Wednesday, August 14, 2013

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

This is the final part of a 3-part interview with co-creator of Adventures in Odyssey, Phil Lollar. He shares his thoughts and reflections about life, storytelling, and his new project, Iliad House (Go here for Part I and here for Part II if you don’t believe us). 

Stories are powerful things. We’ve said so before.

But where do stories come from? Despite the wishes of authors with writer’s block, literary mildew doesn’t breed stories like fungi—they must be created. They must be constructed and brought to life in the minds and imaginations of the storyteller. 

As Christians, we see a beautiful parallel in the fact that any story that is based off of truth and reality will ultimately be a reflection of the one true Story. The story that God is telling is truly an epic tale. Marked with beauty, sin, heroism, betrayal, greed, sacrifice, and love, we see the story of a broken world and of a loving God who initiates the most massive rescue mission that will ever come to pass.

In this final installment of our interview with Phil Lollar, you will get to hear straight from Phil as a writer, a story-creator, and a Christian. He shares about favorite moments in his career and he also gives advice to young people who are interested in writing and telling stories—listen up wordsmiths! We hope you have enjoyed this series, and we encourage you to like, share, and comment!


Daniel Heffington: So coming back to you as a storyteller-- specifically, a storyteller who is a Christian-- how does your relationship with Christ impact your life as an actor, a writer, a producer, and so on?

Phil Lollar: Well, it has impacted it greatly. One of the dictums (if you can call it that) that I have developed my career around, is the thing we’ve all heard from C.S. Lewis. He said that we don’t need “Christian writers”; what we need are writers who are Christians who write about everything. I think that the Christian worldview informs everything that I do and everything that I write. It can’t help but do it, because that’s what I believe. That’s who I am. Just as any person of a different worldview would write from their worldview because that’s who they are and that’s what they believe. That’s how they feel. For me it’s the same thing.

I think what we have seen as far as Christians who are in the world of literature and entertainment, is that there’s kind of a sense in some respects of wanting to sneak that worldview into their writing instead of just boldly proclaiming, “No, this is what it is.” It can be entertaining, and fascinating, and informative, and on par with anything else that’s out there. We need to understand and try to keep promulgating the idea that what we live in—especially in this country— is a place of ideas. We should all be able to present everything unashamedly in the naked public square of ideas and say, “This is it. Now you take it from here, but we’re going to present it in the best way we can possibly present it. That’s what our worldview does.” The other great Lewis analogy is the idea that a country is sort of like a ship and people are sort of like ships, in terms of how they fare morally and what their worldview is. A ship can be pristine on the outside— it can be well painted and invulnerable from attack on the outside— but be corrupted and corroded on the inside. That really is a great analogy for what every Christian needs to think about in terms of their art, or their profession, or anything that they do. Are we pristine on the outside but rotten on the inside? That’s also how the Christian worldview sort of permeates everything that I do (I hope) and everything that all Christians do in any profession that they are in.

DH: That’s very cool. So switching subjects a little, as someone who’s worked with stories for so much of your life, what advice would you give to an aspiring storyteller?

Phil: Well if you want to be a writer of stories, then the main thing to do is— now this is really important, I want everybody to understand this— the main thing you need to do is to write. You can’t get any better at writing unless you’re writing. Write, write, write, write, and write.

There’s a book called Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. One of the things he talks about in there is something called the 10,000 hour rule. To master anything, you have to do a lot of it. The idea they’ve come up with is that if you really want to master a skill, or any kind of anything, it takes 10,000 hours of doing it.

In the book he talks about the band The Beatles, who everybody thinks burst onto the scene in the early ‘60s in Britain and the United States, and everyone thinks was just this overnight sensation. What you don’t know is that The Beatles spent literally years at a club in Germany called The Cavern, where they would perform 7 days a week, for 18 hours a day. Their “overnight discovery” was really a matter of years and years and years. If you do the math on how long it took them and how many years they did that, it was about 10,000 hours.

He talks about person after person after person who is considered in the top of their profession— people who are really well-known for what they do— they all spent about 10,000 hours of doing something in order to master it. So if you want to be a great story writer, you need to write and write and write a lot.

The second thing you need to do is to find people who like what you like, and present your stuff to them, and be prepared to get it torn apart. Storytelling, writing, and creating stories is a very personal thing. Everyone who writes puts a lot of themselves into their stories. Be prepared and don’t get discouraged. Take it all and put it all together, and keep the stuff that’s really valuable to you as far as criticisms are concerned, and then try to improve on those things. That’s part of what you’re trying to do.

The next thing is, you should write stuff and not keep it hidden. You’ve got to put it out there for people. Find people that will read your stuff. The wonderful thing about the time we live in is that anybody can get a book published on Amazon.com. There are no barriers. It’s you getting your stuff written, and putting it on Amazon. The only barrier that anybody has is themselves. So if you want to be a published author of an EBook, go write one. I told this to my brother for years and years, and last year he published his first book called Forced Magic, and it’s out there on Amazon. It might not be an overnight international best-seller, but who knows? It might be. At least you’ve got stuff out there. Then you start building on it. The whole idea here is that if you really want to do this, if you want to tell stories, it’s a lifetime calling. You use everything that happens to you as a way to get better and better at it.

DH: That sounds incredible. So on the topic of getting things out there, if I understand correctly, Iliad House is still in the middle of production. Is that right?

Verity Village
Phil: Yes! We’re actually beginning production. I’m finishing up writing the pilot series right now. I’m getting together with the other folks involved with the series, and we’re working together and starting to come up with other stories— new stories— and we’re going to go into production very soon.

DH: Awesome! Say somebody who’s reading this interview wants to get on board and help this project. They can donate through Kickstarter. What else can they do to get in the game and really have an impact and push Iliad House further?

Phil: After donating through Kickstarter, the other main thing they can do is spread the word and tell other people. We have this wonderful thing called social media. We have Twitter, Facebook— all sorts of ways to reach people. Almost everybody these days has a social media account, so just get on and spread the word. Tell your friends about it. Talk it up. Get really excited about it, and tell people about this brand new series!

They may think, “Why do I want to support an audio drama? I like movies.” Well there’s nothing wrong with movies, but audio series are just better ways to tell stories. I honestly believe that radio and audio programming are the best mass mediums to tell stories with. The reason why is because audio drama requires us to tell a good story, yes, but it also requires the listener to be actively involved in it. You have to be a part of the story when you’re listening to an audio drama.

If you go to see a movie, you’re watching the movie and your eyes are involved, and your ears are involved, but your brain doesn’t necessarily have to be involved because you don’t have to imagine what anything looks like— it’s all laid out there for you. In an audio drama, you have to use your brain. You have to use your mind.

Verity Island
We’re setting the stage for you, and you can enter into that world, and the really wonderful thing about that is that that world can look however you want it to look! It doesn’t have to look like I want it to look; it looks like you want it to look. Jesse and the other characters look like you want them to look. It really exercises that wonderful muscle between our ears called our brain. That’s why I think that audio storytelling is the best way to tell stories. It really sparks the imagination in everybody who hears them.

DH: Very cool. Well I have been a big fan of your work (as I think a lot of our members have over the years),so I’m super excited to hear about Iliad House. I’m really looking forward to it. If you have any sort of comments or final things to add or elaborate on, please do so, But I do want to sneak in one more official question for our members. Today (August 6th) is your birthday— so happy birthday from all of Generation Joshua!

Phil: Thank you!

DH: Can you share with us one of your favorite birthday memories from any birthday you’ve ever had?
Phil: You know, one of my favorite birthday memories— it was a really delightful thing that happened— came when we were doing a different show (that many of your readers I’m sure will know), which was Adventures in Odyssey.

DH: Sure!

Phil: We’d been doing Adventures in Odyssey for probably 3 or 4 years at that point, and my birthday rolled around. My wife said, “Let’s do some special stuff for your birthday.”  I said, “Okay, whatever you want to do. I’m in your hands.” So we went out to the store and we had lunch, and did a bunch of other stuff, and she said, “Okay, let’s go back to the house. We have some friends who are going to meet us there.”

So I walk into the house and go around out back, and “Surprise!” it’s a birthday party. That's nice enough in normal circumstances; I had a great surprise birthday party. I think the last one prior to that was one I had when I was a little kid. I hadn’t had one in years, so it was really fun to have it.

But then, I started noticing just who was at the party. It was my good friends that I had grown up with and known for years and years, but it was also Hal Smith who played Whit, and it was Will Ryan who played Eugene, and it was Katie Leigh who played Connie, and it was Walker Edmiston who played Tom, and it was all of these actors!

To understand this, I live in the Eastern part of Los Angeles and they all lived in the Western part of Los Angeles. When you’re driving in Los Angeles, it’s an ordeal to get anywhere. It’s a big ribbon of freeways, and it’s an ordeal to get anywhere. These folks came out because my wife got all of their numbers (unbeknownst to me) and they came all the way out there to come to my surprise birthday party.

I was completely flattered.  I worked with them, and they were actors that we had hired to do the roles, and I had a professional relationship with them, but this let me know that it was more than that. They were also my friends. They thought enough of me to come out for my birthday— all the way on a hot summer day in August— just to sit, have fun, relax, and talk with me and each other. I was very touched by that. It was something that I will always remember. It’s definitely one of my favorite birthday memories.

DH: That is super cool. That is awesome. Well do you have any closing remarks or anything else you’d like to say as we wrap up the interview here?

Phil: I just want you to know that I appreciate every single one of you out there and every single one of you who has enjoyed my work over the years. If anything that I’ve done has touched you or given you any sense of happiness or joy or feelings or made you think a little bit, that’s wonderful.

I thank you all very much for all of your support over the years and I do hope that you’ll help us continue to be able to bring you great stories through Iliad House (and through a bunch of other stuff that we have in mind and have planned). We’d love to continue to do that and I hope it inspires all of you to go out and do the same. I hope all of you will go out and become wonderful, fantastic storytellers.


And that, ladies and gentleman, concludes our 3-part interview with Phil Lollar! We hope that you all enjoyed it, and we hope that Phil’s words may have inspired you all to tell stories, create stories, and to become a part of stories and projects like Iliad House. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to comment and share!

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