Saturday, December 31, 2016

Annual 12 Best Shows of the Year List

This hasn't been a particularly productive year in terms of keeping up my blog, so it's helpful to briefly discuss why I have still been blogging for such a long time. Considering a few professional writers I know stopped blogging after they became published elsewhere because it's difficult to maintain content on multiple platforms, it does seem like at the very least, I can't logistically  put my very best content on this blog if I'm writing for other places. 

Contrary to popular belief, I don't write here to build a fan base. If you came here and are a fan, thank you (donate if you want)! My blog is used to showcase my writing for people that make their way over here, to develop ideas, to test promotional strategies and on rare occasions: Because there's something I just want to write. My 12 best shows of the year is strictly for me. It's literally something I think about every time I write a TV show: Will this show make my top 12? It pushes me artistically to broaden my horizons as a viewer and pushes me critically as well. I also just want to highlight what I think is great TV.

1. 11.22.63, Hulu  (Season 1)-This TV show recalled the work of Frank Darabont  (not the "Walking Dead" era, of course) in telling a historic fable that retains its sense of sepia-soaked nostalgia without shying away from the era's darker elements like the casualness of domestic violence or the disenfranchisement of immigrants that could partially how someone like Lee Harvey Oswald could fall through the cracks in the first place. Through it all, the show plays with all the logistical tropes of a loopy time travel scenario (essentially, going down all the roads of the Hitler Time Travel Exemption with Kennedy's murder) and centers around a romance (with Sarah Gadon) and fragile alliance/friendship (with George McKay) that's played with utterly convincing sincerity by James "my life is a perpetual art experiment" Franco of all people. Between this, "Timeless", "Agent Carter", and "The Man in the High Castle", 2016 was a good year in television for sun-drenched nostalgia and the year's best show took this on with a singular vision.

2. People v. OJ Simpson, FX (Season 1)-Rarely has a docudrama aired on TV like this with so little wiggle room in the imaginations of its viewers, or at least the portion who was alive in 1995: If you made the choice not to live under a rock back then, the events of the OJ Simpson trial were simply an inescapable part of daily life. With so much of this history so ingrained in our collective consciousness, it's a wonder at all that a narrative with any sense of suspense or discovery can be crafted at all. But "People v OJ Simpson" doesn't just do that; It weaves together found art to tell what might be the definitive tale of present-day Americana with explorations on the self-imposed tensions around race, our national obsession with celebrity, the fallibility of public opinion, and the curious way fame has a way of magnifying mistakes (although the show got admittedly clunky when trying to posit Robert Kardashian as a lesson in irony). Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Courtney Vance and Sterling Brown are excellent as lawyers dead set on winning with varying degrees of moral integrity and at the hollow center of it all is OJ Simpson (played with a childlike misunderstanding of his own actions by Cuba Gooding Jr) who ultimately turned out to be the least important part of the equation.

3. BoJack Horseman, Netflix  (Season 3)**-BoJack is rolling in the animal-based puns and
pathos with more self-assurance and ambition than ever before. BoJack's depression is portrayed with such a level of realism that it wouldn't be surprising to know that a mentally-ill person could find comfort here. BoJack's universe continues to expand with the recurrence of his castmates and the reintroduction of Kelsey Jannings (BoJack's efforts to repair this relationship made for 2016's most popular and dissected episode). This is also a great year for Todd, who discovered he was asexual (quite possibly the most underrepresented sexual subset on TV), and for BoJack discovering who his real friends are: It turns Sarah Lynn was really reliable after all (while she was in the "alive" category) and Dianne had a nice moment or two. If the show didn't botch the ending, it would have topped the list.

4. Lady Dynamite, Netflix (Season 1)-My initial difficulty with this show wasn't because there was nothing like it on TV but because I saw traces of nearly everything else on TV: The cutaways of "30 Rock", the awkward attempts at social justice statements from "Master of None", the use of a comedic veneer to mask trauma that's shown on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt", the fourth-wall randomness of "Man Seeking Woman", and the feminist celebration of woman as proudly dysfunctional adult from "Broad City." Within a couple episodes, however, Maria Bamford and crew are able to master all these tricks and weave them together into a coherent tone. At its heart is Maria Bamford as Maria Bamford (I know that comedians playing themselves is as old as time, stick with it): A modern-day Mary Tyler Moore if Moore's neuroses were slightly more severe and had clinically-defined labels that she wore on her sleeve.

5. The Good Wife, CBS (Season 6)-To be fair, I never watched a single episode before this year. Once I caught it on a domestic flight, I was immediately hooked and have since been gobbling up the last three seasons when I'm looking for a dependable dose of intellectual excitement. Rarely have I encountered a procedural with such purpose beyond going through the same rote motions. Rarely have I ever seen characters whose intelligence and sense of conviction can come across on screen so well without resorting to blatant Sorkinist cheats.

6. Orange is the New Black, Netflix (Season 4)**-In an era where your average high-profile TV includes an Oscar winner or two, "Orange is the New Black" is still the medium's strongest ensemble. As such, so many balls are being juggled in the air, that there are always going to be plots that will strike the viewer. This year, Soso and Poussay's relationship along with Pennsatucky's liberation from Coates were among the strongest in my eyes, but there were a lot of directions the writers went in that got traction. While I maintain that the season finale resonated with social activists because of erroneous connections, it's good to know that people draw inspiration from the show in whatever ways they see fit. Although cruel guards (have we forgotten "Pornstache" already?) are relatively familiar territory for this show and the "Orange is the New Black" seemed relatively unaware that Season 4 was not a particularly new shade of evil, Brad William Henke made a memorable villain as Piscatella nonetheless.

7. Another Period, Comedy Central (Season 2)-For me, “Another Period” is proof positive that with a couple tweaks, a show can really grow on you. During first season, I thought the show was broad and -- because I had trouble finding anything likeable about the two sisters who anchored the show -- quite cruel. The second season has benefited from a grand karmic leveling with the girls being upstaged by Harriett Tubman and Hortense along with Chair being a serious threat to Dodo's power in the upstairs quarter. Of course, Blanche still isn't getting any human dignity from Peepers or the universe in general, but here's hoping she channels her inner craziness enough to seriously stab him in season 3. The increased maneuvering for power and the *gasp* hidden Belacourt family secret(s)
 has posited "Another Period" more in line with the upstairs-downstairs class drama (likely "Downton Abbey") its made to skewer with a more American twist. One jarring thing about the show is its mix of humor. It takes a while to appreciate because the jokes are so intricately plotted, yet there is no limit on how low-brow these guys are willing to go for a joke. Watching this meticulously crafted blue humor delivered by some of the straightest men on TV-- stoic Victorian personalities like Peepers (Michael Ian Black) and the adorably naive Garfield (Armen Weitzman)-has been one of my biggest guilty pleasures this year.

8. Those Who Can't, TruTV (Seasons 1 and 2)-This is an entry in which my head is telling me that it’s absurd to rank this show ahead of some 55-60 other TV shows I saw this year, but my funny bone simply can’t resist. From Denver-based comedy trio Grawlix (Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl, and Adam Clayton-Holland), "Those Who Can't" looks at secondary education through the world of three lazy teachers enabled by a dysfunctional school administration. The show is striking in how confident it is of its comic tone right out of the gate and how deeply it dives into that joke no matter how dumb or smart it is. The characters come fully-formed and what’s underlooked is how the episodes have an escalating complexity in their plot that leads to a eureka moment akin to “Seinfeld” (although that’s admittedly a pretty lofty comparison to make). The show also boasts a lot of supporting roles with unsung actors including Sonya Eddy as the off-again on-again principal, Mary Lynn Rajskub as a loopy drama teacher, Rory Scovel (full disclosure: I have no idea who he is and don’t even want to check his IMDB page to find out he’s not particularly Quinn-ish in real life) as a touchy-feely principal, and Maria Thayer (who looks like she’s having the time of her life here) as a librarian desperate to fit in.

9. Shut Eye, Hulu (Season 1)-A breezy noir that has explores the world of psychics with a little bit
of magic, hypnotism, and gypsy mafia culture for good measure. Jeffrey Donovan plays a variation of his character from "Burn Notice": level headed under pressure and always thinking two steps ahead. Donovan plays a former magician Charlie Haverford who reluctantly operates as middle management under a mother-and-son mafia threat. Charlie's ambitious wife (KaDee Strickland) wants to stake out a bigger piece of the pie for herself by going after a wealthy mark. From there, the narrative spirals in all sorts of directions as the couple juggles all sorts of external threats while keeping law enforcement at bay, doing damage control on a drug overdose on their premises, and trying not to let a lesbian tryst with a hypnotist (Emmanuelle Chiriquí) threaten their trust in each other.

10. The Good Place, NBC (Season 1)-The always-game Kristen Bell helms one of the year’s most ambitious sitcoms as a self-absorbed slacker of outrageous proportions who accidentally ends up in Heaven and has to bluff her way through it with the aid of an ethics professor. Helmed be Mike Schur (“Parks and Recreation” “The Office”), the show has a very self-evident sense of fun exploring surprisingly deep moral conundrums under a comic guise while doing an excellent job at building a world. Ted Danson is one of TV’s best characters as a nebbish celestial architect from above constantly fretting over his creation and newcomer D’Arcy Carden is a wonderful bundle of contradictions as an android personal assistant who takes every command too literally. Who knows how long the show can keep up these cliffhangers, but so far, it’s a great ride.

11. American Horror Story: Roanoke, FX (Season 5)^:  "American Horror Story" best functions as a supernatural whodunit of sorts: A regular Joe with a healthy dose of skepticism gets thrust into something otherworldly, and the exact nature of the evil perpetrator is revealed to them (and us) over the course of the season. The first season executed this to a T but the first season was just a house in LA with a bunch of ghosts. It didn't have the same potential for fun as a 1950s asylum or a tourist trap freak show. On the other end of the spectrum, the show became overloaded with excessive plotlines and camp as it set its sights higher. The second season alone had an evil Nazi doctor, a sadistic nun, some freaky form of beasts out in the woods AND a malicious monsignor who all just coincidentally happen to be doing their dastardly deeds in the same cul-de-sac of horrors.

Season Six was a return to form with the best of both worlds: Set within the context of the haunted ground of Roanoke’s Lost  Colony and the racially-tense modern day backwaters of North Carolina, this season exudes a great sense of place while maintaining the scale of a tightly-wound  narrative.

12. Schitt's Creek, Pop TV (Season 2)-Co-created by Eugene Levy and son Daniel (who's apparently semi-famous or, as we like to say, famous in Canada), the show centers around an obscenely rich family with stunted adult children (Levy and Annie Murphy) being stripped of all their assets and being forced to move to a backwater town. The show initially was watchable but didn't really deliver on its potential of a small-town comedy with characters eccentric enough to be engaging. It also didn't help that central character David (Levy) was mostly a sad sack whose lone emotional M.O. was cosmopolitan disgust at his surroundings. In fact, the show's only real source of delight in the first season was Stevie  (Emily Hampshire) bringing David back to reality.

In the second season, we had a David-Stevie relationship that was as fresh as ever, but  it also helped that giving the kids jobs enabled their rough edges to be sanded off every so slightly while Moira (Catherine O'Hara) went in the opposite direction. She became more overtly aloof which drew more out-loud laughter from me. The TV landscape is shifting more toward soft-laugh dramedy and Moira's absurdist demeanor keeps "Schitt's Creek" out of that trap. There was also a greater sense of familiarity with the characters that enabled the show's character-based humor to shine more. I enjoyed the sweetness of David and Steevie's evolution alongside each other, but I also found myself suddenly becoming enamored with Twyla's tangential  blabbing, Jocelyn's eternal reservoir of patience and  Bob's creepy intrusions into  Johnny's space. Like "Another Period," this show had one of the best sophomore season spikes I've ever seen.

Honorable Mentions:
Agent Carter, ABC-This action show really nails down the aesthetics and feel of a 1950's action serial but delivers it with a knowing wink. It never failed as a straight-up action story while simultaneously keeping the subversive meta-commentary in the picture.
Billy on the Street, TruTV*-Billy Eichner's refusal to abide by pedestrian social norms as he grills contestants on minute pop-culture details isn't just hilarious, it's also incredibly creative. Look at how Escaping Margo Robbie's moment satirizes the zero-sum game of staying on Hollywood's A-list or how the "This is Olivia Wilde, aren't you hideous in comparison?" segment satirizes the way tabloids encourage us to worship celebrities.
Casual, Hulu**-For a show tonally stuck between drama and dramedy, "Casual" managed to be one of the most engaging programs on TV without a net of laugh-inducing moments to fall back on. If it hadn't lost steam around the last three episodes, it would have made the list again. Why it doesn't just take the leap into "drama" like the recently-concluded "Parenthood," I'm not sure. 
Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency, BBC-There was some criticism that this wasn't particularly faithful to the source material, but if the source material is as non-linear as Douglas Adams, what would have been the point? This show was one of the most unique television entries and I understand how it could be a your-mileage-may-vary type of series, but it managed to keep me engaged enough in its narrative to keep me involved in the story's endgame. Within an eclectic ensemble of characters, there were enough winning storylines to smooth over any rough patches.
Fresh off the Boat,  ABC**-Nahnatchka Khan continues to use her immigrant experience (though from a different part of the Asian continent) to consistently provide a mix of aw-shucks moments, subversive humor and 90's nostalgia each week. Although this is typical sitcom fare, few sitcoms are as consistently inventive on a weekly basis.
Grace and Frankie, Netflix*-Move over young'uns. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda can still out-act the Julia Louis-Dreyfuses and Lena Dunham's of the TV world with their hands tied behind their backa. The second season was more of a lateral move narrative-wise than a stakes-raising season. Some of the big developments like Grace's new relationship or Frankie's business idea splattered with a thud but the new directions the show has taken have been interesting nonetheless.
Gravity Falls, Disney-An extremely rare breed of children's show that can be enjoyed straight by adults rather than the way Pixar likes to layer kid-friendly comedy (with references only adults can get). The difference with "Gravity Falls" is that you find yourself rooting for the kids and laughing on their level. The show's strong conclusion was an indication of just how far Dipper and Mabel have come as people and into our hearts. That last sentence was corny, I know, but this show has a way of eliciting those kinds of sentiments.
Late Night with Seth Meyers, NBC-The late night wars were a particularly cut-throat battle for eyeballs this election season, and Seth Meyers' unexpected ascension to must-watch commentary was great validation for those who watched him on Weekend Update and always admired his edge. As the Trump campaign got more ridiculous, Meyers just said "screw it" to fair and balanced and pummeled Trump with every "A Closer Look" he could come up and never surfaced for air until a somber post-election concession speech.
Silicon Valley, HBO^-Mike Judge's show is about how Murphy's Law is always conspiring against America's latest incarnation of the rags-to-riches myth in dot com start-ups. It's a different type of show with less emphasis on the characters' personal lives and more about them as a single (and rarely functional) work unit. This season, Stephen Toblowsky's deceptive billionaire provided the show with it's best nemesis to date.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix**-Like "Grace and Frankie" this show didn't raise the stakes, but not all great TV has to make the narrative more intense from season to season. Kimmy and Dong didn't turn into Kimmy and Dong 2.0, for example, but that doesn't take away the merit of the interesting directions the show took. Having Tina Fey play a character again is just showboating, but there were plenty of positive developments with Titus' new romantic relationship being key among them.

**=Made my top 12 last year
*=Made my honorable mentions last year
^=Has made my top 10 or top 12 before  (Silicon Valley here and American Horror Story here) 
To give you an idea of how deep the field was, here were the other shows I saw this year (many of which were very good, but just didn't make the cut):
Adam Ruins Everything, TruTV; America's Got Talent, NBC; Archer, FX; Atlanta, FX; Braindead, CBS; Conan, TBS; The Characters, Netflix; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CW; Daredevil*, Netflix; Difficult People*, Hulu; Documentary Now!, IFC; Falling Water, USA*; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, TBS; Flaked, Netflix; The Get Down, Netflix; The Great Indoors, CBS; Grinder, Fox; Haters Back Off, Netflix; Idiot Sitter, Comedy Central; Impractical Jokers, TruTV; It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX; Last Man on Earth, Fox; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO; Lost and Found, Netflix; Mad TV, CW; Modern Family, ABC; Mozart in the Jungle; Amazon Prime; Night Manager, AMC; One Mississippi, Amazon Prime; The Path, Hulu; Plebs, Hulu; Preacher*, AMC; Real O'Neals, ABC; Saturday Night Live, NBC; Search Party, TBS; Small Business Revolution, Hulu; Sing it Off, Pop TV; Son of Zorn, NBC; Strange Calls, Hulu; Supergirl*, CW; Speechless*, ABC; South Park, Comedy Central; Superstore, NBC; Time Traveling Bong, Comedy Central; Timeless, NBC

The asterisk means I didn't get around to watching the full run because in the case of most of these, I wasn't intrigued. In the case of "Supergirl," I watched it out of order.

Something I wrote to my fellow news editing students

This past semester I took a course on news editing and at one point, I decided to share my experiences  and best direct advice I could muster on freelance writing for my classmates:

The real first step is knowing where you want to send your pitches, and our professor covered that. To add to that, if you’re going for money you have to manage risk. Publications with broad guidelines and big payouts (GQ or Salon Magazine) will have tons and tons of people pitching them so don’t be a needle in a haystack if you want a chance. For me, a steady paycheck is preferable and specific pitching guidelines help big-time. I’m more comfortable expending time on a pitch with clear guidelines: “We’re currently taking stories on dogs” doesn’t give me as much confidence that I’ll hit the mark as “We’re looking for a story about mixed-breed 2nd hand dogs.”
I also said something a couple weeks ago that I’ll clarify: If it’s something abstract like humor, a short story, or a poetry contest, it’s generally up to the tastes of the editor, and that can be frustrating. When you pitch a humor piece, the rubric really boils down to one single thing: Did the editor laugh when he read it. If you have a concrete pitch with something to bring to the table, then experience of subjectivity matters less.
Jack mentioned going to the bookstore and that’s a good first step, but there’s A LOT out there (which is good news!) so get a copy of the book “writer’s market” and ask around.
From there, what you need to freelance write for money is generally three things:
1.       About five or six clips that you will send along with your pitch letter. I don’t recommend leaving college with less than a dozen published clips with a good amount of variation. Write in different sections of the school newspaper and write for different publications if possible. If need be, blog. If not, you’re going to be stuck in unpaid internship land. Keep a file of everything you’ve published with links (and don’t be afraid to pester past publications about keeping their links current). If it’s print-only, than scan and download. From those, pick the five or six most relevant ones to whatever you’re applying to and put it in the bottom paragraph in an about me section of whatever pitch you send. And good news: You can recycle cover letters!
2.       A good idea or two in the present. If it has a time-sensitive peg that’s a factor that works for you. BUT an awesome story also works. It doesn’t have to be time-sensitive but a) it can’t be something that sounded a lot better a while ago and b) it doesn’t hurt to throw out something that explains its relevance in the present. Where to get the ideas from is a whole other issue (hopefully, your classes have taught you that) but I generally work backwards: I just go about my life and if I pass along something interesting, I explore it and make a note of it. Example: Once I was on the metro, and a guy sitting a couple rows back was wearing a tuxedo on a Tuesday evening so I asked him why he was wearing a tuxedo and it turned out he get hired as a maître d for one of the most exclusive restaurants in DC and because they don’t take reservations, he has to do a lot of juggling on the job. Stuff like that. If I had to come up with an idea in two hours, I don’t think I would give you much, but I have a list of stuff like the guy who works at an exclusive restaurant banked up.
Also, I know it’s easy to be lazy and say to a publication, “I’d like to write, got anything for me?” but that’s generally gonna get you nowhere AND you can do that anyway. Send your pitch and then at the bottom, say I’m a freelance writer and open to writing about blank, blank, and blank. So play the game and throw out a pitch or two even if you secretly think they’re crap. They’ll appreciate you took the time to develop an idea.
3.       Contact the editor and don’t stop until you reach them and find if they’ve read your pitch.  I know that sounds like I’m a stalker out of a horror movie, but I constantly e-mail, re-email, look them up on twitter and engage them there, call up their office, call up their colleagues and  I have pretty much never had an editor tell me this was a bad thing as far as I can remember.  They have really busy in boxes and generally won’t know you exist and sometimes they’ll work with you for a year and a half and forget you. It also helps that I generally space these things out a week at a time to avoid bothering them too much.

A case in point:
This morning I just got a letter from a guy named Jesse who was listed as the editor of Vulture Magazine after writing him either two or three times and randomly tweeting him at various points “hey, I sent you an email” (sometimes after saying something insightful in response to his thing).
“Hey Orrin,
Your tweet reminded me to look at this. I don't really look at this email that often. I'll say this, I am not an editor, so I don't really assign anything.
But I don't think any of these pitches exactly work. It's hard to say why, but they don't. In general, your best bet is probably reaching out to Nate Jones, who is our movie editor, with a pitch that demands specific expertise.
A letter like this gives you clues as to what to work for if you write back. I just wrote back thanking him and he dropped another hint of advice:
No problem. I understand it's hard to sort of breakthrough.
But, yeah, you have to think what is a story only I can do or at minimum a story the site doesn't have someone to do
I asked a question for clarification with possible topics  A, B, and C and he replied and said “yes, pitch something about topic C”
Keep gleaming clues like these and try to meet people for the publications you have written for. I generally talk to people on twitter or might fb them if we start to have a lot of back and forth.
If you do get an article greenlit, get terms beforehand, and realize it could be rocky writing for an editor for the first time. Each editor is different and has different demands, some are bat-s**t crazy, some are really demanding and some give no guidance at all. Your job is to figure out what kind of editor that person is and adapt to their style over the course of the editing and the next pitch. For many publications, the editor fact-checks the freelancers harder than staff and they will fact-check nearly everything in your article the first time you submit something, so double-check every proper noun and fact in addition to grammar (something I admittedly didn’t do when a friend got me a trial at zergnet where I had grammatical errors in the first sentence, they never read past that and I was finished there).
Other than lost time and the hits to your ego from the near-constant rejection from people telling you your ideas suck before meeting people who will eventually like them, there’s virtually nothing to lose by trying out the freelance market. You can form relationships that could lead to jobs, you can pick up interesting experiences, you can get money that could hold you over until a “job” comes in. On a larger level, freelancing is about redefining what you think a job is which is the best defense against Plan A not working out. It’s a wide world out there.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

25 Best Acting Performances of 2014

  1. Ralph Fiennes, Grand Budapest Hotel: The centerpiece of Wes Anderson’s best received film to date is a sublime comic creation and one of those unique characters whose iconic stature should be remembered for years if there’s any justice. He’s unapologetically shameless in the lengths he’ll go to to please a client and his emotional core develops as the film goes on through his relationship with Zero. It’s a high-water mark for Fiennes as well who, just the other day, The Film Experience was asking to resounding choruses how it could possible be that 20 years have passed with an Oscar nomination for this uber-talented actor.  .
  2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl: Pike reconciles both ends of the dichotomy of a woman in love by playing the extremes-- sugary/sweet and vengeful/bitter- with delicious wickedness. Just like Fiennes’ performance, Pike’s work here is indisputably a game changer.
  3. Julianne Moore, Still Alice: While Moore’s Oscar win is a recognition of her great career as well, there’s little doubt that she at least deserved to be in the conversation for her thoroughly researched role of a woman in Alzheimer’s. Without Moore making the character so engaging, this film would have been a snoozefest designed to win someone an Oscar. With Moore at center, her acutely-felt awareness of her degradation gives the movie the feel of a psychological thriller.
  4. Benedict Cumberbatch, Imitation Game: In his portrayal of severely anti-social mathematician Alan Turing, Cumberbatch allows us to empathize with someone who is nearly devoid of feelings. And he was a lot of fun to watch on the awards circuit.
  5. Reese Witherspoon, Wild: It would be dismissive of the last decade to call this film Witherspoon’s graduation from a rom-com-centered ingenue to a grown-up, but it’s fair to say she has never had a role so demanding and the way she makes so many solo scenes engaging says a lot about her capabilities.
  6. Brendan Gleeson, Calvary:Gleeson stars as a priest in a small Irish town, whose congregation has regressed so far morally that when he receives a death threat, he has no idea who it’s from. His pensiveness and jaded interaction with the townsfolk carries the movie’s somber aura.
  7. JK Simmons, Whiplash: Simmons deservedly won a best supporting actor here for his intensity and the sheer uniqueness of his creation. The “what makes this character tick” question is just enigmatic enough that the film’s twists have enough room to surprise us.
  8. Miles Teller, Whiplash: By contrast, Simmons owes plenty of his Oscar to the quality of his scene partner. Andrew’s descent into artistic obsession is filtered through a timid teenager wrestling with being comfortable in his own skin. Teller portrays both parts of the character with the adeptness of someone twice his age.
  9. Ed Norton,Birdman: Looking back nearly two years after seeing the film, I can barely remember any of the performances. It was such an ensemble film that none of the  performances really were able to escape the conformity of the group effort and the acting felt oversahdowed by the razzle of the camera tricks anyway. The sole exceptions were Norton and the one-scene wonder of the critic (was it Lindsey Duncan? I’ll have to double check the credits). The temperamental actor is a standard but not one who would initially turn down sex with Emma Stone or punch someone else in his underwear. There were a lot of odd specificities that powered this film.
  10. Keira Knightley, Imitation Game: I know it would be reductive to call a brilliant thinker like Joan Clark “plucky,” but that really is the first word to come to mind when thinking of Knightley’s portrayal. It’s why you can understand how Clark could deftly navigate her way through a boy’s club or convince a gay man to abandon his better judgement and propose to her. It’s been a great year for Knightley and she got her long-overdue second nomination here.
  11. Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes: As I started watching this film, I was thinking of how refreshing it would be to see Waltz play someone other than a maniacal villain. Boy, was I wrong….
  12. Carrie Coon, Gone Girl: Coon and Affleck nail down the easygoing ebb and flow of siblings so well that they seem more natural together than Casey and Ben did on the press tour for “Gone Baby Gone.” Coon also nails certain moments of revulsion, whether at her brother or his wife.
  13. Alec Baldwin, Still Alice: Playing the significant other or other loved one trying to maintain steadiness while a loved one suffers is not always easy to do. It has won Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Connelly, Brenda Fricker and countless other women Oscars or nominations. It has been rare, however, to see a man go through a caretaker role like this. Baldwin’s approach from a masculine perspective was an interesting take: It was more externally quiet.
  14. Mark Ruffalo, Begin Again: At this point, Ruffalo has three Oscar nominations which is quite a lot for an actor who squints his way through some of his most difficult scenes. This performance, however, really hits home. Ruffalo’s character here is a wide-eyed (a character with less squinting is good news for this guy!)  dreamer inside a jaded record executive and, in this fairy-tale-like story, we are sure invested in seeing that wide-eyed dreamer reemerge. When he smiles or jaunts around the city with Keira Knightley, or figures out the logistics of a musical number, it’s electric.
  15. Chris Dowd, Calvary: This isn’t the baby-faced dreamboat from “Bridesamaids” you’ve grown to love. In a short amount of screen time, Dowd stands out among the cast of lowlives in the “Who wants to murder the priest” sweepstakes.
  16. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer: I not only love the uniquely enthusiastic regime enforcer Swinton creates here. I also love how a non-traditional-Oscar-bait role from an even less traditional film made so many dents in the Awards season.
  17. David Oyelowo, Selma-Sorry #Oscarssowhite protesters, I have to agree with the Academy. This performance had a good gravity to it, but wasn’t up there with the best of the year. I'm sure this guy will make it sooner or later though.
  18. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl: It takes two to tango and Affleck is particularly eclectic when Nick starts figuring out Amy’s game and playing by her rules.
  19. Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher: To be clear, I found this movie excruciatingly boring. Frankly, I would have been more surprised by a revelation that a multi-millionaire  volunteering to let a bunch of Olympic athletes wrestle in his house wasn’t doing it for inappropriate reasons. Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that amid all this Oscar bait, the actors are doing what they’re supposed to pretty well. In particular, Tatum blew me away as a sensitive brute enamored with darker secrets.
  20. Keira Knightley, Begin Again-I might have moved her up a couple spots if she wasn’t so overly flowery in moments. Her relationship chemistry with Adam Levine didn’t seem entirely convincing either but she more than made up for it as one half of the cinematic year’s best platonic friendship with Mark Ruffalo. Her instant girl-bonding with Ruffalo’s daughter (played by Hailee Steinfeld) was particularly adorable as well. An additional paragraph can be written about Knightley’s musical performance here.
  21. Emily Blunt, Into the Woods-Emily Blunt had a somewhat bizarre part here with her loyalty to her husband so well established in the first half and the second half being marked by---well, no spoilers. Blunt maintains the comic and fantasical tones of the film very nicely. Blunt is well-known but I think it’s still possible to call her underrated
  22. Paddy Considine, Pride-Like “Into the Woods,” this film was a big ensemble effort. There were a lot of great performances in this film, so it’s hard to single one out. Considine, though, has one of the biggest presences in the film as Dai, one of the more elderly Welsh miners facing the cultural shock of an alliance with London’s gay community. One morning, he casually announces over breakfast to his wife that he’s not just comfortable with gays but also gay, and it’s one of the film’s most out-of-nowhere moments. It’s also, in the hands of Considine (and scene partner Imelda Staunton), one of the film's most beautiful moments. 
  23. Matthew Goode, Imitation Game-The straight man to Benedict Cumberbatch’s erratic character.
  24. Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods-Kendrick sings and dances and dresses like Cinderella! What more can you want?
  25. Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar-McConaughey convincingly playing a man who’s future Earth’s smartest scientist and best pilot might be a stretch. However, he makes the list for two moments: 1) The tear-ridden scene in which he learns his daughter grows up and 2) His endearing banter with a sarcastic robot.

The one I just realized I forgot to put in: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Frank
Films I did not see that might have affected my judgment: Nightcrawler, Boyhood, American Sniper, Mr Turner, A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice, 2 Days One Night

Monday, December 26, 2016

Is #OscarsSoWhite going to open up a new can of worms in 2016's award season?

How can you not be for more diversity?" a friend recently asked me on a message board when I was explaining my opposition to the #OscarsSoWhite movement that has exploded over the last two awards season cycles.

Perhaps I am no longer on the side of liberal progress and no longer care about racial representation in film. Or perhaps, it's not an either-or dichotomy. I recognize the value of racial representation AND I thought the #Oscarssowhite movement the past two years has been counterproductive to that cause.

Why? Because the twitter movement was simply counterfactual. In the 21st century, roughly 12% of acting nominees were Black and the proportion of African-Americans to the rest of the population according to the census is also 12%. If discrimination exists in Hollywood, I agree with Oscar winner Spike Lee (who got an honorary Oscar last year by a supposedly racist organization) who said it happens in casting rooms and at studios and to blame the Oscars is a misdirect. The #oscarssowhite movement has largely damaged its credibility by being proudly counterfactual, by lacking nuance in its analysis (if you want to see such a nuanced article, click here for an extremely thorough and reasonable explanation for why no black films were nominated in 2015), by having no definition of its goals, by going after the wrong targets, and by a lack of appreciation for the progress that has been made.

In the midst of one of these conversations, an activist asked me: "Do you expect us to be happy with the crumbs you get?" If you're going to accuse a person or organization of racist behavior, I expect an honest and thorough assessment of whether those are indeed crumbs. If these activists can't recognize intermediate steps of progress, what incentive is there to placate them? This is an awards body that has helped jump-start the careers of such minorities as Taraji P Henson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Terrence Howard, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Demian Bichir, Sophie Okonedo and Jennifer Hudson by awarding them with honors when box office receipts and other awards bodies weren't. If you look at the BAFTAs, for example, none of these people (except Jennifer Hudson) were nominated. Fun fact: Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman have been nominated 11 times by the Oscars and neither of them were nominated once by the BAFTAs.

This year, the Oscars will likely be far more inclusive of films with black narratives and many people of color look to make their way into the nominations. I am legitimately happy. I saw "Hidden Figures" and loved it and this week I eagerly plan on seeing "Fences." However, if you think that's not going to open up a whole new can of worms, think again:

1. Is the directorial race this year going to be framed as some be-all account of racial politics? Are Kenneth Lonergan and Damien Chazelle going to have a chance to compete freely against Barry Jenkins or will the social justice movement try to reframe it as a case of justice instead of artistic choice, insisting that votes for Lonergan and Chazelle are simply votes for an oppressive patriarchy. Last year, the movement was upset by the lack of black directors. I fear that even one or two directors won't be seen as an improvement but a further cause for protest if they don't win.

2. Similarly, Jeff Nichols made a well-crafted tale but if his film ends up performing better in the Oscar race than the other black-themed films -- Hidden Figures, Fences, and Loving -- then will activists cry foul at the fact that Nichols has no right to tell a story of people whose race he isn't a member of? Has there even been much discussion of the theory that art and cross-cultural learning is mostly predicated on stepping outside your own experiences and exploring someone else's story?

2b. Or maybe the backlash will try to resurrect the narrative that black stories are only told by white film makers ignoring the recent BP nominations of Lee Daniels, Ana Duverney and Steve McQueen. This is more of a hypothetical because because the acting and directing for Loving didn't rate as highly among critics anyway, so it looks like that minefield will be avoided.

3. However, the flipside of this is that Loving's lead Ruth Negga is far from a lock in her category and could be bumped out while three out of five Oscar nominated best supporting actresses will be black if projections hold up. This really has more to do with variable definitions of lead (and category fraud) than anything substantial, but are we going to be subjected to another barrage of essays about how Hollywood hates black as lead women?

4. Likewise in the acting races, between four and seven of the twenty acting nominations are projected go to black actors with South Asian actor Dev Patel a near lock to add to the diversity mix as well in the supporting category. That is an impressive number and I am nothing but happy for many of these actors that I love. Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson are actresses who I have waited quite a while to see them get a second nomination. However, the ethnic mix of acting performances is random, combined with a lot of other factors (like, for example, who gave the best performance, didn't that used to count for something?) and most importantly cyclical. If the number dips down to one or two again next year, are we setting ourselves up for another cycle of twitter slacktivism next year? The problem with Oscars So White's undefined goals manifests itself in situations like this.

5. Did #OscarsSoWhite really make this happen? (this is an open-ended question because I do not know the answer)Suppose #oscarssowhite made a lot of noise last year, did that specifically lead to these films being greenlit? I would assume that they were made before the protests happened last year anyway.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A review of my year 2016 professionally

In an attempt to step back and reflect, here's a look back at 2016 as a journalist, freelance blogger and writer for hire:

1. Richmond Style Weekly-My big pollution expose
By far, the most ambitious story I did was a nearly 2000-word expose on biosludge pollution in Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties in Virginia. This was a story that off-and-on took several months and involved pulling from nearly a dozen sources including a number of contrasting stakeholders: Representatives of the biosolid disposal industry, state legislators, people who had become personally ill from pollution, county government representatives, community activists, and special task force council members, This was all the more challenging when you consider I had no knowledge or experience writing on environmental issues and never planned for this story to involve more than a couple days of reporting.

How I Got It: The story came about when someone tweeted me about covering "biosludge."I had no idea what she was talking about or why she wanted me but because I had nothing to lose, I told her to send me an email with a press release. My mailbox was immediately flooded with passionate activists speaking in hyper-specific industry talk about an issue I had no knowledge of. The least that I could do for this person was to advise them to write a coherent press release that could be read by a layman and in return I told them I'd forward it to an editor. Apparently, the editor liked it and before I knew it, I was in the middle of a farm house in Louisa county next to a couple of goats and a group of citizens prepping for the fight of their lives against an industry of polluters.

Where to find this story: I still don't know when, where or how they will be publishing it, but my work is considered complete. When the writer gets the paycheck, he or she generally bows out.

2. Screenprism-Numerous essays on film
I was approached by Screen Prism to write a number of articles on film from an academic standpoint and I eventually published sixteen. A lot of my articles came from old term papers or blog ideas. The rate wasn't amazing because it was a start-up, but I do believe that I produced some of my best work here and I got to be a part of what I think is one of the cleverest film sites on the internet.

How I got it: I was a fan of the site and e-mailed them asking for opportunities

Where to find these pieces:

3.  Richmond Style Weekly and Gothamist: On-site coverage of the Mercy Street DC Premiere.

The creator, screenwriter, producer, director and principal cast of the PBS drama "Mercy Street" had a premiere in the Washington DC area just across the river from where the story was set in November of 2015 and I got to attend something that looked like the press junkets from the 2001 film "American Sweethearts" (and, I'm assuming real-life).

The experience was exciting and somewhat of a blur. I was shuffled into a room with the producer and screenwriter of the project and they couldn't have been more accommodating of the fact that while I did come prepared with questions, I didn't really watch the show beforehand. Then all of a sudden Mary Elizabeth Winstead entered the room dressed extremely casually and looking very much like a normal person came in and we mostly chatted about how I liked her in "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter" sufficiently enough that I didn't even bother to see "Lincoln" that same year. Then I was (and I'm not making this up) left alone with Mary Elizabeth Winstead for about 5 minutes, which I found extremely surprising because I always expected some degree of security around movie stars. I spent most of these five minutes repeating my praise from the one or two movies I saw her in and we discussed her IMDB page (and no she does not check the comments section under her page). Then Lieutenant B'elanna Torres from "Star Trek: Voyager" came in (or as she is more commonly known Roxanne Dawson) which was a pretty mind-blowing experience and I had about five minutes to ask her questions, most of it which was used by things along the line of "hey, I watched that Star Trek show you were in!" By the time, I asked my first intelligent question, another person came to take her to the next interviewer.

In reality, most of these articles were written the same way I do most events, by taking notes about anything and everything in the environment during the actual event and interviewing key people afterwards. It was actually when I bumped into the screenwriter of Mercy Street in the lobby that I got a chance to ask him my better questions without the distraction of pesky movie stars making my mind go blank.

How I got this story: The story was handed to me by Gothamist after I pitched them some other TV-related stories they were not interested in. As far as I can tell, it was meant as a test to see if I would be a good fit for them. For a while, it led to some more work. In the future, we shall see.  Because, the story had a Richmond component, I "double-dipped" and pitched to RSW where I had done a few stories.

4. Gothamist: Review of Mustang and Interview with an Oscar-winning director
I got the chance to review one film for DCist but because Oscar season was nearly over by the time I reviewed it, and I wasn't ready to watch any 2016 films, I didn't really pursue any more assignments in terms of straight-up film reviews. I also got a chance to interview director Deniz Gamze  Erguven during the time period when she was nominated for an Oscar. These Hollywood phone interviews are generally done on a strict time limit with a watchful PR person on the phone. This was my second such experience in this format and the previous experience (interviewing the cast of "Archer") had gone extremely poorly, so I came more prepared with questions that were more neutral and disarming (stars have to be flattered a little more if you're a newbie on the interview scene) but it was still a very restricting experience because the 20-minute time limit and the presence of third party facilitating all your experiences gives you very little wiggle room to follow any sort of discussion if you have twenty minutes worth of questions. Still, a good experience and Deniz Gamze Erguven was game.

How I got this story: I asked to review films for DCist and was put in touch with the chief film critic for DCist. He assigned me one foreign film and I covered it well. The PR person at the screening mentioned that the director of the film was available for interviews so I took her up on the offer.


5. Cracked: 5 Real People Screwed Over by True Stories Based on Them
I co-wrote this which is a much more efficient way to author stories on Cracked. The editorial process is much harder to weather if you keep having to resubmit and resubmit pitches. The U-571 and Foxcatcher entries were my write-ups.

How I got this story: I was asked by the article's co-author for permission to do a sequel since I apparently co-wrote the original.

6. Gothamist: Interview with Members of the National Symphony Orchestra about "Mozart in the Jungle:

One of those experiences where you start to get butterflies (from excitement) in your stomach for weeks before the interview. I've long had a distant fascination with what it must be like to be a classical music, working tirelessly to improve your musicality by 0.002% to be able to edge out another similar sounding oboist in an audition to get that job security. The extremely exciting TV show "Mozart in the Jungle" and subsequent book awakened that interest and gave me an immediate idea.

Unlike the interviews I had with the cast of "Archer" and the director of "Mustang" the natural rapport between me and the two NSO musicians I interviewed became so well-established that any sense of constraint quickly evaporated. We soon became three people engaged in a casual but deeply informative conversation and when the time limit was up, no one really minded continuing.

This would have all been a great experience EXCEPT for one awful stroke of luck. My new recorder did not work. I generally take notes and record but I don't  write word-for-word when the recorder is on to preserve the flow of the conversation.

So leaving the interview, I was pretty screwed and at a position where both the editor and the orchestra's PR person had more power over my story than what was ideal. As a result, my interview got hacked from both ends as lines were cut by both parties and I watched some of the best lines in the interview get eliminated. If either of the two sides had a dispute or doubts, the editor played it safe because I couldn't prove the existence of these lines. I got positive comments and actually gained a fan in Blair Tindall herself who wrote the freaking book that "Mozart in the Jungle" is based on, as well as the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra but it took a while to look at the article and feel ok with it.

How I Got this Story: I pitched it and because the editor was a MitJ fan, she said yes right away

7. 10 Classical Musicians Who Lived Like Rock Stars
The show "Mozart in the Jungle" fascination prompted me to try reading another book on classical music book and the first chapter alone was filled with so many incredible stories of classical musicians who were either insane, ridiculously business-savvy or people who lived life on the edge. A lightbulb in my head went off that I should pitch this to Cracked. It got shot down. I picked myself up and pitched it to TopTenz where I did a lot of writing between 2011 and 2013. The editor closed the site off to outside submissions but because he was closing it off while I was in the middle of pitching, he made an exception for me and let me pitch again. This was originally going to piece on common town names but I pitched this Cracked rejected entry instead and with just a little bit of tweaking it was perfect for this publication. The upside about TopTenz was a lot more editorial freedom to craft the article as I wanted.

8. Skagit Valley Herald: 6th Grader Charity Jordan at the National Spelling Bee
Few articles have been as exciting to me as my reporting for the National Spelling Bee. I get to follow around a 6th-8th grade genius as they live through the excitement of being on the national stage and their family has the time of their life at a luxury hotel. On top of that, I'm reporting alongside representatives from every major media outlet in the country all rushing to hit deadline like a 1930's film. Everything from the catering to the press conference is ridiculously exciting and I've even gained an appreciation for the variety of words in the dictionary through this event.

My second year covering the event was entirely different from the first event because last year, I got more assignments (and more pay) based on how well my speller did, turning me into her biggest cheerleader as the rounds progressed. This year, I had an international flight booked on the evening of the second day and I got a fixed fee to cover both events, so on the off-chance that my speller was made it to the finals, I'd have to get a substitute, which wouldn't have been great. But my speller this year, Charity Jordan, was such an excellent character that it was hard to root against her anyway.

How I got this story: Good question! I was very clever here. I attended the spelling bee out of  a complete "what the hell, why not do something new?" mood with the secretive goal of networking with the Scripp's people. I ended up being offered a media pass without even asking for one. I even explicitly stated that I didn't have an outlet and was just stopping by and they gave me one anyway. I ended up falling in love with the event and resolved that the next year I would cover it. I grabbed a copy of the program and cold-called every newspaper sponsor representing a small city (so they wouldn't have the budget for a DC correspondent) west of the Mississippi (so the budget to cover DC would be extra long) and was independently owned (if owned by a large newspaper chain, they'd already have a DC correspondent) and got a couple offers. I weighed the best price and have enjoyed a multi-year relationship with Washington's Skagit Valley

9. Arlington Film Festival-Judge
I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at elementary, middle and high school short films and making notes and judging them. It was an interesting experience trying to apply the same methodology of film criticism to 16-second videos of a guy skate boarding, an animation short of the moon eating a glass of milk, or a guy waiting for a train (surprisingly, one of the better ones), but I adapted to the challenge. The general idea was to simply recommend how to improve.

How I got this gig: I wrote an article on an improv festival held by an Arlington County middle and high school and the guy managing it asked me if I'd be interested in judging


10. Nostalgia Digest Magazine: Otto Preminger
I previously wrote on the Mankiewicz Dynasty (see #7) and the Deeds-Smith-Doe trilogy and expanded an article I wrote on ScreenPrism ( into a full-fledged submission for Nostalgia Digest.

How I got this gig: I liked the newspaper and cold-called the office. Because they didn't guarantee submission, I was a little nervous, but just went for it anyway.

10. Worcester Journal: David's Gardens
If I remember correctly, this would count as my only work in memoir writing. The piece is about my grandfather who immigrated from present-day Iran to Israel to Germany during the Cold War and then the US (my family history is kind of like a "Where in the World is Matt" if Matt only went to hotly contested geopolitical zones) and gardened throughout. I interviewed members of my family and pieced together bits of his life. There's a certain cliche to linking his story to the motif of gardening, but it was actually originally submitted to a gardening magazine called "Green Prints" around 2011 (it was turned down three times after two different revisions). I hung onto it and used the improved copy to literary journals and I got paid a decent amount to publish it here.

I have a lot of pride in my mother's side of the family. They are immigrants many times over and have lived on several different continents and this was a nice way to explore that backstory more.

How I got this gig: The International Association of Professional Writers and Editors has a journal that I subscribed to and this was one of the articles at the top of my list for great stuff


11. Gothamist: LGBT Rally
I dropped everything one Thursday to head to the Capital Grounds on Washington and do a story on spec which means if the editor doesn't like it, I don't get paid and my work doesn't get published. So lots of risk considering news coverage isn't like creating fiction: If you show up and put effort towards covering something that isn't newsworthy, you can't suddenly re-engineer what's in front of you to make it so. Fortunately, things worked out pretty well. A queer (this was the way he described his own form of activism) activist invited people to dance in front of the capitol to reduce gun violence and gay discrimination. It was bizarre, beautiful, photo-friendly, and ultimately fun thing to be a bystander of? Were these guys effective at making changes? Probably no more or no less than anyone else who tried to do anything in this crazy political year.

This was the second photo essay I've done for Gothamist and considering that my last photo essay got erased from the internet when went under, I'm kind of happy.

How I got this gig: A friend of mine on facebook had an event they were going to that caught my attention. I configure my facebook feed to notify me of announcements by certain active friends and certain arts institutions in the area.


12. and RunBlogRun: Rio Olympic Coveage
I wrote three Olympic-themed articles for the Rio Olympics which is a tradition for me since track and field and the Olympics are a beat of me, so my work load and demand spikes every two years. In fact, I got contacted through LinkedIn to contribute to a radio station in Saint Louis this past July that never panned out. One article was about the quest for the four-minute mile which was meant to span the entirety of mile records through recorded time, but ended up being edited by the people above to focus on the quest to break the four-minute mile. The second was about the first American Olympic team to the Athens Olympics and I got to the Library of Congress to research this. The last one was just some feelings I had after watching a week of watching Americans dominate in track and field. I was extremely lucky to sell that the next day for RunBlogRun.

How I got the Link: During the 2012 Olympics, I tweeted out to Mental Floss on Twitter (after applying) that I never heard back from him, and he was looking for Olympic coverage right then and there, so I got into Mental Floss Magazine. Four years later, they redirected me to TodayIFoundOut.


13. RunBlogRun: Interview with the World's Foremost Olympic Historian
In the run-up to the Sochi Games, I decided I was going to interview David Wallechinsky who had written the definitive and most-quoted historical reference texts to the Olympic Games. As an Olympic junkee, I owned both his complete history of the Summer and the Winter Olympics and decided it must be easier to track down an Olympic historian than, say, Michael Phelps. The first time I talked to him, I found him not just amenable to speaking, but I also found his story behind the story (how exactly he got around to writing these books) more interesting than the story itself which is the jackpot. I pitched this around in 2014 and it wasn't until 2016 that I actually got around to getting someone on board this story after making contact with Run Blog Run. I interviewed Wallechinsky in a shopping mall with a tape recorder pressed against the receiver on speakerphone and the volume turned on max so his voice could carry through the mall muzak, and it worked.

Link: This was turned in pretty recently and hasn't made it up yet

14. Northern Virginia Magazine: Arlington's Other Cemetery
Arlington is famous for Arlington National Cemetery, but there is also another cemetery in Arlington with an interesting history. Columbia Gardens Cemetery was initially founded in 1917 to receive the overfill of Arlington Cemetery, but that plan never came to fruition. Instead, the cemetery remained in private hands with one family continuously serving as the caretaker for four generations. This particularly family goes back nine generations in Arlington County and has a history that is even intertwined with Robert E Lee.

This was another article that took several years to realize. The article was originally researched in 2013 and pulled because the original subject of the article was nearing retirement and didn't want the status of the cemetery publicized. When I called a couple years later, the new cemetery caretaker was actually welcoming of publicity as she was planning for the 100 year anniversary. I also got an assist from a local cemetery historian who gave me a tour.

How I got the gig: The story came about with a suggestion from a job counselor and the fact that the cemetery's 2013 caretaker lived next door to my parents (and the house that I used to live in), and I was vaguely aware that he had a strong local connection.

Link: Gotta buy the magazine. I'm on page 10 of the January Issue

15. Washington Post: Street Scene of Bolivian Food
Bolivian food has had an uphill battle marketing itself to Northern Virginia residents because their food is so different to American palates. In contrast, Peruvian food sells very well despite their being fewer Peruvians in the area. I decided to pursue this in an article around 2015 for Northern Virginia Magazine and found some interesting conclusions when I went to a particular restaurant owned by an extended Bolivian family and learned their story.
The story never materialized because of the lack of a newsworthy angle and NVM was looking for more of a trend beyond a single restaurant. A year later, Washington Post was looking for stories for a feature called "Street Scene" that was more about a scene piece than a newsworthy peg. My story fit in here better.
Unfortunately, my story is currently in flux as any conflicts of interest are being vetted out (I did work for a real estate firm that has a connection to someone at the restaurant).

How I got the gig: I attended a dinner with a couple of Washington Post editors and we all went around the room and talked about story ideas at which point I had some stuff that was pretty fully formed. I also bought some pitches along on paper that I handed to an editor.

16. DiMaVi Realty. Black Acre & Jobin Realty: Real Estate Writing and Research
#15 seems like a good segue to bring me to some of the commercial work that I've done. I did real estate work for three different firms this year, doing a lot of research, biography writing or property listings and blog work and the like.

One of the links: