Cliffnotes: Uncharted terriTORI

20 06 2010

While waiting on line at a book signing for uncharted terriTORI by Tori Spelling (Donna, Beverly Hills 90210), I finished half the book.

It wasn’t that I was bored or anything. I was standing with some great people (hi, Lindsay!) and seething with jealousy at the girl who came wearing a Donna Martin Graduates shirt and a Beverly Hills 90210 pocketbook.

It’s that the book is that easy to read. The conversational tone and style comes as no surprise to someone who has read both of Tori’s prior books, sTORI telling and Mommywood. You breeze through them in part because you feel like Tori’s talking to you and in part because you’re on a journey, Tori’s journey.

sTORI telling took you through Tori’s life as far back as she could remember up to about 2008. Mommywood overlapped slightly but continued telling the story of her life with a focus on the major new task she faced: parenting two children. And uncharted terriTORI invites you into the next phase of Tori’s life, the uncharted territory she ventures into as a wife, mom and businesswoman.

What I noticed as I was close to finishing the book and thinking about what I would write on TDW is that, unlike other times I review books for TDW or plan to look at them in a scholarly way, I did not mark it up. There were no notes in the margins, no sentences underlined and no words circled. I couldn’t figure out why. It’s not as if the books are delicate masterpieces. Was it because they were by Tori Spelling, an actress from my all-time favorite television show? Quite possibly.

And then I realized I didn’t mark up Candy Spelling’s book Candyland either. It reminded me just how god-like I consider Aaron Spelling, the man largely responsible for creating the teen drama genre. I associate Candy and Tori with him, him with Beverly Hills 90210 or Tori with Beverly Hills 90210 and the show with him. No matter how you slice it, The Spellings are a family I feel indebted to.

It’s no surprise then that my favorite parts of uncharted terriTORI were reading about Aaron, Candy and Tori’s brother Randy. As I had in the past, I cried reading about the deterioration of Tori’s relationships with her mom and Randy, her reflections on what was and what they had become.

Of seeing Randy for the first time in two years, Tori writes, “I looked at Randy’s hands: they were hands I’d known for most of  my life, I knew them so well, but I didn’t recognize them anymore. Did his hands change in two years, or had I forgotten them? We’d been so close. We were best friends. Then life went a certain way. It made me sad.” I realize that I have a not-entirely-healthy feeling of investment in this family, but if your heart doesn’t break reading that, you might want to make sure it’s not made of stone. Thankfully, as the title of the next chapter implies, the physical reunion that night was “the start of something.” I hope that something never ends.

Tori, Candy and Randy’s reunion that night takes place inside the Spelling Manor at a Christmas party complete with men dressed as toy soldiers, a Santa Claus and candy room. I never tire of hearing about the mansion, and that’s even after spending a great deal of time pouring over Candy’s descriptions of it in her book. But no matter how vivid the details, I still cannot comprehend it. I’m not sure what it says about me that one of my dreams is to one day see it in person, preferably at a Candy-hosted party. But I digress…

I cannot mislead you: discussion of BH90210 is few and far between, with sporadic references along with a few continuous pages on Tori’s current relationships with some of the cast. As little as there is quantity-wise, there is a lot of quality and I am fighting the urge to reprint everything she said. That, of course, would not be fair to Tori — you should buy the book if you want to know it all! — but I will share some parts. There’s the quote I posted earlier this week, “working on 90210 was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” and, as teased on the book’s inside jacket, the “I Hate Tori Club.” Now it’s not entirely clear to me that this is an actual “club” in which the BH90210 castmates actually partake, but the phrase is used to demonstrate Tori’s realization that many of her former co-stars have serious beef with her. Referenced are the entire (young) original cast with the exception of Douglas Emerson (Scott) and the inclusion of Tiffani Amber Thiessen (Valerie). It’s sad and surprising to read.

“Why did they all hate me?” Tori writes. “I was the sweet one. If it was high school (which it pretended to be and in so many ways was, I’d have been voted most popular.” At first I found this to be rather cocky and hard to believe but then I remembered what BH90210 writer-producer Larry Mollin told me in our interview: “She became a very good actress and a lovely person. Whereas all the kids kind of got jaded about the show, she always came in ‘Where’s the new script? I can’t wait to read it.’ Lovely, lovely gal. A trooper. We had some great times with her. Really well-liked by everybody. She was a trooper.” (Emphasis mine.)

What changed? I couldn’t begin to tell you. And I’m not sure Tori can either. “It was so weird,” she writes, “when we were in high school we acted like grown-ups, but now that we were grown up, it felt like high school. I thought it would be a good idea for us all to go down to the Peach Pit and talk it out over some sodas–that if is Nat, proprietor of the Peach Pit, didn’t hate me too.” Maybe that meeting will happen eventually (but probably not at the Peach Pit). In the meantime, I was comforted to know that Tori isn’t entirely alone in the BH90210 universe. She cites Jennie Garth (Kelly) as her “sole defendor.” (She also shares, in a different part, that Jennie introduced her to the word “wootle.” But I am definitely not defining it here. Read the book!)

I think we, myself included (especially as I repeatedly try to get interviews with anyone and everyone from the show), forget how deeply personal and life-changing their experiences together were. While I don’t think Tori quite forgot, too, she did experience a bit of a wake-up call. When she sees a doctor in hopes of determining the cause of headaches that have continuously plagued her for years, the doctor wants “to know what happened ten years ago when they started.” Tori writes, “Not to be melodramatic, but I gasped. I knew exactly what had happened ten years earlier: 90210 had ended. Being on the show was the only life I had known for ten years, starting at age sixteen. I went in a girl and was expected to come out a woman. In some ways I did. But it was also kind of like being pushed out of the nest and expected to fly with no safety net. My headaches had emerged then and never gone away.”

Of course, there’s so much more to the book than discussion of the Spelling family and Beverly Hills 90210 but it’s clear how interconnected everything is and you realize that the way family and work impacts all facets of her life is not all that different from the way it does ours. I think we tend to envision celebrities as living a life of leisure. We often forget that they have bills to pay, families to care for and businesses to run. In fact, Tori’s struggles are struggles we all face: the challenge of balancing work and pleasure, the insecurities that come with trying to be the best mother and wife you can be, the stress of earning a steady income, the pressure to be considered beautiful. I’m not going to pretend that Tori is just like me but there are universalities, commonalities to the issues she deals with.

But one of the things Tori and I have in common actually isn’t so universal: a dislike of the tabloids and gossip industry. Much of America relishes the lies those publications, both print and digital, spew, without realizing that they are in fact lies. I love that Tori had the guts to admit how the fabrications and sensationalism made her feel, how they impacted her life. I think if more celebrities came forward and directly addressed it — yes, going against the “all press is good press” and the “if you ignore it, it will go away” mentalities — we’d all be a lot better off.

But back to Tori: another aspect I love about all three of her books are the sections of glossy pages featuring personal photos. I love putting faces to names and seeing snapshots, literal moments in time, featuring the people we’ve heard so much about. Of course, watching Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood is helpful for that as well and may make some of the photos as well as the stories (like the cross-country RV trip) redundant.

But seeing those family photos, learning with such ease the behind-the-scenes of the life of Tori Spelling, realizing you deal with some of the very same issues, you can’t help but finish the book feeling like you know her. The Guncles are your Guncles, Mehran is your gay husband, Dean is…well, nevermind. You feel like you know Tori Spelling and you’re a better person for it.

In her dedication Tori writes, “To everyone reading this book… Find your hope within and let it inspire you on your journey. Write your own happy ending!” Tori spends much of the book sharing how she learned that lesson and I think there are few things in life more worth knowing.

*****

The book signing I went to happened to be on the day uncharted terriTORI was released. I left Gossip Cop quite early in order to make it back to Long Island and about 30 minutes northeast of where I live to the book store that was hosting the signing. I had been there once before, circa 2004, for a signing with Nicholas Sparks and his brother Micah. I didn’t know how many people to expect but I recalled that at Sparks’ signing, there was an area for everyone to sit as Sparks read a passage and the brothers took questions and the area wasn’t that big. I concluded that Tori’s signing would be similarly set up and similarly attended. Boy was I wrong.

I arrived about an hour before the event’s scheduled start, and thought I would have time to kill. To my surprise, there was already a line out the door. Inside, I saw that the line snaked much of the store’s perimeter and a cashier told me people had started lining up at 1pm, a good six hours before the signing was supposed to start. Damn, I thought. I promptly purchased the book and joined my mom on line. I spent the next three hours intermittently chatting with the people around me but mostly reading .

As the line slowly moved and Tori came into sight, I become paparazzi-like (lord, forgive me) and started snapping pics. We were not allowed to pose with her, but could have someone snap our photo as we handed her our book to be signed (my photo turned out pretty disastrous but what can you do?). We weren’t supposed to stop and chat either but, hell, I wasn’t going to listen to that. The 30 seconds I spent face-to-face with Tori were the fasted 30 seconds of my life. I can’t tell you what I said exactly — I honestly don’t remember — but I pitched her an interview and gave her my business card. And just like that, it was over. I walked down the stairs, surprised I hadn’t burst into tears but still needing to steady myself and catch my breath. My mom followed (she had gotten my copies of sTORI telling and Mommywood signed) and we left.

I think the smile is still plastered on my face.

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Cliffnotes: Wilm On Film

5 06 2010

**I received a promotional copy of Wilm On Film courtesy of StarNews Media.**

Whenever I’ve heard Wilmington, North Carolina referred to as Hollywood East, I’ve always chuckled to myself in a “yeah, right” kind of way.

After reading Wilm On Film: A Guide To More Than 25 Years of Film & TV Production Around Wilmington, North Carolina, I realized the joke’s on me.

Sure, I knew that two of our teen dramas, Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, were filmed there, as were a few dozen other productions.

Turns out, “a few dozen” is a gross underestimate.

(STARNEWS MEDIA)

The book, written by Star-News staffers Amy Hotz and Ben Steelman and edited by their colleague Jeff Hidek, recounts the history of the Wilmington film and television industry while also providing a fairly comprehensive guide to the hundreds of productions filmed in the area.

The book rightly calls itself an “easy-to-use-guide” and those were the first words that came to mind when I first flipped through the book. It is mostly sectioned by time period, with a break-down of several productions filmed during each. Each film or TV pilot/series is further broken down into plot synopsis, filming dates, notable cast and crew, key locations and fun facts under the catch-all phrase “did you know?”

As it turns out, Hollywood East is just one of the area’s nicknames. “Locals,” according to the book, “refer to it more endearingly as ‘Wilmywood.'” And it’s no wonder: a listing of some of the stars who have filmed there reads like a “who’s who” of Hollywood. Among the names trotted out in the introduction: “Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Martin Lawrence, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Dennis Hopper and the list goes on.”

Not surprisingly, the introduction also points out that “In 2009, The CW television drama ‘One Tree Hill,’ starring Sophia Bush [Brooke] and James Lafferty [Nathan], began filming its seventh season.” That is, undoubtedly, the area’s biggest current claim to fame. Skip down a bit, and the authors note “‘One Tree Hill’ stars often show up at charity events and festivals. Chad Michael Murray [Lucas], who starred on the series’ first six seasons, helped start a new Pop Warner football team for ages kids 11-15. Lafferty helped start a local American Basketball Association team called the Sea Dawgs.” The latter factoid I knew; the former I didn’t.

And that right there sums up the book quite well: there’s much that devout OTH and DC fans as well as film geeks will know but I found there are also plenty of gems as well. An example appears on the very next page. Linda Lavin (Sophie, aka The Nana, The O.C.) is apparently very fond of Wilmington, having filmed a television movie there in 1995 and “settling” there afterward. She is quoted as saying, “I could live in a lot of places, I guess, but this is where I’m home.”

The book is peppered with anecdotes, since “you’re hard pressed to find anyone in Wilmington who hasn’t worked on a set or been touched by the film business in some way.” But if you’re not interested in the production being discussed or a film geek or keen to learn quite a bit about Wilmington, you’ll find yourself skimming through the text.

With my eyes peeled for any and all One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek mentions, my skimming stopped on page 34 where I found one of those aforementioned gems. In the midst of an accounting of Blue Velvet’s production, the authors reveal that “while it doesn’t have the fan base of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ or ‘One Tree Hill,’ a steady stream of ‘Blue Velvet’ aficionados still calls [sic] the Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.” Reading this just a few days after star Dennis Hopper’s passing, I wondered if these calls would increase in the next few weeks.

Each of the time period-based sections starts by giving an in-depth look at a production, such as Blue Velvet (which marked 1986-1988, an “on the rise” time for the Wilmington film scene). The first that I closely read was the following section, “the boom years” or 1989-1992. Why? The child in me was giddy at the details provided about…wait for it…Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And bless that film, for “it also paved the way…[for] ‘Muppets In Space.'”

I read the next section’s opening quite closely as well. “A darker tone,” which accounts for 1993-1997, starts out by talking about The Crow, a cult film I was big on during high school. I can’t recall if I knew it filmed in Wilmington, but I never tire of reading about it, especially about the on-set death of the film’s lead actor, Brandon Lee. The section starts off noting, “Of all the movies made in Wilmington, ‘The Crow’ remains the most macabre” for this very reason. And the quote from Lee on the next page, “I find myself thinking, ‘What if I died and had a chance to come back?’ So many things seem so trivial and mundane. If you came back, they would seem so significant and bittersweet,” is incredibly chilling.

The next entry to pique my interest was also a cult film, but on the opposite spectrum of The Crow in tone: Empire Records, another film that I watched quite a bit during my high school years. I didn’t know this one was filmed in Wilmington, either. A few pages later, To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday caught my eye, as it starred Peter Gallagher (Sandy, The O.C.), making that at least two O.C. cast members to film in Wilmington.

The following section is aptly titled “teen invasion,” covering 1998-2002 and starting with six pages on Dawson’s Creek (though about half of it is comprised of graphics). They sum up the show quite well, pointing out “its hyper-sexual, super-wordy dialogue centered around four high school students in the small town of Capeside, Mass. — wannabe filmmaker Dawson (James Van Der Beek), sweet girl-next-door Joey (Katie Holmes), lovable scoundrel Pacey (Joshua Jackson) and new vixen in town Jen (Michelle Williams)” and astutely noting that “adult thoughts and emotions coming from teenagers…attracted many others to the series. In other shows, teens just weren’t that deep or complex” and “each week brought an hour long dose of teen angst, introspection and complicated consequences.”

To also be filed under the “I had no idea” category, they mention that “more than 30 teenagers gathered outside Wilmington’s EUE/Screen Gems Studios to protest the coming out of Kerr Smith’s character, Jack” in the show’s second season. It made this quote a few paragraphs later, from a 2003 Star-News interview with Jackson, all the more fitting: “I was used to working and I understood the requirements. I didn’t understand the cultural phenomenon it would become.”

The phenomenon idea was echoed by a Cape Fear Convention and Visitors Bureau staffer who notes that they received “hundreds of calls” during the show’s second season from people wanting to know where this-and-that were located. The authors note, “Film tourism had existed in Wilmington before ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ But the show was in a league of its own.”

Among the other interesting tidbits: Van Der Beek taught baseball at a local high school, Williams performed in a staging of The Vagina Monologues and Jackson once helped save two swimmers. Additional neat reveals came via photos, one of most of the cast at “a tribute to the show in downtown Wilmington after they wrapped filming of the final season in 2003” and another of a mural showcasing the core four outside the studios. It is noted in a later section that John Wesley Shipp (Mitch, Dawson’s Creek) starred in Port City, which filmed in Wilmington, and it is also noted that Barbara Alyn Woods (Deb, One Tree Hill) is in the flick as well.

During the Dawson’s Creek era, one of my favorite movies, A Walk To Remember, filmed in Wilmington. Not new information to me or surprising given author Nicholas Sparks’ predilection to set his stories in and film the big screen adaptations in southeastern coastal towns but now all the more interesting to me given that Bethany Joy Galeotti (Haley, One Tree Hill) is working on a musical adaptation of one of Sparks’ other novels, The Notebook.

The final section takes us from 2003 to the present under the title of “modern melodrama” and kicking things off with seven pages on One Tree Hill (again, about half are graphics). One of the main takeaways in this section is actually the legacy of Dawson’s Creek. “Coming so close behind such a successful show that was similar in so many ways,” the authors write about how some people felt during the transition period, “‘One Tree Hill’ might have a problem coming into its own. And when that notion was put to rest after the show went into its second, third and fourth seasons, it’s likely no one had any idea what was in store.” They then quote OTH creator Mark Schwahn after the season 6 renewal as saying “‘Dawson’s Creek’ is a huge, big wonderful show that when you come to Wilmington to make a pilot, you have this specter of this show looming over you, and it seems unattainable to go as long as they would.” One Tree Hill fans know the show has since accomplished more than Dawson’s Creek did in terms of number of seasons and episodes.

Like in the Dawson’s Creek section, they sum up One Tree Hill’s premise quite succinctly: “‘One Tree Hill centered on two-half brothers (Chad Michael Murray as Lucas Scott and James Lafferty as Nathan Scott) who pretty much hated each other. They competed against each other on the Tree Hill High School basketball court, in the dating world and in the family circle.” They note the retooling the show went through with its time-jump, explaining “In seasons five and six, viewers learned how the characters would make their ways in the world, the professions they would choose, the relationships they would commit to and all the mistakes along the way.” My only gripe is the errors in the following sentences: “Nathan became a semi-pro basketball player and slamball player who was finally called up by the Charlotte Bobcats. He would marry Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) and have a son, Jamie (Jackson Brundage).” Nathan married Haley and had Jamie before becoming a semi-pro player, slamball player and getting called up by the Bobcats. In fact, marrying Haley and having Jamie occurred before the time-jump, before seasons five and six.

Among some interesting choices: They explain the exit of Murray and Hilarie Burton (Peyton, One Tree Hill) after season six as them “[deciding] not to renew” when it isn’t 100 percent evident that that was the case. Additionally, there’s a photo of Murray with Bush and another of him with fiance Kenzie Dalton, and the caption notes how Murray and Bush were once married but he’s now engaged to Dalton, who appeared as an extra on the show. At first I thought it was unnecessary/irrelevant but then I recalled that many of the entries for other productions mentioned if so-and-so had a significant other in town with them or met someone there, where they were frequently seen, etc. As far as pictures go, throughout the book they managed to include all of the core 5–except Galeotti (Haley, One Tree Hill). But also included are Robert Buckley (Clay, One Tree Hill) and Amanda Schull (Sara/Katie, One Tree Hill).

As they did in the introduction, they note some of the local-but-outside-OTH activities the cast has done, including Burton’s Southern Gothic Productions, Lafferty’s charity basketball games and documentary For Keeps and Galeotti’s workshop of her musical version of The Notebook.

Burton receives three other mentions in the rest of the section: one in the notable cast and crew listing for The List, one in the notable cast and crew listing for The Secret Life of Bees, where it’s noted that Tristan Wilds (Dixon, 90210) also starred, one in the notable cast and crew listing for Provinces of Night (which has since been retitled Bloodworth) where it’s noted that Barry Corbin (Whitey, One Tree Hill) and Hilary Duff (Olivia, Gossip Girl) also starred. Another production listed, Remember The Daze, starred Leighton Meester (Blair, Gossip Girl). In the book’s final section on independent filmmaking, or “free spirits,” it’s mentioned that Billy Dickson, who has directed more than 50 episodes of One Tree Hill, created a webseries called IQ-145.

Of all the quotes included, I have to say my favorite might be one from Paul Johansson (Dan, One Tree Hill). He said, “[Wilmington] has so many split personalities. Is this a beach town or is it a historic town or is it an industry town? What is it? And that’s what keeps it interesting.”

And it was certainly interesting for me to learn about all that has happened in Hollywood East (yes, I’ve been converted), things that I clearly had no idea about before. As if my urge to visit Wilmington wasn’t strong enough before, this certainly put me over the edge.

Wilm on Film is available for purchase on Lulu.com.








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