Phil Lollar Interview: "Adventures in Odyssey" Creator Seeks to Fund New Family Audio Drama Through Kickstarter Campaign
Image attributed to Phil Lollar
Phil Lollar has created, written, produced and performed in dozens of kids’ audio/video series including Adventures in Odyssey, The Little Angels (produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett), Jungle Jim and Friends, Little Dogs on the Prairie, The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (twice nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Series), Elmo Aardvark, Outer Space Detective (the Internet’s first weekly animated series), The Mr. Men Show and Olivia (based on Ian Falconer’s bestselling children’s books).
Two of those series, Jungle Jim and Friends and Adventures in Odyssey, have been credited with re-inventing the art of radio drama. Adventures in Odyssey is now in its 26th year on the air. Lollar co-created this audio drama, and during his 14 years with the show wrote and directed more than 300 episodes.
“The whole premise is basically the idea that there are places in the world where very unusual, odd, inexplicable, supernatural things happen. One of the things that happens when Jesse first arrives is he makes some friends named Stu Martin and Cassandra Wilson. Cassandra’s hair is a little wild and crazy, and she wears too much makeup, and sometimes her clothes are mismatched. Everybody calls her ‘Crazy Cassandra.’ Stu is this engineering whiz. He rides around on his own scooter that he designed himself.”
Lollar also served as head writer and creative consultant for the weekly radio show Kid’s Corner and served as casting and voicing director for the Cartoon Network/Renegade Animation production of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi and voices two characters in the upcoming animated series Space Racers.
This talented, very busy artist has also written four books and dozens of magazine articles and stories. He has a BA in Radio/TV/Film and Philosophy from California State University, Fullerton, and an MFA in Dramatic Writing and Video Production from California State University, Los Angeles. Lollar lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, Leslie, two dogs, three cats and an African Grey parrot named Spike.
Lollar launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for his new independent audio drama called Iliad House. The Iliad House Kickstarter campaign can be found here: Iliad House Kickstarter Campaign
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Phil, tell me the premise of Iliad House.
Phil Lollar: Iliad House is about a fourteen year old young man named Jesse Davidson who was orphaned when he was about three years old. He has bounced around from foster home to foster home to foster home. Then about two years prior to meeting him, Jesse discovered he had an uncle he never knew about. He has now come to live with this uncle, Christopher Portalis, a very intelligent, unusual guy who owns a place called Iliad House. Iliad House sits at the southern tip of an island that rests just off the coast of the eastern United States, and it’s kind of a strange place.
The whole premise is basically the idea that there are places in the world where very unusual, odd, inexplicable, supernatural things happen. One of the things that happens when Jesse first arrives is he makes some friends named Stu Martin and Cassandra Wilson. Cassandra’s hair is a little wild and crazy, and she wears too much makeup, and sometimes her clothes are mismatched. Everybody calls her “Crazy Cassandra.” Stu is this engineering whiz. He rides around on his own scooter that he designed himself.
Stu and Jesse find an abandoned train on the island. This is one of the first things that happen in the series. It’s a 1860s model locomotive, coal car and caboose with a little run down abandoned depot. They build it back up and turn the whole thing into their own private clubhouse. About a year after they’ve done this, Jesse and Stu discover that this train they thought was stationary actually does move except it moves through time. So they go on all sorts of adventures where they travel back and forth through time. They learn some unpleasant truths about themselves; maybe uncover a few dark secrets about themselves.
They learn there is forgiveness and redemption for everyone who asks for it. Jesse also learns at the end of this little first adventure that there’s a lot more to Iliad House and to his uncle and the reason that both of them are there than anybody first realized, so it sets the pace for the rest of the series.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds interesting. Do you voice a character in Iliad House?
Phil Lollar: As a matter of fact, I do. Audio dramas frequently use narrators, and I’m actually the narrator, but I also do a lot of voices. I’ve been doing voices for a long, long time and play many different characters. I’ll be scattered in and out of this whole series.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would it be older children that would enjoy Iliad House and understand the morals to be learned?
Phil Lollar: Yes. Our target audience is basically 8-14 year olds. Adventures in Odyssey was for 6-10 year olds. This show is going to be a little bit older. We’re going to deal with things that adolescents go through. Another really important aspect of the story is some of the typical things that adolescents go though these days and how they have to deal with these things. It’s a parallel to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that respect. Here’s a girl who wants to be a cheerleader. She just wants to become the normal, typical girl and guess what? She’s special. She’s actually the slayer and sits on top of the Helmouth to save the world (laughs).
We’re not going to go quite that far with the individual characters in terms of having superpowers or things like that. They’re just going to be in this unusual place, dealing with unusual circumstances and finding out why they are actually there. The Odyssey is about a journey, and the Iliad is about a battle.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Right.
Phil Lollar: I think that’s the subject about what’s going on here. There are battles going on. The battles are not necessarily with flesh and blood, although sometimes they can be, but they’re basically battles that are with powers, principalities, supernatural things and the darkness of this present age. It’s that sort of thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has there been a movement over the last few years to revive audio drama or has it just evolved and gotten more popular?
Phil Lollar: I think there is resurgence in the interest of audio drama. Adventures in Odyssey, the program I co-created a long time ago has been on the air for nearly 26 years. There were a lot of people who didn’t think you could sustain an audio drama, a radio drama, for that long, but it’s still there. For me, I can tell you that audio storytelling is the best mass medium for telling stories. Nothing against film or television, but audio works really well simply because it requires something of the audience.
We set the tone through audio, and we provide the voices, sound effects and music, but the audience must provide their own imagination. The audience has to exercise that muscle between their ears called the brain and the theater of the mind in order to be able to paint the visual picture in their heads. The really neat thing about audio drama is that it’s different for everyone. You paint your own picture. You create your own way you want it to look, and you become the character or you don’t become the character, whatever. It’s individual so every audience member participates in the creation of each episode and each program.
In the beginning with Adventures in Odyssey, people would say, “I understand you have this show for kids.” But when we’d hand them the CDs (back then it was cassette tapes), they’d say, “I just don’t think my kids would sit still that long for that. Don’t you have anything in video?” We’d tell them to just take it home and have the kids listen to it, try it out, and if they don’t like it, we’d give them a refund. Well, 99 times out of 100, the parents would come back and ask for more tapes saying, “My kid stayed still for 25 minutes and listed to these stories. He never sits still for anything.”
It’s a time honored and age-old medium that is so good for telling stories, and I think people really like it. We’ve discovered just recently in trying to publicize our show on Facebook that people say, “This is not dead. There are plenty of places out there where you can find different kinds of audio drama.” I’ve been doing this for years now, but my partners are all young people, and they really are interested in this media, so I’m very gratified to kind of pass on the legacy to them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you created Adventures in Odyssey, were you working with the organization Focus on the Family at the time?
Phil Lollar: Yes. Actually what happened was I applied and was hired at Focus on the Family basically to create this type of programming, audio and radio drama programming. In fact, the gentleman who co-created Adventures in Odyssey with me, Steve Harris, was the one who hired me. He was in charge of the special projects department at the broadcasting division Focus on the Family had at that time. I would go off and write and create this town called Odyssey and all the main characters that were in the town, take it back to him and we’d hash it out. He’d add or delete things.
Just as creativity happens when people get together, we’d each have our own notions of what was going on and how it should work. Through all that creative process, we came up with Adventures in Odyssey. But, yeah, I was working on the staff at the time. That was when Focus on the Family was out in California where I still live. They moved to Colorado, and I stayed behind. All the recordings for Adventures in Odyssey and those projects were still done out here, so I was sort of coordinating that in California while they were in Colorado.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Phil, I read that you began your career at the tender age of five years old. What in the world were you doing at that age?
Phil Lollar: (laughs) Oh, there were always local shows and little things people would have, little fairs and street fairs. I was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon and stayed there until I was about six years old. The churches I went to always had little skit nights and performances, and I would perform in all of them. I would perform everywhere. The town was not really big, and I would perform in all of the local things that were going on. We were always pretty involved in those kinds of things.
My mom discovered pretty early on that I had this talent for memorizing commercials on television. I could watch TV programs and hear the commercials, and I could repeat them back. It’s one of my most vivid memories. When I was really little, I could just memorize a commercial and pop them right back out, so at parties and competitions, they’d sit me on a stool and say, “Do the commercials.” I’d do all the commercials I had seen that day. Everybody would go, “Wow! That’s amazing!” I had a good time doing all of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about your religious background.
Phil Lollar: I come from a very strong Christian family. We were an evangelical household. I was actually raised in the Church of Christ when I was younger. I come by my religious background completely honestly, if you will. Our last name is “Lollar.” If you trace it back in history, it used to be spelled with a “d” on the end of the name. The Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe back in England. Lollard literally means “poor preacher,” so all of my ancestors on my dad’s side were reformation kind of folks, poor preachers and people who believed that the Bible should be translated to the language that everybody could read instead of just Latin where only a few people could read.
On my mother’s side, the Campbells were related to a guy named Alexander Campbell, and they were very big in American churches and church movements. Campbell was a minister and Bible teacher and leader in a church planting movement known as the Restoration Movement. So I come by this very honestly on both sides.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you also a college professor in your spare time?
Phil Lollar: I am. I teach at Azusa Pacific University out here in Azusa, California. I teach Intro to Mass Communications and Popular Culture, and I have a great time doing that. It’s a wonderful university with a beautiful campus, and the students are so nice. Until last year, I also taught at Cal State, Los Angeles in their Film and Television department.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does your wife ask you to slow down a bit, Phil?
Phil Lollar: Oh, I think she wants me to speed up a little bit (laughs). I’m reaching the age where I’m slowing down. My wife is very active and has always been that way. She rides horses, takes care of a bunch of animals and runs the fitness program at the senior citizen center in Pasadena. I’m a bit more sedentary in the things that I do. She says, “You need to get up more!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also just married your son and his bride?
Phil Lollar: I did. As a matter of fact, I’m going to perform another marriage ceremony for my son’s friend in a couple of weeks. I am registered with the State of California to be able to perform marriages. I do lots of different things (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you near your goal at Kickstarter?
Phil Lollar: Actually we’re not. We really need to get it “kickstarted.” We’re in the middle of the campaign right now, and our goal is a very ambitious $100,000. We really need people to help us out with it because we think this is a worthwhile campaign to support. It’s good, fun entertainment for families, especially for that target audience of 8-14 year olds. My partners did the bulk of the work on the campaign, and they put it together so well. We’ve been the “staff pick” almost from day one and have been the “featured pick” a couple of times, so kudos to my partners. They’re great guys.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I saw that Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel, The Bible) endorsed the Iliad House campaign.
Phil Lollar: I worked with Roma on a series called Little Angels a couple of years ago. She’s a wonderful person. Of course, congratulations to them on their Emmy nominated series The Bible. But she’s a great person. I called and told her what we were doing, and she said, “Of course!” It was very nice of her to do that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any upcoming projects, Phil?
Phil Lollar: I do a lot of voice work in animated TV series and have a new one coming out in 2014 called Space Racers. It’s about a group of young racers who are basically rockets. They are learning how to be productive and use their skills and talents to go about the universe. It’s an educational minded series, but it’s very fun and extremely well written. They are aligned with NASA, and it’s really getting the word out about space and space education and what it’s like. I’ve seen some of the early animation from the series, and it looks spectacular! The voice work is great, and the music is wonderful, and it really helps to bring out science education for space exploration really well.
Another project I have coming out soon is a children’s book called Patches and the Feelings Tree. A lovely lady named Kathylee Forester created the character of Patches, the curious little brown bear, who helps his friends in the forest. He helps kids learn about their emotions and how to get in touch with their feelings. Kathylee is a delightful person and has a real heart for children. The book is for young children and is coming out in October. We have an excellent artist in Joseph Cowman who has done all the artwork for the book, and it’s beautiful. We’ll have a book on tape that I’m producing for that also. Lots of stuff. Lots of good things happening!
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