April 28, 2011

Romance novels feature paranormal twist

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Relationships, Women at 12:10 am by dinaheng

The invitation to Avon’s Paranormal Party at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Los Angeles conjured up images of fun costumes, sci-fi fantasy talk, and some good food, so my sister Linda (a huge romance novel fan) and I decided to go.

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel ballroom was packed with convention-goers, some in fun costumes, but the talk didn’t take place around the food. Instead, fans stood in lines around the room to meet their favorite paranormal romance authors who were autographing books given away by the publisher.

Linda quickly chose a line, leaving me to fend for myself, so I grabbed a few of the authors to learn more about the popular genre. Glancing at the book covers, it’s clear that the supernatural has captured the imagination of readers ranging from teens to adults.

“Science fiction has been used as a metaphor for talking about things we’re not comfortable talking about directly,” says Melissa Marr, author of the Wicked Lovely young adult faery series. “My book ‘Ink Exchange’ is a story about addiction, using fantasy to talk about addiction.

“All my books are based in folklore that have been popular for centuries. I come from an Irish and Scottish family, and grew up hearing about faeries, ghosts, vampires and things that go bump in the night.”

Another popular aspect of the paranormal romance genre can be categorized as urban fantasy. Merrie Destefano likes to write a combination of fantasy, romance, mystery, and science fiction. Her second novel, “Feast: Harvest of Dreams” debuts June  28, is a story with new monsters.

The characters in the book are a cross between faeries and vampires, and harvest people’s dreams.  The idea came to Destefano one night when she was unable to sleep.

“I thought, okay, I can’t sleep… what if there were other creatures who can’t sleep?” Destefano says. “What would they be doing? The main character’s in the midst of the hunt. She’s slightly enchanted, and not horrified, by what she sees. She’s a survivor. I like strong women, and women are allowed to have roles in which they win in urban fantasy.”

One of the biggest reason fans love romance novels is the escapism.  My sister Linda reminds me that I was the one who gave her her first romance novel when she was 13, a book by Emilie Loring, a prolific romance novelist who had died in 1951, before either of us was born. Today, Linda’s the one who recommends romance authors for me to read.

“I started reading Harlequin Presents and Barbara Cartland, who wrote historical romances, then the writers and styles changed,” Linda remembers. “Romance started merging with science fiction, and you see a lot more paranormal themes. My favorites now are about dragons, vampires, and shapeshifters.”

In one of her series, author Pamela Palmer has created a world in which there are nine shapeshifter warriors who turn into different animals. In each book of the Feral Warrior series, the warrior meets his life mate, and they work together to keep the demons from rising.

“In society, we want our men to be kind and civilized, but in fantasy, it’s fun to think of a man who’s not civilized and can be tamed by love,” Palmer says. “I used to be an IBM engineer, so I’ve got a very logical, analytical mind that can think through the story. But I’ve always had an imagination and story to tell.”

As the party ends, Linda and I head out, arms full of new paranormal romance novels to read. It was great fun meeting some of the authors, and I know we’ll enjoy the party favors. After all, there’s one thing every romance novel reader knows…

Romance novels always have a happy ending.

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April 21, 2011

Becoming a star entails hard work

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Television at 7:37 pm by dinaheng

The walls of the Children’s Division at The Campbell Agency are lined with photos of smiling, talented youngsters who are vying for modeling and acting jobs in the Dallas metropolitan area and beyond.

In the world of entertainment, where representation is often key to getting a child an audition for television and film, modeling, or voiceover work, it all starts with impressing the right agent.

While looks and talent are primary considerations, a child’s personality and the parent’s attitude are equally important factors in the eyes of agents who are bombarded by applicants who want to be Hollywood’s next bright star.

“I think part of it is the glamour, or perceived glamour,” says Barbara Blanchette, who handles the broadcast side of The Campbell Agency’s Children Division. “People don’t realize how much work is involved in this business. They think, ‘My kid’s cute and can do this.’ But it’s a lot more than that.”

To be cast in a TV show or film, for example, children must have the willingness to make fun of themselves, do silly things, and be outgoing without their parents being in the room. They must be able to bring whatever qualities they have to the part, interact with adults, and be able to handle the rejection if they’re not chosen.

“When kids come in, I like them to do extra work on shows when it’s available so that they can see what happens on set,” Blanchette says. “It’s a long day, and doesn’t pay much. People don’t realize how long you sit around and do nothing. It helps them make the decision on whether this is something they really want to pursue.”

A huge factor in whether a child is signed by the agency is the parents’ personality and attitude.

“If the parents are hard to deal with, I don’t care how cute or outgoing the child is,” Blanchette says. “We have too much to do to deal with parents who are going to be cranky or send in an e-mail every day about their child. Their child is not the only child we represent. It’s even worse if the parents annoy the client.”

The Campbell Agency receives 250 child submissions a week for openings that occur only when a child drops out of one of the various age and ethnicity groupings, which ensure that each child does not end up competing against numerous others with similar backgrounds inside the agency.

“We go through everything that comes in,” says Diana Dyer, director of children’s print for The Campbell Agency. “With print, look is more of a consideration. We like to have a wide variety of ethnicities because that’s what advertisers want now. We want children whose personalities come across when you meet them.”

Outside of Los Angeles and New York, Dyer says Dallas is a huge print market, with many department stores and commercial work for products being shot in the city. Chicago, Atlanta and Miami are also centers for print and film work.

The Campbell Agency can electronically submit its clients for jobs in other markets, but concentrates most of its efforts on local opportunities.

What do clients want? When it comes to choosing models in fashion photography, Dyer says, size — based on height — is the biggest factor. For commercials, age is key.

“Generally, advertisers want kids who are older than the age group they’re trying to target for their product,” Dyer says. “For example, Hasbro might want eight to 14 year olds in their ads. We get submissions from everywhere, but because of the turnaround time, it usually doesn’t work unless the child lives here. People call today (for shoots or auditions) tomorrow, and the parent has to be with the child.”

On the broadcast side, the demand for child actors begins about ages six to eight, when kids can read a script, up through the teen years. Blanchette says there’s not much demand for the “awkward braces age,” but jobs pick up again at 16 to 18.

Even when a child is accepted for representation, there are no guarantees of getting hired. For those who do work, compensation can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars a year. The average income ranges from $2,000 to $12,000 annually, minus the cost of providing the agency with the child’s photos, which are used to market the youngster. The more a child works, the higher the income.

“One girl made over $50,000 at age five,” Blanchette says. “One child, at 18 months old, did a Pampers box, and every six months, we negotiate to keep using the image. That  child is now 10 years old, so if parents are smart and put the money away for the child, it can add up. Dallas is a smaller market to compete in, so it’s a great place for kids to build their  credits and resumes.”

Beyond the money, both agents say there are more important benefits that children who work in the field receive.

“It builds self-esteem,” Blanchette says. “Kids learn to get out in front of people for auditions, and it it makes them less inhibited. On a film crew or commercial set, they’ll have 50 to 60 people out there, and they learn to accomplish what needs to be done in a certain time.”

Dyer says on the print side, children learn to follow directions and work with adults, which helps them follow instructions in school. The better they do in school, the more likely administrators are to let the kids out of class to attend auditions or to do jobs.

“The children who do well are a little bit more mature,” Dyer says. “Most of our kids are straight-A students and do extracurricular activities. We don’t want them to miss out on things growing up, like a Valentine’s Day party at school or birthday party. We think it’s important for them to have that normality.”

When it comes to finding a reputable agency, Blanchette recommends checking with your city’s film commission or with the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles (www.sag.org). She notes that a legitimate agency should never charge for representing a child.

And one last piece of advice to parents…

“Let your child be your guide,” Blanchette says. “If they want to do it, back them wholeheartedly. But if you want to do it, then you do it, and leave your child out of it.”

April 17, 2011

Lifetime film has royal appeal

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships, Television, Women at 7:54 pm by dinaheng

When it comes to movies that appeal to women, Lifetime films focus on what matters most to their audience — stories that engage the heart about topics that viewers relate to.

The stories may be based on fictional escapades or real life dramas, but are told from a woman’s point of view, or center around women as the protagonists. Thankfully, the disease-of-the-week and victim-of-the-week stories are no longer standard fare.

This week, viewers who love romantic tales about princes and princesses will enjoy “William & Kate,” the story of how Prince William (Nico Evers-Swindell), second in line to the British throne, fell in love with his future princess, Kate Middleton (Camilla Luddington), the daughter of upper middle-class commoners.

The Lifetime Television Original Movie, which airs Monday, April 18 at  9 p.m. Eastern, will please romantics everywhere who are fascinated with the couple’s real life romance and who are sure to devour every detail of the royal wedding scheduled for April 29 in Westminster Abbey.

“Those of us who watched Princess Diana’s wedding will watch this movie,” says Tanya Lopez, Lifetime’s senior vice president of original movies. “ ‘William & Kate’ represents that for so much of America. It will be interesting to see if the next generation cares.”

Lopez says the decision to make a movie about the royal couple was made shortly after their engagement was announced last November. Frank Konigsberg, executive producer of the film, approached Lifetime with the project, which was quickly greenlit.

“We felt the romantic courting story would be dramatic in film,” Lopez says. “Women are interested in romance, and our fascination with princes and princesses is about that imaginary, dreamlike, wish fulfillment of having everything you want land at your feet. From ‘Cinderella’ to ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ we love the idea of ‘When will my prince come?’ “

Following “William & Kate” will be the first of six, one-hour episodes of the documentary series “Royal Wedding of a Lifetime,” which will examine the history of the couple’s romance, comparisons of Kate to Princess Diana, wedding fashion and cuisine, a preview of the event, and a look at the couple’s future together.

“I think women just love a good story,” Lopez says. “They love a romance as much as a true crime or escapist Nora Roberts fare. They want to be entertained, emotionally engaged, and told a good tale. We recently did a movie called ‘Craigslist Killer’ that’s a cautionary tale, and it was our most watched film in the last five years.”

Lopez, formerly a TV-packaging agent for ICM, says she grew up on television movies when mini-series events like “Roots” were popular.

“Lifetime is one of the few networks that believes TV movies are still a format that women love,” she notes. “Women don’t have a lot of time in their lives, which makes their viewing time precious. Everyone has different tastes, so that’s why we offer a variety, from true story form to the romantic.”

April 7, 2011

Find your ‘Lemonade Mouth’

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Television, Women at 4:04 am by dinaheng

Any film that has Debra Martin Chase as its producer is bound to have a message.

Fans of “The Princess Diaries,” “The Cheetah Girls,” or “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” franchises, which she also produced, know that her movies are also entertaining, uplifting and celebrate the real meaning of family.

Her newest Disney Channel Original Movie, “Lemonade Mouth,” premieres next week, Friday, April 15 at  8 p.m. Eastern, and looks to be another franchise hit. The film, about a group of disparate high school students whose love of music draws them together to form a powerhouse band, is based on the book “Lemonade Mouth” by Mark Peter Hughes.

“The story is all about believing in yourself, understanding that you have a voice, and that you deserve to be heard,” says Chase, sitting in her Burbank office. “It’s about the importance of friendship, and knowing that all things are possible. Woven into that is the message that everybody deserves to be respected, whether you’re a football player, a chess player, or a singer.”

These messages are shared through the relationships of a rich palette of characters. When Stella Yamada (Hayley Kiyoko), the rebellious new girl in town, finds herself in detention after school, she meets four classmates who are far from total deadbeats.

There’s Olivia White(Bridgit Mendler), a talented singer who must come to terms with an absent father; Wen Gifford (Adam Hicks), who hates his father’s new girlfriend; Mohini “Mo”  Banjaree (Naomi Scott), who’s caught between her immigrant parents’ expectations and her need to truly be herself, and Charlie Delgado, (Blake Michael), who’s trying to escape his older brother’s shadow.

While the movie is aimed at the 8 to 14-year-old audience, the challenges facing the characters are ones that everyone will relate to.

“Eight to 14 is when you’re finding out how complicated the world is,” Chase says. “You’re coming into your own as an individual, and figuring out that you have a voice. There are so many images kids today are bombarded with. The pressure at school is so much more, the pressure to look a certain way and the competition is so intense.”

As the five friends begin to express themselves through music, they urge fellow classmates to act when they don’t like what’s going on around them, getting them in trouble with a school principal who just doesn’t get it. As the students deal with a rival band, they have to face their own differences and personal dilemmas.

The film stays true to the book’s messages, but a few changes were made for the teleplay. Originally set in Rhode Island, the movie was filmed in New Mexico, and takes place in the southwest. One character’s twin, who died at birth in the book, is not mentioned in the film.

Like most Disney Channel movies, diversity is writ large in the casting, which strengthens the storytelling and appeals to a wider audience.

“Diversity is hugely important for the Disney Channel, and for me,” says Chase, one of the most successful African-American producers in Hollywood. “We were looking for the best talent, with an eye toward diversity, and spent three months in an international search for the kids. Naomi’s character Mo, in the book, is all Indian, as she is in the film. Naomi was in London and auditioned through a teleconference because we were in such a time crunch.

“Hayley (Kiyoko) was a find. We wanted one of the kids to be Latino or black. Blake (Michael) sent a tape in from Atlanta. The Disney Channel does big regional auditions from time to time, so someone had laid eyes on him. The script was written by a woman, April Blair, and we had a fantastic female director, Patricia Riggen.”

The group gels as an ensemble cast and as the rock band that becomes the voice for a  generation. More than 80 songs were submitted by top songwriters around the world for inclusion in the film, with 9 making the final cut.

Martin’s first “Cheetah Girls” movie was the first Disney Channel film to come out with a soundtrack, in response to requests from parents who wanted an album. The subsequent success of “High School Musical” and “Camp Rock” soundtracks helped to cement the popularity of musicals for today’s kids.

The producer says the songs in “Lemonade Mouth” clearly carry the messages of the film.

“ ‘She’s So Gone’ is an anthem about female empowerment,” Martin says. “ ‘Somebody’ makes me tear up. It’s tough to make movies that aren’t action or male comedy now. Everybody’s looking for the big tent-pole films. Making films about female empowerment is tough, but it could not be more needed than now.”