I sat down with, or rather exchanged a few DMs on Twitter with the writer, Twitter personality, and all-around funny dad Zach Heltzel. We touched on Disney Chanel Original Movies (DCOMs), writing, and the emotional weight of Love, Simon.
Panda: If you were to describe your personality as a flavor of LaCroix, what flavor would it be?
Zach Heltzel: Coconut. It’s not for everybody, it’s obviously unnatural, but it’s sublime if you can roll with its particular quirks.
P: I listen to every episode of your DCOM podcast (Zetus Lapodcast). What are the worst bad movies you’ve watched and the best bad movies you’ve watched?
ZH: As it pertains to Disney Channel Original Movies, this is a really tough one to answer. The good ones and the bad ones share a lot of the same DNA; the difference between those two camps are that the bad ones are immediately forgettable while the good ones put a unique spin on familiar themes. I wouldn’t say there are any “so bad, it’s good” DCOMs – movies like The Scream Team, High School Musical 2, Halloweentown, etc. are not guilty pleasures. They’re fun family films (say that five times fast) made with genuine humor and heart.
P: Do you hate when people ask you question about DCOMs or have you settled into your role as the master of all DCOMs?
ZH: I would hate if people didn’t ask me about DCOMs as if I were not the world’s leading authority on the topic. I’m sure there are people without dumb alt-comedy podcasts who know more about Disney Channel Original Movies than I do, but I can’t complain about being recognized as an expert of sorts.
P: I once referred to you as the gayest straight man on earth. Do others feel that way and are you offended by it?
ZH: I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a problem with this when I was growing up. People have been making assumptions about my sexuality since before I knew I had a sexuality, so I experienced a significant fraction of the hatred and ridicule queer people face growing up. At the same time, it was a kind of blessing. I have found community and friendship in queer spaces I have been invited into that I would not trade for the world.
P: What DCOMs are on the agenda for your upcoming podcasts?
ZH: The podcast has been on hiatus for the last few months. Roughly once a year, I take a mental health break from the podcast because the monotony of watching TV movies for children can slowly make you go insane, but we will be back soon with new episodes covering what I call Obama-era DCOMs. Movies I was too old for when they came out but are already more than a few years old because time is a cruel monster who moves too fast.
P: You’re one of the funniest writers on the web. Do you have any projects in the pipeline you wanna share?
ZH: First of all, I disagree with the premise of your question. I exclusively write incoherent garbage for an audience of no one. Let’s just make that abundantly clear.That said, I appreciate the pandering sentiment and I encourage you and anybody reading this to reach out to me for fancy, watermarked PDF files of the two pilot scripts I have been shopping around. I think they’re funny, but like I said, I write for an audience of no one…and I am a nobody.
P: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers out there?
ZH: Read, watch, and listen to as much as you can that speaks to you and the stories you want to tell. You’ll start to figure out exactly how you want to express yourself because you’ll have an almost scientific understanding of what you like and why you like it.
Plus, you’ll know what’s already been done so you won’t waste your time accidentally replicating it.
Secondly, go live your life to the fullest. Your imagination is no substitute for the poetic chaos of human interaction.
The universe has a way of making crazy, seemingly unrelated plot threads come together and you should exploit the cosmic magic of how the stories of your life are written in your creative work.
P: What are a few of your favorite things in media right now?
ZH: I continue to be obsessed with the TV show NIRVANNA THE BAND THE SHOW. Season 2 is hard to find if you’re not Canadian (it’ll be out in the United States eventually – I personally have a dealer who smuggles me that sweet, sweet product), but it is profoundly groundbreaking comedy.On the movie side, I didn’t love it necessarily, but I’m on day three of being an emotional wreck because of LOVE, SIMON. It so perfectly captures the anxiety of a seemingly permanent state of being suddenly, rapidly coming to an end, regardless of what we do.
It’s a coming out story, sure, but so much of Simon’s struggle with this is related to how his relationships with his friends, family, and the world are going to be different. But he’s almost a legal adult, he’s almost out of high school, he’s almost about to move across the country. That paradigm shift is coming for him anyway. It comes for us all.
The segment of the film where Simon has to directly confront his panic and terror over both his coming-of-age and his coming out is so visceral, so painful, that I’ve been shaken to my core by it ever since. Most of the movie is pretty sitcom-level, but Berlanti and especially Nick Robinson (a DCOM alum!) knocked it out of the park.
P: What is your favorite thing, place, or person you go to for inspiration?
ZH: My memories. Songs I listened to in specific years of my life. Distinct smells. Years old Livejournal posts. Stuff like that.
P: What would the title of a reality show about your life be, and what would your Real Housewives-esque tagline be?
ZH: I’m shocked I don’t have canned answers for these, so I’m going to give you somewhat unsatisfying answers off the cuff.My reality show would be titled Zachoff (very mature!) and my Real Housewives quote would be something along the lines of “I’m not a father, but I am your Daddy.” Great job, Zach. Reinforce that brand identity.
Check out this episode of Zetus Lapodcast for more Zach Heltzel, and make sure to subscribe.