Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

Garden gnomes need love too. Today, I get the chance to interview director, writer and voice actor Kelly Asbury. Kelly answers my questions about his new baby “Gnomeo and Juliet”, movie-making, Ventriloquism…and much more.

On… Kelly Asbury:

Welcome on Veronika Asks, Kelly! Thank you for being my interviewee. You’re a director, writer, voice actor and illustrator. Did you achieve everything you wanted to or is there something else you’d like to try?
I’d like to keep doing it all again and get better with each try!

Which animated movie made you want to become involved in this industry?
I saw Disney’s SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES when I was about 7-years-old and that was that.

Which one of the movies you worked on is your favorite?
I”ve enjoyed them all to a large degree, but, as of now, GNOMEO AND JULIET is my favorite!

In most animated movies, the hero often gets help from a fairy godmother. Do you have a fairy godmother? 🙂
My high school art teacher Mrs. Minnie McMillan is as close to a fairy godmother as I’ve ever come.

On “Gnomeo and Juliet”:

“Gnomeo and Juliet” is “an epic tale on a tiny scale”. The making of the movie too, must have been epic. Could you share your best and “worst” “Gnomeo & Juliet” memories?
My best memories are too many to mention here, but suffice it to say that I loved working with all the brilliantly talented artists and technicians I had the priviledge to be surrounded by. My worst memory is when it was all over and we had to say “goodbye for now.” It was like parting with family.

Fairytales often teach us valuable life lessons. What about “Gnomeo and Juliet”? Is there a moral behind the fun?
Don’t judge a gnome by the color of his hat!

Are there other classics you’d enjoy “gnoming”?
Been there, gnomed that.

On Animation and Movie-Making:

You’ve worked on amazing animated movies such as “The Little Mermaid”, “Shrek”, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”, “Beauty and the Beast”… What do a storyboard artist, assistant art director, story artist and director do exactly?
A storyboard artist works closely with the director to tell the story in still drawings, much like a comic strip. The storyboards serve as the blueprint from which the entire movie is planned. An assistant art director helps the production designer and art director develop and design the look of the movie from the environments to the colors and lighting for a given scene. A director oversees and shepherds all the creative decisions from the start to the finish of production.

What is the difference between a “good story” and a “story worth turning into a movie”?
All stories are worth turning into a movie and all stories are only as good as the teller.

Once an idea is born, how is an animated movie made? Could you briefly describe the movie-making process, taking your new baby “Gnomeo and Juliet” as an example?
Idea + script + storyboards + editing + many revisions + designs + voices + animation + surfacing + color + sound + sound mixing + final print = animated movie. A process of usually no less than 4 years.

I’ve heard it will soon be possible to “revive” dead actors thanks to the new technologies. Does that mean it will soon be possible to see new movies with those long-gone stars? How far do you think special effets may go?
I think the sky is the limit, but the stories have to be good and the characters have to be engaging or none of it’s worth a hill of beans.

On “Dummy Days”:

You wrote a non-fiction book titled “Dummy Days: America’s Favorite Ventriloquists from Radio and Early TV”. How and when did your passion for this incredible art form start? Have you ever considered becoming a ventriloquist yourself?
I was given a toy ventriloquist dummy as a kid and never was very good at actually being a ventriloquist. Still, I’ve always loved puppets and magic and those interests remained into my adulthood. After searching for a good book on the history of ventriloquists, I became frustrated and decided to write one myself.

Who is your favorite ventriloquist? And the greatest dummy of all-time?
My favorite ventriloquist is my good friend Mr. Jimmy Nelson, who’s famous for those old 1960s Nestle’s Quik commercials featuring his dummy Danny O’Day and the singing dog, Farfel. The most famous ventriloquist dummy of all time is Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy, who, in the 1930s and 40s was as popular as Mickey Mouse.

Do you think there’s room for another Golden Age of Ventriloquism?
There’s room for anything!


Hero: Walt Disney
Favorite Animated Movie:
Favorite Animated Character:
Mickey Mouse
Favorite Actor/Actress:
Marlon Brando/Meryl Streep
There’s always something new to learn.
I’m living it
Favorite Food:
Fried Chicken
Favorite City:
Los Angeles, CA
Favorite Music:
Anything that makes me want to sing along.
Deep sleep

Bonus Question: You’ve found $100. How will you use that money?
I’d first try hard to find out who lost it, in the hopes of getting it back to them. If that failed I’d throw a KFC block party.

Thank you, Kelly!

You can follow Kelly Asbury on Twitter:
…and discover “Gnomeo and Juliet”:


Ben H. WintersBestselling author Ben H. Winters talks about mashup novels, Benjamin Franklin, Leo Tolstoy and his new novel “Android Karenina”…

Hi Ben, welcome on Veronika Asks! Could you please briefly introduce yourself?
Thanks for having me!

My name is Ben, I’m a writer who lives in Brooklyn. Although I’m about to move to Boston, slightly further up the eastern seaboard of the continental United States.

Then, if you could describe yourself with three words (No, Ben H. Winters won’t make it. I’ve already heard this one :)…
Hard-working, well-meaning writer/father.

“The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman” will be published in September 2010. How about a little pitch?
Sure. It’s a “young adult” novel, about a nerdy, soft-spoken middle-school Band & Chorus teacher who turns out to have been a punk rock singer, a fact that makes her students go crazy.

Can you tell us more about your mashup “Android Karenina” (out in June 2010)? Why rewrite this novel (and not Romeo & Juliet, for example, although they’d both look great on the moon)?
After my last “mash-up novel”, the Jane Austen parody Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, I was itching to do another one. Tolstoy is one of my favorite authors (very original, I know) and I figured why not be audacious, be brave, and try to re-imagine the greatest novel ever written?

What would Leo think? 🙂
Well, I think he’d be a little confused, at first. But there’s a lot of material here I think he’d respect, and he’d like how I’ve maintained many of the major themes of his work, including mankind’s complex and often scary relationship with technology.

You also wrote “Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters”. Why did you pick the mashup genre (or did it pick you)? Aren’t you afraid of the Tolstoy and Austen diehard fans?
Indeed, it picked me; the whole thing was the idea of the folks at Quirk Books, I’ve just been lucky enough to get to play in this strange world they invented. And for the most part, the fans of these writers have been delighted by the whole thing. Just like a great movie version, a parody version of a classic work is another way of re-imagining, re-engaging, and re-encountering a beloved piece of writing.

You don’t plan on parodying “War & Peace”, do you? 🙂
One massive Tolstoy parody is enough for me, thanks very much.

Is there a mashup you’d love to read but are unlikely to write yourself?
I think it would be cool to see someone do one of Shakespeare’s plays, but not only write it, actually produce it — A Midsummer Night’s Terrible, Terrible Nightmare, or something.

What about your life before you became a bestselling novelist? Do you remember the very first story you penned?
I remember writing a series of extremely silly, page-and-a-half long stories about a pig who had extraordinary adventures. This was probably in grade four or five, so around nine or ten years old. I believe his name was Piggly-Wiggly.

How did you break into the publishing world? How much time did you spend looking for an agent or publisher?
That’s a long, boring story, that probably has elements in common with the boring stories of lots of other writers: a lot of dashed hopes, a lot of support from good friends and family, a lot of trying and trying again…and then, finally, things start to line up the way you want them to. I try to be as grateful as I can about each success I have, and as realistic as I can about what the future might hold.

What is a typical working day for Ben Winters? Do you have some writing habits?
The thing I try to stick to most of all, is to work for at least three hours before I go on the internet. It is the greatest eater of time ever devised by mankind.

If you could meet any person and ask him/her one question, who and what would you ask?
Of all the figures of history, I am most fascinated by Benjamin Franklin. I’m not sure what I’d ask him — he knew everything. The man invented the rocking chair, discovered electricity, and saved our young country several times over. I might, however, ask him how to get old without losing one’s marbles in the slightest, because he seems to have done that too.

Typical situation: Pixie caught in a bottle. Shrieking. Cursing. Fighting. End of the hysteria: three wishes (yay!). What would you wish for?
* Happiness for my children.
* Enough money to live on, not so much as to screw me up irrecoverably.
* Some sort of unlimited ice cream arrangement.

You write books and work on musicals. Is there something you haven’t tried yet and would love to?There are several people I’d love to write biographies of. But the amount of time and energy required to write a really good, complete biography, is extremely daunting to me.

And here is the famous “Nothing-to-do-with-books-question”: you’ve found $100, how will you use your newly acquired money?
The right answer: Donate it to a favorite charity — I really like Doctors Without Borders.
The honest answer: Waste it on ice cream and books.

Can you tell us more about your projects? Who’s your next co-writer? Shakespeare? Wilde? Casanova?
I’m working on the sequel to The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (yes, even though the first one hasn’t come yet!) and preparing to start on an idea I have abut the aforementioned Benjamin Franklin.


My Idol: My dad.
Author & Book: John Irving, P.D. James, Charles Dickens (who can pick one!)
Movies & TV shows: The Blues Brothers ; The Sopranos
Food: Grilled cheese sandwiches
City: Chicago, Illinois
Music: When I write I listen to opera (as I write this, The Magic Flute); otherwise, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan
Place to write in: The roof of my apartment building
Quote or Motto: “Time is what we want most, and use worst” — William Penn
“Tea or Coffee?”
Tea or Coffee? Coffee
Saturday night. Disco & Restaurant or Home, Books & DVDs? Cinema and restaurant, if we can get a babysitter!
Going on holidays. Beach or Mountains? Beach
Sleepy Little Town or Crazy Megapolis? Currently live in crazy, would love to end up in sleepy
Pick a DVD: Comedy or Weepy Drama? Comedy
Like To Travel or Hate to Move? Like to travel
Sport Lover or Couch Potato? Couch potato, though I do like to take long walks
Leader or Follower? Leader
Shy or Easy-going? Not sure these are really opposites, but I’m definitely easy-going
Serious or Funny? Well, I wrote something called Android Karenina, so I suppose I have to go with funny!
Thank you, Ben!
You can learn more about Ben H. Winters and his books at