Oscar time? First, the independents have their spirited day


There's great pleasure in finding a low-budget, low-hype movie that is better than the big ones. Many -- including the remarkable "Winter's Bone" -- are at video stores; some are in theaters.  On Saturday, the night before the Oscars, they'll be nominated at the Independent Spirit award ceremony. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By MIKE HUGHES


For movie people, this is the big-deal weekend. At the
Academy Awards, everything – budgets, profits, salaries, hype – seems big; only
the dresses are small.


But it’s also the weekend to celebrate smaller films in a
smaller way. The Independent Spirit Awards, are 10 p.m. ET Saturday, on the eve
of the Oscars. “This was an amazing year,” said Patton Oswalt, who will host. “The
crop of films they sent me was pretty stunning.”


Those movies fit semi-strict standards. They have budgets
under $20 million, or came close. Most are made outside the studio system, but
studio films are allowed if they have “original or provocative” themes. Except
for one category, all are American-made.


The result, Oswalt said, “digs pretty deep in trying to find
movies that took risks and rolled the dice. It rewards people who are clearly
emerging.”


People like … well, Jennifer Lawrence, three years ago. Fresh
from a cable comedy, she was 20 and starred in “Winter’s Bone,” huge in quality
and tiny in budget ($2 million) and box office ($9 million). She and the film
were nominated for Spirits and Oscars. Neither won (“Bone” got two Spirits in
supporting categories); Lawrence was back last year in “Silver Linings Playbook,”
winning the Spirit AND Oscar.


Those awards do sometimes entwine. “Nebraska” and “12 Years
a Slave” are up for best-picture at both ceremonies. Their actors are nominated
in both; so are ones in “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Blue Jasmine.”


That means Matthew McConaughey could continue his awards
sweep. Last year, he won a Spirit for his supporting role in “Magic Mike.” This
year, his “Dallas Buyers Club” work has already won a Golden Globe and a Screen
Actors Guild, with a chance for two more this weekend


“He just kicked his career into this turbo level the past
couple of years …. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see it coming,” Oswalt said. “He’s
like the most vital, best actor … and he’s doing it on all fronts.”


But this isn’t about big names, Oswalt said. “My favorites
were definitely ‘The Spectacular Now,’ ‘Enough Said,’ ‘Computer Chess,’ ‘The
Act of Killing,’ ‘Nebraska,’ ‘Short Term 12,’ ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’”


And there will be fun. At first, Oswalt claimed that instead
of bird-like statues, he would give away real birds. “Little-known fact, they
were personally bred by Robert Redford. He breeds award birds.”


It would have been odd and provocative, sort of like many of
the movies being nominated.


n 
Independent Spirit Awards, 10 p.m. to midnight
ET Saturday, IFC (formerly Independent Film Channel).


n 
Best picture: “Nebraska,” “12 Years a Slave,” “All
Is Lost,” “Frances Ha,” “Inside Llewyn Davis.”


n 
Actress: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Julie
Delpy, “Before Midnight”; Gaby Hoffman, “Crystal Fairy”; Brie Larson, “Short
Term 12;” Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now.”


n 
Actor: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”; Matthew
McConaughey, “Buyers Club”; Chwetel Ejiofor, “Slave”; Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale
Station”; Oscar Isaac, “Llewyn Davis”; Robert Redford, “All is Lost.”


n 
Supporting actress: June Squibb, “Nebraska”;
Lupita Nyong’o, “Slave”; Sally Hawkins, “Jasmine”; Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale”;
Yolanda Ross, “Go For Sisters.”


n 
Supporting actor: Jared Leto, “Buyers Club”;
Michael Fassbender, “Slave”; Will Forte, “Nebraska”; James Gandolfini, “Enough
Said”; Keith Stanfield, “Short Term 12.”


n 
Director: “Nebraska,” “Slave.,” “All is Lost,” “Mud,”
“Upstream Color.”


n 
 Screenplay:
“Slave,” “Jasmine,” “Midnight,” “Spectacular Now,” “Enough Said.”


n 
More; see www.spiritawards.com.


The Bullochs make tough love seem kind of lovely



Feel-good television is kiRusnd of rare; fee l-good people are not. And the Bullochs tend to make you feel optimistic about the human race. Now the second season of "Bulloch Family Ranch" starts Wednesday (Feb. 26) on cable; here's the story I sent to papers 

By MIKE HUGHES


Julie Bulloch was a high school senior, working in the
guidance office that day. That’s when, she recalls, “this little, cocky
football player” strolled in.


She had a pleasant, rooted family in Lakeland, Fla.; he was
a tough teen who had moved around Alabama, before reaching Florida. They were
opposites … and, like in the movies, fell in love.


Now they’re married, with two kids, a granddaughter … and 33
young people who, at various times, have lived with them. “She’s super
compassionate and I tend to be the opposite,” said Rusty Bulloch, who manages
to hide his own warmth for a millisecond or two.


That’s at the core of “Bulloch Family Ranch,” a feel-good
reality show on a feel-good network (UP) that seems to fit the family’s
philosophy “There are good people everywhere,” Rusty said.


Especially at their home, where they raised two athletic
kids. Amanda did softball, basketball, cheerleading and more; Brodie
quarterbacked the high school football team to an 8-2 record.


What would happen after they left? “I was actually thinkin’
we’d be out of the kid business,” Rusty said.


Not nearly. When a teen and her mom had tension, they asked
if she could live with the Bullochs. That was 18 years ago and others keep
arriving.  “The maximum we had was three”
at a time, Rusty said.


Everyone lived by Rusty’s tough-love rules and everyone did
chores. “No one wants to clean the horses’ stalls,” Brodie said. “It doesn’t
smell good and it’s not exactly sanitary.”


These two opposites actually have some key things in common.
Both are big on God and hard work; Julie says she “grew up around horses” and
Rusty says he’s a “country cowboy” at heart.


He’s also a farrier (shoeing horses) and a football coach. That
last part has been a big jump for someone who admits he grew up around racial
bigotry.


Many of the guys staying with the Bullochs have been
football players, including some major ones. Bilal Powell, a fourth-round pro
draft pick, has started some games as a New York Jets running back; Claude
Davis also was signed for a Jets try-out, then was dropped after a marijuana
arrest.


That’s a reminder that life is complicated, “It’s an unending
love …. The door is always open,” Rusty said.


One of the previous guys at the ranch was jailed for
probation violation. In the season-opener, Julie invites his girlfriend and their
daughter to stay at the ranch.


Amanda Bulloch-Masek, who has a 3-year-old daughter and has
had three recent miscarriages, was startled by that. “To have someone move in
with a child that is my child’s age and she’s pregnant was very emotional and
very hard on me,” she said.


Rusty was surprised, too. “Trust me, at (51) years old, I
know why young people have children,” he said. “It’s very trying to go from (taking
care of) 18-to-22 year-olds to a 3-year-old.”


There are also two guys staying with them; there won’t be
any more for now, Julie said, despite all the attention TV has brought. “We’ve probably
had at least 150 children offered to us, as young as 6 and as old as 64.”


n 
“Bulloch Family Ranch,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, UP
(formerly Gospel Music Channel), repeating at midnight. Season opens Feb. 26.


The Bullochs make tough love seem kind of lovely


Many people haven't heard of Rusty and Julie Bullock ... or of the cable channel (UP) they're on. If they met them, however, they'd like them instantly; here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES


Julie Bulloch was a high school senior, working in the
guidance office that day. That’s when, she recalls, “this little, cocky
football player” strolled in.


She had a pleasant, rooted family in Lakeland, Fla.; he was
a tough teen who had moved around Alabama, before reaching Florida. They were
opposites … and, like in the movies, fell in love.


Now they’re married, with two kids, a granddaughter … and 33
young people who, at various times, have lived with them. “She’s super
compassionate and I tend to be the opposite,” said Rusty Bulloch, who manages
to hide his own warmth for a millisecond or two.


That’s at the core of “Bulloch Family Ranch,” a feel-good
reality show on a feel-good network (UP) that seems to fit the family’s
philosophy “There are good people everywhere,” Rusty said.


Especially at their home, where they raised two athletic
kids. Amanda did softball, basketball, cheerleading and more; Brodie
quarterbacked the high school football team to an 8-2 record.


What would happen after they left? “I was actually thinkin’
we’d be out of the kid business,” Rusty said.


Not nearly. When a teen and her mom had tension, they asked
if she could live with the Bullochs. That was 18 years ago and others keep
arriving.  “The maximum we had was three”
at a time, Rusty said.


Everyone lived by Rusty’s tough-love rules and everyone did
chores. “No one wants to clean the horses’ stalls,” Brodie said. “It doesn’t
smell good and it’s not exactly sanitary.”


These two opposites actually have some key things in common.
Both are big on God and hard work; Julie says she “grew up around horses” and
Rusty says he’s a “country cowboy” at heart.


He’s also a farrier (shoeing horses) and a football coach. That
last part has been a big jump for someone who admits he grew up around racial
bigotry.


Many of the guys staying with the Bullochs have been
football players, including some major ones. Bilal Powell, a fourth-round pro draft
pick, has started some games as a New York Jets running back; Claude Davis also
was signed for a Jets try-out, then was dropped after a marijuana arrest.


That’s a reminder that life is complicated, “It’s an
unending love …. The door is always open,” Rusty said.


One of the previous guys at the ranch was jailed for probation
violation. In the season-opener, Julie invites his girlfriend and their daughter
to stay at the ranch.


Amanda Bulloch-Masek, who has a 3-year-old daughter and has
had three recent miscarriages, was startled by that. “To have someone move in
with a child that is my child’s age and she’s pregnant was very emotional and
very hard on me,” she said.


Rusty was surprised, too. “Trust me, at (51) years old, I
know why young people have children,” he said. “It’s very trying to go from (taking
care of) 18-to-22 year-olds to a 3-year-old.”


There are also two guys staying with them; there won’t be
any more, Julie said, despite all the attention TV has brought. “We’ve probably
had at least 150 children offered to us, as young as 6 and as old as 64.”


n 
“Bulloch Family Ranch,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, UP
(formerly Gospel Music Channel), repeating at midnight. Season opens Feb. 26.


These are masterful times for "Masterpiece" producer


There really was a time when "Masterpiece" seemed to be wobbling. The underwriter had left and the British shows were becoming scarce; so were the viewers. Then a remarkable comeback began, peaking Sunday (Feb. 23), with the two-hour "Downton Abbey" season-finale. Much of that centers on Rebecca Eaton, now in her 29th year as the "Masterpiece" executive producer. Here's the story I sent to papers:



By MIKE HUGHES


At first, this might seem a tad off-kilter.


Here is Rebecca Eaton, the “Masterpiece” master, the person
who brings “Downton Abbey” and other classy British dramas to America. Now she’s
poolside at a Pasadena hotel.


Out of place? Not completely. “I learned to swim here,” she
said. “I had my junior prom in this hotel.”


She grew up as a California girl, even if she didn’t fit the
image. “I was reading about Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester when everyone else was
going to the beach.”


And then she found her place. She brings these fictional
people – Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice,” Rochester in “Jane Eyre” -- to the
U.S. Her show peaks Sunday with the two-hour “Downton” finale.


“’Masterpiece’ is 43 years old and arguably at the top of
its game,” Eaton said.


She’s been executive producer for 29 years, including slow
ones. Cable competed for costume dramas, the British quit making them, PBS budgets
never budged. “Masterpiece” wobbled … then recovered.


Eaton mentions the heroes of the comeback. Kenneth Branagh
kept doing “Masterpiece” films, including his praised “Wallander” mysteries … Gillian
Anderson brought her “X Files” popularity when she did stunning work in the
2005 “Bleak House” and as host ... and the British brought back an old favorite.


“The BBC was doing a bunch of Jane Austen’s works” in 2009,
Eaton recalled. The kid who read about Mr. Darcy became the grown-up who
combined old and new for a PBS package of all six Austen tales. It was the
ultimate package, she said – “cute guys, beautiful dresses, heartbreaking
drama.”


Still, the big step was “Downton,” a show rejected by
everyone, Eaton said – “even NBC,” which owned the producing company.  She said no, because she’d committed to a
revival of the similar “Upstairs, Downstairs.” Then “I heard Maggie Smith had
been cast. And Simon Curtis, who is a friend, called.”


Curtis, the acclaimed director of “My Week with Marilyn” and
the “Cranford” series, called to say this show (co-starring his wife Elizabeth
McGovern) seemed exceptional. “Masterpiece” joined the project, which blended
old elegance with new storytelling styles. It became “appointment viewing,” Eaton
said, setting PBS records; it also put a spotlight on everything else, from “Selfridge”
to “Sherlock.”


For Eaton, this seems like natural turf. “She has that gift
of enthusiasm and curiosity,” Branagh wrote in the preface to her memoir. And “she’s
had a big impact on the careers of a lot of British actors.”


In roots, she’s a Boston-born intellectual, with a
smattering of Broadway belle. Her father was a New Hampshire guy who taught
English literature at MIT; her mother, Katherine Emery, was a Southerner who
became a stage star and also did movies.


But in 1948, when Eaton was a baby, her dad became Cal Tech’s
dean of students; her mother did films for a few years, then stopped. “Being an
actress and stopping cold-turkey had to be hard on her.”


California wasn’t that easy for Eaton, a bookworm in a
bikini-beach world. She finally felt at home at Vassar and then during a summer
internship in London. “I truly felt I had to live there.”


Now she does, sort of. Living in Boston, she makes
occasional trips to California and frequent ones to London, for co-production deals.
There, she lives in the worlds of Darcy and Rochester and friends.


n 
“Masterpiece Theatre,” 9 p.m. Sundays, PBS
(check local listings). Two-hour finale Feb. 23; after pledge drives, “Mr.
Selfridge” starts its second season March 30.


n 
“Making Masterpiece” memoir, Viking, 2013;
$29.95.


 


A breezy route to Internet fame


When I chat with about my life, I might get the attention of two or there people (all of them related to me), tops. When Tyler Oakley does, he gets millions.

Oakley does it on the Internet. At 24, he's charming and instantly likable, perfectly suited for this age of instant stardom. Now he's one of the people in an intriguing documentary Tuesday (Feb. 18) on PBS' "Frontline." Here's the story I sent to papers:



By MIKE HUGHES


This is a new kind of fame game, built from “likes” and
“tweets” and such. And some people win big.


Meet Tyler Oakley, Internet star. At 24, he has 3.8 million
YouTube subscribers … and 1.9 million Twitter followers … and Facebook and
Tumnblr and Instgram and a solid income.


“It is a career,” Oakley said, but “it’s not a job. It’s my
favorite thing I could ever do.”


He’s featured Tuesday on PBS’ “Frontline”; so is Ceili
Lynch, a teen-ager in Mount Vernon, New York. On the Internet and beyond (as
Ceili Everdeen) she might put in four hours at a time, re-tweeting and
re-blogging anything about “The Hunger Games”; the lone reward is to be listed
among the top 100 fans.


They’re part of a savvy generation, said author Douglass
Rushkoff, producer of the PBS hour. They know “how ‘likes’ work, how to create
networks, how to build that, how to play this system.”


What they may not realize, he said, is how thoroughly they’re
part of companies’ strategy. “Advertising and marketing and public relations …
morph into this other thing.”


A decade ago, Rushkoff’s “Merchants of Cool” described how “street
teams” search for the cool kids to copy. Now that has vanished; the street is
the Internet and Oakley is one of the cool kids.


He’s fresh-faced and enthusiastic, a self-described “fangirl”
whose favorite subjects include the pop group One Direction and “Glee” co-star
Darren Criss. He lives in San Francisco now, but emerged from places with
tough, blue-collar images – Jackson, Mich., and Michigan State University.


Oakley’a three best friends had gone to three different
colleges and he heard about video blogging. “I thought, ‘Wow, I have a camera.
I could do that.’”


On-cameras, he talked about his life and his passions. “I
remember I saw that I had 100 people. I thought, ‘I don’t have 100 friends.’”


And then he had many more. He switched his major from
education to communications. By the time he graduated, he had 100,000
subscribers. He worked in marketing for a tad – first for MSU, then Chictopia –
but, after moving to San Francisco, focused on himself.


“I committed to a schedule,” Oakley said. “I committed
myself to working and developing my brand. And I started working with others
and building my team.”


That would be harder to do now, starting from scratch, he
said. “It’s a saturated space. You have so much competition. (When) I started
in 2007, it was a very different atmosphere.”


But people keep trying. “These are kids who were born with
‘American Idol’ when they were 5 years old,” Rushkoff said. They seek instant
fame, quick approval; and sometimes, they get it.


“It’s always a little bit bizarre,” Oakley said. “I’m just
sharing myself …. I never had a motive; I never had any reason like wanting to
work with brands or anything.” Now he gets paid to mention them; almost by
accident, he’s a new merchant of cool.


n 
“Frontline: Generation Like,” 10 p.m. Tuesday,
PBS (check local listings)