Kristen Tsetsi interviews Joseph Dilworth Jr. of POP CULTURE ZOO


– A guest blog post by Kristen Tsetsi –

R.J. Keller was kind enough to let me post this interview as a guest blog on her site because she has more geek friends than I do – and I mean that in the best possible way. I’m not a geek, but I’m a wannabe geek. Especially after interviewing Joseph Dilworth Jr. about his website Pop Culture Zoo, whose tagline is “Building Better Geeks.” I’d like to be a better geek! Is it possible this Joseph Dilworth can teach me how? Possibly. Just possibly.

Kristen Tsetsi: When and why did you create Pop Culture Zoo?

Joseph Dilworth Jr.: In the summer of 2007 I started thinking I wanted to do my own website, but the basic idea for Pop Culture Zoo began to form a few years before that with my first blog, Digressions From The Omniverse. I’ve always talked incessantly about the movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. that I really like and am passionate about. At the same time, I also tend to rant quite a bit about articles that are overly negative about a subject, especially in a review. It seemed that the things that all the cool websites hated were things I really liked and I felt that I had reasonable counter-arguments to all the negativity. My wife had been encouraging me to do my own reviews and submit them to these outlets. Eventually we both kind of hit upon the idea of me just doing my own website. The name Pop Culture Zoo just popped into my head one day and that sort of sealed the deal. In February of 2008 Pop Culture Zoo was born.

KT: What makes PCZ different from other “geek” sites?

JD: I think the biggest difference is the positive angle in the articles, as I mentioned in the answer to the first question. That’s something I try to suggest to my contributors as well, although, of course, I would never want to stifle someone’s “voice” or opinion. I think it is very easy to call something stupid or idiotic. It’s more difficult to study the intent of a piece and be able to understand what a director or author was going for and really consider whether or not they achieved it. I follow the philosophy that no one sets out to intentionally create garbage, unless it’s through a parody or something like that. It may be that a writer or actor doesn’t have the necessary talent yet, but if there is true, heartfelt intent to create something, that goes a long way and deserves to be recognized.
Another difference is Pop Culture Zoo covers a lot of little known projects that range from web series to independent bands. There are things that don’t really land on the radar of the major websites. I enjoy finding new music or little known series and films. Again, that goes back to a person or a group of people pouring their hearts into a project, but it’s possible only their friends or family will be the ones to see, hear or read it. I’ll gladly promote something like that above a big studio film that has a multi-million dollar budget.

KT: Who are some of your favorite interview subjects you’ve had an opportunity to communicate with, and why?

JD: I think my favorite interview was with Duncan Jones, about his film Source Code. He really responded well to the questions I asked. He seemed happy that I was asking him questions about the film no one else had asked him to that point. Miriam Libicki was another fascinating person to speak to. Miriam is an American that has served in the Israeli army and has created a comic book series, jobnik!, to document her experiences. She was amazing to talk to. I am also extremely honored to have spoken to Betty Anne Waters. Her 18 year struggle to get her brother freed from prison was depicted in the film Conviction and it was really humbling sitting across from her and hearing her story in person. There are occasions when I have been fortunate to interview someone I admired when I was a kid, like Erin Gray, Lindsay Wagner and William Katt. That can sometimes be quite surreal!

KT: I was a total “Bionic Woman” addict when I was a kid and absolutely loved Lindsay Wagner. How do you get access to those people?

Just because a movie is a blockbuster doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it and just because you haven’t heard of something doesn’t mean it’s crap.

JD: When the website began I made a list of folks that I thought were doing interesting work and either emailed them directly or contacted their managers or the press contact for whatever production they were working on. Over time I have been added to various press lists and now have PR folks contacting me asking to set me up with interviews. Sure, I have heard “no” many, many times, but I decided early on that it never hurts to ask. I have been very fortunate to talk to some awesome people.

KT: What’s your background (as it pertains to your website)?

JD: I have no formal training as a journalist or a reviewer. That being said, I have been writing about movies, TV shows and comic books in one form or another for the better part of a decade now. I’d like to think my writing skills have improved in that time, but that isn’t really for me to say. I think having worked at a film and TV studio as well as behind the scenes for music concerts has given me a broader perspective than simply being an audience member. Understanding the craft that goes into making a two hour film, for example, definitely factors into my opinion about a movie.

KT: What exciting new things are coming at PCZ?

JD: I am planning much more original video content for the site as well as a podcast of some sort. I’ll be hosting a movie news panel at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle in March and hope to do the same at some other shows in 2012. Other than that…y’know, I’ve always hated reading an interview answer along the lines of “I have many exciting projects on the horizon, but unfortunately I can’t talk about them right now.” However, I’ve discovered that sometimes that is the only answer you can give. I have a few projects in the early stages for PCZ, but they also involve other people and I really, sincerely can’t talk about them just yet. Believe me, when I can, you and everyone will know all about them through Twitter, Facebook, smoke signals or however else I can get the news out. I predict 2012 will be a big year for the website. I have been saying that every year though, so we’ll see!

KT: Describe PCZ in one word.

JD: GEEKTASTIC!

"The triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism." Craig Ferguson

KT: What’s your favorite movie, and what’s your favorite TV show?

JD: My favorite movie is Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. I could probably talk for hours as to why I love that film the way I do, but the short form is it happened along at a very odd time in my life and a lot of the emotions in the film reflected how I felt at the time. It is an extraordinary film and is a perfect cinematic storm of exceptional script, superb acting and flawless directing. It also has an outstanding score. Perhaps I will write about why it is my perfect film…
My favorite TV show has been and will always be “Doctor Who.” “Doctor Who” captured my imagination as a kid like no other show before or since. It is always reinventing itself and is very fun. Although it was off the air for 16 years, other than a TV movie, it’s coming up on its 50th anniversary. There is just something magically kitschy about it, even episodes from the ‘60s and ‘70s with wobbly sets and ridiculous monsters. I could also go on for hours about “Doctor Who,” but I’ll instead encourage anyone reading this who is NOT watching the series to do so.

KT: What does “Building Better Geeks” mean, exactly? And how do I know if one geek is better than the next?

JD: I’m probably not going to explain this properly in text, but what I mean by “Building Better Geeks” is helping make more informed and well-rounded geeks. Being a geek should be a celebration of the things you love and discovering new aspects to something you hold dear as well as finding out about new stories. A better geek is someone who can talk about how great the upcoming Avengers movie looks so far while debating the merits of the latest episode of Fringe and listening to the latest Dream Theater album. Yes, I said album. “Better Geeks” are much more than the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. Just because a movie is a blockbuster doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it and just because you haven’t heard of something doesn’t mean it’s crap.

KT: Can anyone be a geek?

JD: Yes, absolutely! The term geek used to mean a circus freak show performer, possibly one that bit the heads of chickens. Eventually it came to describe a computer nerd and has always been used in pejorative sense. If you love something with an indescribable joy and passion then, in my mind, you’re a geek. It’s not just for sci-fi anymore.

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

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