Today we’d like to introduce you to Z Aguirre, Mike “Stand” Garza and Daniel “Dan the Man” Muñoz.
When you see Dan, Mike, and Z standing next to each other it doesn’t easily make sense as to why these three are friends, let alone produce a podcast together. They have different personalities and have different perspectives on the important things in life. For example, Mike believes that Yeti is real and the other two are very disappointed in Mike for having that belief. However, if you were to ask each of them a question about their favorite movie, then you’d discover that they share the same language: films.
More than 20 years ago, when Dan, Mike, and Z met at Woodrow Wilson High School, located in El Sereno, they found that they had a profound love for movies. Their passion for science fiction and horror films led them to create a tradition that mixed movies and meals. Dan, Mike, and Z would go down to the local theater, Edwards Cinemas in Alhambra, and watch a midnight screening of whatever blockbuster was playing, inevitably ending up at a 24-hour Denny’s. They’d spend their early-Saturday hours — sometimes until 4 am — drinking coffee, eating pancakes, and talking about the movie they just watched.
The passion for films and cheap pancakes became the driving force that kept them friends for the next 20 years and the reason they created Movie Menu Podcasts.
In the summer of 2013, Dan, Mike and I watched Fruitville Station and debated the direction style that Ryan Coogler used to show how Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) was the victim of racial prejudice and bad luck. We were all in awe of Coogler’s directing, but we disagreed on the message of the film. Instead of being angry at each other for our differing opinions, we realized that, due to our different personalities, we each had a different perspective on the motives of the Director.
A few days later, Dan and I messaged each other with a similar thought: “Do you want to start a podcast?”
In developing the format for the show, we wanted to create a dialogue around films that were different from current YouTube reviewers. We wanted the format to be argumentative, but not aggressive. We wanted the reviews to be funny but informative. Most importantly, we wanted our voices and individual identities to be unique to our reviews! The format would be styled around Siskel (or Roeper) and Ebert, except instead of two educated cinephiles, it would be two cinephiles trying to convince their nerd friend to watch a movie immediately (dine-in), watch it at home (take out) or avoid the movie (leftovers).
The goal to Movie Menu Podcasts would be to create a space in which a listener could be the Host of the show and hear two or three informed critics attempting to convince you to watch a movie (or not).
The goal, however, was too difficult to achieve right away as we were inexperienced in many ways! Developing our confidence in our voices was going to be the most difficult part because it required all of us to risk our vulnerabilities to an audience.
Film criticism is easy when all you state is, “Watch this film because it’s fun!” but it becomes more difficult when you tie your own experience into the review, “Watch this movie if you want to experience what it’s like to be a minority in Los Angeles because I’ve had experiences like this character!” The reviews would require us to disclose our personalities to bring an informed and entertaining movie review that simulated being at a Denny’s. That, however, went with the risk of having those insecurities pointed out by others after we hit the publish button.
We went from being friends to being performers and that had to translate if we wanted to create a show that was simulating the experience of chatting with a friend. Ultimately, we had to ask ourselves a simple question at the end of our first year, “Is it worth it to risk so much for the sake of film criticism?”
We discovered that it was worth it to continue creating content because, looking back at the past five years, we have been able to tap into what makes LA so interesting: Its diversity.
After our first year, we realized that we weren’t as diverse as we needed to be to cover the developing Hollywood landscape. We tapped into filmmakers, artists, and nerds to give their perspectives on Blockbuster films and encouraged them to give voice to their personal experiences and knowledge. For example, did you know that there is a queer horror sub-genre?
Dan, Mike, and I focused on creating a community of guests who could be honest, funny, and friendly all the while giving their opinions on whether a movie is worth a dine-in, take out, or leftovers.
Movie Menu Podcasts has developed from a show about friends chatting about films to a show that invites guests that can add their voice to film criticism.
Has it been a smooth road?
Well, nothing comes easy.
We had an idea for our podcast and now we needed to execute it. With producing our own show, there were bound to be hiccups along the way. Especially when first starting out, our biggest struggle was producing weekly content. We did not realize how long it would take to record an episode and editing it down week to week. After a year, we definitely looked to each other to help carry that burden because it was such a long process.
Scheduling was another we had to figure out. Not just finding the time for us to record an episode, but adding a guest to the schedule was difficult. We would constantly be changing production days and times every week, which would affect our release date. What we quickly learned was that, if you are not consistent with your contents release schedule, then it’s tough to build a following.
Once we decided to record our show live, we were able to have an easier time creating the content weekly. We didn’t have to edit the show: what we produced was the final show!
We also created a master calendar with tentpole films we would review, when we would record, and giving guests the option to review a movie according to their schedules.
Social Media added another challenge and continues to be a challenge, as social media is its own beast. Getting yourself out there consistently is something we are still working on, but we continue to learn and grow.
Also, establishing roles behind the scenes really helped because it’s easy to try and do everything without communicating, but having specific roles really defined what was needed and who can help. Dan is in charge of scheduling guests and social media, Z is in charge of research and the episode thumbnail, and Mike is in charge of audio engineering and post-production.
Going live didn’t fix everything, but instead, it came with its own problems. Since going live meant anything can happen and it usually did. This left us open to many technical difficulties. Microphones not working, camera not picking up our microphones, battery failure… it probably happened to us!
What helped immensely, though, was meeting at least an hour before going live, to do pre-production. We set everything up, soundcheck, discuss any movie news that will be covered, and do a live test on a fake page we created to see if everything works before going live on our Facebook page. If anything goes wrong on our fake page, we can fix it before going live and it’s been such a big help.
Another thing we decided to do that was unique and helpful, was to take breaks and go on a hiatus during bad movie months. Since we are a weekly show that means we would have 52 episodes a year, but that doesn’t leave room to balance your life. So we decided to break the year up into seasons and take the months of January and September off.
We managed to break our year into three seasons: Spring season (February-April), Summer Blockbuster season (May-August), and the “Oscar Worthy” Fall Season (October-December). That way we know we can plan our lives and other things without getting burnt out.
Now that five years have passed, we have learned so much in creating content, but also continue to learn. We always have meetings to discuss the previous season and how we can step it up for the next season.
Spring 2020 season is going to be a great one! We hope you tune in!
Please tell us about Movie Menu Podcasts.
Movie Menu Podcasts offers movie news and reviews to its viewers weekly in our flagship show, Movie Menu Reviews. We also release Movie Menu Interviews, a show where we interview mostly Los Angeles based indie filmmakers about the films they’re working on and would like to promote. Throughout these past several years, there have been a lot of things we can be proud of and thankful for: being surrounded and inspired by indie artists who are honing their craft and fostering a filmmaker community.
In our Interviews, filmmakers share their experiences, struggles, success, and advice. It allows them to discuss their films from idea to completion. We’re continuously inspired by the knowledge and experience our guests share. The guests from our Interview series have helped our Review series evolve in a few different ways.
For example, Manuel Montanez, who we interviewed regarding one of his previous films, invited us to do a live show at his fundraiser for his new film Awkward Silence. This forced us to challenge ourselves and overcome our fears of making mistakes, missing our cues, and not relying on things to be fixed in post. As well as forcing us to step up our game, meaning; sounding knowledgeable, comfortable, and being able to speak in front of a live audience and live feed camera. This gave us the confidence to shift our prerecorded reviews show to a live show format (on Facebook).
As we continued to build our confidence, we set out another goal that we would have to step up to achieve and started the Movie Menu Film Festival. We compiled all the short films together that we discussed with each filmmaker we previously interviewed (with their permission), and thought it would be a great night to share their amazing films. This festival is our way of giving thanks and showing support to the filmmakers who’ve given us their time and patience on Interviews and Reviews and their willingness to join the movie menu community. The first Movie Menu Film Festival was held at Company of Angels Theatre at Legacy LA. It was a great success and will continue hosting this film festival for the community and filmmakers. Also, we wanted to create a live space where filmmakers would have a chance to speak with other directors and build connections. The Movie Menu community of fantastic and talented people continues to grow. That is something we can continue to be proud to create and foster.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
We are lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, the filmmaking capital of the world (well, if you don’t include Vancouver and Atlanta)! It’s easier to stay “in the know” when it comes to productions of films, taking advantage of limited releases since we’re given the option to review films ahead of their wide-release schedules, and a thriving area of local filmmakers that allows us to focus on creating an independent film community. Los Angeles gives you access to more opportunities to expand your film insight because of the festivals and people who work in the industry. So we do have the advantage of living here.
Specifically, concerning East Los Angeles, the community of filmmakers is rising. So much talent, dedication, representation, and diversity encompassing the different voices that reflect East LA. More stories, voices, and experiences are being told and we are excited to promote and interview those to help get their art out there. Do you have to live in LA to have a film podcast? No, you do not. Even if you don’t live in LA, you still can have a voice to contribute to the film criticism world. Just make sure it’s your voice.
If you’re a local filmmaker looking for a platform to discuss your films or passionate about movies and want to discuss them, feel free to reach out because we would love to hear from you.
- Website: www.moviemenupodcasts.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @moviemenupodcasts
- Facebook: @moviemenupodcasts
- Twitter: @mmpodcasts
Christopher Anthony Velasco