Gregg Turkington: The Internet’s True Film Buff

The real host of On Cinema at the Cinema keeps film criticism alive.

On Cinema

    “Hey guys.” Rarely have two words felt so warm and positive than those said by nice guy Gregg Turkington. Though, as the old adage tends to go, nice guys finish last, and that’s certainly been the case for the wise film buff. For years, he’s had to sit patiently next to his erratic colleague, Tim Heidecker, who painfully steered their online show, On Cinema at the Cinema, off course with his own personal dramas, political diatribes, and holistic beliefs. Sometimes bandaged, often bruised, and always unprofessional, the incorrigible host repeatedly berated Turkington each episode despite exhibiting an embarrassing lack of film prowess himself. By the end of last season, it was quite apparent that whatever love Heidecker once reserved for celluloid had been lost somewhere during his multiple motorcycle rides between Hollywood, CA, and his temporary home in Jackson Hole, WY.

    Now, left to his own devices, Turkington has brought On Cinema at the Cinema back to where it belongs by focusing the show on film and only film. Gone is the useless Dr. San and the treacherous Ayaka Ohwaki and in is the great W.C. Fields and a volley of soon-to-be-enjoyed Popcorn Classics. It’s a marvelous time for Bond freaks, Hobbit heads, and young film buffs, which is really what the Internet has always been about. When Turkington spoke to Consequence of Sound last week, he was mere hours away from following up his excellent debut episode with what was destined to be a stellar second round. Of course, dreams can’t last forever, and unbeknownst to us, the Timtatorship mounted a villainous comeback, threatening the very fabric of online film criticism. Now, the future remains unknown for On Cinema at the Cinema: Will Gregg stay host, or will Tim wrongfully take back what’s technically his?

    You’ll have to tune into Adult Swim this Wednesday to find out. In the meantime, read our enlightening conversation with Turkington below, and be sure to voice your support on Twitter for the Internet’s true film buff. Hopefully, to quote Hobbit’s Thorin Oakenshield, “There are a few warriors amongst us.”



    Hey Michael! How are you doing?

    Good, good. How are you doing?

    Good, good. Just a busy day. We’re getting ready to film episode two of On Cinema for this season, so I’m just running around, and you know, there’s a lot to be done.

    Well, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. I know it’s gotta be hard being a host and a guest of your own show. How do you do it? It seems like a lot of work!

    It’s a lot of work because, you know, we used to do the show the old way when Tim [Heidecker] was hosting. And nothing against that show, it was fantastic and I’ve really developed a new respect for what it takes to host the show, but for those episodes I could kind of show up, and I knew that any curve ball he threw me — any sort of movie trivia that he wanted to push my way — I knew that I would have the answer just because I have that stuff in my head and in my heart.

    But when I’m hosting it, I actually have to do a lot of pre-preparation. I’ve always done these outside segments, which really has helped make the show successful … but just in terms of the introductory talk that you have to script out to make sure things run on time, and coordinating with the guests, and coordinating with the camera people, and all this sort of stuff, it’s really not a one-person job. I have to salute Tim for being able to do it all that time, and I guess in a way it sort of explained why a lot of his film criticism was so subpar, you know? ‘Cause he had a lot on his plate.

    He did! I can’t imagine having to write the show and also find time to watch all of those movies!

    Well, that’s the fun part. I’m not going to complain about having to watch the movies; that’s actually the part that makes it all worthwhile. And you know, we’ll watch all the movies that are coming out that week, and then you have your own extracurricular activity, as I call it, which is watching movies from my library collection and things that I just watch during the course of the day anyways. So, by the end of the week, you’ve seen an awful lot of movies, and you just want to make sure you can keep all of the details straight and make sure you come armed with some information that’s useful to the viewer.


    When you watch movies, do you take notes? Or do you just absorb it all?

    I just absorb it all. I think when you’ve watched as many movies as I have, it’s not really necessary to take notes. Your brain sort of becomes a notepad in a way, and I’m always absorbing names of the gaffer and the key grip and anything in the credits that’s worth memorizing so that if you’re called on to discuss that, you’ve got that information.

    Well, you’ve been getting glowing reviews so far as a host. I thought last week was great, and as a one-man show, you can do this perfectly.

    Thank you.


    This response shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. Everyone loved you as Kington in Decker.

    Yeah, and that was funny. I mean that was so unexpected the way [the series] came out and, you know, initially I didn’t know I was involved with it and, as it turns out, I was and I have to admit I was resistant. That was a mistake because, in fact, I think Decker is one of the best movies or TV series out there.

    Are you returning back for the second season?

    Well, Tim just got in today — he’s come back from Jackson Hole. He has some ideas. There were certain things about our premiere that he felt that I could have done better at, and you know… I was pretty happy with it, and it seemed like the viewers were happy, but, you know, Tim’s a perfectionist, and so he has a few ideas that he wants to run by me. He’s going to stay strictly behind the scenes, behind the lens. We’re keeping the same cast that we’ve had for the first episode for the duration of the season, but his advice will be invaluable.


    Now, he mentioned very briefly — and we’ve been talking about a lot of things, whether it’s lighting, sound, or issues like this — that he wants to discuss the future of Decker with me, so I’m kind of just waiting to see when he gets back from lunch today if we’re going to be able to talk about that because I’m really, really excited to pursue that further.

    Well, that’s good. It seemed like a manipulation on his behalf last season, though.

    Yeah, it started out that way.

    Were you angry at first?

    I was. Because, you know, I’ll admit when I’m wrong, and I thought that the whole Decker thing, the test footage that he had showed earlier before he actually shot the series, I thought it was pretty poor. I thought it was taking focus away from what he should be doing, which was working on On Cinema and trying to make that show the best that it could be. So, I admit I had sort of a negative attitude about it, and then the way that he tricked me, you know … He did this bogus interview segment … I thought he was genuinely interested in my opinions about these things, but he kept kind of feeding me answers and took that footage, used it in Decker.

    No one was more shocked than me, and initially I was very angry about it, but there was something to that performance that really struck a chord with people. And you know, different directors in the history of cinema use different techniques to get great performers out of people. I’ve heard about people whispering into a child’s ear that a beloved pet has been hit by a car or whatever, and then the next thing you know, the child’s crying, and you get nominated for an Oscar — like what Justin Henry did for Kramer vs. Kramer.


    So, you know, the end result is you want to make the best movie and the best web series that you can make, and sometimes you have to use strange strategies. That’s what makes great series like James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek — that’s what makes them all great is thinking outside the box.


    I think “strange” is a good word for Tim. He was a little reckless and crazy last season. Do you think it was all the juggling between Decker, Hog Shots for Heidecker Publishing, and On Cinema?

    He gets led down the wrong path so easily and loses focus of what’s important in life, which is reviewing these movies and putting a show out there as a public service so people know what to watch and what to skip. And whether it was his acupuncturist … I don’t know if you saw this guy Dr. San, but this guy set off so many alarm bells with me and I was asking Dr. San about … before we started filming that day … I was asking him what his opinion was on Bruce Lee in the Game of Death, Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, and some of these classic movies, and Dr. San didn’t even know what I was talking about.


    So, right away, I’m thinking this guy is not any sort of holistic healer, because these Bruce Lee movies are classics, and they take place in Asia, and they deal with a lot of the same issues that Dr. San should be familiar with, and, sure enough, Tim gets infected with these needles. He’s very erratic sometimes, and it tends to coincide with him not spending enough time in the movie theater and not spending enough time with me talking about movies, thinking about movies. The more you go down these side paths and get involved with these diversions, the harder it is to produce a good show, and you know, he really falls for some … I hate to say it … but some real fraudulent folks, and getting in with this biker gang that ultimately ended up driving him out of Jackson Hole.

    Now, I don’t know if he said this yet, but he got his ass kicked the other day at his local bar by some of these guys we thought were his friends, and, uh, they’re calling him a Hollywood hotshot and this sort of thing and beat the shit out of him … And I think that’s one of the reasons he’s come back to California.

    And he said that he had fallen, right?

    Well, that was an earlier incident! That was when he fell off the motorcycle in the parking lot. [Pause.] You know, he’s great at hosting … I mean if he wants to find other activities, I wish he would maybe host a second movie show that I could work on with him. We’ve got On Cinema, which is now my show, but maybe we could bring back On Cinema After Dark, which was a show that he was interested in. I would love to get that thing back on the air or maybe a third show even about upcoming movies that are going to be on television that week — you know, oldies or things like that? Any type of show like that would be a better use of his time than taking photos of motorcycles that, really, none of our movie buffs who watch the show are really interested in. [Pause.] They’re more interested in E.T or A.I. or some of these movies.


    The whole thing with Ayaka Ohwaki, too. You dropped the bombshell of truth last season about his illegitimate child with her, and he clearly just couldn’t handle it. Was that why he walked off and left the show?

    Well, I mean, then you’re getting into personal matters, and I don’t know if I should even be commenting on that, but you know, certainly, it’s something he comments on during the show frequently. If I showed you, and I wouldn’t mention this on air, but I’ll tell you, if I showed you the piles and piles of letters and cards that I have from people saying we’re not interested in Ayaka, we’re not interested in your baby, we’re not interested in your diabetes, we’re interested in movies, and can we please steer the show in that direction … and all that stuff, I think, is a distraction to the viewer. And these viewers are smart people. These are real film buffs. These are card-carrying film buffs, and to them, having to hear about this other stuff … it really keeps the show from being as good as it could be.

    Oh, I agree. There’s also no room for politics in film, and I think that’s something Tim needs to learn.

    Can you imagine if you’re watching the new James Bond movie and Bond suddenly stops saving the world and looks out at the camera and starts lecturing you about John McCain or any of these topics that Tim wants to bring up? I mean, the movie’s dead, that’s not what you’re paying your money to go see. A movie should not be a soapbox for ideas. This is there to entertain us and to help enrich our dreams, and it’s the same with a film criticism show. People want criticism on film. Now, if Tim wants to come in with a frozen TV dinner, a banquet, the thing with the chicken and potatoes and green peas and stuff and review that for the duration of the show, no one’s going to want to see that, either.


    So, it’s not that it’s just politics. It’s something that is not movies, and the show’s called On Cinema. The show’s not called On Whatever Happens to Run Through Tim’s Brain Today. That’s not the name of the show. I think that he’s really alienated a big segment of our film buff audience, and that’s why I’m glad that this season we’ve re-focused on movies and movies only. And you’re not going to hear anything about, you know, my toes, or what my doctor said about this or that, or my veterinarian, or some canned pork and beans, or any of these topics that Tim brings up. It’s going to be movies, movies, movies, and when it’s not movies, it’s going to be about people who make movies: the actors, the directors, the writers, and people like that who our viewers are interested in hearing about.

    I think that’s been the problem from the beginning.

    It was degrading the whole series.

    I just hope Tim sees that you can run this yourself. He responded to last week’s episode on YouTube, which I thought was pretty unprofessional, and you explained this week on Twitter that he’s now advising behind the scenes? What’s going on there?

    Well, this is a sensitive subject because I was fine guiding this show through this season on my own, but it’s hard. I’m going to have to agree that it is very hard to do it all on your own. Tim wasn’t happy with a couple of things about the first episode; you know, we’re working a few bugs out. I think we were 99.9 percent there with making it the show it could be, but there were issues, whether it’s the lighting or the sound or some of these minors issues that, to the viewer, don’t matter, but to someone like Tim, they matter a great deal. So, he does theoretically have the rights to the On Cinema franchise, and so he…


    Unfortunately, if he feels strongly about these things, I do have to listen. He has some great ideas about sound and lighting and things like that, and so I think coinciding with him getting beaten up in Jackson Hole, and he was unable to get running water and a lot of other issues, he’s decided to come back. I think he fully understands that this season is set in stone in how it’s going to run and that we’ve got our cast for this season, we’ve got the movies picked out that we’re going to review each week, we’ve got all these outside segments that I’ve gone and filmed and have planned to film and all this sort of stuff.

    So really, the only room for him would be in an advisory capacity, and I’m very happy that he’s going to come by and help us out with that. He had some great ideas this morning about some things that we could do and additional segments that we’re considering and that type of thing, but no, there’s got to be a limit to his contribution because he’s no longer the host of the show.

    No, no … and I don’t think the fans want him to be. They’ve answered, and you’re their new host. And I think this gives the show more of an opportunity to go back to some segments he disapproved of — like, for example, I enjoyed the “On Cinema, On Location” segments.


    Thank you.

    Why wouldn’t we want to see all the locations for Oh, God!? You can’t just see one. There are multiple locations in one movie. Is that something you’re going back to?

    Oh yeah. We had another 10 locations from Oh, God! that I had diligently researched and tracked down, and we were filming those segments as quickly as we could … and he just shut it down. You saw how he shut down the last one in the middle of the segment. People didn’t even get to see how the segment ended; you know, it ends up being a cliffhanger, and it wasn’t intended to be a cliffhanger.

    And then you’ve got Oh, God! Book II and Oh God! You Devil, and you know I started doing preliminary research into those locations, as well. We were getting a great response. The fact is that is one of the all-time classic comedy franchises, and people come out from Europe, from Italy, Switzerland, from New Zealand, from all over the world to come to Los Angeles, and they’re interested in the history of where these great movies were made, you know?

    And that has always been a very popular segment and I put a lot of time and work into it: into scripting it, into filming it, and again, into tracking down the locations. He just poop poos it, and he asked me to provide these outside segments when the show first started — just to help fill up the time. And I think I’ve risen to the occasion in a big, big way, and I felt that was very disrespectful the way he shut that down last year.


    We’re definitely going to be back with some “On Cinema, On Location”, and I’ve got a lot more tricks up my sleeve. A lot of new segments, stuff with this “Golden Age Comedies”, which as you know, is a real firecracker of a segment. We’re getting amazing, amazing responses from that thing. At this point, the question is “do we have two of those per episode,” you know, because the response has been absolutely overwhelming in favor of it.

    And that’s just part of being a host. The demand is going to get higher and higher per episode.

    It is and I think because I have five years of being a guest and learned a lot from that, I think I’m ready to rise to the occasion and make the show work. Nobody’s a better host than Tim. I always will tip my hat to the way he hosted the show. I do think that he would get distracted by other issues and sometimes take the show in wrong directions that people weren’t interested in, but just in terms of being able to moderate a show and keep it moving and all that, I mean nobody is better and I definitely learned a lot from watching him. Now it’s my chance and my turn to go out on my own and to share my expertise and to hopefully become a better host with each episode.

    You’re coming off a big transitional year. You persevered through 500 movies in 500 days. 501, actually. Was there ever any doubt you would be able to accomplish it?

    There were times where it seemed impossible. I put myself out there and raised money — thanks to all the contributors, if you’re reading this — and I had gotten a lot of people on my side. There were people in Finland, who had made t-shirts with my picture that said, “500 days,” or “500 movies in 500 days” … they had that on the t-shirt and things of this nature. We got about a quarter of the way through and I’m just thinking, There’s a reason that this hasn’t been done, this is hard work. It’s not just setting aside the time to watch the movies, you’ve got to pick the right movies. You can’t watch the wrong movies in something like that, or it really just sullies the whole record. At one point, I think it was day 475, and I’d only seen 472 movies, so I had to pull an all-nighter to catch up to get back on pace. There was one point where I was 10 movies ahead of pace, and that was great. I thought, Okay, I can do this, this is good. So, it was a real roller coaster of emotions.


    The last night we plotted out and had a camera crew ready and everything for me to set the world’s record — 500 — by attending this 10 o’clock showing of the new Hobbit movie so that all the worlds would come together perfectly. And, you know, I knew it wasn’t a good day because we got a cease-and-desist letter from the Hobbit people, because we were going to film me watching the entire movie, but they said, “Well no, because then you’re putting the entire movie as a live stream on the web,” which is true. I didn’t consider that if you film me watching the whole thing, and that movie was new at that point, they don’t want it up on the web. So we were told we couldn’t do that, and then I get to the front of the line, and they said, “There’s no more tickets. You should have bought your tickets online ahead of time. That’s what all these people did.”

    And to me, the way you go to a movie, you walk up, you buy the ticket, you buy some popcorn, you buy a soda pop, it shouldn’t have to involve a computer. You don’t have to own a computer to enjoy a movie. You’ve got 90-year-old men who’ve been going to the movies since they started, and they’ve never touched a computer in their lives, and you can’t exclude them from the movie-going experience, you know? I mean … the next thing you know, you’re going to have the buy the popcorn online before you get there, and to me, that’s wrong.

    Unfortunately, it screwed everything up, and so the day ended and we were only at 499. Then I realized, well, there’s a work around if I watch two movies on day 501, then we still total 501 movies in 501 days and that’s really what it was all about. It was never about seeing one per day; it’s about seeing 501 movies in 501 days. If I’d watch all 501 in the first 1,002 hours and then waited until 501 days had gone by, I still would have done it: 501 movies in 501 days. But I didn’t do it that way. I did it my own way, and I’m very proud of what I accomplished.


    Now you have the whole year ahead without having to commit to another record. You can focus on one movie at a time.

    Exactly. And these people, they get in touch — I’m sure you’ve seen these wisecrackers online — and say, “I watched plenty of movies. I’ve probably broken your record.” Well, you know, that’s like saying, “Well, I’ve run pretty fast when I’m jogging. I’ve probably broken the Olympic gold record. I mean, come on, you know … “probably,” “might have,” “I think I do this” … it’s not really the same. When you actually get in that seat, and you’re actually writing these movies down, and pacing yourself, and keeping track of them, and you’re in communication with the Guiness Book, all that, it’s a very, very different kind of thing. You can’t be a Monday morning quarterback and break a record that never happened.

    You mentioned Hobbit 3, though, and we’re coming up on the Oscars. Do you have any insight into the Academy Awards this year and any bold picks? Is this finally the year for Peter Jackson and Hobbit?

    Definitely. I have 100 percent confirmation. I actually have an inside source at the Academy, and now this is controversial, and I’m the first to reveal this; there’s people who don’t agree with me, and you know I’m fine with that because they’ll be proven wrong. You may have noticed that when the nominations this year for Best Picture were announced, there were only eight pictures nominated. Last year, there were 10. The year before, there were 10. That’s how many there’s always been: 10. Eight this year? Now, it can’t be that there weren’t 10 good movies this year because, in fact, 2014 was a red-letter year — actually, one of the best years for movies on record, if not the best — so it’s not that there weren’t 10 movies to choose from. It’s that Oscar’s television ratings, because people go to the movies all the time and don’t watch TV, the Oscars are put on TV. Now, if they put the Oscars in a movie theater, and you went to the theater and bought a ticket to watch the Oscars being simulcast, that has a lot more appeal.


    People don’t want to watch TV. They want to have popcorn. They want to be in the theater setting. The ratings have been going down each year, so in order to boost the ratings, they’re playing a little game with the viewers and I support this. They’re announcing eight nominees now, you’re going to wait until the Friday before the awards ceremony, which is going to be the 20th of February — Friday February the 20th — and then they’re going to announce the last two nominees for Best Picture. This is going to drive interest because right now a lot of people are furious that The Hobbit wasn’t nominated and that Annie wasn’t nominated and people don’t get it. It’s created a lot of controversy and a lot of buzz and a lot of anger. And on February the 20th, they’ll say, “Look, Annie and The Hobbit were both nominated. We just weren’t announcing them right away.” Then, the Annie heads are satisfied, they tune in, the Hobbit heads are satisfied, they tune in. Really, the Best Picture battle is going to be between those two late-comers to the nominating process, and in the end, The Hobbit does have the votes and it will emerge triumphant.


    Well, I hope. It’s a long, long trek, but it worked out for Peter Jackson on Return of the King. It makes sense.

    Exactly, and if you study the Oscars, it’s always about history repeating itself, and I can guarantee you, Jackson will walk home with 11 Oscars on February 22nd.

    Speaking of history repeating itself. Do you think VHS will have a comeback?

    It never left. Never left! People hailed the VHS format as dead. The VHS format is thriving. There’s never been a time in human history when you couldn’t walk into a flea market or a thrift store or whatever and build the most incredible film library on your block for 30 or 40 dollars. You know what I’m saying? To me, the availability of movies to build a collection with at a price that someone can afford, that’s the dream. There’s never been a better time to be a film collector. Now, I remember for 20, 30 years I wanted to buy a VHS film: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Buddy Buddy. Did you remember that picture from 1979? It was a classic! Those two greats reunited. I wanted to own this thing for myself. I went down to the local shop, it was $59.99 to buy a copy of Buddy Buddy.

    Nowadays, I’ve seen Buddy Buddy as cheap as 25 cents. I own six copies of it. I have multiple copies of a lot of these movies, because when you see them at these prices … Do you know how much it used to cost a buy a 35mm print of How I Won the West or Gone with the Wind, something like that, to screen for your guests at a party? You try screening a copy of Dr. No, 35mm print in 1975, try screening that at a party … There’s not enough money in the world that could have made that happen, and now you can do it for a dollar. It’s incredible.



    Gregg, once again, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule. I know you’re filming today. We’re huge cinephiles at Consequence of Sound. We couldn’t do it without your guidance.

    Well, let me ask you what your favorite movie is…

    It would have to be Back to the Future.

    Oh, that’s a great one. Classic.

    A good popcorn classic.

    I like the third one the best, but they’re all pretty classic, and I’d love to see that get remade and redone and bring back some of the old cast and bring in some of the new because I feel like that story was never really finished. I’d love to see more.

    time-changerPeople like time travel. People really dig the idea that you can go visit the past, or you can go visit the future, or you can just stay in the present.

    Well, I’m going to recommend a movie for you, if you’d like that, because that’s what I do: I turn people on to movies and share my expertise and that sort of thing. If you like Back to the Future, there’s a movie from 2002 called Time Changer, and it stars Gavin McCloud and Hal Linden. I would say, in a sense, it’s an unofficial remake of Back to the Future, and it’s really interesting. The same time machine is used and very different results. It’s a fun movie, and it didn’t get its due, and I really recommend it for you.


    Well, now I know what to watch tonight. I’ll go look for it this afternoon.

    Dig around. You’ll probably have to get down on your hands and knees and dig through some piles, but that’s part of the fun of being a movie buff.

    Oh, absolutely. That’s probably more fun than watching the actual movies sometimes: the search.

    Sometimes it is. Just pulling out the movie. You know, I was looking for The Odd Couple II, to get back to Lemmon and Matthau … finding that on VHS tape was a real struggle. They just didn’t make many of them, you know? And I was in Downey, which is in the LA area at just a garage sale — an old woman having a garage sale — and she had about a dozen tapes, and there it was. And she wanted 25 cents for it, and it made my day. To quote Clint Eastwood, it made my day.

    There you go again, Gregg. You just live and breathe movies.

    I sure do.

    Now that you’ve heard the truth, dive into the mucky underbelly of lies, thanks to Dan Caffrey’s recent interview with Tim Heidecker.

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