Interview – Joel Hodgson – Riffing Myself

BN – I saw that you’re working for a company called Cannae, and I’m really curious about it. What does a Creative Lead for Media do for an aerospace company?

JH – It’s really great. It’s just one of those things I couldn’t imagine I’d be doing. I met this guy, Guido Feta, four years ago. Really nice guy, we became friends. And then all of a sudden this thing starts to emerge. Oh, I’ve got this invention. I’ve got this thing, and do you want to hear about it? And I go yeah, and he goes, well you’ve got to sign this agreement, this non-disclosure agreement. So I said, oh yeah, absolutely. He then sat me down and showed me this invention which is called the Q Drive, and the Q Drive is amazing in that it’s an engine that has no moving parts. It’s made out of a metal that super conducts called, Niobium. They use it in particle accelerators. The guys who built the engine for him, they also build accelerator parts. It’s really clever because basically for things to super conduct they have to be really close to zero temperatures.

His premise was why don’t I put that in space because it’s already at zero temperature? So suddenly you have this perfect environment for this thing. I was fascinated with it. I’ve been documenting him for the last three years, his different proofs of concept tests. I’ve been doing interviews probably every quarter of the year. I talk to him about what’s happening, and then I started working more closely with him, for example I found the guy’s who did the logo for his company, for the Q Drive. I work with him with mostly a lot of brainstorming and kind of coming up with the names of these things; the products, and the product tree, and all that stuff. Then I produced these videos. He has three videos on his website that explain it. I helped him produce those, and helped him write those. Mostly it’s what I would consider frosting. He’s got this fantastic invention, and my job is to make it look good.¬† If you go to the website,, it’s a really good looking website. So that’s my job, to make sure everything looks really good, and gives you the feeling, oh I want to go even further, this guy isn’t a quack, I want to learn more about this.

He’s very thorough at explaining his thinking behind it. It’s fun because people are getting really enthused about it, people who can actually do something about it, and fund the project, and make these engines for satellites. I’m kind of backtracking here, but the thing I never knew about satellites is that they use fuel to stay up. I always thought they put them in space and they maintain their orbit. But they have to keep moving them, because they get hit by pebbles, and they have to adjust them. So half of every satellite is fuel, and that fuel is spent in a period of ten to fifteen years. So what this does, because it doesn’t use reaction mass, it runs off a solar panel and keeps a satellite that weighs one ton in space indefinitely, whereas prior it took a half a ton of fuel. So that’s kind of why this invention is useful to the satellite industry.

BN – So is it still in the theoretical phase?

JH – No, he has a working prototype. He’s a really smart guy, and he put together the funding and he’s done a series of three tests. This was about a year ago, and he has evidence he got it to work. So it’s really fun. It’s kind of refreshing because it’s working on something that’s real, rather than making up something and trying to talk someone into it.

BN – So let’s talk about Cinematic Titanic. You’re still doing that, right?

JH – Yeah. We’re doing our last tour. We’re going to be done at the end of the year. New Year’s Eve is going to be our last show. This is our sixth year we’ve been doing it.

BN – Wow, so this is the last tour?

JH – Yeah. We’ve done over a hundred shows, and it’s been great. It’s just so fun to get to be doing it again, doing it live, and getting our chops back in a way; getting it out, writing movie riffs and doing it in front of a live audience.

BN – How often have you been doing that?

JH – It’s usually about once a month we go out, and usually do two shows. I can’t quite do the math, but I think it’s about fifty shows. It’s a lot, and we were just in Detroit about a week and a half ago. It’s fun, it’s been really great. It’s a really good thing.

BN – How do you all pick the movies you riff on?

JH – I usually have to track down the movies, and then I present them to the group and they have to approve it, and look at it and go, is this going to be entertaining? So I’ve been finding them, pretty much all of them, because it pretty much just fell on my lap. I was interested in the process, and I wanted to see it from every step of the way. How do you do it? The biggest thing is, we’ve done it a couple different ways where we’ve licensed the movies from producers like Sam Sherman, and Ted V. Michaels, and we’ve also done a fair share of movies that are public domain. Though each of those has its own kind of way you have to approach them. Public domain movies of course are free, but then you have to find a good print that you can project. Then you have to license the print anyway. Then with producers you negotiate directly with them and in some way that’s almost easier because they’ve kept their stuff nice. That’s kind of the big thing I’ve learned, you have to work harder for public domain stuff because you have to search it out. While the stuff that’s owned by people is actually kind of easier because you just make a deal and then pay them for it.

BN – I recently watched East Meets Watts which is one of my favorites of the Cinematic Titanic stuff, was that a public domain movie?

JH – No. That’s a Sam Sherman movie, and that was originally called The Dynamite Brothers. It was really interesting because he was a little sheepish about what we were doing, and he asked that we changed the name because he thought it would interfere with him trying to license the movie. So if you go watch The Dynamite Brothers it’s the same identical movie as East Meets Watts.

BN – It’s a fun movie.

JH – It’s a really fun movie. Josh Weinstein calls it a kungsploitation movie, because it’s has kung-fu in it and it’s a blaxploitation movie too. So it’s got both of those. It’s really cool.

BN – What are you going to do next after Cinematic Titanic?

JH – I’m busy, man. I’ve just got a ton of stuff. I’m doing the one-man shows and I’m working for Cannae, that’s kind of my job now. I’m busy, but not too busy.

BN – You think you’ll ever write a book?

JH – Oh yeah. You know, I don’t know if it’ll be a book in the traditional sense, but yeah the idea with Riffing Myself is kind of get it on its feet and put that into some kind of form. I guess it would be a media book, probably not a printed book, but maybe.

BN – I would look forward to that.

JH – Thanks!

BN – So what are some of your favorite bad movies you’ve had to watch over the years?

JH – Oh wow, well some of them are… as far as Cinematic Titanic ¬†goes I like Danger on Tiki Island, and that was also a Sam Sherman title, but the original title I think was called Brides of Blood Island. But again, he wanted us to change the title. I think that’s my favorite Cinematic Titanic. For Mystery Science Theater I really like I Accuse my Parents.

BN – I just watched that last night.

JH – I think that’s a really good one. For some reason it’s really strong. Sometimes when I do these shows I’ve been screening Mystery Science Theater, and I’ve been screening Pod People, and that one we were kind of just hitting our stride really well early on; I kind of felt that was just a good movie. It’s such a peculiar film. I think I’m learning that people like… it’s not just the riffing, it’s also the movie together, it’s an experience. For instance, Manos is really popular.


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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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