Monday, October 28, 2013

Kylie Comes To See Me, Sort Of

After more than 20 years of listening to Kylie Minogue’s albums, I’ve finally seen her in concert. It’s not that I’ve been passing on the chance until now- it’s just that she never toured the United States until 2009 and she’s never been anywhere close to this area until last weekend. When her second U.S. tour was announced this year, there were about a dozen U.S. venues such as New York City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Houston, LA, Atlanta and Fairfax, Virginia- about 8 miles from my house. How could I not go see her? I think the venue was picked simply to make me happy because I can’t figure out any other reason for her to appear there. Okay, maybe her shows require a certain type of auditorium because of the sets and that factored into things but still, eight miles from my house! So Saturday night found me at the Patriot Center at George Mason waiting for her to take the stage. I left work a little early and met John at my place around 5:30 and then we headed over a bit later, after talking poker and playing Angry Birds for a bit. Hey, the original plan was to meet our friend Trevor and his partner Matt for drinks or something but he blew us off, at least pre-show, so that he could go eat with other friends of his that were also going to the show.

John and I walked around the concourse for a bit and checked out the merchandise for sale but there was nothing either of us was eager to buy because A) it would be too embarrassing to walk out of the house wearing it and B) it was pretty pricey, like the $100 coffee table book or the $25 program. The crowd was pretty glamorous but there were a few straight people there- I saw at least nine of them, including me, John, Daniel (John’s brother) and Daniel’s fiancĂ©e. I wasn’t too sure about the security guard wearing red suede shoes though. I overheard one person saying to his friend “This crowd makes Cher’s audience look butch.” After going up to see Daniel and Hannah, we met up with Trevor after he texted me where he was sitting. John hadn’t seen Trevor for a decade or more so we chatted for a bit, particularly about music like Chicago, The Beautiful South and Huey Lewis- acts that Trevor liked back in college but now he was mostly into the Pet Shop Boys. When the show was about to start or at least until it sounded like the opening act, er… the DJ, was finishing up, we headed back to our seats. Fourth row up from the floor seats, with two empty seats just to our left so we had a great view, even with people standing up in front of us. The show was a spectacle, an event, a triumph, and it made me like the Aphrodite album even though I’d been kind of lukewarm to it prior to hearing the revamped, amplified versions of the songs they played at the show. Here’s the Washington Post’s review of the concert along with the setlist I texted myself throughout the show.

Australia’s Kylie Minogue Dazzles In Her Second Stateside Tour(By Megan Buerger, Washington Post, May 1, 2011)

It was a show of epic proportions. With Cirque du Soleil-style dancers, eight costume changes and a stage fit for a disco queen, Kylie Minogue’s Saturday night concert at the Patriot Center was an escape to another world. Another world, that is, where svelte Greek warriors wear feathers, the law of gravity is defied and calories (apparently) don’t exist. For her mythology-themed “Aphrodite — Les Folies” tour, Minogue pulled out all the stops. Given that the Australian starlet has been high on international pop charts for 20 years but has never quite won over the United States — this is her second stateside tour — the grandeur is entertaining, if a bit overdue.

And grand it was. The $25 million tour boasts three sprawling staircases, aerial acrobatics and a series of larger-than-life props including a Pegasus statue set among mighty Grecian columns. For Minogue, 42 and fit as ever, the stage was also a runway. Drawing as much attention as the special effects were her staggering Dolce & Gabbana custom gowns and elaborate headdresses. Opening with the title track from her 11th album, “Aphrodite” (2010), Minogue emerged from beneath the stage in a large shell a la Botticelli’s Venus. In keeping with the theatrical theme, she circled the stage in a chariot pulled by men in leather loincloths, sang a rock rendition of her U.S. hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (2001) and, for the encore, layered her crew on a three-tiered cake stage for “All the Lovers” before sinking out of sight.

Minogue is proof that it pays to know your audience. A nod to her legion of gay fans, the evening was largely a homage to the male figure. Scantily clad dancers paraded the stage in gold armor while homoerotic images reminiscent of Abercrombie & Fitch ads flashed on video screens behind them. It takes a secure soul to throw caution to the wind and join this shimmying collective, but Minogue’s audience leapt aboard. The stadium was only half full, yet there wasn’t a still body in the house. It could be argued that the show was not particularly meaningful, and it wasn’t, but that was hardly the point. Where Minogue differs from American pop divas such as Lady Gaga and Madonna is that she takes herself less seriously. She, like her audience, was there to promote only one agenda: having a good time. Perhaps this explains her spirited gay following. Free from political statement or hidden message, Minogue is unapologetically true to herself.

Kylie Minoque- Aphrodite Tour
May 1, 2011 ($60.00- Patriot Center)

Songs From Album:

Carnival of the Animals intro (By Camille Saint-Saens)
1 Aphrodite Aphrodite
2 The One X
3 Wow X
4 Illusion Aphrodite
5 I Believe In You Ultimate Kylie
6 Cupid Boy Aphrodite
7 Spinning Around Light Years
8 Get Outta My Way Aphrodite
9 What Do I Have To Do Rhythm Of Love
10 Everything Is Beautiful Aphrodite
11 Slow Body Language
12 Confide In Me Kylie Minogue
13 Can't Get You Out Of My Head Fever
14 In My Arms X
15 Looking For An Angel & There Must Be An Angel (Eurthymics cover) Aphrodite

---- Band and dancers intro -------

16 Love At First Sight and Can't Beat This Feeling (Mashup) Fever
17 If You Don't Love Me (solo) Hits + (Prefab Sprouts cover)
18 Better The Devil You Know Rhythm Of Love
19 Come Into My World (snippet) Fever
20 Better Than Today Aphrodite
21 Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love) Aphrodite

22 On A Night Like This Light Years
23 All The Lovers Aphrodite

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Killing Off Television Characters

Needless to say, there are spoilers here.

Walking Dead’s Glen Mazzara On The Necessity Of Killing Off Good Characters
(By Glen Mazzara, Hollywood Reporter, 10 October 2013)

As far as I can tell, the first time a beloved television character was killed in a tragic way was on March 18, 1975. I still remember that awful news: "Lt. Col. Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors." Radar O'Reilly delivered that message to the crowded operating room of the 4077th M*A*S*H. It was met with stunned silence. Nothing could be done. Like Hawkeye and the others, we were forced to examine Henry's life in that light. Is that really the end of his story?  'Breaking Bad' Fans Place Walter White Obit in Albuquerque Paper [3]7Hollywood's 20 Masters of Horror: The Twisted Talents Raising the Most Hell Since then, there have been many shocking character deaths that continue to haunt us years later. Edith Bunker. Dr. Mark Greene. Bobby Simone. Joyce Summers. Curtis "Lemonhead" Lemansky. Stringer Bell. Ned Stark. Lane Pryce. Everyone at the Red Wedding.

Deciding to kill off a character is never easy. Writers rooms endlessly debate the pros and cons of each death. The first question usually is, "Is this going to feel like we're just doing it to do it?" Each writer weighs in: "We're losing a great character." "We're changing the dynamic of the show." "What if it doesn't work?" "We can't go back."  Characters like Breaking Bad's Walter White have to die because that's the fitting conclusion to the larger tale. Killing off a character in the middle of a series' run is a trickier matter. In my experience, it needs to generate story. It must open up more possibilities and gain opportunities that don't currently exist. It has to be right for the show in the long run. If a show kills off a major character just to add some juice to a particular episode, it'll feel like a cheap stunt.
I find that the debates over whether to kill off a character take weeks, if not months. Every alternative is explored. When the showrunner expresses his or her vision and gains consensus among the creative team, the writers go off and write the material. Once that's in the best possible shape, the actor needs to be informed.  Telling someone they are going to be out of work is hard. Telling them it's because they've done a good job getting people to care deeply about their character is hard to rationalize. Telling them it's best for the show can be insulting. Trust me, those calls suck.

Most actors are completely surprised at the news they're being killed off. It's as if they're in that M*A*S*H operating room, listening in stunned silence to the news of their own death. Most just ask a few questions then hang up. They usually call back five minutes later with many more questions. I imagine how a patient feels when their doctor delivers bad news. I tell them they need to be involved in the process and that their notes are welcomed. A lot of their work has been stripped away, and they must now begin arcing out a performance that gives their characters a sense of closure and that will hit audiences hard. That's a tremendous amount of work to just throw at someone. And, oh yeah, we don't know what'll happen to your career next, but you'll be OK.
Actors work so hard to land meaningful roles. They contribute their blood, sweat and tears to help a show succeed. It can seem capricious when they're killed off. It affects them on a profoundly personal level. It's frightening. Many TV shows claim to be a family. Killing off a character is asking that actor to leave their family and start over somewhere else.  Many actors immediately try to persuade you to change your mind. If the material's as good as it can be, you probably won't. But it's your job to talk them through it. To listen.  Nearly all actors I've worked with deliver their best work when they film their character's death. Their dedication and professionalism is inspiring.  A few actors have lashed out angrily. They went out kicking and screaming. They took it personally, as if I was killing them and not their character. They'll never agree that it was best for the show.  And then it airs.

If the episode is successful and people are profoundly moved, it's a testament to the writers, directors, crew and cast. People crying at home means everyone did their job well. You've made a real emotional connection with your audience. You've left them with something. You've made an impact.  A strong death scene will provoke strong emotions, one of which may be anger. Many viewers in 1975 wrote to CBS -- where M*A*S*H aired until its 1983 conclusion -- furious that a sitcom episode ended with such a tragic announcement. These days, we writers get blasted with angry, hateful tweets.  Whatever.  I tell stories. Not all of them have happy endings. Not everyone makes it home. Remember Henry Blake.


1 day
'Person Of Interest' Bosses Talk Major Death, Team Fallout And Reese Unhinged
(By Philiana Ng, Hollywood Reporter, 20 november 2013)

[Warning: Major spoilers ahead from Tuesday's episode, "The Crossing."]

]Person of Interest just bid farewell to a core member of the team.  Tuesday's episode, "The Crossing," was billed as the second part in a three-episode trilogy with the warning that one of the main players on the CBS drama would not be making it out alive. And boy, did they keep that promise, with Taraji P. Henson's Det. Carter suffering a fatal gunshot in the midst of Reese's battle against the powerful and corrupt organization, HR.  On Wednesday, executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman talked to The Hollywood Reporter [4] about the decision to kill off a central character, the unscripted Reese/Carter kiss and the likelihood of Henson returning.

Were you surprised by the reaction to last night's episode?
Greg Plageman: Yeah, we always knew there would be a certain amount of trauma inflicted on our audience in terms of the loss of one of our central characters. It's a bargain everyone makes. They all signed up for the show. We knew where we wanted to go. We wanted to be that kind of show, and we felt like this is a show that continuously moves forward. The overall arc of the show is something we were always excited about. In order for the stakes to feel real on the show and embrace that element of life, there had to be an element of loss. We seized the opportunity for the show to continually evolve in different places and for all our characters.

What prompted the decision to kill off a character who has been on the show since the very beginning?
Jonathan Nolan: It wasn't a question of any prompting, so much as our commitment at the beginning to keep shaking it up. We have no interest -- and I never had any interest -- in making a conventional TV procedural. There's nothing wrong with the word "procedural" -- our show is a procedural, or often there is a case of the week and a self-contained story that people can invest in a beginning, middle and end. But also, a bigger tectonic mythology that is moving and going places. When you come up with foes as formidable as those played by Robert John Burke (Simmons) and Clarke Peters (Quinn) over the course of three seasons, you don't want them to go down without a fight. We knew from the beginning that we had to punish ourselves and the audience by losing more and more castmembers.

We looked at the run of the HR story here and we felt it was time to bring it to the climax, so I sat down with Taraji earlier in the year and we talked through what we were cooking up. It was a bittersweet conversation, because we love working with her and vice versa. It's been a great creative collaboration. As sad as we were to see her go, I think we were all excited -- Taraji, us and the writers -- to get into a juicy piece of material, to tell a tragedy. I don't know why humans like stories that involve death and misfortune; these are the stories that we're drawn to again and again. Speaking for myself as an audience member, I love when a show can shock, so we've been building toward this now for the better part of a year. It's incredibly satisfying to collaborate with an actor toward this end. It's been a really cool experience.

When was that first conversation that you had for a character to die?
Nolan: From the beginning. When we cast all of these roles, we said, "Rent, don't buy in New York," because we wanted to tell a story with real stakes. In terms of specifics with Taraji, I sat down with her earlier in the year back in January or February. Or even longer than that. It's been in the works for a while.

What was the reasoning behind having Carter be the one to die? Were there other serious candidates?
Nolan: Yeah, absolutely, but we felt that Carter's connection to police corruption from the pilot onward -- this is one of the themes of our show, the enemy within -- from the very beginning, it was the story of her realizing that she's surrounded by people that she thought she knew but she didn't, and the real allies were the two weird vigilantes she's been chasing. For this story -- HR, police corruption -- it was a natural boiling point that would put her first and foremost into focus. And frankly, as writers, we've long said that Carter was the heart of the show, and your perverse impulse as a writer (laughs) is to do as much damage to the audience as possible. There's nothing more dastardly than -- if Carter's the heart of the show -- breaking that heart for the audience in the middle of the season.

How did you settle on how Carter died (by Simmons' gunshot)? Were there other alternatives?
Nolan: In terms of the episode itself, for the writers, we had dug in from the beginning in terms of going for maximum impact, giving the characters a real sense of victory and triumph but also coupling it to an inevitable sense that triumph never comes without loss. We always talked about this three-episode arc, one in which, on a more mechanical level, the audience has seen it all before, so the game you're playing with the audience is trying to keep it as fresh for them as possible, to keep them at the edge of their seats. One of the things Greg and I are proudest of this morning is the fact that the amount of people we're talking to and fan reaction -- being truly shocked at what happened, but also spending a significant amount of time in last night's episode believing that Fusco might die, that Reese might die, that Finch might die, that Bear the dog might die.

Plageman: Like that Jack London story, Bear will be the last one standing.
Carter's death came after she shared a nice moment with Reese, where they revealed their true feelings. Had she not died, had you thought about where their relationship might have gone?

Plageman: We've always felt the show could go there, but we always wanted it to be organic, and the most interesting thing that emerged in last night's episode was that the kiss was not scripted. We never wrote it in. However you would characterize the relationship between these two characters up to this point, platonic or something deeper, that was never in question. It was intended to be a scene in which Reese and Carter both understood that what they were undertaking was life-harrowing and that this may or may not be the last time they'd see each other. That was always in there. What was surprising to us was where they went with it. It wasn't in every take; there were takes where they didn't do it and there were takes where they did. When we heard about it on the set, everybody on the show was like, "Oh no," because we knew we might have to go there. You see it in Carter's eyes, an element of surprise and natural feedback that she gives in that moment that it did seem earned. When we took [that scene] out and watched it, we felt like we missed it. We felt it deepened the level of their relationship in a way that we felt had we not gone there it would kind of be chicken shit.

What are the chances that Taraji will be back, perhaps in flashback?
Nolan: Absolutely. It's been a pleasure to work with Taraji, and selfishly we are going to insist that she come back and hang out with us again. We'll be itching to get Taraji back into an episode of our show just as soon as we can. Also, we're excited to see what she does next. She's a magnificent actor.

Where does the next episode kick off?
Plageman: Officer Simmons' number comes up, and it's not a question of if he's going to get it, it's a question of which character is going to do it. It's a darker chapter, and it's one of the most powerful. This loss is going to be something that isn't going to be easily glossed over between our characters, particularly between Reese and Finch and the understanding of how the Machine works. It's something we want to explore in this episode and in a few others in terms of what the Machine is capable of. And in the second half of the season, we have an opportunity to tell a larger story about the Machine.

How does losing a core member of the team change how Reese and Co. go about things?
Nolan: Definitely there's some fallout. Half the fun of writing the arc is writing the episode after, in which the characters deal with it. If you get them into a comfortable place, you have to shake them out of that. How do you pick up the pieces and move on from this in this undertaking Finch has gotten them into, where they fight the inevitable? It's just a matter of how much they're willing to do and how much they're willing to sacrifice. They're going to have to find a new way to work with each other because Reese's concerns over what the f--- [they're] doing here if they can't even save their closest friend and ally.

Does guilt play into it at all?
Nolan: It's a good question. Harold Finch has dealt with this burden from the very first moment when he understood what these numbers meant. He experienced loss in his friend in Nathan Ingram (Brett Cullen), and that mantle is transferred to him. Now it becomes a point of conflict for Finch and Reese, who's his best friend now, how is he dealing with the fact that he didn't save Detective Carter?

Carter's death is the catalyst for the rest of the season and beyond?
Nolan: Absolutely. The problem with their enemies is that they don't sleep on it. They're still a huge threat. Reverberations and possibly puppies! (Laughs.) Circle of life.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

An Arch-Nemesis

A writer friend of mine posted something on her blog about the need for one’s arch-nemesis to reveal themselves.  I argued in a reply that she wouldn’t want that to happen.  It would be much better not to know.  What do you think?  Would you rather know someone is out to get you or be in the dark about it?

Why Do You Like Me?
(By Diane Vallere, Shoes Clues And Clothes website, 16 February 2010)

Chances are, if you're reading this, then there's something about me or my writing that you like (or you think I'm your arch-nemesis, in which case YOU HAVE TO TELL ME! Because I always thought it would be fun to have an arch-nemesis but seriously, you can't have one that wants to remain anonymous). Maybe we went to school together once. Maybe we worked together at some point or became friends along the way. Maybe we share writerly commiseration on a Yahoo group. Or maybe you're family.

No matter what the reason, you're here, and I'm here, so, like I said, I'm guessing you like me. What I'm curious about is Why. Is it because I'm driven? Afraid of department-store Santas? Sometimes rely on packing tape to secure the hem of my designer clothes?

Don't get me wrong. Give me five minutes and I could rattle off a hundred likeable things about me, but that's not how it works, right? You don't like me because I told you to, you found something about me that you related to and that's what it's all about. That elusive connection.

A writer makes up people and makes up their lives, and aside from plot and description and dialogue and voice, has to figure out a way to make readers connect with the characters. The hard thing is, the connection between the writer and the characters is innate. The writer created these people. Trust me, if you're spending time writing 2,000 words a day about make-believe folks, you darn well better like them. But this means you have blinders on. Liking your characters is a natural for you, so imagine how it feels when someone else tells you they just didn't connect with them?

There's an exercise that's suggested to writers who are trying to expose their characters quirks and flaws: list 20 things that are unique about that character. Inevitably, you'll stall out before you hit ten, and you really have to start thinking about details that shaped her (or him) that might never hit the page of your manuscript, but that help you figure out the kind of person she (or he) is. Did she play the drums in high school, or the trombone, or sing in the chorus? Was she a cheerleader or did she try out five different times and never make the squad? Does she like Elvis? How much? So much that she'll sit in an uncomfortable theater seat all night for a King film festival? And when did she start really liking Elvis?  Did her parents take her to one of his concerts when she was a kid, or did she date an impersonator during college?

These details expose the character's character. Make this same list about yourself. Think about those little known facts that make you who YOU are, that maybe nobody knows. They don't have to know the details. Those facts shaped who you are and made you the person that other people respond to. The rest of the world doesn't need to know those facts to see the person you are. That's how it is with writing. Only, the more pressing question is this: how do you get this interesting and endearing information across on the page without an information dump?

Here's the thing. I love my characters. I love Samantha Kidd. I love Mia Thomas and Lisa P. Grace and Pepper St. James. I don't know that much about Dena Martin and Brooks Foster but I can already tell I'm going to like them once we get down into their story. I spend enough time with these people that, in a weird way, they're like friends, only make-believe.

And because you like me, I want you to like my imaginary friends. It's only fair that we should all get along.

Richard’s Reply:
(19 February 2010)

Well, we did go to school together and I do like the fact that you are driven because it is hard to watch someone keep pushing along and not be motivated to do the same yourself.  If I was your arch-nemesis though, I’m not sure I should tell you that.  Consider this fact: when things go bad in life normally, you can chalk it up to the random whims of an impartial universe and figure stuff happens and hope the convergence of events never happens again.  If you have an arch-nemesis, you know that bad things don’t happen randomly.  Instead it is the evil machinations of one particular person who is out to get you.  All you have to do is keep an eye out for traps and situations created by the person.  The problem is that every thing that now happens to you could be an insidious plot by your arch-nemesis and you have to always be on guard.  Gone are the carefree days of mildly worrying about random circumstances occurring and it’s replaced by the massive stress of how your misdelivered mail could be part of huge conspiracy to kill, denounce or entrap you. 

Wouldn’t you rather not know that there is an arch-nemesis out there gunning for you?  Consider it a rare gift from an evil-doer who likes you for whatever reason and instead just worry about the low probability events in life.  The mailman accidentally put your mail in the wrong box, that just looks like the same car that was behind you yesterday as well and that dead body in the closest was the result of an unfortunate accident you had nothing to do with so please call the cops and report the dead guy like a good citizen would. 

As for your characters, I can’t say if I like them because I’ve never seen a sample of your writing.  I would have to like them based simply on them being some extension of you, which is usually the case with writing.  Even if they aren’t exactly like the writer, they have to come from the same place.  If you can’t imagine a particular world, you can’t describe the inhabitants of that world.  It has to exist somewhere in you, either as an extension of you or as a contrast to you and your values and morals.  That’s why die-hard Christians can’t rationally discussion evolution- because they can’t imagine themselves in that world.  It simply does not exist for them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go plan some “random” events.  Good night!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

These Are The Geekiest Colleges According To HerCampus' 2013 Ranking

(HerCampus survey, 09 October 2013)

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has been crowned the geekiest school in the country by HerCampus. What else would you expect from a school where students programmed a robot to separate an Oreo cookie?  But let's be clear, being named a "geekiest school" is definitely not an insult. For one, these are some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, and their geekier graduates will probably make more money than most of us.  Plus, we're big fans of the quirkier things students at these schools do, like turning a building into a giant Tetris game or creating one of the most luxurious beer pong tables we've ever seen. 

HerCampus, a website for women in college, utilized responses from their student experts at more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide for their rankings.  Check out the 10 geekiest colleges below and head over to HerCampus for more rankings.

10. Case Western Reserve University

9. Swarthmore College

8. The University of Chicago

7. Drexel University

6. Johns Hopkins University

5. Reed College

4. California Institute of Technology

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2. College of William & Mary

1. Carnegie Mellon University