Zemrak interviews celebrities
Brian Zemrak (right) stands with Mark Rydell, the director of the film On Golden Pond.
During his day job on the Hill, Brian Zemrak occupies a desk in the Information Technology Services (ITS) office as a network administrator. By night, he chats with the likes of former The Price Is Right host Bob Barker and Twilight actor Taylor Lautner, two of the celebrities whom he has interviewed for his website, On Screen & Beyond.
Zemrak was inspired to start interviewing celebrities after years of volunteering at his brother Derek Zemrak’s project, the California Independent Film Festival (CAIFF), where he mingled with actors like Gregory Itzin, Martin Landau and Tony Curtis. “Nobody could deal with Tony because he was very demanding—I actually saw him slap somebody—so they stuck him with me for four days,” Zemrak said. “I had no problems with him. He was really nice and had some great stories to tell.” While working on voice direction for Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm, a yet-to-be-released animated movie based on a story that Zemrak wrote shortly after his two daughters were born, Zemrak met actors Dom DeLuise, Ruth Buzzi and Rob Paulson. “They had some great stories about old Hollywood, the Rat Pack, Sinatra and all those people, so I asked if I could record [my conversations with] them,” Zemrak said.
Zemrak started by recording around 10 interviews during each year that he attended CAIFF. “My plan was to release one each month until I could get back to the festival the next year and record more,” Zemrak said. The site got 1,000 hits the week after the first interview was released. “I thought 999 of those hits were mine,” Zemrak said, “but the site started getting bigger and bigger, and then eventually at one point we got 100,000 hits in two hours. Then I knew it wasn’t just me checking it.”
The site now averages about 500,000 hits per month, and Zemrak receives letters and requests from listeners all over the world. Now due to high demand, Zemrak posts a new interview each week. He started out using MySpace to connect to “some old television actors,” but now, “publicists are sending me e-mails asking me to interview their clients,” Zemrak said. Recently, Zemrak talked with author Jackie Collins after being contacted by her publicist to request an interview.
Though Zemrak originally intended to interview actors that he idolized when he was young, he has spoken to a range of people including some up-and-coming stars. He has talked with Ziah Colon, who played a supporting role in the remake of Footloose, and Taylor Lautner, both before and after the production of Twilight. “The first time I interviewed [Lautner], I had no idea what Twilight was. There were hundreds of kids lined up outside the theater where we were, screaming. It turns out Twilight was a pretty big deal,” Zemrak said. “Six months later, I interviewed him again. He is a really nice guy, seems to have his head on his shoulders.”
In some of his favorite interviews, Zemrak has talked to people whose work he particularly likes. “Bob Barker was a gentleman, a really nice guy. I enjoyed that interview. And Cliff Robertson, the uncle in the original Spiderman, was really nice,” Zemrak said. Although he can’t recall a celebrity who was ever rude or insulting, he did have one interesting conversation with an unnamed actor that required some editing.
“He was drunk, and I told him I would call him back later,” Zemrak said. “But he insisted [on doing the interview] and said ‘I know I’ve had one too many. I’m just out having a liquid lunch.’ I don’t want to make anybody sound bad—these are people I’ve idolized, so I don’t want to tear them down. So, I put the interview out and just edited it in order to get all the slurs out.”
In addition to starting On Screen & Beyond, Zemrak has written screenplays and scores for various productions. Besides his animated fairy tale story about Bongee Bear, Zemrak wrote the screenplay for the film Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure about YouTube sensations Ryan Higa and Sean Fujiyoshi. “It was actually the number-one independent film on iTunes for like four weeks and reached number 16 or something of all comedies on iTunes,” Zemrak said.
Most recently, Zemrak wrote the song that will be used in the end credits of an upcoming Christmas episode of Animal Planet’s Pit Boss. While Zemrak doesn’t have a traditional musical background, he was a radio DJ in the 1970s and 80s. “I’ll try anything. People say, ‘Can you do this?’ I might be good, or I might be bad, but I’ll try,” Zemrak said.
Zemrak balances his job on the Hill with his passion for film and television by dedicating his evenings to interviews and writing. “I do it for fun because I enjoy the creative stuff,” Zemrak said. In order to cover the cost of running the site, Zemrak recently affiliated On Screen & Beyond with Amazon.com so that he receives a small profit from his listeners’ Amazon purchases.
Other than that affiliation, “I don’t make any money off of the site,” Zemrak said. While he admits that some similar websites appear to be “classier” in terms of design, Zemrak uses bright colors on the website because he wants it to be “fun, not a serious thing.” On Screen & Beyond is a hobby for Zemrak. “It is entertaining, and I like sharing,” he said.