Friday, August 9, 2013

Great Stories, Well Told: An Interview with Phil Lollar (Part I)

Stories are powerful things. Stories move us, teach us, challenge us, and take us to different times and places. The best stories expand our horizons and call us further up and further in. As children, stories made our hearts ache with dreams and caused our imaginations to run wild. They also terrified us with a sense of a very present evil or villain.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the power of stories doesn’t change as we get older. We may be affected differently but there is something about stories that hits us at our core. Simply hearing the soundtrack of an epic movie can cause us to feel inspired or bring yearning to our hearts. If we look at our culture, it takes very little time to realize the power and impact that stories (both the fictional and the very real) have on our daily lives. Books, movies, news shows, conversations, debates, magazines, music, podcasts. We are surrounded on every side by stories. Why are stories so important? Perhaps it’s because each one of us is a character in the greatest and truest story ever told; the story that is being spun, woven, and communicated by the Author and Creator of the universe.

When it comes to stories, the GenJ office has no lack of enthusiasts (and our members seem more than a little fond of them as well). Thus, it is with great pleasure that we introduce you to Phil Lollar: writer, actor, and master storyteller.

Phil Lollar with a GenJ Student at iGovern
You may know Phil as one of the creators of the popular audio drama, Adventures in Odyssey. Some of you had the opportunity to meet Phil when he spoke at our iGovern camps. Either way, we have an awesome treat for you. Phil agreed to sit down with GenJ’s Daniel Heffington for an exclusive interview, and we get to share it with you guys! We talked with Phil about life, stories, and his latest project, Iliad House- a brand-new audio drama that promises to be incredibly awesome. Sound cool? We thought you might like it. We’re going to break this interview into a short series of posts, and this post is the first installment. Ladies and gentleman: Phil Lollar.

Daniel Heffington: Thank you for joining us today! I think that on behalf of all of our GenJ members- I think they’re going to be super excited to hear this interview. To kick it off, when did you first become interested in telling and creating stories?

Phil Lollar: Well, I’ve always been interested in storytelling ever since I was a little kid. I started performing when I was really little, doing community theater things, and then doing a bunch of stuff at church, and that was always a lot of fun. Then I got into school and did some stuff in school, and that was always fun too, and I really wanted to act for the longest time. Then it occurred to me one day, as I was performing stuff, and being directed by a director, and reading somebody else’s play, or somebody else’s script, that as an actor, I was really just (and of course an actor is far more than this), but one of the things an actor really is, is a mouthpiece for somebody else’s words. I kind of wanted to tell my own stories. I wanted to have chance to say, “You know what? I’m interested in telling stories as well. I have some stories that I think are worth telling, so I think I want to do some writing.” So I started studying up on how to write, and how to tell stories, and story structure, and things like that. So I’ve kind of always been interested in telling and creating stories. It’s been a part of my life since I was really little.

DH: That’s awesome. Very cool. So then, how much of an impact would you say that stories have on our culture here in America?

Phil: Stories in general, I think, have a humongous impact on our American culture -- on any culture -- and especially in American culture. American folklore is, I think, the most interesting folklore there is, just from the standpoint of history and even our mythology as Americans. There was a great Disney movie that came out a while back that was called Tall Tale. It was all about those legends that we probably all have heard of, like Paul Bunyan and Mike Fink, and some of those legends you know. And this kid- I don’t know if he goes back in time or if he was reading a book or something -- I don’t remember. But anyway, all those legends come to life and they help him out with a big problem that he’s having. And I thought, “That’s great. We don’t hear that. We don’t read those legends very much anymore.” And now, because we live in such a fast-paced world, our stories are sort of falling by the wayside. We want our stories to be in 140 characters or less. Instead, we really need to take the time to actually enjoy and absorb stories -- and uniquely American stories too. When I was a kid, Disney did all of those stories as a matter of routine. Disney, in fact, was great at telling American folklore. It was about the only studio that was actually doing that on a regular basis. Even in their television shows, “The Wonderful World of Disney”, they would do that almost every week. So whatever you may think of Disney now, we owe Disney a great debt of gratitude for keeping those stories alive for my generation and prompting me to say, “You know what? I want to keep those stories alive for another generation as well.” Hopefully we can do that well enough, and I can do that well enough, to be able to get kids interested in it, and get people interested in it, so that they keep those stories going.

DH: So tying right into that, what can you tell us about some of the projects you are currently working on?

Phil: Well, a big project that I’m working on is a new dramatic audio series called Iliad House. That’s the big one. We’re right in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign to try to raise funds to get the thing produced and get it on the air. Iliad House is a story of wonder, adventure, intrigue, time/space/dimensional travel, all sorts of stuff! Basically, the story is about a young man named Jesse Davidson who is 14 years old. He’s an orphan. His parents died when he was 3 years old and he was bounced around from place to place until the authorities discovered an uncle that he never knew he had. His uncle is a professor who is a very interesting character. He’s kind of unusual -- he’s very interesting. He lives in a place that is even more unusual. He owns this house called Iliad House.

The idea behind Iliad House is that there are certain places in the world where strange and unusual things happen. Odd things. Even supernatural things. Jesse’s uncle, whose name is Christopher Portalis, owns this place called Iliad House (which is one of the places in the world where these strange and unusual and even supernatural things happen). Iliad House is on an island called Verity Island (which is just off the East coast of the United States). At the North end of the island is a little village called Verity Village and Iliad House is on the South end of the island (which has forests, woods, and all sorts of stuff). The villagers are all kind of quirky and eccentric in their own right. They’re artisans, and they like living the life of times gone by. They dress up in old costumes and have their own fun. None of them will go down to Iliad House, though. They all kind of stay up on their own end of the island and let the professor have his house down on the Southern tip of the island.

Jesse makes some friends that he finds on the island, and one of the things they find is this old, abandoned train. There’s a locomotive, and a coal car, and a caboose. It’s next to an old train station and it looks like it comes from about the 1860s. It’s just sitting there. It doesn’t move. The kids turn it into a clubhouse and they play there for the better part of the year until one day, they discover that this stationary train actually does move -- but it moves through time. The train is an actual time machine. So the kids get to go on all of these adventures through time, and that’s kind of what the first pilot series is about. It all happens because of this place called Iliad House. It’s just a strange area of the world where unusual things like this happen.

We’re looking to do stuff that’s exciting, and adventurous, and filled with intrigue. We’re looking to do all sorts of things. It’s really kind of interesting that in the realm of Christian storytelling that we are in, with stories for Christians and Christian families, they’ve kind of shied away from some of these things. I think we’ve been sort of shy to deal with stories about other dimensions, or time travel, or things like that, but we’re going to embrace them. We’re going to take them on full-bore and go for it. I think that there are a lot of young people out there who want these kinds of stories, who’ve really been waiting for these kinds of stories. So we’re going to do it. We’re going to take them on.

DH: You mentioned that Iliad House is being funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Can you tell us more about the Kickstarter campaign? How does it work, what is it, and why is it important for the future of Iliad House?

Phil: It’s extremely important for us right now, because we’re doing this all on our own. It’s an independent production. We’re not affiliated with any group or organization, which means that we don’t have a group or organization’s money available to us. So we need to raise the money to be able to put this series together and get it out there to people. One great and relatively new way to gather funding for projects like this, is called crowdfunding. One of the groups that does this very well is called Kickstarter. What happens with Kickstarter is that you have your project and you make a presentation of what your product is, who’s involved, and what you want. Then you put it on the Kickstarter website and people go there and, if it’s something they really like and want to be a part of, they have the opportunity to pledge a contribution. Anything from $1-$10,000. There are varying levels: $5, $10, $20, $25, all the way up.

At each of those levels, you actually get something. It’s not like you’re just giving money and you don’t get anything back. For instance, with a $25 contribution you get the pilot series and you get a complete first season which is 12 episodes. You’re getting a pilot of maybe 4 or 5 episodes, plus a whole season of 12 episodes, all for $25. Not only that, but we have a brilliant artist named Cliff Cramp. He has done many great pieces of art for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and all sorts of motion pictures. He has done some fantastic artwork for us, and you can see it on the Kickstarter site. So in addition to getting the episodes, you also receive a download of a computer wallpaper based on one of those great pieces of art. There’s a lot of incentives for a little $25 pledge, and we need a lot of those pledges because we need $100,000 by the end of the August. The thing about Kickstarter, is it’s an all or nothing proposition. If we don’t raise all of the money, we don’t get any of the money. We really need a lot of help. We really need to spread the word, and if folks can come and support us financially, that would really be fantastic. 

The other thing about Kickstarter is that you don’t pay anything until we reach our goal. If you pledge money, it only gets collected if we reach our goal. There’s absolutely no risk. The money would come to us, but only if we reach our goal. It’s only deducted at the end of the campaign.

DH: Awesome. I think that will be very intriguing to a good number of our members to have a chance to become a part of something like this.

Thanks for reading Part I of out interview! Check out Part II here! If you would like to donate to the Iliad House Kickstarter campaign or learn more about this project, you can do that by going here.

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