The Making of a Cooking Show!

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I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant when Matt Straus pitched a cooking show to my partner Jasmin Aldridge and I in early September. He told us he wanted to write and star in a cooking show revolving around a spice of the month. Though I am known to watch the Food Network in any spare moment I may have, I was nervous to actually film a show that revolved around the preparation and cooking of a meal. How is a cooking show filmed? What b-roll should we shoot? What should the set look like? There are many technical issues that could occur which became the root of my anxiety. However, after meeting with Matt and realizing how enthusiastic he was about this project, my fears instantly dissolved. A few days later I printed out a hard copy of the show’s script and knew that the show would turn out okay.

I left the script and meal preparation for Matt’s own development and I worked on all the other logistics. I found a location for the shoot in the kitchen of a friend’s house. After receiving the script, I went through it and looked for any continuity problems and made sure Matt’s show would be entertaining and never dull. I set up the shoot and was the main shooter. I was very happy when Jasmin showed up with a second camera.

In my opinion, though production elements are important in a show, the storyline is the driving force behind a show’s success. I felt Matt brought a good idea to the table and implemented his cooking skills properly into the show. Viewers are actually able to learn cooking techniques just by watching the segment. This show has the potential to help teach undergraduate students the cooking skills they will need once they are out in the “real world.” He also presents his meals in a fun and classy way, so even students who are looking for ways to entertain their friends while in college can do that as well. The show has the potential to appeal to all ages and to people at all cooking levels.

Episode 1 of “Matt Straus is…The Spice Smuggler” was a learning process for us all. I now know I need to use stable shots and more b-roll would enhance the show. For example, when shooting the food in its finished form I will aim to have a zoom on the image and a solid background so that it can be used anywhere in the show. I also want to show all the ingredients at the start of the show, if possible. I found little editing errors in the final product which I will learn from as well. However, overall I am satisfied with Episode 1 and I look forward to producing the next episode.

What’s next? I plan to promote his show through Facebook events, twitter postings and premiere episode parties. Matt hosted the first episode premiere party and I plan on hosting the next. At these events Matt will make sample dishes for attendees to try and to hopefully be inspired to make their own meals after watching the show! I also hope to have Matt try some vegetarian dishes for the growing population of vegetarians that are making their way on Duke’s campus. We are aiming to shoot at least one episode per month and will feature a new spice on each show! The next spice is a secret so keep checking back here and on Facebook to see what Matt smuggles next!

Want to watch the first episode? Check it out BELOW:


Review: Jeff Storer’s intimate Middletown

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Even in Middletown, where ordinary residents craft static lives, you will find interesting characters paired with an intriguing story. Will Eno, who wrote the play currently in production at Manbites Dog Theater, exhibits the ability to transpose the lives of ordinary folk into a meaningful plotline. In a town with very little to do, Middletown residents have a lot of time to contemplate life and the cosmos: big dreams and aspirations are juxtaposed with sometimes harsh and sometimes subtle realities.

The play focuses on the developing relationship between neighbors Mary Swanson (Madeline Lambert) and John Dodge (Thaddaeus Edwards). Both characters are compelling to watch and their conversations stay engaging as they find some comfort in each other’s presence. Their neighboring houses lie upstage and the audience can peer into their lonely lifestyles through the windows. Winding through the main storyline, a series of vignettes showcase other residents’ encounters, giving the audience a deeper understanding of Middletown life through reflection, connection and irony.

Directed by Jeff Storer, Duke Theater Studies professor and artistic director of Manbites Dog, Middletown has an interactive style as the characters break the fourth wall and come alive in the audience right before intermission. The librarian (Duke Dance Professor Barbara Dickinson) and the local drunk Greg (Chris Burner) provide comic relief in their stories and interactions. Greg often harps on his childhood, delivering one of the many heart-wrenching lines in the play, “I was someone’s golden child.” Just like the rest of the residents, Greg looks back on his youth and wonders if he could have done something differently to affect his future.

The conversations heard in Middletown may ring a familiar bell. The townies explore the issues we are often too embarrassed to voice aloud, addressing questions about the purpose of life and what it would be like to die. Middletown stresses that no matter who we are or where we live, our lives are more interconnected than we may think. Its dynamic characters seem to ask one all-encompassing question: aren’t we all trying to find clarity in this complex world we live in? As the play suggests, we all experience the same road in the beginning and in the end, though each of us goes down different paths somewhere in between.

New Boyz Plays a Game with Me!

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 The New Boyz performed at Duke’s “Heat Wave” concert at the beginning of the school year. Since I am the Entertainment Producer for Duke Student Broadcasting I jumped on the opportunity to talk with the explosive music duo New Boyz (comprised of Ben J and Legacy). Luckily, I had seen their performance on “America’s Got Talent” and knew of their music for some time, but as any interviewer should do, I heavily prepared for my interview with the duo. After their YouTube video for “You’re A Jerk” went viral in 2009 (warning uncensored version), the duo released their debut album titled “Skinny Jeanz and a Mic.” Fast forward to 2011, New Boyz are still going strong blending their hip hop roots with different musical genres such as electro, R&B and alternative rock. Their sophomore album came out May 17, 2011 and is titled “Too Cool Too Care.” Their second single off that album “Backseat” has sold over 1 million digital copies to date and became the duo’s third top forty hit. Now more popular than ever, “Better With The Lights Off” featuring Chris Brown is blowing up the music scene everywhere.

After waiting for over 5 hours for my interview, I walked into the green room nervous and excited to meet the duo. The New Boyz were very friendly and open and graciously waited while my partner and I set up the equipment. Part of New Boyz group’s motto is: New Boyz do new things. Therefore, I decided to be creative with my interview with the group. Luckily, they were receptive of my interview surprise and you can see for yourself:

Summer at MTV News

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Over the summer I ate, slept and thought only about MTV News. I absolutely loved my summer internship in New York City. I was given responsibilities and opportunities to learn and explore. Because of my summer internship, I’ve developed a passion for writing and especially for blogging. Even after coming home from a full day of work over the summer, I would find myself writing my own blogs and staying current on popular culture. MTV News was infused in my blood.

At first, I wanted to write a detailed paper about my summer internship at MTV News for my Internship Course credit. I learned so much over the summer and it would be pretty easy to write 20+ pages about my summer. However, I have come to the realization that there is still so much to be learned. Part of the reason I loved interning at MTV was because I learned something new and different every day. I learned all different facets of the MTV/Viacom industry from the digital, legal, creative and press. Of course, the other reason I loved the internship was because I was able to gain hands-on experience with production and writing for entertainment news.

Instead of just recounting my experiences at MTV News, I decided to continue with the knowledge I gained from the summer and develop my own blog applying the tools I learned from my internship. This is why the majority of this blog will be postings about behind-the-scenes shoots, television reviews and entertainment events. I will also be posting videos I helped produce (develop, shoot, edit, etc). I want to expand on the knowledge I gained and build my own site. However, this blog wouldn’t feel complete without a posting dedicated to my summer internship. In the next few paragraphs I will provide an abbreviated blog of my summer experience at MTV News.

I was able to actually contribute stories to the various MTV blogs on the website. I wrote an article reporting on Bruno Mars’ Today Show appearance that over 10,000 people have read to date. MTV News was able to secure press clearance for me and I would attend the concert and stand in the press area (which sometimes meant a great view). Additionally, I spent a whole day writing a blog about two of my favorite subjects, Britney Spears and dance, and it was actually posted on MTV’s interactive website. Besides reaching a large part of the general population through the MTV site, blogs also impact the celebrities that the articles are written about. I worked with one of the other interns on a blog in the form of the game “Would You Rather.” I was really excited to pitch and write this blog and it was really rewarding to see that the actress Katie Cassidy read the article and tweeted about it! I also attended the screening of “The Myth of the American Sleepover.” The movie was really interesting and I was able to speak to the director after the movie and talk with some of the audience members to get their reactions. Afterwards, I wrote a review of the movie. In total, I wrote over 20 blogs for MTV for the Newsroom, Hollywood Crush and Movies Blog pages. Each blog had a different style so it was fun learning how to cater my writing style for each blog.

Let’s admit it. There are many, many perks when you work at MTV. After all, it is the entertainment hub of New York City. Josh Horowitz, a MTV reporter, has a hilarious show called “After Hours” where he features movie stars doing silly stunts. I was able to participate in four memorable “After Hours” skits. Elijah Wood came to our office and appeared in an “After Hours” segment. I was able to watch the shoot and “act” in a scene with Elijah which was really a great experience. I attended the Danny McBride “After Hours” shoot while he was doing a press junket for his movie “30 Minutes or Less.” Josh Horowitz changed his format and did a mock talk show. For this shoot, there were four cameras and tons of equipment. It was a large task getting that equipment around, we had about 12 crew members with us and it took multiple trips to transport the equipment. I learned all about production management at the shoot as I observed room changes, pizza orders, car services, setting up an extensive set, etc. It was incredible to experience.

Additionally, I helped out with the Harry Potter press junket at the Waldorf-Astoria. I helped set up cameras and lights. I also helped to mic the actors. Since I was the designated “mic girl” I was fortunate enough to talk with each interviewee and help them with their microphone. Ultimately, this led to me falling head over heels in lust with the unsuspecting Neville Longbottom…aka Matthew Lewis. He was tall, had beautiful eyes, carried himself well, and totally won me over with his British accent and charm. Besides this heart-fluttering experience, I thoroughly enjoyed working the press junket. It was really cool setting up an empty room into an interview-appropriate room. We were able to scan the room and figure out what would look best and than did a lot of mix and matching till it was just right. It was also awesome watching Josh Horowitz conduct his witty interviews and play the popular “American Talk” game (currently it has over 600,000 views). Lastly, I was able to witness an “After Hours” shoot, and press junket, with one of my favorite actresses – Anne Hathaway. She is beautiful in person and I was able to help set up and watch the interview! I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience a press junket as well as the other amazing “After Hours” shoots.

Another memorable experience I had involved the “MTV: First” shoot with movie star Chris Evans. The producer for the shoot had me look through tons of past Chris Evans interviews and footage to see if anything was of “interest.” I came across an interview from 2000 of Evans dressed in this outdated tracksuit, acting very silly and immature and talking about his role in Not Another Teen Movie. Evans, now a superhero (star of Captain America which hit theaters on July 22) would be embarrassed by that footage and I told the producer, Matt Harper, about the sound bites. He thought they were interesting and we cut it into a little clip. The MTV: First with Chris Evans segment aired on and Evans watched himself back in the 2000 interview – the interview that I picked out and brought to Harper’s attention. Evans laughed at how ridiculous his outfit was and was mildly embarrassed… my mission was accomplished. It was really rewarding. It was also cool to set up the shoot for this segment – it was really elaborate with three cameras. One “iso” on Evans, one two shot, and then one camera panned on an elaborate dolly-like tripod with Evans in clear vision and superhero figures in blurred images.

I also got to help out on a segment called “Opening Act” this summer. I attended interviews with Matt and Kim, J. Cole and NeedtoBreathe. Morgan (the other intern) and I researched questions for Vaughn Schoemaker to ask and it was so rewarding when the musicians were asked our questions. I helped with audio, setting up the camera, timecoding and paraphrasing the interview to use in the edit. We also took pictures and emailed them to MTV to put up on their Facebook. As you can see, MTV is very multi-media and interactive.

I also learned how to use a camera and shoot interviews. I really did get hands-on experience at my internship. I shot various MOS pieces and gathered and interviewed various people to talk with. I helped produce the MOS pieces for the Watch the Throne segment, the Harry Potter final movie review and the Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony split opinion video.

Another educational experience involved the weekly live steam MTV News produces called “Rapfix Live.” MTV Host Sway interviews different rappers each week and the show is streamed live on the website. I helped out with the shoot every week and had various responsibilities. For example, one week I was the twitter point person and I chose viewer questions to post on the television screen for the artist to answer. I learned how to work the audio equipment and manned the audio board for two different shows. This meant I had to make sure Sway and the guest’s audio levels stayed within the appropriate ranges. The interns also set up the set (from audio, lights, cameras, set design) and took it down.

I’m sad my internship is over with MTV News, but I’m overwhelmed with the incredible opportunities I had this summer. However, the moments that I will forever remember are not the daily duties and tasks that I worked on no matter how amazing they were, but the conversations I took part in with people around the office and building. MTV has always been my favorite network and has made such an impact on my life. I enjoyed every moment working inside the MTV building that I always had admired from afar. I’m so thankful for my summer internship.

Coca-Cola Surprises Duke with its Happiness Vending Machine!

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Coca-Cola surprised Duke University with its Happiness Vending Machine! Students and staff were able to put in a dollar and see what surprise would be personally delivered to them! I got a box of candy. Some people got a litter of soda, a COOKIE CAKE (that said “Go Duke!”), 6 additional sodas, tattoos, a water gun, and an apple pie. I spent about 30 minutes being entertained by this machine and the crowd reactions so I decided to film a few vending machine reactions for the rest of the world to enjoy! Where will the machine stop next??

The Show Will Go On Rain or Shine…Delta Rae Music Video

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Though Durham isn’t exactly know for its film and television, the growing city continues to surprise me with all the amazing opportunities that arise. On September 17, award-winning director Lawrence Chen (Duke c/o 2008), Duke’s own cinematographer Steve Milligan and Freewater productions produced Delta Rae’s first music video. I was fortunate enough to tag along on set and experience my first ever music video production. At this point I can’t reveal specifics of the shoot, but I can tell you that the music video featured Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River” . The music video was shot in the woods of the historical Duke Homestead. Though it wasn’t as creepy of a location as you may think, it was raining, freezing and uncomfortable outside. However, in the words of showbiz, the show must go on!

I learned a lot on set of the music video working as a production assistant. Now I’ve always been a fan of music videos. I grew up watching MTV’s “Making the Video” and today I always strive to learn behind-the-scenes information on music video set and productions. This shoot was a dream come true for me to actually experience the music video shoot from bare grounds to a dressed set. I learned about all the little details the shows and publicists leave out. For instance, because of the rain we all had to make sure the outlets stayed dry at all times and the lights remain covered. We were also using a generator and had to ensure that stayed dry underneath a tent (which had to be aesthetically covered by trees). Generators also require gasoline, so I had to run out and purchase more for the shoot. Safety is most important on set and these are the little details a production assistant must take care of in order to ensure a safe environment for all.

There was an extremely large group of extras on set and one of my roles was to ensure the extras were being taken care of (fed, hydrated, as well as safe). The dancers had to do numerous takes time and time again. One of my friends, Spencer Paez, was in the ensemble and I asked him how he felt the music video shoot went. Spencer wrote to me, “In this sort of performance it’s important to remember that the dancing is not the focus. Our part was supportive of Delta Rae’s. I had worked on film sets before this, so I was used to a lot of what went on and variations of other things. But I was reminded of the importance of meticulous preparation and a positive attitude. The corrections, adjustments and number of takes all require these two elements.”

This is the type of experience I yearn for, the type of experience that calls for a large crew, ensemble, set and requires extreme effort. It’s a beautiful thing when all elements of production blend together on a project. The hard work on the camera operator, the director, the creative director, the production assistant, the cast and ensemble (and more) merge to make a masterpiece (hopefully). I am sure the shoot will result in an amazing music video. I am so thankful I was able to be a part of such an extraordinary shoot.

Till next time,

Danielle Genet

FOX’s “New Girl” Markets, But Doesn’t Sell

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There are a lot of new and exciting shows premiering this fall. September premieres range from Pan Am (September 25 on ABC), The Playboy Club (September 19 on NBC), Unforgettable (September 20 on CBS) and The Ringer (September 13 on CW). Simon Cowell’s The X Factor (September 21) will make its American debut on September 21 on FOX. Also sure to score in ratings is the return of season 13 of Dancing with the Stars (ABC September 19), the third season of Glee (September 20 on FOX) and the highly anticipated Two and a Half Men premiere with Ashton Kutcher taking over as lead character Walden Schmidt (September 19 on CBS). If these shows aren’t enough reason to forever veg-out on your comfy couch with an extra large tub of buttered popcorn, returning fan favorite sitcoms, reality shows and competition shows will make their full force debut in September as well (and yes, Survivor will be returning for its twenty-third season in case you had any doubt).

Television networks competing for ratings and for the next hit show isn’t anything new. However, something that is different is FOX’s marketing approach to their new sitcom “New Girl.” Since September 6 and up till the pilot’s premiere on September 20th, the first episode of “New Girl” is available for free on iTunes, Hulu and Though the network realizes pilot ratings may be low because of the free online preview, they hope word of mouth and online buzz will help the show overall. I used this opportunity to get a jump-start on the series. While I do reward the network for taking this risk, “New Girl” failed to make the right first impression it needed to succeed.

The strength of a successful show lies in the character development. The lead actress of “New Girl,” Zoey Deschanel, has a strong fan following thanks to her roles in the films 500 Days of Summer, Our Idiot Brother and Elf. However, in her starring television role, her quirky character seems to be all over the place in the pilot episode. Deschanel plays the role of Jess, a young female who moves in with three random males after being cheated on by her boyfriend. One moment she’s the wacky girl burning her hair off, wearing overalls and bursting out in song and the next she’s giving advice on how to woo the ladies to her roommates. Even with the tagline “simply adorkable,” character inconsistency is one of the weak points of the show. Stronger character identity must be improved as this is one of the most important aspects to keep an audience tuned in.

The other main issue I have with the pilot episode is the lack of a stable plot line. Liz Meriwether, writer of the screenplay for “No Strings Attached,” put her writing chops back to work for “New Girl.” The show bounced from one issue to the next. There’s no denying fast paced sitcoms are entertaining and popular and FOX is known for its quick timed shows. However, they are only popular when the material is coherent. The bouncy plot may arise from the various personalities of the three male roommates who don’t seem to mesh well together just yet. However, I only saw the first episode and character development and plot line may just take some time to flourish.

New Girl” has a lot going for it already. It will air in the prime post-Glee spot at 9 PM and both shows cater to similar audiences. “New Girl” has a lot of buzz already and it will be interesting to see if this show can gain some momentum after it’s unique and risky marketing campaign. Though the show has flaws, I still am rooting for this new comedy. I think Zoey and the cast will be able to pull through.

Till then,

Danielle Genet


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