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Keith David

Between The Sheets

Max Brallier

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In our ongoing feature Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with author and newly-minted executive producer Max Brallier about his series The Last Kids On Earth, helping young readers cope with life through his writing, and why he’ll always have a “wicked” Massachusetts connection.

TrunkSpace: How do you think you will look back on 2019 as it relates to your career? Where did this year impact you most as a writer?
Brallier: Oh boy – I mean, it was a nearly unbelievable year for so many reasons. New Last Kids book out, Last Kids Netflix series launches, my longest run on the bestseller lists, my co-scripted non-kids VFW movie releases, and my new kids book series – Mr. Shivers – publishes. All that is big dream-come-true stuff.

But more importantly – for real – I spent a lot of time on the road with kids, teachers and librarians. And my job is really about them. Seeing the quiet kid in the classroom, talking with the shy kid at an event – that was me! And then having teachers and librarians share how they use my books. All of that is sort of the turbo-charged adrenaline shot that will make sense of my writing over the next year, that will allow – I hope! – a continued career.

TrunkSpace: Is it still a bit surreal to think that a universe and characters that you have created are now living on in a capacity that involves so many other people? Do you have to stop and pinch yourself?
Brallier: So much pinching! 2019 left me covered in bruises.

In regard to the Netflix show – taking my creation (with Doug’s art!) and handing it off to others is a weird thing – both exhaustingly frightening and tremendously rewarding. There’s the fear around loss of full control, but also the thrill of what can happen with the skill and energy and passion of others. And yes, still surreal – always will be, I think!

TrunkSpace: You’re serving as Executive Producer on the Netflix series. For those not familiar with the industry terms and what goes into them behind the scenes, what does that mean for you in terms of your day to day. What are your duties as far as the television series is concerned?
Brallier: A whole range of fun stuff! I’m involved in all aspects of the story and the scripts – and I review art, animations, character designs, storyboards – and, when lucky, get to work with our wonderful cast of voice actors. Basically – our showrunner, Scott D. Peterson, steers the ship and I chime in now and then.

TrunkSpace: Why an animated series? What was it about that medium that made more sense for you as a creator than a live action series or as a theatrical release?
Brallier: I had thought about expressing Last Kids in many ways – live action, feature film, video game, animation, all that. But animation became obvious when Atomic Cartoons – the development and animation studio – approached me about adapting the book series. With Atomic’s incredible team of artists and animators, it was just so clear.

The best thing with animation is that it’s so flexible and non-confining. Monsters? Sure, no problem. The best voices in the industry? Let’s do it! 3D or 2D? Let’s mix it up! An end-of-world apocalypse with bright green grass and vivid blue skies that’s full of fun? We can do that! Animation is such a blast.

TrunkSpace: What has been the biggest and most unexpected pleasant surprise in your journey of bringing The Last Kids on Earth to television?
Brallier: I had forgotten how much I love working with a large team of people – the Netflix series was a wonderfully-unexpected reminder. Handing off my characters – some of who are very personal – and stories to others was a nerve-wracking leap of faith. But it was immediately clear that working with a team just made it all that much more fun. Writing can be a lonely gig – working with talented and caring writers, artists, animators, producers is never lonely – just fun!

TrunkSpace: For fans, the final product of a film or series is always the most memorable part, but for those involved in a project, we’d imagine it goes much deeper than that. For you, what is something about your time working on the series that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Brallier: When I chose the lonely profession of writing, I so missed the social, creative and collaborative rewards of being part of a team. Then with the Netflix series, all that wonderful team stuff came roaring back. It was like I was coming back to life. It’s clear now that I’ll always be searching for that in my career – and in other aspects my life.

TrunkSpace: Has working on the television series inspired you in ways with your literary writing that you didn’t intend? Has it opened up new ideas or opportunities?
Brallier: I’ve always tried to write books that feel like movies or like television. It’s very visual in my head when typing words. Movies were my first love. So, working on the television series has reaffirmed that love – and given me the confidence to write in that format. Certainly, new ideas – and hopefully new opportunities!

TrunkSpace: You’re a Massachusetts boy! (Bay State representing!) What is something that is undeniably New England about you that you can’t shake no matter how long you’re away from it?
Brallier: (Laughter) Yes, Massachusetts boy for sure – I spent most of my childhood in Reading, Massachusetts. It’s really the setting for Last Kids – but I named the town in Last Kids Wakefield, a town next door to Reading. And the school in my Eerie Elementary series is very much inspired by my own elementary school, Joshua Eaton – right down to the names of the characters.

Things I can’t shake…

  • A craving for a real Roast Beef sandwich – I like Harrison’s in North Andover and Jimbo’s in Reading
  • “Wicked.” I still say it now and then.
  • A habit of running errands in shorts, no matter the temperature
  • An undying loyalty to the Celtics (though, for baseball and football, I stick with the Pirates and Steelers).

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Brallier: Not sure if there’s just one. Hitting the New York Times bestseller list will always be up there – that was a concrete goal I had set for myself, and achieving it with Viking Children’s felt so monumental. Meeting Mark Hamill and having him read words that I wrote. Standing in an animation studio and looking out at 100+ people, all animating something that came from my brain. Opening the Netflix app and seeing Last Kids on there for the first time. Sitting in a writers’ room and giggling and smiling and realizing oh this is the best job that exists. Those are all highlights.

Biggest, though, is having a writing career at all, I guess. There’s so much luck involved. And now, to not just have a career – but for it to allow certain things: I’m able to live near family, I can afford health insurance, we’re zoned so that my daughter will go to a good school, my wife has the freedom to pursue the things she loves. That’s good stuff.

But really – again – the best thing is having a parent say, “My child reads because of you.” Or a kid say, “I had a bad day but I forgot about it for a bit because I was reading your book.”

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Brallier: Oh boy. No, I don’t think I’d take that journey. Back to the Future, man! Like Doc Brown says, “No one should know too much about their destiny.”

Brallier’s latest book, The Last Kids On Earth and the Midnight Blade is available now from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Season 1 of The Last Kids On Earth television series is available now on Netflix.

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The Featured Presentation

Lovie Simone

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Photo By: Hallie Liang

Lovie Simone is mature beyond her 18 years. As the star of the family drama “Greenleaf,” which returned to OWN this week with a string of new episodes, the New York City native knows that her experience on the series is just as much an education as it is a job. She is learning and absorbing from her costars, including Lynn Whitfield and Keith David, and applying that acquired knowledge to what she hopes is a long and fruitful future in the industry as both an actress and content creator.

We recently sat down with Simone to discuss the emotional journey her character is set to go through, why it will be so relateable to viewers, and how her on-set life has changed since turning 18.

TrunkSpace: For you as a young actress, what’s it like returning to a series after a hiatus in production?
Simone: It feels different only because now that I know how things work, I’m going in with some knowledge of how things work and what I’m looking forward to doing. It’s fun, though. It’s like I’m working with my family. When I go back it’s like, “I missed all of you so much!”

TrunkSpace: “Greenleaf” was your first big acting job, but outside of the work itself, has it also felt like a classroom where you have been able to learn about the industry and the craft?
Simone: Yes, definitely. Every day there’s something new that I learned and it’s like I’m getting a firsthand tutoring.

TrunkSpace: Have you found yourself getting more and more comfortable in yourself as an actress and in the role of Zora throughout the process?
Simone: 100 percent, because now it’s like I’m growing with this character and I’m getting to know her more. I’m being taught by these great actors and actresses, like Lynn Whitfield and Keith David, who constantly show me with their acting how to do things and how to turn into this other character. It’s fun.

TrunkSpace: Being in film is great, but being on a series and being able to watch and experience your character grow as you do, that has to be an interesting dynamic?
Simone: It is. It’s amazing because you learn to love this character and you learn to love all the gray areas of your character. Right now in the show I’m not really a fan favorite. (Laughter) Nobody is a fan of me right now, but I love my character and I love her flaws and I love how she’s going through things. She’s me now.

TrunkSpace: Without giving away too much, can you tell us where we are going to see Zora go within the overall story this season?
Simone: You’re going to see her go through a lot of obstacles and you’ll see who she is based off of how she reacts to this because it’s going to be an eye opener. You would think something is one way and then when things get tough, she turns into this person that you’ll never even imagine. You gotta kind of see her go through these life events that are going to change everything.

TrunkSpace: But that’s totally a relatable life experience. We all go through rough patches and come out the other side a different person. At least, that’s the hope if you’re willing to grow as a person.
Simone: Yes, I feel like it is very relatable. That’s why I like that the show touches on certain things. We’re touching on homophobia. We’re touching on a lot of scandal. With my character, you’re seeing this strong, feisty teenager that everyone thinks she is, and then you’re going to see her weaknesses and you’re going to see how she’s used to being in a position of power. You’re going to see how everyone can have breakdowns and how she needs her parents and that she can’t be on her own.

TrunkSpace: As you build up for the release of the new season, is there still that same level of excitement for people to see it as there was when you were new to the industry and it was your first working experience?
Simone: Yes, it is, because I’m still relatively new to this business, so I’m still learning and I’m still wide-eyed and my mouth is open, like, “Oh my gosh! What is this? What is that?” I still have questions. I’m still going through that honeymoon phase.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) That’s a great way to put it.
Simone: (Laughter) Yes. It’s a new love. We’re still going.

TrunkSpace: And what’s cool about your job is that each new project you start working on, there’s an additional honeymoon period because of new characters, new costars, and new experiences.
Simone: Exactly! You keep starting over and over again. It’s like you get a new-found love every time. Never fails.

TrunkSpace: Looking forward, you also have the film “Monster” due out soon, which stars some amazing, accomplished actors, including Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson. That sounds like another project where you could just sit back and absorb so much knowledge and skill from the people involved?
Simone: Exactly. It was a whole different kind of character so I like being able to go into people’s lives and create them. I’m blessed to work with these great people. I never get tired of it. It’s a blessing to work with such strong actors and such accomplished directors and writers. It’s really interesting and it’s really fun. I’m happy that I’m having fun and also being able to be in that creative space.

TrunkSpace: Does being around creative people inspire your own creativity?
Simone: Yes, because now that I know there are more people out there like me and that there are people who are willing to do everything and risk every single thing, it motivates me. Also seeing it every single day, it triggers this, “I will never settle.”

Photo By: Eli Joshua Adé

I’m constantly challenging myself when I have scenes that I’ve never done, especially now that I’m 18 and working the amount of hours that I’m working. It’s bringing out a whole bunch of new emotions that I’ve never seen before. I’m learning from people who are inspired and creative. It’s pushing my creativity. It’s amazing.

TrunkSpace: That’s an aspect that a lot of people don’t think about. Once you turn 18, it completely opens up how much you can work, right?
Simone: Yes. Now I can work longer hours and I have been working longer hours. (Laughter) I’m like, “Oh gosh, the 17 hour work days are crazy!” But it’s helping me with my work ethic. Now 17 hours is like nothing to me. Also no school on set, which is even more amazing. (Laughter)

It’s a big change. A lot of things are happening. Now I have more responsibility as an actress. I like that.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how your character in “Greenleaf” was going to be going through some obstacles. What obstacles did you have to go through, especially being so young, when you were trying to break into the industry as an actress?
Simone: I doubted myself a lot because after a while it’s like, “How many no’s am I going to take?” Then it’s not about the no’s. It’s about the resilience. I gotta be like, “Okay, brush off the no’s, learn from them.” It’s kind of hard learning from stuff at such a young age when you’re just so closed-minded and you have this perception of how the world is and then for that to be shattered and for you to try and create that mirror again to see something.

It’s very humbling also. I feel like my mom keeps me grounded. I have a good support system with my family. I don’t have a lot of friends, so the friends that I do have, I’m very close to.

TrunkSpace: It seems like nowadays in the industry, more than ever, actors are diversifying to become content creators and control their own destiny in a way. Is that something that you hope to do in the future?
Simone: I definitely want to start creating my own films because I feel like there’s a lot of stories that need to be told that still aren’t being told. I do want to direct and I do want to cast the people that I want in my movies and my shows because I feel like there’s a problem in Hollywood. That problem is a lack of representation. When there’s a lack of representation, that leaves room for a whole lot of gray areas that people don’t know. I want younger girls that look like me to see themselves in the people that I cast. That’s when you get your sense of identity, from what you see. That’s what i want to do with acting. I want to be in the position to create.

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