Friday, July 4, 2014

The Magical Adventures of Brian Leonard - Interview with the Author: Mr. M

We all have childhood adventures and some of us even create imaginary friends. I had three of them. In the long Midwest winters, I hung out with Candy, Cookie and Cocoa. Yes, I have always loved chocolate.

Mr. M is a former television executive who worked in programming for ABC, CBS and UPN. He walked away from that career path to follow his heart. His first book, The Magical Adventures of Brian Leonard will be released in mid-July.   

I had the good fortune to work with Mr. M while we were both at ABC. It isn't imaginary - he not only is a genuinely good guy, but a gifted one at that.

JT: You have a BFA in Film & Television and a MFA (masters of fine arts) in screenwriting from the American Film Institute.  What led you to study film and television? What and/or who were your influences?  

Mr. M: My father and the late, great, John Ritter were close friends. John had an amazing gift as an actor. For my generation, he invented the stage falls.  John could walk into a door and people would fall over laughing. At the same time, he would co-star in Sling Blade, which was incredibly dramatic. While I was in high school, I produced a short public service announcement about AIDS. It won a contest and was shown nationwide. Working with other students on films was really exciting.  Some of the films were good.  Some of the films were awful. However, failure teaches you things.      

JT: You worked as a creative executive at three networks - CBS, ABC and UPN. How did you land your first “show biz” job?

Mr. M: My first showbiz job was as a production assistant on a series called Highlander. The showrunner was a family friend.  While I was at AFI I interned a lot as well and produced short films. I started meeting with anyone who was gracious enough to take a meeting with me.  Eventually, I sat down with Leslie Moonves at CBS. He hired me to work in the current programming department.  Three years later, I was the manager of current programming.    

JT: What was the most creative part of your position while working with writers and producers?  

Mr. M: The most creative part of my job was to nurture and guide writing talent. I was lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented writers, directors and actors during my stay as an executive.   

JT: I remember when Alias took off for ABC.  It wasn’t necessarily a huge ratings grabber, but it certainly was somewhat influential culturally. Why do you think that series had such an impact on viewers at the time?  

Mr. M: I think viewers had not been exposed to such incredible story telling. Prior to shows like Buffy, Alias, and Lost, procedural shows ruled the airways.  Shows like NYPD Blue, Law and Order, and JAG ruled our universe. Alias was serialized. One episode built upon another. As an executive, I worked on the later seasons of Alias. I remember watching the rough cut for the premiere of season four. It felt big and important. That’s the thing about story telling. It should always feel big and important.       

JT: Out of nowhere or so it seems you decided to make a major career change.  You left the television industry and went back to school to earn your Masters in Human Development. What led to your own major character arc? 

Mr. M: While I was in college I was a camp director. I loved being around children. After college, I was an assistant PE coach at a small private school.  A part of me always wanted to work with children in some capacity. I went back to school and got my multi-subject credential and later a Master's.
JT: What courses are you teaching?

Mr. M: I have primary aged children.  I am currently tutoring children in language arts and math. I have also become a character education consultant.  I help other educators learn about what they can do to strengthen their programs. 

JT: Your wife is still in the television industry? When she comes home with her stories do you find yourself missing the television business?

Mr. M: I don’t find myself missing it.  I still work with great writers.  They are just shorter!

JT: You wrote a character education curriculum and you have published an article in a major education publication. What then led to the decision to write a book?

Mr. M: Like John Wooden, I have always loved character education. I am currently working on a character education book right now. Being a writer means that you like to share and explore ideas with other people. I love sharing ideas with people. 

JT: Most of THE MAGICAL ADVENTURES OF BRIAN LEONARD takes place in the city of Santa Monica, California. I lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years and I enjoyed walking in Santa Monica. Tell us what made you gravitate to the location of Santa Monica?

Mr. M: My wife and I lived in a fantastic apartment on 2nd Street 3 blocks north of the pier. I loved the area. I love the Santa Monica Pier!  It is one of my favorite places to go visit. 

JT: If a person had only one day to spend in Santa Monica what would you tell them to do?  

Mr. M: Wow! That is a huge question. Go to the pier! Get a strawberry lemonade from the Hot Dog on a Stick stand! Ride a bike on the bike path. Get some buffalo wings from a restaurant called Slice on Wilshire Blvd. Oh, I almost forgot about Bay Cities!  I love their subs! Last but not least, get married at Shutters Hotel!  I did!

JT: I lived there all those years and I never went to Hot Dog on a Stick or  Bay Cities. I'm guessing I missed out. Where did the idea for Brian Leonard come from?

Mr. M: Originally, I had an idea for a teenage character who wanted to be popular.  It was a short story about a middle schooler who has a crush on a girl that he sees on a field trip.  The story continued to evolve with crazy things like black magic and ghosts.    

JT: This is a fictional tale, so I suppose you don’t really have a mean grandma?

Mr. M: No. They are both wonderful people.  Fran Myman and Gloria Leonard have been great influences in my life. I have a wonderful family. 

JT: Did your own love of water sports drive you to include water in your first novel?

Mr. M: I played water polo in college for 2 years.  I also love the ocean.  I love body boarding and body surfing.  My son is taking surf lessons in Malibu. However, most of the time we love messing around in the swimming pool. 

JT: You must become a ghost to defeat a ghost? What was your favorite ghost story growing up?

Mr. M: Well, as a kid, whenever there was a unexplained noise in the house my mom would say, “Oh, Joan is back!” Freaky? Yes.  I am sure the house was just settling. My favorite ghost movie of all time is Ghostbusters!  That is why I reference it in the book. 

JT: Have you ever had an embarrassing family moment?

Mr. M: My family is pretty cool! However, one time when I was much younger, my whole family ran across the street before the green walk sign lit up.  My whole family got a jaywalking ticket!

JT: We both share a love of baseball. I know you are a Dodgers fan. Tell me about the attachment to the Dodgers?

Mr. M: I played a lot of baseball when I was in elementary school.  I grew up at a time when baseball players were loyal to their team and their fans. The Dodgers had guys that kept representing Los Angeles year after year.  I came to know them as my guys! Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey were unbelievable to watch and cheer for.  

JT: As a White Sox fan I admire the loyalty Paul Konerko (retiring this year after 15 years with the White Sox) displayed to his team. He's my all-time favorite Sox player. Who is your all-time favorite player?

Mr. M: Ron Cey was my favorite Dodger.  He ran like a penguin.

JT: Oh yes, the great Ron Cey! Baseball has changed and is changing. With the disintegration of some of the live attendance at baseball games, where do you see the future of the game?

Mr. M: I think one of the things that hurts the sport is the amount of injuries. For example, players used to pitch full games. Rarely do you ever see someone pitch a full game. The Dodgers also made a terrible broadcasting deal.  Direct TV customers do not get to see Dodger games. This means a whole group of people will not tune in to see the Dodgers. Since the players do not stay on a team for long periods of time, the fans invest in players, not teams. It must be a challenging time to be an owner.  I would love to write a baseball book someday.   

JT: I hope you do write a baseball book. One of my favorite genres. I love baseball. If you are recommending good reads to students in junior high and high school what classics or maybe not such classics do you suggest to them?

Mr. M: I have lots to recommend.  There are so many incredible authors.  I love S.E. Hinton books.  I especially enjoyed The Outsiders and Rumblefish. I read just about every book in The Sackett series by Louis L’amour. The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger blew my mind in 8th grade.      

JT: Favorite television programs of all-time?

Mr. M: I am a television junkie.  My two favorite Buffy episodes of all time were Hush and Once More With Feeling!  The pilot of Alias was out of this world.  ER had some amazing episodes.  The pilot of Lost.  Every episode of The West Wing was incredible.  Martin Sheen in my heart will always be my president.  Currently, The Walking Dead is my favorite show.  If it does not get a nomination for best writing, then I have no idea what should. 

JT: Your favorite films of all-time?

Mr. M: I loved watching older films when I was in college. The first two Godfather films were unbelievable. I screamed so loud when I saw the horses head inside Jack Woltz’s bedroom. I am also a huge Star Wars fan. I saw John Williams (composer) conduct the soundtrack at the Hollywood Bowl last year with my wife and friends.  We each bought a light saber. I am a nerd!

JT: The Star Wars museum is coming to Chicago. I assume you will get there one day, but in the interim, when is the release date of The Magical Adventures of Brian Leonard?

Mr. M: Mid-July 2014! 

JT: Will you be doing any signings or promotional appearances?

Mr. M:  I started a Facebook page.  I am happy to come to schools or book groups. That would be so cool!!!
Thank you Mr. M for a delightful chat.
You can purchase The Magical Adventures of Brian Leonard on
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