Neil Cohen is back to talk about American Gargoyles!
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Neil Cohen – Interview
Jeff: [00:00:00] Hello listeners, a spoiler country today on the show we had the fantastic return. Mr. Neil Cohen. How’s it going, Mr. Cohen
Neil Cohen: in great talking to you. I mean, it’s fantastic.
Jeff: It’s great. It’s definitely my pleasure to have you back on. I had a great time talking to you about chiefs Abu, but Zach Norman, it was a very good time.
I think, half by all of us.
Neil Cohen: Yeah, no, that was great. And you know, Zach and I were in two different locations and both of us talk too much, so we hope we didn’t melt the brains of your listeners by talking over
Jeff: each other the whole time. I think that was perfect. Like I said, I enjoyed listening to guys talking to sit back and go let them do this.
They, they, they, that you guys kind of seem like that. Perfect comedy duo that you just can sit back and watch them do their routine. And I just enjoyed it, but I stepped back and said, yeah, do your show again.
Neil Cohen: It, it it’s remarkable cause I, I can’t express to you the phobia I had before this selling thing of hearing [00:01:00] my voice being on stage Any of that kind of stuff and kind of forced me into doing it.
And now I’m, I’m digging it as long as I don’t watch the playback. I’m fine. You know,
Jeff: totally same both. I must admit the one issue I always have is that when I do interviews, I realized I can not listen to them. So. During when I’m out doing interviews or working, I to go when I could take my dog for a walk, I always put on a spoiler country interview and listen to it.
When I walk, but if I’m doing the interview, I can’t listen to it sound like crap. That was off my list. Come up with another one. Google’s again, there’s something about, I think, hearing your own voice sometimes on one of these shows that sometimes is you catch yourself making errors, I think, and you listen more closely to your own speech than you would the other guy just talking.
Neil Cohen: Exactly. And it is a weird kind of it’s a weird kind of ego thing that you get into because who cares what you sound like. Right. [00:02:00] Isn’t listening to it. Doesn’t care. W you know, am I supposed to suddenly a sound like a. Alfred Hitchcock. Some, you know, they want Brad Pitt. They’re not coming to Neil Cohen.
Jeff: So the nice thing about being the host too, is that I realized that no one really gives a shit. When I’m saying they’re here to listen to you, the guests, and I’m pretty, I’ve, I’ve realized, you know, the more I can sit back and let the guest speak the better off everything is. Cause like, like I said, I’m pretty sure the listener is not like, I want to what Jeff is thinking right now.
They’re thinking, what is Neil Cohen thinking right now?
Neil Cohen: Yeah. Yeah. And I, and it’s also, when I’m doing one of these where I it’s, the video is being broadcast. I get into a certain behavior that. Is so not me. And it’s because I’ve never had any training [00:03:00] as an actor or performer or comedian or anything like that.
So I’m trying to be, I mean, it’s, it’s a 4% adjustment. But it’s a 4% adjustment. So for the worst
that I’m glad people are just hearing this voice and not seeing me trying to, I don’t know why, you know, once
Jeff: again, if anyone ever notices that my interview on my end is never on video. I hide my anonymity. Between and just my voice. I do not stay on camera and there’s reasons for that. But I think the coolest thing about the interview that I had with you and Mr.
Norman, is that you sent me a copy of your book. American humor, Argos. And let me, and only did you send it to me, but you autographed it and put it in a message. I thought that was one of the coolest things that has happened since I’ve done these interviews. I’m trying to think back. I do not think anyone has ever sent me an autograph piece of their work as, [00:04:00] as a thank you for doing the interview.
And I thought that was phenomenal. And I actually had the privilege of reading it. I sat and I read and I read American Gore goes and I thought it wasn’t good. It was an extremely fun book. Well, the audience for the book. First I can tell it’s for a younger audience. I think there was there’s enough jokes, I think, and references to people such as Donald Trump has.
We’ll get into later that as an adult, I was like, I see what you did there. And that was damn smart. And I, and I thank you so much for sending that over to me. And obviously
Neil Cohen: Well, you know, it’s fun to inscribe it and do a little drawing inside. I mean doing drawings is my happy space in my brain and in my life, you know?
So the idea that somebody I like is asking for a copy with an inscription in it, then some crazy little drawing that I do that that lowers the bio rhythm that that’s very relaxing.
Jeff: Well, I’m glad. So for our listeners, can, can you give them their [00:05:00] pitch of what is American gargoyles and what inspired you to write it?
Neil Cohen: Yeah. Yeah. So American gargoyles is a picture book about the gargoyles, the, you know, the statuary that, the decorations on that they used to put on all the old buildings. And so it’s on these gargoyles are on a old art deco building and a place like New York or Chicago or some. American urban place. And instead of European gargoyles that may be ferries or gods or saints, these are very American characters.
There’s a football player. There’s a businessman, there’s a musician some kind of crazy half squirrel, half bat. And in a lot of the buildings in the new world, they would put kind of. American vernacular type characters up on the buildings, not the kind of buildings you might see in Paris and London.
Well, these gargoyles find out that their building is going to get knocked down and [00:06:00] they’re a very bickering crowd of urban types and they have to pull together and get along with each other and figure out some harebrained scheme that they’re going to save their building. And they’re going to save their building from a guy named a developer named Donald hairdo who is has the interest of turning the building into one giant mirror so he can look at himself all day.
So they come up with some crazy scheme and it’s and it’s become a kind of fun book. Yeah. So th the building in
Jeff: question, the mentioned in the book is the Wentworth building, and that is a real New York building. Is that correct?
Neil Cohen: No, but it’s kind of based on the Woolworth building, which is covered with these kinds of businessmen and sports figures and very tug boat operators.
I mean, all the the statuary that’s carved on that building. Also the cathedral up near Columbia university has. Astronauts on it has all kinds of crazy [00:07:00] American types. So it’s based on those kinds of buildings that you might say, I’m sure there’s you know such things in Cleveland and Boston and Pittsburgh, you know, everywhere.
Jeff: And like I said, and I really loved the themes that were involved in the book and it like say while the wet word is. One of the focus when the focus is in the book, I really feel like the book in the Wentworth itself represents kind of like history and art. And I feel like it kind of works against a sense of maybe the cookie cutter cookie cutter world assembly line world that we’re living in.
And that I felt that you wanted us to look back and go, there’s something to be said about this kind of style and history that we’re losing.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. Well, you know, part of the joke at the beginning of the book is you see the Wentworth building when it was built and, you know, people are the size of ants and everyone’s looking up at it and it’s the biggest and most famous building in the city.
And then in the next panel, you see, it’s actually now a tiny building, surrounded by [00:08:00] gigantic glass skyscrapers, and the everybody forgot that the buildings even there. Yeah. So it is about history and how you know, Hey look, one day you’re up and one day, one day you’re down and you never get up. But th this building had its moment and now it’s covered in sweat and forgotten and everyone’s moved on until it’s going to get knocked down.
Cause the gargoyles it’s their home. They can move on. So they got to figure out some. Crazy way to save it.
Jeff: You know, it reminds me but where I live in Rhode Island, In Providence is what’s is a very famous building that we call it the Superman building. Cause it looks very much like the Superman building from the old 1940s cartoon.
When he, when he’s jumping over it, it looks very similar. And the building last I know of it is for some years it has been abandoned. And no one’s bought, it has been not to start falling apart, but it was such an important part of Providence in our identity, the Superman building, that is a shame that we let it go.
And when you, I was reading the Wentworth [00:09:00] story in your book, I thought, Jesus Christ, that is the Superman building. It is minus gargle, but it felt the same thing to me.
Neil Cohen: Yeah, well, there’s, you know, a lot of great buildings that were in Manhattan that are no longer. And there’s a little Omaj to them at the beginning of the book, some old postcards you see of some of these buildings that were once great.
Like the singer sewing machine building is no longer, there was a great building down in lower Manhattan. And then, you know, after they knocked down, Penn station in New York, the nobody could believe such a thing could actually happen that such a magnificent structure would get demolished and to be replaced by the quite horrific Madison square garden that we have now that kind of sparked the whole historic and architectural preservation movement around the country.
And so coming off of that a lot of these great old buildings have been [00:10:00] saved. And what’s interesting is, you know, a lot of young people, it’s not, you know, old, crazy people like me. It’s a lot of young people. In their accounts, whether it’s in, cause I communicate them through the book and communicating to a lot of young people in places like Chattanooga and Memphis and Charlotte, North Carolina, you know, who are actively trying to save the great old downtowns in their communities.
Jeff: I, and I said, and I really do think the book, you know, is it the book fun and colorful, but I, I really did love the themes within themes of that book because you had the character like Rocky. And a story about being brave. Cause he was a bread chef with BRCA. And I thought that was good.
Sorry about being brave and the importance of overcoming their, their one’s own stout and fears. Yeah. And I thought it was one of your goals when you thought about, cause I know the Wentworth was the focus, but did you think to yourself, you know, I want all these kids to see themselves in these characters and see their own issues in these stories as well.
[00:11:00] Neil Cohen: Well, actually the drawings originally started and the character is starting telling me about, is a character who’s holding the football. And he’s a tough looking guy with a old school, 1920s football helmet. And he purports to be the bravest guy in the city and nothing scares him. And then you find out he’s very, very timid and you find out that he was never supposed to be carved as a football player.
He was supposed to be a chef. But the stone Carver looked the wrong way, knocked the hat off. So they carved that into a helmet and they turned the bread into a football. Not that I haven’t known a lot of very brave bakers, but the, the way the thing started is it started from the characters and then the story evolved.
And probably the last thing I conceived of was the building. I mean, not a building. The first thing I did was the characters [00:12:00] and I mean the whole book itself, like came out of It came out of the fact that I was doing a very big job. It was like my big break. I was doing a very big job for HBO and it was going to be made into a very important show in a series.
This is some, probably 15 years ago. And there was casting, there was a director, it’s a typical Hollywood story. And then the thing got pancaked two weeks before it was supposed to start and the job abruptly ended. But part of the thing of the job was they gave me an office. Which is something I had never had before I had an office and it wasn’t at the studio lab.
They said, here’s some extra money, go get yourself an office. So I got this crazy office on top of a bar in Santa Monica. You had to walk through the bar and go through a secret door, go up a flight of stairs. [00:13:00] It was an old building from the 1920s, and there were a bunch of crazy offices with. People crazy like me in each of these offices.
So I was in this environment that was very historic and they said, Oh yeah. And we’re taking back the office. And I had like, I dunno, it was like, Three more weeks to have this office. So I said, yes. Yeah. I mean, I’m depressed now, but after I’m done being depressed after about 36 hours, what could I do in this office?
I could sit down and write another script or try to knock out a short story or something, but that’s just going to remind me of how upset I am about this project collapsing. So I went down to the. You know, Rite aid and got a whole bunch of really cheap art supplies and some good paper and brought it up in this office had a big long table.
And I just laid out the paper and said, let me do something different. You know, I’d always like [00:14:00] drawing. I said, let me. You know, create a comic book. Let me create a, a picture book. Let me just start drawing some characters that I have in my mind than I had been thinking about these gargoyle characters.
So I just I started doing that 24 seven and that was how this whole story got, got burst. So,
Jeff: have you ever done anything like it before? Have you ever even considered doing a picture book prior to that moment?
Neil Cohen: The only thing I did prior, and I’m not going to share it with you,
Jeff: no secrets.
Neil Cohen: They did a detailed graphic novel version.
Of chiefs, zap, BU to function as a storyboard when we shot that movie. Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah. So I have like a 45 page, you know, very detailed each shot you know, with the characters, you know, I’m going characatures of Zach Norman and Alan Garfield, but you know, that’s not something back then. Anyone was [00:15:00] interested in.
And so yeah, so doing that kind of stuff is, is something I find very relaxing doing drawing.
Jeff: There was something there. So exuberant, the colors are very bright, vibrant, and I can definitely for an I guess what would you say the audience ages basically under is under eight? I would imagine or around
Neil Cohen: that would be, I that’s what I thought it would be, and it is under eight, but.
Some of the characters have clicked with kids who were like 10, 11, and 12, oddly enough. And that’s an interesting story. We’ll we’ll get to in a second, if the characters have clicked with skateboarders. Oh really? So it became a thing for skateboarders to have these characters on their t-shirts and Yeah.
I mean, that’s like a wonder to me I’ve never been on a skateboard in my life. And, and so it’s kind of expanded the range of who are fans of the book.
Jeff: I mean, that really is incredible. And like, [00:16:00] and I think part of it is the characters are so likable, just looking. I mean, Rocky’s a really fun character as well.
Yeah. And, and, and I, once again, I think it was interesting that you did go, I mean do something for, like I said, that is. It’s too kid oriented because I do feel that it speaks well to them. And I, and from an adult standpoint, I really do love what you did with the villain, Donald hairdo. I don’t think there’s any mystery that Donald who Donald hairdo is supposed to represent.
He definitely One of the more famous art
should have had a real dialogue from the actual Donald Trump. And that was to fix that pretty quick. So why did, what was it about Donald Trump that you felt he is a perfect villain for the destruction of artistic architecture in New York.
Neil Cohen: Well, the Trump tower, you know, I’m not expecting your audience to know about the architectural history of Manhattan, but Trump tower, where it is, is [00:17:00] on the side of what was a great old department store called Bonwit teller.
And Bonwit teller was famous for its gargoyles. And when he announced he was going to knock down that building, which was built probably in the 1920s or thirties he said that he would. Preserve the gargoyles that they would be removed and put someplace safe for a museum or collections or whatever.
They were really very pretty sculptures that were on the facade of this great old art deco building. And of course in the middle of the night, he. Took them all down and had them crushed in a dump somewhere in New Jersey. And those all those gargoyles have disappeared. So he seemed to be the kind of perfect villain for a guy who would be knocking down a building or stripping the facade to put up a mirror to himself.
You know, and, and, and it says, you know, the guy, the guy thinks he’s being out truest. He says, well, I like to look at myself all day long. I assume everyone else like [00:18:00] all day long. So that that’s you know, not you and me, Jeff, but he assumed everyone else did. So yeah, so that’s why I went to that character who, when I originally was doing it again was a sort of this before noonish villain.
In the world of New York who knew we was going to become president of the United States. I mean, I did the book, you know what I mean? I mean, when you talk about the exuberance and the colors and this, that, you know, I mean, this stuff is all hand done with watercolor pencils and ink and magic marker and whatever.
I didn’t know that when you’re supposed to do such a thing, a picture book or graphic novel, or a comic that you’re supposed to have, like acetate cells where you do the drawings and then you did the dialogue and then something else. So I did everything right on this heavy watercolor paper. I would do the drawings.
And then I would put the dialogue [00:19:00] bubbles in there that I would, you know, write in my crazy handwriting. And then when I would look at it, if I wanted to make a change, I would either get a bottle of wine, spill it on, erase it, or cut another piece of paper and scotch tape. But on top of that that’s how.
Unconscious. I was about how I could have made my life easier, but in doing it that way, it has this weird do it yourself, primitiveness that makes it kind of seem. Old-fashioned in a way, if not certifiably insane. And, but I think because of that, well, because of a lot of reasons, it breaks a bunch of rules.
It’s longer than a conventional kid’s book and it’s got more words and the jokes are sometimes a little more sophisticated or, or cookie or, you know, Go off into someplace that’s in my brain. You know, there was no publisher for this thing. I mean, I tried to get this thing [00:20:00] published for probably 10 years and that didn’t happen and I just put it away and left it in the drawer.
And then at a certain point going through all my stuff. And I remembered it and I liked these characters a lot. And I, I made a mock up of it. I made it with you know, just. Going to Kinko’s, he’s loving it with you know, wire spiral binding. And they showed it around to a lot of people who liked it, but nobody wants to publish it.
And I was going to self publish it myself and just, you know, make a few copies to give out to friends and then found a very cool publisher in downtown LA who happens to do very edgy material. Very edgy material and mentioned to a friend of mine, you know, I’m looking for a kid’s title. And she said, you know, I think I may have the book for you.
And so I [00:21:00] got to introduce this book to this publisher, rare bird books and LA, and they loved it and said, yeah, let’s. Let’s put it out, but you know, I could see where the whiteout is and the erasers and the scotch tape. You’re going to leave that in. Right. He said, great for you then, you know, we thought, you, you, you want it to slick this thing up, you know?
So yeah, so it has a kind of a slap, slap dash quality to it, which is which I think is another reason. Kids like it, you know if you look at most kids’ books, most not all, but most they’re really designed. To make the kid fall asleep. I mean, they could get a nice lesson of being nice to their friends and, you know, liking themselves and things like that.
But at the end of it, and that’s the end and the kid’s supposed to be sleeping at [00:22:00] this point. American gargoyles I think will get them agitated and Want to run around and do stuff. So you know, the drawings kind of speak to this kind of crazy energy and a certain primitiveness that kids look at it and say, Oh, I can do it.
You know, I could draw those characters. And so a lot of kids have been sending me their versions of the characters and when they do like post them up on Instagram or they make their own t-shirts with the characters on them. So that’s been, that’s been a lot of fun for me. I think one thing
Jeff: that you mentioned is when the reasons why I think the book is so charming, it does have that home made feel to it.
And I think it, it, you can feel more like the author soul is coming out of the book. What I’m saying, it feels like you can see and experience the author’s thoughts in that book. It doesn’t have that processed. Preprinted almost Santa sanitary, you know, Santana [00:23:00] sanitary look to it. It has a very, you know, it’s it’s, it feels like a book that was made for that kid.
Neil Cohen: absolutely. And you know, when I would bring it to publishers originally, most of them said, Oh, this is a good story. We’ll go get an illustrator to illustrate it. And I said, well, no, that’s not what I have in mind. And then as you mentioned it, I mean, this is a funny story about how. Crazy humans are an album using myself as the example of the crazy human.
So I showed it to a guy who I knew pretty well, who had some influence in the publishing world. And his response was, Hey Neil, this is real. Do it yourself, you know? And I was so offended by that comment. I don’t think I talked to the guy for four years and it was a very devastating comment until I realized that was a good thing.
And I kinda liked that bell that went off [00:24:00] suddenly that, that, that was not, I don’t have, I don’t have like a drummer in the back then Goecks here. It just so happened. An email came in, but yeah, so, you know, here was a comment that the guy made that I was so offended about, which I should have been celebrating.
And is that funny
Jeff: how sometimes that works, where it’s sometimes it takes time and a little bit of distance to realize why something worked better than even you realize it did for yourself. And I think that’s fantastic.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. I mean, getting feedback is a trippy thing and it’s certainly nothing. Anybody teaches in a school and it’s something you often never learn, but.
Getting feedback, a heavy thing that everyone’s always about, well, how am I processing? How I’m feeling about the feedback rather than. Is this helpful feedback, negative [00:25:00] feedback, or what can I take from it? And a lot of times it’s not, you know, you just want, you give it to some, you don’t really want feedback.
You want somebody to tell you your genius. But when somebody gives you a negative reaction, you want to say, okay, that person didn’t like it fine. I’m going to write off that person being able to help me, but. If they didn’t like it. Why not? Not that I’m going to change it to make them like it, but often you find out somebody doesn’t like something because you haven’t been clear.
As to what the intention is. Gotcha. So if you write a thriller and somebody doesn’t like it, it may be because they thought it was a comedy, you know, or if you write a comedy and nobody’s laughing at it, often in the first two pages, you haven’t set it up as a comedy. And you know, so would this thing [00:26:00] there, I was doing it myself and then I was offended when somebody says it’s, it looks like you did it yourself.
Jeff: It’s sort of like my day job is I’m a high school teacher. Okay. And it’s my job to. Instruct, you know, obviously give feedback, but sometimes my job involves criticism and I find that if they’re pre previous teachers didn’t properly prepare them for how to handle criticism. They don’t know how to properly handle it from me.
And I think the more they deal with me, the more they realize as long as the criticism is. Presented as help. This is something that works for you. This doesn’t work against you. Criticism is helping you out and, you know, and I think that’s beneficial for everybody. I mean, my I’ve written some stuff that’s gotten criticized as well.
And you know, after usually the day or two later, I sometimes think to myself, Son of a bitch. They were ripe. The motherfucker was [00:27:00] right. It means the next time I did a project, I thought about what the guy said. I was like, okay, maybe I shouldn’t do this or that, or be more observant and what I’m doing over here.
And I think that’s, that’s a good lesson for all of us.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely. You know, and yeah, you just never know where you’re going to get the right note from, you know, it’s like, We all think we’ll put it aside. We’ll read it a second time and then it’ll be clear what needs to be fixed, but you do sort of have to have somebody else look at it.
And if they’re supportive of you, listen to what they have to say, and then not necessarily change it, but listen to what they have to say and then think. Okay, well, let’s just see why, you know, maybe. Hmm. Okay. Yeah. Well, I
Jeff: mean, I guess because let’s face it, any creation is an act of vanity on some level, and it’s hard to distance yourself from your own [00:28:00] vanity.
You know, we all like to think wherever we create is absolute genius and sometimes it takes someone to go well, cause you were looking close enough. This needs to be fixed. And sometimes that fixed is what made it later. You know, the greatness that it could
Neil Cohen: be. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it, it, it’s been just such a, a fun ride you know, to, to have this book come out and to be reading it to, to libraries and school groups.
And it’s taken me to places, you know, that I. You know, the idea that suddenly I’m reading this book at the skyscraper museum to a bunch of kids in New York or the New York public library or in East LA or in you know, Brooklyn somewhere. It it’s been just that. This is so outside of my comfort zone, but so much fun.
Jeff: And like I said, and I think there’s so much fantastic aspects of that book. And going back to a little bit, what we said about Donald Trump and connecting to that idea of vanity is that he really did seem like the perfect villain in the reading of it. And it connects so well to the, [00:29:00] to another theme, which is once again, you want to make it to a mirror.
A mirror is inherently a Bain pursuit, you know, seeing yourself and also the desire to create buildings that are larger and larger, bigger, and bigger. To the detriment of everything necessarily around it is also an act of dandy as well. And that does seem to be the perfect theme for what you’re talking about, the, the importance of recognizing the history and the art and everything else.
And I thought once again, Donald hairdo was, was a wonderfully perfect building for that story.
Neil Cohen: Well, you know, the only, I mean, one of the challenges I set for myself and it took a while to figure out how to tell the story. To serve that challenge and to decide whether that challenge was worthy. And ultimately I’m glad I went that way is usually when these kind of stories are told at a certain.
The eclipse of the moon, lightning strikes the building and the gargoyles come alive. You know, that’s [00:30:00] the standard thing. And what I said was, you know what these things are made out of stone and they’re actually never going to come to life. They’re not going to move going. How they’re drawn is how they are, but.
Somehow there’s going to be a narrative that gets them moved and brings, gets them away from home, brings them back home, but it’s not going to entail them changing shape. The only human character in the story is the Donald hairdo character. So he has fluid movement of his arms and, and whatnot, but the characters themselves don’t actually move.
And I think. People are not even aware of fact on a first reading that the characters as drawn are the same character all the way through the story.
Jeff: Okay. I just realized I never noticed they don’t move. Jesus. I’m I’m, I’m actually pretty good at picking up on things, but I actually just [00:31:00] assumed they were moving around.
For some reason,
Neil Cohen: they, they get moved to a junkyard, they get moved back to the building. They, they communicate with each other, but their arms don’t move their legs. Don’t move it’s and it’s, it works for the thing.
Jeff: And, and I think that nothing I really liked about it as well as that. You use the idea of the snow globe as a symbol for nostalgia.
And once again, at least I thought they meant to me because I always find snow Globes as that fantastic thing that you buy. And you just, you look at it and it’s just this great memory and this thing that, well, again, doesn’t move, but you have so much memory then becomes valuable because you see it there.
What was the symbol of the snow globe for you when you wrote it?
Neil Cohen: Well, I just, I just think they’re so funny. I, you know, I mean, whether it’s from citizen Kane or whether it’s from you, you know, you come back from a vacation in the Caribbean and you got a snow globe with a Palm tree inside [00:32:00] It, they’re just such a delightful, wonderful world that gets created as a kid.
They’re kind of magical. And as an adult, it’s like one of these kitschy things. That nobody’s actually have, not just like a kitschy thing that cracks everybody up a snow globe, you know, I mean, you can’t help yourself, but pick it up and shake it. I don’t care how, you know, how young you are, how old you are.
I remember when I was trying to find the publisher, this other person, it got all the way up through the ranks and it got to somebody who’s very important in the company. And I had a meeting with them. And, and the guy said to me, you know, And this’ll be very telling about, as you go up through the ranks, the guy said, you know, I really liked the story and the characters he said, but what’s a snow globe.
And I looked at the guy, like I thought he was putting me on. And he, he literally didn’t know that’s how divorced he was [00:33:00] from, you know, what was around him. And this is a person. You know, a thumbs up thumbs down kind of character. So you know, one never knows, but you know, and then just also the idea, I mean, I’m such an amateur, the idea that I was gonna tackle, making a snow glow by me and to be able to execute that that’s kind of crazy.
You know, but the idea that they. Kind of figure out a way to turn their, a forgotten building into the world’s biggest snow globe in the middle of the summer that became you know, all of that was kind of a light bulb ideas or writer where okay. That would, that would get people to remember this building.
Jeff: Well, like I said, the reviews on the book is I’ve been fantastic. For instance, the New York times said it’s a rock is call out to a vision of New York city. That is fading fast. But clearly so has a mischievous life in it. And I thought that was a great review for the book. How’s it feel to after all this time to have an after all those years of trying to get it published and have such great praise and universal praise for this book,
[00:34:00] Neil Cohen: it’s such a delight.
I mean, it’s, it’s such a delight. That again, I’m sort of at a place in my life where it’s not like, well, will that trigger this? And will this trigger that, you know it was just like so nice to see my work being written about in the New York times, Sunday book section, you know, something I’ve read my whole life Well, not, I’m not that high, you know, highfalutin, you know, not around reading the New York times book review, but I mean, it’s, it’s obviously something that I’m aware of.
And you know, all of a sudden there’s my name and my book, you know, they only review, I don’t know, 28 kids’ books a year or something. And the fact that mine got picked out from the group is kind of wild. Part of it getting picked though, goes back to that other subject of [00:35:00] the skateboarders. I mean, I’ll, I’ll, I won’t force you to prompt the question, but you know, when the book got published, I assumed.
Because it’s about historic and architectural preservation. That that world would embrace me and the book, it’s you know, historic and architectural preservation is not one of the more venerable kid books subjects. So I did that. This was a muck about that. I assumed that world would just. Fall in love with me and fall in love with it.
What I found out was, and you know, and I’m sure a lot of your readers are artists and performers or whatever. You know, there’s a. Crowd, there’s a club and there’s an area there in the club or not the club. So I’m a guy who’s doing my first kid’s book. I’m not in the club [00:36:00] of kids’ book writers or kids book you know, feature writers about a kid, you know, I’m completely a weird culty outsider.
So. I came up against that. And then I went out to all the different preservationist organizations and a lot of them pushed back saying, well, we don’t want to have anything to do with kids. You know, we’re you know, if people would bow ties and things like that, or a lot of those people said the Jesus, Donald hairdo character, we get a lot of money from people like that.
You know we don’t want to be attached to your book. So it was. They’re very difficult to figure out how I was going to get any kind of notoriety for the book and you know, about a mile or so from where I live is like the biggest West coast skateboard park, a place that. It’s so far from my comfort zone, you have no idea, but [00:37:00] it’s filled with kids on the weekend and their parents.
And I said, well, you know, I got to find somebody to go look at this bug. And maybe I made a bunch of t-shirts for kids. And went down to the park and the, the moms and dads who are happy to have their kids in the, in the t-shirts. And I said to them, you know If your kid wears a t-shirt skateboards around, I’ll give you a couple of bucks, which was amazing to these people, because all anybody ever does is rip off these kids.
You know, products come and they film them doing things and they give them a soccer, the shoelaces or something, and then they turn those into multi-million dollar campaigns. So the people couldn’t believe I was actually going to like. Pay their kid to do a modeling job. They said, okay, take the pictures.
I said, I don’t know how to shoot pictures. You take the pictures and send them to me. So these kids started skating around and they’re posting pictures of themselves in. The characters from American gargoyles [00:38:00] and one person who was kind of a more prominent sports photographer. And her daughter is a kind of notable young skater and model.
She was on a, are you smarter than a fifth grader? And they’re just really good people. They said, you know, we really liked the book and nobody thinks of skateboarders in books and you did. And so we want to help you out. So I was talking to them and then this. Young skater in her twenties, this Mariah, more kids skated over and said, so what’d you got happening?
You know? So I said, this, that, and the other thing, and she said, well, I’ll make a little video for your book. That sounds like fun, you know? And I said, okay, great. So she made like a little spot about. The book of her wearing the t-shirt and next thing you know, it got into this like real high-end fashion shop in LA my t-shirts.
It was the weirdest thing. Well, so the New York times got interested in the [00:39:00] book because they saw that skateboarders were wearing the characters. Nice and skateboarding and readers again is not a normal connection. So then they reached out and that’s how they got a copy to the desk. I mean, if they didn’t like the book, they went to written about it, but they happen to like the book and write about it.
So next thing you know, when they got into New York times, so, you know, I circled back to this the skater Mariah Marquez and said that, gee, you know, you really helped me out. I mean, you really, really helped me out. Here’s a couple of bucks go make a movie about you, you know blow my mind, blow your mind.
And that she disappeared. I went out of town, my wife and I went into town. And suddenly the movie you saw you know, That showed up and it’s kind of amazing. I mean, I wasn’t there for that shoot. I mean, I, you know, I you know, the producer of it, but, you know, she wrote a dragon it’s become like the most viewed a short film on [00:40:00] a, on a cycle documentary weekly.
And it’s that playing on all these wild sites in Europe right now. And so it’s this American gargoyles thing is. Triggered a whole bunch of very interesting things in my life. And in some other people’s lives,
Jeff: I want to talk about the movie that you referenced, but I do have to have one, I want to ask one more question about the the American gargoyles, because it has done so well.
And it sounds like you really enjoyed doing it. Are there other children books you’re now considering making, or was this a one and done kind of thing?
Neil Cohen: No, there’s some other things I’m considering making, and that’s sort of what I’m in the middle of right now as the negotiation, cause a kind of major kids’ media company has discovered American guard oil.
So we’re negotiating an option agreement now and they’re Company Abbott, Toronto and Dublin and New York. And they have you know, some plants for this thing. I can’t say the name of them now until the deal is done, but you know, they want [00:41:00] to do it as a one-off special. So that’s kind of what I’m focused on.
Kind of marshaling to them, how this thing is both the book and it could be, you know, the characters in their world can be bigger than the book. So
Jeff: it kind of interesting how life seems to just play out that way, that, you know, you, you, this fantastic idea how that idea came about the skaters held that idea of marketing to that came about how Mariah Marquez then came about.
I mean, it’s such an interesting series of events. Have you ever looked back and said, this just felt like, like a faded thing that had to happen.
Neil Cohen: No, you know, I’m kind of open to talking to people and crazy things happening. And the, yeah, I, you know, I’m at a very early, the stage of my life. I stopped being paranoid about people are going to steal my ideas.
So I’m not going to share what I’m doing with people. So what what I do, I share with [00:42:00] people and then some people. Take it to the next step for me occasionally. Yeah. I get ripped off occasionally there’s dead ends, but occasionally things sort of line up in a weird way or not a weird way, just because I’m kind of curious and I mean, very early on in my career, I got a lot of lectures that I was.
Not focused on one version of who I am. You know, I remember agents earlier on saying. Are you a comic writer or are you a serious writer? I mean, are you a TV writer? Are you a movie writer? Are you a playwright? You have to decide what it is. Otherwise we don’t know how to sell you. And indeed they didn’t.
But but that’s kind of who I am. I kind of. Flipped from interests to interests and a few of them [00:43:00] stick. So when you put a kind of wide net out, you know, most people think what you’re doing is stupid or not very interesting. And every once in a while, somebody comes along and says, Oh, what you’re doing is interesting.
Could we do a project together? And then in most cases, You do a project with this person who’s new in your life or from your past, or from your future. And it doesn’t work out, but every once in a while it does. And when it does, it’s, it’s fun and surprising, but you can’t wait for the perfect setup because you’ll be waiting forever.
And often it’s actually the perfect setup. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to be involved in short films, art films, avant-garde films. And it was all with the perfect setup and nothing happened. Here’s something, I meet this a, a skater down in Venice beach and she comes up with an award-winning film.
You know, all [00:44:00] she needed was a little space and a little bread to be able to make a movie. So it’s, you know, you can’t wait for the stars to line up. You got to forgive me for saying you got it. If you want though. Yeah. You know? Yeah. They could put out a bunch of ideas and see who sparks to it and not be that upset if nobody does.
Jeff: So that’s to bring it up. Maria Marquez she you were producer of the movie that she made the small, short film called diarrhea, being uncomfortably comfortable for our listeners. What is it?
Neil Cohen: It’s the story of a. Woman from a young woman, from a small town in Texas who had a quite awful disease affliction condition that kept her in the hospital for most of her teenage years, [00:45:00] who then as soon as she could function on her own hit the road and wound up in the Pacific Northwest where things got.
Kind of screwy and wound up the living inner vehicle in Venice beach meeting a bunch of other girls down there and forming a, an all women’s skateboard collective called the girl swirl, which is now something of a. Bit of a national and international phenomena of girl skaters who are not competitive, but are supportive of each other and teach kids.
And they’ve been down to Mexico to migrant camps and teaching kids there. And it’s a story of somebody who’s had a kind of very tough life done in a style that’s very artistic. Quite charming, quite funny and quite uplifting. Ultimately in 13 minutes, I mean a critic ad in New York called that the ultimate the road movie in 13 minutes you know a critic in [00:46:00] Paris calls it the, he says it, it breaks all norms of documentaries and filmmaking.
Picture that story. I mean, you’re looking at this thing and you think it’s a pretty girl, Instagram posts then about two and a half minutes in it makes a very sharp left turn and goes off into someplace. Pretty weird. Uh you’ll you’ll if you look up documentary weekly, it’s a free site that you can get a link from Instagram it’s on Facebook and punch in uncomfortably comfortable, or Mariah Marquez.
You can watch the movie there. Well, I, I thought
Jeff: I really enjoyed it, that he let me watch it. I really appreciate it. And I fell. It was mostly, it was a great profile in the ideas of strength and perseverance and yeah. And when it was completed, what lessons did you want the viewers to receive watching it?
Neil Cohen: Well, just whatever lesson she brought forward, you know, and the lesson that she brings forward in the, in the film is that you’re the author of your [00:47:00] own story. I mean, your life is your story and you’re the author of that story. And you should feel free to write that book. And. You have no idea what life’s gonna throw at you and you have no idea who you’re going to meet along the way.
And we’re here taking the trip is short and we take it one time and that’s I think what why the film has translated To a bunch of people in, in different cultures. You know, it played at a a very RD festival here in Southern California where it won an award as best director. I mean, this is a person never went to college or went to film school or anything like that, you know but the, the style that she shoots it in is a throwback to a certain kind of bug Vanguard filmmaking with being kind of very entertaining and charming, you know?
But then it got picked up. By these European film lovers particularly documentary weekly that featured it, where it became it’s their [00:48:00] most watched short film. And then it got picked up by the Paris surf and skateboard festival, which is a very sort of artistic and very political film festival in Paris.
And Paris was open for a couple of weeks from COVID and they played the film there on a big screen. Unfortunately. Mariah couldn’t get there. We couldn’t get her there, you know, because of travel restrictions. And it was so successful, won an award there that they played at the following weekend to a packed house.
And now they have it on a, on a French site where people can see it. It’s got subtitles and French now, which is a, and now it’s invited to be playing in may and in Italy, in Milan. So I think she’ll be able to take. That trip and continue writing her story there. You know, for me to be, I mean, this is kind of a funny story.
Friend of mine had it. Who’s. Very successful a filmmaker and [00:49:00] also a post-production guy. He liked the movie a lot. And so he offered to help get the subtitles on. Cause it’s a little it’s trickier than one would think to put subtitles on a movie, even if it’s just 13 minutes long. And it’s all a narration.
And afterwards he was congratulating me and I said, well, it’s you know, it was fun to be like a producer. And the guy got very angry and shook his finger in my face. And he said, you know, Neil, what the, hell’s the matter with you? What do you mean? He said, why do you say it was fun to be like a producer?
You were the producer. Sure.
Always talk. Like they say, well, don’t do that. Is that it’s like, you know, if you do that, if you say I was kinda like the producer, people are gonna think you weren’t the producer, somebody else was,
[00:50:00] Neil Cohen: Go ahead. Sorry. Yeah. So for me, just even accepting the role of being a producer, I mean, this thing is like you know, this is like the feathers in a pillow.
This, I mean, the movie is pretty deep, but it’s not, you know, but for me to be able to be a producer was a lot of fun was, was really, really a lot of fun work with a director. You know, put together some kind of campaign to so that the movie would get seen you know, protecting the interests of the of the creator of the film.
And because it’s very tricky, you know, somebody who’s making a movie about themselves right away. It’s very tricky. Cause it’s got a straddle. And she was very aware of this, the sort of Mimi, me, ego thing of it, and then the sort of filmmaking of it, and then the sort of universal story of it. So you know, those kinds of creative conversations to have.
It w it was great fun, and it [00:51:00] was, you know, particularly great fun when it was all over the phone. I mean, this is like I’m put together during the pandemic.
Jeff: Well, I said, I mean, obviously it’s an extremely well, one. Best first time to record the Venice film festival. I’ve finished feminists,
Neil Cohen: Venice film festival Institute, festival.
That’s part of Dennis’ Institute of contemporary arts in LA.
Jeff: Yeah. And I think another reason why I think it, it, it resonates so well. Is that. You really feel like there’s an openness with Mariah Marquez? There’s actually a moment in the movie where she’s new and she’s, she’s moving around and she can get it like, almost like that symbolizes how much he exposes herself and her emotions to you as the audience.
And I think that really does resonate well. It connects you to her in a way that not a lot of movies do. And I, and I think as an audience member, you, you can feel that it’s tangible.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. And I mean, I was my wife and I were 3000 miles away, upstate New York. When she filmed, then she said, Neil, I’m going to do something.
I got an [00:52:00] idea. I don’t know if you’re going to like it. You know, I hope it doesn’t shake you up. So we say, well, you know, whatever it is, man, it’s your movie. And, and it seems like it’s some kind of special effects thing, but everything in that very brief moment is done with shadows and projections and a projector projecting onto a sheet.
I mean, it’s all you know 1914 filmmaking of everything’s practical that you see in that, in the film. And I think. That kind of do it yourself, quality of it, you know, I mean, it’s shot on a cracked iPhone, you know? So so, and edited by her on. On an I, you know you know, on a smartphone, it’s not like she’s has access to all kinds of editing equipment or film equipment.
And so to do something that, you know, was that revealing. When I saw it the first time, it was like, wow, you know, [00:53:00] a bit revealing bit honest and, and, and, and very, also genuine and innocent. Yeah, and I
Jeff: really liked the there’s a quote in the move that I really liked. She says, I realized how powerful my voice is that I have to use my voice to empower other people and use my experiences, helped guide other people.
And I feel that it summarizes not only her life so well, but I felt was like knowing and an important message, but I really felt that was kind of the theme that she was going with in that movie. I think it is an important one for listeners to hear.
Neil Cohen: Absolutely. I mean, it’s, it’s truly a genuinely beautiful little 13 minute trip.
And people have been there. They’re drawn to it because this is somebody who hasn’t had minor problems to deal with it. I’m not going to you’ll look at the movie. This is somebody who’s had some. Real major stuff in her life and the fact that [00:54:00] she’s able to process it the way she does and want to entertain us is just wonderful.
Jeff: So how can our listeners best help Mariah?
Neil Cohen: Well, I think to, to support that film, I mean, if there’s a festival in, in your town, Wherever that is. I mean, I’m going to be honest, oddly enough, most American festivals didn’t understand the movie, but you know festivals have been reaching out from Sheffield, England, and Birmingham, England, and Barcelona and Paris and Milan.
And I think the. Yeah. You know, I got a lot of reasons why sometimes movies don’t get into festivals, but this is a movie that, that, you know, You should seek out and if you see it, you could see it on document on the documentary, a weekly site, you made the hunted down, they put up a lot of them movies.
They’re mostly European movies. I would say, you know, they’re probably 90% [00:55:00] English language, European movies or, or subtitled in English doc weekly or documentary weekly. And and you know, if you like the movie. You know, it’s supported by mentioning to people who have the film clubs or you know, again, right now it’s a tough time.
Probably more people are seeing it now on the websites then are seeing it if they, if theaters were open. So it’s actually a cool moment. For this film.
Jeff: Is there any plans to produce a followup story to see where Mariah is now?
Neil Cohen: Yeah, I mean, there’s other things that you know, she wants to express cinematically and you know, they just reached out to her actually.
Because it was shown in Paris from elf Elle magazine, and France is doing a little story about her. There’s a wonderful book that just came out called skate, like a girl that a beautiful tabletop book about the [00:56:00] women’s skateboarders. The book was produced in Barcelona, but it’s available here in the States.
It’s called the skate, like a girl by Carolina. Mill is the person who put the book together. So she’s featured in, in that book quite a bit. And you know, who, who knows where life’s going to take any of us. So are you going to be her website? You know, she’s on Instagram at I think it’s called Mariah Rose on Instagram and she’s always putting up something weird esoteric every day.
Jeff: you going to be producing any, any of those potentials?
Neil Cohen: I would like to, yeah, we’re, we’re talking about a number of things also, you know, trying to trying to keep the overhead as low as we can. I’m not a guy with huge resources. So we have to think you know, kind of creatively, one of the things is she and I are talking about putting together is a Kind of a photo [00:57:00] comic book, a photo.
There was a thing that was, I dunno, if it was popular, but a thing that was done in the late forties and fifties, a little bit in the sixties, it was done over in Italy, sometime in America, also in the 1920s where these photos, comics, where the comics were actually still photographs that had dialogue bubbles.
Oh, that’s cool. And some of them were quite lurid and some of them were romances and some of them were kind of film noirish. And so there’s one such project that is she and I are gearing up for now that we’re hoping, you know, once we can deal with actors and movement and travel you know, I, I would want her to be the.
Director of that. So that’s something you know, we’ll definitely be doing, you know, looking forward into 2021.
Jeff: Hopefully when you do that, you come back on the show and and talk about that as well. Love
Neil Cohen: to love to that would [00:58:00] be great. Thank
Jeff: you so much, Mr. Cohen. It was fantastic talking to you. I do hope our readers check out American gargles was again a fantastic book.
I really thought it was well done. Please
Neil Cohen: available anywhere in American car oils,
Jeff: please look up. He has his own website look up that as well, and also look up uncomfortably comfortable, or the diary of comfortably comfortable was kind of very fantastic short film. And it was a great pleasure as always to speak with you, Mr.
Neil Cohen: Well, it’s Neil, not Mr. Cohen. If anybody wants to contact me directly and just keep listening to Jeff because this guy knows where it’s at.
Jeff: Thank you so much. You’re fantastic, sir.