RZA Interview

I interviewed the Abbot of the Wu-Tang Clan RZA who was doing press for his new movie.  An edited version of this was originally published in Extra.

Hip-hop producer, actor, and author RZA (aka Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) talked to Extra about his new film The Man with the Iron Fists, which he co-wrote, directed and stars in as a kung fu fighting blacksmith.

Casey Brazeal: Are you the man with the Iron Fists?

RZA: What, me personally? Well, I play The Blacksmith, a character who’s making weapons for everybody. Basically, without being the cause of death, he’s a source of death. And he knows better, but because he’s trying to help somebody else, he’s actually hurting others. Eventually, The Blacksmith gets forced into a position where he has to enter the violence himself.

But, there’s no one ‘Man with the Iron Fist.’ It’s a metaphor, so when you read the credits it says I play The Blacksmith.

CB:  How would you describe the story to someone who doesn’t know what to expect?

R: There are seven clans, a shipment of gold, and they all want to get their hands on it. That’s the driving thread of the film. You know, when money comes things get funny, kid.

CB: As an actor, it must be fun to write yourself a great role.

R: [Laughs] Well, I’m happy the producers wanted me to play this role. Originally, I wrote it with myself in mind, but it was a little different. Originally, The Blacksmith did not appear until late in the film. He was shrouded in mystery.

CB: You and Kanye West collaborated on a song called White Dress for this movie. How was that?

R: It’s for a beautiful scene with Lucy Liu. I took a bite off a scene I saw [director Quentin Tarantino] do in Kill Bill, when Lucy Liu first enters the House of Blue Leaves before the showdown with the Crazy 88. I gave her a shot like that in my movie. Except instead of coming into a restaurant with all these killers behind her, she’s coming into a bathhouse, full of beautiful girls.

So I showed Kanye the scene, and he was like, ‘Oh man, this is cool.’ Then I gave him the music and I said, ‘You can add to it if you want,’ because people love when me and him collaborate.

CB: Thinking about making a movie and all that collaboration, whether it’s with Kanye or the actors, do you feel like your background with the Wu Tang Clan prepared you for that?

R: I know it did. That totally prepared me.

Dave Bautista, Russell Crowe, those dudes are Wu Tang fans, and I would tell them the stories. I’ll give you an example. We were having a bad day, I mean, it looked like we were going to lose a day of shooting and I couldn’t afford that on our tight budget.

I was talking to Big Boy Russell and I said, ‘You know, I’ll never forget one day when Old Dirty Bastard and I were recording.

ODB came into that studio crazy late, and I was pissed off. But, he went right to the vocal booth and recorded the whole song in one take, and there’s a part in the song where he goes, [Sings] ‘Shame on a n**** who try to run game on a n****. Huh-cha-cha-cha-chop-POW!

Now, to me he messed up right there. [Laughs] And I said, ‘Yo, do that part over,’ and he’s like, ‘Nah, that’s phat.’ And he was out, and I was stuck with it. But … people love that part!

And after that story we went and shot in eight hours what should have taken us two days. Russell Crowe took ODB as someone to study for the character and he went crazy. You’ll see this scene where Russell Crowe’s character is introduced.  You’ll see his great performance and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Disease, Marriage and Board Games (Feature for Extra)

Matt Leacock doesn’t remember exactly how he got the idea for his board game.
“I was a new dad… you’re kind of in a haze when you’re short on sleep,” he tells EXTRA with a laugh. He does remember wanting to create a game that he could play with his wife. He had loved and invented board games since he was a kid and he wanted to share that love with her. It was a romantic idea that spurred this creation, which was odd considering it inspired a game called “Pandemic”.

This game concerns the outbreak of four deadly diseases in four locations across the world. The object of the game is to contain and eventually cure all four of these diseases before they become too big to control. The catch is that as the game goes on and the diseases get more widespread, the game becomes more challenging. Any bad turn may cause a chain reaction and the diseases can win. Luckily, the players of “Pandemic” are not alone. Every player can and must work together.

Matt is a real student of games and he was happy dig into what makes a great game great. He spent much of our interview talking about how to create and sustain challenge, variety and interest in board games.

Matt did not come up with the idea on his own. Besides his wife, whom he cites as his muse, Matt credits a number of other people whose testing and critiquing of his game sharpened and improved it. His wife and family were employed as game testers, but Matt didn’t stop there. He kept taking the game to new people with fresh eyes and perspectives.

One manufacturer said his pieces needed to “map” back to the actual players, and a color blind co-worker told him he couldn’t tell between red and green cities.

Suggestions like these led to changes big and small. Matt made pawns more like individual people with the addition of colors and roles specific to each player, and colors were changed from green and red to blue, yellow and black. Symbols were added so that the cities could be distinguished by two different mechanisms.

The game is designed to be as easy as possible to understand. There are games that are for gamers, people committed to the hobby or the practice of gaming. People like this play games that are often intimidating or inaccessible to the average person. Gamers, though, weren’t the only people Matt wanted to have play and enjoy this game.

“For a game to really come off the shelf for me it’s got to not only be playable with [hardcore gamers],” he says. “What I personally find most gratifying is being able to play it with my aunt, or uncle or my cousin or my nephew.”

For a game as challenging as “Pandemic” is, it’s also accessible. A player can understand the board, cards and pieces of the game without reading English. This was a point Matt emphasized during a speech he gave at Google. He talked about wanting to make sure the greatest number of people could enjoy the game, not just for altruistic reasons but also because the more people who could play the game the more likely it was to be a success.

In terms of the creative process, Matt emphasizes that his idea wasn’t ready right out of the gate.

“If you work too hard on the prototype you become married to it,” Matt says. Instead, he talks about having a strong goal and building toward it.
He collaborated with his family to create a cooperative game and his inspirations were multiple, but one place Matt’s game did not take its inspiration was video games. Matt resists the idea of a cooperative board game springing out of computer games. He is quick to point out that he was never interested in video games, neither from a design standpoint nor as a player.

“I am not a programmer, video games take large budgets and teams to get off the ground,” Matt said. “As a board game novice, I had only seen the idea of playing a game as a certain role in 386 computer classics like Oregon trail, and playing on the same team sounds to me like Mario and Luigi coming together to fight Bowser.” Still, there is actually an entire genre of board games dedicated to cooperation. As a true lover of board games, Matt was influenced by a non-digital world.

When asked why he picked a morbid topic like widespread disease to be the subject for his game, particularly one that he developed with his wife in mind, Matt says simply that it made a good enemy. In a collaborative game where players aren’t monopoly men competing to buy the best stuff or pawns trying to get home on a Parcheesi board, there needs to be something significant for players to beat. That something has to be scary enough to be a believable bad guy. When Matt plays the game with his wife, they are not playing against each other—they are playingto save the world. And that is a pretty romantic idea.

Pandemic and Matt Leacock’s other games can be found on his website: http://www.Leacock.com and in many game shops.

This article is available in Spanish here

This Man Will Fashion Your Brain Waves Into a Hat

Sean Montgomery, Doctor of Nueroscience, is fasinated by biofeedback (the body’s external manifestation of thought, feeling, and status).

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Your body is constantly communicating with the outside world. Sean’s “Fashion Devices” take these communication (sweaty palms, heartbeats, and neural impulses) and makes a visual Picture 5representation of them on hats, t-shirts, and bracelets.

To find out more about these fashion devices you can check out Sean’s website here.

Everybody Gets to Vote Nobody Cares

People love to talk about the democratizing power of the internet.  They tell us that less expensive distribution and production, means more people can make music.  We also heard that as the internet becomes more important than the radio we are coming to a time where everybody gets to vote.

The problem is nobody votes.

There are a million services that now allow for feedback.  Social media has exploded and now rather than a couple of services that are interactive the whole internet will interact with you.  You can rate songs on iTunes, Ourstage, Spotify, and Pandora, but the majority of people the majority of the time don’t and more importantly don’t want to.

On blogs people who read but don’t comment are called lurkers.  But this evil sounding term applies to most of us most of the time (everybody but Charles).  A regular commenter someone who is:

  • Outspoken enough to write
  • Comfortable enough with technology to do so
  • Interested in the subject enough to have something to say

Even this “regular commenter” does not comment on everything that they read, hear or watch. I would count myself in this class and it is routine for me to look at over fifty pieces of media on the internet in a day and I never write 50 comments I wouldn’t be able to get off the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

So What? This doesn’t mean that we all need to fulfill our civic duty and talk about everything all the time, though if you do that here I promise not to complain.

It means when we are thinking about social media we need to remember that most of the people most of the time don’t want to be social.  Sometimes we want to passively consume.

Online Comic Creator Emi Gennis

Today’s interview with Emi Gennis concerns her online comic Owlex.  In it we talk about writing, drawing and producing a comic in an online forum. Emi’s main character, a ghost owl named Owlex, is based on a friend who committed suicide. Despite that Owlex, the comic, is more funny than tragic. The story follows Emi and her owl friend as they deal with life after his death, the afterlife, and the bars they go to after work.

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If you want to check out more of Emi’s work you can visit her site at Spazcomix.com.

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Representing Detainees at Guantanamo Bay (Part 2 of 2)

Jeffery Colman represented four men at Guantanamo Bay.  In this, the second part of a two part interview, Jeff talks about his clients, and being an American lawyer working with the detainees in Guantanamo.

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This is my second interview with a lawyer working at Guantanamo, the first was with Candace Gorman.

Because of the seriousness of the subject matter covered here this interview is only lightly edited and the conversation is presented almost in its entirety.  The first part of this interview is available here.

Representing Detainees at Guantanamo Bay (Part 1 of 2)

Jeff Colman represented four men at Guantanamo Bay.  In this, the first part of a two part interview, Jeff details his experience at Guantanamo and shares his perspective on the situation.

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This is my second interview with a lawyer working at Guantanamo, the first was with Candace Gorman, and you will hear Jeff reference that conversation here.

Because of the seriousness of the subject matter covered here this interview is only lightly edited and the conversation is presented almost in its entirety.  The second part of this interview will be available October 27th, one day after the release of the first part.

5 Questions For Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant Jackie Sloane

Are Leaders Born or Made?

An age-old question! Certainly, leadership comes more naturally to some people, but leadership is definitely something we can learn. Great leaders are often great learners, and cultivate an aptitude for learning around them. Life often presents us with unexpected opportunity to take on a leadership role, in an emergency, for example. Or, to stand up for what’s right. That soldier who turned in the Abu Ghraib images, for example, found himself in an ethical dilemma, and listened to what his heart told him was the right, yet difficult thing to do. That took leadership, and courage.

What are the common traits of good Leaders?

Leadership is a fairly new discipline, and our understanding of leadership is evolving, as our needs for leaders evolve. We used to think of leaders more as warriors or generals. People who would tell us what to do and when. Fearlessness continues to be an important leadership trait, but other critical traits include curiosity, superior listening and observation skills. The ability to recognize and surround yourself with excellent talent becomes more important all the time, as is the ability to bring out the best in people and to create a sense of community in which people work together to shape a desired future. The authors of Good to Great found that the companies they studied that had been significantly more successful than other firms in their industries all had leaders who shared a unique combination of strong will and humility.

Who needs to think about Leadership?

Everyone. Your career success will be shaped by the leaders you work with. Choosing the right people to work for is one of the single most important decisions you can make. You can learn a lot from both good and bad leaders, but good leaders can give you the support, mentoring and connections that will accelerate your career. When you are in an organization, the choices you make on a daily basis impact those you work with, your organization, your clients, and your opportunities, so the more you learn about leadership, the better. In recent years, we saw the downfall of the nation’s largest, most respected accounting firm, largely due to critical choices made by two individuals.

How can we help those who lead us (particularly our bosses) be better managers and leaders?

Think strategically, and holistically. What really matters to your boss? What is he or she working to achieve? What really matters to the leadership of your organization? If you aren’t sure, find out. Then position yourself as a driver of those initiatives. Think ahead. With whatever task you have been assigned, what might thwart success? What simple detail could blow implementation? What are the potential obstacles to achieving what really matters to your boss? How can you creatively address them? Share what you see and want to do with your boss for buy-in, always first positioning any conversation with your current understanding of what is important to what really matters to him or her. What relationships within or outside the firm are critical to driving the achievement of what matters to your boss and the leadership of the organization? Cultivate those relationships, and keep your boss apprised of how what you are doing is forwarding the agreed-upon agenda. Realize that most of our leaders or managers are not ideal bosses, and may not have had ideal bosses, so you will be more successful and satisfied if you learn the art of managing up, and take it on as part of your job.

What are the most common mistakes made by people in positions of leadership?

Surrounding themselves with people who agree with them and won’t challenge them. Not listening. Not encouraging others to challenge assumptions. Lack of curiosity. Arrogance. Profound change happens more frequently now than in the past, so effective leadership now and into the future requires flexibility and ongoing learning. As long as you are arrogant, you can’t learn.

About the Author – Jackie Sloane writes the Executive Coach column for Executive Travel, and on leadership and communication for Chicago Examiner She coaches leaders to achieve significant results and greater well-being through how they engage others, navigate challenges, communicate, and cultivate relationships, and leads programs on Generative Communication.

Bending Steel and Ripping Phonebooks: An Interview with Josh Hanagarne World’s Strongest Librarian (Part 2 of 2)

In this second part of my interview with Josh Hanagarne we talk about Josh’s Blog, bending steel and being in control of ones body.

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This is the second part of my interview with Josh Hanagarne.  The first, longer installment is available here. Josh talks about how he is not only able to live with Tourette’s but how “picking his own battle field”  has allowed him to flourish.

Living with Tourette’s Syndrome: An Interview with Josh Hanagarne World’s Strongest Librarian (Part 1 of 2)

Josh Hanagarne has a blog, bends steal, and works as a librarian, but most importantly (to me) Josh writes about all of these things in a passionate, simple, and immediate way.

I couldn’t wait to interview Josh there was way too much good material.  So, I broke the interview in to two sections by subject.  This podcast concerns living with Tourette’s Syndrome the second podcast concerns bending steal, band books, and Josh’s upcoming memoir.

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Notes: 1. I should mention that because of Josh’s Tourette’s you may hear a couple outburst during the podcast.  This is a tick and not something to worry you. 2. This interview was conducted over skype and the sound quality is poor, my apologies.

About Josh: Josh Hanagarne writes World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog with advice about coping with Tourette’s Syndrome, book recommendations, buying pants when you’re 6’8”, old-time strongman training, and so much more. Please subscribe to Josh’s RSS Update to stay in touch.

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