“The Internet Is Where It’s At”: An Interview with Carson Mell by Joe Martin

An illustration of Echo Johnson from Mell’s Tarantula.

Carson Mell is a writer/filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California. His work embraces many mediums, from music videos to Sundance-screened short films, to his two novels Saguaro and The Blue Bourbon OrchestraWith an original voice oozing both cool and humorous, Mell’s work has brought to life unique characters such as a contemplative inter-dimensional traveler, an introspective writer with hotel heartaches, and the magnificently rugged former rockstar Bobby Bird.

Joe Martin: Your work, especially The Writer, seems very self-aware. How much of your work is directly linked to your personal experience, and how does that relationship between your art and life exist?

Carson Mell: I do my best not to get too self-aware, self-conscious. I try to link very little between my life and work, and I find writing about myself too challenging and boring. If it happens, it’s usually subconscious. Or it’s a quick fix to take something that happened to me or a friend and use it as a beat in a story. I don’t think about it too much. I made The Writer at a time where I never thought I’d write novels or short stories, and I probably wouldn’t have made it if I knew I would end up writing so much prose. By the way, the writer, whose name is Lucas Reed, is coming back in a new thing I’m working on.

JM: Ah! Can’t wait to see more of him. Speaking of future projects, you’ve mentioned beginning work on a horror movie. What have been your major influences up to this point, what has drawn you toward horror, and can we expect to see some of your established style in this new project?

CM: I’m really into the Coen Brothers, Chris Smith (American MovieThe Pool). My writing I think is influenced by song lyrics more than anything. I love the way song lyrics convey a lot quickly and leave enough room for your imagination to play in them. I hope I do that when I write. I’m also really influenced by Twin PeaksThe Sopranos, and Trailer Park BoysTPB‘s my new favorite show, and I am trying to make a movie with Robb Wells who plays Ricky. And the new project, which is a web series called Tarantula, is very much like The Devil in Denim. It’s actually a spin-off of that cartoon, about the guy who gave Bobby Bird the spider tattoo in the van. His name is Echo Johnson.

JM: Lyricism is very strong in your work. The language itself blew me away. It’s fascinating how these different characters live in and out of different mediums and span in and out of each other’s stories. Do they all kind of live inside your head every day?

CM: You know, when I’m actively working on something with them, they live in my head, but I have to keep them there, keep them present. The most active character in my brain right now is the new one, Echo Johnson. I read somewhere that Henrik Ibsen had to go and spend time with his characters in a cabin before he could write a play. I used to think he was exaggerating, but I’ve found that if I take the time to explore someone’s backstory, tell little stories through their voice, and especially draw them, that when I put them into a larger narrative the work is much, much easier. I’ve only had the patience to do that with a few characters, but every time I do they are the characters that people respond to the most by far.

JM: So, Echo Johnson is a very present character for you at the moment, and a part of the web-series-in-development, Tarantula. Is the internet in general a big part of your process?

CM: I’m still doing a lot of things more traditionally, but over the course of the next couple of years, I want to start making more and more work for the internet. There’s something so great about being able to deliver directly to an audience. Eventually, my fantasy would be to make a half-hour web series as slick and dynamic as Futurama that I deliver directly to an audience for a small fee. No advertising, no network, etc. It’s going to take a lot of work on my part to get to a place where this is possible, but this is my new holy grail, my new career goal. Also, my two novels will be available for digital download by mid-summer 2012. For now I’m done with traditional publishing. There’s no point in trying to get a big publisher to invest in me when I can deliver new stories and novellas directly to the public. I get really charged when I think about this. I blame the fact that I’m not a teenager that it took me so long to realize the internet is where it’s at.

JM: That is ambitious and really exciting to hear. Do you think this type of move will be adopted by others, and do you foresee the internet bringing about any other radical changes in the landscape of filmmaking and/or writing? Is this a healthy change from the way things are run now?

CM: I’m not sure how it will work out, but internet distribution will be a huge part of how I distribute my work to an audience, possibly the only way. I say this like it’s a choice, but really, it’s just going to happen that way. As a writer or filmmaker, you can either get excited about it or not. I’m excited about it. And I think it’s beyond healthy. The fact that I could finish a short film and literally make it available worldwide in an hour is the coolest thing in the world to me. It’s often the idea that gets me working in the morning.

JM: With this wide, instant range of reach in the internet, what is it that you hope to give to your audience? And what do you hope for in exchange?

CM: I hope to give them consistent, honest entertainment where the creative decisions are based on trying to make the best product and absolutely nothing else, and would hope to get back love and money. By “best product” I also mean appealing. For me, a mass audience is something I eventually want. I see old SimpsonsSeinfeldSopranos as the model of how to work. Keep the thing’s integrity, but also make sure it’s entertaining. My version of best is also entertaining.

JM: Interaction with your audience seems much quicker, with viewer comments and reactions on sites like Vimeo and YouTube. Is this a motivator for your work? What are some of the most memorable reactions you’ve seen?

CM: This isn’t that important to me. I read things when people write me directly, but I try not to read the comments. As far as funny reactions to my work, the thing I find funniest and the most flattering is when people think Bobby Bird is a real guy. It’s happened a few times and it’s very validating.

JM: So, as an original voice picking up momentum, do you have any words of advice for other creative minds?

CM: I think the most important thing is to just make any kind of narrative work. It’s cheaper and cheaper to make movies, but even cheaper to make cartoons, cheaper still to write stories. My novel is what got me my first well-paid writing job, and short films got me editing work before that. Film can be daunting because you need a commitment of time from other people, but prose and cartoons are something you can chip away at by yourself, and it all flexes the same set of muscles.

Originally from the Cleveland area of Ohio, Joe Martin is a recent graduate from Bowling Green State University. He is an  independent filmmaker, writer, and photographer.

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