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Oregon Lens 2014 Filmmaker Profile: Boaz Frankel

Boaz Frankel, host and co-creator of The Pedal Powered Talk Show

Boaz Frankel, host and co-creator of The Pedal Powered Talk Show

Nora Fisher-Campbell/OPB

Oregon Lens is celebrating its 16th year on OPB. The program takes the pulse of the Oregon independent film community, highlighting quality cinematic works from seasoned professionals to students. View broadcast schedule

Boaz Frankel, to say the least, is a character. A Portland native and local filmmaker, Frankel is known for his curation of a kazoo museum, a documentary-musical about the plight of an endangered beetle, and a 12,000-mile, zigzagging cross-country trek using 101 modes of transportation, none of which was the gas-powered car.

Frankel’s latest project is The Pedal Powered Talk Show. Episodes of the web series, hosted by Frankel, feature interviews conducted from a portable talk show desk attached to the front of a Metrofiets cargo bike. Frankel and his co-creator, Phillip Ross, pedal around Portland and beyond to meet and speak with guests ranging from flute makers to famous drag performers to Vacuum Cleaner Museum curators. The episode “Wind Dancer Flutes” is featured as part of this year’s Oregon Lens series.

We spoke with Frankel about his career and his work on The Pedal Powered Talk Show.

Q&A with Boaz Frankel

OPB: How did you become interested in filmmaking?

Boaz Frankel: Well, I think it probably goes back to high school and middle school, whenever I could get away with making a movie for something. My friends and I would film Civil War re-enactments in our back yard and sort of do as many videos as we could. And then I went to college and majored in playwriting at NYU and quickly realized that I was less interested in playwriting than I was in TV production and stuff like that. So I started getting involved in the local TV channel at NYU and started a late-night talk show there, and then started making films and different sorts of little interstitial stuff to air on there.

OPB: So what inspired The Pedal Powered Talk Show?

BF: Well, that got started because I did this trip in 2009 where I zigzagged across America using everything except a gas-powered car. It was called “The Un-Road Trip,” and I covered 12,000 miles on 101 modes of transportation. I filmed it all and created little online films about it and later turned it into a miniseries. And during that trip I would be out in the middle of nowhere riding kayaks in Florida and then all these news vans would come out to interview me, which was nice, but it seemed sort of counterintuitive that here I was on this car-free trip and then making all these giant news vans come meet me places. And so I started thinking, well, I wonder if I could, you know, put a TV production into a bicycle. I wonder if I could put all that video equipment onto a bike and have it sort of contained.

So when I got back to town, I was chatting with Phillip Ross, who owns Metrofiets — they build cargo bikes in town, these Dutch-style cargo bikes, so I was chatting with him about it, and he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ And so we built this almost Carson-style talk show desk and built it onto the front, had that built in Kenton at a bamboo furniture place, and then put that onto the front of one of Phil’s cargo bikes that he had modified to make it fit. Then we started doing it about three years ago.

OPB: Do you have a favorite story?

BF: My favorite one I think we ever did was the one I submitted to you guys — the one with Roger McGee, the Native American flute maker. What a cool guy! He sort of found this unique art form and really pushed the limit, and also just clearly [loves] flutes so much that he’s built it into everything he’s done. He just keeps pulling stuff out and it’s all a flute! It was just a hoot, so that was really one of my favorites. But recently we’ve been talking to sort of local icons — we talked to Darcelle, and tomorrow we’re releasing an episode with the Unipiper, who’s the guy who dresses up as Darth Vader and rides the unicycle and plays bagpipe. I mean, selfishly, it’s an excuse to meet all these people that I want to have an excuse to sit down and chat with.

OPB: Humor seems to be really important to the way you approach different subjects, but you’re also obviously genuinely interested in all the people that you interview and what they do. What sort of role does humor play in your way of approaching subjects?

BF: In the first season of the show I would do this thing where I would have my nephews, who were then 5 and 8, ask a question to the guest, and they would just be on a video that I would show the guest, and it would sort of be disarming. And then this year we introduced the Ask-o-Matic, which was this wooden box that you would crank and a question comes out. And I don’t know the questions — I have somebody else write them, so I’m just as surprised as they are. And I think I like that because I think the fact that we can both be surprised by it and both experience it, even if it’s absurd, like, ‘How many bananas do you think you could eat in five minutes?’ we’re both surprised by it, and no one’s on higher ground …

Already baked into the show is this absurdity, you know, that we have this desk set up in this guy’s studio, and we’re pedaling up there, and it’s sort of like I’m sitting inside of it like a little dog in a sidecar or something. So I think there’s a whole levity and absurdity about it that after I ask people and they watch an episode, they’re sort of game. They know it’s going to be fun, and I like that.

I worked in entertainment journalism sort of stuff for years in New York, and you go to press junkets and movie premieres and it’s really a drag because no one wants to talk to you there. They just do it because they have to and a lot of people who do these circuits, they just answer the same questions again and again and again, so I think, you know, to show we’re not like that. We’re here to have fun, and hopefully this will be a fun experience for our guest as well.

OPB: Do you have a day job?

BF: I do. I’m a copywriter at The Great Society, which is a little ad agency here in town. I was doing freelance TV and video production and making films and doing that full time, but it just got really lonely sitting at home editing all the time. And I had to spend so much more time trying to get funding for stuff and so little time making stuff that it was getting frustrating — I wasn’t spending my day doing the things I actually wanted to be doing. So now it’s actually way better because the work I do doesn’t have to be motivated by money — I have health insurance, I have a job and so now I can pursue it purely for fun. And I have to do it on weekends and at night, but I love it.

OPB: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

BF: Yeah, I mean, just keep making stuff. You know, now it’s so easy — you don’t need a giant reel of film or expensive equipment. You could literally make a film on your phone, and it would be decent quality and easy to share. I think keep making a lot of things — because, you know, it took probably seven or eight years before I made something that was how I wanted it to be. Also find your niche. I think just try to figure out how to be the best you possible. I think I remember that was one thing they told us on the first day of school when I was at Tisch at NYU studying playwriting. They were like, ‘If we did our job right, by the end of the first year, we’re going to be able to pick up a script and say, that’s so Boaz …’ And so you’re not competing against other people; you just have to find out what’s unique about you and find the best way to share it.

Watch “Wind Dancer Flutes” on Thursday, August 28 at 10 p.m. on OPB TV.

Boaz Frankel Oregon Lens Pedal Powered Talk Show