When this idea came to me, to interview the literati that hangs out at Vox Pop, certain names came immediately to mind. Rennie represented the start as he is a stalwart. For me that was a good foundation to rest on. If I were to try and find the heart of Vox Pop, I would have to talk about Ric Minello. A man so central to the life at Vox, he has a sandwich named after him. “I am all about the deserts and tea,” he proclaims.
Ric is an unassuming presence in our neighborhood. Middle aged, rotund with an Orson Welles like beard and funky clothing. One would automatically have judgmental thoughts in response to his physical appearance. But underneath the illusion of a jalopy, lies a well running, vintage Mercedes Benz.
An NYU film student and now a working scriptwriter and an expert in cinephelia, he is the writer of the critically acclaimed 2009 film, Two Lovers, which starred Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. He has worked on videos for The Beastie Boys under Rick Rubin and is currently at work on a number of new scripts which he hopes to have green lighted by the fall.
Much of his work is done at night, so he is usually spotted at Vox Pop by about 9 pm where he positions himself somewhere near the stage to finish some of his writing, work on e-mails and take phone meetings with his California colleagues.
My own encounters with Ric are always fun. Much of the time we have in depth discussions about the stop motion animation master, Ray Harryhausen or about the Japanese composer, Akira Ifukube, who composed most of the scores for those early monster films, including Godzilla. We can talk together about almost anything, but usually it ventures over to his main love, which is film. As an artist, it is always a pleasure and learning experience talking with Ric.
“He is a great writer, and a great guy,” says Angela Welch Stucker.
She tells this story:
“I just finished my first short story. It was an erotic fiction piece, so I had to choose carefully who I wanted to read it. So I asked Ric.”
Ric’s response was “I hate it when people ask me to read their stuff.”
“No, no, you don’t have to read it” said Angela.
“That’s not the problem,” said Ric. “It almost always sucks, then I have to tell them it sucks, and then they’re mad at me. But you are a friend so I’ll read it.”
“This doesn’t suck, so I was happy for her. I choose very carefully who I read, because a lot of people ask me” he chimes.
When asked why he does what he does, he responds, “Because, I cannot do anything else.”
“I once taught this thing at Scholastic because they needed a writer to teach a class. So I taught a 2 hour seminar on screen writing for these kids. And I told them, ‘if you can do anything else in your life, don’t do this.’ I hate to discourage people, but if you can picture yourself doing anything else, then do it. This is not something you do to make a lot of money. Most of the work in this industry keeps you going, but unless something big clicks, you just go along making an okay living.”
He moved to Ditmas Park 3 years ago on the urging from his Hollywood friends. He was living in New Jersey, but his associates felt he needed to be somewhere more central, and LA was out of the question for Ric. So they put up the money and moved him back to Brooklyn.
His best friend, Mel Neuhaus, lives nearby. Mel and Ric have been working on a very funny series of film history/critiques called “That Menello Show.”
He also oversees Vox Pop’s movie night once a week. His recent showing of the Japanese classic “Goyokin” got very high marks from my wife.
Ric’s mother collected “laughing Buddhas.” My own mom had one on top of the TV in our Queens home. I still have it. They seemed to be popular around the fifties and sixties. His uncle gave his mother the first one because she could not have a baby. It is also known as the Buddha of fertility.
“Then she had me. I was her laughing Buddha.”
He was raised in many areas in Brooklyn and as a child would regularly take the train into the city to watch movies. “When you live in New York, it is like living all over the world.” When asked about his family he said, “In Italy, we had some counts and barons and then some communists.”
Occasionally, Ric helps out noted actors such as Owen Wilson with dialogue on their scripts . “I’m Bruce Vilanch, but way better looking and straighter, which may be why I am not working as much!”
Ric admits that the director in a film is way more important than the writer. So in many cases in his career, he has gotten co-writer or associate in the credits. Much of his work is in rewriting, or finishing up works in progress. His script for Two Lovers was nominated for a Cesar (the french equivalent of the Oscar) and was closely considered for an Academy Award, but failed to make the cut.
It is always a pleasure to speak with Ric. Whether your topic is super heroes, classic monsters or just good old film critiquing, he is the man to approach. You will find him most nights at Vox Pop, tapping away myopically on his laptop. Order a tea and a “Menello”, have a seat and you are on your way.