.  I talk on the forum.  I have all the swag.  I get the autographs, whatever.  Like I have the “Ashleigh” in that world that I really love, in a hall with all these guys that I’ve just looked up to.  It’s interesting, that hit me at a point where I’m like wow, I’m the Brony of the hockey world.  I’m like, I’m not that far away.  You know, I found out a lot of these guys are Bronies, but they’re also into other things.  Like they’re into working out or they’re into motorcycles.  Dusty is as much a Brony as he is a Harley Davidson fanatic.  So, that was neat as well.  I could certainly relate to that.  I went, “Oh okay, probably some of these guys are hockey fans too.”   And then it all made sense.

SPAZ:  Were there a lot of people that you interviewed that maybe didn’t make the film?
BRENT:  Yeah, absolutely.  I interviewed a good 50 Bronies.  There was a chunk  - and I had to pick and choose to even it out of who I thought fit in certain areas too, of the film.  Like, who’s going to start this thing?  Who’s gonna end it?  Who’s going to be my middle Brony?  And I think the majority, the ones that didn’t make the cut, they didn’t make it because maybe they told me a similar thing to another guy who I thought would be more worthy in the film.  I had a guy who was kind of like the second manliest Brony in the world, and I’m like – well, I can’t - I don’t need you.  I have the manliest one.  Why put in another one who is into motorbikes.  It just seemed odd.  I wanted the audience to be able to relate to a Brony.  Whether you’re in a family, in high school, you like DJing, you’re into working out.  I wanted it to be this moment where you think, okay – I’m not actually that far away from being this guy.   So that’s why I sort of spread it out amongst the different types of Bronies.

SPAZ:     As the filmmaker, what is the ultimate message that you want the viewer to walk away with?
BRENT:  Originally, I wanted it to be more of an inside walk into this world and then I realized the message of the show, which is ‘Friendship is Magic,’ that sort of started to become a major part of this.  I started making this film by myself.   Just my handheld camera, just doing it on my own.  Then the more the film grew, my best friend made the music composition.  His wife started producing it with us.  And all of a sudden I realized these are my Bronies and my friends, and we’re actually making this film together.  So it seems weird to say that ‘Friendship is Magic’ is what the ultimate part of this film is.  The total message may just be the fact that there’s this community around us if we create it and don’t underestimate the things that make you happy.  Like Bryan said, if ponies makes you happy, that makes you happy.  And that’s sort of what these guys go for.  They don’t need to always make sense, but they are happy. 

SPAZ: Did you discover something about the Bronies that maybe you weren’t expecting? 
BRENT:  I think it comes out in the film that they are truly genuine about it.  Like, there was no irony.  When you get an interview with someone, it’s usually 20 minutes.  You get set up, set up lights, quickly do audio, do the interview, and then get out of their office right away and move on.  With these guys, I’d get picked up at the airport by one of them.  They would take me to their favorite lunch spot in their city.  They would do an interview, and then they would also want to hang out after.  I just thought these guys actually just want to be friends.   This is what the whole show is about, and this is what their community is about, and that’s what they want.  They just want to be friends.  Friendship is Magic.   And they were genuine across the board.  Then they would text me the next day, and now they have a new friend.   And this is probably a guy that had a very hard time socially growing up.  So, they’re getting into their late 20s and they just don’t care anymore.  Like it’s time to realize who you are and making friends is hard so maybe this helps. 

SPAZ: What’s next for Brent Hodge? 
BRENT:    I’m doing a Chris Farley documentary next, which is really cool.  I’m directing it with a company called Network Entertainment.  They have the rights and we’ve already started.  Also, I want to do a lot more work with Morgan and Virgil and that whole team.    So, we’re sort of scheming up some of the next things. 
SPAZ:    Yeah, Morgan is great.  Usually if his name is involved I go, okay – I’m going to watch this.  Now, of course, with A Brony Tale, I just thought the whole idea was pretty fascinating, and I didn’t realize until after the credits started rolling that Morgan was involved.  So I thought, “Okay – bonus!” 
BRENT:    That makes me feel good because I was thinking we were getting so much love because of Morgan and then a lot of people didn’t even realize he was involved until later.  It almost makes sense.  Like it’s kind of a project I originally really wanted him involved.  I really like the body of work that they do, so I’m assuming that I probably get a lot of my influence from that.  And so, I feel like it’s just sort of under the Spurlock brand, what they do as well.   It’s similar to styles of what they do.

SPAZ:  What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD, and record players?
BRENT: I was watching Netflix last night - 20 Feet From Stardom.  It’s a great documentary.  That’s the last thing I watched.  I’m also catching up on Game of Thrones.  I’m huge on my music, but in terms of the artists, I think I was listening yesterday to a lot of Johnny Cash. He is probably my big one just right now.  I’m reading this Spanish book because I’m trying to learn Spanish.  That’s my other media at the moment.  That’s about it. 
SPAZ:    Do you ever rest?
BRENT:   Yeah, a little bit.  I try. 

Thanks to Brent Hodge
Special thanks to Lauren Watt, Craig Van Gorp and Dana House




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