Mike Kaspar’s Film School Radio Brings Indie Films to Life on KUCI

Not many people can say they’ve interviewed more than 800 filmmakers, yet that’s how many Mike Kaspar has spoken to in the 10-plus years he has hosted his Friday morning show, Film School Radio, on KUCI-FM 88.9. He has conducted an array of illuminating interviews with directors and actors of independent, foreign and art-house feature films.

Through call-in segments and prerecorded interviews, Kaspar engages with his subjects about their artistic choices, character development and technical shop talk. Yet the only film school Kaspar has ever known were Andrew Sarris’ weekly film reviews in the Village Voice and his job at the now-defunct Balboa Cinema during his college days during the 1970s.

Hailing from Long Beach, Kaspar worked the Balboa Cinema for two years; he recalls the owners’ discerning hiring process. “I think they wanted people [working at the theater] who knew a little bit about films,” he explains. “The interview consisted of the basic questions and ‘What are your five favorite films?'” Kaspar’s choices included Duck Soup, Dr. Strangelove and Citizen Kane. The movie house screened everything from classic to experimental to foreign films, and in his downtime, the now-Newport Beach-based Kaspar would often get into nerdy cinephile arguments with the other employees. “It really set me into that mode of understanding what good films are,” he says.

Fast forward to 2002. While driving, Kaspar tuned into the humble college station KUCI just as a service announcement calling for new DJs to join the station aired. Interested, he underwent the station’s training program and eventually started Weekly Signals, his own weekly news show with friend and colleague (and old-school Weekly contributor) Nathan Callahan. Years later, the station needed to fill the 9 a.m. time slot during the summer quarter, so Kaspar and Callahan pitched another show that would bring in an eclectic group of authors, artists and filmmakers, including Terry Jones (of Monty Python and the Holy Grail fame) and John Sayles (director of The Brother From Another Planet and Lone Star). Through their collections of PR contacts from working political-campaign jobs, Callahan and Kaspar were able to connect with multiple filmmakers, eventually focusing on discussing movies for movie-minded people.

Callahan left his co-hosting role after four years, so Kaspar continued on his own. In the decade he’s been at the helm, the growth of his PR connections has led him to memorable interviews with guests including Julie Delpy, D.A. Pennebaker, Todd Solondz, Ava DuVernay, Guy Maddin, Noah Baumbach, Philip Glass, Albert Maysles, Frederick Wiseman, Duncan Jones and Haskell Wexler. “Harmony Korine was an interesting interview,” Kaspar says. “He called from the basement of his house, where it was flooded, and the signal strength of his phone was weak, so I could barely hear him. It was weird but so normal for Harmony Korine, so it was perfect—especially since I had just seen his film Julien Donkey-Boy.”

Another standout was Errol Morris, one of the first renowned directors he and Callahan interviewed that they were able to leverage for access to other high-profile filmmakers. “We were so excited to have him on, but what we didn’t know about Morris is when you ask him a question, there’s a five- to 10-second pause of silence,” Kaspar says. “Apparently, he’s pretty well-known as a guy who’s deliberate in his answers. Meanwhile, I wasn’t sure if I had insulted him or something.”

According to Kaspar, whatever film or director he talks to depends on his interest and access to a film and its creator. Now, he’s able to measure the success of his show by the interest agents take in him, instead of having to reach out himself. It’s Kaspar’s dream to take his show to a larger platform, but in the meantime, he doesn’t take for granted his role in getting people in movie theaters to support indie filmmakers.

“Nowadays, I’m more comfortable in my own skin talking to them, so I feel like these conversations are more natural. There’s a level of trust I can convey to them,” Kaspar says. “I think I’m finally at a point where I sit down with these people, and I feel like I do belong here, like, I deserve to be talking to this guy. I’m going to ask him some good questions, and we’re going to have a nice conversation.”

Film School Radio airs on KUCI-FM 88.9; www.filmschoolradio.com. Every Fri., 9-10 a.m.

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