If you follow Shea Serrano on Twitter, or have flipped open one of his books, you're well aware of his style. If not, you're in for a treat with his latest project "Movies (And Other Things)."
If you need to know just a few things about Shea: He's a Spurs fan, he loves rap and he's watched a ton of movies. The former middle school teacher and San Antonio native never envisioned a career in writing. Now, he has three books out, a cult following of more than 300,000 on social media and is a staff writer and podcast regular at The Ringer.
"Movies (And Other Things)" is Serrano's third book and fourth project with illustrator Arturo Torres. The two teamed up for New York Times best-selling books "The Rap Yearbook" and "Basketball (And Other Things)," and also produced an e-book about "The Office" called "Conference Room, Five Minutes."
"MAOT" is not a definitive history of movies, or anything close to it. It's quite literally a book about movies with a strong emphasis on the (and other things). It's 30 delightfully engaging chapters of not serious questions written quite seriously. Serrano digs deep to consider the dinosaur in the Jurassic World series: were the raptors just misunderstood? He compares tough-guy dog owners, ranks movie villains by which would be the best hang and breaks down who "gets it the worst" in the Kill Bill series.
The Seattle Times recently gave Shea a call. In the spirit of "MAOT," this is a series of questions about movies (and many other things).
Q: What was your inspiration for the project?
A: With "Movies (And Other Things)," every chapter is a different question that are separate of each other but make sense when they're read altogether. It allows me to really just lean in to the stuff I like without covering the stuff you don't, because you're not presenting these books as like the history of basketball or the history of movies. It's like, here's some (stuff) that I thought was fun.
Q: You've written a book about rap, a book about basketball, an e-book about "The Office" and now a book about movies. Is that a pretty accurate representation of things you like and are passionate about?
A: Yeah, that's pretty good. I really like rap, I really like basketball, I really like movies and I really like TV. So I'm just gonna keep on doing (stuff) that I like until somebody tells me I have to do a real job.
Q: You used to be a teacher before switching over to journalism. Did you always have the ambition to be a writer?
A: Not at all. I didn't even know writing was a thing you could do for money. I was teaching and that was the job I wanted to do for my whole life. I thought I'd be a teacher for 30 years, and like be the guy when the kids come to class, I go, 'Oh I taught your dad.' My wife was a teacher as well and she ended up having some medical complications during her pregnancy and couldn't go back to work for a while. We needed the extra money because a teacher's salary wasn't enough. I tried applying to other jobs on the side like restaurants to be a waiter or Target and Walmart and they told me I couldn't get hired because I was already working a full-time job. So that's how I ended up writing. I went on Google and started researching home jobs and was like, well f**k it, I'll be a writer. And then I just started trying to learn that whole world. I started at the Houston Press. I learned how to write, I learned how to source a story and all that. And just kept on going from there. It just got bigger and bigger and eventually it overtook teaching. So I quit that to try this thing and see what happens.
Q: Your writing style is very conversational. Is that intentional?
A: That's a 100% conscious decision. You can write in a bunch of different ways. And early on, I tried to write in different ways. That one just felt like the most natural. Especially when you're talking about the stuff you're talking about when I'm writing. These are not academic conversations you're having. You can take something very seriously without using a thesaurus. That doesn't help. That doesn't make you seem smarter. That just makes you seem like you had a book next to you when you were writing the thing. There's a definite intention when I'm writing to make it feel that way.
Q: You have a giant Twitter following. You use it for a lot of different things: politics, basketball, promoting your work, etc. What does that platform mean to you in terms of connecting with your audience?
A: What it feels like at this point is like a safety blanket. We're talking about how turbulent of an industry that we're in. I feel like Twitter affords me at least a small measure of security — not a lot, but enough. Enough that if Bill (Simmons) was like, 'I'm gonna shut this down' and the Ringer ends up disappearing, I feel like someone would eventually reach out on Twitter and offer some work. It gives like a second life, sort of, and that's reassuring. It's also helpful for book things, when I'm pitching an idea to the publisher and can go, 'I have direct contact with this many people.' Let's say half are bots and people not even on Twitter anymore, I can still reach 150,000 people. That's an appealing thing for publishers or anyone else who's trying to sell stuff. I think you need that now especially.
Q: OK, let's do some rapid-fire movie questions. What's the best Seattle-based movie?
A: I didn't realize "The Ring" was a Seattle-based movie. That's a fun one to watch. My kid and I were just talking about because Halloween is coming up. But for me, it's "Sleepless in Seattle." I'm a big rom-com guy. Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, it all works. All the pieces fit together here. Give me that one.
Q: What is the most rewatchable rom-com?
A: "My Best Friend's Wedding." I think that's the pinnacle of the form right there. You've got Julia Roberts, who's the greatest rom-com star that's ever been. You have this really fun premise of like if we're not married by this point, we're going to get married. And then Dermot Mulroney finds his soon-to-be wife and has to decide between Julia and Cameron Diaz. And how do you pick between one of these two? You've got the singing montage, the moment on the boat where it's like, 'Ah, just tell each other you love each other!, you've got the chase scene at the end where he goes 'Who's chasing you?' Ah, it's so good.
Q: What Pixar movie made you cry the hardest?
A: You know what I should say, is the end of "Coco." That's supposed to be my answer. That's a beautiful moment where Miguel sings to his abuelita (grandma). It's so good and so touching, and I was definitely teary-eyed in that moment. But the one that made me cry more than that that I had tears coming down my face in a real way was the end of "Toy Story 3." When they're sitting in the trash, heading toward the incinerator. They're not going to make it and they're all just sitting there and they hold each other's hand and they're looking at death and it's like, this is it. This is the end. We are accepting our fate. And when that happens, there's this music going 'dun-dunn' like the (freaking) undertaker is on the way. I remember watching that and feeling so helpless. Like 'How can they let this happen? How can this be the end for Woody? How can it end this way?' I never thought a cartoon movie could make me feel that way but man, that was the one.
Q: Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute) is a noted Seattleite. What's your favorite Jim-Dwight prank sequence?
A: It's silly and it's just a fast little thing, but I love when Jim shows up to the office dressed like Dwight and he does the whole beets, bears, Battlestar Galactica thing. And then Dwight figures out what's going on. There are so many good ones, like where he trains Dwight with the mints, Asian Jim is incredible, the Jello one of course. But I especially like this one. That's an example of The Office throwing a thing at you that you weren't expecting to see.
Q: If you could write and direct your own movie, what would it be about?
A: It's gonna be called "White Men Still Can't Jump." I'm bringing Woody back, I'm bringing Wesley back. I'm gonna have Gina Rodriguez in it. Rosie Perez is coming back. And I'm going to add Michael Pena. And I don't know what the new roles are going to be, but it's gonna make the movie even better.