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RIFFWIKIINTERVIEWS-MTB-01

This week we are interviewing Michael T. Bradley of Ice on Mars fame. You know him from IoM's riffs of Star Trek: Voyager and The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

RiffWiki: First, tell us a little bit about your dang self. Who you are, what you do and all that stuff.

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I am tempted to try to answer this in a way that’s witty. I remember seeing Joel talking on Night after Night with Allan Havey, and he was basically like, ‘This isn’t funny, but I can answer it if you really want?’ I will try to emulate that and just be straightforward. I am a 36-year-old cisgendered male who was raised in rural Missouri, went to college in & eventually wound back up in Portland, Oregon. During Ice on Mars’ heyday, however, I was primarily located throughout the Utah Valley in Utah. I am a customer service manager by day, and audiobook narrator/producer/editor by night and weekends. I was the lead voice(s) for a video game that will never see the light of day, Space Station Tycoon, whose trailer can still be found online, if you’re really curious. (My mother after seeing the trailer: “Haha, were you the monkey?” I was not the monkey.) I also have a ridiculously geeky YouTube channel (rolereviewsal) where I am slowly but surely tackling the project of reading all the Forgotten Realms novels in internal chronological order. I am also @runofthemill on Twitter. And Ice on Mars has a FB page , started by J. Wilford. Scix and I are also co-owners or whatever the correct term is.

RiffWiki: Do you remember when you very first became aware of MST3K? How much of an effect did it have on you at the time?

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MST3K - Sidehacking is the Thing to Do

I do. A lot. See, that was me being witty. It doesn’t end well. I first became aware of MST3K (or “La la la la,” as my best friend called it forever) on 29 Sep 1990, when I caught the last half or so of The Sidehackers (what a place to start, eh?) on The Comedy Channel. (Back before they & Ha! merged.) It was a lightning strike to my brain, essentially. I realized, yes, this is what comedy is. I had been studying comedy for years, reading tons of joke books, watching old-style comics (as you might guess from my deadpan delivery, Mort Sahl was a favorite of mine), and through The Comedy Channel & Ha!, I became aware of more modern comedians (I’ve forgotten most of the names now). One of my three career goals as a younger person was to one day be a stand-up comic (thank God, I dismissed that desire very early on).

RiffWiki: Same question, only with RiffTrax.

I honestly don’t remember, but it must have been decently early on. I know at the time the MBK format had not been ironed out. I think Glitter had been a fairly recent release. I remember being extremely excited. I believe I had heard of The Film Crew, but I don’t think I actually saw any of those until after I knew about RiffTrax. (Ditto Cinematic Titanic)

RiffWiki: What was it that first compelled you to try your hand at making your own riffs?

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I had started writing a script for ST:V’s “Caretaker” long, long before iRiffs came about. I can’t remember when I actually started it, and I know I hadn’t gotten far, but those jokes are still (mostly?) in the final cut. I think the impetus was that for a while my best friend and I would host MST3K-esque get-togethers, which I’m sure many other riffers can relate to. We would rent bad movies and watch them along with people with the intent of making fun of them. The only one I really remember was Phase IV. There was one section with a little ant just going to town in some dirt for like FIVE MINUTES, so I just started this little song & kept it going, every now and then pausing for breath & kind of waiting to see if they’d cut. They never did, so … back to singing.

I enjoyed these get-togethers, but I’m horrible at ad libbing, so I thought, to play to my strengths, it would be great to write & record in advance. My best friend was a filmmaker, and I was his editor, so once I got to the point where I had access to nonlinear editing (goodbye, jog shuttle!), I think one of the first ideas for a project of my own was to do what’s now referred to as a riff of something.

It nearly died, but I always kept that script (maybe 5 pages max), and years later I saw the iRiff site announced. I am not a great writer, nor am I off-the-cuff funny (in my opinion; live I do kind of sitcom, or gross-out humor well, but that’s mostly not the sort of humor I enjoy), but I’m a solid performer and editor, so I thought, with effort, and with the fact that I’d studied comedy (and especially MST3K) so intently for years, this should be doable. (I have an entire essay I want to write about how comedy & horror are the same thing.) I’m very proud to say that “Caretaker” came out on day one of the iRiffs project.

The name Ice on Mars is one of the most pretentious things I’ve ever had a part in. My assumption was that a) most groups would have names that dealt with puns on “riff” or “tracks” or any variations of MST3K, and b) there would, especially at first, be a lot of crap produced. I wanted to stand out from the crowd, and so the idea was that, like ice on Mars, we were a rare and precious (yet worthwhile) commodity. Our group name was never meant to make you think, ‘oh, ho, what an amusing sounding diversion,’ but make you wonder, ‘What the hell are they about?’

At the time I got into RiffTrax, Mike had a revolving-door policy with guest riffers. You’d get ex-MST3Kers, but sometimes you’d get Fred Ward or “Weird” Al. I knew I couldn’t do anything as insane as that, (my dream co-riffer: Jenna Haze), but I also knew most of my friends were not capable of committing the time and energy to a project of this size, but I knew many of them were naturally funny and/or actors, so I thought it seemed doable. The original intention was that I would never double a guest ever, but there came a point when I realized, I don’t have that many friends.

RiffWiki: How did you come to ultimately choose "Caretaker," the Star Trek: Voyager premiere? Were there other titles in the running, or was it Caretaker from the word go?

This will sound like the first line from some bad piece of Voyager fiction, so imagine this in a kind of Janeway-meets-Scarlett-O’Hara voice: “From the beginning, it was always Voyager.”

Voyager just seemed like this never-ending gift bag of ridiculousness, where absolutely nothing (except The Doctor and Seven of Nine, commentary on whom is withheld just in case we ever get there) was done well, and every script feels like a dare. And, at the time, I was roommates with Jason, who is much more of a Trekkie than me, and could throw in little zingers that would appeal to hard-core fans.

RiffWiki: How did the whole "Voyager Crossover Project" come to be? Were you surprised by how well the concept was received?

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The original intention was to just keep doing Voyager and only Voyager, but "Time and Again" nearly killed me, and when I tried to write the next ep (“Phage”), I just kept rewatching the teaser, and after like five passes my only line was:

V2: (AS CHAKOTAY) YOUR BUN IS STUPID

At this point, I believe we had already been asked to do the Lost City chapter, the original crazy 12-chapter, 12-riffer crossover, and I really enjoyed that, and thought it would be fun to emulate something along those lines – I can’t say I enjoyed every episode of that crossover, but I never felt cheated out of my money, and overall I thought the groups were more good than bad. I thought, if I try to handpick groups I already like, or are popular, this should go well. I think I had three groups turn me down (or just never respond) total, and they were always polite about it (or had died, whichever).

Once QuipTracks was on board & interested in handling art duties, I started feeling more & more excited about the idea because the less work for me, the better (keep in mind, at this point I was writing/editing/directing everything (excepting minor ad libs) myself. I look back now and am befuddled at how I managed to get through that first six months or a year or whatever it was).

I was not surprised at the reception from fans for two reasons: 1) People had enjoyed Lost City overall, and 2) there are a fair number of people on the message boards who confess they will just buy anything with Star Trek in the title. I was not surprised at the interest from other groups because, especially in those early days, we were all struggling for different ways to achieve recognition, I think. We were all damn near willing to try anything.

RiffWiki: The Lizzie McGuire movie has been one of the best selling iRiffs on RiffTrax.com for YEARS. Give us the story behind that. What compelled you to do that movie, and did you ever think it was gonna go down as one of the best of all time?

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Back when I thought we were going to be doing just Voyager, I looked forward to the riff of "Threshold," kind of commonly believed to be one of the worst moments in Trek history ever. My idea was, just go nuts with it, just do it balls-to-the-wall, NC-17, disgustingly overdone gonzo jokes. The perfect person to do this with, I thought, was my best friend, roommate, and Jason's wife, Ari. She and I had the same humor and were just pretty much really like that all the time (check out the end credits' outtakes section to hear us just hanging out). Once I realized it would be literally forever before we reached that point in Voyager, I started wondering what else might be good to riff in that way. I thought the Hannah Montana Movie might be fun, but it wasn't on video yet. I mentioned this to someone, who said, 'I think they made a Lizzie McGuire movie,' and I was like, 'really?' A little research later, and, bam! It existed! I remember this was incredibly easy to write, except for the montages, of which there are many.

This was probably the most finely honed writing I've ever done on a riff. There was the constant question of, 'Is this blue for the sake of blue? Or is this also funny? And do I care?' (Again, this was one I wrote entirely on my own, though Ari has some awesome ad libs that made it in. “Ugh, the jaundice” is my favorite. And we ad libbed “Soap Box Derby,” from which I made a final script, so I consider her co-writer there.) I also paid a lot of attention to trying to refine the dynamic between Ari and myself (my kind of final idea was: Ari is dumb when it comes to everything ... except sex. Then I'm the moron).

I always kind of assumed this would only appeal to a very select audience, and am shocked to this day to find that it's always battling it out with Twilight as our top seller. (I’d have to check with QT which one has won out in the end; the numbers from the RT site are so close.) People really seem to enjoy it, which is gratifying, even if it is the least favorite of our feature-length riffs we've done for me personally.

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RiffWiki: One of the great things about iRiffing is that is allows a lot of different people to not only become part of the riffing world, but it allows a broader selection of movies and such to enter into the "riffing canon." Outside of your Voyager and Lizzie McGuire riffs, which of yours do you think will ultimately define your "riffing legacy?"

I think when it comes to actual riffs, we did a good job, but nothing that stands out amazingly from the other good riffing groups out there. I hope our legacy will last more because of our willingness to team up & try new cross-promotional things. I think Lost City and “the Voyager project,” and my ties with QuipTracks now (our “komedy kollektiv,” as everyone but me refuses to call it) will stand out the most.

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RiffWiki: Can we expect any new Ice on Mars releases in the near future?

Near? Almost certainly not. Someday? I sure as hell hope so. On the backburner, I currently have three movies and there are plans to keep moving forward with Voyager (of course), but now with QuipTracks. I’m very excited to try doing that, as I think mixing up Tristan/Tracy without each other to play off of will be very exciting. The problem right now is that we’re all busy with other things, and the QuipTracks guys are extreme perfectionists when it comes to writing. I thought I was anal retentive about my writing, yikes! That’s not a criticism. They create funnier stuff overall. It just might take us a while.

RiffWiki: People who actually take the time to do their own riffs must be doing it out of love for the medium, because it sure as hell isn't easy and there's almost no money in it. How big of an impact has movie riffing had on your life as a whole?

You surmise correctly. I remember one of the trollish comments on one of our Twiriff samples on YouTube was like, ‘I bet you guys wrote and practiced these lines beforehand, too!’ As if this was somehow a failing? Even if it was disastrously unfunny, I would prefer to think that a group was professional about what they distribute?

Sadly the impact has been incredibly mixed. There have been good things (the guys from QuipTracks, and by extension, Ryan Downey, who runs the top 50 iRiffs lists and more, have become what I would consider friends), but I’ve also lost friends over this rather goofy (in the long run) endeavor. I, of course, still have great memories of watching MST3K and Phase IV with my best friend.

RiffWiki: I'm gonna ask you to make a few "picks." Your own top three riffs, three top full length RiffTrax and three top iRiffs that are not your own.

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TwiSample1

IoM top three: The Karate Kid , New Moon , Learning Curve . Special mention to “Girls Beware,” a short we did that I thought really actually said something.

Rifftrax: Transformers (“shut your gaping maw!”), Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and …maybe Daredevil? I liked Glitter, but really hoped Mary Jo would have gone darker.

iRiffs: Best Friends B-Movie Bonanza: Deadtime Stories, QuipTracks’ The Forgotten (to pick one – that one’s probably my favorite), Cinester Theater’s It.

RiffWiki: And lastly, if you could choose one movie for Mike, Kevin and Bill to riff that they have not yet, which would it be and why?

I don’t really watch the MBK stuff anymore, but I’d watch a riff of Meet Dave. Bill Corbett co-wrote it, so I think that could be fun. Or, to go all meta, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie .

Janeway
RiffWiki: Thanks so much for talking with us today. If there's anything else you'd like to say, the floor is yours.

From our inception, one of the big things I’ve really wanted Ice on Mars to stand for is equality. I have really, really worried over the years that people might find our portrayal of alt-Janeway (we basically have “alt-“ versions of each character) transphobic. I want to apologize to anyone who felt offended by the humor, and let you know, I promise to try harder to not make it seem so in the future.

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