BY: Regina Bresler
Tom Scharpling is a busy man. He’s got one video headed to SXSW, another in post-production, a new gig at New York Magazine, and a fundraising marathon for WFMU – where he’s held court for a decade with The Best Show. He’s so busy, in fact, that I’ve given up on setting up a time for us to talk, and instead have sent my number and kept my fingers crossed that he finds ten minutes to breathe, and remembers that I’ve got questions.
“I’m trapped on the BQE, there’s no end in sight. Take a few minutes to get un-groggy and set-up, and give me a call back. I’m not going anywhere.”
Half-asleep is not conducive to keeping up with this man, and at this point my biggest fear is that he’ll hang up on me like he’s done with so many Best Show callers that just didn’t meet the mark. Tom is no tyrant, but his presence is commanding, and he definitely knows what he wants.
“When I started writing, I wanted to do comedy. I did basketball commentary, wrote for MTV, anything someone offered I’d just say yes and then ask “what do you want?”. The goal was to write screenplays and TV, but writing was my main thing. Comedy is how I make my living. I don’t make money from the radio show.”
He may not make money from The Best Show, but last week he raised over $81,000 during his three-hour time-slot to help keep WFMU alive. An aggressive Twitter campaign helped spread the word, with #TomThon trending on both coasts.
“When I do these things I have a number in my head. We did a bit better than last year, I’m real happy. We’ve got one more on Tuesday the 8th, Ted Leo, Carl Newman and John Hodgman will all be in studio. And Kurt Vile will be here, too. It’s gonna be a fun show, and we’re giving out some great art and music for pledges made during the show, on-air or via the site.”
These are not just indie and comedy names showing up to pull in pledges; they are regular guests of the show and, more, recently collaborators and clients in Tom’s newest career venture: directing. While the market for music videos is a shadow of it’s former self, with MTV now more a vehicle for teen-themed reality shows with little pretense in it’s involvement with music as a whole, deciding to have a go at the once lauded genre seems surprising.
“Everybody has these fancies. ‘I want to be in charge of everything.’ A few of my best friends are directors, I was on enough sets and figured I could try. I had the idea that if I direct, I could see the idea all the way through to completion. It would be me all the way down the line, taking a concept to the screen the way I see it in my head. I did the Ted Leo & The Pharmacists “Bottled in Cork” video, and it was great fun. I have the buzz for it now, so when The New Pornographers management asked me to do a video for them, I felt like I was in.”
He was right. His video for “Moves” caused quite the stir, getting nods from the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, finally earning a slot in the Midnight Features & Shorts portion of this years SXSW Film Festival. The video is a take on the classic (and often awful) rock biopic, whose prop-list featured items such as cocaine, pizza, a bathtub full of fake Benjamins, a handgun and a call-list packed with comedy names.
“I was hoping what happened would happen cause it was so over stuffed begging to take off like that. When I watched it, I was like ‘Wow, it’s really working!’. It wasn’t just a bunch of famous people, and crummy. The video looked really good. And expensive! [The budget was a mere $7000.] It lived up to the concept. It wasn’t just a check list we felt like we fulfilled. Sometimes, I feel like I’m just a bunch of hot-air when I talk about this stuff.”
Next up, the video for Titus Androndicus’ single “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” and a column recapping the new season of Celebrity Apprentice for New York Magazine’s “Vulture”. So, what else?
“I would love to do a hip hop video, that would be so exciting. Someone like Ghostface. We’d go to Staten Island and shoot something there for him. Anything. Or anyone on Stones Throw, like Madlib, or any of those guys in a second.”
Maybe it’s time for Wu to get a new affiliate. For now, look for Tom on WFMU Tuesdays 9-midnight, donate to keep the station going, and keep your eyes open for all the videos to come.
“Well, time to get back to work.”
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