New Jewel Kilcher album's cover


"For the follow-up to 2003's 0304, Jewel first ducked into the studio with a group of Nashville pros to self-produce a new, folky, Pieces of You-style album. But she didn't like the results, so she rerecorded the entire thing with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo, who gave her introspective songs a slick sheen. In a matter of weeks, the pair reworked every cut live, overdubbing only percussion, for what would become Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, her new album out May 2nd." -- Rolling Stone

This seems to be the vogue at the moment -- rerecording whole albums within a few weeks. It shows discipline and an understanding of your own material and what works. I was one of the three people who loved 0304 and I'll no doubt love this too. [previously]

Band Name

Music Is is possible that a band name can transcend the music they're no doubt recording?

Blogger's Blogs of Note Blog.

Blog! Blogger's Blogs of Note Blog. With archive. [via]

Jack and Condoleezza

News "US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said she has no problem with people protesting during her two-day visit to the north-west of England. In Liverpool on Friday evening she was greeted by dozens of anti-war protesters. One was later arrested for breach of the peace in the city centre." -- BBC

Erm ... are Jack and Condi up to something socially? Watching them together on the BBC local news much earlier being interviewed, frankly they looked like a couple and a new couple at that. Not only did they stand with their hands clasped in front of themselves identically but there was also a moment when the interviewer asked them something about the visit being an embarassment and they laughed, in unison, in the same way. They were also doing that thing which couples that don't want to be recognised as couples do which is stand just close enough together to signal their affection but don't touch each other -- and it's really about the way they're not touching. I know it sounds crazy but you just watch...


Kat Murello

Kat Murello is a background artist in film and television working out of New York. I've been reading her blog since the turn of the year and its become one of the few I try to read every day. It does everything you'd want a blog to do. It's entertaining, kinetic and edgy (in a nice way) and the reader really feels as though they're seeing through a window into someone else's world -- as well as getting some of the inside track on the entertainment business. I wanted to make sure I got an interview before she became too famous to talk to the likes of me...

Do you prefer background artist or extra? Or are they two different job descriptions?
Background Artist and Extra are the same thing. Many actors prefer Background Artist over Extra, however I don't have a preference either way. It is what it is - we are moving wallpaper no matter what you call it.

How long have you been working as a background artist?
I've been pursuing a professional career for about 15 months full time. I was able to gain SAG elegibility within 6 months of fully committing myself to the industry so I am very proud of that.

Tell me a bit about your background.
I am a Maltese-American. My family moved around a lot from when I was very young. My father died when I was two and my mother had a hard time raising myself and my sister and brother so we moved probably about 4 times a year. I'm told that probably helped me build character and resiliance. I've always had a passion for theater, literature, and dance - those things were always my solace when my home life was crazy. I used to be big in the rave scene back in the day, now I'm more of a pub person. I love dogs. I recently gave up dairy - that's been a bit of a struggle. What else? I am deathly afraid of spiders.

How did you get into acting?
Ever since I was a little girl it's what I always knew I wanted to do with my life. Acting, dancing, performing in some capacity.

What was your first job?
My first real job was as a counter girl at an ice cream stand. My first acting job was as a performer at Universal Studios Florida.

And when did you first work as a background artist?
A few years ago I saw an ad in my local paper looking for women with wedding gowns. I sent in a photo and booked the job. It turned out to be for Will&Grace.

Was it a good set?
It was amazing! They filmed in Central Park in NYC. It was a beautiful day and I found it very exciting. After that I decided that I needed to pursue acting full time. I spent the next couple of years putting my ducks in a row to have finances set so that I could give it a shot. You don't make very much money in the beginning.

What would you say is the best set you've worked?
Definitely working as Jessica Alba's Stand-In on Awake (due out this summer) was by far the best. It was a long term booking and I learned so much from that experience.

Can you say what was the worst?
I probably shouldn't do that!

Do you discriminate about the kind of job you do or are you happy to work on any project?
I am thrilled to book any type of work, however I really don't enjoy doing "club scenes". Sometimes the male Background Actors forget that we are just working and they start acting like they are out at a real club. I think you get the idea.

Do you prefer working in film or television?
Film, definitely.

What differences are there between the two types of work?
With television (to me) it seems like there is a much more regimented consistant way of working. There is a formula to the program and it generally follows that formula and doesn't stray from its path too much. With film, because it is something fresh and unfamiliar, there seems to be more opportunity for creativity and different ideas. If you are able to be up close you really get to see more of the creative process.

I've heard that there are some shows which employ background artists on a weekly basis in much the same way as their leads -- is that true and would it be something you'd be interested in?
Yes, they do. There are many "regular" cops on the Law & Order franchise and I know a girl who is a waitress in a particular restaurant on a soap opera so when they film scenes there she is called in to work. I wouldn't mind something like that although I would prefer to do Stand-In on a regular basis - that is more the type of work I am interested in.

You've talked somewhat on your blog about literally rubbing shoulders with the leads. When you mentioned that Adam Sandler had introduced himself the other day he really went up in my estimation. Are they all as friendly as him?
Many are! Terrance Howard and Vincent D'Onofrio were incredibly friendly. So was Michael Imperioli from The Sopranos. Catherine Zeta Jones is very nice. I've had the opportunity to talk to many of the leading actors and actresses on sets. Of course, there are some that are not quite so nice. The rumor that you are not allowed to look some of them in the eyes is true - but seems to mostly be the rule for leading females.

Now that you have experience is there anything you wish you could change about the industry?
I would definitely make it more selective on the lower scale - meaning the background casting. Sometimes you get on a set and there are people working who are just extremely difficult and it can be frustrating. People need to realize that they are just doing a job like anyone else - whether it's acting, serving burgers, or doing accounting. There are way too many self important people on set at times and they forget it's just a job and that their job is to be a blurry color in the background.

I once worked as an extra on a British film -- it was a low budget thing about a school boy with magic soccer boots and voluntary -- we were paid in meat pies and chips. Something I noticed was how long it took between set-ups and how much standing around was required. What are your coping mechanisms?
Meat pies and chips? YUM! I have worked for the same sort of compensation myself in the past! I enjoy the whole process of setting up between shots so if I am doing Stand-In then I am on set and I can watch everything being put together. If I am hired as Background I bring my headshots and mailings and work on those or several books to occupy myself while in holding.

Why did you start blogging?
Over the summer when things really started to pick up for me I decided to start writing about my experiences because I wanted to be able to look back on things and remember them. I wanted to be able to recall the emotions I felt. When I discovered that people were actually reading it and getting something out of it - that's been really interesting. Now my blog has kind of evolved into more of a release. I don't talk about my career in my personal life. My friends and family know I am an actor but that's it. My blog gives me a chance to say things that I would feel uncomfortable talking about in regular life because I don't want my excitement to be interpreted as boastfulness. I just write it down and let it go. But also... I've met a lot of great actors from all over the world thanks to blogging. We are a great support for each other, cheering each other on.

It's an excellent thing, really entertaining. You seem quite understandably to want to stay pretty anonymous on the blog -- but have there been occasions when you have been approached by anyone on set who's been reading?
I had tried to keep anonymous because I was worried that what I was writing about would be taken as very self absorbed. But it's gotten to where I feel like the regular readers of my blog know where I'm coming from and I've slowly been introducing more of my personal life. I've linked my MySpace page there and things like that. And yes, I have met people who read my blog and then realize they know me. They send an email and we connect that way. It's fun.

What are your ambitions for the future?
As long as I can make a living doing what I love then I am happy. Not be be dramatic but the truth is that I can't believe where I am considering where I've come from in the early part of my life. And everything I've ever wanted to achieve in my life I have done... so anything that happens to me now is just the cherry on top. I've booked speaking roles and featured parts in films that are due out this summer so I feel like I am not in the wrong business - I'm moving forward, progressing upward. The background work finances my acting career, gives me the advantage of picking and choosing the days I work so I can fit in auditions and such. Every day I am thankful and amazed to be doing what I do. It's a wonderful feeling to love your job and want to go to work every day.

Will you continue to pursue your stage career?
Absolutely! This summer I am going to be playing Velma Kelly in Up In One's presentation of Chicago at The Center For Performing Arts of Rhinebeck. It's my dream role. Life is delicious!

Thanks Kat.

Kat's blog is magickat. Her myspace area is here and she's also listed at the imdb.

Receiving a jolt

Film I read this article this morning and then heard these quotes this afternoon during a film screening. For some reason I got a jolt:
"Give her Americanism? Teach her about America? John Paul Jones, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Edisson, Mark Twain ... when things got tough for those boys they didn't run around looking for an 'ism'. Lincoln said 'With malice towards none and with charity to all.' Nowadays they say, 'Think the way I do or I'll bomb the daylights out of you.' "

"He says that most people nowadays are run by fear - fear of what they eat, fear of what they drink, fear of their jobs, their future, fear of their health, they're scared to save money and too scared to spend it. Y'know what how present version it? People are commercialised on fear, you know they scare you to death so that they can sell you something you don't need..."
The reason I received a jolt is because they seem to be speaking about the now, but they're from Frank Capra's film You Can't Take It With You which was released in 1938, just before World War II and during the depression. I once attended a film course where the running joke was that all films are about Vietnam. That's not entirely accurate, but it does bespeak the idea that the very best films (as with all the best art) either thematically or here through dialogue, tell us as much about our own time as that in which it was made.

Unknown White Male

Film At the opening of the incredibly fascinating Oscar-nominated documentary film Unknown White Male, an Englishman walks into a police station near Coney Island and tells a startled police officer that he doesn't have any recollection of where he is, or more importantly who he is. The only clue to his background is the name and telephone number of someone scrawled on a pink slip of paper folded into a Latin American phrase book. As the narrative unfolds we discover that the man's name is Doug and that he has suffered from a condition called the fugue state, a type of memory loss, that leaves the patient without the ability to remember anything before the moment that they realize that they actually have amnesia. A true life Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film traces the story of Doug through his faltering first steps being reacquainted with his family and friends and rediscovering the world around him. Perhaps fearing that, what he would later describe as the 'accident' would happen again, Doug kept a video diary of these early few weeks and it's quite unnerving to realise that this perfectly normal, functioning human being knows less about the world than you do.

It's interesting that he seems more inclined to describe the visual - on meeting his father he talks about the yellow t-shirt which the old man wore for the first few days they were together again. Only later, when this footage recedes in favour of the material shot by his friend and director Rupert Murray does he talk frankly about how, what to him is a totally new world, makes him feel. Cleverly, the fragmentary editing of this opening section which intermixes the video diary point of view shots of hospitals and streets and Doug's own photography of details, help to create the impression of what it must have been like for the man in these early stages, not really being able to consciously link anything together. Slowly these give way to a much more conventional style as the film becomes as much about Murray's reaction and attempts to understand his old now new friend all over again.

This makes the film feel pleasingly authored - since the person making the editorial decisions is connected to the subject it makes the film seem more personal and therefore empathic than those films created by journeyman documentarians in whose detachment can make the work clinical and reasoned. It also stops the film from having the 'freakshow' element that many of these documentaries can include. Which isn't to say the film doesn't question the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of the condition and its causes. In meticulous detail a doctor presents quite a dense explanation for how the human memory works and these interviews don't dumb-down the science in a sensationalist way. Like a detective story, they offer evidence of Doug's circumstances and simply add to the mystery of how the 'accident' occurred. One of the tensions that Doug must face is that at some point his memory will return and neither he or anyone else is sure whether the old version of him, with that personality will somehow return as well or if they'll be integrated into the new him.

The most compelling aspect of the film are the interviews with friends and family as they note the changes which have occurred in Doug and his reactions to them. The impression I came away with is of a man who has been given a second chance, who has gone from being quite a blokey character to someone who is more soulful and in-tune with his feelings (an impression underpinned by the inclusion of old home movie footage that show fragments of who he was before). I thought it was interesting that all of the friends featured from his home in New York were women, but back home in London his old friends were blokes (who ultimately seem quite frustrated that he doesn't remember any of the sports he cherished before). It fundamentally questions the nature of friendship since everyone from his 'former life' somehow has to justify their connection to him - it must be hard to care about someone when they don't remember why they should be caring back.

My favourite moment is in one of the montage sequences which charted how he re-experiences the world. Doug's out in the snow for the first time and his scooped some up in his bare hand (it's New York snow so it's light and fluffy). He works the stuff into a ball and then as it crumbles though his fingers, he works whatever's left tighter and tighter until it's turned to ice. "Oh I get it!" He exclaims without a hint of that adult cynicism we all develop because we want everyone to think we know everything.

After a screening at the Sundance Film Festival, the film was accused of being a hoax, or at least that Doug is faking his condition. Watching the film I'm fairly well convinced that neither is the case. Doug would need to be acting a part as would everyone else being interviewed in the film. Even hoaxes tend to have moments which feel constructed whether it be someone trying to over convince the viewer or situations which feel set up or seem just a bit too insincere. I didn't see any of that at all. What I saw was a newly confused man trying to make his way in the world.

Really it's an excellent thing that will be a great night out when it goes on limited release from the 7th April, with screenings at FACT Liverpool 25 & 27 April.

Television Without Pity

TV Here's something I'd never thought I'd see. Television Without Pity are posting Doctor Who reviews. These are suitably droll and funky with references to US shows, TWP running jokes and wierdness surrounding the insertion of ad breaks.

On Rose: "The music continues to go crazy as Rose runs down the stairs on the outside wall of her block of apartments. Then London is crazy and bustling, and Rose gets off a bus, and we pan past a bunch of mannequins, and Rose works at Henrik's, and finds it boring. Maybe it would be more fun if they just called it "Harrod's," but I think on British TV that would not be allowed. Man, can you imagine if there were no product placement on American TV? Willow would have been doing her shit on like a Smac and everybody would be listening to iGrods. Every time Rose is in there, actually working in the shop, the music goes to a tinny, quiet radio sound, and when she's gone, it comes back real again. Very effective. Davies said, "The most important thing about Rose is that she works in a shop," which I love, because there's a way in which that's true, even though in the whole series she actually works in a shop for about ten seconds total. She meets her boyfriend Mickey for lunch, they laugh and have such fun, they tease each other, they make out, he does a little dance, it's all still quite frenetic and British, they get up to leave, and Rose says again, this time to Mickey: "Goodbye." "

On The End of the World: " "So tell me, Jabe. What's a tree like you doing in a place like this?" Heh. Jabe says that she's there to show respect for the Earth, which is maybe the best character point of all, because of what Rose says later about how there's no one left to give witness to her passing. Jabe's so complex and delightful, being able to manage this as simultaneously an art exhibit, a network opportunity, and a sacred and meaningful farewell to the place we all started. The Doctor asks if she's not really there for the networking, and she admits that there's a certain necessity of having to be seen at the right occasions, "in case [her] share prices drop," as the Doctor says. "I know you lot. You've got massive forests everywhere, roots everywhere, and there's always money in land." Talk about a hate-on for the multinationals. Dude, Doctor. Remember 1990 in America when everybody got so ecologically-minded that the whole country was bored with it by 1992? From my understanding, the whole multinationals argument was the same thing in the UK, around that time. Which is kind of where Russell Davies lives. He's a great storyteller with the timeless themes, and this show makes me cry a lot, but his references and grudges are...similarly timeless. Not that they're not important, it's just weird."

It's actually fun to find a fresh perspective on stories which I know so well. For the uninitiated, TWP post a weekly synopsis/review for a range of US tv shows across the networks, and has been a saviour to me in the past for catching up when I've missed episodes of The West Wing. Updated weekly.

Poor Customer Service on Buses

The Buses I've just got on what feels like the last bus home. I put my pound coin in the tray and look at the driver.

Me: Student please.
Him: Have you got your student card?
Me: Oh.

He's vigilant. I reach into my wallet and pull out my card I hold it up to him. He eyes it. Then eyes me.

Him: You're not in Manchester now.

He's a bit sarcastic.

Me: What? Oh -- I'm a student in Manchester but I live in Liverpool.
Him: But you're not a student in Liverpool are you?

Now he's just being patronising.

Me: Yes, but every other driver I've shown this to has accepted it.
Him: It's an agreement between us and Liverpool universities.

He's glaring at me. I feel about two inches tall.

Me: Oh ok. I wasn't trying to pick a fight. So how much is the fare between here and Ullet Road?

By now he's not even looking at me.

Him: It's an agreement between us and Liverpool universities.
Me: Yes, right. So how much is the fare between here and Ullet Road?
Him: £1.40.

I pay him the money. If I am in the wrong, fine. But really there's no need to treat someone like they're dirt just because they aren't sure of the rules. It's not really the cornerstone of good customer service is it?

RSA Lecture about the BBC in the North, with Mark Thompson

TV Unfortunately, as promised, the RSA lecture I attended about the future of the BBC in the North with Mark Thompson is now available online, including the Q&A, so you can hear how accurate my recollection was. In fact, those of you with broadband can hear it quicker than I can with my dial-up so please feel free to tell me how bad you thought my questioning skills where and even worse the sound of my voice. Here's a direct link to the mp3.

Shakira as 16-Foot Statue

Music "Singer Shakira will be honored with a 16-foot iron statue placed in her home city of Barranquilla, Colombia. The 5 ton statue was designed by German sculptor Dieter Patt. Reportedly, he was inspired to create the statue after meeting her when she was on a concert tour." -- Bill Lamb from About. Just when you think ...