Monday, December 3, 2012
Groovy Guy of the Month: Justin Tanner
Each month I feature an interesting Groovy Guy or Gal - and the winner of this prestigious title for November is Los Angeles playwright Justin Tanner, who has been entertaining me (and many others) with his web series, Ave 43, since 2009. While I was watching the first episode years ago, my initial thought was "What the hell is this?" - but this quickly changed to "I need to watch more of this wacky madness." And from that moment I was hooked on Tanner's wild soap opera parody. With its large cast of crazy characters and a roller coaster ride of plot twists and turns, Ave 43 is reminiscent of an episode of TV's Soap - if it had been written and directed by the late, great Robert Altman.
Justin has also written many acclaimed plays, including Wife Swappers, Oklahomo!, Space Therapy, Voice Lessons, Zombie Attack! (which ran for 10 years in Hollywood), and Pot Mom (which I enjoyed a production of at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre). And he was a staff writer for two TV series - the beloved Gilmore Girls and the short-lived 2006 dramedy, Love Monkey. However, it's Tanner's wonderfully warped world of Ave 43 that made me a devoted fan, and I highly recommend that everyone go watch all 50 episodes of the series - after reading my interview with the talented guy.
What inspired you to create Ave 43?
I was talked into creating Ave 43 by an actress who ended up quitting the show after one episode. I'd never considered creating a web show and barely knew how to run a video camera. But it didn't take long for me to get the hang of it, and now it's my favorite form of artistic expression. I called it Ave 43 because that's the exit I take off the 110 Freeway.
Have you always been a fan of the soap opera genre?
I've been in love with soap operas since watching All My Children as a teenager.
What deliciously twisted drama can we expect to see when Ave 43 returns for a new season in January?
Next season I will be focusing on the evil Borrego family, creating a high school location so I can introduce more teenaged characters and making the storylines slightly more coherent (though still perplexing). Also, I'm going to whittle down the 50+ characters to a more manageable 25, and I plan on adding more actual locations so that everything won't be filmed at my house.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I wrote short stories in first grade but then switched to music for a while (I planned on being a concert pianist, dropping out of high school so I could practice piano six hours a day). I subsequently had a teenage nervous breakdown and later, after going to acting school, I turned to playwriting - so that my actor friends would have projects to act in.
Did you enjoy being a staff writer on Gilmore Girls? And what is one of your fondest (or least fondest) memories of working on the series?
Working on Gilmore Girls was fun at times and crazy-making at others. Being in a room with a bunch of writers throwing around ideas and trying to break stories is at times an agonizing endeavor. My favorite memory was being taken to Las Vegas by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino for a writers' weekend. My worst memory was hearing the table read of my episode and realizing not a single line of my dialog made it to the final draft.
My five favorite TV shows of all time are:
The Sopranos, Star Trek (with Shatner), I Love Lucy, Knots Landing and Downton Abbey.
Five of my favorite movies are:
Dodsworth (directed by William Wyler), The Apartment (Billy Wilder), Chinatown (Roman Polanksi), The Claim (Michael Winterbottom) and Gosford Park (Robert Altman).
If I were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Tennessee Williams, Pauline Kael and Mary Astor
What's next for Justin Tanner?
After 25 years of writing plays (and never being published), I've decided to give up trying to be a playwright. Instead I'm planning to focus on my web show as well as writing and shooting a low-budget film and arranging music for my singing group, The Roswell Sisters (a tight harmony group specializing in 20's music and 60's psychedelia).
Thank you, Justin, for being such a groovy guy! To watch Ave 43 from the very beginning, check out the first three episodes above and then continue the ride on the series' YouTube channel. You can also become a fan on Facebook.