Film and Television

Spotlight: A Talk with Michael Anderson of Purple Cloud Entertainment

Here on the blog, we’ve made it our mission to bring the very best in theatre/film/art to the forefront. That, my dear friends, is why this post exists!

Michael Robert Anderson and I first met during a production of The Heiress on Staten Island. He was Morris Townsend and I was the maid, Mariah. He’s a real Renaissance man: actor, writer, director, filmmaker, singer. And he is also the head honcho of his own company, Purple Cloud Productions.

Their latest project is a short film- Major Key– which is set to premiere at Staten Island’s Atrium Cinema on December 5th. Mike was kind enough to sit down with me over the weekend to talk about his movie and give a little behind-the-scenes info!

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Amanda: So Mike, I know you’ve been into filmmaking for quite some time now, but is Major Key your first feature? If not, what was?

Mike: Major Key is in fact a short film- clocking in at 25 minutes. However, it is NOT my first. My first film was titled The Colors of Perception– which was a 45 minute short about a young man who dealt with disabilities/perceptions of life/love/family/etc.

Amanda: As we know, the “war love story” genre has been done a lot over the years. What makes Major Key different and what inspired you to tell this story?

Mike: I’d like to think this genre hasn’t really been as tackled as many people believe. But regardless, I think Major Key differs from the rest because of the main focus being based around music. Major Key is a story that’s surrounded by love, tension, action, and humility. At its heart, the short is an uplifting story about the power of connection through music during tumultuous times. The film centers on an American band of brothers in the height of WWII who are hosted by a German family. Our lead soldier, John Key connects with the German host’s daughter Ilse Brauhn over their mutual love of jazz music. The rest, as they say, is history.

Amanda: What was it like to both write the screenplay and star in the finished product? Was it a difficult task?

Mike: It was my worst nightmare on top of my biggest dream! I had a blast and wouldn’t trade it for the world… but then again, I could’ve used a lot more coffee and downtime to prepare myself on the acting aspect of things. As you can imagine it’s tough to wear all of the hats at once- especially when you have to switch them instantaneously. But again, I’ll treasure that feeling forever.

Amanda: I’m assuming the film was not shot in a studio lot. Where did you go on-location, and did that factor into the actors you wound up casting?

Mike: The location was actually found by our incredible production manager, Jessica Davies, who recommended the odd idea of AirBNB. But lo and behold, she found us a beautiful early 19th century home in the middle of the woods in Millville, New Jersey- where we shot for a full week with no interruptions, beautiful weather and an incredible cast and crew! In regards to the casting side of it, I cast the best of what I saw. I cast the people who I KNEW could bring it all to the table. Location wasn’t a factor in who I got. In fact, the home was the LAST thing we found in the pre-production days, even after casting it.

Amanda: One more thing! What’s next for Purple Cloud Productions? Are you taking this project further, starting something new, or both?

Mike: Purple Cloud Entertainment is always making work. We just love to create. It’s a passion that drives us fay in and day out. Without this craft, without art, I would be no one! So to answer your question- there’s ALWAYS something going on. We’ve got our webseries out now, “Pipsqueak & Stretch”, which can be found on YouTube. And another project that we shot for a dear friend is in post-production, AND I may or may not have something very special in the works moving into 2018! But you’ll have to keep up with us to see!

Hungry for more? Check out Major Key‘s official webpage.
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Film and Television

Spotlight: “Murder Porn,” Parte Trois

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed, I get along with the voices inside of my head.”

Water we doing here?!

In all seriousness, though, I never thought I’d be writing another “murder porn” piece so soon, but last night’s episode of American Horror Story necessitated it.

But first, a disclaimer: I am a feminist. I believe in equality for men and women. I believe it’s closer than ever before and is still somewhat far off.

What I saw on television last night, I believe, is detrimental to the feminist cause. In a nutshell- from plot convolutions unknown to me, we got Lena Dunham playing Valerie, a deranged man-hater (and real historical figure) looking to suppress the male gender through revolutionary acts of gratuitous violence (shocker).

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It’s clear that this season of American Horror Story is hyperbolically “ripped from the headlines,” addressing topics such as groupthink, racism, and the 2016 Presidential election. Because women’s rights had become a component of this situation, they were bound to make an appearance as well.

I spoke to my boyfriend recently about how to system needs to be “fixed, not overthrown.” As I see it, a coup d’état mandates violence, which is never the answer. And in an age where people seem to be on the brink of “snapping,” so to speak, equating violence with female empowerment- as Dunham’s character is doing- is hugely misguided.

And, frankly, she seemed to be enjoying every minute of acting out this most twisted feminist fantasy: calling men “scum,” reigning over them, physically harming them if they do not submit.

Did I imply that Lena Dunham is a “bad feminist?” I didn’t say that, did I?

Look, I get that a lot of Americans are angry by the current state of our country. I’m upset too. But men aren’t the enemies of feminism, and to present such an idea is dangerous to the true meaning of the cause. And, to present the idea on an extremely popular TV show makes it widely available as fodder for those who don’t outwardly support equality. “Y’all crazy feminists think women should be superior to men; I done saw it on the tube!”

Not good, Ryan Murphy. Not good.

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Film and Television

Catholics in Hollywood

Last night, through a serendipitous reconnection with an old colleague, I was able to nab a ticket to a movie premiere.

Before I get into that, though, I’d like to offer a disclaimer of sorts. I rarely discuss politics or religion on this blog. These are topics that inevitably alienate people. However, I’d be lying if I said that my faith doesn’t inspire my creative work. Being Catholic is part of my identity, and as we know, the best pieces of art are ones that come from that innermost energy. But- back to last night.

The Sheen Center, a Catholic-fueled arts and culture center in the heart of NYC, was lucky enough to host the first full screening of The Star. This is a new animated picture that essentially tells the story of the 1st Christmas from the perspective of the animals. It is directed by Timothy Reckart, will be released in cinemas this November, and features an all-star roster of voice actors.

I made my way to the Sheen Center (it’s located on Bleecker Street) from Midtown Manhattan, arriving at about 6:15pm. As I waited in the lobby for the house to open, tea in hand, I noticed a nun on her smartphone. Welcome to 21-century Catholicism, folks. This event was invite-only, and yet the spread of people in attendance was remarkably diverse…it spanned many ages, races, and laypeople/clergy.

Once inside the theatre, I marveled at how nice the Sheen Center building was. It was polished, clean, and managed to be both classical and modern in its architecture. Behind the house- in another lobby- they had setup a little red carpet in front of a giant poster for The Star

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…so, of course, I couldn’t resist posing for a photo. This was also where I met Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. He was being swarmed, but the ten or so words I managed to say to him were still cool. He also gave some opening remarks before the film began.

The Star itself was really cute, and you could tell that everyone involved had a lot of heart. I think it will be a great tool for teaching this seminal story of faith to kids. It was nice that the filmmakers strove to be as Biblically accurate as possible while focusing on the animals’ journeys. I’ll admit it- I got a little misty-eyed at the end.

When the movie was over, its director (Oscar nominee Tim Reckart) was interviewed onstage. He discussed his experiences in Hollywood, his own faith, and how both of these things led to The Star‘s creation. I knew I wanted to talk to Mr. Reckart, too, so I found him in the crowd before I left. I said that I was a playwright, thanking him for making showbiz a little safer for Christian artists.

He then graciously agreed to autograph my postcard featuring the film’s artwork. So now I can say that I own a piece of Hollywood memorabilia. In a nutshell, my 1st experience at a Sheen Center event was certainly one that left me feeling good. I got to meet like-minded people, enjoy a festive film, and learn more about my craft as well as my faith. I hope the Sheen Center has a long and fruitful life as a part of NYC’s cultural fabric. After all, in these troubled times, we need places like that to shine a little light.

Personals

In Which I Purchase an Instax Camera

Last week, my boyfriend and I attended a party for one of his friends. There, I saw said friend (Veronica) snapping pictures with a Fujifilm Instax camera. I hadn’t seen one of these firsthand, so I asked her about it. And Veronica raved, telling me how much she loved the camera and how many creative (or sentimental) uses she found for the little Polaroid photos.

This, combined with my recent fascination with Amelie, a movie in which photo booths play an important role, intrigued me enough to purchase my very own Instax four days later. They come in all different colors; for me, it was a toss-up between the Flamingo Pink and Ice Blue. I went with the latter, then bought two packs of 10-sheet film rolls.

Reading the instructions and examining my new gadget on the bus, I couldn’t wait to try it out. When I disembarked, I loaded the first film roll and looked around for a suitable subject to photograph. Of course, a suburban neighborhood doesn’t have as many interesting things as the big city, but I improvised. I first thought I would find some colorful flowers- but then I spotted a lady walking her adorable dog and knew that it made for a better guinea pig (so to speak).

I asked the lady for permission to try out my camera on Lucy the beagle, and she agreed. Ultimately, I couldn’t get Lucy to look directly at the camera, so I settled for a clean profile shot. It was so cool watching the little Polaroid come right out of the top and develop before my very eyes! I offered to let the woman keep the picture of her dog, but she said I could have it.

Throughout the evening, I took a few more photos. Here are the four best ones…

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Clockwise from top left: Lucy the dog, Domino the cat, Tsum Tsums from Disney, and a woman (my mom).

It was a process of trial and error, for I also scrapped three shots that turned out pretty badly. Interestingly, all three were of objects, rather than living things or scenery. The picture of my Tsum Tsums is nice, but I learned that the Instax is not particularly suited to inanimate objects.

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Just for fun, this is a picture of my doll, Flora, which was taken with my iPad. As you can see, the Polaroid photos have a very different feel than these digital images. My iPad also doesn’t use a flash, whereas the Instax has a flash that always fires. A dial on the lens lets you control what kind of flash is used, and the camera helpfully suggests which one to select…but I’m still figuring that part out.

All in all, I’m really fascinated by this product. Once I fine-tune my usage of it, I think my Instax camera will be another good outlet for my creativity. And, a little retro flair never hurt anyone!

Uncategorized

Why Sutton Foster is Resume Goals

Two Tony Awards? Check.

Dance moves better than yours? Check.

A proven record on television? Check.

Well, there’s no doubt about it- Ms. Sutton Lenore Foster has the resume that every performer wants.

As one of Broadway’s most popular leading ladies, Sutton is one of those chameleon actresses, one that can slip in and out of almost any brassy role in the theatre canon. She manages to create portrayals that are both sweet and sassy. This, in turn, has earned her a very devoted fanbase. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about her is that, unlike most stage stars, she’s also managed to transition into the elusive entertainment medium of screen.

Most recently, as if she weren’t enough of a superhero…Sutton added “Mom” to her list of roles by adopting a little girl. In today’s entry- which just happens to be my 250th- I’m going to take you on a little tour of Sutton Foster’s career highlights.

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photo credit: Joan Marcus

In 2002’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, she looked absolutely stunning in this iconic red dress and tap-danced her way to her first Tony Award win. At this year’s Tony Awards ceremony, she presented costar Gavin Creel with his first prize for Hello Dolly! (Don’t you just love full-circle moments?)

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In 2006, Sutton failed to prove she wasn’t a “Show Off” in the beloved, nostalgic romp known as The Drowsy Chaperone. In this musical-within-a-comedy, she played an actress portraying a bride-to-be named Janet. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it makes much more sense when you see it take shape onstage!

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She snagged her 2nd Tony Award for the 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Sutton played Reno Sweeney, the sexy songstress who actually makes a living as an evangelist. Opposite fellow Broadway heavyweight Joel Grey, she knocked standards like “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Blow Gabriel Blow” out of the park.

"Younger" (Ep. 201- Airs January 13, 2016)

After making her mark on the short-lived ABCFamily show Bunheads, Sutton finally struck oil with TVLand’s hit program Younger. On this show, she portrays Liza, a 40something writer who ever-so-slightly fakes her age to get ahead in her career. The series is now in its 4th season.

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But just because she’s now a television name doesn’t mean that Sutton is abandoning her theatre roots. In fact, just last year, she headlined the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Sweet Charity. Extended multiple times, the show has generated rumors of a Broadway transfer. Is there anything this woman can’t nail?

Personals

Do you love him, Loretta?

“Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart.”

Dearest Anonymous…we had a good talk last night, I think. It always feels good when you get things out on the table, because then you can work on fixing them. Step by step.

Of course, in our case, that will take quite some time.

It’s easy to fall in love with love. It makes your brain run on all cylinders. It makes your heart race in the best way. You get this stupid grin on your face for no discernible reason. And you feel at peace with your world. In my humble opinion, love is the most important driving force of the human spirit. It’s what keeps us together as a species. When channeled, it can move mountains.

Unfortunately, no matter how powerful love is, sometimes it gets misdirected. When that happens, you get what Nicolas Cage describes in the above quote from one of my favorite movies. Or you get what’s transpired between you and me over the past year.

Neither of us may have regrets, but I will still maintain that leaving me was a mistake on your part. Maybe that’s at the core of why I seem to get pulled into your gravitational field over and over. Because I don’t believe I got a fair chance to prove that I could be what you needed.

Near the beginning of Moonstruck, Olympia Dukakis asks Cher if she loves her fiancee. When Cher replies “No,” Olympia says that this is a good thing: “When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can.” Well…I don’t think you are quite that sadistic! But, you will lie in the bed you made.

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For now, Anonymous, have a lovely summer, good luck with your new gig, and may we both find the happiness we deserve. See you on the flip side.

Film and Television

All That Jazz: Seven Things You Didn’t Know About the Chicago Film

Ah, Chicago. One of the greatest stage-to-film adaptations ever made, this Kander and Ebb musical has been playing nonstop on Broadway since the 1990s. Bringing it to the big screen was a considerably daunting task, but director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon pulled it off…and then some. The movie was released just after Christmas of 2002 and proceeded to snag six Oscars, including Best Picture. In celebration of Chicago’s impending 15th anniversary, I’m going to share seven fun facts about this “razzle-dazzle” film that you might not have known.

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  1. Richard Gere was not the first choice for Billy Flynn. Weird but true! The producers originally considered John Travolta for the part.
  1. The original Velma Kelly, Chita Rivera, appears in the movie. The legendary Broadway dancer can be seen greeting Roxie (and smoking a cigarette) when the latter first arrives at the Cook County Jail.

 

  1. The director and screenwriter were later involved in two other major musical films. Rob Marshall directed 2009’s Nine, while Bill Condon did the screenplay for 2006’s Dreamgirls!
  2. Christine Baranski could never play Mary Sunshine on Broadway. Although Baranski is a veteran stage actress, she couldn’t actually play Mary Sunshine because (on Broadway) the role was written for a man!
  3. Lucy Liu wasn’t supposed to play Go-to-Hell-Kitty. They actually had pop diva Britney Spears tapped for this cameo role!
  4. The song “Class” was shot for the movie, but ended up on the cutting room floor. You can still watch the scene on the DVD as a bonus feature.
  5. Of the three main actors, only one has played a leading role on Broadway. That’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, who not only won her Academy Award for Chicago but took home a Tony Award for her performance in A Little Night Music.
Writing

In Which I Take the NBC Studios Tour

Note to self: Don’t attempt to take an hourlong tour during a lunch hour. As I should have known from my past tour guide job- it will run long and then you’ll be rushing back to your building in 75-degree heat. But I digress.

As promised, folks, this is a special recap post of my journey through the innards of NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Incidentally, you probably noticed that my blog has a brand new look, too! I didn’t actually plan for these two to coincide. Anyway, entry into my 1:20pm tour cost about $30, which wasn’t too bad for a single person…but I can see how a large family might run into problems with that admission.

After checking in at the gift shop, I was given a really pretty pin to wear for the duration of the tour (and keep after it was over). There were about three different stations of security check as well- understandable. There were 12 of us in the group, and we were then introduced to our guides Ariel and Deborah, both students in the elite NBC Page program.

The tour officially began with a short video (hosted by Al Roker, of all people) that explained some of the history and significance of NBC. After heading up the stairs, we were in the rotunda; this is where audiences for the live broadcasts are corralled. This rotunda is a throwback to the original Art Deco designs of 30 Rock.

The first studio we visited belongs to Nightly News with Lester Holt. It was a cozy, sleek room with wood panel floors and plenty of lights and cameras. Ariel and Deborah explained that this studio is also the one that gets used for breaking news stories, as its technologies are well-suited for change on-the-fly. As we left, we saw a glass casing that memorializes NBC journalists who died in their line of work.

To balance this somber moment, we next rode an elevator to what the girls called “the comedy floor.” Sure enough, they had an entire hallway dedicated to Saturday Night Live, including production stills from past and present seasons. When we entered the studio where the show is filmed, I was surprised at how simple it looked! Indeed, a lot of behind-the-scenes magic occurs on the three parts of the SNL stage. Sets are assembled and taken apart in the span of a commercial break! And did you know that “Weekend Update” is the only sketch that occurs every single week?

As we proceeded, Ariel and Deborah mentioned that we may or may not get to see Jimmy Fallon’s studio for The Tonight Show. But we were lucky enough to catch them on a lunch break, so in we went. Fallon’s desk and his announcer’s podium looked very different than on television; as we learned, this is all due to great camera tricks. The Roots band gets their own “pit” on the opposite side.

After another short elevator ride, we arrived at the control floor, where hardworking production people manipulate the technology. We saw rooms at work with cameras, audio, and music mixing (one guy even waved at us). It was also time for the zenith of the tour: an interactive mock talk show, starring us tour guests.

We were each assigned roles- I volunteered to play the celebrity guest, because it was the only part that wasn’t totally scripted. And, well…let’s just say I hammed it up like a butcher shop. Don’t believe me? Just watch!

All in all, The Tour at NBC Studios was a really cool way to spend my lunch hour. I had fun, I learned some interesting information, and- perhaps best of all- it enabled me to get one more notch on my NYC adventure bedpost. Well, so to speak!

Fine Arts

Suddenly Surprise!

Good afternoon, my wonderful readers! I’m just writing a quick note to say that, because I have a special post planned for next week, today’s will consist of some favorite musical-themed GIFs. (None of these were created by me.)

We now return to your regularly-scheduled Puccini’s Chronicles programming.

Theatre

A Bronx Tale Vs. Diner: Old America onscreen and onstage

When we hear the phrase “period piece,” our minds tend to conjure up an image of a lady wearing multiple petticoats having romantic problems in Britain. And that would indeed fit the bill. But at the same time, a story about a kid growing up with the mob in 1960s NYC…or one about 20something friends navigating love in 1950s Baltimore…would also fall into this category. The classic films A Bronx Tale and Diner are both pieces of Americana during decades that were quite different from the one we live in. Perhaps that is what can take credit for their lasting appeal; we are fascinated by this somewhat foreign climate, as it stands in stark contrast to the country we have become, for better and for worse. For those who did live through those prior decades, the movies can also be a great source of nostalgia for “a simpler time.”

But how much simpler was it, really?

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At their cores, these two films are about a certain social issue: Diner focuses on male coming-of-age and A Bronx Tale deals with racial strife and Mafia politics. In these eras, it was perfectly acceptable for boys to catcall their girls, and the decimation of black people’s property was a fairly regular occurrence. Both of these movies were made some 20 years after the fact, so it’s clear that such behavior was not necessarily condoned. Rather, the pieces served as portraits of the ever-changing times. And this “snapshot” status is part of what solidified them as classics of cinema.

However, within the last five years, both stories have also found their way onto the stage. And suddenly, they’ve lost their classic status and must be looked at through fresh eyes once more. But live theatre is an entirely different animal than the silver screen.

Seen through today’s progressive filters, and in the flesh, both of these musical adaptations have come under heavy criticism. They’ve been called “dated,” “offensive,” and “no longer relevant.” Granted, A Bronx Tale has found much better commercial footing on Broadway; Diner never even made it out of regional theatre. (I have no good explanation for such a discrepancy.)

But the fact remains- does today’s America need to be reminded of its past imperfections (some of which persist to a degree) in a musical? Or, with the advent of groundbreakers like Hamilton or War Paint, should Broadway only be looking ahead?

Further food for thought: A forum thread on A Bronx Tale‘s adaptation and an interesting article on why Diner really shouldn’t be a musical. What do you think?