My favorite podcasts are the ones where someone who actually knows what they’re talking about does most of the talking. So I was delighted when New York comedian Dan Wilbur (the one who does not know what he’s talking about) cornered screenwriter Bob Schneider (the one who does know what he’s talking about) and they managed to create Million Dollar Movies. The show is in its infancy, but it is wholly unlike any of the pop culture comedy recap shows in the podcast space right now. It’s a show about movies, but it’s really a show about life. And, more so than that, it’s a show about a brilliant mind rambling about in a deeply entertaining way.
Dan Wilbur hails from Cleveland originally, and has been performing in New York City for years and touring colleges around the country. He spent his college time bouncing around various creative writing and screenwriting programs. He’s a few train stops away from his co-host Bob Schneider, who is… something else. He was born in 1947 and grew up on the Lower East Side. When he was six his family moved up to Times Square, which was covered in theaters. It was Schneider’s playground: movie theaters and freakshows and ski-ball palaces. During a Thanksgiving dinner a few years later, his father-in-law called him a bum. And, thanks to drugs and a college burnout period, he discovered he was, indeed, a bum. He entered a screenwriting program so he could use the Pell grant to pay himself to watch movies.
With his wife and writing partner, Peg Haller, Schneider wrote a film called Normal Life that led them into a bizarre Hollywood rollercoaster that, as you can hear on the show, features Harvey Weinstein optioning a soccer movie involving a dog who turns into a man, amidst other gigantic bizarre projects. The couple was smart and used their first film’s funds to buy a house, allowing them to rest pretty easy now. Schneider thinks if you told anyone he knew from college that he was a successful screenwriter who’s still married with two kids and a house, they’d think you had lost your mind.
Schneider is a complicated guy with a lot to say, and the weirdest set of Hollywood bona fides and stories to back him up. For a 70 year old lefty lapsed Jewish atheist, he has a lot of opinions to share and very little patience for dissenting ideas. He’s also the kind of man that considers his career to be a personal failure but never uses that to detract from making new and interesting material. He’s the kind of man who would name his McSweeney’s column after the film Shock Corridor, a movie literally dozens of people have seen.
Schneider’s daughter is a screenwriter that Wilbur met in college, so when Wilbur moved to NYC, what cheaper place to live than in Schneider’s house? While living there, Schneider would interrupt Wilbur by asking him for feedback on scripts or forcing him to stop what he was doing to watch movies like Three Days of the Condor on TV. It sounds like a better movie than a shared experience.
The two never really shared a friendship while Wilbur lived in the house. A few years passed, and Wilbur wound up giving the art film streaming service Filmstruck a shot. No matter what he watched, whether it was terrible or incredible, he’d find himself wanting to talk with somebody about it. Wilbur realized that Schneider probably had a few good rants left in him, and thus their podcast was born. The goal is to present a new “Bizarro Canon,” as Schneider calls it. The standard for this canon is whether one old Jew really likes it, and Wilbur is sounding board and platform for whatever topics Schneider spirals into as they go. Nothing is ever chosen to be mocked Dan Wilbur this is a learning experience all around. And Schneider’s writing pointers and behind-the-scenes trivia are second to none.
It’s a show with heart and soul, just as much ranting as you might want from an engaged set of hosts, and a bizarre combination of facts, trivia and screenwriting advice that you’d be foolish to ignore if this is your kind of things.
“Stories about Bob growing up in NYC in the ‘50s are just as prevalent as Bob ferociously striking down my criticisms,” Wilbur tells me. “Also, Bob can do three degrees of separation about any noun and the Holocaust. Name a thing. In two to three steps he can tell you why the Nazis were responsible. It’s an amazing skill.”
Wilbur is constantly in the process of actively learning on the show, which is a great guide for the audience, especially when they get into surprise choices like the conservative propaganda of Red Planet Mars, which Wilbur is sure would be Mike Pence’s favorite film, but still find an appropriate home in Schneider’s canon. That’s balanced against learning about the screenwriting process from a man that thinks so many modern films are pieces of shit thanks to Robert McKee.
As part of an interview, I ask both hosts what their strongest held political beliefs are. Dan Wilbur thinks pot should be legal and anyone in jail for it should be released. Schneider had this to say:
“America is over. My favorite story: I told my daughter and her best friend that they were eventually coming to send you to the camps, and I was vindicated when Trump was elected and the white nationalists came out of the woodwork. America is bullshit, and isn’t aware or even as good as Germany because Germany actually cares about shaming their children and educating them about the atrocities they committed. America, founded on genocide, has never apologized for what we did to the American Indians. We still use Redskins as a football team’s name. Germany has institutionalized shaming. America is exceptional at being the worst assholes in the history of man.”
If I haven’t properly conveyed how much happens on top of movie discussion here, I hope that sums it up. And in other situations that would look like I’m making a joke at the show’s expense: that is not the case. Part of what draws me to this podcast is the universal nature of movies but also how a film from 1942 can result in two adult men sharing a heated multi-hour conversation because movies will always have that power. It’s a show that’s taking on the Filmstruck library in the way that so many hundreds of other podcasts are plowing through ‘90s TV shows on Netflix, and I find someone taking on 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly and its influence on modern cinema much more interesting than recapping another episode of Friends.
So where does the young show go from here? There’s never enough good movies that haven’t gotten their proper due for this duo to ever run out of material. A few guests will probably get sprinkled in, and every ten movies or so Wilbur hijacks the programing to expose Schneider to something new… which should go exceptionally well. An upcoming episode takes on the 2004 action film The Day After Tomorrow, which Schneider thinks belongs in the bizarro canon because “it is a subversive liberal fantasy about forcing Dick Cheney to apologize to America as it’s being destroyed by climate change.”
The only other thing Wilbur and Schneider know is that their final episode has to be recorded with Schneider’s daughter Hannah, who brought them both together.
Like I said, there’s a lot of heart here. Mix in ridiculous Hollywood stories, screenwriting tips, and loud political talking, and there’s no way I’m not going to listen to this show.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.