THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE, Anthony Newley (l.), Mackenzie Astin (back), 1987, ©Atlantic Releasing Corp.

A famous poet once said:

You take the good…

You take the bad…

You take them both and there you have…the facts of life. 

And in 1986, these were the facts of life for an ambitious child actor by the name of Mackenzie Astin: He was 14 years old, he was dating a beautiful teenage actress and he had recently been promoted to series regular of a popular sitcom called—you guessed it—The Facts of Life.

Everything was going great for Mackenzie, but there was just one problem: things were going even better for his older brother, Sean, who had just finished working with Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner on a little film called The Goonies.

And so, almost as if inspired by his brother’s speech in The Goonies, Mackenzie Astin asked himself: when’s it gonna be my time? When am I gonna get to star in a blockbuster movie of my own? And, just as these feelings of sibling rivalry reached a crescendo, such an opportunity seemed to come around: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Wow, Mackenzie thought. A whole movie based on those cool, subversive trading cards! How could this possibly go wrong?

Well it did. In almost every single conceivable way. So I sat down with Mackenzie Astin to recount that traumatic cinematic experience and the ripples that would follow…

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kelli maroney

Kelli Maroney has a unique skill set: she knows how to survive ’80s horror movies.

Between Slayground (1983), Night of the Comet (1984) and this week’s How Did This Get Made? film Chopping Mall (1986), Maroney has a real talent for making it through a slasher flick alive. So naturally, when she and I sat down to speak, I couldn’t help but ask: what does it take to pull of this feat?

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Play by Play Series Creator Interview

If you liked The Wonder Years or The Sandlot — if you yearn for nostalgic tales told with humor, heart, and wit — then brace yourselves for the wistful joy of Kevin Jakubowski’s excellent new series Play by Play.

Set in the ’90s, Play by Play centers on a 14-year-old wannabe athlete named Pete Hickey (played by Reid Miller) and his herculean quest to find relevance as a freshman in high school. For anyone who’s survived high school, this challenge is all too familiar; but there’s one thing — even more powerful than living in his older brother’s shadow or his younger’s sister warpath — that put Pete’s journey into perilous territory: his freshman class is the school’s first to welcome girls. Which means that every sophomore, junior and senior at his school — all dudes — are gunning for the girls in his grade (and all too happy to take down Pete Hickey in the process).

Unlike most first-person narrated coming of age stories, Play by Play was created with a twist: the narrator (who, as with shows like The Wonder Years or The Goldbergs, is unseen) is a present day  anchor on Sportscenter; so the narrative on screen — the trials and tribulations of young Pete Hickey — is presented in a way that feels like highlights to a sports game.

The show, which premieres today on Go90 (Verizon’s freely available streaming service) is ambitious, endearing and consistently clever. Which is probably why Play by Play has already been picked up for a 2nd and 3rd season.

To learn more about how this show got made, I sat down with creator Kevin Jakubowski to discuss how Play by Play came to be. We also talked about the blacklist script that launched his career (The Assassination of a High School President), his script-turned-novel about the magic of Nintendo (8-Bit Christmas) and how a sport called Hurling changed the trajectory of his life…

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Sleepwalkers

From quirky hits (like *batteries not included and Critters 2) to epic haunts (like Stephen King’s The Stand), filmmaker Mick Garris has proven himself to be one of the industry’s true masters of horror. Literally, even; creating the beloved Showtime series Masters of Horror. With such an impressive portfolio of spooky stories under his belt, it’d likely be hard for any horror fan to pick their favorite Garris project. And yet, almost instantly, they’d probably discard one of his films from contention: Sleepwalkers.

So naturally, that’s the film that I wanted to speak with Mick Garris about. But before we went back in time to discuss how Sleepwalkers got made, we talked about the making of his career; an amazing story that involves interviewing auteurs, operating R2D2s and catching the eye of Steven Spielberg (then later Stephen King).

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BODY PARTS.Still.8

When the gang over at How Did This Get Made? gave me the heads up that we were covering Body Parts — a 1991 movie whose premise is as silly as it is strange — I was expecting something schlocky. And while the movie itself isn’t my cup of tea (full disclosure: no horror film is), I was surprised to find a film that had such a unique voice. There’s a craft to Body Parts, and a compelling, noir-ish sensibility.

I mention all this because it made me really eager to speak with the film’s director, Eric Red; to find out what kind of a storyteller would make a movie like this.

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surf ninjas

What ever happened to the little brother from Surf Ninjas? Is he still acting? Still surfing? Still using martial arts to make the world a safer place? I sat down with Nic Cowan, who played little brother Adam in Surf Ninjas, to find out…

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sketchiest movie ever made

Have you ever wondered what the Mafioso version of The Producers would look like? Neither had I, until screenwriter Dan Gordon (Passenger 57, The Hurricane) said this:

Phil said, “I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime and you’re giving me bullshit…you wanna be a director? Come get the ticket and come to New York. If you don’t, I’ll find someone else.” So I pack my duffel bag and I flew to New York that night. And I wound up making this independent film called Potluck. But what I didn’t know was it was a money-laundering operation for a crew—it was a mixed crew of the Gambino and Genovese crime families—and they were looking for the youngest, stupidest kid they could find and I was the jackpot.

And from there, Dan Gordon proceeded to tell me an epic, unforgettable truth-really-is- stranger-than-fiction story about the sketchiest movie ever (kinda) made…

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Airborne

In 1979, an inventor/entrepreneur by the name of Scott Olson patented an idea for single-line roller skates. Not long after, with the help of his two brothers, Olson began to manufacture something called “Rollerblades.” With a sleek design and fun neon colors, these inline skates appealed to a generation of leisure sports enthusiasts.

By 1987, inline skating had grown into a $10 million market. And by 1994, that number had skyrocketed to $650. Unsurprisingly, in the midst of this boom, a couple of producers thought it would be wise to make a movie centered around rollerblading; specifically, a movie centered around a rollerblade-lovin’ California teen who suddenly finds himself exiled to Cincinnati. That movie was called Airborne and that teen was played by Shane McDermott.

Currently, McDermott is a real estate broker and artist living in Galveston, Texas. But he was kind enough to spend some time speaking with me about his acting days and the making of Airborne.

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Escape from L.A

In 1981, John Carpenter’s Escape from New York—a small-budget, post-apocalyptic bruiser—raked it in at the box office and set up Kurt Russell as an 80s action star. Fifteen years later, Russell reprised his role as now-iconic anti-hero Snake Plissken for Escape from L.A. But despite all the hallmarks of promise—star actor, known property, and the return of a legendary director—the $50 million sequel didn’t even earn half its money back in theaters.

Creatively, there are numerous reasons that help explain why this film flopped—many of which are hilariously pointed out in the latest episode of How Did This Get Made? But in addition to all that, there’s another variable at play: timing. Had Escape from L.A. been made ten years earlier—alongside 1986 hits like Cobra and Crocodile Dundee—or even ten years later—alongside 2006 reboots like Casino Royale and Rocky Balboa—it seems more likely that the film would have succeeded. Which begs the question: if Escape from L.A. had been made in the late 80s, what would that have looked like?

So who better to answer that question than Coleman Luck who, in 1987, was hired by John Carpenter to write the first draft of Escape from L.A. Curious to learn more—and also learn why Luck’s bio lists that him as “also a mentalist and a member of the Academy of Magical Arts”—I managed to track down the now-retired writer.  Below is a copy of our conversation…

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the lawnmower man

In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus—a scrappy start-up dedicated to resurrecting virtual reality—for $2 billion. Since then, every major player in the tech space (from Google and Microsoft to Sony and Samsung) has begun to prepare for a very virtual future.

With this incredible technology now on its way, I’ve spent the past couple of years working on a new book about the unlikely heroes of this virtual reality revolution. During that time, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with those in the burgeoning VR industry and, at some point, almost inevitably, The Lawnmower Man—the 1992 sci-film film directed by Brett Leonard—eventually comes up.

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