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A Culinary Journey into Middle Earth

the-hobbit-moutains-wallpapers_31953_1920x1080December is and always will be the month of Middle Earth. For over ten years now, my winter breaks have been marked by regular cinematic ventures into the world of The Lord of the Rings. Between each installment of the LOTR trilogy, Decembers were when my family and I would sit down and discover the extended editions of the films and all the accompanying appendices. Each December since, I’ve made it a tradition to watch all three extended editions over the course of the month, often in one long weekend. Of course, this December was extra special with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The weekend after I went to see The Hobbit in Regal Cinema’s RPX RealD 3D HFR (all the bells and whistles save for IMAX), I sat down at home (with my much more modest screening system) to continue the story where it picks up 60 years later. Of course, I needed some fuel for the journey. With a kitchen stocked with Trader Joe’s items and a little imagination, my menu was set.

photo 1Breakfast

Potatoes and onions from the Greenhand farm in The Shire and the freshest eggs to be found-scrambled-which were traded for a heaping pile of mint. The egg dish was served alongside fried bread with a modest amount of butter spread over its crisp surface and a fresh pot of apple tea, a black tea that was just the thing on a cold December morning.


photo 1-1Second Breakfast

A quiche made with spinach and Bamfurlong mushrooms packed quite nicely. The mushrooms, I’ll have you know, were acquired quite rightfully from Farmer Maggot in the Eastfarthing. The grain for the bread from the Sandyman mill right in Hobbiton. Another cup of apple tea made with boiled water from a mountain stream accompanied.


photo 2Afternoon Tea

Crisps, nuts, and waxed cheeses for ease of individual consumption when traveling-though I admit to eating all three in one sitting. The cheese and the butter for the crisps were both, of course, from Tolman Cotton’s farm and the nuts-a rare delicacy in The Shire-were imported via a series of trades originating with the Easterlings. A third cup of apple tea-why not?


photo 4The Evening Hours

During this first day’s journey into Middle Earth-the two subsequent days featured somewhat more modern fare-the remnants of afternoon tea largely satisfied my appetite. I did have a few sweets-caramelized sugar pressed between two thin biscuits-but what really hit the spot for me was hot spiced mead, which I drank out of my grandmother’s clay goblets. Amber in color, richly floral in scent, with just the slightest bite for that little pick-me-up.


photo 3Of all the things I had this day, the warm mead was that delight that felt most like coming home. While I had intended to make mulled wine with a variety of spices-cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and star anise-I stumbled across Chaucer’s Mead in the wine section of Trader Joe’s: “Elegant wine made from 100% pure honey” which came with its own packet of spices. With a $10.99 price tag, it was an indulgence worth taking.

I imagine The Green Dragon and The Prancing Pony serving something just like this elixir…by the pint.

Meeting the Challenge

Earlier this year my employer, Column Five, gave me and two others the great opportunity to work on a project free of many of the typical constraints I as a producer have on a day to day basis. No set guidelines, no lengthy approval processes, and no budget. Now, none of these are outright impediments to creative work. On the contrary, any one of them can spur innovation. You work with what you have and you always come to bat with the goal of  knocking it out of the park. In fact, some of the time not having any parameters can be just as anxiety-inducing as having none at all. Shakespeare gave himself rules for his sonnets; would anyone argue that any of the 154 of them weren’t creative? Parameters are your friend. In cases such as these where there weren’t many to begin with, we made them up as we went along, letting the data and a shared design sensibility inform our visual representation.

The data came from market research giant, Nielsen. Along with The Economist, Nielsen offered a “Data Visualization Challenge” through InnoCentive, an organization that offers a platform for organizations to pose”challenges” for potential “solvers.” Given that data visualization is at the heart of our organization, the team at Column Five was excited to meet this particular challenge. I joined forces with one of our incredible designers and a very skilled developer in order to transform a spreadsheet of data on global advertising spending into something that looked great and would be insightful and enjoyable to navigate for users. The interactive graphic that resulted from our efforts is here.

Today, I’m pleased to share that out of hundreds of submissions, our work was chosen as one of the seven finalists! We are so grateful to InnoCentive and of course, Column Five, for the chance to collaborate on what was largely a blank canvas in order to create something that we hope people will enjoy exploring and perhaps inspire new ways of thinking about our world and the vast amounts of information flowing from it.

You Could Make it Plainer

No, we’re not odd, its true
No fam’ly could be saner
Except one uncle who…well, maybe let that pass
In all you say or do
You couldn’t make it plainer
You are your mother’s daughter; therefore you are class

-Maurice in “No Matter What” from the Beauty and the Beast, the Broadway musical

I understand the impetus to write new songs for musicals based on animated films. Sometimes it’s necessary to expand the singing portion of the production. At other times it’s in order to solve an issue posed by the dramatic structure.

For this song, the creative conversation probably involved the desire to not only give Maurice a song, but to solidify his emotional connection with his daughter before they are separated. However, the song feels like it delays the plot rather than advances it. In addition, the film dialogue it replaces is remarkable for its casual tone. It’s a conversation that could have happened any day. Belle encourages her father by saying she’s always believed he’ll “become a world famous inventor” and Maurice expresses his love for his daughter telling her not to worry about not having someone else she can talk to because “this invention’s going to be the start of a new life for us.”

By making the characters literally profess their sanity, “No Matter What” has the effect of protesting too much. Exploring each other’s eccentricities isn’t the point of the scene, rather it is to present their unconditional love for one another. For this father and daughter to conjure the issue of social acceptance into song here seems unnecessary given the clarity and strength of their relationship which could be conveyed in a much better way as evidenced by the film. If this dynamic was in question, then perhaps the song would be more appropriate since the intended effect of song in a musical is to give voice to that which cannot be spoken. Instead, “No Matter What” draws attention to insecurities that are likely not so deeply rooted as to merit a melody.

Mostly, I just wanted to say that last line isn’t likely to catch on as an affirming adage for young women.

Husbands and the Wild West of Web Series

“…you’re peeking at a future-of TV, of America.”

-Ira Glass of This American Life as prominently displayed on the homepage of Husbands

If you haven’t been watching Husbands, a web series created by TV vet Jane Espenson and Brad “Cheeks” Bell, I am not only open to forgiving you, but I will wait all of the  30-ish minutes it will take you to watch the first season and the first two of three episodes of Season 2 which have gone live up until this point in time. Done now? Okay, great! Fresh, charming, more jokes than you can handle in one viewing, right?

The reason I might be open to forgiving someone for not seeing Husbands until now is that in many ways the web is still a bit like the wild west when it comes to web series staking claim to audiences. There are lots of pioneers, some, like Husbands that have become more successful than others, but getting settlers from the east to come and take up permanent residence in your new territory can be challenging.

Unlike television, an ever-present fixture in the living room-the modern day equivalent of the burning campfire, the sprawling, multi-faceted nature of the internet does not possess the same capacity for discovery of new material. There is no direct equivalent for channel surfing on the internet, no TV guide to browse, no built in seasons-times designated for the debut of new material. If web series is the new television-and indeed there is much evidence to support this-how can we make it easier for people to find web series they might like?

There are countless ways one can find a web series today, through various social networks, word of mouth conversations, YouTube spirals, news articles (if the series is lucky) but if someone wants to wholly embrace this burgeoning medium as a substantive form of entertainment, the first step shouldn’t be so difficult. There is certainly movement toward a comprehensive experience-Web Series Channel comes to mind-but it’s still in a nascent stage. I think a more radical change is needed. For web series, it’s in creators’ best interest to carve out new shared territory where mutual discovery benefits all.

Right now, the best way to finding new web series still appears to be following the careers of your favorite artists and the recommendations of those select few individuals whose artistic opinion you value most dearly, but the collective and individual successes of web series will necessitate a substantial evolution of the platform. With Husbands already bursting the seams off the medium with a digital comic on the horizon, its trajectory-along with similar successes like The Guild-will  have a significant bearing on where others will go. Simply an exclusive channel for web series already seems like it would be inadequate.

It’s clear that the medium or platform through which stories are told will continue to become less significant than the stories themselves. As the public becomes more comfortable with cross-media storytelling, more storytellers will expand westward seeking out the next frontier of audience experience. Build a good story, and they will come; we should do all we can to help them find the way.

If you need more of a Husband fix before the third and final episode of Season 2, you can check out several behind the scenes videos here, one of which includes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by yours truly. I use the word “cameo” loosely-I’m eating lunch in it-but meal time is really important during a long day on set.

Film Viewings 2011

As I went to compile this list of films I saw in 2011-my fourth annual since Kj helped inspire me to start in 2008 (Click through for 2009 and 2010)-I looked back on last year’s post which began with “This year marked a dramatic decrease in the number of movies I screened compared to last year.” I fully expected this year to continue the downward trend, but I actually saw nine, yes, a whole nine more films in 2011 than in 2010.

“Do I not like going to the movies anymore?” I’ve often asked myself. I still do, certainly, but my qualifications for going have perhaps become more rigid: right time, right people, right movie. Also: Oh, to not have class or a thesis to write.

I still relish my Seattle days when I could walk to two major movie theaters within five minutes. That said, there’s a part of me that also misses being able to hop on the A train down to Times Square and see a Broadway show for $35 (or better, free) as a student. Now? At the moment, I live in suburbia, not quite as fulfilling in terms of entertainment options. Most of the movies I see, I do so from the comfort of my bedroom.

Will this change in 2012? Probably not, because…as of next week, I will be graduating to my first HDTV and Blu-ray player. Will it be world changing? Probably.

Disclaimer: The list you see before you and the “awards” reflect only those films that I have seen, different from your list and those of critics.

Total Films Watched in 2011: 75 (Note: the last film I watched in 2010 is the same final film I watched in 2011-TRON: Legacy-the first year in the theater and the second at home.)

Average per Week: 1.44

Films Seen in Theatres: 10

Most Frequent Cinema Companion: Kj (4 movies)

Film Watched Twice: Sleeping Beauty 

Top Films of 2011 (New/In Order of Viewing):
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
X-Men: First Class
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Most Disappointing Films of 2011:*
Cars 2
Attack the Block

*Disappointing because of heightened (or even in the case of Cars 2, lowered) expectations or the typical quality of the talent involved in each production.

Viewings 2011
*denotes theatrical viewing

Mars Attacks!
The Muppet Movie
The Great Muppet Caper
The Tempest*
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
How to Train Your Dragon
Beauty and the Beast
High School Musical
Sleeping Beauty
High School Musical 2
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
17 Again
Dune (1984)
The Lion King
Song of the South
The Social Network
Peter Pan (1953)
Peter Pan (2003)
Through a Glass Darkly
Sleeping Beauty
Gnomeo & Juliet*
127 Hours
The Three Caballeros
Walt: The Man Behind the Myth
Jaws 2
Jaws 3-D
Jaws: The Revenge
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Edward Scissorhands
Sherlock Holmes
Treasure Planet
The Blind Side
Hot Tub Time Machine
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The King’s Speech
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
The Pixar Story
Toy Story 2
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Black Cauldron
The Phantom Tollbooth
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2*
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Father of the Bride Part II
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
X-Men: First Class
The Addams Family
Addams Family Values
Captain America
Cars 2
Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Attack the Block
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Super 8
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows*
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn*
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol*
TRON: Legacy

It Gets Better

This is just wonderful. I am so happy The Walt Disney Company and its Cast Members have made this effort along with The Trevor Project to make a difference in people’s lives by sharing these deeply personal stories.

It does get better.

Happy Birthday, Walt!

“Somehow I can’t believe there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true.”

Born in Chicago December 5, 1901, Walter Elias Disney would have turned 110 years old today.