Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beautiful Creatures? How did I miss this?

 In today's edition of "I suppose I really can't be everywhere at once" Beautiful Creatures is coming out.

Maybe it's that I have been loath to start a new non-steampunk mythical creature romance franchise since the whole Twilight Era, but to be entirely fair, when it's done well, they can be my absolute favorite thing.

That said, I'll be checking out Beautiful Creatures now, in part because there seem to be some pretty heady opinions in the press about it not being awful.
Beautiful Creatures is what Twilight would be if it were awesome
"Everything you hated about Twilight — the bad dialogue, the sappy scenarios and drippy characters, the eye-rolling politics — is made right in Beautiful Creatures. This flick is a supernatural high school romance full of teenagers who talk like real human beings and make decisions that aren't entirely stupid. And yet it's still a terrific, fun flight of fancy about witches, ghosts of the Civil War, and a small southern town where church ladies fight librarians for the souls of the young. This is the movie you never expected to like — but you probably will. "
Review: Beautiful Creatures (2013) Is Almost Fantastic
Over at the Huffington Post
"The film paints an evocative picture of life in a dead-end fundamentalist American small town and is unapologetic about depicting some unpleasant sides of religious fundamentalism.  But while the film outright soars when  it focuses on character and human interaction, it cannot withstand the weight of its own overly contrived mythology.  The deeper the film gets into its central conflict the more of a mechanical plot exercise it becomes.  So superb is the first two thirds of Beautiful Creatures that I felt genuine disappointment when the film flubbed the landing, ending itself in the territory of merely 'very good.' "
Of course, for everyone who likes YA Paranormal Romance (lol publishing genre titles) there are plenty who don't. But does their distaste means the movie is bad?

Beautful Creatures Review by Variety
"The film ultimately plays like so much teenage girl poetry, heavy on the angst, endearingly naive in its notions of love and yet brought vividly to life by a game cast, evocative locations (both indoors and out) and stunning anamorphic lensing. Louisiana works nicely for Civil War-obsessed Gatlin, suggesting a tween-friendly 'True Blood.' "
Beautiful Creatures Review from Rolling Stone
"When Lena hits her 16th birthday she'll be called to fight with the light side or the dark side. It's a bigger yawn than it sounds. As supernatural types, Oscar winners Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson overact so strenuously and with such outrageously awful Southern accents that you fear the damage this crock may do to their reputations. Bukowski would have puked. I know I did."
Are the critiques of the movie's story going to get in the way of new audiences (non book readers lets say) enjoying and getting into the world? Can you love it if your heart isn't already open to Mississippi Witch Teen Drama? I will let you know what my thoughts are when the movie is released to the public. 
The books authors weighed in in an interview with TIME that is probably worth reading for posterity, they're stating that they tried to respect the teen audience more than other books of the genre as intelligent and reasonable... did they deliver?
"We wanted to write a story about strong girls, because they were strong girls. We wanted to write a story about claiming yourself, owning who you are, being the person that you are, accepting who you are. Because not only did we see them trying to do that, but we weren’t brave enough to do that when we were their age. They were much braver than us. And it was like us cheering them on."

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Curse of Minority Feisty

"If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon,” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear."
I cannot tell you how much seeing "feisty" in a script turns me off.  As, Reel Girl, and Jezebel point out Girls are underrepresented on screen on TV and film, and those secondary characters are often given the same "personality".

What girls I've seen in most scripts fall into two categories overall:

"Pretty" The Love Interest, The Ingenue, the Delicate impossibly unattainable feminine ideal, painted pink and flowery. And of course it's more grown up "Sexy" which is a term of age, rather than any real difference in character attitudes usually.

Or, the Feisty Girl. 

The Feisty Girl is more modern, she would pick red over pink and feisty tends to be code for "competent female with positive qualities of modern womanhood" but, to be honest, boiling all of that down to one adjective is as unproductive as the other stereotypes of ages past.

It's lazy. The largest issue that I come across in characterization is laziness. Take the time to develop your characters, male or female. The problem appears more relevant when we talk about female characters in aggregate because female characters are more often than not, secondary.

Every time you see a "feisty" girl, she's almost an afterthought, Feisty is a grab bag and it's not as useful as it's overuse wants it to be. When you're picking adjectives, try and pick 3 that are unusual.

Let's do that for a start.

Next time you're writing a script, if you want to describe your characters as "Pretty", "Sexy", or "Feisty." Stop for a moment, and open a thesaurus. Find the other adjective that best colors the character you're writing then use that instead.

It wouldn't take that more time, and would propel character development ahead by leaps and bounds.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Carrie Diaries: Let Hate-Watching Be the Judge

While The Carrie Diaries has had 4 episodes, the response is notably tepid.

Rumors of Cancellation, tepid.

This story world extension of Sex in the City had already alienated some important gatekeepers to the fan community it's seeking by changing some pretty major elements of Carrie Bradshaw's back story. The "disrespect" for the source material even alienated the major league of hate-watching at New York Magazine, and if they disdain to snark at you you're in trouble.

 More than marketing, understanding what your audience loves, or at least what brings them joy about something is essential to crafting an experience they'll invest their time in. For a show like Sex and the City, there was the idea that "water-cooler conversation" equated to "girls night chatter" or "4 Cosmo brunches." This is what hate-watching is, the more open, more public review of your project and the honest assessment of the people who love your show most. If you can't even inspire that, you genuinely need to rethink why you're doing it.

If your show doesn't inspire people to be funny, and excite people to talk about it, it's already dead.
If you want to see what the triumphant eviscerating hate-watching could be/have been, I've included two sources you might/might have enjoyed tuning in for:

From Jezebel: "We Watched the First Four Episodes of The Carrie Diaries so You Don't Have To."
"Being something of a professional Sex and the City-eviscerator, I fully planned to watch the premiere of The Carrie Diaries and offer hella bon mots about peplum skirts and Samantha's future-vulva. But then, you know, life and not-caring got in the way, and now we're four episodes in and there are already rumblings about cancellation! And I haven't even figured out yet whether or not I should care! As ratings have been rather dismal, it seems as though most of you haven't figured it out yet either. But don't worry. I'm on it. Below, you'll get the dirt on everything that has happened so far.
Entertainment Weekly, Bless their Hearts, also gave it the old college try, but much like the rest of the world, doesn't seem to be able to pull it together enough to care about the show. 

"So basically we find Carrie Bradshaw living in Castlebury, Connecticut with her dad Tom (Matt Lescher) and her younger sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen). Side note: what kind of name is Dorrit? It doesn’t really blend with Carrie. I feel like her sister’s name should be like Kathy or Paula or Megan. It’s kinda like when my youngest brother was born and I wanted to name him Taylor or Connor or something jazzy and my parents were like, “Those don’t really fit with Tim and Ryan” (we eventually chose Matt). Also, Dorrit is real goth and apparently likes taking Carrie’s things, like their dead mother’s patent leather purse. "
I wish this show inspired more excitement, even within the narrow boundaries of its demographic requirements or the frame of the Sex and the City franchise. It just doesn't feel like it has, or has found its heart. It's thoroughly generic despite having a brand identity with a strong essence it could have drawn from.

While it's largely the same critique one can apply to the Sex and the City movie sequels, the franchise doesn't feel like the stories are more than "Brand Extensions". Rather than the organic growth of an interesting story world. Maybe it's the length between extensions, can the creators capture the enthusiasm of the first stories that were so much of a moment and so specific to the zeitgeist of that time? My job being to help creators find that core and extend it I can't help but feel like they lost track of their themes, never defined them explicitly for themselves and are having a terrible time understanding what timeless elements would apply to any story in their world.

Did anyone read the book? Is it reflected in the series? I suppose that's my next assignment here. I'll let you know when I'm done. If you want to read it with me in the Mystery of Girls' Media Book Club, hit me up on Twitter @Caitlin_Burns

Link: Yes it's 2013, Pop Star Shaves head for Shaming Girl Group by having Boyfriend

The Atlantic Lays it Out:

"The official YouTube channel of AKB48, the most popular musical group in Japan today, usually hosts music video clips and other promotions. Yet around 10 p.m. on January 31, a clip unlike anything ever posted there popped up. Minami Minegishi, a popular member of AKB48 since the group's founding in 2005, faced the camera and apologized profusely to fans. As tears washed over her face, she said those in charge of the group had demoted her to the "trainee" team and, to punish herself, she had shaved her head. Her transgression: being caught leaving a young man's apartment several days earlier."
The Jury of her Peers.

What You Need to Know: Smash Begins Again

Season 1 Marketing
 The Spielberg Produced, lady led; or rather, once led by ladies Network show SMASH has premiered for it's second season.

Season 2

This show has become one of the most vibrant "Hate-Watch" Shows in recent memory. This has inspired a spate of quite interesting commentary on the phenomenon and the show itself. 

"Hate-watching is the act of watching a show that you claim to dislike with the sole purpose of mocking it. With the recent return of Smash, a highly mockable melodrama about the behind-the-scenes happenings of a Broadway production, hate-watching seems to be a hot button term in TV writing, but is hate-watching even a real thing? Or do we just refuse to admit that we like shitty things?"

Jezebel took on the question of Hate-Watching

I for one love the snarky critique of a piece of work often more than the work itself. I couldn't do my job if I couldn't find ways to enjoy things that aren't masterpieces.  New York Magazine's Gossip Girl Recaps (With New York Reality Indexing) got me through seasons 1-6 and made the show required watching so that I would at least be in on the best jokes.

This type of watching is genuinely social in a way that is very modern. The question of whether or not you like a show is almost immaterial if you LOVE the conversation around it and it brings you joy. And Lord does gossiping about fictional characters bring joy. The trouble is, sometimes stories are bad, sometimes they're so bad their good, and sometimes they're genuinely awful and defy even ones ability to mock them. The Internet helps, there are some gifted comedians out there who could mock the least compelling things imaginable and be charming, but that isn't something that necessarily means that it should be an aspiration for a show to be Hate-Watched.
Season 1 Marketing

So what does it mean for a show that was notionally about Theatre; and about Theatre Production, sort of about Marilyn Monroe and sort of about an American Idol star and still trying to pry a Broadway Theatrical Production in real life out of the clutches of whatever it is that is going on here.

The best deconstruction I've seen of the situation in the real life production I've seen comes from Buzzfeed, that put out a delightful long read about the behind-the-scenes drama of the behind-the-scenes drama that led to the creatives changes between season 1 and season 2.

On Buzzfeed:
"How does a lovingly looked-after show with such high stakes for all involved become a joke? Smash is a case study: in how megalomania and television can clash unproductively; in how high expectations can crash immediately; and in how intense network and studio oversight can result in a paranoid show creator who causes workplace misery and, most importantly, a bad TV show."

You should read the whole thing, it helps understand a lot of the tension that is clear between the two takes on the concept that are clearly, quite diverse.

Smash isn’t just shallow, selfish, stupid, and narcissistic: 
it’s a hundred percent sure that everyone else in the world is, too.

The other commentary that you absolutely must read on the subject of Smash is from Chris Braak, who I am quoting above and below:

From Braak's Excellent article "On Smash, and why it is the WORST."
Or else take Jennifer Hudson’s advice to Katherine McPhee, about her burgeoning career as a Broadway star: “Protect the work,” she says. “Someone’s always waiting to take you down, but if the work’s good, they won’t be able to.” If you cared about the work, then there might be times when you sacrificed of yourself in order to improve it: you might say, for example, “This show is good, but it would be better if it starred you, Megan Hilty,” and then you’d back out of the production. In that sense, if the work’s good then it doesn’t matter if someone else takes you down, because you’ve contributed to something that is greater than yourself, and it’s impossible for someone to take that away from you. But Smash does not draw a distinction between “the work” and “the star”. What Jennifer Hudson means by “the work” is “your meteoric rise to fame and fortune”; there’s nothing ennobling about this at all, nothing that even resembles the need for personal or artistic expression. Smash is about getting famous, full-stop.

Whether it’s because the show is afraid that genuinely grappling with the human condition would be off-putting to the coveted 18-35 year old demographic, or because the people working on it do not themselves have any particular interest in art, the show is utterly disinterested in anything except the most banal aspects of Broadway. This kind of shallowness colors everything about the show, and it’s what makes the show ultimately toxic. That’s because Smash isn’t just a commercial enterprise on its own – tacky, yes, but everyone’s got to eat – it’s an enterprise that characterizes everything else it touches as equally hollow and grasping. It doesn’t just fail to understand the theater, or the people who work in it for reasons other than “I want to be a star”, it grossly misunderstands them, describes them according to its own distorted sense of self, and then parades around presenting them to the world.
You may remember Braak from such elegant diagrams as The Perils of Empowerment if you read me regularly, you should be reading him as well. So, it seems clear that the show will be moving from being about "producing a show" (if it ever was) to "stories about people who produce shows" and mores the pity. If there's anything we could all use it's a genuinely interesting behind-the-scenes show that isn't entirely about sex or violence. (Who wants to bet me that a gun shows up on screen in this season?)
Season 2

Mothers don't let your daughters grow up to be Gossip Girls. 

While the character Ivy was the sex pot last season, it's clear that an early departure in the new showrunner's aesthetic. The new showrunner is making a concerted effort to go after a different demographic market with his CW approved vision of New York Glamour. Fame is central and everyone is considerably more sexed up than in the previous showrunner's vision.

Most visibly the difference in the Katherine McPhee character, for a reasonably conservative mid-western ingenue, in contrast to the seasoned Broadway vet, Meghan Tilly.
Katherine McPhee a Prim farm girl who covers up in Season 1
Season 2 sees McPhee in a "Serena VanDerWoodsen" Cut Gown by the 30 minute mark.
Gossip Girl had an almost magical ability to dress it's protagonist Serena VanDerWoodsen in outfits that were remarkably revealing. It almost seemed like a game they were playing with the audience, putting Blake Lively in a gown that seemed like it was demure, but when she turned around the high necked full length gown would be entirely backless. It appears that that aesthetic has fully infected the burgeoning star, complete with magical just barely breast containing undergarment technology.

With any luck, we'll see scandals that inspire wit from the characters, who have often been one-note charcatures of desperation, earnestness or naivete.
"Did you Dress Warmly for Your Trip to the Moral High Ground?"
 -Derek, the Sexual Predator Director
What other stylistic changes will we see? My money is on "every episode contains at least one gala event that brings all the characters together in formal wear", "Fish out of water from Brooklyn" (who as a note, was introduced in episode 1) and "everyone ends up living together as a couple at least once before season 3". Other bets are in, including a pool on cancellation as the premiere was down 71% from the first season premiere how much time will the network give this show and how much time does the new showrunner have to turn it around... and will it be a hit among its new demographic target or will it bomb?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Diablo Cody on Motherhood, Women & Hollywood and Sweet Valley High

The Hollywood Reporter:

THR: So back to writing, is your Sweet Valley High film going to happen?

Cody: Yes, yes, yes it is. I feel like I keep telling people it’s going to happen, and now they’re going to stop believing me, but I’m telling the truth. It’s just that the development on a musical is longer, because you’re writing a lot of musical material and you really need to find a qualified director for something like this, so that’s what’s really dragging it out. But I’m telling you: 2013 is the year I’m making it happen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Kathleen Kennedy the Featured Story in Hollywood Reporter


In her first in-depth profile, Kennedy reveals how she landed Abrams to direct "Episode VII" as THR talks to Steven Spielberg, David Fincher and producer husband Frank Marshall, who remembers meeting her: "There was no way I was going to screw this up by hitting on Steven's assistant."

Read the full profile at The Hollywood Reporter

Princess Creep: All Tiara and No Power

Is it more intellectually dishonest to present a make-up kit as "Diva" or to present a "Princess" without any power or responsibility? Female rulers are important models for little girls who seek to make a difference around them, and when female rulers are presented as vapid and superficial and that being a woman in power is only about dress, politeness and backbiting social situations... well THAT is a problem that needs solving.


There are a lot of princess products aimed at little girls. Lots of Little girls love dressing up in costumes, they love sparkly, grown-up seeming things. Beyond any distaste for marabou feathers or excessive glitter, teaching girls that there isn't anything more than politeness and talking to magical animals dismisses female rulers throughout history as mere baubles.

In a variety of television shows aimed at girls there are princesses and queens, obviously, Sofia the First, but also My Little Pony, Super Why, Dora The Explorer has princess adventures, there is a sense that if you have a female character, princesses are inevitable.

Unfortunately, while princesses creep their way into TV shows over time, most princess articulations is that largely they ignore actual elements of what a real princess does as part of her job.

These princesses that creep into our kids TV shows are often imperiled, trapped, magical deus ex machinas, hidden as normal girls, and frankly, we don't often see them ruling over the land. Which is actually part of royal life,  you know, ruling.

While I enjoyed the Abby Cadaby/Sonya Sotomayor Sesame Street sketch about careers, Stephen Colbert brings up a very important point at 3:27 of this clip.

We have diminished the meaning of princesses in a way that is totally unhelpful. The idea that princesses exist as window dressing, are only expected to be pretty and wear fancy clothes is a dreadful oversimplification of female royalty.

Kate, Dutchess of Cambridge as a Brownie at age 8
The problem with princess creep, the constant princessing of girls media and toys is an issue for several reasons, not just that it makes all feminine products generic; but that over time that limitation applies not just in aesthetics but in underlying meaning.

I'm not a monarchist by any means but pretending that "Princess" isn't a career, with expectations, responsibilities and power that needs to be used smartly is simply terrible and a huge dis-service to our girls. The modern meaning of princesshood has changed somewhat as democracy has profoundly overtaken the once total power of royal families.

That said, Princessess and Queens hold more power than ever before in many ways. England is finally changing laws of gendered succession so that the first-born, boy or girl, will become the country's King or Queen. Queens rule over both England and The Netherlands and control vast fortunes.

The stories of actual princesses are stories that are compelling because they are nuanced portraits of real women, privileged, wealthy, often glamorous, but they have lives and interests and most importantly: These women accomplish things, and their position gives those things more attention and reach than other people have.

Princesses are people who because of their station have tremendous impact on the world around them. From Princess Diana and her work with Land Mines, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge's charitable work with kids, they impact millions of people and that's just one country. The simple fact is that they are the heads of state, or symbolic figureheads for entire countries. Why are we ignoring that when we present them in media? Why are their clothes more important than their actions?

Here in this Rav4 Genie add from the super bowl, is some princess creep I can get behind, because it gives you a totally difference sense of depth.While it's simplistic, it's shockingly rare to see a different princess role depicted in advertising.

But beyond simple swordplay, or Sofia the First joining the boys flying horse race team, the actual meaning of being a member of a ruling family and it's associated responsibilities are rarely part of the character package.

Sofia, which is ostensibly about a fish out of water everygirl learning what it means to become royalty, most of the screen time of the introductory movie and the first 4 aired episodes are about mean girls and clothes, rather than actual outreach and compassion, what she can do as a princess and the insights that her non-royal origins actually give her. It's early yet, there's a lot of time for her to grow, but I'd love to see stronger references to the woman the girl with become. I want that, and am disappointed because I expect it because other shows do this well, they show strong female characters on a pathway to rulership that echo all the way from episode 1.

Which brings me to My Little Pony,

My Little Pony's Fictional Universe is lush with Princessess, Princess Celestia is the absolute ruler of Equestria (note, not Queen). Her sister, Princess Luna rules over the night, and they have complimentary powers although Luna is the minor of the two.

Seen here in a healthy relationship with her husband, who she works with to protect the kingdom.
Princess Miamore Cadenza aka Princess Cadence, regularly helps the core cast defeat powerful magical enemies with her devoted husband, and shows tremendous responsibility to the ponies of Equestria even though she doesn't have a clear land of her own to rule. These ponies are magical, responsible, and have a sense of genuine concern over the fate of others.

This weekend, the show's protagonist, Twilight Sparkle, who has been studying magic at the feet of Princess Celestia for most of her life is becoming a princess herself. 

  In MLP‘s Equestria, “princess” is a designation that’s earned, not freely given — and though princesses have specific leadership roles in pony society, being one really means “being a good pony who shares the gifts that they have been given with others,” according to McCarthy. “We’re building a very unique mythology around being a princess,” she continues. “Every little girl wants to be a princess, and not everybody can get to be a princess — but you can live up to the ideals that should come along with being a princess.”
The archetypal, campbellian journey of the hero takes an initiate to a hero, and a hero to a ruler. Over time, shouldn't we want our girls to aspire to great power, great responsibility and the ability to inspire others to greatness?