"It takes alot of failure to make some slim slithers of possibility happen."

MAMA’s former curator-gone-IT-teacher Marloes de Vries talks to John Michael Boling about the launch of the very first episode of the sci-fi webseries Culturesport. The interview takes place while Culturesport Studio is on the road for their screening tour visiting New York, Savannah, Macon, Athens and Atlanta. Athens is the birthplace of Culturesport, so in a way this tour will also be a homecoming.

Culturesport: Rotterdam 1995 S00 E00 was co-produced by MAMA in 2016. Culturesport is a music driven animated science fiction web series set inside a sprawling fictional universe – the result of intensive and ongoing collaborations between artists, designers, musicians, actors, dancers, brands, and CULTURESPORT’s in-house creative team. The occasion for this conversation is the launch of the Kickstarter campaign to fund new episodes of Culturesport. Check out the Kickstarter by clicking here.

Marloes and John Michael make their chat conversation public to give you a once in a lifetime chance at an insight into what has been their mode of communication for the past years. It goes, as usual, completely cross-platform and straight through different timezones.

Below you will find an edited version of the interview, supplemented with screenshots of the actual conversation – including photographs which were taken back in 2016. All send by Messenger, of course!

Wednesday May 22 @ 22:02 on Facebook Messenger

Marloes de Vries: ‘Hey 🙂 How you doing? Where are you now?’

John Michael Boling: ‘We just left the farm. We [Culturesport Core Creative Animation Team: John Michael Boling, Jason Coombs, Joe Kubler] are rolling into Athens [Georgia] right now.’

MDV: ‘Good old times. Gonna see all your buddies?’

MDV: ‘Hahaha. Helloooo!’

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JMB: ‘Meeting Greg [one of Culturesport’s animators] at the studio.’

MDV: ‘Whole o.g. studio crew together again.’

JMB: ‘Our projector blew up at our screening last night. Not like an explosion!’

MDV: ‘Oh no. Trail of wreckage all around the city. Lil’ Culturesport gifts.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, leaving bodies. We have to source a new projector.’

MDV: ‘Pff… But Athens should be easy, no?’

JMB: ‘Yeah, it’s gonna be a real homecoming. The real premiere.’

MDV: ‘Just let everyone watch on their phones, if your projector’s broken. Like a phone LAN party. Count down till everybody hits play at the same time.’

JMB: ‘A simultaneous world wide release! Next time, maybe. If there is a next time. I hope there will be. We just hit twenty percent funding.’

MDV: ‘Is the Kickstarter going as expected?’

JMB: ‘It’s not going viral or anything, but it’s a pretty weird thing we are trying to do. I assume this interview has already started?’

MDV: ‘Has it? How long will you be in the car for? Can I include the pictures you send?’

JMB: ‘Be in car for fifteen more. Yah, I’ll take some photos of the studio.’

MDV: ‘Awesome.’

JMB: ‘Then prolly be in and out, setting up for the show.’

MDV: ‘I remember this one sentence from another interview very well, where you said ‘a computer not connected to the internet is a very different thing.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, I stand by that. I miss that time in a lot of ways. [First production of Culturesport started in John Michael Bolings’ parent’s farm, disconnected from the internet.] When we left the farm my social media habits had been erased. Three and a half years later they have returned – although not full force. But just nog being slaved to the net made me way more productive creatively. I’d like to get some of that back.’

MDV: ‘And how did this offline work period  influence your first work on the show?’

JMB: ‘Well, it influenced it very deeply. First of all I couldn’t Google any answers to question regarding the animation software [Blender, open source] we used. So the aesthetic of the show was definitely in part created due to necessity. I had to figure out hacky ways to do things through trial and error. So I was using Blender in a pretty free and open-ended way. Like a caveman writing a song on a guitar, having no real formal training or reference of how you were supposed to use it. I feel like our stuff is different in part because we weren’t trained in a 3d-school or by the industry. It seems like most of those folks have just been chasing a Pixar aesthetic for so long, when the reality is that making work with 3d-software is still like the wild west. We have only really scratched the surface of the possible fidelities. It’s a really exciting time. What would be on the verge of happening? All of the 12 year olds who are learning Blender right now are going to really usher in a new landscape for media.’

MDV: ‘They’ll create chat bots that will take over the world.’

JMB: ‘Heheh. Or create chat bots that have heart and peacefully coexist with us. I have to believe that that is a possibility. That we can work something out with an artificial super intelligence, if one is to emerge.

MDV: ‘Didn’t one of those robots get a passport or some sort of rights somewhere?’

JMB:: ‘Probably.’

MDV: ‘Yes, I’m also not necessarily pessimistic about these developments.’

JMB: ‘The progress in the A.I. field is so insane right now. It’s hard for me to keep up. I feel like if a super intelligence emerges and it wants us dead, then there isn’t really anything we will be able to do about it.’

MDV: ‘I hope it’ll be quick.’

JMB: ‘So hopefully it will want to keep us as pets and not use us as meat.’

MDV: ‘I think I’d rather be dead than a A.I. pet. But hey, let’s go back to Athens 2015. When did you start recruiting your army of animators in order to create Culturesport?’

JMB: ’On the drive down to Georgia. Joe Kubler drove me and my two computers down from New York City to Georgia, because my license had expired. This was April 2014.’

MDV: ‘Such a hero, Joe.’

JMB: ‘Yah. I’d be dead in a ditch if it wasn’t for Joe. Or working in advertising.’

MDV: ‘Same thing.’

JMB: ‘Not sure which is worse.’

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MDV: ‘OMG, you still have the pizza box from all the pizza’s we send to your studio!’ [When the Culturesport Team was working to finish the first rough cut episode, MAMA send over pizza’s to their studio in Athens. Confused as the pizza place was they wrote Love from Ropperdam instead of Love from Rotterdam.]

JMB: ‘Yep. Those pizza dudes were so confused.’

MDV: ‘It was SO hard to get it done also. I think my greatest production achievement of all time.’

MDV: ‘Such a sexy flyer! I was wondering, what did you first think when this art space from Rotterdam contacted you?’

JMB: ‘I remember the team was in New York City randomly for something I can’t remember. We had our computers set up at Julian’s [Bozeman] place Dreamers Welcome. Our first phone call happened there. We were broke and a lot was going on.

MDV: ‘I chased you down for quite a while back then.’

JMB: ‘I remember being a little stand offish at first because I didn’t want this project involved in the fine art context. And I didn’t want to just make prints to put on a wall. Luckily you were super cool and my kinda weird.

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MDV: ‘You were just trying to break from this context, right?’

JMB: ‘Yep. It was and still is boring to me. Feels unnecessary in the current culture, like opera.’

MDV: ‘THIS INTERVIEW WILL BE ON A FINE ART WEBSITE! Haha.’

JMB: ’Like, it’s cool there are fans. But if you are thinking you are going to be making some sweeping cultural change in a gallery, you’re fooling yourself. From a fine art market perspective, anyway. MAMA’s roots go against that though.’

MDV: ‘Yes, they do.’

JMD: ‘Which is why it was a good fit.’

MDV: ‘I can’t really remember how we eventually came into making the first episode.’

JMB: ‘You asked me to come up with a proposal for the collab. And I did research.’

MDV: ‘That’s when you found out about gabber?’

JMB: ‘Yep, and that’s when I realised we could do an episode.’

MDV: ‘What would eventually become Season 00 Episode 00 of Culturesport!’

JMB: ‘Culturesport is very music focused at its heart.’

MDV: ‘Yes, you call yourself a music driven sci-fi.’

JMB: ‘So once I realized how dynamic gabber was and its connection to Rotterdam, I just had to reverse engineer a story idea from that. Figure out where the bad guys were in 1995.’

MDV: ‘Is there a crazy story map somewhere? Where you puzzle all the stories together? Or is that also Michael Yates Crowley’s [Culturesport’s scenario writer] mind?’

JMB: ‘It’s in alot of places. Started in my mind, then Michael and I worked together to flesh out the basics. We worked on a draft, and then when we were in Rotterdam [to visit MAMA] Michael finished the first draft.’

MDV: ‘How did your visit influence the story? I remember we met some people that were in the Gabber scene around 1995. And still are today. George from Rotterdam Terrorcorps, Milan who had all the photobooks he showed us.’

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JMB: ‘Our time in Rotterdam was foundational in setting up the tone of the episode. Meeting with George was unreal. I have so many pics I can send you from that meeting. As well as from the photobook from the sound engineer. Remember when we were recording the first takes in that homeless people community center? That place was cool.’

MDV: ‘Yes, Milan works there as a sound guy to help homeless teenagers to record their music. I think everybody that comes in contact with Culturesport has such a strong love for it. It’s magnetic, people want to be involved.’

MDV: ‘Ok JMB, it’s bed time for me. Let’s resume when you wake.’

Thursday May 23 @ 07:10 via Facebook Messenger

JMB: ‘OK, in the car. Just left the studio. Athens show was dope. CGI Joe performed. So did Jake Merrick, who wrote the main dream theme for Rotterdam 95.’

MDV: ‘Cool!! Great turnout?’

JMB: ‘Yeah, very good. We had home field advantage. We were originally thinking about doing a tour across America for like a full month, but that was way too expensive.’

MDV: ‘I can imagine.’

JMB: ‘We will hit the road for Atlanta. We are playing at a music venue tonight. Then another show tomorrow night in Atlanta at an arts center. Then we come back to Athens and close down the Athens studio, which is gonna be mega sad. I love that space so much. We just can’t afford to keep it and NYC.’

MDV: ‘:( But hey, now you have a studio in New York.’

JMB: ‘Yah, we have New York. But I’m getting restless there. It’s too expensive. What was nice about Athens and our studio was that it was like being on an island. Not too much going on. So you could really focus.’

MDV: ‘Full on concentration.’

JMB: ‘The pre-production and early creative for the Rotterdam episode came out of the Athens studio almost entirely. It was a good balance of just enough friends and just enough seclusion. Although it wasn’t all perfect. Working with you was interesting because of the time difference.’ [6 hours between Athens and Rotterdam].

MDV: ‘Haha, yes. Somehow made it feel very informal very soon.’

JMB: ‘Yeh. I would often decide just to stay up all night and catch you before I went to sleep.’

MDV: ‘I would wake up extra early.’

JMB: ‘Yeh. We go to be buddies real quick. Which was like so important. Imagine if we hated each other’s guts.’

MDV: ‘Hahaha, then this would never have happened.’

JMB: ‘It woulda gotten wrapped up quick. Would’ve been a four minute episode.’

MDV: ‘Would’ve been three prints on the wall! So hey, my previous question in regards to everybody that comes in contact with CS has such a strong love for it it’s magnetic, people want to be involved. I really like your take on using this (web) series as a vehicle to collaborate with artists from all disciplines.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, that’s the dream. And it worked out really well for Rotterdam.’

MDV: ‘Yes, it did. It felt like the best group show I did at MAMA.’

JMB: ‘That’s a good way of putting it. A few things need to happen for this to work really well going forward, though.’

MDV: ‘Like what?’

JMB: ‘One thing is that we need to remain as independent as possible. It’s an unconventional business model and hard to predict.’

MDV: ‘To be able to work with the people you want.’

JMB: ‘The only analogues for this kind of collaborative R&D exploration studio and production style that I can think of in the business world are like skunkworks operations within tech companies.’

MDV: ‘What’s skunkworks?’

JMB: ‘A skunkworks is basically when a big corporation, either by design intentionally or when a rogue product manager takes advantage of the shadowy corners of bureaucracy. Basically, a small group or team within a big organization shutters themselves away from the bigger corporation and focuses on a product without administrative oversight or the necessity of making revenue. Alot of cool things can happen in this scenario. So Culturesport is kinda like that, without the big corporate interface. Which is cool but unsustainable.’

MDV: ‘Haha, yes :(. I really like the fact that you train your animators in Blender.’

JMB: ‘It’s really cool that the current team is self-taught in house. I want to continue this, but don’t have the money or time to do this entirely.’

MDV: Yes! It’s also so much easier to learn something new when you know what you are doing it for.’

JMB: ‘I’d like to continue to train at least half of the team in house, but I also know we can learn a lot from including some 3d-mercenaries and old masters.’

MDV: ‘Maybe you could turn it into a trainee place where there is an educational aspect.’

JMB: ‘For sure. In our flow, learn from each other.’

MDV: ‘I think it is impressive anyway that Jason and Joe and Greg turned it out so well. Considering they had no knowledge of the 3D software at all.’

JMB: ‘It’s all about balancing the chemistry of everyone. They are amazing. Genius level talents. I was so lucky to be able to work with them on this. Very proud.’

MDV: ‘They’ve been very dedicated. That’s what I mean with the magnetic aspect. All the people we asked in Rotterdam to contribute to Culturesport were impressed and immediately willing and excited to collaborate.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, it was really inspiring. I think the project connects with people for alot of reasons. I don’t know why. I have always tried to cultivate a healthy Tom Sawyer vibe. Getting people to whitewash a fence, but in a way that isn’t to try to get out of doing work. But if people see other people working on something that is cool and looks fun, then they are more likely to want to hop on board and offer their work and experience. Even if it is alot of hard work. It’s fun to work with other people. Humans are collaborators by nature. It’s in our blood.’

MDV: ‘Unexpected things can happen when you work together. It’s like the sum of brains, but you’ll have to be able to let go of ownership and be open for the input of others.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, that’s been one of the tougher things for me. It was pretty hard at first to let people in in the creative work.’

MDV: ‘I can imagine, because prior to Culturesport you were an artist, primarily working alone, right?’

JMB: ‘It was tough to let Michael [Yates Crowley] do his thing at first. And the same with Joe, Jason and Greg.’

MDV: ‘To open up the story to others.’

JMB: ‘But there is no way for one person to do this by themselves this way yet.’

MDV: ‘I think also one person wouldn’t be able to create something like CS.’

JMB: ‘It’s just so much better with everyone’s input. It takes a village..

MDV: ‘To raise a chatbot!’

JMB: ‘I feel like I’m in a pretty great place with being open for all of that now, although sometimes I’m still a jerk about it.’

MDV: ‘I remember, haha.’

JMB: ‘I’ll always be selfish about certain aspects of it, but I don’t want to do this alone. I have been blessed to collaborate with everyone so far. I want to keep working with everyone. One thing I’m excited about trying out for the next season is splitting up the directorial responsibilities between episodes.’

MDV: ‘How would that work?’

JMB: ‘So having each of us direct one of the episodes and also working with other directors outside the core team for a few episodes. Well it’s how traditional tv works in most cases, because making a full season is so tough. You want people to be able to focus on different episodes from that perspective.’

MDV: ‘Would you get some female staff on board? 😊’

JMB: ‘That’s first on our list. Diversifying the team is critical. Working with you was amazing. Also our friend Lily Roche went through Blender training in the studio last year and is skilled enough to be put on production now. It’s just a matter of money. Couldn’t afford to hire her yet.’

MDV: ‘I would love to learn Blender.’

JMB: ‘Yes, you definitely should. If you’re gonna produce, that’s gonna be a pretty broad job. And at the very least you will need a baseline knowledge of the software. In order to effectively manage production control.’

MDV: ‘I heard there’s a new version of Blender coming up that is supposed to be easier.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, the new version is great. It’s still in beta, but we’ve switched over to it entirely and been using it pretty exclusively since Blender con. Hard to say if it will be easier. Learning 3d software is still really hard, but mostly because it just takes time. Like learning a guitar, anyone can do it. Muscle memory to make your fingers form chords.’

MDV: ‘But you need dedication. And a purpose.’

JMB: ‘Alot of the hard work of learning 3d software is just practice for memorizing commands and habituating a muscle response with your hands to be able to make the different keyboard combinations to summon the commands. Like learning chords on a piano or a guitar. Or I like to think of it like casting a spell. Black magic computer science.’

MDV: ‘Hahaha. So, how will you move on when you get the money for the first ep?’

JMB: ‘It depends. Hopefully we get the money to make more than one. That gives us alot more freedom of where to go with the story. In a weird way it’s cheaper to do more if we have the money beforehand. That way we can do pre-production for the whole season run. Pre-production is a big expense, but once all the assets are made they can be dropped into sets and animated and shot and lit more quickly. If we only do one episode we are going to have to rely on alot of the preproduction from Rotterdam 1995. BRB, bathroom break.’

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MDV: ‘Will we meet the characters from Rotterdam 1995 again in the upcoming episode?’

JMB: ‘Lol, that emoji. Characters from Rotterdam 95 will appear in the next season. When and where and who and how will depend on how many we are able to make. But the next seasons’ agenda is simple. To answer the question: ‘Where is my brother?’. I can give you a spoiler.’

MDV: ‘Ooooohhh. Live on the interview, haha.

JMB: ‘But it’s off the record.’

MDV: ‘Ah, ok. Do that later. I’m screenshotting the whole thing and making a big ass long picture on Photoshop. Hopefully the website will be able to handle it.’

JMB: ‘LOL. Word. Well, what I can say is that Ton, Bas, Renny and Yost play big roles in the larger Culturesport story. Which is one of the cool things about making tv. Not everything has to be figured out. Ton, Bas and Renny were created for this episode. Yost has always been a big bad. But now Ton, Bas and Renny play big roles. And I care about them as characters. If it hadn’t been for our collab, they would never have existed.’

MDV: ‘I also care about them! I’m happy we’ll be meeting the characters again. Also very curious to the answer on Where’s My Brother?’

JMB: ‘It’s a reallllllllly reallllllly..’

MDV: ‘Far stretch?’

JMB: ‘Cool answer.’

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MDV: ‘Ok! Why did you decide to go for Kickstarter?’

JMB: ‘We want to keep making this thing independently and focus on it full time. It takes too much time and creative energy to support the production with freelance work. It’s just unsustainable. So we figured we would give Kickstarter a shot. Release Rotterdam 95 for free and see if enough people want to see the next episode. Enough to fund it.’

MDV: ‘How will you release the episodes online?’

JMB: ‘We will release the eps for free on Youtube if we raise enough funds for the whole season. We will begging production immediately after the campaign ends and start releasing the episodes every 6 weeks beginning in 2020.’

MDV: ‘Did you think of making some kind of paywalls?’

JMB: ‘I don’t like paywalls for media. 13 year olds don’t have credit cards. I want them to be able to see it for free, so they can hopefully be inspired in some weird way and maybe eventually create new technologies. Cure cancer, because why not. Imagination and creativity are our species super powers.’

MDV: ‘I remember talking about making it open source for others to collaborate on online.’

JMB: ‘Yes, open sourcing it is an option. I’d like to do it responsibly. It’s on the table for the future but I’d like the universe to be more fleshed out and developed to have a real cannon. So the community content can coexist with it in a real way.’

MDV: ‘It would be so cool to see fan art created with the source.’

JMB: ‘The kid who made the first Culturesport fan art…’

MDV: ‘Renny and the Creeper smut’

JMB: ‘… who found us randomly on Kickstarter, is playing our show tonight.’

MDV: ‘So cool! Where?’

JMB: ‘He’s hopping on last minute in Atlanta. He is still in high school but is very talented. We’ve never met him IRL.’

MDV: ‘Is this @superheaven?’

JMB: ‘Yah, @itssuperheaven.’

MDV: ‘That’s it! Haha. so great. Lover from the first start, just like me. #fangirl. Ok, I think I might have enough material to work with. Anything you would like to conclude on? Or that is not said yet?’

JMB: ‘Not that I can think of.’

MDV: ‘Thank you for doing this weird reminiscence interview with me. Felt like old times. And I’m really rooting for you guys! (And me, haha). Will make sure that EVERYBODY watches the episode and gets hooked.’

Thursday May 23 @ 07:56 on Instagram 

MDV: ‘Hey, did you see my messages?’

JMB: ‘I saw you sent messages, but have literally been packing and moving out of the studio all day. Just wrapped up.’

MDV: ‘Can you send me this in Facebook messenger so I can include it in the interview?’JMB: ‘LOL. Not right now. You can still include it in the interview. It’s cool that it’s cross platform.’

MDV: ‘I’ll have to send this interview by my tomorrow.’

JMB: ‘Yeah, just send it. I trust you.’

MDV: ‘Ok, great.’

JMB: ‘If I sound like an asshole, Then I’m an asshole.’

MDV: ‘Can you somehow make an ending? Now it looks like I’m thanking you and then silence.’

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JMB: ‘Ok. The world sucks, but it’s yours. You can change it, but it’s gonna take hard work and inspiration. And faith in your species. Most of you will fail, but some won’t. It takes alot of failure to make some slim slithers of possibility happen. So, throw yourself on the fire and burn for things you care about. If you care about them, then the work you do is worth it. Regardless of whether anyone gives a shit about it. It’s worth it because you care. That’s all that matters. Just work hard on things you care about. And fuck the haters. Fin.’

MDV: ‘You need sleep.’

This story was created by Marloes de Vries in honour of the Kickstarter for Culturesport. The very first episode of Culturesport was originally co-produced in collaboration with MAMA back in 2016.

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