Friday, March 28, 2014

Do “Real Life” Reality Shows Tell Good Stories?

My first experience with reality shows was probably on the Disney Channel in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  I distinctly remember watching two shows: Totally Circus and Bug Juice.  Totally Circus focused on the experiences of children who were traveling circus performers.  Bug Juice focused on a group of kids going to a summer camp.  These shows were not high drama like we think of reality shows today.  Not the extremes that parents push their kids on Toddlers and Tiaras, for example.  Totally Circus and Bug Juice probably had been edited to tell an effective story, just like any “real life” type show that purports not to impose any outside element on the situation.  What I mean by that is this: Whether or not a reality crew came along, the circus would still be performing, the kids would still go to the summer camp, and the parents would still be sending their little girls to beauty pageants. This discussion is not about a "reality competition show" like Amazing Race, which deliberately does impose outside elements (obstacles to complete with a prize of money, for example) for the sake of drama.   But does this "real life" type of reality show tell good stories?  We know that every reality show manipulates the situation in some way. Leaving aside whether or not the editing misrepresents the person, does the manipulation tell the story in a good and compelling way?

It can be done effectively. I’ll give Bug Juice as an example.  Bug Juice presented the kids as well kids.  They wanted to have fun at camp and make friends, but sometimes their own flaws caused them to have trouble with other kids.  There was a kid named Asa, who was younger than the other campers.  He was immature at times and annoyed the other kids in his cabin.  In the hands of another reality show, he might have been painted as a villain, never to be given a chance to show his side.  But what happened was, the counselors found an outlet for his energy: he was given a camera and started taking pictures.  While most of the boys in his cabin did not befriend him, one of the other boys did and did treat him with kindness.  He could still be annoying at times, but he became better at being around other people.  That is a good example of real life reality, which presented the kids as they are, not as super exaggerated versions of themselves.  They change and grow given the situation. 

However, reality shows can exaggerate their characters and heighten the drama to such lengths that it can’t be taken seriously anymore.  They subjects become caricatures of themselves instead of who they really are.  I had such an experience watching a couple episodes of Dance Moms.  It focuses on Abby Lee Miller, the coach of a girl’s dance group, and the moms who bring their kids to the group.  The episode focused some on the girls training and Miller being abrasive and yelling at them, but mostly it focused on the fights between Miller and the moms.  There were multiple side interviews with Miller and each of the moms, but only one with one of the young dancers.  In the episode I watched, a mother wanted her daughter more front and center, and fought with Miller for that.  Miller wouldn’t budge, and the mother left with the daughter at the end of the episode.  Then in the next episode, the first thing that happens is the mother coming back with her daughter.  It felt to me, with the moms constantly there all the time, and the way focus was on Miller and them and not on the dancers themselves, for the show to feel manipulative.  I could feel that it was done for drama and exaggeration.  I felt like it was the most fake reality show I had ever seen.  As if to prove my point, when I searched the show for the name of the coach, a new news story had just popped up: one of the moms is suing Miller for her abusive behavior (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/dance-moms-star-abby-lee-680542) and she alleges, the producers encouraged Miller’s bad behavior.  I’m not saying her story is completely correct, or even Miller’s is correct.  But considering the behavior of Miller and the moms on the show, should we be surprised?

Real life people are complicated.  They have both good sides and bad sides.  They are not completely evil or completely benevolent.  Telling a good story with reality shows, involves presenting people realistically instead of just exaggerated stereotypes.  That is hard because conflict sells.  Drama sells.  And nothing is more exciting than reality show conflict, because it supposedly happened to real people. But is the manipulation for the sake of ratings worth it?  Is the exaggeration of these real people worth it?  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #13

Hello Everyone!  Here is Romance is for Other People Tidbit #13:

13.  There will be a dance in chapter 3.  

 Look for a new tidbit next Wednesday!  Here are the last 12 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old
6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.
7. The fourth main character is Amanda, female, 16 years old.
8.  The format is first person, split between the four main characters.
9.  The title is a quote from the novel.
10.  All the chapter titles are quotes.
11.  Plot summary (View Here)
12.  Genre: Modern Teen Drama-Comedy.  Just to be clear, it is not: Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Drama, Mystery, Western, or Musical. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Cliffhangers [SPOILERS]

[Note: this article will contain spoilers for various TV shows, books and movies – you have been warned!]

Ah, Cliffhangers.  The art of leaving right in the middle of the action so that you tune into the next episode or watch the next movie or read the next book.  Cliffhangers, by leaving us unresolved with the promise of resolving the story with the following story, have the nature of either infuriating us or making us excited about the upcoming part.  We may say we hate cliffhangers but admittedly it makes us can’t wait for what comes next. 

We love cliffhangers because of the excitement it brings the next episode.  The most famous cliffhanger in LOST, (about a group of airplane survivors on an island, with flashbacks to their lives before the crash) was at the end of the third season when it was revealed two of the characters (Jack and Kate) had actually gotten off the island.  The cliffhanger doesn’t resolve how or why they got off the island or even why Jack insists they have to go back, but it nevertheless was a major reveal.  The third season finale of Castle (about a novelist, Richard Castle, who trails an attractive female NY detective with the police department, Kate Beckett) finding out that three dirty cops were implicated a conspiracy involving the murder of her mother, and one of the cops was the previously benevolent police chief Roy Montgomery.  Roy sacrifices himself and is killed in the process.  Then later at his funeral, Kate is shot by a sniper and Castle, while she lies on the ground bleeding tells Kate he loves her.  This cliffhanger does well with mixing reveals and putting people in physical peril and emotional peril.  In both cases, we are revealed something and in the second, the characters are in peril.  We can’t wait for the next episode.  Arguably the biggest reveal of all time happens near the climax of The Empire Strikes Back: the leader of the Galactic Empire, Darth Vader, reveals to the hero Luke Skywalker after a lengthy light saber duel that he is Luke’s father.  While the movie did ultimately end with Luke in safety, Darth Vader was still out there to defeat.  Much was left unresolved.  Now Empire is considered the best of the original trilogy, despite the fact that we are left hanging.  A good reveal will do that.  The best cliffhangers couple moments in peril with a major reveal.4

However, cliffhanger can also frustrate us.  Many fans were disappointed with the first season Lost finale.  On the island, a metal hatch had been teased for most of the season.  A few of the characters had finally opened the hatch but nothing was revealed about what was inside.  No reveal led to not happy viewers.  Another frustrating cliffhanger happens with many crime-related shows.  Circumstances arrive to break up the team.  They all go their separate ways and are no longer part of the group.  The reason it is a disappointing cliffhanger is because of its overuse.  It’s not a big reveal (especially if the show is renewed for next season) because you know that the entire group is going get back together.  An example of that is the fifth season finale of NCIS.  We hate cliffhangers that are predicable or that don’t have an impressive reveal. 


It’s possible that we are so jaded from so many finales that we need a big reveal to keep us satisfied.  But nevertheless, we want to find out what happens, regardless of how well the finale is put together.  Cliffhangers, good or bad, keep us going for the next part of the story, and we tune in to find out what happens.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #12

 Hello Everyone!  Here is the 12th tidbit:

12.  Genre: Modern Teen Drama-Comedy.  Just to be clear, it is not: Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Drama, Mystery, Western, or Musical. 

 Look for a new tidbit next Wednesday!  Here are the last 11 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old
6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.
7. The fourth main character is Amanda, female, 16 years old.
8.  The format is first person, split between the four main characters.
9.  The title is a quote from the novel.
10.  All the chapter titles are quotes.
11.  Plot summary (View Here)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Romance is for Other People First Summary! (Tidbit #11)

Hi Guys!  Please share this with your friends if you are excited about it!  Here it is:

Lydia: “You must be sure you have a shot.  But you don’t.  Romance is for other people.”
Jeremy: “Do you actually think I believe that?”

Chris Howard is content with being “Best Friends Forever” with Lydia Jamison, but Lydia secretly wants to go out with him.  Meanwhile, Chris’ older cousin Jeremy and Amanda have a tumultuous love-hate relationship.  In a recent fight, Jeremy angrily tells Amanda he can find another girl, and immediately afterward starts pursuing Lydia.

Lydia is at first disgusted, because Jeremy has been a pest to both her and Chris in the past.  Chris doesn't believe that Jeremy has a chance with Lydia, and does nothing about it.  But as Jeremy refuses to give up his pursuit….


Romance is for Other People is a unique novel told from first person from the point of view of two main characters: Chris and Lydia and their experiences with first love and first heartbreak. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Why Casablanca is my Favorite of the “Great” Movies

Casablanca, the 1942 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Berman, is a movie typically on many critics’ “best of” lists, along with Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Gone with the Wind, among others (for example: http://www.afi.com/100years/movies.aspx).  But “Casablanca” is my favorite of the great movies, I’m about to tell you why.  I’m not here to tell you why it is the greatest, that’s not what I’m trying to say.  I just like it the most in the list of the “Great Movies.”

First, it has a manageable running length.  Many great “epic” movies have a length of three or more hours (Godfather: 175 minutes, Gone with the Wind 220 minutes), but Casablanca is only 102 minutes (or an hour and forty-two minutes) long.  Its length is under the typical 90 to 120 minute range and as such, feels more accessible.  Its length won’t scare anyone off.

Second, the characters drive the story.  Rick Blane, the hardened owner of “Rick’s Café American,” is upended when his former lover, Ilsa Lund, arrives at the café.  Many people remember Rick and Ilsa as the one of the seminal couples of romance.  It’s not as much about the Nazis or the letters of transit as it is about Rick and Ilsa dealing with each other.  Even the supporting characters, Sam the pianist, Victor Lazlo Ilsa’s wife and resistance fighter, and Captain Louis Renault, a supposedly corrupt German officer are all well-defined and influence how the central relationship affects the main characters. 

Third, it is a movie that promotes doing the right thing over doing your own selfish desires.  Rick wants to run away with Ilsa to America, but he knows that she belongs with Victor Lazlo, so he famously gives her a speech where he tells her she would regret it if she stayed with him: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” Ilsa goes with Lazlo and leaves Rick in Casablanca.  Rick sacrifices his own personal wants for Ilsa at the end because he knows that they both will regret it if they pursue the relationship further.

Fourth, it can be wildly funny at times.  With the character of Captain Louis Renault, who regularly provides sarcastic comments and subtle comic relief, the movie becomes not just a sweeping romantic story (though that is the main focus).  In one scene, Renault had just been told by his superior officer to give an excuse to close Rick’s Café.  When he does so, he tells Rick that “he’s shocked, shocked that gambling has been going here.”  Then one of the Café employees gives him a stack of money and says, “Your winnings, sir.” Renault tersely replies, “Thank you very much,” and then continues to shoo everyone out of the café.  It is humor like that that livens what could otherwise a little more depressing movie. 

Fifth, it features the Nazis as the villains, an army we love to hate.  The German characters Louis Renault, part benevolent officer part comic relief, and his more sinister superior, Major Heinrich Strasser, are not just stereotypes but characters with their own agenda.  Louis Renault is not out to disturb the peace in Casablanca but Stasser wants to find Lazlo, the leader of the resistance movement.  With Renault as a complicated and humorous man coupled with the more serious Strasser, the movie shows that not all Germans are evil and that it is the ideals of the Nazi party that are at fault.

And, finally, it has a fantastic song!  Anyone who has ever seen Casablanca remembers “As Time Goes By,” the song Sam sings to Ilsa early in the movie, and later to Rick after Renault closes Rick’s Café down.  Not just a song played over end credits, which is where many big songs for movies are regulated now, Ilsa asks Sam for the song specifically and later Rick does as well. This gives a stronger emotional significance to the song and gives us a reason to find importance to the song as the main characters do.

Casablanca is a great movie with a manageable length, great characters in a sweeping love story, villains we love to hate, impeccable comic relief and a fantastic song.  What could you not love about Casablanca? 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #10

Hello Everyone!  Here is the 10th tidbit:

10.  All the chapter titles are quotes.

Don't forget the first summary will be revealed on Friday, March 14th!  Here are the last 9 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old
6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.
7. The fourth main character is Amanda, female, 16 years old.
8.  The format is first person, split between the four main characters.
9.  The title is a quote from the novel.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Schedule Announcement!

Hi Guys,
     This week will be a typical week: update (add a tidbit) on Romance is for Other People on Wednesday, and blog on Friday.
      Next week however, there will be no update on Wednesday (3/12), but instead on Friday (3/14) I will be releasing...the first summary of Romance is for Other People!
     I am giving a little incentive to go seek the summary out.  Anyone who Likes on Facebook or Retweets on Twitter on Friday (3/14) before 10 PM will be sent a message with an exclusive tidbit about the story!   Thanks for reading!