Interview: Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren, Cinecasters
By Scott Smith in Miscellaneous on Jun 7, 2005 2:03PM
While the romance of radio isn’t immediately apparent underneath the fluorescent lights of the United Center conference room Cinecast is recorded in, the DIY nature of podcasts is. Podcasting allows for the broadcasting of audio content in a way that yesterday's radio pirates could never have imagined. Because there’s so much that can be done with the medium, the possibilities are endless. As talking about movies may be second only to downloading porn as the most popular activity on the ‘Net, it’s no surprise that plenty of podcasts feature movie reviews. One of the first, and best, to do so is Cinecast, recorded right here in Chicago by Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren.
Chicagoist recently sat in on a recording of the weekly Cinecast show. Run off nothing more than a laptop and mixing board, the show’s polished sound is a testament to its hosts’ professionalism. Perhaps because Adam and Sam approach the show in a studied way that recognizes that movies can be art as well as entertainment, it doesn’t devolve into the kind of scatological schizophrenia that characterizes most cinematic commentary found at sites like Ain’t It Cool News.
After the show, Chicagoist talked with Adam and Sam about how the show came into being, the challenges of making comic books into movies, and the best movies about Chicago.
Chicagoist: What prompted the two of you to start Cinecast?
Adam Kempenaar: I used to have a blog that I wrote that was called Cinemascoped and Sam would contribute to it frequently. I stopped and for like two years, Sam and I would talk off and on about ways to revive it. We wanted to talk about movies, we wanted to see movies...
Sam Hallgren: And have an outlet for it to justify seeing so many movies.
Adam: So we talked about it and we’d get all excited about it. “Yeah, we’re gonna start a new blog and we’ll call it this” and whatever. And then like two weeks later, we…
Sam: ...abandoned it...
Adam: We abandoned it. ‘Cause we just couldn’t get totally motivated about it. There was something about it just with our time...
Sam: And this was part of your graduate studies...
Adam: I was living in Iowa City and moved here in 2002 when I got hired by the Blackhawks. We packed up and moved to Chicago. I had lived here for one year before when I was in the grad program in film and video production at Columbia College from 1998 to 1999 and living in Lakeview. You’ve been here longer...
Sam: About four and a half years. I came up to do theatre in 2000 then moved out of the theatre world entirely and did an internship with Hello, Beautiful, the Sunday morning arts show on WBEZ for six months last year. I don’t have a film background. If anything, I’m just somebody that took it that much more personally and I think that’s where Adam and I hit it off. We have a similar appreciation for film.
Adam: So we wanted to do something, we just couldn’t get around to it. And then about the middle of February, my boss came into work and he had the latest issue of Wired magazine that had this big cover story about podcasting. Adam Curry was on the cover and it said like "Adam Curry wants to make you an iPod radio star” or something like that. So I read the article and it had some simple instructions for how you go about podcasting. And the second I saw it, I was like “I know this is what we want to do.” I did a radio show for about a year and a half that was about a two-hour weekly film show and he was just doing the internship at the NPR station.
Sam: You literally called me up and said “Do you want to be a radio star?”
Adam: And it was interesting because this podcasting thing was taking off. I thought “If we can get in early enough and be one of the first movie shows…
Sam: And do a decent job at it…
Adam: And do a decent job! That really was part of it too. We heard a lot of really amateur-type shows and though that’s kind of the beauty of podcasting….
Sam: We heard a lot of switching on the mic and just…talking.
Adam: There was really no production to it. We thought we could do something that seemed like a real radio show, in addition to bringing some kind of intelligence or insight to it. We could be the film show that’s doing new movie reviews and be THE movie podcast source for that. When we did our first show, we talked about Be Cool, a movie we both hated. We talked about it for way too long, like fifteen minutes. We went out for lunch afterwards and still talked about it...
Sam: For like another hour!
Adam: About why it sucked, about the things that were good, but mostly about the things that were bad. We thought if we can talk about a movie like Be Cool for this long then this is what we should be doing.
C: When you’re putting together the show, do you talk beforehand about how you feel about certain films or do you try and save it for the show?
Sam: One of our original ideas—it seems an ambitious idea now—was to have two fifteen minute shows a week, which would have been completely crazy.
Adam: That was going to be our gimmick in a way. We were going to set up at the theater, in the lobby and do our show: live!
Sam: And then come back and do a second show, which would be our second thoughts. Ideally, we don’t know each other’s opinions although sometimes Adam and I can’t help it. We end up seeing the film separately but I think the first case [of sharing our opinions beforehand] was when we saw Sin City. I walked out of there and I knew Adam was seeing it later that night and I was like “I’m so sorry you have to sit through this thing.” Of course, he ended up loving it.
Adam: I’m heading to the theater and I check my voice mail on my cell phone and there’s a message from Sam saying “Oh I’m so sad you gotta go see this.” And I’m like “OK, well I know Sam hated it.”
Sam: So ideally I think [it’s best] we don’t know. We try to write down everything we want to cover if we can get to it and then we just try to feed off each other. We don’t want to know everything before we record.
Adam: It has to be spontaneous a little bit. You gotta feed off Sam saying something that I think is just totally ridiculous and vice versa.
Sam: It happens every week.
C: With Sin City, was that the review that got the most listener feedback?
Adam: Sin City was definitely sort of our breakthrough show. The first four shows we had done, the movies were all pretty obscure. Sin City was that one movie that comes out where film geeks wanna see it and the average person still wants to see it too. It was by far our most popular show. That show was the one that really took off in terms of the downloads, brought new traffic to the site and got the most listener response. People wrote in saying “Sam, how can you not love this film?” People saying “No, I agree with Sam.”
Sam: It helped that Adam and I completely and utterly disagreed.
Adam: It was perfect timing for us to disagree with each other and have that elicit some strong feedback. That fifth show is the one where we finally figured out what we were doing. We think it was, by far, our best show to date in terms of the way we were putting it together.
C: Sam, you really, really didn’t like it. Do you think that part of why it didn’t work for you was because of the difficulty in bringing what’s on the comic book page to the screen?
Sam: Absolutely. I think that was my point. There was this effort to bring something right from the page onto the screen. I think that’s sort of irresponsible and showed a lack of imagination. I don’t think you can necessarily do that. It’s not the same medium. If the source was more interesting or more dynamic in the way it dealt with violence...I found it lacked wit, too. You can only see so many kicks to the groin.
C: X-Men was one of the first examples where people went “You can make a comic book onscreen and still have it be good” and not have it end up like the two versions of The Punisher. Do you think that’s the way to go in bringing a comic book to the screen?
Adam: I certainly think that the way to do it is, for lack of a better phrase, playing it straight. Playing it not like a comic book. You take a movie like X-Men: it works so well because you take these comic book characters and put them in realistic settings. The fact that you’re able to take the storyline of these X-Men and make it into a movie about tolerance...you want to make it relevant to a modern audience. In X2, when the guy literally has to “come out” to his parents, that’s brilliant! Sam, I think that’s what you’re saying about Sin City in a way is that [X-Men director Bryan] Singer took the source material but then adapted it in a way to make it fit in a film. And for you, taking Sin City and plopping it on the screen...
Sam: For me, it was like an experiment that failed. I think it’s totally worth doing. Some of the opening stuff is just really interesting to look at.
C: You had recently done a list of top 5 nostalgia movies, which I thought was really interesting. Have you ever gone back and looked at movies where as a kid you said “This is the greatest movie, I love this movie!” and then several years later gone back to watch it and thought “I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
Sam: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, actually. You know, I loved Roald Dahl as a kid. I loved all his books. I read every one of them. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of those films where you remember the parts that were really magical for you. And I saw it last summer at the Music Box late night and I thought: “This film is TERRIBLE.”
Adam: (yelling) WHAT?
Sam: It is abysmal!
Adam: Oh come on! Where is your soul?
Sam: Gene Wilder is brilliant. In fact, I think [his performance] is amazing. He’s an unbelievable, menacing, and interesting sort of character.
Adam: Uh huh.
Sam: But then you get these really bizarre and terrible musical interludes.
Adam: Those are GREAT! I can still watch it today.
Sam: That would be one case. I think there are other films like that too.
Adam: We had so much listener feedback that we had to leave out. People had reactions to the top 5 nostalgia movies, which I should have known because movies from your childhood you automatically get passionate about, talk about and defend.
C: Do you guys have a favorite Chicago movie: a movie that was filmed here or purports to take place here?
Sam: I do love Thief and it really captures the city well. I love how they use Lower Wacker and all that. It’s one of those films that really surprised me.
Adam: In a roundabout way, The Matrix. Right? I was living in Chicago at the time and I loved the fact that all the street names were from Chicago.
Sam: Eight Men Out, that’s another one. What’s your favorite?
C: Well, talking about nostalgia movies: The Blues Brothers. That movie is probably the best example of filming in the city in way that you could never do again, partly because of that movie. The opening shot over the steel mills, the neighborhoods, Maxwell Street...you can feel Chicago from that movie.
Adam: The one that I know has to be my choice is High Fidelity.
Sam: Oh, of course!
Adam: All the bar scenes and going into the store. Everything about that is “yeah, that’s Chicago.” That’s exactly what I think of when I think of Chicago. I spent a semester in London and think it’s the greatest city in the world (Ed. Note: He’s wrong) and I loved the book High Fidelity, I loved that it was set in London. So the fact that they took it and made it in Chicago might have pissed me off if it hadn’t been so good.
C: That’s another one of those times when you make the book into a movie and I don’t know if it necessarily improves upon it but it keeps that sense of the city and musically what the city gives you. I think Chicago has that.
Sam: It was the perfect choice.
C: What’s your favorite place in Chicago to see a movie?
Sam: The Landmark.
Adam: Probably the Landmark. Because they have the great seasonings for the popcorn.
Sam: Great seasonings.
Adam: So that helps. No, nice theaters and plus they show good, independent films.
Sam: Well, the AMC downtown too.
Adam: That is pretty nice. Obviously, because we’re more into those arty films, the places we frequent are like the Esquire and the Landmark and the Music Box. And Piper’s Alley too.
Sam: Yeah, but the Music Box. God, those seats are unbelievable. It can really take you out of it. It gives you a great opportunity for a litmus test: is this movie interesting? Is my ass too sore?
Adam: You better stop knocking the Music Box if you ever want them to sponsor us.
C: Are there films that you don’t really want to see but see anyway just to get an idea of the current state of cinema?
Adam: We’ve walked this line the whole time where we want to review a big release that everyone has heard of—we don’t want to do movies no one knows about. But at the same time, we want to do movies that we actually are really excited to go see and there’s some point in having a discussion about them. I think it was Cinecast #7, we ended up doing Masculine Feminine, the Goddard re-release at the Music Box; Sam saw Eros at the Landmark, and we talked about It’s All Gone Pete Tong. So here’s a show where we’re two shows removed from Sin City, a show that’s brought in all our new listeners...
Sam: And there was really nothing opening that weekend...
Adam: I think the only thing opening that weekend was The Amityville Horror. And we just said “You know what? We have no desire to see this film. We have no desire to talk about this film. We’re not adding anything to society by talking about The Amityville Horror so we’re gonna talk about these three films that we at least want to go see. The show where we did Palindromes was another case where...oh God was that the Sandra Bullock weekend?
Sam: Yeah. Miss Congeniality 2.
Adam: So we did Palindromes. And for most people, this movie wasn’t even going to play in their theaters or in their towns but that show was one of our top 5 most downloaded shows. What we should have realized earlier was that most people who listen to our shows probably are film geeks. Who’s going to seek out a movie podcast and listen for 35 minutes to guys talk about movies if you’re not into cinema? We’re gonna try and keep doing that. We’re gonna try and stay relevant. It’s better in a way to serve yourself. The show will be much better if we care about what we’re talking about versus trying to please everyone.
Click here to access the Cinecast website. Their most recent show discusses the films Cinderella Man and Lords of Dogtown.