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The Independent Critic

 Robert Zappia Interview Continues 

Going back to "Christmas Is Here Again." You've obviously got a strong affection for the piece...a recent website update, promoting the DVD, etc. Why is this project so important to you?

The project is important to me for a variety of reasons; for one, it's near and dear to my heart because of the memories I have from my childhood. It's interesting because I see the film play so well with children and it's been criticized for "skewing too young." But I really wanted to capture the innocence of my youth. The innocence of those great Christmas specials from Rank and Bass I watched as a kid. It's for those children, for my children, to enjoy. There's something so pure about a child's belief in Santa Claus. I wanted to honor that innocence. 

Secondly, the film was independently financed and there was not one single investor in the film that wasn't a friend of family member. That's how much they believe in the project. And I want to see that they get their investment back. That they are rewarded ten fold for their belief in the the me. 

I'm also extremely proud that the film is "Made in the USA." We even say it in the end credits - "Animation Proudly Produced Entirely in the USA." It's a rare thing for a film on this budget to be animated in the U.S. But I was determined to keep it here where I could be a short drive away from the animation offices.

I do know that you're married and have a family. How hard is it to raise a family in Hollywood? As I recall, your wife is also a performer.

Pam and I have definitely made it a point to keep our family out of the "Hollywood" limelight. It's not all that difficult because we made it a point not to live in the "trendy" parts of town. We live in a quiet suburb outside of the Hollywood glitz and glam. We avoid the Hollywood scene (except for the occasional  wrap party). Our kids go to the same private school I went to as a child where they stress the importance of faith, friendship and family. Pam studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She currently works for the local school district with special needs children and enjoys being called to do a role from time-to-time. For the past four years she's performed in various plays - directed by Dan Roebuck - to raise money for our church. 

Has there ever been a time when you thought to yourself "What am I doing?"

Daily. Heck, I'm thinking it now! The thing is even when you're in the middle of a project you find yourself thinking "What am I doing?"..."Can I do this?"..and so on and so forth. There's always that voice of self-doubt. And then when you can't get the work and you're in a dry spell you find yourself thinking "What am I doing?"..."Will I ever work in this business again?"..."What else could I do?"..."What did I do wrong?"..."What could I have done differently?"

The dry spells definitely happen and they can happen frequently. But in hindsight I've come to realize that some of my most interesting opportunities have sprung from those dry spells. They forced me to go into directions I never would have otherwise. I'd say the diversity in my career was just as much from necessity as it was from choice. I really think there's truth to Alexander Graham Bell's famous quote; “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” The key is to walk through the open door - kicking and screaming perhaps - but just keep on walkin'.

When you first started out, how did your family respond? Supportive?

I've been very blessed to have an incredibly supportive family from the beginning. And my wife of 22 years has been absolutely amazing - never wavering for a moment in her support for my career - even when I wavered myself.

 Who are some of your artistic inspirations? Anyone who has been particularly supportive of your professional growth?

As I mentioned, George Lucas was a huge artistic influence as was Steven Spielberg. Their films really resonated with me in my youth. I was also (and continue to be) a huge fan of Frank Capra's films. "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" might be my all time favorite. The underdog fighting seemingly insurmountable injustice. In some way I think all my scripts have a form of that theme running through them; from Halloween to Christmas Is Here Again. It's about the good in us overcoming evil. Even what seems to be the most invincible of evils - in Mr. Smith it's the government, in Halloween it's Michael Meyers, in Christmas Is Here Again it's Krad... Always the unlikely hero that triumphs. Because I really do believe the human spirit is unable to be defeated.  

As far as my professional career, I'd say the single greatest person who was supportive of my professional growth was Matt Williams. Not only because Matt mentored me creatively, but he is just a good human being (a sad rarity in this industry) - a devoted husband, father and Christian. And he always treated his employees with utmost respect whether you were copying scripts or running the studio. Is it obvious how much I respect this man? Good.

Any projects coming up that you can tell us about?  

As I eluded to earlier, I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to direct my first live action film based on a horror screenplay I wrote called "Otis." This brings us back to the "twisted mind" debate. Maybe I'm just bipolar or manic ... if you have kids in the room don't click on this link (and if you haven't seen Christmas Is Here Again, don't let this dissuade you) - Who is Otis?

I was recently commissioned to write my first YA (Young Adult) novel in the vein of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Wizard of Oz. I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement so I can't give any details, but suffice it to say it is a project I'm very excited to plunge into. 

As I've worked on stage, television and film...Any preference?

Film will always be my passion. It's literally larger than life. You just can't beat that immersive experience. Still, I love the immediate gratification of television and the ability to "try it again next week" if the last script wasn't so hot...and the time to really flesh out characters and play with the arc of multiple story lines. Typically, the writer is more respected in TV than in film, as well. With respect comes control, and that's always a good thing.

Stage is the scariest for me because I think it's difficult to truly connect with your audience. You'd think it would be the opposite, but there's something about the stage that can feel forced or artificial. I'm very excited that Christmas Is Here Again is being adapted to a musical stage version by the PCPA (Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts). Seeing that come together is a real thrill. It will be making its west coast premiere in the winter of 2012.

I've read your IMDB page and you have one quote about not giving up on your dreams. But, seriously...what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in film?

Okay, if you're going to force me to leave my cliches behind... I think I'd have only two words for someone just starting out - "BE TENACIOUS!" That's it. I've known plenty of truly talented artists in every aspect of filmmaking who fell by the wayside because they gave up. They grew tired. They lost faith in themselves or in the business itself...And I've seen not-so-talented, not-so-smart people do very well because they just keep on going. Sure, they get knocked down. But, they just keep getting up. I count myself as one of those that just keeps getting up. Keep writing. Keep directing. Keep acting. Keep going. If you have to take a job "beneath" your pay grade... take it. You never know where it might lead. Just keep on keeping on. BE TENACIOUS! 

I've had a chance to get to know you a bit. I know that giving is a strong part of who you are and how you're raising your kids. Is it tough to maintain that in what many see as a materialistic community? How do you do it? I guess I should also ask "Why?" 

I always think of Luke 12:48 - When someone has been given much, much will be required in return. I was taught that as a child and we've passed that ideology on to our children. I really believe that being able to give is a gift in itself - that giving is its own reward. And in an industry where success is measured in box office dollars and yearly salaries, it's important to remind myself of what is really of true value.

What are some other things you enjoy? Hobbies? Activities? Causes that are important to you?

I enjoy time with my family - especially when I don't have numerous projects looming over my head. Okay, that's NEVER happened. But, in theory I know I'd enjoy that immensely.

I love Apple. Not the fruit. The computers. If I could do anything outside the entertainment industry, it would be working at Apple. Heck, if Apple had 40-year-old production assistants I'd do that! Venti Vanilla Latte, Mr. Jobs? I just "get" computers and they "get" me. Since my first Apple II+ in 1982, my eight grade graduation gift, I've been fascinated with them. It really speaks to the left side of my brain. Black and white. Right way. Wrong way. Very different than the right-brain creative process.

I also really enjoy playing the piano. I find if I have "writer's block," playing the piano really helps get the ideas flowing again.

A cause that is near and dear to our heart is SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). Spinal Muscular Atrophy is the number one genetic killer of all infants. It is an often fatal disease that destroys the nerves controlling voluntary movement such as crawling, walking, head and neck control and even swallowing. One in 6,000 babies born is affected with SMA. Our son's best friend since kindergarten, Tyler, has SMA. They've been best friends since kindergarten and are now in seventh grade. Tyler has become such a big part of our family. We are blessed to have him and his amazing family in our lives.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just want to voice my appreciation of your support for our film, Richard. Your  review of Christmas Is Here Again has always been my personal favorite. Getting to meet you at Heartland and learning of all the amazing causes you lend your time and talent to has been inspirational to me. And thank you for all your movie reviews...the good, the bad, and the ugly - They're always entertaining!

What are you waiting for? You've read about Robert Zappia. Now, pick up your copy of Christmas Is Here Again just in time for the holidays. Visit the Christmas Is Here Again website today!

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  

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