A Field Guide to Summer TV: Wednesday

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday! (Apologies for the delay. My to-do list expanded, as it often does when moving house is involved.) But I’m here now, (and on Los Angeles time, no less) ready to get back in our Jurassic Park style safari vehicle. I can feel that water surface vibrating right now. Let’s find some T-Rexes.

If "Falling Skies" had more dinosaurs, I'd like it a lot more.

8 PM – Those Adorable Dinos That Kind of Remind You of Littlefoot

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A Field Guide to Summer TV: Tuesday

So you’ve figured out Monday, set your DVR, Hulu queue, etc. And you got ready for Tuesday, only to find out that the USA network and ABC Family have jumped into the mix. And there are some hard hitters to deal with.

[Note: I’m only including new, narrative television, so I won’t be taking on Teen Mom. You’re on your own for that kids.]

Tuesday’s Child is Atmospheric and Sophomoric (In the Best Way)

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A Field Guide to Summer TV: Monday

Hello intrepid Lemoners! I see you’ve been crawling through the wilds of summer, swatting mojitos and drinking mosquitoes. Strike that. Reverse it. Anyhoo…

Yet another terrible heat wave has hit the Midwest and East Coast, and I want my readers to stay cool and entertained. How? Find some air conditioning, a drink with an umbrella, and watch some summer TV. The afternoon is easy. Either you’re by the pool or in the office or watching HGTV, but how do you decide when everything’s at 9 and 10 PM, set up against each other?  Let’s make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Monday’s Child Is A Little Bit Geeky, But Stronger Than She Looks

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The Many Hats of An Assistant Director

This list was originally compiled as part of a discussion in class in the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. Considering it’s getting to be AD season again soon for the school kids, and lots are out doing just this in the real world, I thought it’d be interesting to put the list back out there. Nota Bene this refers to an Assistant Director in theatre. In the film and television world, ADs are whole different [very interesting] story, but they overlap with Stage Mangers more than Theatrical ADs typically do. (Originally published on the CMU Directors tumblr.)

  • Active Observer – This is your most important job. Be present in the room. Take notes (with permission.) Be able to speak articulately about the process (but only when asked.)
  • Staging Director – Sometimes a director has you take a stab at a scene while s/he works on another, especially if the scale of the show is daunting or the rehearsal period is short
  • Acting Coach – Working on monologues, moments, talking through things with actors (with permission.)
  • Translator – Sometimes it’s English to Spanish, sometimes it’s their English to conventional English 😉
  • Production Assistant / Personal Assistant – Coffee, correspondence, sometimes even babysitting
  • Emotional Supporter – Depending on your relationship, this becomes an important part, but it’s also part of being a good friend and good person
  • Stage Manager / Technical Director  – Can that chair be brought on stage left? Is there enough clearance?
  • Sounding Board / Confidante – Sometimes a director needs to talk something through, and they might not necessarily want your opinion. They just need to talk it through.
  • Wide-Eyed Optimist – Be the person who sees the good in everything: the production, the difficult actor or designer. Be infectious but not obnoxious.
  • King’s Fool – (With permission) Ask the stupid questions. Not pointedly, but ask them. Someone’s got to do it.
  • Sightline Checker / Traffic Cop – Two sets of eyes are better than one.
  • Dramaturg – Research, theory, accountability to the vision.
  • Fixer – in the organized crime sense. Sometimes you get sent out with a task that you’re not told how to do, and you just have to figure it out. You’re the fixer. The family depends on you to take care of things.
  • Liaison – Directors have lots of meetings to go to, and if you prove yourself, you can be a great representative for him or her if there’s a scheduling conflict that requires s/he be somewhere else when the meeting’s happening.
  • Hostage Negotiator – Things should never get to this point, but sometimes they do. This connects to being an optimist. Smoothing over professional disagreements as gently as possible is a skill you are sometimes called on to have. Be very careful with this one. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, happen often.
  • Wrangler (Children, Animals, Puppets, Actors, etc.) – Some directors don’t like having to deal with kids, animals, or particular special effects. Make their life easier and take care of those issues both artistically and personally. (Again, always wait until you’re asked.)

Most importantly, you need to talk to your director to figure out which roles you’re fulfilling. Expectations will often change after that first conversation, but you need to know the rules of the world before you start helping someone run it! Every assignment, every relationship, every director, and every situation is different!

Like sometimes you directed the best Star Wars movie and you don’t end up a household name.

I love you Irvin Kerschner.

Lillian Explains the Nielsen Ratings (Or How You Too Can Play “Charlie”)

At an industry panel at Carnegie Mellon, just before we graduated, someone asked why shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, American Idol, and Two and a Half Men remain on the air while more adventurous and artistic fare (anthologies, Pushing Daisies, Better Off Ted, etc.)  gets slowly shunted to the side and eventually canceled. The magic answer, folks, is advertising money, or rather, how those advertisers choose the shows they back: the Nielsen Ratings.

How It Works

You’ve probably heard the term “Nielsen Ratings” flung around at some point. It’s how networks claim the “#1 Drama on Television” “#1 Comedy Block on the Air,” etc. The Nielsen households are a set of about 25,000 homes throughout the nation that have “Set Meters” attached to their televisions. These Set Meters record what is watched by the household and send that data through the phonelines to the Nielsen company, an advertising consulting firm.

Not everyone has Set Meters. You would know if you did. When the Nielsen Company calls, the first thing they’ll ask is if you have a family member in the entertainment industry. They don’t want your family ties contaminating their data. Yet, even if you don’t have an uncle who’s a grip for Jerry Springer, think about how being a Nielsen household might affect your viewing habits. Compare how you watch television with your parents vs. how you watch when you’re alone. (They know you watch 90210 guys. Really they do.) Though there are lots of measures in place to try to keep Nielsen households from undue pressure, you behave differently when you know someone cares about what you watch. From an ion article about the Nielsens:

We weren’t to tell people or accept gifts or otherwise be persuaded to watch a certain show… We did make sure to watch Buffy and Angel in syndicated repeats, and made a special effort to watch the first season of the Venture Bros, which did need just another household or two to put it over the top. And it worked.

A partisan Nielsen voter? WHA?!?

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How to Prevent Piracy (or What the MPAA Can Learn from Commodore Norrington)

I love Hulu. LOVE Hulu. I love the interactive ads and the recommendations. I even tolerate the freezes and the delays after broadcast. Which is why I facepalm in response to the current piracy laws in the United States and the way that they are enforced. The most public and political pirate sites like Ninjavideo were shut down just over a year ago now, and the entertainment industry still hasn’t learned its lesson: you have to win the PR war before you can beat the pirates.

You Think You’re John Wayne, But You Look Like Prince John

Do you remember those high stakes ads that used to run at the front of feature films that compared downloading films to stealing a car?

It’s understandable that companies are frustrated. The MarkMonitor report has pointed out that the top three pirate websites (rapidshare, megavideo,and megaupload) get more than 21 million views per year, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. As one of the founders of Ninjavideo, Phara said in the circulated Ninjavideo Manifesto, every pirate will be replaced by another. For the younger generations, pirating is a way of life, talked about with the casual tenor that older people reserve for jaywalking. This is the generation that grew up with the hyperbolic ad above. They will not be guilted and they see through scare tactics like lawsuits against individual users. So the next choice was to change the way young people thought about intellectual property.

You can’t share something that’s not yours. But how do you explain to a teenager that they don’t own that Justin Bieber CD that they bought? Or rather that they own the physical disc, but not the data on it? Or they do own the data on it, and can load it into their iTunes, move it from that CD to iPhone, iPad, iPod, iwhatever format you want just not a file sharing website pleasegodplease?  Continue reading

Excerpt from “Suckers”

An excerpt from my weird little vampire comedy, “Suckers,” about Doug, a vampire who finds out that fangs give you a speech impediment and geek is forever.

Highgate Cemetery in London was used as a location for several Hammer horror films. It is an important historical landmark in its own right as one of the largest and most important Victorian cemeteries.

EXT. HIGHGATE CEMETERY, LONDON, THE DAZIEL TOMB, NEAR SWAIN’S LANE – NIGHT

A Victorian-era cemetery: Gothic architecture, climbing ivy on the trees and stone. Pagan gargoyles lust after stone angels in the dark. The moon is out and the fog lies low.

A Londoner, teenage, in heavy eyeliner, SARAH HUTCHINSON, slight, dressed all in black is walking through the fog, a bag slung over her shoulder. Her artificially black hair falls in her face a little as she passes by a particularly large and foreboding tomb.

A DARK FIGURE whizzes by. Sarah freezes. The only motion is the swirling of the fog. She breathes shallowly and adjusts her bag on her shoulder.

Another BLUR OF MOVEMENT on the other side of her, she whips around with a gasp.

SARAH

Hello?

A POV from behind the graves. Sarah’s eyes are wide and glassy, like a cornered animal.

SARAH

Hellooo?

Sarah’s eyes settle on the viewer’s angle. The POV shot tilts upward, shooting into the air at a vertigo inducing pace.

Sarah looks at the top of a tree. The fog swirls just above it, but there is nothing there but leaves and low-lying cloud.

Sarah alone on the road, a silhouette in the moonlight. She is still scanning the area by the tree line off to the side.

SARAH

This isn’t funny, Sean–

Suddenly, the dark figure POUNCES on her from above, bringing her to the ground. She lets out a muffled cry, but is immediately silenced. Continue reading

Subversion in the Mainstream and James Bond in a Dress

Ready to have your life changed? James Bond just became a feminist.

Today is International Women’s Day. In fact, it’s the 100th International Women’s Day. 100 years ago, women’s rights leaders joined together in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark to campaign for their rights in a concentrated effort, demanding the right to work, to vote, to be educated and trained, to hold public (and private) office, and to end discrimination and victimization in the public and private spheres. (You can learn more about International Women’s Day and historical feminist activism here.) What does this have to do with Daniel Craig in drag?

Well, director Sam Taylor-Wood and writer Jane Goldman have given us a short film where the bravest, most daring, most dashing person in the world has found one mission he doesn’t want to take on: being a woman. I could pontificate on the power of seeing one of the manliest British actors in relatively convincing drag or the subversive nature of Dame Judi Dench’s authoritative narration, so different from the voiceovers that we usually hear from female actors. I could rant about the frustrating fact that despite a woman’s first Oscar win for Best Director was for an action film, this two-minute short is the first Bond film directed by a woman, despite the success of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli.

Maybe that’s an unfair complaint. Kathryn Bigelow only won the Oscar a year ago, and the successes of the short’s writer Jane Goldman (StardustKick-Ass, and Kick-Ass 2) are heartening for women who want to make action movies or other “masculine” genres. The success of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Diablo Cody’s Juno are helping women carve a place in the world of comedy.  (Although I’m sure Fey’s new book is going to point out how far we need to go on that front too.)

Women aren’t making Bond films, but Bond films have changed to reflect this new world M references in the PSA. There are lots of interesting feminist moments in Casino Royale, but the littlest one, and possibly my favorite, is around 7:30 in this clip. Bond is kissing Vesper and then she starts saying “No. Stop. Stop it.” In a Sean Connery Bond film this moment would be when he kisses her harder, and then she reveals that she likes it, that no means yes. In Casino Royale, Bond stops. Immediately. And he doesn’t get resentful or scary, or share a sad look with the camera. He’s always looking at her, and he doesn’t resist her paying her share. This Bond is a different kind of Neanderthal, not a perfect feminist partner, but certainly not the paragon of male chauvinism we see in the Ian Fleming novels and 60s and 70s films.

Contrast the dynamic between Vesper and Craig’s Bond and Honey (Ursula Andress) and Sean Connery’s Bond:

“Are you looking for shells?”

“No. Just looking.”

And see the tables turn in Vesper and Bond’s first meeting, where she calls him on his character’s chauvinist legacy:

It is Craig’s portrayal of Bond that makes the PSA so powerful. Continue reading