I have gotten to know some other writers over the last couple years. To break up the sound of my own voice on this blog, I thought I’d ask them to answer a few simple questions about their most recent work and how they create.
First up is Stewart Smith, author of the “Van Dammage Report Vol.1”. In addition to being brilliant, good looking and extremely knowledgeable about movies, Stewart is also my cousin. Despite having so much in common, we disagree on movies at times.
1. Introduce Yourself – Born in Louisiana but consider myself a Texan. Father. Husband. Cinephile. Award-winning film critic. Addicted to video games. Spent a decade as a journalist before venturing off into the world of non-journalistic writing.
2. And now introduce your book
– Van Dammage Report Vol. 1 is a comprehensive look at the films of international action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, beginning with his first starring role in No Retreat, No Surrender in 1986 to his widely-acclaimed dramatic performance as a quasi-biographical version of himself in 2008’s JCVD.
3. Why Van Damme? Because for years I considered him and his films to be a joke. But I found myself being drawn back to them again and again until eventually I started to see beyond the elements I considered ironically entertaining and realized there was actually more going on than I gave him or the films credit for. Then I found him legitimately entertaining. His persona, fighting style and choice of characters set him apart from the majority of the action stars of his day and I find all of that fascinating now.
4. I’ve never watched a single JCVD movie, where should I start? Best place for anyone to start is near the very beginning of his career. You can’t go wrong with either Bloodsport or Kickboxer. Both are great showcases for his martial arts ability but also his unique acting charms. Many consider Bloodsport still to be his best movie, but I’m of the opinion that Kickboxer is a more robust “JCVD experience.” Its fight scenes are better and it also has a greater array of elements that you’ll see are integral to the types of films and characters that Van Damme is drawn to.
5. What was the hardest part of writing this book? The hardest part was just sitting down and cranking it out. It’s (almost) always a pleasure to sit down and watch a new Van Damme movie I’ve never seen before (and most of these pieces are based on my first time watching the film). But like any writer, procrastination is often my worst enemy. If I had really put my nose to the grind I could have had this book released at least a couple years ago.
6. What are you proudest of about your book? First and foremost, I’m mostly proud of just getting this thing finished and published. I’ve published countless writing assignments before thanks to my years as a journalist, but this is the first personal project I’ve ever finished. As for the content, there are at least a couple entries where I feel like I truly brought something to the table in terms of analysis and consideration of Van Damme’s work. Your mileage may vary, however.
7. Other writers and some readers are fascinated by the writing process. Please describe yours. My writing process involves sitting at my computer, opening up a fresh document, picking out what music I’m going to listen to (lately internet radio stations playing chillhop music has been incredibly helpful), getting a paragraph or so written and then goofing around on Facebook and Twitter for way, way, way too long before finally snapping back into concentration mode and getting another graf or so onto the page. Wash, rinse, repeat for as long as it takes to be productive. When writing analysis pieces like what this book contains, I’ll have a good idea of what I want to say and where I want to go, but I never outline or do any sort of real planning. 100 percent of what I wrote for this book is extemporaneous and stream of consciousness. And if that means I maybe miss a point or two that I had previously thought about touching on, oh well. Unless I feel it will drastically improve my points or just be a killer addition to what I’ve already written, rarely do I go back and make significant modifications. Generally, I trust my instincts and ability to flow in my writing that if I couldn’t find a way to add it in organically during that first draft, it probably doesn’t really need to go in.
8. Who or What Inspires You? When it comes to film analysis, it may be a bit cliche’ to say it but I will forever consider Roger Ebert to be among the gold standard of how to write an informative and yet also entertaining piece. Reading capsule reviews by Pauline Kael is a tremendous primer on how to communicate a lot with only a few words. And if I could ever find myself writing an essay that contains even a fraction of the insight, humor, thoughtfulness, compassion, and wit of your average David Foster Wallace piece then I will consider myself a fully accomplished writer.
9. Are There Any More Books Coming? Yes! More books for sure. I definitely want to put out a Vol. 2 of the Van Dammage Report, but that will also require continuing to dig into his filmography, a process I intend to rev back up soon. I’m also trying to get back into writing a novel I’ve been chipping away at for a few years now.