I’m a movie geek (duh), and my first destination on the Web is invariably the A.V. Club (www.avclub.com), sister site of the brilliantly satirical fake newspaper The Onion. Having recently learned that one of the A.V. Club’s best writers, Maine native Zack Handlen, lives right here in Portland, I thought I’d interview him (for a change), learn about the inner workings of this influential entertainment site and maybe get some pointers. 

How did you get the gig?

Handlen: I always compared it to a Bruce Springsteen video, where I’m Courtney Cox and I get pulled up on stage. I started posting regular comments on the site and (editor and writer) Tasha Robinson saw them, and they approached me, which was one of the better moments of my life. 

One of your current assignments is to review every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (which is exactly the thing the Internet was created for, by the way). How do you approach such a well-traveled subject and make it fresh?

Handlen: I don’t approach it with any preconceptions, which helps to keep it fresh; it’s just going to be something I’m going to experience. I’m not an obsessive fan, which also helps, I think. 

What has the reader reaction been like? The comments seem spirited.

Handlen: There are so many passionate “Trek” fans, and sometimes the comments can get a little rough — it’s hard not to take it personally. But it’s become most rewarding; people disagree, which is cool, but generally it feels very supportive and exciting. 

When conducting an interview — recently with authors William Gibson and Joe Hill — are you conscious of trying to come up with a unique approach?

Handlen: Yeah. The A.V. Club actually has a nifty cheat sheet, with the most helpful tips being to do your research, to read other interviews they’ve done, to come up with new stuff, and to find subjects they seem to enjoy talking about. For example, I like to talk to writers about structure. That seems to be something they don’t get asked often. 

Does the writing flow more easily when you’re trashing something than when you’re trying to praise it?

Handlen: I think I write well about stuff I like, but there’s something very enjoyable about just tearing into something. Except, if it’s something everyone already hates (like, say the “G.I. Joe” movie), it’s like kicking a puppy. 

Much of your A.V. Club writing is on comics, sci-fi, cult movies. To put it bluntly, are you the A.V. Club’s go-to nerd?

Handlen: (Laughs). A lot of it is that I started out doing it, and so I kept getting offered the same sort of thing. But there are a lot of us here  

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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