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Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
2020 was the year that wasn’t.
Normally at this time of year, I’d be recounting tales of legendary Artpark shows or Western New York concerts with pop culture flashback favorites.
But, once March came it like a lion, concerts went out like a lamb for slaughter.
Live music was nowhere to be found, and we were left with … well, come to think of it, TV dried up, too; movie releases were few and far between – and certainly not the blockbusters we were promised.
Though many of us displayed shelves of books in our Zoom backgrounds, those were just for show.
In short, entertainment was hard to come by. I mean, there’s only so many times one can Netflix binge “The Floor is Lava” or “Nailed It!”
TV, music and movies took on new importance in 2020 as we unexpectedly found ourselves in short supply of new and creative works.
Fortunately, these entertainers still managed to make a mark this year – several of them coming to the rescue to debut new projects while in quarantine – or braving out into the wild to go back to work and amuse us.
In alphabetical order, here are my favorite entertainers and interviews from 2020:
(Click the links to read full articles or see more photos and videos.)
Even in quarantine, Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) presides over her courthouse: Joey Beto (Edwin Hodge), Emily Lopez (Jessica Camacho), Mark Callan (Wilson Bethel), Sherri Kansky (Ruthie Ann Miles) and Sara Castillo (Lindsay Mendez) (Screen grab ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved.)
•Jessica Camacho, star of “All Rise”
What she said about creating the season finale from home, as one of the first shows to “film” during the pandemic: “It was pitched to us in a Zoom meeting. We were all gathered together at the request of our showrunner, our producers. And once they had us all gathered together in this virtual meeting space, they're like, ‘Hey guys, we just pitched an idea for the next episode to CBS using this exact technology and other virtual meeting spaces just like Zoom, but this is how we're thinking about shooting the next episode. Are you guys game?’ We're like, ‘Yeah; sounds great! (Laughs)' We were just like, ‘How does this work? What are we going to do?’
“And they basically sent us this very basic lighting equipment … and they're like ‘You're gonna clip this on your device, and then we're going to just hit record and we're going to do these things.’ We’re like, ‘Great; we're in!’ ”
•Echosmith, creators of “Lonely Generation”
Lead singer Sydney Sierota on creating vulnerable music for fans: “Every song comes from a very personal place for us; and we wanted to do that tens of millions with this album, because it's really important that we share with our fans, and anybody who even just casually hears our music, that we all go through hard stuff – and you're not alone in that, no matter who you are, what you do, or how old you are,” Sydney shared in a recent phone interview. “We're all going through something, and usually we kind of have no idea what someone else is going through. So, we wanted to just be really honest about that as we were writing this album, and choosing the songs to be honest.
“And, I mean, of course, yes, I'm married, and I'm so grateful and I'm really happy to be in this stage of my life. It’s so much fun to be in love, and all of those amazing things that come with it. But at the same time, I'm feeling like I'm just beginning this journey, discovering who I am, and what I want, and why I want that, and making sure that I’m happy in my everyday life, along with my professional life when we’re on tour, but also happy at home, and discovering what that means to be me when I’m at home not performing shows.”
•John Eisendrath & Jon Bokenkamp, executive producers of “The Blacklist”; star Hisham Tawfiq
On crafting a hybrid live action/graphic-novel-style animated season finale: “Necessity is the mother of invention. We filmed half of an episode. We thought that the episode that was the last fully completed episode was not going to be a good end to the season; in terms of the story that was in it, it wasn't designed to be the end of the season. And the one that was halfway done was a better season-ender. So, we had to figure out what to do with the other half.” (Eisendrath)
•Fitz and the Tantrums, “All the Feels Winter Tour 2020” (pre-pandemic)
Frontman Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick on getting fans excited and off their cellphones in concert: “We have always put on an incredibly intense, high-energy show. Anybody that’s seen us play before, they know that you're not just going to come and stand like a wallflower. I literally sometimes joke with the audience – I'm like, “You're not allowed to be a wallflower, texting on your phones.”
“It's about being in the moment with us. And, you know, we do a lot of crowd participation. We’ve always, for 10 years now, tried to make the audience the seventh member of the band, because we found the more energy we give and get the crowd into it, the more they get into it, the more we get into it, and it becomes this, like, infinity loop of energy that just becomes almost like a pressure cooker.
“And it's funny, you know, different cities have different kind of body temperatures, almost, or vibes. In some cities, they're like ready to party and go crazy with us from the first second. Some cities are a little more reserved. But, usually, like a couple of songs in, they see like, “Oh, I can loosen up.”
“We just really want people to have fun and, if we could give people an hour-and-a-half escape from their worries from their long day, have some fun with us and bring a little bit of joy, then that’s the most we could hope for or ask for, really.”
•for KING & COUNTRY, “burn the ships” tour
Singer Luke Smallbone on performing with Dolly Parton: “Well, it is a very interesting story. And the story is this: (my bandmate and brother) Joel (Smallbone) had been watching the Netflix special, or movie, ‘Dumplin” ’ with Jennifer Aniston in it. And, when he watched the show, all of Dolly’s music is laced in there. And so, he was like, ‘Oh, that's kind of cool. We should do a song with Dolly Parton.’ And, you know, when you just say it like that, you're like, ‘Yeah; keep dreaming, buddy.’
“Well, Joel actually taught a couple of her junior managers – and I've known all of these guys for years – in Sunday school, many, many years ago. And he was like, ‘Well, I'll just give them a call.’
“And so, he gave him a call and said, ‘Hey, I know this is a longshot, but we've got this song that's doing well on radio, and we're looking for a feature to kind of take it to other places. Do you think Dolly would be interested?’
“And they were like, ‘Well, it's funny that you should call: She just told us two days prior that she's looking to do more inspirational and spiritual songs.’
“And so, sure enough, she heard the song (‘God Only Knows’) and said, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of what this song is doing.’ And so, she sung on the song.
“A little while later, she said, ‘Well, I think we should do a music video for this.’ So we did a music video for it. And then it got to a point where she was like, ‘Well, I'm hosting the CMA Awards, and I like our song real good. Why don't we sing this song on the CMAs?’
“It was this beautiful relationship that, you know, who would have ever thought came from teaching a couple kids in Sunday school and Netflix’s ‘Dumplin” ’? Who would’ve ever thought?”
•Sean Giambrone, star of “The Goldbergs”
On creating a prom-themed episode for those who went without the dance last spring: “They kind of finagled it, so that they could have the prom episodes of all the shows line up for this special event for some of the kids that missed out on the prom they were planning on going to. I thought it was a really cool trying to figure out how to interact with the audience.”
James Roday Rodriguez and David Giuntoli star in ABC’s “A Million Little Things.” (ABC photo by Jack Rowand)
•David Giuntoli and James Roday Rodriguez, stars of “A Million Little Things”
On why this ensemble cast works so well: “How do they keep it so there's no central character? I think that, weirdly, the central character on our show died in the first five minutes. And that was Jon, and he would have been the quote-unquote ‘lead’ of the show. But, as it happens, the lead died at the end of the teaser for season one. So, it's the rest of his friends coping, and going on with their lives after that moment.
“And it was a premise that was so well designed by D.J. Nash that, I think, the setup did most of the heavy lifting for him.” (Giuntoli)
On the show’s surprisingly good surprises: “I think for me it became evident when it was important to have a similar sort of mystery aesthetic going into season two – as we had in season one.
“It's such a specific emotional terrain, dealing with the fallout from a suicide, that I kind of bought into the idea that there is a sort of a built-in mystery that you never get to solve when something like that happens. But I didn't realize that mystery would be a part of the fabric of this series long-term; but I think that's something DJ always had in mind, as well.
“Some of us, I think, just figured that, you know, if we got a second season, we would kind of become ‘Parenthood’ or ‘Brothers and Sisters’ – just start being a show about people's lives. And he knew better. He knew that, by holding on to this element of mystery and every time you get comfortable and think you know what's happening, boom; he's gonna flip it on you … separates us from that, and give us our own identity.” (Roday Rodriguez)
•Doug Jones, lead on “Star Trek: Discovery”
On the show boldly going where no one has gone before: “So much can happen. … When you jump through a wormhole and you go into another era like that, we're going to live up to our show’s name: ‘Discovery.’ We have a lot to discover in season three.”
On the time and effort it takes to physically become Saru: “Well, when you become something that's not human, normally you're looking at anywhere between three to six hours, maybe; sometimes more. The process for Saru on ‘Discovery’ is mercifully shorter than that. They have it down to two hours now. That's practically like doing beauty makeup with hair and makeup for anyone else.
“But I would say that the makeup process takes weeks before that, because the pre-molding and sculpting and painting of those pieces that go on me, that artistry takes place long before it ever gets to me. Then, once they apply it to me, that's down to two hours.
“But our two hours is spent joking, laughing, talking. My makeup artists are like the people that are with me the most all day. They’re constantly touching up – constantly. You know, fixing and monitoring their work on me. The makeup trailer is full of music, full of banter back and forth. It depends on the time of day, too. At 4 in the morning, not so lively.”
Amanda Schull (Photo by Geoff Neufeldt/©2020 Crown Media United States LLC)
•Amanda Schull, star of “Project Christmas Wish”
On celebrating 20 years of her breakout hit, “Center Stage”: “It's so funny, because, in so many ways it seems like it was just yesterday that I did that movie and that I had that experience that summer with those amazing people. And then, in a lot of regards, I feel like when I was talking about it, like I was talking about a movie I had watched, not a life that I lived.
“You know, it was 20 years ago, which, the fact that I can even talk about something 20 years ago, really makes me feel ancient; but at the same time, it was such – it was the experience of a lifetime for me. And obviously, it facilitated my career going forward in ways that I can't even possibly describe.
“It was really fun to chat with everyone. I'm in loose connection with a lot of these people, even if it's just texts. I've caught up with a couple of them. So, I mean, to force everyone to sit down together to talk was such a nice treat for me. I love seeing their faces – and the hair development on Ethan (Stiefel), that was great!”
•Sidewalk Prophets, virtual tour
Frontman Dave Frey on giving fans a show in their own living rooms: “(My friend) Ben called me up and he's like, ‘Man, what about a virtual tour?’ I was like, ‘Dude, I've seen bands do stuff in their living room, and it's sweet; it's very sweet man – don't get me wrong.’
“I'm a big Josh Ritter fan, Ben Folds, and I've been tuning into all their things. But he's like, ‘No, no, no.’ He goes, ‘No; I mean, let's go somewhere here in town when it's safe and really trump it up – like really make it an experience for our fans, and take it to another level.’
“And he started dreaming about what that looked like, and making it feel like we were actually traveling to the venue – making it regional so that, you know, when we go to New York, it's going to be New Yorkers that are tuning in. The whole state.
“And so, we have like this radius clause. When you claim your ticket – you’ve got to claim a ticket, but it's free; but once you type in your information, it tells you when we're going to be in your area. And so, that way we can say, ‘Hey, we're in New York tonight. Like the entire state of New York, we're here for you.’
“And we have a poll where fans can vote on a song for that night, and that night alone, to make it special. And so, that's what we wanted to make sure, when we went out on this virtual tour, that it felt like you were there. Even though you're in your living room or wherever you're at tuning in, we want it to be specifically for your state, for this region. And we want people to be able to come for free. We want you to be able to do that.”
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC key art)
•Henry Simmons, star of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
On having the opportunity to not just film a series finale, but to make something the fans would appreciate: “Immensely proud – and also a bit surprised. I think most of us thought that season six was going to be the end. And I mean it, really, honestly, everything after season three, I’m like, ‘OK, this is it! This is it (laughs).’
“So, we got the call that we were going to do a season seven, and it was going to be the final season; and, yeah, there was a satisfaction, I guess, was the first thing that I felt. Because you knew it was the end, and it was the end on our terms. It wasn't like we were cut short. We had the opportunity to tie up stories, and to have these characters have their stories tied up in some way. And for the writers to end the show the way they want to end it, instead of it being so abrupt. So, in that sense, it's very satisfying. It's very satisfying. And I just hope that it satisfies the audience, as well.”
•Rebecca St. James, creator of “Dawn” and “Rebecca St. James Friends & Family” podcast
On taking a break from music, when it became burdensome: “I'm thankful now for how painful that was, because it really did lead me to move (to California). And, I mean, I may never have met my husband and had this whole dreamy family life that I have now had it not gotten that bad.
“So, it was a long time coming, how challenging it got, but I'm now thankful for the pain, because it led to just total renewal.”
Then making a triumphant comeback: “I don’t think it was anything that I sensed on the horizon. When I retired seven years ago, it was definitely with this sense of ‘I may never sing again, and I'm at peace about that, if that’s what God’s plan is for me. I really am.’ There's also this element of I will never say never, because I knew that God could bring the kind of renewal that would be needed to do this again. So, I wasn't ruling it out.
But probably right before this really transformative experience happened with God in Alaska. I think around that time I had this just growing sense that he was calling me on a purpose level, and calling our family to something more – that there was something brewing. And it was more mission-oriented, like serving God, serving people. It was like purpose-oriented. It was like my heart was needing to be able to give, you know, on a personal level, and as a family, to something outside of just our little family.
“There was that brewing, but I think music, at that point, was still so threatening that I didn't think it would be music (laughs). I was looking at other things. But, then in Alaska, God just did such a radical transforming – like night and day, massive movement in my heart. It was probably the most instantaneously lifechanging experience of my life. Because so much pain fell away that had to do with music, and I saw my journey with music differently after that – and it was literally just a couple songs on stage that I was performing, and had this encounter with the Holy Spirit, that changed everything.”
•Nik Wallenda, dude who crossed the Masaya volcano
On why he takes on death-defying stunts: “I’m writing a book right now on overcoming fear, because I believe that so many people are held back by fear. They’re stuck in the job that they’re miserable at because of fear, and they’re scared to live their life to the fullest and climb Mount Everest, because of fear.
“And, really, my dream is, by what I do, to kind of encourage and inspire them that sometimes we have to walk through that fear in order to become the greatness that we are called to be.”