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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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Wingman Wednesday

David Lewis

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Photo By: Kristine Cofsky

For David Lewis, being methodically-hunted down by a bloodthirsty doll while crawling his way through rocks and mud is worth every creeping inch when the knife-wielding plaything in question is the iconic Chucky, and, even more so, when said wielder of knife is given life by the even more iconic Mark Hamill.

My head almost exploded seeing the Six Million Dollar Man fight Bigfoot, so watching a movie like ‘Star Wars’ was almost beyond comprehension and the thought of one day working with Mark Hamill would have seemed beyond any sort of plausibility for my tiny Canadian brain,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Lewis to discuss expendable boyfriends, Grumpy grand slams, and why this is one of our favorite interviews of all time. (Okay, we didn’t discuss that, but it is, so you should read it all!)

TrunkSpace: First things first! What would 10-year-old David have to say about his future self starring in a project alongside Mark “Skywalker” Hamill?
Lewis: Holy Sh*t!! Honestly. My mother is Irish and my father was a bartender in a bar that catered to longshoremen. I grew up in a house with very colorful language. Ten-year-old David would never have thought this would ever be a possibility. My head almost exploded seeing the Six Million Dollar Man fight Bigfoot, so watching a movie like “Star Wars” was almost beyond comprehension and the thought of one day working with Mark Hamill would have seemed beyond any sort of plausibility for my tiny Canadian brain.

TrunkSpace: “Childs Playis a reboot of the 1988 movie of the same name. Was this a film made with the fans of the original in mind, for those generation of movie lovers that came after, or for a combination of the two?
Lewis: I think this a combination of the two. I understand as a fan of certain franchises myself that there are times when I want everything to stay the same or exactly the way I remembered it. But thats not the way life works. Things are constantly growing and changing and thats what happens in film as well. Although our film isnt being made by the original creators we were all fans of the original franchise and I know this film was made with love and respect for this fantastic character. These filmmakers have put their guts into this film and think that it will show. I am honestly excited for old and new fans to see what this devious little ginger has in store for them. (And by ginger I mean Chucky. Not me.)

TrunkSpace: In the film you play Shane, boyfriend of Aubrey Plaza’s Karen Barclay. We know you cant give anything away, but boyfriends very rarely make it out alive in a film like this! How scared should we be for Shane?
Lewis: Ha!! When did film boyfriends become so expendable?? Im like a “Star Trek” redshirt! I think we should all be less scared for Shane and more scared of a two-foot-tall red-headed doll that has a penchant for kitchen knives and getting his way… so very scared.

TrunkSpace: Speaking of scares, horror seems to have a built-in fan base in that fans of the genre are always there to support new projects. Thats going to be magnified even more so in the case of Childs Playbecause of the franchise familiarity. Is it fun working on a project knowing that eyeballs are going to be there front and center on opening night?
Lewis: Absolutely! As actors we dont work in a vacuum. We want what we do to be seen by as many people as possible and I think fans are going to turn out for this project. Ive worked on a few horror films over the years and have attended quite a few horror film festivals and I believe horror fans to be some of the most loyal filmgoers out there. There are so many genres within horror that these fans seem happy to vacillate between. Whether its slasher films or monster or whatever, horror fans seem to wear their horror badge with honor. Its really quite impressive. I dont really know of any other genre that can say that to that extent.

Of course, I drink a lot of gin so honestly what do I know?

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, the end product is the most memorable, but for the actors it must go much further than that. Whats the most memorable aspect of getting to work on Childs Playthat youll carry with you through the rest of your life and career?
Lewis: Thats a great question. And at the risk of tearing my rotator cuff patting myself on the back, Ill pass along this story.

Near the end of my shooting schedule there was a huge sequence in the movie that takes place between my character Shane and Chucky. To set things up it was over two nights. In Vancouver. In November. And not giving anything away but I spent most of those two nights crawling through rocks and mud and dirt. Scene after scene. Shot after shot. We started shooting around 6 PM and ended at around 5 AM. Both nights. In my career two of my tougher days on set.

Again, Im probably going to need a chiropractor from all the back patting Im administering myself, but on the second night around 2 AM as I was lying in a patch of cold, wet mud waiting for them to call action, a crew member leaned down to me and whispered, The crew thinks yer killing it and we really appreciate your hustle.

That filled me with so much pride in that moment it was like someone had hit me with a shot adrenaline. I was taught to work hard and never think you were better than anyone else. And my job over those two nights was to bring a performance, but also to show up and just do the work. Yes the conditions were crappy but no one wanted to hear me whine. Just do the work so we can all get to bed before the sun comes up.

Seriously with the back patting, David!

Photo By: Kristine Cofsky

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, youre a big comic book fan. If you were suddenly granted the keys to the Marvel or DC kingdoms, what character super powered or otherwise would you cast yourself as and why?
Lewis: Wow. Right up my alley with the questions TrunkSpace! Are you single, because you get me?

Well, off the top of my head, I think Id be a perfect, gently-aging Jimmy Olsen. Intrepid. Quirky. And secretly crushing on Lois. But if I was going to rock the superhero I think Id go with Plastic Man. I always found him to be just crazy enough to be likeable and his abilities seemed to me to be almost unstoppable. I really found him to be an under-utilized character. And just so off the rails!

TrunkSpace: You appeared in one of our favorite series, Supernatural.As an actor based in Vancouver, how important has that series been to the film and television industry up there and was there a sense of sadness among the acting and crew communities when it was announced that it would be ending next season?
Lewis: I loved my time on “Supernatural.” I think I came on around Season 7 and those two gentlemen couldnt have been nicer. There was definitely some sadness and maybe even some shock surrounding it ending. It kind of felt like it was a Vancouver mainstay but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and “Supernatural” was definitely a good thing for our city. I know it was a goal of so many actors in Vancouver to get onto that show. It was scary, funny and irreverent. Sometimes at the same time. A great show with great people. You cant ask for much more than that.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Lewis: Hmmm. For a while it was working on the cult classic “Lake Placid.” Mainly because I had to do some reshoots so they flew me down to LA then whisked me off to Universal Studios where I filmed my scenes in the pool THAT THEY SHOT “JAWS” IN! Yeah thats right. “Jaws.”

But as crazy as this is going to sound, I think it was working on “Grumpy Cats Worst Christmas Ever.” Not only was Grumpy Cat voiced by none other than my co-star, the ridiculously talented Aubrey Plaza, but my children at the time were quite young and could literally not care at all about my work… until they knew they could actually meet Grumpy Cat in person. They begged me for three days to skip school and come to set to meet this internet juggernaut, and once I cleared it with production and they had their pictures taken with Grumpy I was probably the fourth most popular parent on the planet. There was definitely some parenting fuel for a few months after that. And being huge “Parks and Recreation” fans, I thought they were going to have mini strokes knowing Aubrey was attached as well.

But also “JAWS!”

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?
Lewis: I dont think I would. Im not big on surprises in my life so I dont think Id want to know. I mean, then Id probably end up building a special case for all the Academy Awards Im probably going to win. And what kind of wood should I get for the case? Teak? Mahogany? A sturdy oak? Seems complicated. Now taking that time machine back to grade 7 grad and working up the courage to ask Sandra V. to slow dance to “Every Breath You Take”

Child’s Play” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray September 24 and will be available on Digital HD September 10.

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