Monday, May 10, 2010

Mothers Day and the History of Dance

My daughter gave me a set of gift certificates as her gift, and I pulled the one where I get to force them to watch any movie I want.  We had just seen a live company class at the Joffrey Ballet, and I had a copy of the documentary about the Ballet Russe on DVD .  If you know anything about dance history (and most people don't) you know that this particular ballet company in the early 20th century was to profoundly affect everything about dance in the western world even until now.  The influence of the various incarnations of the Ballet Russe affected painting, theater, Broadway musicals, film and television and of course, the art of ballet and the birth of modern dance.   The thing about dance history, though, is that it is so much a history that lives in the bodies of the people that create it.  And film came into being at exactly the right time to capture and hold that history.  This documentary was made at exactly the right moment--many of the original performers were still alive and vibrant.  Well into their 80's, some in their 90's, we got the stories straight from their mouths.  I am a part of that history, having studied with some of the pillars of American Modern Dance, from Hanya Holm and Alwin Nikolais to Robert Ellis Dunne, the composition teacher who also taught the Judson Church choreographers.   I am not entirely certain my kids "got" the idea of oral history, or really enjoyed the film.  After seeing the generation on stage with the Joffrey Company class, I felt thrillingly a part of dance history.  I am hoping more documentary film makers capture the stories of dancers as we move into the future. My kids hope I don't have too many of those coupons!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The British have come

This week, Mama's media night kinda morphed into Mama Media Weekend as we did a British marathon--starting with Harry Potter and ending a day later with Dr. Who. We are all speaking with accents now, and if I see another CGI enhanced version of a bridge over the Thames again, I will scream. Yes, after seeing the same bridge in Sherlock Holmes, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Life on Mars AND Dr. Who, we all were like, isn't there any other kind of bridge in London?
But enough of bridges (maybe its a universal metaphor trying to get through to our addlepated brains?). My kids wanted to know why so many American actors were playing Brits. I glibly stated that its payback time for all the Brits who come over here and take our best film roles (of course that lead to a big discussion on the training you get across the pond) My kids already love to play actor spotting--the star of Life on Mars is also the Master on Dr. Who. Its like there are about 20 actors in all of London and they are in every productions ever made. The conversation sort of backfired when one of my kids announced they were going to be a British Actor.

The older crowd also watched A Serious Man which is a strange little movie, and still has me thinking. And digging out my Torah......

Monday, April 19, 2010

You can be a Director at a Film Festival

For all you media mavens of the teen and under set: So you figured out IMovie, and you have created your first YouTube projects and you are feeling good about yourself. Well then, its time for you, young film maker, to get on the Festival Circuit and you are in luck. There are a huge number of no cost and low cost ways to submit your film to festivals all over the GLOBE. My nearest and dearest fest is the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, which is the only youth fest that is Academy Award eligible. The deadline for submissions is coming up FAST--May 1 if you want to be on time, May 31 if you enter late. Here is how you enter:

What are the benefits of participating in a festival? Your work is seen by an audience! And by an audience of people who loves films. Even if you are not accepted, get thee to film festivals, where you have an opportunity to see work you do not often get a chance to see. Many festivals feature films from other countries and you will find that people don't always look at the same world you do. You will also find that people are people no matter where they come from. Film festivals will inspire you and educate you.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Contest for Young Media Makers

As promised, news about a contest for kid film makers: The “Kids Take Charge” video campaign asks families across the country to post a video of their child explaining the mischief they can get into when the toys that keep them occupied run out of battery power. The top ten creative entries will receive a portion of the $10,000 donation – based on an online poll – for their charity. The first 250 people to enter a video will receive a free Energizer® Recharge Smart™ Charger. Energizer will select ten finalists based on originality, humor and alignment with the, “Kids Take Charge or Else” theme. Consumers can help determine the amount of money each charity receives by voting for their favorite at The funds will be allocated based on the percentage of views that each video receives. To enter, visit to review rules and submit a link to an online video posting with the hashtag #SmartCharge before May 17, 2010.

So make a great video and earn some money for your favorite charity.

Monday, April 12, 2010

So you wanna be in PICTURES

I get asked all the time, because my kids get film and theater roles, about how to get into "show business". You have been told your kids are gorgeous/talented/outta be in pictures and you are ready to sign up. If you are truly serious about it, the first thing I will ask you is: How do you feel about living in LA??? Because if you are successful at all, you will at least have to spend part of a year there. The vast majority of kids you see in film and tv live there and your odds of getting enough work to make it financially viable are that much greater if you are there. But lets say you live in one of the US' other major markets and you just want to get your feet wet. Well, your children can get work and make a bit of money as long as one parent is willing to make it their job. And thats the crux of it---if your kids are into it (and don't EVEN think about it if its not THEIR passion) carve out a space in your life to do this. Auditions come up suddenly, as do jobs, and you have to drop everything and get there

HEADSHOTS. You do not need professional headshots at first. A good natural portrait will do to get first theater jobs and student films. Once you have an agent, they will have photographers they like to work with and they can coach you on what looks book in.

AGENTS. Reputable agents DO NOT CHARGE YOU until you get work. While an agent may recommend coaches and photographers, be VERY wary of anyone who tries to sell you anything. Agents are supposed to be selling YOU, not making you BUY from them. Get a list of registered agents who handle kids and follow their submission requirements EXACTLY---it's usually a photo with a resume, but each agency will specify.

RESUME. Go ahead and start out in community theater and school productions. List that. Acting resumes list contact information, height, weight, clothing and shoe size and age. You can create a website with youTube video embedded--but make sure its excellent quality. Better to have no information than to have information that makes you look bad. If there are any film schools or community media centers near you, look for auditions there, and do as much as you can to learn.

REJECTION Being an actor is about constantly NOT being wanted. Even the most successful talen only books less than half the work they are considered for. If you or your child gets upset easily over NOT getting cast, then this is not a healthy activity for you. If you can enjoy the process of auditioning and not sweat being passed over, know that the more you audition, the more you will be cast. Of course, the more you audition the more you will NOT be cast too! But auditioning itself has to be the fun part. If you get the gig, that's gravy. You have to see your success in terms of how many auditions you go to and not how many gigs you get. That may sound insane, but every successful stage parent I know believes it.

The reasons you do not get cast are legion: you are the wrong size, wrong "look" (whatever THAT is), you have a conflict (never EVER lie about this when auditioning---kids get to have lives and you should be forthcoming about them) Sometimes they like your pigtails and sometimes they CANT STAND pigtails. It is never a reflection on your talent if you are not cast---it means someone else fit the director's vision more closely than you. Move on. It often seems as if there are "styles" of children that fall in and out of popularity. If you are a style that is popular you will see more bookings. But who wants to be a style.

SUCCESS What will you get out of this? Given the recent economy, not a whole lot of money. Many featured jobs are now going to non union or "real people" casting which pays LOW. But as I always say, its better that someone pay my kid to do something they love instead of me paying for activities, right? You will also find friends--people interested in acting and film and movies and theater so you develop a nice peer group. And for our family, being in shows and films is a way for us to spend a lot of time together. And what else could you ask for?

NEXT POST: Contests and deadlines for kids who create their OWN projects.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


After being distracted for several weeks by other media (a run with Mad Men's first season for example) we finally curled up on the couch for a look a Citizen Kane. I am not sure my children are in concurrence with AFI's assessment of its status
as the best American film made, but, after a heavy dose of 3D overkill, the black and white simplicity of Welles vision was refreshing and compelling.

I tried to encourage my wee film critics to see this vision in the context of its time--Welles' use of angles and cutting must have seemed revolutionary at the time.Nahh, they just wanted to understand the story.

The acting was superb and my theatrical children definitely saw the advantage of using your theater ensemble in your film work! I got a chance to talk about all the directors who have essentially built acting ensembles in order to do their work. And I could see little light bulbs going off on that one as we look forward to a summer of short film making.

In the end though, the story worked. It worked well enough that questions continued to be asked about the film even the next day. I think that Citizen Kane is the kind of movie you keep going back to--every time you see something new, and you come to it with fresh eyes, because your experience has altered the filter that you see it through. I don't feel the need to do that with a lot of movies, and maybe that is why this film is so great.

Speaking of movies to look at again, my entire clan says its time to see UP and Wild Things again. They are looking at movies repetitively now in a new way. When they were small, they would want things over and over again for the comfort of sameness. Now they go back to find new things. And great movies do not disappoint. I am hoping that this year does not dissapoint in terms of new releases, but so far, nothing is sticking out for me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beauty and Creepy in the eyes of beholder

I recently attended a dance concert with my family. Ordinarily, dance has little to do with media, being the nice old fashioned art form that it is, but this was a dance concert that took film as its inspiration. Artistically, it struggled with the bridge, some times triumphing, some times falling short. There were two main challenges: one) many of the choreographers took films that the dancers (and most of the audience) had never seen as jumping off points leaving a bit of a generation gap and two) combining screen imagery with a live human is an endeavor fraught with peril, and in this instance, they did not often win the battle, except as a novelty and maybe a way of getting folks out of their texting in the dark (people, really!) Many have tried to integrate dance and media, from Merce Cunningham to Twyla Tharp. And many have failed. We should never stop trying.

But the most fascinating takeaway I had from the concert had to do with the piece
where a man was videotaping a group of young women and it was live streamed onto a video wall. I know the man--lovely dancer and brilliant teacher whom I have been priviledged to study with. Watching, I felt torn between watching the live stream giant video and the dancers. But I was truly shocked at my children's reaction to the piece. They found the vision of a man following a group of, to be totally honest, somewhat scantily clad young women around with a video camera to be down right creepy. Whether its been the recent news stories or one too many school presentations on Stranger Danger, something about the visual language of the piece put them off. What was fascinating for me wasthat I am frankly so inured to the innate visual vocabulary of young girls sexuality, what with the revealing clothing these days on elementary school girls,and the wiggly walks and suggestive movements that even toddlers pick up from YouTube, that I did not read the clear message that my kids got.

We do not notice how innundated our children are with sexualized imagery through media. And never before had my kids talked back to me about how uncomfortable they are with that language. They told me the piece was "inappropriate". Knowing the performers I absolutely know that the intent was not what my kids interpreted it to be. But I will converse with them a lot more on what is and is not "appropriate". This dance piece opened up an entirely new critical dialogue for us, and is making me really look at the visual shorthand we use each day.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Nite

We lined up on the couch, shoved the dogs over, hunkered under blankies, and we watched. In some strange convolution of holiday traditions we made green mint milk shakes???? We followed on the internet, looking up filmic histories, and IMDB profiles and followed tweets, and tried to figure out where we had seen them before. We are soooo new media. (Except when it was over we watched a 40's Bette Davis classic)
We opined. We groaned. We ogled. We cheered. We laughed. And we did this weird thing where someone in the family had to call it, right before they gave the winner. It was like some strange parlor game--only in America, we can turn a supposed art form into sport. Collectively, I think we only missed two calls. We feel likeace prognositicators. And now we are itching to see the shorts, and I spent a hopeless waste of time trying to find where we could see the Book of Kells. I think Oscar night is just a wonderful night of family fun. Hope yours was!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

I was supposed to be snuggled up on the couch with the kiddies watching Citizen Kane, an almost old fashioned entertainment, but I ended up instead at a workshop with Grisha Coleman, a dancer,(former Urban Bush Woman) vocalist who works at a thing called the Arts Media and Engineering Department at Arizona State University. And this is where someone like me, for whom there are usually categories for artwork,(I am going to the opera, I buy tickets for the ballet) finds her little mind sort of blown. Ms. Coleman is using technology and varieties of media, to create installation works that combine all sorts of disciplines into events. As I am sitting there, listening to her attempt to describe with simple English, her complex, multi-layered works of art, my mind is telescoping possibilities, and at the same time seeing pitfalls.

It concerns me in this wild west phase of new technology that we have yet to find vibrant functional support structures for the idea people. It has become difficult for artists to get sustained paid gigs. I know that truly creative folks always find a way, but we need as much creativity as we can get to solve some of our intractable human issues, and we aren't putting our money where our mouth is on that one. Every day I get emails from creative organizations who are laying off more staff. New technology is not cheap. And it takes time to develop, and sometimes it takes a very long time, a big investment, before there are returns. As we spiral out to the new frontiers of media, we need to support the visionaries who are creating it.

And hey, the Oscars are almost here!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Media

Well I have been gone awhile. We went right from the very strange valentines day weekend choices by my resident teen: Moulin Rouge for her red velvet laced party to a cozy night with Lola Rennt with the beau.
Those would not have been my choices for romance, but I am of a different generation.
But then we fell into the Olympics. What a difference four years makes in media! I know I am usually focused on film here, but the lines between media formats are blurring when you can get TV shows (whole seasons of them!)on DVD's and stream movies off the internet. My children won't see the lines between formats, so I feel free to discuss how we accessed the Olympics through media in my Usually About Film blog.
When our local boy Shani Davis last went for the gold, we were visiting the grandparents in Florida and trolling for big screens at sports bars to watch the races. This time we have our own big screen. And we have the internet and social media. So as I am watching the race via HD cable, I can see what's on Shani's facebook fan page and official website and integrate that information (and conversation) into my experience. And when our other Olympic hero Anton Apollo Ohno (I love any athlete that can dance well) was racing, we could check out his twittering, and read recent coverage on his preparation. The race, courtesy of the TV, was the heart of our experience, but the internet allowed us to feel up close, personal and real time about it. It may have felt more real than actually being there would have. It allowed us to communicate back to the athletes, and from what I can see, the athletes feel the love. It was very bizarre to see the uploads that the athletes marching in the opening ceremonies were posting AS THEY WALKED. We got an insider's collage of what the experience was like. And of course, we could replay our favorite parts over and over again, via YouTube and Vimeo and whatever else folks are posting to. Quick search and viola, the entire Olympics experience at your finger tips.

The officially interesting thing to me was that I was completely steering the experience. I was free to digest what mainstream media and the official Vancouver site was putting out, but there were all these other informal ways to access the content I wanted. And there were ways to talk back. We really are in a new era with new media and it will take a while before I can digest what it will all mean, but at first blush, I would say that it puts a universe of choices in your laptop, and editing abilities are going to be a hot commodity--its too easy to overload on information. Our kids are growing up talking back to what's coming out of the screen. And this will change EVERYTHING. Bad news for control freaks, but for now I am having fun immersing myself in Vancouver.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Foodie Flicks

In the winter, at our house, we cook to get through the cold and grey. And wonderful food is in our heads alot as we lobby for improved school lunches as a family cause. But one of the things that gets you through the long winter is FOOD FILMS and it was time to curl up on the couch and watch BIG NIGHT. If that meal doesn't make you head for the nearest trattoria, you have probably already frozen to death. The period details, the relationship between the brothers Primo and Secundo, and the fabulous seamed hose outlining the shapely legs of Isabella Rosellini--I just love this movie and now so do my kids. You can almost smell the risotto, and it made us all head into the kitchen the next day to cook up a storm. We have decided to do a few more food films in this snowy season to warm us up. There are so many to choose from: Like Water for Chocolate (a local eatery does a menu drawn from that film every year for Valentines Day) Tampopo, Babette's feast--I am sure you have a list of your own.
The trick will be to come up with a meal to match the film!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Oscar Season

Well, we are out of the gate with the nominees announced! And we probably will have an Oscar party again this year--and it will probably end up like last year, where we end up putting on a movie and watching it, instead of the glitterati. See, unless your kids are teen demographic or older, the Oscars are not what I call family friendly. Oh, your little girl, lost in princess fashions, can ogle the dresses on the red carpet,but the event is all about a bunch of films that, for the most part, your kids CAN'T or should not see. This year, family friendly entertainment did better than most years, with UP and the Blind Side, two G rated films, getting nods, but by and large, its a show with a lot of talk about things your kids can't really relate to.
At our house we think that Where the Wild Things Are should have at least gotten a best adapted screenplay nomination--I still predict that that movie will stand the test of time and become iconic, but that's maybe because it spoke to our family more clearly and poignantly than anything else last year.

Last year we totally MEANT to watch the Oscar show. But at some point the kids were getting bored and picking fights so I popped the Bollywood Hit OM SHANTI OM into the player--it has music, dancing and the Indian version of the Great White Way and it was just the sort of Awards Night Inspiration we needed, so we never got back to the Oscars and just watched the summary of winners on the news afterwards. Maybe this year I will get off my proverbial lazy backside and put together a creative clips line up of scenes from previous Oscars.
Or we will substitute an unlikely past winner for the star studded made for TV event. I hate that we are not members of the Academy, or hooked up in any way, so laying hands on the animated shorts that are nominated is next to impossible. And I bet some of the foreign flicks are good too--where oh where to get those.

I know everyone on the planet except me has seen Avatar(I refuse to pay the upcharges and buy yet another pair of 3D glasses--the hype feels like Lemming Central, and 3 D gives me a migraine)and I am happy with my non-with-it status. But what I want to know is where does one access some of the more obscure nominees?? I will say that IMDB is a miracle because you can look up all the past work of the nominees for best makeup and costumes.

So its snowing again, and we have to get through all the Olympics Coverage---now that's real awards ceremonies, eh? before we can put on our sparkly clothes and eat hors d'oevres and watch something Filmic..... so basically, "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow." Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 Academy Award Winner Gone with the Wind.

Monday, February 1, 2010

True Grit

Inspired by the fact that the Coen Brothers will be remaking this fascinating tale of a girl in the hard scrabble American West, we saddled up on the couch and watched one of John Wayne's last rides. He was old, and fat, and magnificent. He finally won an Oscar here. It is hard for a 21st century kid to understand the kind of masculinity that John Wayne represents, especially in this film. He is honorable, but a hard drinker. Kids get the part about taking the law into his own hands, but by Schwartznegger standards, John Wayne is not exactly an attractive hero. We found it surprising that the envelope rated this classic as a G rated movie. I had a snuggly 4 year old in my arms, and I covered her eyes when the bad guys got killed. Luckily she was asleep by the time the rattlesnake appeared--this film is NOT for younger and more sensitive viewers, although it is a wonderful film. It was good to see a Western that focuses on a strong female character. In retrospect, what an interesting film for a 1969 audience.

Also encountered this weekend, Betty Davis, by accident. We came upon Now Voyager while channel surfing and unfortunately had to head out to dinner before the end, so now we will have to rent it to find out how it finished! The thing we most noticed was the harshness and unlikeability of the character, Charlotte. She was glamorous and tragic. And my girls noticed: Complicated. NOT a Disney female. Not made for TV. I am thinking we will have to have a night that is dedicated to those Betty Davis Eyes.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Just about every week, at our house, even if the laundry is not done, and the kitchen is a wreck, we all curl up on the couch for Mama's Media night. Our tastes are wildly erratic--from Doubt where we all speculated whether he was guilty or not, and went back to rewatch some of Meryl Streep's subtle facial expressions, to Main Noon Ha, a Shahrukh Khan classic from India that could be a trivia contest on filmic references (Mission Impossible meets High School Musical). I force feed my brood Fred Astaire and Humphrey Bogart. And we invite you to come along. I promise that I will stick (most of the time) to things you can get on Netflix.

This week my German studying teen loves Lola Rennt, the 80's indie hit that brought back nostalgia for our Berlin trip two winters ago, and reminded me that too much of my closet is now well over 20 years old. NOT for little ones.

I am still trying to figure out her tastes--she hacked into my queu and wants AUSTRALIA next....who can figure. Should be an interesting evening with my husband and I predicting every plot point.

Stay tuned!