Emmy Nominations Lacking in Diversity

I just did the math:  Only six people of color were nominated for acting Emmy awards this year (that includes categories like supporting actor in a miniseries). For the men, that’s 1 nomination of a possible 45. For the women, that’s 6 nominations of 45 (Chandra Wilson was nominated twice):

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:  Accidental Friendship, Chandra Wilson as Yvonne
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:  Grey’s Anatomy, Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda Bailey
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:  Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh as Dr. Christina Yang
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:  30 Rock, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:  Ugly Betty, Vanessa Williams as Wilhelmina Slater
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:  House of Saddam, Shohreh Aghdashloo as Sajida
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:  Relative Stranger, Cicely Tyson as Pearl

I can’t say I’m surprised.  In the past, Emmy had notoriously neglected the brilliant HBO series The Wire, which featured some of the greatest TV performances of all time, and highlighted the work of actors like Andre Royo, Idris Elba, and Sonja Sohn.

But I was hoping for a greater diversity of actors now that Emmy offers six spots instead of five in each category.  It’s hard to make an argument that there wasn’t anyone to nominate.  Edward James Olmos and Grace Park turned out stellar performances in the final season of Battlestar Galactica.  Masi Oka is consistently the only entertaining spark in the increasingly lifeless hour of Heroes that I subject myself to.  Mindy Kaling is hilarious on the Office.  And, by the way, what happened to the Emmy love for America Ferrera and Ana Ortiz from Ugly Betty?  What about Dule Hill from Psych?  That show has to be funnier than Two and a Half Men (so are youtube videos of cats on a Roomba).

But the actor who blew me away this season, and again has failed to capture an Emmy nod, is Idris Elba.  His guest star spot on The Office, where he deadpanned through Michael’s insane behavior, Jim’s insubordination, and the not-so-subtle advances of Kelly and Angela, was both real and surreal (much like the rest of The Office).  Unfortunately, the only clip of him on Hulu doesn’t his performance justice:

In tough economic times, networks are only going to produce shows that they think are bankable. And until we start acknowledging the talent of a greater diversity of actors, we’ll see networks turning out one white male driven storyline after another.

It’s not about percentages or quotas or anything like that. It’s about the abundance of storytelling that is possible within the medium of television. It’s possible to tell rich stories that the viewing public hasn’t yet seen, it’s possible to include the voices of non-white characters, to build up backstories that are engaging and new. There are too many cookie cutter white doctors/lawyers/cops who just want to make good/get their kids back/look handsome in a scruffy beard. It’s lazy storytelling, and it doesn’t contribute to or reflect the richness of American pop culture. Chandra Wilson, twice nominated this year, expresses the need for strong female, and strong African American characters well when she says that her character serves as an inspiration to others (see clip at the top of this page).

Who would you have nominated for the Emmy Awards this year? Who do you feel was missing from past Emmy awards? And which of the nominated actors will take home gold?

5 Rules for Artists Using Social Media

In my last post, you learned that no one cares how good you are if they don’t know who you are.   Social media literacy is an essential skill for all artists to master.  And by social media literacy, I don’t mean being able to create a facebook event, or tweet about your breakfast, or add friends on Myspace.  My 10-year-old cousin can do that.  I mean being able to effectively use social media to self-promote and create a lasting, active community that will continue to support you.

When using any social media tool, there are 5 important rules to follow:

  1. Don’t lead with tools, lead with relationships. You aren’t going to get anywhere by blindly twittering promotional material 20 times a day.  In fact, that’s probably a pretty good way to annoy your fans.  Instead of looking at these tools as a platform solely for spewing content, think of them as a way to get involved in the conversation of your community.  Amanda Palmer, lead singer for the Dresden Dolls, is a great example of what an artist should strive for.  In May, she made $11,000 in one night. She twittered her fellow “Losers of Friday Night” (fans who had decided not to go out on a friday), got together a group of people to hang out on the internet, chatted about stuff, made a t-shirt on the spot about the stuff they were chatting about, and sold over 400 shirts in the next few days.  That is how you harness the power of a community.
  2. Great Big Sea (Photo Credit: Cindy Funk on Flickr)

    Great Big Sea (Photo Credit: Cindy Funk on Flickr)

  3. Use tools as an aide to build community. When you are an artist, community is everything.  It is your bread and butter and if your fans are not strong and loyal, you will not survive.  You do not have to be a household name to be successful if you have a strong community.  Have you heard about Great Big Sea?  Probably not.  They are a Canadian celtic-rock band.  Last summer I went to one of their concerts and then saw the Backstreet Boys the following weekend at the same venue (don’t judge!).  Can you guess which concert was sold out and which one wasn’t?   It’s hard to believe, but a Canadian celtic-rock band actually beat the Backstreet Boys in ticket sales. Great Big Sea enjoys consistently sold out concerts because they have an active fan base that will travel thousands of miles to see them and they recognize the power of having this community.  An example: their website is titled “The Community of Great Big Sea.”
  4. Tell your story. You want to use social media to connect and engage with your audience on a personal level.  There’s an Indian Proverb that goes: “Tell me a fact, I’ll learn.  Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.  Tell me a story and it’ll live in my heart forever.”  People remember stories, so why not tell yours?  And I don’t mean a stale bio that you find on all these artists’ websites.  I mean something personal, written by you, about you, that readers will want to tell other people.  One interesting and memorable anecdote or fact makes it easier for your fans to promote you.  I can’t count how many times I’ve bragged that Lady Gaga was one of 20 applicants accepted into Tisch early decision ever.
  5. Create an incentive for users to come back. There was a Mashable post a few weeks ago about 5 great Facebook fan pages.  They all had one thing in common:  original content.  You want to make content that is not available elsewhere.  We yearn to be on the inside, getting the “exclusive sneak peek”. Make your fans feel special and give them something they can’t get anywhere else.
  6. Don’t sign yourself up for more than you can maintain. Having 8 different profiles on various media platforms won’t do any good for you unless they are all well developed and updated frequently.  If you have enough time to maintain 8 accounts, then that’s great.  However, if you are an artist, you probably are busy working on your, you know, art.  Focus your time on one or two platforms (using points 1-4).  And don’t ever hire someone to maintain your profiles.  There is nothing that will make you look more out of touch with social media.  Your fans want to connect with you, not your 20-year-old intern.  The whole point is to engage people, and you can’t do that if you are spread across eight different platforms or aren’t even using the tools.

Building community, making a personal connection, and actively engaging your audience is not only important, it is necessary to set yourself apart from everybody else. Be authentic and be yourself.

Turn off your Cell Phone at Patti LuPone’s Gypsy

A marquee featuring Patti LuPone.  Photo by Chris Freeland via Flickr

A marquee featuring Patti LuPone. Photo by Chris Freeland via Flickr

On Tuesday, Patti LuPone voiced her own response to David Itzkoff’s NY Times blog post about an incident in which LuPone stopped her performance to confront an audience member who was using an electronic device.  LuPone defended her actions, and those of artists seeking to preserve the integrity of live performance as audiences grow more and more attached to cell phones and iPods.

It is interesting that many of the comments on LuPone’s letter deal with cell phone use (which is disruptive to both performer and audience member alike), while it seems LuPone is mostly incensed about people trying to capture images, audio or video of her performance (which is primarily disruptive to the performer).

Patti LuPone is an established artist who needs to protect the content of her performance from leaking out onto the internet for free.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – an actress like Patti LuPone has to be an artist and an athlete in one, training her voice and her body to sustain night after night of live performance, every night producing a pitch-perfect electrifying show that is *worth* the $100 (or $60, or $200) price of admission.  Distracting her and her audience is like casually tossing pool toys in after Michael Phelps.  Just not fair.

Because LuPone is a well-known, well-loved performer, she can get away with screaming at an audience member, and people will STILL buy tickets to see her show.  If a chorus member did such a thing (or the star of a very minor play), their actions might not even be acknowledged by the audience – or the audience might just walk out.  LuPone may well be sticking up for the little guy.  But is her stance against mid-performance texting really beneficial to everyone?  At SILVERDOCS, during a presentation on the future of public media, one speaker asked that everyone turn their cell phones ON, so that folks in the room with web-enabled devices might use Twitter to spread the word about the talk.  I could see a scenario in which a new play would benefit from postitive in-performance tweets (and certainly from tweets, cell phone calls and texts at intermission).

When fans text or tweet at a show, is that offensive, or is it free publicity?

Ella Es El Matador – Women v. Machismo in the Bull Ring

This week, many of our posts will feature films and seminars from AFI SILVERDOCS, an 8-day documentary film festival that takes place in Silver Spring, MD.  We have an upcoming interview clip with Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, and a lot more to say about the future of public media.  But for now I want to direct your attention to one of the best films I saw last week:  Ella Es El Matador (She is the Matador).

Gemma Cubero del Barrio and Celeste Carrasco follow two women in their quest to succeed in the machismo world of Spanish bullfighting.  The film itself is beautiful – watching it, I had an incredible sense of the two women not only as devoted athletes and trailblazers, but also as people who are passionate about an art that is significant in Spanish culture.

Maripaz Vega, Celeste Carrasco, Eva Florencia and Gemma Cubero del Barrio.  Photo by Anna Pinkert

Maripaz Vega, Celeste Carrasco, Eva Florencia and Gemma Cubero del Barrio. Photo by Anna Pinkert

Both filmmakers and both of the women bullfighters were on hand at the screening I attended.  The filmmakers said that this movie took 9 years to make.  Initially, they conceived of it as a piece on the history of women bullfighters, but when they met Eva Florencia and Maripaz Vega, they decided to make them the center of the story.  On their part, Eva Florencia and Maripaz Vega said that they loved watching the film, and were proud to be a part of it.  Vega, who is an established matador, hoped that the film would improve the situation for women bullfighters in Spain, but that they have a long way to go.

One of the many things I learned at SILVERDOCS is the value of a good relationship with your subjects.  At a screening of Salesman, legendary director Albert Maysles updated us on the status of his four Bible salesmen subjects, 40 years after the film’s debut.  Being warm, generous, and kind to the people in your film has a better chance of yielding the intimate stories that you want to tell as a filmmaker.

Ella Es El Matador will premiere on PBS on Sept 1 as a part of POV.

Why Artists Need Social Media

Editor’s Note: I’m happy to welcome Devon Hopkins to Still Indie.  He is an undergraduate at a competitive liberal arts university studying social psychology and group dynamics through choreography.  He also manages and promotes an a cappella group and a dance troupe. We hope you will enjoy his insights on collaboration and the use of social media for performing artists.

This is my first blog post.  I’ve shied away from the idea in the past because of something I think all artists have: self-doubt. Because we grow up in a highly competitive atmosphere, we are constantly questioning ourselves: “Why do I deserve to do this?” and “Why should I succeed over that person?”  What I have come to realize is “Who cares?”  You probably aren’t unique, but even if you are, it doesn’t really matter.  The focus should not be on whether or not you deserve to succeed, it should be on how you can succeed with the skills that you have.  That’s where social media comes into play.

Movement (Photo Credit: Oneras on Flickr)

Movement (Photo Credit: Oneras on Flickr)

No one cares how good you are if they don’t know who you are. From a very early age, in any art form (dance in my case), we are taught that the only way to survive in the world of art is to be the best.  “Do you think people will pay to see that pirouette?!” “You think you can fill seats with that documentary?” We are constantly pushed to be the “best”, when in reality, many of the best artists fail. So You Think You Can Dance just started its 5th season and after auditioning thousands of dancers over 5 years, they are still finding exceptional talent, enough so that the show is already auditioning dancers for a 6th season in the fall.  There is an endless pool of talented artists in all fields and your job is not to be better than your peers.  Your job is to get noticed first.

Thousands of people are competing for the same success that you are. Marketing yourself effectively is about making people remember who you are in a crowd of people.  I recently got to work with a choreographer, let’s call her Anya.  After college, Anya knew that she didn’t have the years of technical training necessary to become a well-paid professional dancer, so she decided to try out choreography.  She, like dozens of other dance hopefuls moved to New York, put together a show, and invited critics and members of the dance community to view it.  She, unlike the dozens of other dance hopefuls, fed her audience food and got them drunk on cheap alcohol, convincing them it was “part of her Estonian background.”  Was it illegal?  Probably.  But by marketing herself and turning her art into an event, she enjoyed consistent rave reviews while most of her hopeful dance buddies did not.

Art is not just about creating something.  It is about effectively sharing that something with a larger community. Anya acknowledges that she is not the best dancer now, nor was she ever in high school, college, or in her graduate experience.  Yet now Anya is a very successful professor at one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation.  How?  She knew how to market herself and her works.  What Anya did to make her art look like more than just another post-modern dance piece, you can do using social media.  With all the social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Blogger, Digg, Flickr, Youtube) freely accessible, it is now your job to distinguish yourself from all the other artists doing what you do.  Independent artists and labels won half of this year’s grammy awards, due in part, no doubt, to their talent, but also to their access to and skilled use of online social resources.  It’s easier now than ever to make a name for yourself, by yourself.

“How?” you might ask. Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you.  Subscribe to Still Indie so you won’t miss my next post.

RSS
Email
Facebook
Twitter

Are You Guilty of Media Malpractice?

Last week I attended Making Media Now at Bentley University, where, among other really interesting panels, I saw Andy Carvin talk about crowdsourcing. I was also really glad to hear Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films talk about making media that matters with Lisa Mullins of The World. Greenwald also screened a clip from his upcoming work on the war in Afghanistan.

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

When asked by Lisa Mullins to fill in the sentence, “If you’re not using new media you are. . .” he answered, “. . . guilty of malpractice.” Greenwald described the new media scene as the opposite of Hollywood: “Suddenly the gatekeepers are gone.” With decreasing costs to make media, filmmakers can create quality work with fewer people on board. Greenwald says he takes an “if you build it they will come” approach – starting with a 2-minute version of a film he wants to make, and finding an audience that will support it.

Greenwald insisted that filmmakers think creatively about marketing and distribution – reserve a short simple URL when the idea for the film strikes, distribute short web clips if you can’t get a feature length doc on the air, collaborate with groups that will promote or financially contribute to the film, and, my favorite quote: “Think about it not as a microphone, but as a conversation.”

Favorite Feminists for the Very Young

Oh Jezebel, your editors should know by now that if you post anything that involves a list and the word “feminism” – people are going to get into a flame war mighty fast.  Jezebel’s list of 20 Feminist TV Characters prompted a lot of controversy – including a lot of agita over the lack of women of color on the list. Teresa at the Shameless Blog posted on the controversy, and added her own list of favorite women of color on TV.

I started making my own list of characters, when I realized that many of them were, in fact, from my childhood. Children’s TV has an amazing ability to reach and influence a generation (something pointed out in a very good NPR story from a few weeks ago). So why shouldn’t we acknowledge the fictional women who had an influence (however corny) on our young lives?

Elisa Maza – Gargoyles

All these kick-butt gun-toting cops, and not one mention of Elisa Maza?  Holds her own against the enemies of the Gargoyles, and fights against injustice as a NYPD detective. Elisa is also half African American and half Native American.

Moose – Pepper Ann

Did anybody else ever watch Pepper Ann?  The tales of a quirky redheaded middle schooler who tries to do the right thing. . . often involving her younger sister Moose.  Moose had a low husky voice, short hair, and wore pretty much whatever the guys wore on the show.  Moose might be one of the non-traditional girl cartoons I can think of (even more so than Ashley Spinelli of Recess).

Alex Mack – The Secret World of Alex Mack

Good grief did I love this show. Alex Mack gets covered in chemical ooze, then discovers she has superpowers. Never explicitly feminist, Alex Mack does solve her own problems and deal with the trials of being a teenager without slipping into sad cliches. Also, she can turn into a puddle of goo.

Kate Monday – Mathnet (Square One)

How could I forget Kate Monday? Probably the closest thing that the under 13 set had to a Dana Scully, Kate Monday uses math to solve crimes with her partner, George Frankly. “My name is Monday. I’m a Mathematician.”

The Chief – Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

It’s mighty tempting to list the double-dealing diva with a taste for thievery – but instead I’ll give credit to Lynne Thigpen’s amazing Chief, who managed to educate and entertain while spitting out tongue-twisters at a Sondheim-esque pace. Do it Rockapella!

(thanks to Sarah for all her input!)

Andy Carvin of NPR On Crowdsourcing at Making Media Now

On Friday I attended Making Media Now 2009, a single day conference for media makers (largely attended by documentary film folk from the Boston Area).  MMN09 was a great experience – and I have to recommend that more social media and new media people attend in the future – there were some great filmmakers looking for partnerships with people who know how to get the word out using social media tools.

Photo Credit: Steve Garfield on Flickr

Andy Carvin in Cambridge, Photo Credit: Steve Garfield on Flickr

One of my favorite lectures was by Andy Carvin, head of the NPR Social Media Desk.  Carvin talked to us about crowdsourcing.  He pointed out that crowdsourcing is not new (the Longitude Prize was an early attempt at approaching a large group to solve a single problem).  He also gave some great examples of projects that used crowdsourcing to create something new:  Apps for Democracy, a crowdsourced project using DC government data, spawned several useful applications.  Stumble Safely, one of the apps, uses data about traffic, local bars, and street lights to give people safe routes to walk home along when drunk.  According to Carvin, the DC police actually use Stumble Safely when figuring out which areas to patrol at night.

Carvin works with reporters at NPR to use social media for their benefit – whether that means an entire 2008 election project, or working with a reporter who wants to find sources through Facebook or Twitter.

Carvin also told the story of how NPR got a fan page on Facebook.  Evidently, an undergrad in the UK decided to “help” NPR by making the official fan page himself.  Carvin emailed him, and the undergrad said when he tried to contact NPR about helping them get on facebook, he’d gotten an email thanking him for his support.  He took that as a green light to make the official fan page himself.  He promptly handed over the keys to Carvin, and went on his way.  Carvin said this story shows that when people say they’re afraid of losing control online “You never had control in the first place.”  People love and adore NPR, and sometimes, it’s impossible to hold back the crowd.

Joss Whedon at the Shasha Seminar, Part II

Last time, I gave a recap of Joss Whedon and Mark Harris’s thoughts on where the media industry is going, but much of our time at the Shasha Seminar was spent talking about the nuts and bolts of actually getting work produced.

Photo Credit: Malenkov in Exile

Photo Credit: Malenkov in Exile

Whedon talked about his own career, and how he got his stories up on screen. He started with Buffy, who he described like so: “This is my voice. This is my avatar. This is my girl.” Buffy, the story of a “bimbo” getting her revenge on big scary monsters, was the story he needed to tell. Being a script doctor was not enough for him – because it didn’t involve creating anything. Lucky for him, as he creates, he sees the title, the trailer, the one sheet and the marketing campaign all in his head. That probably goes a long way to explain why Whedon’s incredibly off-beat concepts worm their way into the pop culture landscape – he understands that media doesn’t just live up on screen, it lives in advertising, it lives in conversations online and in person. He claims it’s not cynical to think of these things as you’re doing creative work – because “It’s going to be a dialog between the audience and us.” In other words, he’s reaching out to his audience any way he can.

For Buffy, reaching out to the audience also meant a huge amount of multi-platform content – some of which he controlled creatively, and some of which he didn’t. In the case of the books, Whedon said, “Please don’t have Buffy deny the Holocaust in any of them, I’ll be over here.” In the case of the video game, he voiced an avatar of himself. Whedon put a lot of creative effort into the comic book series, because that platform interested him. However, he also addressed the announcement that Fran Rubel Kuzui, producer of the original (and failed) Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, intends to revive the series without Whedon’s creative input. Whedon said that Buffy “would not have happened” without Kuzui, and that the party who would have legal difficulty creating a new Buffy TV series is, in fact, him. When someone asked if he regretted not telling more television stories in the Buffy universe, he said “I’m not long on regret.”

Whedon’s shows are widely given credit as some of the first to have massive (and well-organized) online followings, Firefly was one of the first shows without a fully aired season to come out on DVD, and now his show Dollhouse is being renewed in part due to a strong web-based viewing audience. As I noted in my last post, Whedon started shooting the second season of Dollhouse on Monday. Budgets have been cut, and he’ll be shooting in HD video instead of film. Whedon actually seemed pleased about this, saying that “When they take money away from me – I get better.” (Fox executives, if you’re reading this, please don’t take it to heart). Whedon talked about the challenge of writing a show with six act breaks instead of four (which I understand is at Fox’s request, since there are more ad breaks online than on TV). He said it was challenging not to take the audience “out of the story” with so many cuts.

When you watch Joss Whedon speak in person, what comes across most readily is that he genuinely loves his job, and believes in his own work. Much of the weekend (which I’ll get to in a third, and possibly final post) was very tied up in justifying the artistic compromises that everyone makes in order to get art to make money. Whedon still believes that storytelling can, should, and must stand for something – even when it’s happening in a staunchly commercial enterprise. Whether regular folks can do what he does – create their own Dr. Horribles without the backing of experience, prestige and lots of famous friends – remains to be seen. But it’s nice to know that there are powerful people who are still in our corner.

Joss Whedon and Mark Harris: Getting art and commerce to finally hook up

This weekend at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan University, I was lucky enough to hear from some of the biggest movers and shakers in the entertainment business.

The weekend kicked off with Mark Harris, critic and author, who spoke about the need for both the producers and the consumers of media to raise the bar for pop culture.

To Harris, the relationship between consumers and producers of media is. . . a lot like a regular relationship – that when it works, it’s participatory, fun and meaningful – a lot like sex. As Harris actually put it, “I want better sex.” He observed that “We watch three things at once, and so we watch nothing at all.” The relationship has grown dysfunctional – a product of too many screens (he described getting distracted from writing his own speech by Hulu and Netflix), and and too little quality content on them. Harris challenged media makers to do interesting, edgy, inspiring work – and in return, he promised to pay more attention.

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

On Saturday evening, Joss Whedon also gave us a sex metaphor to describe the current state of the entertainment industry (what is it about Wesleyan University that inspires all this media lust?). Whedon described independent media and studio film as “. . .doing a very awkward mating dance. They’re coming together and they are going to have to have sex.” I’d say that is pretty apt. Some people in traditional media “get” new media (such as the clever webisodes from The Office) – but so far there’s a lot of flirting without anyone making a move. However, Whedon also insisted that “When the industry changes, as it can and will and must, the only thing left standing will be the telling of the story.”

Joss Whedon flew in for his talk after wrapping his film Cabin in the Woods, and before starting to shoot season 2 of Dollhouse on Monday. As he put it, the Dollhouse renewal is “Fine for you, but I had plans this summer.” Thank you, Joss Whedon, for forgoing the beach in favor of giving us something smart and funny to watch in the chilly months. Maybe the Actives can go on assignment in Hawaii?

Next up on the blog:

More from Joss Whedon’s talk: The future of Dollhouse, that pesky Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and the creative process.

More from the Shasha Seminar: Why two esteemed TV producers would not buy a TV show about under cover cover models – aka, pitching is harder than it looks.