Thursday, February 27, 2014

Unboxing the 'Hollywood Game Night' Home Edition...

Martin Short. Jason Alexander. Julie Bowen. Rosie O'Donnell. Penny Marshall. Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Chris Colfer. Matthew Perry. Lisa Kudrow. Felicity Huffman. Angie Harmon. These are just a sampling of the celebrities that have played Hollywood Game Night on NBC, and now YOU can play, too!



The Consumer Products division of NBC Universal has created a Party Game home edition board game that combines some of your favorite Hollywood Game Night games in one small box, bringing big laughs and hours of fun into your living room for your very own game nights. The game is available at Walmart and on nbcstore.com and fits the parameters of a classic, throwback board game, meaning it comes with a scoreboard, hourglass timer, and stacks of cards that feature each round's game. Unfortunately there is no DVD component for some of the more technical games like Facial Fusion-- though you can probably rig your own bowl if you want to turn any of the included games into a round of Clue Boom.

I took a look inside the Hollywood Game Night Party Game in a very special unboxing video. Below I explore just which Hollywood Game Night games made the cut of this Party Game, which perhaps obviously and of course ends with a round of classic Celebrity just like on the show. Of course seeing that prompted me to launch into a few anecdotes about my own game nights, as well, which really just amount to tips on how (or how not) to play with your own friends.


Hollywood Game Night returns with all new episodes on February 27th at 9 p.m.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Report from the Set: NBC's 'Revolution'...

It was an overcast morning in Austin, Texas. I had been in the "weird" and wonderful city for just over 12 hours and still had the previous evening's barbecue dinner on my mind when I pulled up to the state capital building downtown.* Just off to the side of the landmark political attraction-- through which Segway tours rolled tourists-- bleachers and a podium adorned in the Texas flag had been erected and a few dozen bystanders hung around, some with tinier versions of the Texas flag waving in their hands, awaiting a speech from their leader at a very special cadet ceremony. Just a bit further away from those bleachers were a table of weapons-- some rifles, some side pieces, some hand guns-- that a lone guy in black checked out for safety before carrying them off to the action. It seemed a fitting welcome to the set of NBC's Revolution, the post-apocalyptic drama in which all the electricity in the world went out 15 years prior. I may not have actually been allowed to personally play with the weapons this time around, but watching a stunt involving a very excited featured player and strategically placed squib was equally enjoyable.


The cast and crew of Revolution were working on the 18th episode of the season when I spent the day observing production and talking with everyone who was filming that day plus Elizabeth Mitchell who was gracious enough to come over on her day off to help promote the show-- which means that they were much farther ahead in their stories and locations than I had last seen. The action on Revolution moves fast, even if the characters often have the same arguments and stand-offs (for the record, both Billy Burke and Mitchell admitted they did not believe their characters could ever kill Monroe, despite threats otherwise and despite all of the terrible things he has done to their family-- maybe blood is not truly thicker than water...). As this begrudging familial fighting unit moves forward together, dynamics between them are constantly shifting. While it is not uncommon to see characters pair up and go off on little detours or side tasks, on this particular day the majority of the show's heroes were working together to stop a terrible act. What was most interesting was watching the placement of each individual as the five of them literally walked side by side out of a building together. Some whom you might expect to be front and center, puffing chests out to command and acting as leaders were actually trailing further behind, perhaps implying more "along for the ride" with this particular mission.

A lot can certainly change in a short amount of time, as evidenced simply by the fact that the post-Olympic return episode that I was on set to preview had these five characters off in three different directions. The one thing that seemed to be remaining a constant, though, was that Aaron (Zak Orth) was separated even further-- still on his mission to figure out what exactly is going on with him and the nanotechnology. Orth was not one of the actors I spoke with on set, so admittedly I wasn't able to obtain any insight into just how big a part the sci-fi part of this story was going to play into the final episodes. The industry savvy side of me knows the implication is most likely that Aaron will work stoically, coming into his own as a hero, and then rejoin the group for the tail end of the season with new knowledge and a new, bigger picture mission that includes the tech. Sitting on set and watching the much heavier character and relationship driven work that was being done, though lets me hold out hope that the fact that it's so isolated now is the show's way of containing it and phasing it out. What inspires the most connection, after all, are the character and relationship (read: human) stories. These people were all disconnected enough with technology before the blackout; I don't want to see it consume them again, even if it's on a much larger scale or profound level. My life is consumed by enough technology as it is, too!

Revolution is an extremely location-heavy show-- both in terms of where the production actually goes to film and the utilization of changing landscapes as a part of the physical journeys the characters make. Therefore most of the sets Revolution houses at South Side Studios are wild, which means the walls are easily changeable into something new on any given week. With a show that keeps its characters on the road, anything from local bars to hotel rooms to cave-like hideouts may be built one week-- for one episode-- only to be repurposed for the following one. That's not all that unusual for a post-apocalyptic show but it's also really not unusual for creator Eric Kripke. What makes Revolution a bit more unique, though, is that while the locations are ever changing, the wardrobe the characters wear is not. 

A tour of the costume department not only showcased the nuances in different cities' military uniforms but also the sheer volume of the same outfit that had to be created for each character. Since the characters can only fit so much in their backpacks (or in the case of Burke, just likes to keep things simple and comfortable), they only have a few changes each. But as episodes go on and the actors get dirtier-- or bloodier, as is more often the case-- versions of their outfits need to be created with the appropriate amount of wet or dry elements. And then the looks need to be duplicated for their stunt doubles.  

Revolution's wardrobe department leaves no new piece of clothing clean, either. Since everything is supposed to be taking place after 15 years without electricity and therefore washing machines or dry cleaners, the various department personnel may purchase brand new items (which usually cost a couple of hundred dollars each) but then spend hours tirelessly aging them. This is done not only for the principle actors like Burke, Mitchell, David Lyons, Tracy Spiridakos, etc but also the extras, who are all also given their own unique look.

Hearing the kind of care and detail the wardrobe department pays even to the extras (who are sadly all too often instead treated with the attitude of "no one will notice" when it comes to things like moving actors from one side of the scene to the other in coverage, effectively duplicating the person in the scene) was certainly a bonus, but I have to admit that the highlight of visiting Revolution was sitting down with Jeff Wolfe the show's Emmy award winning stunt coordinator. Next to weapons I am most personally interested in stunts (I guess it's the whole wish fulfillment of watching people do things I know I never could personally), and Revolution has some of the most varied kinds between hand-to-hand, martial arts, horses, wagons, guns, swords, and this season, people being set on fire.

Wolfe shared that Kripke often just writes into the scripts "The best damn action sequence we've ever seen", which gives Wolfe free range and creativity to choreograph something new each time. Wolfe feels that for Revolution what matters the most when it comes to these fights is the style of the character-- that each weapon involved and each move made feels like something the character would do based on how they feel in the moment and who they're fighting.

Again I have to point out: with character driving so much-- everything from allegiances to goal detours to the stunts-- that means we can drop the surreal, slightly supernatural smart tech and focus on the grounded everyday people, right? RIGHT??

My formal write up on the return to Revolution (NBC, Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. starting February 26) will be on Studio System News.

Interested in checking out my relationship heavy (with light spoilers) video interview chats with the cast? Keep an eye on my YouTube page!


** Travel and hotel accommodations provided by WBTV


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

REVIEW: "Something Real", what every YA novel should aspire to be...

I am the first to admit that I usually shy away from reading Young Adult literature because I often find the themes repetitive and the writing style too simplistic, but with new authors like Heather Demetrios, the market is a whole lot more creative, interesting, and intelligent!

Yes, "Something Real", Demetrios' debut novel, does draw on many themes common in YA: her main character is a teenager who is dealing with all kinds of issues and pressure from her family, her school, her friends, and her budding first love/relationship. But Demetrios sets her story in a world so rich that it immediately springs up around you and sucks you in. The world is also somewhat larger than life in the way many YA stories tend to be, but instead of being a downer in dystopia, Demetrios chooses to showcase her story in a world that is happening in reality as you read, which grounds even the craziest seeming parts of the story.

"Something Real's" heroine Chloe Baker is a former reality show star, but not by choice. From birth, she was a part of a reality program about her large and somewhat unorthodox family-- a family that features a "Baker's Dozen" worth of people with kids adopted from all parts of the globe. She thinks (and therefore Demetrios writes) in "seasons" rather than years, in that "In season 7" instead of "When I was 7" sort of way that is heartbreaking but yet still lends itself as just another incredible detail to immerse the readers in Chloe's world. Additional such details are specially stylized chapters that are "lifted" from various interview transcripts or show episode transcripts.

When readers meet Chloe, her show has been off the air for a few years, and she has managed to change her name (to Chloe) and live a normal life in a real high school. She has kept her upbringing and family a secret from her new friends and somewhat miraculously has managed to go unrecognized by anyone in her new California town. But that is all about to change as her mother has signed a new deal for the show to restart, exploding Chloe's new life and bringing the most painful parts of her past to the surface once again.

"Something Real" does a remarkable job of depicting the truth behind reality TV in an insider's look sort of way without making the book about exposing reality TV. That is the setting, the world for Chloe's story to take place, but it does not define Chloe. We spend a lot of alone time with Chloe, so we get to know how she thinks and feels better than anyone, as we would with any good protagonist. But "Something Real" features an ensemble that rivals even "Baker's Dozen" and *all* of her characters-- from Chloe's older brother and confidante Benny, to her new, almost too good to be true boyfriend Patrick, to her image-obsessed mother-- are so finely crafted the astute reader can anticipate how they, individually, will act in most situations, too. Everything and everyone has its place and purpose within the story; no one gets lost in the mass; there is no filler, and there is no pandering or expository repetition. Demetrios trusts her readers, but perhaps most importantly, she respects her readers.

Personally, I want to read novels about interesting characters who happen to encounter unique and equally interesting situations, scenarios, and events. The plot is always less important to me than the characters themselves because "where" they get to doesn't really matter if I haven't enjoyed spending time with them and therefore actively rooting for them to get to their destination in the first place. Demetrios has certainly created characters with whom you will want to spend a lot of time (I would love to read a whole separate book from Benny's perspective, for example, but there is certainly room and interest warranting each Baker child to tell their story in individual novellas, should the publisher so choose). But obviously Demetrios has also created a complicated story with unique markers to match.

Good YA has its protagonist "coming of age" and learning some lessons along the way-- lessons that the readers can take to heart, too. But great YA has its protagonist empowering his or herself and inspiring change. "Something Real" does that in spades as Chloe refuses to just play into the reality TV game and adopt the character "type" the show wants her to be but instead decides to stand up for herself and what she-- not her mother, not the cameras-- really wants her life to be. Today's youth should all be so brave.

"Something Real" is available in Hardcover and e-book form now.
 

REVIEW: "My Letter To Fear: Essays on life, love, and the search for Prince Charming"...

My friend and producing partner, Patricia Steffy, recently published her first book. It is an essay compilation that she wrote after conducting a series of interviews with the various women in her life. Some of these pieces made up the basis of the equally-titled staged reading charity event IBG Inc held in 2012, as well. To help support her, I wrote a brief review, which you can read below. If it entices you, as I hope it will, the link to purchase her book is also below.
 

"My Letter to Fear" is a compilation of stories about what women worry about-- from relationships and career changes, to aging and anal bleaching, to worry itself. Some pieces will have you chuckling to yourself, some will have your eyes tearing up, and some will have you nodding along as if you're reading about your own life. In fact, it is impossible to read this book and *not* feel like at least one piece is written directly about or directed to you.

One stand out piece in particular includes three distinct characters within it: three women at drastically different numerical ages, as they and the reader come to realize their similarities despite assumptions based on outward appearance. Another is a letter talking about suing the makers of fairytales for false promises; another is about expectations one puts on one's self; another is a letter to a 10 year old self. All are reflective and therefore heartwarming, and heart-tugging, in nature.

Though "My Letter to Fear" takes on a wide range of ages and female perspectives within its pages, author Patricia Steffy manages to connect each individual one with a raw emotionality than lends itself to being universally relatable. Perhaps the best part about Steffy's writing, though, is that she knows how to end each "essay" style chapter on a resolved note for the story within while still leaving you wanting more of her voice and wit. 

"My Letter to Fear" is available in paperback or e-Book form now.

 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

An Informal Discussion about Fandom...

With all of the bad celebrity behavior in the news these days, from allegations against Woody Allen to Justin Bieber's...everything, I have been thinking more and more about what kinds of behavior we as a public excuse from celebrities. Some behaviors are criminal and aren't always entirely excused but perhaps still treated with more leniency than is deserved. Things get downplayed and downright defended. Some are social or sexual; some are political; some are just born out of ignorance or fame going to their heads. Aside from the courts and the media, the audiences-- the fans-- determine a lot about what is deemed "acceptable", and often times the results prove that celebrities get special treatment because the fans decide they are worthy of being put upon pedestals or because their work is just too pleasing, and they don't want to risk losing it. I am not here to make any judgements or assessments, but I can't help but be fascinated not only by what behaviors from favorite celebrities their biggest fans will defend or downplay and why but also where the dividing line is and what are the behaviors that cause a diehard fan to be unable to look at the celeb's body of work the same way. The whole "knocking off a pedestal" thing- whether your learn their fave celeb is an addict or an adulterer or just a bit insensitive-- what crosses the line, breaks your unspoken lust, colors your devotion, and ruins the enjoyment of being their fan? 

It doesn't always have to be the extremes of someone being accused of rape or murder or constantly caught by the cops for DUIs or in possession of an arsenal of weapons, heavy drugs, or for drag racing. It can be as simple as learning your favorite celebrity is anti-abortion when you believe every woman has the right to choose or for being anti-gay when you are gay yourself or have loved ones that are, or vice verse (maybe you're pro-life and the person keeps leading pro-choice rallies; maybe you believe only a man and a woman should be allowed to marry and this person does ads for NOH8 or GLAAD). Maybe someone is an addict, and you think addiction is a choice-- a bad choice. Maybe someone who seems to be in a serious, seemingly monogamous relationship is actually cheating on his or her significant other-- with pretty much everything that walks on two legs. Maybe someone is learned to be in an open relationship, and that's not something of which you approve. Maybe someone is verbally and emotionally abusive to his or her staff, driving employees by fear, firing those who don't stop what they're doing to say "Hello, good morning" when he or she enters the room, not allowing eye-contact with any below-the-line crew members, telling the female cast they will have weekly weigh-ins and anyone who doesn't lose weight will be written out. Maybe someone continuously refuses to sign autographs for fans or pose for photos. Maybe someone denounced a particular ship or pairing or interpretation of a singular character or event and therefore any and all fans who would feel that way. Maybe someone just presents the version of themselves they want to be to you, their adoring public, and are knowingly and willfully feeding you just another character.  

Are you suddenly seeing different themes or messages in their work or, are you just unable to look at their face the same way without it invoking newly conflicting feelings, and when?

Insert your individual favorite celebrity's name where the pronoun in each scenario above was. Now think about it again. Will it offer a deeper look into our own subconscious, tell us a little something about how far we will go for those we love and are attached to, despite not necessarily truly knowing? Will it matter? What should their obligation be? They signed up to create great work, not to be picked apart by the public. But by default, being in the public eye, they were also presented with a rare opportunity and somewhat of a responsibility to be worthy of the adoration the public will bestow upon them.

Many of the above scenarios are things you will never have to worry about because your favorite celebrity is not like that-- genuinely, truly. But many of the above go on every day and are just things you will never learn about because it gets decided that it is not relevant to those outside of the industry. But along the way, fans decide their own things about their favorite celebrities. They take the little information they do know about the person from promotional interviews, character traits from pieces of work they want to attribute to the real person behind said work, and social media pages and paint themselves the picture they want to see. They feel an ownership over the person, not just because the person is a public figure but in great part because they really did create the person-- at least the version of the person they are admiring. And so like any parent, they are defensive and they are loyal, but there's a flaw in any argument or any system that is only one-sided, and so I would imagine at a certain point it is no longer unconditional.

I personally believe that everyone is entitled to his or her own personal life and that only when their personal life is continuously brought to their work, getting in the way of the way they or their co-workers do their job should it become something that affects the way they work. But I am only human, and I fully admit that learning about trouble behind-the-scenes often affects whether I want to even watch a particular project because I don't want to reward or condone what I perceive as bad behavior. There have been quite a few things I have thought differently about after getting to know particular people involved. That's me, though. It's entirely subjective and personal. Which is why I am so curious about where others stand and where their individual tolerance lines are.

...
Feel free to leave some thoughts and examples of your own in the comments or email me through my Contact Me page. While I plan to use your answers as research for a longer upcoming feature, no one will be published without permission.


Let's All Learn From 'The Fosters' Today...

Last night ABC Family's The Fosters held such an honest and in this day and age brave conversation about differences of opinion and perceived bigotry. It couldn't have come at a more (completely coincidental) perfect time, either. The show was talking specifically about a character's discomfort with his daughter being a lesbian and marrying another woman, but the points they made are ones we should all take to heart when stirring a discussion or having a debate of any kind with someone who doesn't agree with our individual, particular point of view. In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman's overdose (and you know what, in the wake of that Coca Cola Super Bowl commercial, too), there has been an incredible amount of insensitivity through social media and the more mainstream media in general. Today's technological world has given us all a platform to speak our minds at any given time, and often that creates a whole lot of snap judgements and noise that result in us yelling our opinions and perspectives at each other without listening to anyone around us at all.

The Fosters won't make a blip on today's morning television headlines. It's a shame, but it's because the show is too respectful and therefore really hard to argue with or get mad about. But the point they made and the perhaps inadvertent lesson they gave last night is one we all need to hear and take to heart today.

Stef and Lena were offered a free car by Stef's dad. Stef's dad is a gruff, somewhat old-fashioned man who refers to their relationship and his daughter's lesbianism in general as "a lifestyle". He was not comfortable with his daughter coming out years ago, and their relationship has been strained ever since. He was even uninvited from their wedding because Stef felt he didn't truly support her. And now here he was, trying to make amends the way he knew how or trying to buy her love (depending on who you asked) by offering a free car. The conversation that followed was not just about the car, though, but about the point of view and approach in general.

Lena: "Intolerance works both ways."

Stef: "I'm sorry, exactly how am I intolerant?"

Lena: "You're not, but you're operating under the assumption that we're right and he's wrong...From his perspective, he's right and we're wrong."

When we were in school, we were taught that the proper way to write papers was to present a clear and decisive thesis or argument and show evidence to support our side. It was a way to educate us and teach us how to formulate a logical, rational, calm thought. But we had to acknowledge the opposing argument, too, even if briefly, to explain why we believed our side was correct or more advanced; we couldn't just cross our arms over our chests and huff and yell that it was our way or no way and everyone who disagreed was wrong and worse, stupid for believing what they did. There are reasons people are ill-informed or old-fashioned in their beliefs. We don't have to like them-- after we hear the reasons we don't always have to respect them-- but we have to be willing to hear them in order for everything to be well-rounded.

We may not have to write thesis papers once we graduate (though I would argue that those of us who work in the media have more of an obligation than most to acknowledge multiple sides, sources, and comments), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't still apply the same parameters and principles to the conversations we have in our real, daily lives. Understanding the other side of the argument actually helps you further develop and firm up your own stance, but it also helps you understand your fellow human beings. We're all flawed, but if we could all work together toward being a little less ignorant, intolerance would slowly but surely start to slip away, too.