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Filmmaker Interview: Matt Johnson OPERATION AVALANCHE

Friday, September 23, 2016


By Tinsel & Tine Editor, Le Anne Lindsay

When it comes to American conspiracy theories, #1 would be the circumstances around John F. Kennedy's assassination, #2 What really happened in Roswell, New Mexico, and #3 Would be the possibility the Apollo11 1969 Lunar Landing was faked, that Neil Armstrong never took neither step nor leap on the moon.  If this conspiracy were true it begs the questions how do you make it look like astronauts landed on the moon, and who would be behind the subterfuge?

Enter OPERATION AVALANCHE a faux documentary movie which explores the how, who and what fors of creating the Moon Landing Hoax through the lens of two young, Harvard recruited CIA Agents/Documentary Filmmakers and out of the box thinkers.

Finished with their first mission investigating Stanley Kubrick as a possible Pinko, Matt Johnson (Matt Johnson) and Owen Williams  (Owen Williams) want to be put on the mission to find a mole inside NASA.  They come up with the brilliant plan to infiltrate the Space Administration by posing as documentary filmmakers.  During the course of their operation, they discover NASA's not really ready to land a man on the moon; that they are probably still a good 4 or 5 years away. This is a problem because the delay will surely allow the Russians to get there first and JFK promised this feat would happen before the end of the decade, and although he's gone, his words live on... So Matt & Owen, their camera crew along with a semi-douchebag senior agent (Jared Raab) set out to create the Moon Landing in a movie studio, only the price of fooling America can come at the highest cost.

I was really impressed with this movie, it's clever to imagine two hot shot CIA neophytes pulling off the caper of all capers. Then there's the camera work. Yes, "Found Footage" tends to now be denigrated a bit, and there are a couple times you don't feel the camera would've been rolling, but for the most part, it creates a fantastic storytelling device, and it allows for more leeway when it comes to editing, especially when cutting from scene to scene allowing it to appear as if the camera just stopped rolling.   Because they shot it all on old video cameras and then transferred it on to 16mm, the look of the film is vintage 60's - further enhanced by inter-cutting fair use historic footage, using old filmmaking equipment still in use at York University's film school where Johnson finished his Masters making Operation Avalanche.  And even further enhancing the authentic look of the film - real footage was taken at NASA and historic Shepperton Studios, at little to no cost.  How? Matt and his team actually pretended to be documentary filmmakers to visit these institutions and interview people on the pretense of making an educational film, not this film, Operation Avalanche - so it becomes artifice imitating life, imitating art? Well, something like that.

The movie actually only cost 1Mil to make - a sum given to them in good faith by Lionsgate who optioned the movie on a pitch based on the success of Johnson & writing partner, Josh Boyles first film The Dirties, which won Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival.



Best of all... I got to interview Matt Johnson and Producer Matt Miller while they were in Philadelphia promoting the film.  I get a rush out of interviewing filmmakers and actors, but it's so gratifying when you can tell the person(s) is really responding and taking note of you!

T&T: You talk about the moon landing as being a time in history that Americans point to as a defining moment of pride. But do you think your generation and younger would really be affected if it were found out to have been an elaborate hoax? 

CLICK SOUND FILE for Matt's response...

Operation Avalanche Would Millennials care?

Here's a few more of the questions I asked the Matts:

T&T: The Matt Johnson in Operation Avalanche seemed to eat, drink, sleep the mission, where the on screen Owen Williams had a wife and baby, Matt acts as if nothing else in his life exists. When you were making the film were you that submerged, do friends, family, other projects go off to the side or are you a good multi-tasker?

T&T: I know you two don't personally believe the Moon Landing was faked and even discovered while making Operation Avalanche just how almost impossible it would have been to do, still, what kind of responses are you getting from those that run websites passionately attesting to the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing as a hoax?

T&T: Shooting undercover at NASA & Shepperton Studios was greatly out of budget constraints, but there’s also a sense of ingenuity and daring to it all. Would you say that’s a big part of what drew you to wanting to make films in the first place? And would you then ever want to do a big studio blockbuster where you don’t have to be as inventive because you’d have a larger budget?

And more!  Watch Video above for answers.
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A Lionsgate release. Produced by Matthew Miller, Lee Kim, Matt Johnson. Executive producers, Aram Tertzakian, Nick Spicer, Nate Bolotin. Co-producer, Jared Raab.
Directed by Matt Johnson. Screenplay by Matt Johnson, Josh Boles;
Camera (color, HD-to-Super 16-to-HD), Andy Appelle, Jared Raab; Editor, Curt Lobb; Music Supervisor, David Hayman; Production Designer, Chris Crane; Art Director, Zosia Mackenzie; Set Decorators, Tom Erik Rossavik, John O'Regan; Costume Designer, Megan Oppenheimer; Supervising Sound Editor/Re-Recording Mixer, Matthew Chan; Visual Effects Supervisor, Tristan Zerafa; Special Effects Coordinator, Mel Ramsey; Stunt Coordinator, Emilio “Chino” Ramirez; Assistant Director, Matt Greyson; Casting, Millie Tom. @OpAvalanche #OperationAvalanche

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T & T's LAMB (movie bloggers association) Score:4.5 outta 5

Tinsel & Tine (Reel & Dine): Philly Film, Food & Events Blog



Sunday, September 18, 2016


By Tinsel & Tine Editor, Le Anne Lindsay

I think most of us agree the first Reality TV show was MTV's The Real World and the first competition reality show - Mark Burnett's Survivor.  But did you know there was an event that both preceded and combined these two institutions?

Back in 1982 the radio station WSAN came up with a publicity stunt that went viral, way before we ever knew the term, and in all places, Allentown PA.  Producer Frank J. Petka, of Tag Visual Media and his partner Writer/Director Pat Taggart from Roxborough and Southwest Philly respectively, are set to release a documentary called The BillBoard Boys which recounts the story of three young men who entered a contest to live up on a Billboard for an undetermined amount of time, to win a modular home worth 18K.  The contestants each got tents and phones. Now your mind automatically thinks, of course you'd have your phone, who would agree to participate without their phone? But remember, this is way before we attached ourselves to our mobile smart devices. Instead, picture an old fashioned desk phone inside a tent, on a billboard, it looks kinda crazy. It also meant other than calling someone, you had no way to entertain yourself, no games, apps, photos, videos, blogging!  I'd never make it.  Each contestant also had to have someone willing to come everyday and send food on a pulley, because if you left the Billboard, even for a moment, you'd be disqualified.

Who would enter such a contest? Well, now and days plenty of people, everyone is looking for their 15 minutes of fame and we're so used to seeing and taking part in reality type stunts for Youtube, and social media. In fact, I'm surprised this contest has not been recreated for cable television. But back then, it wasn't about becoming famous, it was really about winning that modular home!  Allentown was going through a major recession, what we always hear referred to as "The Rust Belt",  the demise of Steel producing cities. Unemployment was at an all time high - therefore, a tremendous amount of entries came into the station and a tremendous number of entries from each would be contestant.

The Chosen Competitors: 

Dalton Young 22, fresh out of the Army, was entered into the contest by his mom, who I guess did not want her son moving back home.

Mike McKay 31, newly married and out of work for sometime. He figured the only way he'd ever be able to afford a home for his bride was to get one for free. Mackay was the Richard Hatch / Snookie / Big Ang of the three - he thrived on the publicity.

Ron Kistler 24, was the quiet contestant, a man of few words, but big determination.

When the spectators left and the three men settled down for their first night in the chill and nagging rain, the noise of the traffic from the exit ramp off I-22 where they were perched began to invade their consciousness. Overhead military and civilian aircraft ferried down the flight path heading for Allentown Bethlehem Easton airfield, at 800 feet and descending, a Boeing 737 makes enough noise to cause blurred vision. The Billboard lights came on at sunset and stayed on all night, so the yellow domed tents glowed within, no matter what the hour. And the winds blowing off blue mountain into the Lehigh Valley, battered against the billboard, keeping the platform in constant motion. It would be, in more than one way, a very long fall. - Jeff Shear Rolling Stone Magazine

Petka and Taggart do a great job of keeping us glued to the outcome as if it were happening all over again, using interviews with Mike Krajasa, the then VP of Station Owner "McMillionaire" Harold G. Fulmer III and other past WSAN DJ's, Station Managers and employees. Philly's own John DeBella of WMMR is interviewed as his morning show used to call Dalton Young every morning for a weather report, since the contestant was photographed wearing a WMMR T shirt while living on the billboard for WSAN. Marketing/PR people of today would never let such a thing happen. Others interviewed are journalists who covered the story, and of course the remaining contestants themselves and their families. The reminiscence also features the madness of the global media circus, the question of exploitation, the crazy length of time it continued on. In between aptly punctuated with clips of Ronald Reagan sympathizing with the loss of the American Dream.

Billy Joel never met Mike MacKay, Ron Kistler or Dalton Young but his blue collar anthem "Allentown" (1982) coincided perfectly with the Living Billboard competition.

(Note Video will not be visible to those receiving post via RSS feed)

I asked Producer Frank Petka, what drew them to this story 30 years later? 
My production partner and writer/director Pat Taggart just happened to read the 30 year anniversary article of the contest in the local paper in that area, "The Morning Call". From there, he reached out to me and the hunt was on to uncover every person and material related to this story that was in existence. Nearly three years later, the film is complete.

#PhillyCalendar 9/25 6:30pm Indie Doc Premiere - THE BILLBOARD BOYS at Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas ArtsQuest Center a SteelStack Film Event.
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Tinsel & Tine (Reel & Dine): Philly Film, Food & Events Blog


OK Cupid Philadelphia Dining

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

 Zama & Grand Caffe L'Aquila First Stops on my Wining & Dining Dating Tour of Philly

By Tinsel & Tine Editor, Le Anne Lindsay

So regular readers know I decided to set up an OK Cupid profile to make it easier for Trekkie's to upload their info to enter T&T's be my Trekkie Guide Competition. I was going to take it down after the contest, but decided instead to change it to this:
I've never been spoiled. I've always taken care of myself on every level. I've only been in relationships and on dates where I'm pulling my own weight financially. I'd like to know what it's like to be wined and dined, taken to nice places, fun places, spoiled a bit. I realize I'm worth it. I'm cute, dress well, no kids, healthy, nice figure, people enjoy my company and I adapt well to new environments & social situations. @tinseltine

Now, I've always written a PG-13 kinda blog, so I probably shouldn't be sharing so much about myself.  After all, my Mom reads my blog and I have a reputation to maintain in the Philly community, with my subscribers and advertisers - not that I'd say the profile is racy, but it does imply something, or does it?...

I actually didn't expect anyone to take it seriously. I'm not sure I took it seriously, but believe it or not, I've had two wine and dine dates, with the same guy. Now's where I'd really like to make it interesting and discuss him and the date particulars. Unfortunately, I can't do that, it's not fair to blog about someone in detail when they haven't agreed to be a part of your post.

The first date we went for sushi at the upscale Rittenhouse  Zama (128 S 19th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103) I didn't want to be all bloggy, bloggy on the date, so I only took one pic. But I can tell you there's a reason why people pay top dollar and call chef Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka one of Philadelphia's elite sushi chefs. We didn't order off the menu, I love that my date took charge and just communicated to the sushi chefs a couple courses, things I've never had before, partly because I'm so boring when it comes to sushi, I usually just order tempura and salmon rolls, or go crazy and do Philly rolls with the cream cheese. I feel like I'm really being hip if I get black rice.

The 2nd date we went to Gran Caffe L'Aquila (1716 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103)  It's more of an eatery, than a traditional Italian restaurant, they specialize in house made Gelato including alcohol-infused varieties that run from 5 to 10 percent alcohol. It's also a pastries and coffee shop in the morning and a just dessert and coffee kinda place at night.  But they do have a full dining menu, as well as at least 20 wines by the glass (one from every region of Italy).

It just happened to be Restaurant Week, so I went with it and ordered off the $45 four course menu. I've always felt restaurant week is incentive to try new places; my date however, detests restaurant week, as most true foodies who eat out a lot do.  He went off menu again, not to show off, but he's a foodie with many dietary restrictions.  Unfortunately, he wasn't happy with his pan seared salmon and I could see why, it was rather crispy. He also wasn't thrilled with the non-menu sauteed veggies or the eventual price either.  

I wanted a wine that was jammy and full bodied, but light on the tannins and sugar. It's not easy to find, but I recently had a very inexpensive wine that met all these qualities called Middle Sister, which is a red blend from California, so we're really talking apples and oranges here trying to find something similar on this particular wine list at Gran Caffe L'Aquila. The selection our server chose for me was fine, but still too light.  

  • My first course - Rimini Salumi Sushi  not really sushi, it was Mortadella (a large Italian sausage or cold cut made of finely hashed or ground, heat-cured pork, which incorporates at least 15% small cubes of pork fat) rolled like sushi stuffed with fontina, pistachio with fig marmalade for dipping. I enjoyed it, the fontina had a rice consistency, can't say I tasted the pistachio at all. But over all liked the textures and flavor - 3 Tines

  •   My 2nd course - Cinghiale Wild Boar & long hot pepper meatballs, tomato sugo  slightly more spicy then I realized I was in the mood for and wild boar has a chewier texture than a beef meatball, but it was fun to try - 2 Tines

  • My 3rd course - Pappardelle Al Ragu Aquilano  Wide ribbon pasta, slow cooked pork, veal, lamb & chicken ragu Hearty tender pieces of meat. And I love a fat pasta whether I'm eating Italian or Chinese.  But I once had this dish like 4 or 5 years ago at Garces Trading Company and it was so much tastier. I know because all these years later I remember it and remember wishing the portion had been larger. Nice portion size at L'Aquila , enough for lunch the next day 2.5 Tines

  • Dessert of course was L'Aquila award winning Gelato  mixing together Creme Caramel Sweet Caramel Custard and Caffe House Roasted coffee flavored gelato - 3.5 Tines
I really liked our server, I thought she was adorable and friendly. However, my date pointed out that she didn't come back to pour water, didn't check on us when there was a long delay between courses and he felt she shouldn't have said she didn't know what wine to recommend, just should have said I'll check with our wine steward.  I tend to let these types of things slide, but I was surprised that the restroom decor is blah.

So how did the date go?  Well, if he calls to say, how about we try one of those new wine bars in Fishtown, then Frankford Ave, here we come!  I'll keep you posted :) #WDMe

Tinsel & Tine Rating System: * Excellent - 4 Tines / * Great - 3 Tines / * Good - 2 Tines / * Fair - 1 Tine /* Poor - Tarnished

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About This Blog

is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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