Margo Neely Talks Biz with The Real Stan Lee!
ur very own Margo Neely was truly honored to share her personal story and the genesis of Ladies Revenge Club with none other than the man, the myth, the legend… the real Stan Lee — former president and chairman of Marvel Comics and co-creator of comic book classics X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-man, and The Hulk (among others!) Check out the interview below, reprinted from it’s original 2015 appearance on Stan Lee’s official website! EXCELSIOR!
The Real Stan Lee: Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, your hopes, your dreams, and your pop-culture tastes. You know, the geeky stuff that really matters.
Margo Neely: My name is Margo Neely. I am a professional filmmaker, innovator, and Chief Creative Officer at Neely & Daughters. I’m the creator of the streaming television series Ladies Revenge Club (“Best of Fest” and “Best Short” winner at New York Super Week/New York Comic Con), currently screening internationally with GeekFest Film Festival at comic cons around the globe.
I was raised in the Vailsburg section of Newark, NJ, the eldest daughter in a pretty wild, fun, and uniquely glamorous Italian-American family. It was very Mad Men meets Goodfellas. (Imagine lots of Broadway shows, not so secret affaires de coeur, huge parties at fancy restaurants with martinis and long cigarettes and jewelry and fur coats and hairdos, laughter and dancing and singing.) Before we decamped to the safe and boring ‘burbs, I had kind of a magical, throwback 1950s childhood because of the tight knit, urban time capsule nature of our neighborhood. Life was like an edgier Jean Shepherd story. We used to play with our friends in the street unsupervised until 9 o’clock on summer nights, go to the newsstand to read dirty magazines (we always got caught!), and walk to the main strip to heckle passersby and buy penny candy at Ness’s Luncheonette. My dad used to let me drive the car when I was eight years old. On a regular basis. Can you imagine that happening today? Everyone would be in jail! All of this to say that my upbringing was singular and markedly “free.” Creativity, individuality, and a certain amount of toughness were lauded. That freedom and acceptance fundamentally shaped my perceptions, desires, and expectations for my life, as well as my creative ambitions.
As a child of the 1970s/80s and an epic tomboy, I was reared on a steady diet of comic books, the WWF, Punk Rock, Kung Fu and ninja movies, Elvira, Rocky, Rambo, Smokey and the Bandit, Young Frankenstein, and Yankees night games on WPIX 11. My dream life, which I kept several childhood diaries and drew endless pictures about, was a cross between my two biggest obsessions — The Goonies and Back to the Future…. And then there was TELEVISION. The Incredible Hulk, Batman, Wonder Woman, He-Man, Three’s Company, Dark Shadows, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, CHiPs, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Dukes of Hazzard, Dynasty, every conceivable variety show, and Saturday Night Live. Growing up to be a hot superhuman with a glamorous adult life chock full of intrigue was my greatest aspiration. I wanted it all. Adventure! Romance! Time travel! 30 years have passed and I can’t deny that these pop culture touchstones are largely responsible for who I am today and what I value. My husband Matt once quipped that my dowry was “a stack of Mad magazines and a pink weight set.” He wasn’t kidding.
TRSL: For those that may not know, tell us a little bit about your work and your current project in particular.
Margo Neely: Ladies Revenge Club is a streaming, broadcast quality television series, produced by Neely Air (a division of Neely & Daughters) and NYC’s legendary off-Broadway Axis Theatre Company. The story was written and developed with my longtime collaborator David Crabb, host of The Moth StorySLAM and author of the hit memoir Bad Kid, released by Harper Perennial earlier this year.
The plot (in a nutshell): Manville, USA. 1963: It’s every man’s place… (where every woman knows hers!) — Until five unlucky ladies, victims of a biological experiment gone horribly wrong, become supervixens hellbent on vengeance!
TRSL: What’s your process like? Take us through a project from beginning to end.
Margo Neely: A lot of what I do is a creative reaction to personal or political issues. Getting angry about things doesn’t accomplish much, so I try to channel that energy into finding a funny and beautiful response — one that makes me, and hopefully an audience experiencing similar frustrations, laugh or feel inspired and less alone. I meditate for a bit on what’s rankling me, and I ask the universe (essentially) for a creative response. Then I let it go. Moments, days, or weeks later, the idea comes into my mind, fully formed. The difficult part is extracting the material from my brain — doing the work as carefully as possible to preserve the vision and maintain its integrity. It’s endless hours and, in the case of Ladies Revenge Club, years of work. I hold myself to incredibly high standards when it comes to honoring the concept and bringing new work to life.
TRSL: What are some of your work’s major influences?
Margo Neely: Aesthetically speaking, the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema — the Technicolor masterpieces of the 50s and 60s in particular — are huge. The soundstage/rear projection/super-saturated color trifecta were the goal for the look of Ladies Revenge Club. The overall style and tone of the Batman ‘66 television series was the blueprint. The content was greatly inspired by and meant to be an amalgam of Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Golden Girls, X-Men, and the collected works of my hero, Mel Brooks. (In my mind I’ve always thought of this project as “the missing Mel Brooks movie.”) If you take all of these things, throw them in a blender and toss in a liberal dose of satire, you get Ladies Revenge Club.
TRSL: What makes your work different?
Margo Neely: Ladies Revenge Club was beyond hands on — I produced, scheduled, wrote, designed, composed, directed edited, and marketed ‘til I was ready to drop. I pride myself on doing it all and doing it well. I think a true filmmaker should be able to wear every hat. My dad had a drill sergeant in the Army, Sgt. Sweetapple, who always used to say, “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t!” But here’s the thing —with a little elbow grease and determination you can. And Ladies Revenge Club is proof of that.
TRSL: How is your field changing? What are some things you are, and are not looking forward to?
Margo Neely: It’s super awesome that the equipment and resources are available and inexpensive enough that you can create the professional-level art and films of your dreams — as long as you have the time and the skills, of course. It sucks that distribution has not gotten any easier and indie project visibility is basically nil. This is the case from Broadway to the big screen, where it’s safest, from a producer’s perspective, to stick with proven properties. The industry is mostly unwilling to take a financial risk on anything new or sans star power. I doubt that will change.
TRSL: What’s one moment in pop culture, be it a scene or a song or a piece of art or writing that changed your life or affected you in a major way?
Margo Neely: The 1978 Charles of the Ritz ENJOLI “8 Hour perfume for the 24 hour woman” television commercial. Seeing this as a little girl pretty much rocked my world. I couldn’t get enough of that late 70s glamour. It just mesmerized me. I dreamed of shimmying into a skin tight pair of Sergio Valenti jeans, a big ass fur coat and oversized dark glasses, driving our gas guzzler through the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City, proceeding directly to a white scrim void photoshoot, and finishing out the evening at Studio 54. I grew up to be the 24 hour woman. I lived in NYC, built a business, married a fantastic dude and gave birth (this year!) to a beautiful baby girl. I hope I’ve made Charles proud!
TRSL: If you could visit any fictional location, where would that be?
Margo Neely: The Love Boat. I need a tongue-free French kiss on the Lido deck in front of a super fake backdrop while powerful electric fans simulate an ocean breeze through my hair. STAT.
TRSL: f you could meet any 3 fictional characters, who would you want them to be?
Margo Neely: I’m going to give you my kinder, gentler version of F/M/K here (…with no K.) It’s D/M/F.
1. Marty McFly — my forever boyfriend/bandmate, with whom I would share suspenders, skateboard rides, and many cans of Pepsi Free.
2. Bill Bixby’s Dr. David Banner — my first love and childhood dream husband. We would hold hands and do science together, and I would make it my mission to keep him very calm because sorry, Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk. You are not invited to the party. You’re mad sketchy. I have a huge collection of Celestial Seasonings teas to sip on, a degree in critical theory from NYU, and I love DWELL houses. We can make this work!
3. Christian Grey (Enough said. Don’t tell my husband.)
TRSL: Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
Margo Neely: Happy, healthy, loved, and surrounded by wonderful friends and my beautiful family is my wish. The specifics I will leave up to the universe. It has a history of more accurately predicting where I end up than I do. (But if I can whisper in its ear, I’d like a lot more time at the beach!)