Shakira & Jennifer Lopez shined bright at NFL Super Bowl 2020 in Miami

Feb. 3, 2020 –Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were hotter than the summer heat in Vegas at The NFL’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime show. The two Latinas made headlines today with their saucy, sexy and salacious performance at Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida. Normally, I would not pick two pop stars to write about in a punk, metal, rock n roll zine like Rank & Revue – but our Editor is a huge football fan – and I’m a Latina, Lebanese girl and an artist that’s a huge fan of these two ladies. For decades, I’ve been following Shakira and J.Lo’s careers and mimicking their moves when I dance. I was addicted to watching Jennifer Lopez’s music videos before school in 8th grade. [I also danced to Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Ace of Base in the mornings.]

At the end of the show, I really smiled from the heart when Shakira was in gold and J.Lo was wearing silver and they were holding hands, uplifting and complimenting each other, looking incredibly happy and vivacious. Clearly living out their dreams to the fullest. Silver and gold were colors of royalty, and I liked the way the girls ended the show together, hand in hand, rather than looking like a subtle competition for time and publicity. Each woman had their unique time to shine and relive the classic songs that made them famous. They showcased their unique dance styles. Then, the two sort of passed the baton onto a younger generation as Jennifer Lopez’s daughter, Emme Maribel Muñiz, sang at the end whilst her mother danced and Shakira played the drums. There was a wide range of ages and generations performing on stage, which also made me happy: to see beauty thriving at any age and how all women can be beautiful and powerful, especially in numbers, no matter your age. [Beyonce does a good job of showcasing black girl magic when she performs in masses, too!] So often, society is so shallow and we idolize the youth like Greek gods and demonize women past a certain age. Seeing these women excelling and rocking it at ages 43 and 50 gives hope to all ladies that we aren’t just getting older, we’re getting better and stronger with age, like scotch. Although I doubt either of these women imbibe alcohol with abs like that. Dios mio!

Most of the coverage has been positive, but there has been quite the uproar amongst viewers and alike regarding their provocative dancing and clothing. First, some of those NFL cheerleaders are wearing uniforms with a lot less coverage and a lot more makeup than what Shakira and J.Lo had on. And I’ve seen some of the cheerleader’s dance routines, which can be pretty risqué, even at college games. Truly, I don’t know why anyone that’s seen an NFL game is shocked by what they saw at Super Bowl 2020. Do you have to like it? No. But please don’t act surprised that sexuality has made its way into men’s professional football. We aren’t at church. Plus, male artists have performed shirtless at the Super Bowl, so, why the inequality and scrutiny towards female artists? Secondly, the NFL asked two Latina entertainers to perform the show. They didn’t ask a balloon artist, a magician or a group of older jazz players in suits. They asked Shakira and Jennifer Lopez to perform. And these two ladies brought the live entertainment.

At our best, Latinas are a passionate, sexual, tantalizing and evocative group of females with mystical powers. No one should be surprised that two super stars like Jennifer Lopez and Shakira turned heads and seduced the crowd with their beauty, style, athleticism and artistic talent. The photo provided by Pepsi promoting the show was a bombshell of sex appeal, clearly letting the audience know: this will be provocative, times two.

Furthermore, belly dancing is hard. I would know because I am a belly dancer and have performed on stage at nightclubs. What Shakira is doing is hard work and it’s more than just a few sexy hip thrusts: she’s showcasing cultural art, dance and music. She’s isolating parts of her body and her muscles to move each part, one by one, sometimes in a fluid and constant motion. I remember years ago, one of my gay guy friends sent me a video of Shakira coming down the pole in her video “Rabiosa” with Pitbull and said “this reminds me of you”. An ex of mine, got jealous about it, which was absurd. True, the pole dancing by J.Lo in Super Bowl 2020 was pushing it a bit, considering kids were watching this event, but that is also an extremely difficult dance form that requires strength. It’s not just for strippers, pole dancing is a great core exercise and can really make someone feel sexy and empowered. Even if you pole dance in private at home.

Ultimately, no matter where you stand on sexuality, it shouldn’t be a shock, especially since J.Lo was nominated for an award for her role in the film “Hustlers”. Which featured a dance routine with her on the pole wearing not very much at all. Believe me when I say, she toned it down for the Super Bowl. Mind you, I did notice there was a lot of spread eagles and close-ups of intimate lady parts and was rather graphic. [Remember in the film “Chicago” when Catherine Zeta-Jones says she caught her husband and her sister doing the spread eagle?] Either way, while I did notice that Shakira and J.Lo’s dance routines and their performances were dripping with sexuality and perhaps many didn’t appreciate the sex factor. Again, why are so many people shocked? This isn’t anything new for either entertainer or The National Football League.

Today, my boyfriend was playing sports radio and three men were talking about the Super Bowl Halftime show. Listening to three straight Southern men talk about the performance was amusing, cringe worthy, depressing and cliché. I love men’s sports talk! But this was quite silly to waste this much air-time on gossip. Instead of talking about the costumes, hair and makeup and the fantastic dancing or their successful careers; the focus was on the women’s sexiness, appearances and their ages. The men talked about how Shakira had an outer belly button and normally that’s not sexy, but she pulled it off. One guy talked about how Jennifer was too old to be dancing like that, and so was Shakira. Other men defended the ladies right to entertain, which I appreciated. Although I did understand some concerns from one man, speaking as a parent, because little girls are looking up to these women and we’re already under so much pressure to be sex objects. Sadly, us ladies are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We get treated like sex objects no matter what. We are either too sexy, not sexy enough, too young or too old, too skinny or too fat. Too confident or too submissive. It’s always something. Aesthetically, we can’t please every man and it’s not our job to do so. It’s exhausting how women are always expected to smile and ‘be ladylike’ and never be too pushy or you’ll look like a bitch. It’s simply impossible for girls to please everyone. So, I think the message is clear and just like Rihanna and Madonna said, we should “shine bright like a diamond!” and be “unapologetically ourselves”. J.Lo and Shakira give so much back to the community, why didn’t the men talk about the fact Jennifer Lopez has an estimated net worth of $400 million and Shakira has an estimated net worth of $300 million. Hips don’t lie? How about numbers don’t lie. These women are two fiery powerhouses that know how to make money, create a brand and flourish in a man’s world.

The first thing I said to Steven Mark, my boyfriend, after we saw the Halftime show, “I loved their costumes! I want every single one for me!” Because anyone that adores fashion knows that J.Lo’s handmade Versace and Swarovski clothes were to die for! I wanted to do a photo shoot in it and I can just imagine all the people around the world about to mimic these iconic looks. Already, a local dance studio here in town is offering Super Bowl Half Time classes for dancers to replicate the routines. All in all, it was an unforgettable performance that reminded me of Las Vegas.

¡Gracias chicas! Your hard work has paid off. ¡Viva Latinas!

“There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
It is a special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreamin
g

There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
With eyes as black as coal
That look down in my soul
And starts a fire there
And then I lose control
I have to beg your pardon
. I’m going to pick that rose
And watch her as she grows in my garden.”

– Ben E. King

Note: This story was originally published in Rank & Revue, 2020 issue

Austin Film Festival receives $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

AFF

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Austin, TX National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $80 million in grants as part of the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018.  Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $15,000 to Austin Film Festival for the On Story® Project. The Art Works category is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Through the work of organizations such as Austin Film Festival in Austin, Texas, NEA funding invests in local communities, helping people celebrate the arts wherever they are.” 

Austin Film Festival & Writers Conference (AFF) was the first organization of its kind to champion the writer’s role in film and television, and has remained vigilant in its dedication to storytelling throughout its 25-year history. The organization programs a slate of year-round offerings, including panels, workshops, and film screenings, all rooted in the art and craft of narrative storytelling. Held each October, its annual Festival and Conference is renowned to be the largest screenwriters event in the world, boasting over 200 panels and panelists gathered to discuss their expertise, latest works, and the inner-workings of the industry.

AFF’s annual Festival and Conference is a unique experience, challenging standard panel and film Q&A conventions by delivering intimate, instructional, and inspiring content to its audience. The AFF and On Story teams work year-round to create a program rich with insight. Speakers have hands-on experience and the battle scars to prove it. Panels, workshops, and interviews are tactile, ranging from detailed explorations of a script’s journey from conception to completion, to discussions that feature an entire writers room staff. Each session strives to pull back the curtain on the creative process, offering an inside look at some of the most influential and inspirational projects of our time.

Since its inaugural year in 1993, AFF has recorded and preserved these distinctive events. The vast material captured at the Festival and year-round events is then curated into productions offered for free online and through public radio and television; preserved and archived at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University; and edited into a multi-book series in partnership with The University of Texas Press. These elements make up the foundation for the On Story brand and content.

An extension of AFF’s programs, mission, and messaging, On Story offers inspiring and instructional curations from the entertainment industry’s leading writers, directors, and creatives. The process of selecting specific episodes and content to feature in On Story is meticulous. At the close of each Festival year, the On Story team conducts a robust review process. These detailed deliberations help inform the content selection for the upcoming On Story season. Along with catering to both trends in the industry and the more timeless storytelling topics, the producers consider diversity of both speakers and mediums represented; the impact of the project’s educational value; and how the human experience is highlighted through the art and craft of storytelling.

On Story’s productions – 20 half-hour television episodes; 32 one-hour-long radio episodes; and 30-50 one-hour-long podcast episodes, all selected from a pool of over 200 recorded sessions from the prior year, as well as the book series, archive, and website – exude the same vibrance as when they’re being recorded, but are more wide and democratic in scope. The productions include industry luminaries such as Mark Frost (Twin Peaks), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Issa Rae (Insecure), John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), Keenen Ivory Wayans (In Living Color), and Alan Yang (Master of None). The Project as a whole has developed organically as a way to expand AFF’s reach, giving unprecedented access to audiences who have the desire to learn more about the art, craft, and business of film, television, and new media. As it does for AFF’s attendees, who often return year after year, On Story has proven to be an integrative resource to a nationwide classroom of students who, in turn, possess the potential to become writers, filmmakers, and media creators themselves. 

“The content captured at the Festival directly reflects its reputation for being an intimate, instructive, and inspirational experience,” said AFF Executive Director, Barbara Morgan. “We couldn’t be more thrilled for this incredible opportunity given by the NEA to help us provide these resources to the general public, free to anyone with an interest in storytelling through film, television and new media.”

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

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ABOUT AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the art, craft and business of writers and filmmakers and recognizing their contributions to film, television and new media. AFF champions the work of aspiring and established writers and filmmakers by providing unique cultural events and services, enhancing public awareness and participation, and encouraging dynamic and long-lasting community partnerships. AFF is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts. All attendees and events are based on permitting schedules and are subject to change and/or cancellation without notice. Badges and passes are available for purchase online at
 www.austinfilmfestival.com or by phone at 1-800-310-FEST.

Note: Official Press Release was provided to Nicolette Mallow by Sunshine Sachs. 

Dale Watson sets the record straight

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Photography provided for the Press by DaleWatson.com.

Rumors flew around Austin like a wildfire in high winds the last few weeks about Dale Watson leaving ATX for Memphis. And Watson is adamant to set the record straight after a recent interview gone askew. When I read his quote on social media to clarify the truth: I was relieved to read that Dale Watson will still be in Austin, Texas and Memphis, traveling the country, and the world, touring and playing music with His Lone Stars. So, rest easy, Texas, we haven’t lost one of most beloved musicians.

Dale Watson is a very well-known name in Texas, Tennessee and various parts of the world. Born in Alabama and raised in Pasadena, Texas — Watson moved to Austin in the early 1990’s and has made it his home ever since. Personally I’ve known of his name and heard about his music long before I ever saw him perform seeing as I’ve lived in ATX off-and-on since the 90’s. My Latina mother (and Texan) once told me that she had a crush on him back in the day and enjoys dancing to his country music. Even the legendary Willie Nelson spoke highly of Dale Watson and stated “I’m one of Dale’s biggest fans”.

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Watson has performed all over the world and is currently touring in Europe. However, in the near future he will be spending a little more time in Memphis and a little less time in Texas. Two homes, two cities he loves and still focused on sharing his music with his treasured fans around the world.

“O.K. friends , let me set the record straight, if you don’t mind. I love Austin. Austin is my home. I love Texas and will ALWAYS live in Texas. That said, I bought a house in Memphis as an investment and in the process fell in love with the town. It reminds me of Austin of the 80’s, the good and the bad. I play over 300 shows a year, meaning Austin and on the road world wide. To afford to live in Austin, I literally have to tour. As one guy posted I’m old and should retire, but I love what I do and quite honestly can’t afford retirement either. What musician can? These things are facts I’m volunteering now but I recently granted an interview locally. They had seen an article about my moving Ameripolitan Awards to Memphis and buying a house there. The interview was heavily edited. This happens often but the things left out were important to me. Things like, my love of Austin. My roots are in Texas and the fact that, at some point I will have to sell my house in Austin and move to the outskirts, but I will always have a house in Texas. I will hang on to being an Austinite as long as I can. Monday’s at the Continental Club, a Friday or Saturday at the Broken Spoke, and Chicken $#!+ Bingo at C’Boys on Sunday’s. As for the media, they suck. If any media repeats this post, then print the whole thing, because you suck at editing and paraphrasing. So, after all is said and done, I hope I see ya at my regular gigs in Austin friends. I hope you come to my AirBnb and recording studio in Memphis. And I hope you all vote when it comes to your mayor and city council. Peace.”    – Dale Watson

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Secretly when I read the media coverage Watson is referring to, it seemed to me that pieces were missing to the interview. To play thousands of shows in Texas, you must really love the city of Austin and The Lone Star State, therefore it struck me as odd to read a short story that Dale Watson was just going to up and leave TX without going into more details. True, the city is growing overcrowded and is becoming more expensive as the love for the almighty dollar bulldozes the love for local artists. But, thankfully the rumors weren’t true and we can look forward to many more Dale Watson shows. Also, I’ve visited Memphis a few times and I can definitely see the appeal. Memphis gives Texas a run for its money in regards to BBQ, live music and the beauty of the hill country.

Over the past 20 years, Austin has become attached to Dale Watson and His Lone Stars. I am certain many Texans all over the state will also be relieved to hear Watson is here for the long haul, even if we must share him with the city of Memphis, too. Stay tuned to his website and social media to find local shows in your area to support local artists and keep the art scene alive and well in ATX!

Screen-Shot-2018-03-11-at-7.59.45-PM-2 For more information please visit www.dalewatson.com.

Dale Watson, keeper of the true country music flame, this Austin-based honky-tonker carries on in the tradition of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson with his “Ameripolitan” brand of American roots music. Dubbed “the silver pompadoured, baritone beltin’, Lone Star beer drinkin’, honky-tonk hellraiser” by The Austin Chronicle, Watson sat in with Jimmy Kimmel’s house band as a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC) from SXSW 2015. He also emceed the first ever SXSW “Ameripolitan” showcase featuring the best of Honky-tonk, Outlaw Country, Rockabilly and Texas Swing music. Since the release of El Rancho Azul in 2013, Watson’s profile has risen considerably via appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS), Austin City Limits and The Sun Sessions(PBS) and as a guest on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. A veteran touring artist and consummate entertainer, he is on the road more than 300 days a year. He also put his money where his heart is and took over ownership of two struggling Texas honky-tonks, the Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin (home of Chicken $#!+ Bingo) and The Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwigs (outside San Antonio).  If not on the road, he and His Lone Stars perform at one of them each Sunday. Dale has flown the flag for classic honky-tonk for over two decades. He’s christened his brand of American roots “Ameripolitan” to differentiate it from current crop of Nashville-based pop country. The Alabama-born, Texas-raised Watson may be the hardest working entertainer today and is rapidly approaching legendary status.  He is a country music maverick, a true outlaw who stands alongside Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and George Strait as one of the finest country singers and songwriters from the Lone Star State.”     http://www.dalewatson.com

Note: This story was originally published on Rank & Revue, SXSW 2018 issue

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Photography provided for the Press by DaleWatson.com.

Greta Gerwig breaks speciality box office records with her Directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’

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Greta Gerwig. Imagery provided by Sunshine Sachs/Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Last month I was commissioned by an editor in Hollywood to interview Greta Gerwig on the red carpet prior to the screening of her film Lady Bird at the Austin Film Festival in Texas on October 26, 2017. The interview was published by The Hollywood Reporter. I loved the film and it was a pleasure to interview Greta Gerwig. She was a smart, kind & articulate artist to interview. Therefore I was not surprised when I read this week that Lady Bird broke box office records. 

“Lady Bird opened to limited audiences its first weekend, showing in four locations (making it a specialty box office release).” According to Jezebel “it blew past typical ticket sales for smaller box office openings of its kind, grossing $375,612 in fourtheaters, with a theater average of $93,903. That makes it the best speciality box office opening of 2017. For context, look at the numbers of comparable first weekend openings this year: Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled earned an average $64,160 per theater in four locations the first weekend and The Big Sick grossed roughly $82,800 per theater it’s opening weekend in five locations. And, as IndieWire points out, since Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty grossed roughly $83,430 per theater in five locations back in 2012, that makes Lady Bird the best ever limited debut for a movie directed by a woman. Since Lady Bird has already exceeded box office expectations, it will be interesting to see how well it does when it opens in more theaters during the next few months. And considering the rave reviews and ticket sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film lands several nominations around Oscar time, including Gerwig for best director.” 

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Known to most as an actress, Greta Gerwig has been part of the film industry in a multitude of roles both on-camera and behind the scenes during the last 10 years: acting, writing, producing and directing. Within her recent film Lady Bird, Gerwig showcased her directorial debut as the exclusive writer and director.  When I asked her at the red carpet when she knew she was ready to direct a solo project Gerwig stated“It was a very long process of writing the script but once I finished writing. I felt like it was the moment I had been working toward for 10 years and I’d always wanted to direct. And I thought, this is the moment, this is when you do it. I don’t know that you ever quite feel ready, but I think I felt like, enough is enough. You’ve got enough training. Go for it.” 

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Gerwig’s movie has traveled to festivals all around the world, receiving accolades and high praises along the way. Lady Bird is a comedy about a young girl in Sacramento named Christine. She refers to herself as Lady Bird. It’s also a semi-autobiographical story about Greta Gerwig. The story revolves around Lady Bird’s senior year at a Catholic high school, figuring out how to leave home to pursue her life dreams in NYC because (she thinks) she hates California, only to realize how beautiful it is upon leaving. Lady Bird is a charming, evocative and beautifully stitched together film with hilariously clever dialogue. Gerwig really captures the melancholy, vibrant spirit of youth and the bond between mother and daughter. 

To read more about Lady Bird and to watch the trailers, please visit the official Facebook page of the film at https://www.facebook.com/ladybirdmovie/

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Příliš hlučná samota: Production crew raises funds for film about Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel “Too Loud A Solitude”

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“My education has been so unwitting I can’t quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that’s how I’ve stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.” – Bohumil Hrabal

An imaginative production crew seeks to fundraise resources to launch a full-length feature film about Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, Too Loud a Solitude.  Directed by Genevieve Anderson and starring Paul Giamatti as the voice of Hanta, Too Loud A Solitude (Příliš hlučná samota) is a feature adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal’s beloved book made with live action puppets, animated sequences and visual effects.

This globally famous novel is about a book crusher, Hanta. Watching the trailer of Too Loud A Solitude is like entering a magic portal to another dimension where Bohumil Hrabal’s book takes place in a world of puppetry.  An intimate, sneak peek to Hanta’s daily life and his private love affair with the books and their stories. A mirror reflection of Hrabal’s writing voice and how each book he created almost seems to be a personal letter written to each individual reader as opposed to the masses. As the camera soars in over the skyline of the town and we see gears grinding, scraps of papers tossed about and a city that seems to be very cold and quiet. Characters bundled up in many layers, speaking to each other without speaking as they go about daily life. The music is hypnotic and dreamy with its romantic yet haunting tune of a melancholy violin. 

Too Loud a Solitude is the story of a waste compactor, Hanta, who was charged with destroying his country’s great literature in his humble press, and who fell so in love with the beautiful ideas contained within the books that he began secretly rescuing them – hiding them whole inside the bales, taking them home in his briefcase, and lining the walls of his basement with them. It became one of the defining books in Czechoslovakia’s history for its unsentimental, humorous, painfully relevant portrayal of humankind’s resilience. The story of Hanta’s quest to save the world of books and literature from destruction is often cited as the most beloved of Hrabal’s books. Too Loud a Solitude has a global fan base and an active community of support has emerged for our feature film project. The book has been translated into 37 languages and sold over 70,000 copies of Michael Henry Heim’s English translation alone. Bohumil Hrabal wrote the novella as an unsentimental account of what happened to him during the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia during the 40’s and 50’s. Many of Hrabal’s books were banned by the Russian regime and other great books by many authors were physically destroyed, an act Hrabal characterizes in Too Loud a Solitude as ‘crimes against humanity’… Our team has been committed to bringing Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s beloved novella Too Loud a Solitude to the screen since 2004. With the assistance of The Rockefeller Media Arts Foundation (now the Tribeca Film Institute), Heather Henson and Handmade Puppet Dreams, and The Jim Henson Foundation, we completed a 17 minute sample of the film in 2007. The film has been playing nationally and internationally in the Handmade Puppet Dreams program, and in 2009 was awarded an UNIMA-USA citation of excellence. We are currently working on financing the feature project, first through a Kickstarter start-up funds campaign and then through partnership with other financing and production entities. Our intention is to enlist the support of the book’s global fan base and expand its already impressive audience. We’re down to two weeks left in our Kickstarter fundraising campaign and are continuing to do outreach work to drum up more support for our project. We seek to raise $35,000 to cover the costs of puppet design, armature creation, motion exploration, character development, costume design, and visual effects.”

For more information about the film, please visit www.tooloudasolitude.com.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-16-58-pm “For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper, and it’s my love story…I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.”screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-16-25-pm

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“I felt beautiful and holy for having the courage to hold on to my sanity after all I’d seen and had been through, body and soul, in too loud a solitude.”

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Roc Chen: Music Composer and Asian Creative brings cultures together around the world with the magical power of music

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Roc Chen. Photography provided by CW3PR.

Roc Chen is a Sichuan-born, award winning composer who has created music for film and gaming. Recognized within the U.S. and China, Chen’s music has the power and the beauty to bring cultures together form around the world, which is no easy task. His film roster includes “Chinese Zodiac” with Jackie Chan,  “Forbidden Kiss” and the Chinese adaptation of “Everybody’s Fine” (American adaptation ft. Robert DeNiro). Roc  also partnered with DreamWorks to create music for the film “Kung Fu Panda 3” and his music is present in the award winning, internationally broadcasted documentary TV series “A Bite of China”. Chen’s video game work even dabbles into “World of Warcraft” and “God of War” orchestrasas well as the “Might and Magic” series and his latest work underway with “Prince Adventures”. Recently partnering with Danny Elfman to bring music to Disney Shanghai’s newest ride, Alice’s Maze; Roc Chen’s music brilliantly celebrates the fusion of the American story line of Alice in Wonderland with Chinese culture native to the Shanghai location.

This summer Roc Chen was interviewed by Nicolette Mallow. The two discussed his background in music, technology, and the power of music and how it can feel like time traveling. Mallow also inquired about the challenges and rewards of merging Eastern and Western cultures for film, Disney, DreamWorks and much more. And Chen opened up about how his music can be like an invisible, magic mirror that reflects everything inside the listener’s heart. The written interview proceeded as follows.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you please tell me about your background in music? Did you always know that music composition was your life calling? When did you begin to play music and write music? As a child, what did music feel like?

Roc Chen: When I was a kid, sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night humming the melody from “The Godfather”, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I should be a film composer when I grow up!” Like many kids I learned to play classical piano at the age of 4, but unlike many kids I loved to keep the sustain pedal down to create a bigger reverberation (just like in film scores). And of course my piano teacher would always get mad at me for doing that. I’ve always known music, especially film music – it’s my life calling. However I spent my college life in what is considered a Chinese Stanford (University of Science and Technology of China). We had a large and great orchestra band there and the conductor asked me to be the assistant conductor, so I’ve had the chance to learn from each and every different instrument – not from a book but from a real orchestra band. Later on I also obtained a Master Degree in Composition from the Conservatory of Music. I consider myself pretty lucky to have a background in both music and technology!

NM: Art has the power to take us places, particularly music. Music can take listeners back in time within seconds. Music can evoke feelings or fantasies within us and it’s almost like time traveling… What do you feel are the most powerful components of music that allow us to transcend time, space and imagination?

RC: All the components of music such as melody, harmony, counterpoints are powerful enough to allow us to transcend time, space and imaginationbut personally I think the most powerful one is the abstract part within the music. Pop songs take us into a specific world because the lyrics/words are quite specific and straight-forward. But instrumental music such as film scores without any lyrics or words are abstract, so it takes people to their own and unique places, to the different secret places deep within each person’s heart. This is also the beauty of scores. Film scores, though there are specific picture/scenes synced with it, can allow us to re-create those scenes and characters in our own way when we hear music outside of the cinema. It’s like everyone is a director and everyone directing his own version of that film in his brain. This is the beauty of film scoring. And of course, there are certain skills and ways to evoke those feelings or fantasies in the way of composition.

There’s a music piece of mine, “Deep in Their Hearts”, which is originally composed for the most renowned documentary in China called “A Bite of China Season 2”. It has moved nearly a billion people in China and around the world. I tried to tenderly and beautifully play the piano with a melancholy and nostalgic melody. It was performed by beautiful strings, woodwinds, with some abstract inside harmony, fine orchestration and counterpoint. The result is this music cue, which has moved lots of people and has surpassed pop songs to reach the top of the Chinese billboard. Thousands of fans came to my Chinese Twitter to express their feelings hearing this music to me and it’s actually quite interesting to read those comments. Some people say it reminds them of their childhood loneliness, some say it reminds them of some moving moments in that documentary, some people say it makes them cry with happiness and some people say the woodwinds in this cue are funny and playful. It’s all different and I feel like my music is like a mirror – each person saw and found their secret place deep in their heart by hearing this magical mirror.

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Roc Chen. Photography provided by CW3PR.

NM: What are some of the distinct differences between Eastern and Western styles of music pertaining to film?

RC: Well this is a little bit of a huge topic that I could talk for days and write a book about. The scale of notes and melodies are different between the eastern and western worlds but as for the relationship between music and film: I think one of the most distinct differences is the eastern style is more implicit while western style is more straight-forward and passionate. As I’ve been traveling between LA and Beijing a lot, I also found this difference within people’s behavior between the two countries. I guess one of the benefits of my goal as trying to be the most international composer is I can always get to know more about people from both worlds.

NM: Would you please share with me the challenges of integrating Eastern and Western music? Is it difficult to please both audiences?  

RC: A lot of Hollywood films with pure western music are also enjoyed by lots of eastern audiences, but most of this music hardly reaches their hearts. So sometimes with only a few elements from the East can really move the eastern audience and ironically enough it moves the western audience too! Also each film project is different and I’m always very careful with this challenge by always listening to the director’s ideas regarding the direction of the film. I always offer my suggestions and opinions on the direction of music but I would respect my director’s opinion because it is the film – a combination of many arts. It’s a whole project we’re going to present to the audience, not just music. There’s a project I did, “Heroes of Might and Magic VII”, the 7th game of the famous “Heroes of Might and Magic” video game franchise. I write some of the cues in a pure-western style and some cues have a little bit of East and West combined flavour, it all depends on the specific occasion.

NM: What lead you to working for Disney Shanghai?

RC: I guess people loved what I did for “Kung Fu Panda 3” as Chinese music consultant and then I got introduced to Disney by my friends at DreamWorks. But really, I think it’s because of my specialty of knowing both East and West which lead me to working for Disney Shanghai.

NM: In regards to Asian American crossroads within the entertainment industry – how did you begin to infuse the American story line of “Alice in Wonderland” with Chinese culture native to the Shanghai location of Disney?

RC: First of all, it’s always teamwork! It is done by Danny Elfman, myself and another beautiful lady from Disney Imagineer. We put Chinese lyrics such as the translation of “Alice Are You Lost” and other lyrics originally written by Danny into the melody and make sure it really sounds great in Chinese. A lot of times you’ll hear directly translated songs sounding very, very weird after translation. This requires a lot of experience of the Chinese culture and customs along with musical experience of the tone, pitch and rhythm of each note and its relationship between other notes. We tried many different ways to avoid a common phenomenon in the Chinese music which is called “Dao Zi”, meaning the pitch of the notes will not violate or conflict with the tone of the Chinese words. I also had my female choirs friends at Beijing singing the melody in Chinese beautifully while we remote-recorded them here in Los Angeles. We also did a lot of tweaks during the recording session.

NM: Do you have a favorite genre of music that you love to write? You are obviously talented at composing many forms of music. But do you have a favorite style?

RC: Well…. It’s really hard to pick one favorite style for me as I’ve worked in a lot of different styles and genres. But my favorite one is the one that best supports the film. As long as the form of music can really do a good job to support the camera and film – that’s my favorite!

NM: Your career is most impressive and I have watched many of these films. However, I must admit that I have a fondness for “Kung Fu Panda”… Was that your first time writing music for animation? What did you enjoy most about this DreamWorks project?

RC: With this film, Hans Zimmer is the music composer while I worked alongside him as the Chinese music consultant. I offered direction and guidance on the Chinese instruments, Chinese musicians, the articulations and specialty of Chinese instruments. I also consulted on how to combine the instruments with Western orchestra music to the DreamWorks music team. I enjoyed turning the song of the last scene of “Kung Fu Panda 3” into Chinese and recording 40 amazing pop choir singers from Shanghai so when the film released, everyone was able to hear the final product of “animal” singing in Chinese happily in the end scene!

NM: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to highlight?

RC: I just finished recording with an orchestra in Nashville for a new animation feature I scored, and I’m also going to score some new exciting feature films, animations and TV series but due to NDA reasons I’m sorry to say I can’t disclose them right now.

NM: Lastly, I grew up reading the book “Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan about four Chinese American immigrant families living in San Francisco. It’s a bittersweet, tragic and beautiful story that I still enjoy reading in adulthood. Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of China and I hope to visit someday. And of course when the movie came out I really enjoyed the soundtrack. My point in mentioning “Joy Luck Club” is because for years I’ve always wanted to learn more about the roots of classical music in China. But I never know where to start… Is there a book you’d recommend or a certain time period to study for those who want to learn about the roots of music in China?

RC: This is a great question! But frankly, I personally think the best book of Chinese music history or Chinese musicology is not in English but in the language of Chinese. Just like if you wanted to learn the western musicology: you’ll have to read that greatest musicology book in English. When I was in the Conservatory of Music, there was a school book called “History of Chinese music” which nearly covers all different kinds of music from pre-Qin Dynasty times, to Tang Dynasty music, to Qing Dynasty and even modern music of China. It also covers the musicology of a lot of different areas of China such as the music from the north of China – which is so different from the south of China. Music from HeBei Province is also so different from the music from the ShanXi province or the ethnic Uygur group in Xin Jiang areas. I have this book in my Beijing studio and I’ve always wanted to purchase a English-translated version to keep in my Los Angeles studio. Without any luck, I Googled and searched Amazon and didn’t find this book or any book just as great. Maybe some book publisher could work with me to translate a classic book into a new one in English. For those who want to learn about the roots of music in China, most people will probably say the Tang Dynasty is the best time period to study as it is one of the most brilliant time for all kind of arts. But I would personally recommend the eras around the Qin Dynasty such as the Three-Kingdom era, Warring States period, etc. If you research it and dive deep enough, you’ll see music in those ages are clearly fundamental not only to Chinese music, but also to the music of the Eastern world.

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‘Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories’: a podcast series launched by Parcast

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Photography provided by Parcast Network.

June 27, 2016— “Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories” released a thrilling, new podcast episode this week titled “Lights, Camera, Murder”. “Unsolved Murders” is a recently launched podcast series Produced by Parcast and co-Founded by Max Cutler and Ron Cutler (son and father). Parcast created this multi-dimensional podcast network as a flagship series with an acute focus on cold case files. The first three episodes of “Unsolved Murders” pertain to “The Axeman”, a serial killer in New Orleans. And the second series of podcasts within most recent episodes revolve around “Hollywood’s First Murder”. Please bear in mind these episodes are not intended for children—the podcast contains a great deal of graphic and bloody details—therefore viewer discretion is strongly advised. Nonetheless, “Unsolved Murders” is an enticing and haunting mixture of a classic radio show, a theatrical script and a murder-mystery-book-on-tape that morphed into the form of a modern day podcast. Narrated by Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie, “Unsolved Murders” combines the beauty of audio and sound design with the articulate eloquence of literature and storytelling. The professional sound effects, dialogue and delivery within each episode of the show are compelling—and the audio is very clear and precise to the ears. Listeners can almost hear the amount of time, heart and energy that Parcast’s talented crew of employees dedicated into this podcast just by the quality of presentation and sound.

Reminiscent of a riveting and spooky time machine, “Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories” take us back, safely, to mysterious cold cases like The Axeman from the 20th century in New Orleans when his murderous and diabolical rampage in Louisiana began. Actors and a sound crew portray all the voices of the witnesses, the victims, the locals and the police. The footsteps in the dark and the screams in the night. The audience can feel the fright, and yet the lovely melodies from the jazz era that trickle in throughout the podcast add a sense of playfulness and lightness in the midst of a dark, heavy story. Listeners come to know the presence of The Axeman by the bone chilling audio of his weapon hacking into flesh and bone after carving his way in the back door with a blade. Even though the murderer is a mystery, the audience comes to learn about his obsession for jazz music and the fact he was a deranged man who believed he was inhuman. And by the end of “The Axeman” episodes, the narrators swap theories as to who they believed to be the violent serial killer.

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Max Cutler, Co-founder and President of Parcast, consented to a phone interview in June 2016 with Arts & Entertainment Writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow to discuss “Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories”, the launch of Parcast and The Axeman of New Orleans.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me about your love for radio and storytelling? How did this all begin from childhood to adulthood?

Max Cutler: I’ve always loved radio and I was born into it. But I remember when I was 4 to 5 years old that it really became part of me. My dad (Ron Cutler) worked in radio and operated 12 national radio shows when I was growing up called Cutler Productions. His company was also the #1 in comedy. However, my love for storytelling happened as I got older and then I grew an interest in true crime and mysteries. Looking back, my dad had a profound impact on my career. He was also a storyteller that wrote a novel titled “The Secret Scroll” … As an adult I wanted to start my own company and I wanted to pursue the entertainment business. Obviously I love radio for many reasons but what I hope to gain from “Unsolved Murders” is not only to share crime stories and top quality audio productions, but I want to bring people together and help take away the daily stress of life. People are very stressed out sometimes and to help lessen the stress of others in the form of radio and storytelling for 20 minutes, or an hour, is a very good thing. Its important to relax and unwind.

NM: Will Parcast and its podcasts networks focus solely on “Unsolved Murders” or do you and your team intend to cover and produce other topics of interest?

MC: “Unsolved Murders” is the first show but there will be five to seven new shows within the next year that cover other topics than cold cases, such as education or history. We started with this genre because I love mystery and true crime stories 100%. And there is also a large community that appreciates cold cases. So from a business standpoint it’s also a hot topic that has a market. “Unsolved Murders” is about my passions and entertaining the interests of others… Parcast came to be so that we could take audio and radio to the next level. There are many great, high quality podcasts out there that are up to par. But a large majority of the podcasts these days are lacking in sound quality and production with a lot of holes to be filled. Parcast has the most talented crew working with us and I am so grateful for my team that my father and I assembled. The whole company is very gifted and talented. We spent a lot of time searching and recruiting voice actors, writers, and we have a great digital engineer (Ron Shapiro) that brings the sound of the axe to life. It took about 3 to 4 months to get it right, but we are just very overwhelmed and excited about this start. “Unsolved Murders” already ranked #5 out of 300,000 podcasts. It’s just a really humbling experience and we all look forward to the future.

NM: “Unsolved Murders” begins with the story of “The Axeman” and all the podcast episodes about this cold case are so captivating. I didn’t want to stop listening to the audio. Although I admit I probably will not listen to the podcast right before bedtime. Anyway, the sound quality is amazing and I love the voice actors and the narrators. Y’all did a great job and I look forward to more episodes… How did you come to hear of The Axeman?

MC: Thank you. I am glad you enjoy it and I appreciate the compliments… The Axeman is ranked among the Top 10 serial killers to never be caught. Our podcast focuses on serial killers and cold case crimes that aren’t as well known as criminals like Jack The Ripper or The Zodiac Killer. We didn’t want to focus on the commercial cases the media already had a field day with. A lot of research lead me to the launch of this series about The Axeman. Another reason I chose this story is because it gets me upset when someone gets away with a crime and justice is not served, so this podcast is also a way to never forget the case. It’s just a very interesting and scary story about a clearly deranged criminal.

NM: Yes, he is very deranged. That episode entailing the letter written by The Axeman to himself and when its read aloud in that sinister voice on the podcast. The letter he wrote to the police. It was very creepy and disturbing how he claims that he is a demon, inhuman. And The Axeman even writes the return address as being from ‘hell’ just like the infamous Jack The Ripper… Did people really believe this guy was a demon? And was it ever made clear why he demanded people go to jazz halls and listen to jazz music in order to be spared from his axe?

MC: Actually, yes, many people did believe he was a demon. And many people even thought The Axeman was somehow Jack The Ripper manifesting in another continent at another time. You can’t make this up! We have to remember this is the early 20th century in New Orleans, a very superstitious place. When the newspaper in New Orleans published his letter in 1919, locals and immigrants were terrified and became very scared of this ‘inhuman’ criminal. Which is why most of the city went out that one Tuesday night to listen to jazz music at “12:15 earthly time” just as The Axeman demanded. However, there is a common theory that perhaps the The Axeman was actually a musician and needed to get paid. Regardless, The Axeman had a sense of control over this town and the fact he was never convicted only added to the stigma that he was supernatural. It was a huge topic all around Louisiana and a #1 hit jazz song about The Axeman was written about him.

For more information about “The Axeman” series, Parcast network and the podcast “Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories” please visit their website, iTunes or SoundCloud. (The podcast is also available on Google play for those with Androids.) Stay tuned and subscribe to receive the latest information of new episodes and upcoming shows.

 Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in June 2016.   

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Letter from the Axeman written to The New Orleans Police Department. March 13, 1919.

HBO Films presents “All The Way” red carpet event at LBJ Presidential Library

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HBO Films presents “All The Way” at The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on May 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Photography used with permission from Jay Godwin.

On May 21, 2016—HBO Films will feature the grand debut of “All The Way” at 7:00 PM CST. Directed by Jay Roach and Written by Robert Schenkkan, “All The Way” is like an immaculate time machine that takes you back to the 1960’s when former President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) came into The Oval Office after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The film begins with a powerful start: reliving the intense aftermath of a deeply tragic situation in Dallas, Texas. The audience sees and hears the bloody mess and the Lincoln limousine. And we feel the intimate conversation between LBJ and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, while up in the sky on Air Force One. When LBJ gets to office in Washington DC, this is when the story of “All The Way” truly begins. Because the focus of the film is how President Lyndon B. Johnson brought the civil rights moment into legal affect with The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to HBO: “All The Way” offers a riveting behind-the scenes look at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tumultuous first year in office after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. Staking his presidency on what would be an historic unprecedented Civil Rights Act, Johnson finds himself caught between the moral imperative of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the expectations of the southern Democratic Party leaders who brought Johnson to power. As King battles to press Johnson while controlling more radical elements of the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson navigates the bill through Congress, winning a landslide victory against Barry Goldwater, but causing the South to defect from the Democratic Party. Following its critically acclaimed, award-winning Broadway run, “All The Way” comes to HBO on May 21, 2016. Actor, Bryan Cranston (four-time Emmy® winner for “Breaking Bad”) reprises his Tony Award-winning role as LBJ for the HBO Films presentation, which also stars Anthony Mackie as MLK (“The Hurt Locker”) and is Directed by Jay Roach (“Trumbo”; Emmy® winner for HBO’s “Game Change” and “Recount”) from a screenplay by Robert Schenkkan (Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Kentucky Cycle”; two-time Emmy® nominee and Writers Guild Award winner for HBO’s “The Pacific”), who has adapted his Tony Award-winning play of the same name.”

Last week on May 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas—HBO Films and The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library hosted a special event and exclusive screening of the film. The delightful cast and crew of “All The Way” strolled the red carpet for the Press before the screening of the film. After the movie ended, a Q&A session took place. (A video of the Q&A conversation is online.) Local Arts and Entertainment Writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, attended the red carpet event and she interviewed Director Jay Roach and Writer Robert Schenkkan. Both audio recordings of each interview are uploaded onto YouTube.

Director Jay Roach discussed the changes and differences between the making of his many comedy films (ie: “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”) and transcending into more serious, political topics like “All The Way”. During the interview Roach also shared his insights on the importance of voting and what he hopes that viewers, especially younger generations, will retain the most from this story about The Civil Rights Act and how one man from Texas made history by striving to give all people equal rights and that every vote counts. Writer Robert Schenkkan talks about what he would’ve liked to ask former President LBJ if he were still alive. And he talks about the writing process as to how he developed this story and wrote it so beautifully.

Also in attendance to this red carpet event was Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of Lyndon B. Johnson and former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. There is one scene that made a writer (Nicolette Mallow) in attendance of this film cry and it was one of the only moments in the film we really connect with the daughter. (In fact, there were many scenes that made Mallow laugh and cry, and she was glad she wasn’t wearing eyeliner or mascara, but this one scene hit home.) Nonetheless, in the midst of White House chaos and political war, there is a moment that LBJ watches his daughter Luci passing by and he asks her not to rush off. As they’re talking, he takes a good look at his daughter and says three words: “You’re getting tall”. It’s in that moment we see that time is moving fast, too fast, and that his energy and dedication to politics has sort of taken away some personal time with family, particularly Luci. Any daughter that had a father who worked that hard to provide a better life can understand the bittersweet feeling of being proud and also perhaps wishing there had been more time.

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“All The Way” focuses mostly on LBJ’s struggles and successes as President and the societal and political injustices that were happening in The United States of America. Many problems we are still struggling with today. The movie doesn’t spend too much time in his family life, even if the audience gets to see very intimate dialogue behind closed doors and his ranch in Texas. During the film, we learn (or are reminded) about how LBJ became so passionate about civil rights, beginning his career as a teacher to minority children. The love in former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s heart is undeniable and the film does a perfect job of capturing this innate trait. LBJ’s fiery passion almost seems to come out of the screen and pour into your heart. Every scene in this film evokes something from within. The audience feels the struggle of it all and we are reminded of the horrors that were going on during the 1960’s to African Americans and other minorities. Ultimately, we witness a humanized version of LBJ: his flaws and imperfections, as well as the deep love in his heart and the powerhouse that he was. The power he had to make changes for the highest good of all. “All The Way” should make all Texans even more proud to be a Texan knowing that LBJ (a man from Texas) brought the Civil Rights Act into legal effect because he knew in his heart it was the right thing to do.

“All The Way” will make its grand debut on HBO this weekend on Sat. May 21, 2016 at 7:00 PM CST. For more information about the cast, crew and synopsis: please visit their official website on HBO at www.hbo.com/movies/all-the-way. 

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in May 2016.  

“The stars at night, are big and bright. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

Crystal Mangano composed the score of documentary film “Asperger’s Are Us”

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Crystal Grooms Mangano is a composer that has created music for film and television, and her most recent project was for the documentary film “Asperger’s Are Us”. The film made its grande debut at SXSW 2016 in Austin, Texas. During this time: Netflix bought the global streaming rights to the documentary, “Asperger’s Are Us”.

To talk more about her musical background and composing the soundtrack for “Asperger’s Are Us”— Composer Crystal Grooms Mangano chatted on the phone with Austin Examiner, Nicolette Mallow. The phone interview took place shortly after the end of the The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals 30th anniversary held in March 2016.

SXSW 2016 ran a synopsis of the film containing the following: “For the members of the comedy troupe “Asperger’s Are Us,” it’s easier to associate with a faceless audience than with their own families. No matter who the crowd, best friends Noah, New Michael, Jack and Ethan have one simple mantra: ‘We would much rather the audience appreciate us as comedians than people who have overcome adversity’. In this coming-of-age heartfelt documentary, this band of brothers finds themselves at a crossroad. With real life pulling them apart, they decide to plan one ambitious farewell show before they all go their separate ways. People with Asperger’s don’t deal well with uncertainty, and this is the most uncertain time in their lives.”

Nicolette Mallow: I read your biography about your compositions for film and television, but will you tell me the overview about how your journey as a musical composer unfolded?

Crystal Grooms Mangano: I began playing piano in the 1st grade. Then I added on the flute, the electric bass and I participated in as many music groups as I could while I was in school. Back then I started composing piano pieces. And I loved playing piano reductions of film scores, which I know frustrated my piano teacher. Like the time I brought a piano piece from “Seven Years in Tibet”. In college, I studied music and film together at Montana State University because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue. Their dual degree program allowed me the freedom to learn both spectrum’s… I sort of created my own path by absorbing, learning and combining as much as I could from studying film and music. Practicing both at the same time. I met so many people in both departments. It gave me a great background into all aspects of filmmaking, editing, directing and music. Sort of like learning the ground base for what goes into making a film… When I got to LA, it was a big change and a bit of an adjustment. I was born in Casper, Wyoming and then moved to Montana. But I have grown to love Los Angeles. During the last four to five years is when I really started composing for film and television.

NM: Do you have a process when composing music for film and TV? Or does it alter depending on the project?

CGM: Yes, it depends on the project and the Director. A composer can come on at any point in the project. A composer can begin as early as the script, or as late as when the film is being edited at the end. I recently worked on a horror film and I read the script in advance and then submitted a demo to the Director while he was editing. And then once they were finished, I came back and created the complete score… During the making of “Asperger’s Are Us”—I came in close to the end when they were almost finished editing. I didn’t have much time to think about the music. Before writing anything down, I watched the film multiple times. Just because I really wanted to know as much about the story as I could, first. One of the first tracks I sent was “First Rehearsal” when the guys are looking for a place to rehearse. The scene shows their personalities and struggles; exterior influences. They so much want to focus on themselves and are having so much fun with it all. And I wanted to portray the spirit of their comedy troupe. They do it because they love it and their friendship becomes formed around this comedy troupe. But they don’t have a space so they keep getting kicked out of places and it’s not going smoothly. The score at times is a little off-kilter and a little unconventional as far as instrumentation. I wanted to show they’re having fun and that’s the point of what they’re doing.

NM: I listened to your tracks several times. The music is so playful, fun and it makes me want to go on a walk outside or take an adventure somewhere. There is something about the music that reminds me of youth and the playful mood of being young and free… Music is so powerful. When you’re creating music for a project, does it affect your mood? I would imagine the horror music was vastly different than this documentary.

CGM: Music is powerful and it does affect my mood. I really have to get into the same mindset as the music I am trying to write: anxious, happy, subdued. Whatever mood it may be, yes, it can be difficult because I really have to get into the film. “Asperger’s Are Us” was really light and cheerful as opposed to the darkness and eeriness of a horror film.

NM: I read that you run marathons… Does running help calm your mind and help you write?

CGM: Running clears my head. Running gives me space for my thoughts. First part of the run, I am thinking and stressing about projects. But once I get into the run, that space clears and I am able to enter a creative place. I come up with a lot of ideas and bring them into the studio after a run. The more you sit and work, the more you get where you don’t know if you’re having fresh ideas or not.

NM: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists entering the entertainment industry?

CGM: My advice would be that if you’re going to pursue something to remember why you want to do it. Always remember, never forget. For me, when I am getting upset or I am frustrated by the process of it all—whenever I feel burnt out or discouraged: I remember why I love this. I remember that it makes me happy and brings me joy. Keep that remembrance and the love of it all the focus if and when you get caught up in the politics of the industry. Don’t lose sight of why you want to be there. Always put that love and that positive energy into your work.

To read more about Crystal Grooms Mangano and her biography, please refer to her website at www.crystalmangano.com. Stay tuned for the film “Asperger’s Are Us” to appear on Netflix.

 Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in March 2016. 

SXSW interview with Director of ‘A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story’

nicolette mallow

BECK. Imagery provided by Go-Valley Films.

Directed by Keith Maitland, “A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story” held its world premiere at The Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas during SXSW on Mar. 17, 2016. The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals is celebrating its 30th year. And this year Keith Maitland and his teammates debuted two films for the first time at SXSW 2016. “A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story” is a vibrant, intimate and engaging documentary covering 40 years and four decades of live music filmed for the beloved television show Austin City Limits (ACL). It’s a playful and raw story—an immaculate collection of great artists and their bands that took the stage at Austin City Limits. Director Keith Maitland shares the unique story of how ACL began with ‘janky’ sound equipment and soon morphed into the longest running music show in television history.

Artists that appear within the documentary include the following: Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Ray Vaughan, Beck, Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Guy, Jeff Bridges, Matthew McConaughey, Lyle Lovett, Sheryl Crow, Dolly Parton, Radiohead, B.B. King, Lighting Hopkins, The Avett Brothers, Talking Heads, Garth Brooks, Thao Nguyen and more. “Long-time producer of Austin City Limits, Terry Lickona, also transcends the TV show and gives audiences a front-row seat and backstage pass to the greatest performances of the longest running music show in television history.”

One prime reason “A Song For You” is described as the ‘ultimate backstage pass’ to Austin City Limits is because it entails endless video clippings from numerous performances filmed live at ACL alongside annotations of those who were there first-hand to experience the performances. The audience is granted the inside track regarding many ACL shows, off-stage and-onstage. Watching the artists and the production team work their magic. Feeling as if we were there, too. Hearing about the highs-and-lows of the non-stop adventure—’the flood of memories’—it’s an adrenaline rush to the heart and soul. Listening to the music, hearing the interviews and seeing it all unfold and come to life at once makes the documentary unforgettable.

Director Keith Maitland did an immaculate job of intertwining 40 years of history into 96 minutes. “A Song For You” opens with Dale Watson solely because he was the featured artist on the final episode filmed for Season 39 by Austin City Limits. Once Maitland sets the scene in present day, the Director takes us all the way back to the beginning when Willie Nelson played for ACL in 1974 and tells the story in a retrospective way. Obviously, music is the core of Austin City Limits: their universal love of music and their never-ending desire to showcase musical masters and the up-and-coming talent. The title of the film is also befitting because without the audience, Austin City Limits wouldn’t have thrived. The show needs the audience as much as we need the show. You won’t want this film to end it’s that exciting, but when it does. As the credits come to a close, there is a video of Ray Charles singing “Deep In The Heart of Texas”. Which is where it all began, deep in the hearts of Texans. Or at least those living in Texans even if born elsewhere… Many of the artists in the film are still living, others have died and passed on. But the story of Austin City Limits will live on forever.

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Imagery provided by Go-Valley Films.

Fortunately, this week the Director Keith Maitland met with Austin Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, at The Driskill Hotel to talk about “A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story” and how this delightful documentary came to fruition. Maitland also touched briefly on his other film, “Tower” that screened at the SXSW 2016 festival, too. [“Tower” is about the sniper in August of 1966 who rode the elevator to the top and held people hostage from The University of Texas Tower for 96 minutes, and at the end of his tyranny he’d taken 16 lives and wounded over three dozen.]

Nicolette Mallow: What compelled you to make a film about Austin City Limits? Do you simply love the show and what it stands for? Or do you have a strong affiliation with the city of Austin, too? I noticed both of your films pertained to Austin, Texas.

Keith Maitland: I attended The University of Texas at Austin from 1994 to 1998. Then I lived in NYC for ten years. About ten years ago, I moved back to Austin. And yes, live music is something I’ve always loved … In the 1990’s, I saw a few ACL tapings. I even sneaked backstage a few times. Once I snuck onto Willie Nelson’s tour bus in 1998. I had a knack for sneaking backstage. And that’s really what I wanted this documentary to capture: the energy and excitement of a wide-eyed fan… How this project came about is that I used to work at KLRU. And then a few years ago, a PBS Executive in DC called me about Austin City Limits and their 40th anniversary.

NM: How were you able to pick and choose a specific list of videos from an endless supply of ACL performances?

KM: That was no easy task and there was simply no way to honor all of the artistic talent that has premiered on the show. Austin City Limits has showcased around 800 performers and their bands. That’s a rough estimate and not an exact number, but my point is that it was impossible to include everyone in 96 minutes. I asked the production crew for a list of their favorites, and that was hard for them as well. So rather than pick out favorites, together, we oriented the set list around pivotal moments of the show.

NM: I noticed the documentary focused a great deal on Beck, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. All very big artists that are loved by Austin and around the globe… Personally I loved the footage in your film of Beck’s performance at ACL. And I actually went to middle school and high school with Willie’s nephew, Trevor. Any reason you chose those three to focus on?

KM: Beck is one of my absolute favorite artists and his presence in the film portrays the musical energy of present day. It was so cool to book an interview with him and quite rare for us to get the chance. Beck is very exclusive about interviews. I think it had been about ten years since Beck had consented to an on-camera documentary interview. So that was a huge honor and I know the only reason we were able to book it is because of Beck’s love for Austin City Limits… In regards to the other two artists. There are two statues of musicians in downtown Austin: Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Their names were paramount to the story because they have each cast a shadow over the legacy of this town… Plus, Willie Nelson is the first artist to perform for the show and he’s from Austin. Also, the producers of ACL absolutely adore those two. And I can tell they had a very personal friendship with Stevie Ray Vaughan and that the absence of his presence still stings the ACL family.

NM: Did you enjoy interviewing the production crew, and specifically (the producer) Terry Lickona, from the ACL crew?

KM: Yes. I did. One of my favorite parts of the film is at the end when we are asking all the employees at ACL about what lead them to their job and what their role in the company is… Terry Lickona is just a great person in addition to being a fantastic producer. He is also a live music devourer. And he is always looking to the future and ‘what’s next’ which keeps the show fresh and exciting. He is a people’s people and is constantly out there absorbing the latest news pertaining to music. Terry’s loyalty to the show— and the loyalty of the entire ACL crew—it’s astounding. They’re an amazing team. And come on, it’s a pretty sweet gig to work.

NM: My last question is about your other film “Tower”. The other day I saw “A Song For You” at the Violet Crown and I adore it. But I’ve yet to see this one. My question is, many people have made movies or written stories about the 1966 sniper that murdered people from the UT Tower on the UT campus. What defines your story from all the rest and makes it so unique?

KM: Yes a lot of people have covered this story. What makes my take on it unique is that I don’t focus on the sniper. I focus on the witnesses, the heroes and the survivors of the story. The sniper is obviously mentioned and he’s part of the story. But he’s almost like the shark in the movie “Jaws” and how we don’t really see him until the end. We just hear the music and know what’s coming. “Tower” is a story of humanity at its best and worst. We get to see the people who put their lives at risk to save another. We also get to hear accounts from those who were frozen in fear, unable to help, and the shame they felt for being paralyzed with fear. But it’s very touching to hear the stories. A lot of people risked their lives to come to the rescue of those bloodied, bleeding and wounded… There is a little bit of us all in these characters and I wanted people to be able to relate to the story. Not the sniper.

For more information regarding “A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story” please visit the official website at www.asongforyoufilm.com. To learn more about Austin City Limits (ACL) and to search upcoming performances: please check out their web page at www.acl-live.com.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in March 2016. 

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Screenshot from the original publication on Examiner.com.