The Issue of White Hats: "Scandal" and What a TV Show is Really About

Originally published on

Ask someone what any TV show is about and they’ll likely respond with the central plot surrounding the main character. In the case of “Scandal,” that answer would be, “It’s about Olivia Pope, who fixes other people’s scandals but is also having an affair with the president.”

When “Scandal” debuted in 2012, that’s what the show was about. But, over time, it’s become so much more than that.

Today, as “Scandal” enters its seventh and final season, the show is about limits. Specifically, the events that lead to someone making a decision they can’t come back from, a decision that fundamentally changes who they are. To put it in “Scandal” terms, the show is about what causes someone to take off their white hat, and how they manage to put it back on again.

That’s not to say that’s what “Scandal” is about in each episode. The episodes themselves may be about the White House, one election or another, Olivia’s kidnapping, B613, or any of a slew of specific stories. But what I’m talking about requires you to look at the broad strokes and consider the series as a whole. To do that, you have to examine character arcs across the seasons.

Take Quinn Perkins. In the pilot episode, Quinn is the new kid in the office. She’s naïve, always trying to catch up to her coworkers, and shocked by what Olivia will do to keep a secret from coming out. She wears heels and bouncy ponytails and still looks at everything in Washington D.C. with doe eyes. But by the end of season six, Quinn is a badass. She runs OPA, isn’t afraid to pull a gun on someone, and is the moral compass for everyone else in the office.

That change in Quinn — what took Quinn from timid to confident, quiet to outspoken — happened in a single moment. In season three, when Charlie inadvertently sets Quinn up to kill the man her associates at OPA are looking for, she is forced to make a choice. Either she comes clean and goes back to Olivia, or she covers up what happened. Quinn’s choice — to cover up what she did — changes the entire course of her character. From that moment on, she has to wrestle with what her white hat is and how to keep it on.


Look at the big picture, then zoom in. You’ll find a similar moment for every major and minor character on the show.

It happened when Harrison stood up to Papa Pope. A few seasons later, it happened to Papa Pope when he shot Sandra. For Fitz, “Scandal’s” POTUS, it was when he killed Verna. Sally’s moment was when she stabbed her husband to death. James’ came when he defied Cyrus and insisted on being “Publius.” Huck’s was when he kidnapped his ex-wife’s boyfriend. Abby’s moment was when she told Fitz that Cyrus had been meeting with Frankie Vargas and stole the Chief of Staff job.

These are the moments in which the white hats came off. Whether the motivation was ambition or power, revenge, jealousy, or pain — the hat came off and each of these characters had to work to put it back on.

That brings us to Olivia Pope: leader of gladiators and champion of the white hats.


Olivia has seemingly taken her white hat on and off throughout the series, but if you look just a bit deeper and examine her motives, there is a distinct shift. It happens when she kills one of her supposed captors after being kidnapped in season four. That decision, regardless of the fact that it was born out of her need to survive, spun Olivia onto an entirely new path. It made her a bit more selfish, a bit more reckless, and it brought her to the position she holds at the beginning of the final season — the most powerful woman in the world.

Much like Shonda Rhimes’ other long-running series, Grey’s Anatomy, “Scandal’s” true meaning is revealed over time. In “Grey’s,” when one half of the central couple interest in the show was killed off, many questioned why the show even continued. But “Grey’s” isn’t about Meredith and Derek’s relationship — not at its core. It’s about perseverance in the face of extreme difficulty.

“Scandal” is the same. What started as a political drama about a fixer in love with the most powerful man in the world has become a series about black and white and the many shades of gray in between.

That’s exactly how we can learn from a show like “Scandal.” Start with characters and a premise, then use those characters to explore something deeper, something more meaningful. The characters, and the story, will ultimately be better for it.

I suspect we haven’t seen Olivia put her white hat back on yet — as it is with all good series finales, I think the best is yet to come.


Understanding the Relationship Between Plot, Character, and Story

Originally published on


A writer plots, a film can be plotting, and a plot can make or ruin a story.

Plot can be a writer’s best friend or worst enemy. Think about it too much and it ruins your screenplay, but get it right and your story can become one of the very best — those movies where the plot is seemingly non-existent.

That idea is false, of course. All movies have plot. As a writer, you control the plot, and not understanding what plot is and how it functions in your story is like trying to write a screenplay without knowing how to format a script.

But what is plot, actually?

It’s a phrase thrown around a little too often, and whenever I’ve tried to figure out what it really means, I’ve been left a bit dumbfounded.


Plot is hard to understand and even harder to do.

The technical definition, as dictionary definitions often do, leaves a lot to be desired. Plot, by definition, refers to the main events of a play, novel, or movie, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

But story expert Robert McKee defines plot as “the writer’s choice of events and their design in time.” Syd Field refers only to “plot points.” Still others talk of plot patterns, some confuse plot with theme, and there are few who use “plot” and “story” interchangeably.

Plot, in actuality, is not that complicated. I like to think of how John August and Craig Mazin explain it:

In a film, there are three things. Character, story, and plot. Each is related, but certainly not the same. The story is what emerges when your characters move through a plot.

If we dissect that sentence and turn it into a simple math equation, it looks a lot like this:


And while screenplays are obviously more nuanced than that simple equation, it helps to see the elements laid out. For it is character that comes first, not plot. That’s essential. The plot and, consequently, the story stem from the character(s) at the heart of your screenplay.


For example, in the 2015 film “Brooklyn,” the story (about a young adult’s struggle with adulthood as an immigrant in America) and the plot (a move from Ireland to the U.S., dealing with homesickness, falling in love, experiencing a tragic loss, returning home, etc.) are the direct result of the main character: Eilis, a shy Irish immigrant.


Take “Avatar,” the 2009 hit. Jake Sully is the center of it all. Because of the actions he takes, we get the plot (first, trying to infiltrate the Na’vi people of Pandora to gather information for the military, then, when he learns their real intentions, to turn against his own people and fight for the Na’vi) and the larger story (about true identity and what it means to have a home somewhere).



Or, look at this year’s “Wonder Woman.” The character (Diana) moves through the plot (meeting Steve, going to London, getting involved with WWI, trying to stop the bad guys and save mankind, etc.), which tells the overall story (about truth and how what we believe in impacts our actions).

These three elements — character, plot, and story — all impact one another implicitly. Change the character and the story is completely different. Tweak the story and see the effects ripple through the plot.

Bottom line, know your character first, then decide what journey they are on, how they will react to various elements of the plot, and what the story will be. Ultimately, understanding plot itself is about understanding character.

Photographing Daily Life in Paris

Originally published on

Ayako Bielsa’s Instagram bio is a simple, single sentence. “Daily life in Paris, sometimes Tokyo, and beyond.” 

Her photos, too, are simple, yet they capture the elusive quality of her adopted city. Paris, after all, is a bit like a butterfly — both beautiful and hard to pin down.

Ayako strolls the cobblestone streets on the hunt for suitable subjects. Maybe she will find a building’s façade perfectly lit, maybe the perfect pattern of street lamps. She tends to decide where to go at the last minute, letting her feet do the choosing or just following her mood.

Paris is full of hidden charm. Narrow, cobbled alleyways. Lovely courtyards. There is inspiration everywhere, and Ayako takes full advantage of it.

She photographs early in the morning, when the light is constantly changing and the streets are empty. She heads out in the rain, when the cobblestones are wet and colorful umbrellas are held high. She scrutinizes angles and constructs frames, then waits for something to pass by. A woman walking her dog, a vintage car, a man on a bicycle — a way of photography at the intersection of inevitability and chance.

Occasionally, she see an image in her mind ahead of time. Notre-Dame with cherry blossoms, autumn leaves at the Place des Vosges, or backlit figures walking across the Pont Neuf. Sometimes the composition turns out differently — the weather, time frame, or atmosphere not matching what she imagined. But every now and then, she photographs exactly what she had envisioned.

Photographing Paris becomes a kind of ritualistic poetry for Ayako. Each shot is a new attempt to capture the air, the light, the season, the stories within Paris. 

Even after six years, Ayako still makes new discoveries. It is, after all, a city full of stories, constantly being reborn at the start of each new day.

A Photographic Personality

Originally published on

“I think a photograph is one of the best ways to inspire someone to travel,” admitted photographer Dan Tom. 

Dan doesn’t like a lot of attention. He’s one of those people who is much more comfortable behind the camera, out of the picture, composing the shot, rather than in it himself. 

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Being a photographer just fits his personality.

Nine years ago, Dan traveled to South Africa on a mission trip with his church group and was tasked with documenting the journey. With his point-and-shoot camera, he took photos of the volunteers, the children in the orphanage, and the environment. He started to realize what made a good photo. 

Back in Los Angeles, Dan got his first SLR camera and started documenting his life. He’d capture the food he ate, the people he hung out with, the places he went, the streets he walked on — there was always something interesting to shoot.

He created an Instagram account and got his first iPhone. Slowly, he started to edit his pictures. He discovered a few helpful apps on his phone and used other Instagram accounts for inspiration, always wondering how people got their photos to look certain ways. Over time, he gained a following. 

Dan keeps things simple. His photos aren’t “minimal,” per se, but they tend to have a main focus or subject. He wants you to feel something when you see his work.

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Now that he’s a photographer — and he does consider himself a photographer now, though he still works full-time as a graphic designer — Dan sees things differently. He’s observant, always noticing the little things. He’s aware of composition, color, and light in a way he never was before. He’s also become more of a morning person. 

He also understands that the thing he’s passionate about most can actually become his career one day. He hopes to keep traveling — to keep documenting the world around him — until it’s his full-time job. 

“It’s important to broaden your experience and grow as a person,” Dan said. “Because that will all have an impact on your photos and the way you see the world.”

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

Photo courtesy of Dan Tom (@dantom)

See more of Dan’s photos on Instagram.

The Simple Thing Disney Gets Right, but Most Writers Get Wrong

Originally published on


The art of film has come a long way since 1937, the year in which Disney’s first full-length feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” was released.

Innovations in technology — everything from the machines writers type their stories with to the cameras used for filming to the way in which movies are distributed and consumed — have completely changed the entertainment industry. Though storytelling has definitely advanced and become more nuanced, one thing remains the same. Disney storytellers get it right every single time. And the secret to their success?

They keep it simple. 

Aladdin Screencaps 1.jpg

For, at the heart of every Disney story is a simple, uncomplicated desire, and in turn, that desire drives the entire movie. Not sure what I mean? Let’s start with the example of my favorite Disney flick, “Aladdin.”

If you consider the story of “Aladdin,” there are a lot of intersecting parts. A “street urchin” dreams of living a life of luxury, a princess yearns to explore beyond the palace walls, the king’s advisor schemes to become all-powerful, a genie grants three wishes (but only to his master, whose identity changes at least twice), several cases of mistaken or hidden identity are thrown into the mix, and almost everyone is lying to one another. It’s complex.

But if you zoom in to look only at the protagonist, the titular Aladdin, the story becomes inherently simple.

Aladdin grew up as an orphan on the streets, always scrounging for food and struggling to get by. He’s forever stealing food from stalls in the market, and is always getting caught and having to run away from the guards. His is a life on the go, but, when he returns to the rooftop he and his monkey side-kick Abu call home, he reveals what he really wants.

“Riff-raff, street rat,” he sings. “I don’t buy that. If only they’d look closer. Would they see a poor boy? No siree. They’d find out there’s so much more to me.” Aladdin doses off while staring at the huge Agrabah palace and musing that, if he only lived there, his troubles would be gone.

It’s simple. Aladdin’s desire is to be seen for who he is — fiercely loyal, witty, someone with a good heart.

Dive into any Disney movie and you’ll find the same thing.

Marlin’s desire to protect his son in “Finding Nemo.” Belle’s desire to experience more of the world than her little town in “Beauty and the Beast.” Tiana’s desire to fulfill the dream she shared with her father in “The Princess and the Frog.” Moana’s desire to save her island, Woody’s desire to be loved by Andy in “Toy Story,” Hercules’ desire to know where he came from, Rapunzel’s desire to leave her tower and see the lights released on her birthday every year.


Then, as always … there are complications.

Not “complications” meaning a “complicated” story though — there’s a difference. Many writers mistake “complication” for “confusion,” and devise plots and subplots that lead to nothing and leave audiences wondering why they bothered to buy a ticket. No, these complications come when one character’s desire conflicts with another’s, whose conflicts with another’s, and so on.


Let’s go back to our original example. Every single complication that arises in “Aladdin” is because of conflicting desires. Aladdin’s desire to be seen for who he is, Jasmine’s desire to marry for love and not wealth, Jafar’s desire to attain power, Genie’s desire to be free, Sultan’s desire for his daughter to choose a husband — all conflict and cause the problems that are the story of the movie.

So, what’s the winning combination? What’s the recipe for success? Once again, it’s simple:

All of Disney’s complications are born directly from the characters themselves.

That not only creates authentic storytelling, but also ensures that the stories themselves are exactly what they should be — about the characters.

Disney’s figured out the key to successful storytelling, and it lies right in the characters. By giving each of their characters a simple desire, and putting the protagonist’s desire at the heart of each of their movies, Disney is able to create nuanced, complex stories that have layers of meaning. All stories — animated or not — should strive to do the same.

Humanity through Portraits: The Faces of Places Project

Originally published on

Photographer Zach Murphy is always introducing himself to people when he travels, which works to his advantage in two different ways.

The first is obvious. See, Zach usually introduces himself in order to ask someone if he can take their portrait. It helps him to meet people, to have some kind of interaction with those he photographs.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

His project, Faces of Places, tackles the topic of basic humanity through portraits of people around the world. It’s a little like Humans of New York, but relies more on the visual of the person and the environment surrounding them than something they say. 

The idea came to him during a year-long volunteer trip to 11 countries around the world. Zach developed a deep fascination with how similar yet how different human beings can be. He noticed that, while we all share a basic humanity — a desire to survive and take care of our families — our cultural differences and the physical landscape we are born in creates vast diversity.

He saw the same theme time and time again, across countries and continents, so he started documenting the people he saw. 

Zach has thousands of photographs, enough to fill two (soon to be three) photo books. His idea was to create something tangible that you could flip through to see hundreds of faces looking back at you. As you turn the pages, there would be subtle differences in skin color, clothing, and physical appearances, but the smiles would be the same.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

His travels have taken him to over 65 countries, and every trip thus far — to Australia, Northern Africa, or South America — has had some kind of theme or dominating lesson. 

That’s the second way introducing himself has been beneficial. In telling people who he is and what he’s doing, Zach has solidified those things in his own mind. 

“Every time you introduce yourself, you’re telling people your dreams, ambitions, and passions. When you’re constantly reminding yourself of those things, it pushes you further to become that.”

So when Zach introduces himself to someone, he’s reminded of who he wants to be: a travel photographer. He takes the portrait and adds it to his Faces of Places collection, which then motivates him to travel more. 

It’s a seemingly neverending circle of introductions and portraits — both of which exist because of the other. And Zach doesn’t plan on breaking the cycle anytime soon.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Zach’s first two books are available for purchase on his website. His latest, “Circling the Sahara,” will be published soon. You can see more of his photos on his website or Instagram.

You Had Me at Hello: The Art of Character Introductions

Originally published on

When it comes time to debut your character for the world — er, audiences — to see, it’s no easy task. You’ve created the character. You know everything about them, and the viewers know nothing.

First impressions are important, so I studied some of my favorite movies and dissected the ways in which the main characters were introduced. You’d be surprised how much that introduction says about the character and the story itself.



Main characters — Mia, Sebastian

Type of introduction — The non-interaction

“La La Land” begins with the now well-known “Highway Scene,” a nearly five-minute-long musical number which doesn’t even feature the two main characters. Right after this though, we are introduced to Mia and Sebastian, both sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the overpass. Mia is rehearsing lines for an audition and Seb is rewinding and listening to the same string of jazz notes over and over again — indications of their dedication to their passions, details that become very important later in the story.

The first part of the film (“Winter”) shows the same day from Mia’s perspective, then Seb’s, ultimately leading to their first interaction, in which they don’t actually interact at all (Seb brushes off Mia’s attempt to talk to him after hearing him play at the restaurant).

This type of introduction works because “La La Land’s” central story is about two distinctly different individuals who impact one another’s lives for only a brief time. The audience needs to have ample time to get to know each of the characters before they meet and their stories entwine.



Main characters — Harry, Sally

Type of introduction — First encounter

Nora Ephron’s rom-com begins with the two protagonists’ first interaction. We meet Harry as he is bidding adieu to his girlfriend, a goodbye that includes a long and oblivious make-out session. Sally then drives up and coughs to interrupt them. Their mutual acquaintance (Harry’s then girlfriend) introduces them and, after another bout of kisses, Harry gets in the car and they take off for New York.

The key to the entire movie — Harry and Sally’s differences — is set up in the first scenes. The audience witnesses the way their personalities are seemingly at odds with one another: Harry kisses his girlfriend goodbye while Sally lays on the horn to get their attention; Sally explains how she’s meticulously figured out the road trip ahead while Harry digs around in the back seat and spits grape seeds out the window; her optimism at her future in New York is met by his cynicism.

It’s a typical set-up for rom-coms, but one that admittedly works perfectly in this case. Ephron introduces us to characters who have such opposing personalities they can’t imagine being with one another but, of course, that’s exactly why they will be in the end. It is this contradiction that supports the entirety of the movie, and it is shown in the very first scenes.


Main character — Dom Cob

Type of introduction — En Media Res (in the middle of things)

Christopher Nolan’s fifth feature film begins with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dom Cob, lying at the edge of the ocean. Waves crash around him as he blearily looks around. He sees two children playing in the sand, but it’s initially unclear if this is memory or reality. Then he is prodded with a gun and picked up by several guards who take him to an ornate palace to meet with an older Asian man.

Cut to the same location, but both Dom and the Asian man are younger and cleaned up — it becomes immediately clear this is another time. From there, Dom and his colleague go on a mission to steal something.

“Inception” drops audience members right in the middle of the action (en media res, as the classic Latin saying goes). We aren’t told what’s going on, or who exactly it is we’re watching, but two things are immediately clear because of the way Dom is introduced:

First, that he is the protagonist of the story. The opening shot of the movie is of Dom’s face, indicating right away that he is most likely the central character. The following scenes follow him (and him alone) through the action, reinforcing the audience’s immediate assumption as to who their main character is.

And second, the slightly confusing vision of Dom’s children playing on the beach sets up the main question of the film — What is real? This question is brought up and answered again and again throughout the movie, right up until the final shot before the credits, and the doubt is planted in the audience’s mind in the very first encounter with the main character.


Main characters — Duncan

Type of introduction — Interaction with antagonist

The first shot of “The Way Way Back” is of a rearview mirror, where we can see a middle-aged man looking into the backseat. This man, Trent, is trying to get the attention of the teenager in the backseat, Duncan. We see that Trent is facing one way in the driver’s seat and Duncan is facing the opposite, looking out the back window in the way way back of the station wagon. Then comes the question.

“On a scale of one to 10, what do you think you are?”

Duncan’s reaction to this question tells the audience everything they need to know — that Trent is the bad guy, the bully, the antagonist. This is only reinforced by what happens next. Duncan answers that he thinks he’s a six, and Trent says that he sees Duncan as a three. What follows is another minute or two of bullying that ends with Duncan ignoring Trent and putting his earbuds in for the rest of the ride.

This initial interaction between protagonist and antagonist establishes both the central conflicts of the movie — the difficult relationship between Duncan and Trent, and Duncan’s lack of confidence in himself.



Main characters — Rick, Ilsa

Type of introduction — Through other characters

In the 1940s classic, “Casablanca,” it takes nearly a third of the movie before we are introduced to both main characters, Rick and Ilsa. There are shots of Rick’s cafe, scenes with his employees and customers talking about him, and other characters conversing about both Rick and the mysterious visitor who will be arriving with a beautiful woman (Ilsa) that night.

Rick commands the situations around him, made obvious by the way he is first introduced to the audience — signing a check. Then we see him moodily sitting over a chessboard, where he nods at the doorman to give approval to let certain customers into the casino room. His actions in the following scenes confirm what we’ve already heard about him through the other characters, that he, “sticks his neck out for nobody.”

The key to understanding the protagonists and the events in Casablanca is in this subtle set-up. The other characters introduce Rick, and make us believe certain things about his personality. Then, when Ilsa arrives with Laszlo, he breaks all of these rules that have been set up in the first 40 minutes of the film — an action meant to unconsciously signal to the audience that Rick is not what he seems.



Main characters — Tom, Summer

Type of introduction — Via omniscient narrator

This indie favorite begins with a shot of a man and woman sitting on a bench. An engagement ring is clearly seen on the woman’s finger, which is when the omniscient narrator butts in and introduces the story. “This is a story of boy meets girl,” he says.

There is vintage and modern footage of both Tom and Summer, while the narrator explains their characters. He tells the audience the main conflict of the story — that Tom grew up believing he’d never be truly happy until he found the one, and Summer doesn’t believe in love at all.

The short beginning scene ends with a deceiving sentence. “You should know upfront, this is not a love story.”

The introduction is meant to put the audience in the same situation as Tom himself — we see an engagement ring and assume the two characters end up together, establishing disbelief in the narrator’s final sentence before the story begins (similarly, though Summer tells Tom she doesn’t believe in love, he falls for her and believes they will be together). By starting the story in this way, the events of the movie (and the overall point of the story) impact the viewers to the same degree they impact Tom.


Main character — Gil Pender

Type of introduction — Voiceover Dialogue

We hear Gil before we see him. As the opening credits roll over a black screen, Gil talks to his fiancee, Inez, about his love for Paris. He emphasizes his adoration for Paris in the 20s, especially in the rain, something Inez immediately scoffs at. With just the inflection in their voices, it is clear that Gil and Inez don’t see eye-to-eye, a conflict that is central to the fantastical story.

When we do see them, standing on the picturesque green footbridge in Monet’s Garden, Inez says that Gil is in love with a fantasy. He responds that he is in love with her, but this line falls flat after what we’ve already heard. Skepticism at their relationship continues when they return to the city for dinner with Inez’ parents, only to see that Gil is clearly the only one truly enjoying their time in the City of Lights.

This type of introduction works for the story because, though the plot (the fact that Gil occasionally goes back to Paris in the 20s when a clock strikes midnight) isn’t introduced, the main conflict is — Gil’s inner conflict about his love for Paris and the direction of his life.

It is also interesting to note that Woody Allen’s 2010 movie actually begins with a two-minute montage of scenes from around Paris, which can be written off as unimportant far too easily. This montage not only sets up how crucial the location is to the central story, but also establishes the location as a character itself. In all of Gil’s romanticized talk of Paris throughout the movie, the city becomes a supporting character, one that is introduced before any of the human characters.


Main characters — Zero Mustafa

Type of introduction — Story within a story (within a story); Meta-storytelling

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” relies on a hefty amount of exposition to introduce its main characters. It employs a technique best known from “The Great Gatsby,” in that the narrator is not the protagonist (or even part of the film’s core story, for that matter).

The first shot is of a memorial statue for the “Author,” who we see in person in the next scene, speaking from his desk about where stories come from. “The incidents that follow were described to me exactly as I present them here,” he says. Then we go back to when the Author was a young man, staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel.

There, he is introduced to an elderly man with a lively face and perceptible air of sadness. The Author is intrigued and, when the two meet properly in the hotel’s thermal baths, the elderly man, Zero Moustafa, the owner of the hotel, invites the Author to have dinner with him, over which he can tell him how he came to own the hotel. At the dinner table, he begins his story and the movie flashes back once again, to when Zero was a young man and working at the hotel. This is where the time in which the events of the movie actually take place.

This “meta” way of introducing the characters and beginning the story establishes the pace of the film, and feeling that the movement of story is, in a way, more important than the characters themselves. The plot, the characters, and the story itself are second to the chaotic ride that is the film — the point is to immerse audiences in the resplendent world Wes Anderson has created, and that is done, first and foremost, by introducing viewers to a story, inside a story, inside a story, inside a story.


When deciding how to have the audience meet your characters for the first time, make sure you choose an introduction that furthers your story in some way or subtly signals something important.

Whether that’s dropping the viewers right into the action, having an omniscient narrator do the introductions for you, or putting your protagonist up against your antagonist, the first encounter with your characters should be both memorable and telling.

After all, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.


Morocco Three Ways: The New Yorker

Originally published on

Morocco was sensory overload.

It was overwhelming, almost too much to process in the moment.

Now, months after their time in Morocco, Lisa can close her eyes and see the country. She can feel it, too, in a tangible way.

She aches for a place she only knew for a week and a half.

Lisa and her friends, Daniel and Adrienne, spent 10 colorful days exploring Morocco.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


The dusty buildings. The ambience from the light filtering into the souks. The rooftops, with cats jumping across them. The ornate carpets and handcrafted scarves.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


The countryside. The immense fields they glimpsed on car rides and train trips. The tiles in their peaceful riad.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


The city built into the side of a hill, the color of relaxation. The Jardin Majorelle, an explosion of foliage among deep hued buildings once home to a fashion designer.


The friendly parrot in their riad. The way night settled over them as they crammed into a hot train compartment, laughing and talking en route to Tangier. Flickering candlelight.


The muted hue of camel fur. The Call to Prayer echoing through the alleyways and squares from unseen speakers. The light while they watched the sunset on their last night in Fes.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


Crisp napkins placed on laps while they tried tagine and drank mint tea. The snow, falling slowly while they dined with a Berber family in the Atlas Mountains.


Tiny bowls of strawberry ice cream and small sugary spoonfuls. Smiles. Laughter. Quiet moments with close friends.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Pink and white and green and grey and yellow and red and blue.


Lisa knows that they only scratched the surface during their 10 days in Morocco. There are more colors to be seen there, but she’s accepted that feeling of being unfinished.

After all, it gives her a reason to return.

Daniel Pierruzzini, Adrienne Pitts, and Lisa Weatherbee traveled to Morocco in the spring of 2017, and documented their trip on Instagram using #AParisianAKiwiAndANewYorkerInMorocco. You can see more of Lisa’s work on her website.

This story was written based on three separate interviews conducted with Daniel, Adrienne, and Lisa. Check out the other two stories in this series — The Kiwi & The Parisian.

Morocco Three Ways: The Kiwi

Originally published on

Adrienne always held off on visiting Morocco for one reason or another.

It was on her list for over a decade until, in the spring of 2017, she met two friends in the airport in Marrakech and they took off on a 10-day trip through the north African country. Choosing to travel there with Lisa and Daniel turned out to be the best decision she could have made.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Though Adrienne gravitated naturally to taking portraits, she had to approach things a bit differently in Morocco, a place where people often aren’t comfortable with being photographed by tourists.

Instead, she started shooting everything else, and found that the beauty wasn’t just in the dereliction.

The beauty was in the details:

Trying new food at the restaurants Lisa so expertly selected.

An overnight train from Marrakech to Tangier, the three of them stuffed into a cramped compartment with a Spanish man, eating cookies, laughing, and squishing themselves onto bunk beds that were far too small.

Turning around to find Lisa happily selling oranges with one of the juice vendors in Djemma El Fna, the main square in Marrakech.

Drilling their young Berber guide with questions about his life while trekking through the Atlas Mountains.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

The final evening in Fes, knowing they’d never forget the way the light felt as they watched the sunset from a park on the outskirts of town.

All the cats.

The candlelit nights in their riads, when the trio would talk and edit photos until sleep overtook them.

With Adrienne, Daniel, and Lisa, it was never about “going to get the shot” while they were in Morocco. Whatever they found along the way was good enough.

Morocco was nothing like Adrienne thought it would be, yet exactly like she’d imagined.

It was perfect.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Daniel Pierruzzini, Adrienne Pitts, and Lisa Weatherbee traveled to Morocco in the spring of 2017, and documented their trip on Instagram using #AParisianAKiwiAndANewYorkerInMorocco. You can read Adrienne’s blog posts about the trip on her blog, and see more of her work on her website.

This story was written based on three separate interviews conducted with Daniel, Adrienne, and Lisa. Check out the other two stories in this series — The Parisian & The New Yorker.

Morocco Three Ways: The Parisian

Originally published on

Three cities in 10 days. A whirlwind. 

Daniel had never visited the country, and neither had his travel companions, Adrienne and Lisa. Morocco was a place they could explore for the first time, together. 

His first impression was of chaos and movement.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Marrakech was harsher than their other two destinations, but Daniel was surprised by how quickly they adapted to the crazy environment of the medina. In no time at all, they began to understand how everything moved and where they fit into it all. 

They quickly began to appreciate the Call to Prayer and the way it echoed beautifully through the city five times per day. These moments were quiet compared to the normally frenetic nature of the city. It was overwhelming at times, and they often escaped to rooftops or other silent spots around the city when they were in need of a break. After all, relaxation was only a cup of mint tea away.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

A train ride later, they were in Chefchaouen — the blue city. 

Blue in color, but in way of life, too. Time passed slowly. Children played in the streets — streets without names, all various shades of the same color. It was calming.

An old man led Daniel to his home, where they shared tea and talked about the man’s life. Though he couldn’t give the man anything, it was enough that Daniel simply listened to his story. A passing moment that never faded from his memory.

And just when they thought they’d gotten good at orienting themselves among the old medinas in Moroccan cities, they arrived in Fes. 

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

They chose a guide and scheduled visits to artisan workshops in Fes, tucked away in the maze of thousands of unnamed streets and alleyways. Scarf workshops and leather tanneries and carpet operatives and woodworking studios. They couldn’t help but bring home some evidence of their trip. This city was the roughest, but that edge gave it the biggest heart.

The trio moved at their own pace — taking breaks for mint tea, stopping for 15 minutes without complaint when someone wanted to try to photograph a wall in a way that was just right, eventually developing their own sort of language. A way of communication that only comes when you’ve discovered a good friendship. 

Everything in Morocco was different. 

A place disconnected from the rest of the world, always changing and moving, full of unexpected, rich details. Somehow, Daniel found comfort in the chaos.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Daniel PierruzziniAdrienne Pitts, and Lisa Weatherbee traveled to Morocco in the spring of 2017, and documented their trip on Instagram using #AParisianAKiwiAndANewYorkerInMorocco. You can see more of Daniel’s work on his website

This story was written based on three separate interviews conducted with Daniel, Adrienne, and Lisa. Check out the other two stories in this series — The Kiwi & The New Yorker.

The Intriguing Dichotomy of Tunisia

Originally published on

In Tunisia, Zach Murphy wasn’t a novelty. He wasn’t hassled, and never felt like a tourist or an outsider. But the environment of the country felt completely foreign to him. 

That dichotomy intrigued him.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Zach didn’t know much about Tunisia — just that it was flanked by two huge African countries (Algeria and Libya) and that some of the scenes from the “Star Wars” series had been filmed there. He always tries to maximize his travel efforts by booking effective layovers, and after a six-month trip around Northern Africa and the Middle East, Tunisia was on his way back to the United States. 

He enjoys visiting places he doesn’t have many expectations about, likes the discovery aspect it adds to traveling. Tunisia presented a bit of a challenge … Zach just didn’t realize how steep that challenge would be.

Unable to speak Arabic or French (the first and second languages in Tunisia), Zach found himself at a loss. He wasn’t able to order something to eat, let alone have conversations with the locals, and this disadvantage set him back.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

The heat was unrelenting — sometimes upwards of 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, easily the hottest temperatures Zach had ever experienced. He pushed through the most sweltering hours of the day to take advantage of the light for photography, and found himself confounded by the men who were bundled in many layers in the middle of summer. And, several times, because of the lack of internal infrastructure in Tunisia, Zach waited hours on end for a bus to and from certain locations around the country. 

It was frustrating — one of the most difficult places he’s ever traveled — but rewarding, too.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

When he set out to see the southern part of the country, he stumbled across huge ruins of past civilizations, just waiting to be explored. There were no admission tickets to be bought, no gates or tour guides. Monuments to former empires, seemingly forgotten, were his to discover. The lack of signs and informative plaques made imagination essential, and Zach could feel the rich history of this place as he wandered the ruins. There were layers and layers of history and stories beneath the sand.

In the evenings, when the air cooled and the cities came alive again, Tunisian men would take their seats at street-facing cafes. They’d smoke a cigarette, have an espresso, and observe life going on around them. There wasn’t much chit-chat, but Zach loved being part of the ritual.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

When I talked to Zach about his recent eight-day trip, he used the words, “the pure exhilaration of exploration,” to describe his love for travel. 

It’s a phrase that seems to perfectly describe what he found in Tunisia — excitement and frustration; history and tradition; the known, and, more importantly, the unknown.

See more of Zach’s photos on Instagram or his website, and check out his photography project, Faces of Places

Always in the Mountains: Roman Königshofer's Outdoor Photography

Originally published on

Roman Koenigshofer was constantly in the mountains for work and couldn’t resist turning his camera toward the landscapes in addition to the snowboarders he was supposed to be photographing. Eventually, he started going to the mountains of his own accord.

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

In the late 90s, Roman created short video clips about snowboarding and skateboarding, which led him to pick up a DSLR for the first time. Now, nearly two decades later, he can always be found near the mountains. 

Outdoor photography is Roman’s lifestyle. He loves being outside, active, and even sometimes, off the grid completely. There is beauty to be found in the outdoors, and Roman is constantly discovering how to capture it. 

The Rockies. The Dolomites. The Alps. The Himalayas. Through his eyes, no two mountain ranges are ever the same.

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

He tries to keep things out of the frame, often purposefully isolating certain elements with his tele-lens and not including the “whole picture” in the photograph. Roman searches for scenes with great light that won’t need excessive post-production editing to be compelling. 

“A good photo doesn’t need much,” he admitted.

Roman hopes that people who see his photos will want to get out and explore for themselves. But he doesn’t want budding photographers to rely on copying their favorite Instagrammers. Instead, he advises travelers to focus less on the “likes” and to discover locations on their own, even if that yields uncertainty about what to expect visually. 

While being in the mountains can have its difficulties at times (not being able to feel your fingers well enough to click the camera shutter, for one), there is a distinct benefit.

“The fresh air up in the mountains is good for everyone,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

See more of Roman’s photos on his website or Instagram.

6 Tips for First-Time Burning Man Photographers

Originally published on

Every year, a city is built and destroyed in Black Rock City, Nevada. 

Burning Man is a wholly unique experience — a place without any formal entertainment provided, but enough creativity and possibility to make the temporary city a form of entertainment itself. Art is created, then burned. The 10 guiding principles of Burning Man (among them: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression) make it a haven for curious creatives and artists. 

The strange, yet fascinating experience can be tricky to photograph if you’ve never been before, so we consulted Alina Rudya (@rrrudya) and got advice for all photographers heading to Burning Man later this month.


Since Burning Man is a private event, you’ll need to get a press pass if you’re planning on photographing for commercial purposes. 

If you’re only taking photos for your personal scrapbook or to hang on your wall back home, you’re in the clear. Posting on social media (for non-commercial purposes) is fine, too, but if you’re planning (or even considering) using your photos from Burning Man for any kind of for-profit work, it’s better to err on the safe side and get a press pass.


As you’re packing for Burning Man, ask yourself this: Are you willing to sacrifice your expensive camera equipment, or would a smaller camera do the job? 

Though she did have her DSLR with her, Alina found that simply having her smartphone was enough in most cases. Burning Man is such a unique setting anyway, you probably won’t need a several thousand dollar camera to capture your experience in photos.


According to Alina, dust is your number one enemy at Burning Man. Dust storms can appear out of nowhere and destroy your camera if you’re not prepared. 

She recommends buying a plastic, protective case for your gear to protect it from the harsh environment in Black Rock City. At the very least, protect your camera with a plastic bag and lots of duct tape. You’ll thank yourself later.


The Black Rock City bonfires burn at night, and at dawn. Night photography can be a bit more difficult, so Alina recommends using a higher ISO, a tripod, and artistic blur to help take better photos.


Burning Man is a spectacle in and of itself, but it’s also a massive community art experiment. The installations are strange, wonderful, and never the same. It can be easy to get caught up in photographing the art, but all you’re doing is documenting someone else’s work.

Instead, Alina suggests turning your camera on the people. Your pictures will be unique if you capture the interactions between the people (Burners) and the art itself. Keep an eye out for unusual situations and try to capture spirit of freedom at Burning Man. Get up at dawn and make the most out of the light. Pay attention to the people around you and try to create a story that will capture the true mood of Black Rock City.


When it came time to edit her photos back at home, Alina stuck with only minimal changes. She made slight corrections in Adobe Lightroom — adjusting the color, contrast, and sharpness if necessary. Otherwise, she left the images alone. 

“With Burning Man photos you don’t need extra effects because it already looks like you’ve shot on the set of a sci-fi movie.”

In 2017, Burning Man will take place from August 27 to September 4. You can buy your ticket online.

6 Ways to Avoid Writing Dull Characters

Originally published on

The characters we create must breathe; they must be real. But creating life is no easy task. Too often, our characters are only partially complete, mere shadows of true, breathing people. Thankfully, there are ways we can avoid writing characters who will fall flat with audiences.

Don’t make them stupid 

Inexperienced storytellers are likely to create characters with lower levels of intelligence as a way of furthering the plot. Dumb characters can stand in for the audience — asking all the important questions and leading other characters to explain intricacies of the plot, whether that be legalese, medical information, or even trivial fact.

But these characters are hollow, and the audience will be able to tell. Instead, make your characters smarter than you and, more importantly, seemingly smarter than the audience. Intelligent characters force your audience members to remain engaged, to stay active to keep up with your protagonist.

Take Jane Villanueva, the protagonist of “Jane the Virgin.” Jane is a smart, driven writer and grad student. Her superior intelligence serves her character well, given the circumstances of her telenovela-like life, and allows her to be the ‘voice of reason,’ for her family and the audience. Or, examine Leslie Knope, the waffle-loving main character in “Parks and Recreation.” Leslie not only knows more about politics than her colleagues, but probably more than most audience members as well. Leslie’s ideas, caused by her determination to further herself (and Pawnee) moves the plot of “Parks and Rec” along season after season.

Don’t make them all one thing  

Most characters can be categorized as being an example of a certain archetype, but typical qualities shouldn’t be the only defining characteristics of our characters. As human beings, we are always more than one thing. It is our complexities that make us interesting, and complexities will make your characters feel more real.

“You’re the Worst,” FX’s comedy about two cynical people who fall for one another, could have fallen prey to this problem if its main characters had been cynical and nothing else. But the leads are full of contradictions and quirks that make them compelling. Jimmy is skeptical about relationships, but constantly falls in love; he is insensitive, but truly cares about this girlfriend and friends. Gretchen is self-sabotaging, but diligent; she is brash, but loyal.

Give your villains redeemable qualities (and vice versa)

Many superhero narratives create caricatures of “bad guys,” relying on our prior knowledge of the good-guy/bad-guy plot as an excuse for not creating fully-developed villains. But antagonists with redeeming qualities are sympathetic and more relatable, making your story deeper and more complex than the average blockbuster.

Take “Scandal,” Shonda Rhimes’ political drama, which, it could be argued, doesn’t have a villain. All of the main — and even many of the recurring — characters have made decisions and possess qualities that could easily qualify them as the “bad guy.” Even the protagonist, white hat wearing Olivia Pope, (poiler) has killed people. No character is free from flaw or mistake on “Scandal,” and, in their complexity, we are able to feel compassion for characters at their darkest moments.

Don’t rely on specific physical descriptions 

Though you, the writer, might have an idea of what a character looks like in your head, leave the physical descriptions out. Your story — when it finally makes it to the screen — will be better for it. Physical descriptions are limiting, not in the writing process, but in the casting process. When an actor is cast as one of your characters, you want them to inhabit the role. Ultimately, they will be the one breathing life into your character, and you don’t want your story to be limited by trivial physical descriptions such as hair color, height, etc.

When Shonda Rhimes created the Dr. Miranda Bailey for her long-running show “Grey’s Anatomy,” the character description called for a tiny woman with blonde curls. Had the casting director stuck to that description, Chandra Wilson wouldn’t have been cast as the inimitable fan favorite.

There is one exception to this rule, and that’s if a physical descriptor is crucial to the story you’re telling. For instance, in 2016’s breakout summer hit “Stranger Things,” it was important for Eleven to have buzz-cut length hair because it functioned in the plot. Similarly, the cast of plane crash survivors in “Lost” called for an Asian couple and a Middle-Eastern man, as their backgrounds played into the overall story arc in certain seasons.

Don’t choose race/gender simply for diversity

The issue of diversity and representation is justifiably brought up in regards to the entertainment industry. To that end, it’s important to take race into consideration in a meaningful way with your characters, and not simply for diversity’s sake. Making a character Japanese for the sole purpose of parading the fact that you have a Japanese character in your script isn’t the right decision for your story, nor your character.

Instead, use race/gender to breathe life into your characters. Embrace culture in an authentic way. Consider if making a character Latino would give them an interesting or different take on the situation set up in your story. Consider making a character female instead of male, or vice versa – see if it will change the dynamics of the characters in your script.

For example, look at the way Randal’s character functions in the story on NBC’s “This Is Us.” Adopted at birth, Randall becomes the third Pearson triplet, joining his white siblings and parents. Actor Sterling K. Brown recently expressed his feelings on the matter, saying to the Hollywood Reporter, “What I love so much about the show and about the character of Randall is that he’s black on purpose. So many times, for the sake of diversity on network television, there’s going to be a black guy or a Latino guy by happenstance — they just happen to be that. But the fact that he is black and we actually use that to tell the story of a black man being raised by a white family … I enjoy it a great deal.”   

Be purposeful in choosing your character’s’ race, ethnicity, and gender, but for the right reasons. Otherwise, you’ll end up with token characters who serve no greater value to your story.

Don’t reveal every detail 

The worst thing you can do is reveal a character to the audience in their entirety. You want there to be mystery. You want to have unknowns. It’s perfectly fine if you, the writer, know everything there is to know about your character — but don’t play all your cards at once.

Maintaining unknown facets of your characters serves an important purpose in constructing character arc. It allows your characters to grow, your audience to be surprised by certain quirks, and you to create full characters. As people, we’re always changing. Upon meeting someone new, we don’t automatically tell them every single detail about ourselves, so why do the same with your characters?

This can function as a source of comedy, as in “Broad City.” It isn’t revealed until the second and third seasons that Abbi has an alibi that only appears when she blacks out and that Ilana speaks Mandarin, respectively.


In dramas, not revealing certain details about your characters can be a way to structure your story. In Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” we don’t learn until halfway through the first season that Serena played a huge role in creating the dystopian state, Gilead. But once the audience learns this information, it significantly impacts the way we view her decisions.

As a writer, you want your characters to take on a life of their own. We’ve all heard of writers who preach that their characters are the ones making the decisions, not them. But in order to create characters who do make their own choices, they have to feel real. When your script is finished, your characters should not be characters at all, but real, living people.

How to Make Your Passion Project a Reality: Annapurna Mellor & ROAM Magazine

Originally published on

Maybe you have an outline for your next big project, the premise for a new company, or just the beginning of a great idea. Don’t let those things slip away. If they excite you, they’re worth pursuing. 

In this series, we talk to creatives around the world who have made their passion projects a reality. They’ll share every part of the process — the successes and, more importantly, the mistakes. Learn from them and then go out and make your passion project a reality, too. 

This week, we talk to Annapurna Mellor, co-founder of ROAM Magazine, a creative outlet for travelers, writers, and photographers. Annapurna (@annapurnauna), a freelance photographer whose work has been featured by National Geographic and Lonely Planet, came up with the idea for ROAM with her sister, Athena, and together they turned it into an online magazine.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

When did you first have the idea for ROAM Magazine? And what form did the idea originally take? 

It’s something I had been thinking about for a while. I’d started blogs before but hadn’t continued with them. My sister and I sat down and decided to create something, and that’s when it came to life. It’s survived because we’ve both been working on it. 

I had an idea to create a platform that could showcase creative work based on travel by all these amazing people I know from Instagram, who were posting pictures but not writing stories about what was behind those posts. I wanted to create a platform that would be open and accessible to people — and it was a way for my sister and I to work together on content, too.

How did you go from having that original idea to actually making the website and getting it up and running? 

We just sat down and said, “Alright, let’s do it.” We had definitely brainstormed what ROAM would be, and we’re still brainstorming what we want it to be. We’re still shaping it every day. I think that with anything like this, you just have to sit down and do it. Actually creating a website doesn’t take very long — only a few days, It was getting the ideas together that took longer. 

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

How did you and your sister decide what was going to populate the website at first? 

There’s definitely a movement on travel websites and travel blogs with these “list” posts like “Top 10 Reasons to Love Berlin” — stuff like that. I do like reading those — there’s nothing wrong with them — but we wanted to create a site that went deeper into travel and was full of stories about what happens when people travel, as well as photo essays that looked at the culture of a place more in depth. We wanted to do something different. 

I’m a photographer, and my work is very much based on people and culture, so the passion for that comes from me. Athena loves outdoor spaces and national parks, so she really likes that side of it. I’m very visual, and Athena loves writing, so it works well.

Now you have contributors adding to the site with their own content. What was it like deciding how to make that aspect of the site work? 

We did the first few posts ourselves. Then, Athena reached out to one of her friends after seeing her photos on Facebook, and she was really up for it. I put a call out on my Instagram, and we got a few people from that. It’s been a lot of people that I know from Instagram — they’re always really up for it.

When you were getting it started, how did you decide what you wanted the tone of ROAM to be?

In the beginning, the idea was for it to be a place for creative travelers to write stories and put together photo essays. The focus was very much on the creativity rather than on the destination. We wanted it to be all destinations around the world — there was going to be no exclusivity around that — and really great work. 

That was the idea, and over time it’s evolved. Now we want to broaden it to focus on sustainable and cultural travel, so we’re going to hopefully bring more things into it going forward. Our vision has changed a lot over time. We’ve seen what other people like — even though we love photo essays, we’ve also seen that it’s good to be an informative source as well as an inspirational one. But our vision is always changing.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

What were some of the challenges in getting the project up and running? 

There were a lot of nerves in the beginning. We were worrying about if it would be interesting, if people would like it, and if it would be something that could continue. 

Also — finding time for it. We set it up almost a year ago, and my freelance photography was taking off, so that had to be my priority since that’s how I make my living. You have to find the time between having a busy freelance life and pursuing a passion project on the side that isn’t making any money — and that you don’t see making money in the near future, but you know is beneficial in other ways.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

How did you get the following to expand? 

Because our model is contributor-based, a lot of it comes down to that. We have people contribute, then they reach out to their followers and tell them about it. Then their followers check us out and it goes on from there. We love it. It’s become a community rather than just a website. 

We also had a couple of big magazines and Instagrammers feature us. We were featured on a list of “24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites of 2017,” and we’d only just launched — that drove a lot of views to the site. It’s little things all the time, just building and building. You think there’s going to be one moment — like, “I’ve done it!” — but it’s just little bits over time. 

What is your role? What is your sister’s role? How do you both split up the work and keep the site going? 

In the beginning, I was going to focus on the photography side and the visual content and Athena was going to focus on the stories. But because we have been focusing on photo essays, now we each do both. It’s a lot about who has the time to do it — I’m busier right now, so she’s taking the reigns on working with the contributors. We both do the Instagram and Facebook. But we often decide to sit down and just have a “ROAM Day.” 

When did you know that ROAM was becoming something that would live on its own?

It took a long time. You really have to develop it and pursue it without seeing the views or the likes come back to you at first. It was six months before we were getting a lot of views, likes, or people emailing to contribute. When that does happen, it drives you even more. You see people are reading it, so you want to do more with it. 

That’s a challenge as well — continuing in the beginning when you only have 200 followers on Instagram and you’re wondering what the point is. But there is a point — you just have to stick with it.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

What were some of the unexpected things you had to deal with in keeping ROAM running? 

Time management is the main thing. I didn’t realize how much time it would take to actually do it all. I’ve done blogs before, but that was just me. And, to be honest, when I was blogging I didn’t really care about the quality of the content. But when you’re trying to mold a magazine into something high quality and unique, you’re making sure everything is great. It takes a lot of time. If you had a full time job, it would be really hard. As a freelancer, I’m a bit more flexible. 

What do you get out of keeping this project running and seeing it to fruition? 

I like having a passion project. I’m a photographer and that’s my passion, so my life is a passion project in many ways. But sometimes I don’t want to use the camera anymore. I just get really tired of it, and it’s nice to have something else. I love finding amazing work online and creating the site and communicating with all these creative people around the world. 

What do you hope for ROAM in the future? 

We’re hoping to grow … a lot. We’d love to work with more creative people, but also more brands and tourism boards, and grow it in a way that will allow us to connect, travel, and promote creativity. We want it to be a well-rounded magazine, something that can be informational and an inspirational tool.

If someone is thinking about pursuing a passion project, what advice do you have? 

I think the most important thing is to just to do it. You can sit on these ideas for a really long time and they’ll never become anything unless you take the first step and make the website or do whatever it is. You have to do the first step. 

Then it’s about seeing it through, which, for a lot of people, is the hardest thing. When nobody’s seeing it, when nobody’s liking stuff, it’s just about going through with it. If you have a really good idea, you have to put everything into it in the beginning. You have to do it for the passion, not for the money. 

Check out the stories on ROAM Magazine, tag your photos with #ROAMtravels, and submit your stories to Annapurna and Athena on their site.

Bagpiping His Way Around the World: A Conversation with the First Piper

Originally published on

“I’m not trying to get a Guinness World Record, although if they give me one, that would be great,” Ross OC Jennings said with a laugh. 

Ross is a 27-year-old piper, making his way around the world with his bagpipes and kilt. So far, he’s traveled to 60 countries, and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. He wants to see — and play the bagpipes in — every country in the world.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

How did you start playing the bagpipes? 

I grew up in China and have mostly lived abroad my whole life just because of my parents’ work. I had been in an international school in China for about eight years and then was sent back to boarding school in England. And the school wanted to start a pipe band. They were offering free lessons, so I did it. My mother is Scottish and my father is Irish, so I think my Scottish side of the family has always wanted a piper.

What is it like to play the bagpipes and why are they so unique? 

The bagpipes might not be as technically difficult as say, playing the piano, but playing bagpipes is physically exhausting. Imagine a snake charmer from India. The instrument snake charmers play are what you first learn on when you’re learning the bagpipes. It’s called a chanter, and that’s where you learn all the notes. Then once you’ve got the finger technique down, the tunes learned, you move on to the bagpipes and it becomes even more difficult. You have to blow into a bag, inflate it, keep it inflated, squeeze it underneath your arm — and it’s just physically exhausting. The first time I played I managed about nine seconds. 

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Bagpipes are one of the oldest instruments. They’ve supposedly been around for two or three thousand years. Some people think they originated in modern-day Europe, some people think Turkey, but everyone agrees on the Middle East. Then over time, they spread through Europe and were introduced into the U.K. by the Romans. And then they spread north into Scotland. Although they are conspicuously Scottish, the bagpipes are actually an Arabic instrument, which is what I love most about them. I can go to the Middle East, the Gulf, North Africa and everyone knows the bagpipes and absolutely love them. 

What led you to travel the world playing the bagpipes? 

It was a combination of different reasons. I wanted to be the first person to do something. I know that’s a little self-indulgent, but I liked the idea of having a record. I went to an adventure travel show in London right after I moved there and the speakers were doing awesome and wonderful things. They were all adventurers — they’d swum the Mississippi or hiked Greenland or skateboarded across Australia. Their life mission was to do what they loved and tell people about their stories. 

I left that day thinking, “how the hell can I do that?” I’d already played the bagpipes in a lot of different countries, so I thought, why not try to play the bagpipes in Antarctica. I went home, Googled, and up pops this photo of a piper in 1921 piping next to a penguin. So I had to do the whole world.

How did you actually decide to start your round-the-world trip?

I’d already traveled a lot with my parents while I was growing up, so I traveled with my bagpipes a lot. And I found out, by taking a gap year in between school and university, that bagpipes were quite a good way to earn money while I was traveling. So I thought it would be a good way to finance my trip. That, in combination with the fact that I’ve always wanted to travel full time and tell stories. 

I worked in London for about three months, handed in my notice because I didn’t like the idea of sitting behind a desk, and booked my first flight to Tunisia. I didn’t realize that the national instrument of Tunisia is also the bagpipes. 

Now it’s been three years and two months. I fund the trip by doing photography work, social media stuff, blogging, and motivational talks or workshops at schools around the world. 

How have you decided the route you’re going to take?

It’s totally random. I will be pushed and pulled in different directions depending on urgency, if I have a friend somewhere that I can visit, or if someone gets in contact with me. 

To give you an example of how my year panned out last year: it started because an international school in Malaysia asked me to do a performance and a talk. So I traveled Malaysia for a bit. Then I thought that, since I was in the region, there were plenty of other countries in Southeast Asia to visit. Then I flew back to the U.K. (I go back to the U.K. every two or three months because it’s nice to go back and wash my kilt). Then I had a friend contact me from Liberia, in West Africa, and tell me I had to get out there before the rainy season. Then I flew back to Eastern Europe because a tourism board in Montenegro got in contact … and that’s how it goes. There’s no set plan, but I’m getting a little better at planning in advance.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

When you get to a new place, what do you do while you’re there? 

There are two aspects to that. The first involves piping: where I’m going to bagpipe and how I’m going to bagpipe. And the other aspect is where I’m going to stay. 

When I’m arranging to play the bagpipes somewhere, I always do three things. 

One, I try to talk at a school, whether that’s an international school or a local school. That gives me an opportunity to dip into the expat crowd, which is most familiar to me. It also means I’m able to tap into the local community.

The other thing is a challenge involving the bagpipes. So hike up a mountain and play the bagpipes at the top.

The last thing I do is try to do some kind of piping event. If that fails, then I’ll just perform in a public place. That sometimes gives me really heartwarming interactions, but it’s also just a great way to interact with locals. But I never busk; it’s just a performance for me. 

What kinds of songs are you playing? 

There’s an unwritten rule with piping that you never have sheet music in front of you when you’re performing, so you have to learn everything by heart. And there’s a repertoire of about 15 tunes that most pipers will know wherever you are in the world, which is quite nice because you can get together with other pipers and you’ll be able to play those tunes together. 

What I’m trying to do now is learn different tunes because in schools, after about one or two minutes of bagpipes the students get bored and want something they like. 

And the other day, I was chatting with a Shanghai taxi driver and he was like, “You must learn the Chinese National Anthem on the bagpipes.” So I worked out how to play it and decided that’s a good thing to do for each country.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

What have you learned about music through this type of traveling? 

This is going to be dripping in cliches, but music breaks barriers. Whether or not it’s a language in and of itself, that’s a different conversation. Music has words sometimes, of course, but if it’s just an instrument like the bagpipes, it’s amazing how they’ve been able to put smiles on people’s faces. Maybe it’s the kilt and bagpipe combo … but even the grumpiest of policemen have been able to smile as a result of my piping. 

There’s definitely a unique aspect to the whole musical journey. And the bagpipes are such a conspicuously Scottish instrument, so I think that has the wow factor. If I was going around playing the guitar, maybe that would have a different impact.

What have you learned about your own culture through this journey?

Well, that the bagpipes aren’t actually Scottish. It’s important to maintain and look after these cultural entities, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt, because the idea of something definitely being from somewhere — the bagpipes or the kilt being from Scotland. If you look at different points through history, people borrow languages, instruments, cuisines, etcetera. 

In terms of learning about Scotland, it’s interesting how Scotland has impacted the world in different ways, but also how Scotland has been impacted by the world, too. So many cultures have adapted what is stereotypically known as Scottish culture. To give you an example, the bagpipes that I play are called the Great Highland Bagpipes. They’re so well known because of the British Empire, because every British regime would have their own pipe band. They introduced the bagpipes everywhere — and that’s why Qatar, Brunei, Hong Kong, I think even Mexico, all have pipe bands.

Have there been any challenges along the way? 

The bagpipes require a bit of an effort to travel with … just because of security. If the people at security know what it is, they want to share a lovely story with you. Or they’re like, “What is this?” I always allow an extra 30 minutes at the airport just in case. 

Working for myself and worrying where my money’s going to come from next month is terrifying. But I have to remind myself of the little things, like that it’s actually cheaper for me to travel full-time than it is to be based in the U.K.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

What has all of this traveling added to your life? Has it changed you? 

Absolutely — I think I change every week, every day. It’s nice to have the overarching goal of trying to get to every country. But then life hits and I start wondering how I’m going to fund it. It’s a challenge, but I’ve learned to be patient and super flexible with my plans. 

I live out of a bag, and I don’t mind it. But when I go into my room back home I realize that I didn’t miss anything, and didn’t remember that I had a lot of the things I left behind. It’s a reminder of how simply we can live our lives. 

I’ve learned — and this isn’t just unique to me — that the world is a surprisingly small place and it is exceptionally friendly.

Follow Ross’ journey around the world on Instagram.

8 Italian Cities for Every Type of Traveler

Originally published on

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” (Giuseppe Verdi)

Though Italy has only been an official republic since 1946, it is the fifth most-visited country in the world by foreign visitors. The boot-shaped nation contains more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other, was once the heart of the mighty Roman Empire, and has inspired artists, travelers, and lay people for centuries. 

It’s difficult to choose a single city to visit in this Mediterranean country, which is why many visitors frequent several during the same trip. But in a country full of history, art, architecture, romance, great food, stunning scenery, and beautiful coastal towns, narrowing your list can seem nearly impossible. 

Here are some suggestions:

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Founded: 753 B.C. 

Region: Rome/Lazio

Known for: Being the capital of Italy and the seat and namesake of the once-powerful Roman Empire. 

Top attractions: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vatican City, Spanish Steps

Best time to visit: October to April

Why you should go: If you’ve always been fascinated with the Roman Empire, a trip to the Italian capital should be top of your list. The busy streets and modern metropolitan areas, coupled with the ancient arenas and cobblestone sidewalks combine to give the city a unique atmosphere.



Founded: 59 B.C.

Region: Tuscany

Known for: Being the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home to Michelangelo’s famous “David” statue. 

Top attractions: Florence Cathedral & Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Galleria dell’Accademia

Best time to visit: May, June, or September

Why you should go: Though it’s one of the more well-known cities in Italy, Florence still maintains a small-town feel since it’s possible to walk from one end to the other in a mere hour. The piazzas, yellow-tinted buildings, museums, gelato shops, and street art make this Tuscan city a quintessential Italian experience. 

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Founded: 421


Known for:Its twisting canals, charming gondoliers, and masked traditions.

Top attractions:St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, Doge’s Palace

Best time to visit: September to November

Why you should go: Venice’s lack of motor vehicles makes it easy to believe you’ve stepped back in time. The maze of canals and bridges and alleyways is a delight to navigate, and the entire city is reminiscent of an empire lost to time. Ditch your map and make sure you visit soon!


Founded: 600 B.C.

Region: Lombardy

Known for: Being the fashion capital of the world and the economic power of Italy.

Top attractions: Milan Cathedral & Duomo, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Sforza Castle, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Best time to visit: April, May, or October

Why you should go: While Rome, Tuscany, and Venice get the Hollywood treatment, fast-paced Milan will give you a good look at what everyday life is like in Italy. Its more compact size also makes it easier to digest than the enormity of Rome.

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Founded: 1088

Region: Emilia-Romagna

Known for: Being home to the first university in the Western world, and the birthplace of a pasta sauce with a similar name. 

Top attractions: San Petronio Basilica, the Leaning Towers, Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Best time to visit: September to November

Why you should go: Only 30 minutes from Florence, this hidden gem flourishes in the Emilia-Romagna countryside. Bologna is full of interesting museums, cathedrals, and towers, and its rusty red color will charm any traveler. Don’t forget to try pasta alla bolognese.


Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Part of Italy Since: 110 B.C.

Region: Tuscany

Known for: A certain famous leaning tower. 

Top attractions:Leaning Tower of Pisa, Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa Baptistery, Camposanto Monumentale 

Best time to visit: April to June

Why you should go: Come for the Leaning Tower, but stay for everything else. Pisa is home to more than 20 other historic churches, medieval palaces, and beautiful bridges over the Arno River. Make sure to venture inside the Cathedral and churches, too, as sometimes what’s inside is even more stunning.


Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails) 

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails) 


Part of Italy Since:10th-11th century

Region: Liguria

Known for: Its five colorful, cliffside towns and connecting hiking trails. 

The five cities (from north to south): Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore

Best time to visit: June or September

Why you should go: The five villages of the Cinque Terre may be known as one, but, if you take time to explore each, you’ll find that they have unique personalities. Choose one as a home base and explore all five, using the local train, ferry, or hiking trails to get from one to the next. 

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Part of Italy Since: 1137 

Region: Campania

Known for: Sun-drenched days, a citrus fruit and the liqueur it produces, and the winding roads along the coast. 

Popular towns of the Amalfi Coast: Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Atrani, Vietri sul Mare

Best time to visit: May

Why you should go: There’s a reason it is believed part of Odysseus’ story took place in this coastal area. The Amalfi Coast — and the nearby island, Capri — sparkle in the constant sunlight. A winding road leads through towns full of colorful buildings and beach umbrellas, lemon trees and limoncello, handmade sandals and expensive trinkets.

The Secret to Creating Multidimensional Characters

Originally published on

Characters must be three-dimensional. We hear this phrase all the time, yet there’s never a corresponding blueprint or checklist for how to create a three-dimensional character.

In conversation with The Hollywood Reporter’s awards analyst Scott Feinberg in an episode of the THR Awards Chatter podcast, story expert Robert McKee shared this bit of wisdom while discussing the benefits of binge-watching long-form television series:

“In film we talk about three dimensional characters — Tony Soprano, in my analysis, is a 12-dimensional character; Walter White is a 16-dimensional character. If you sit there for 10 hours, watching dimension after dimension, contradiction after contradiction emerge out of this character, you see how he treats his wife one way, then he treats his friend another way, then he treats his enemy yet another way ... These brilliant cast designs of these great long-form series pull out consistent contradictory dimensions. That’s what a dimension is: a consistent contradiction within the nature of a character. After 10 hours, you have learned more about what it is to be a human being than you have ever in your life experienced in a feature film.”

When laid out that clearly, creating multidimensional characters seems simple. Dimensions are the result of consistent contradictions.

Consider Olivia Pope, the main character of “Scandal,” who, after it is revealed through supporting characters Quinn and Huck the first episode of the series that she doesn’t believe in crying, is brought to tears several times in the first season alone.

Or, take the characters in FX’s comedy, “You’re the Worst.” The two leads, Jimmy and Gretchen, are both cynical and self-destructive. Neither believes in the possibility of a successful romantic relationship, yet they find themselves in one nonetheless.

Look at Ron Swanson in “Parks and Recreation” or Dwight Schrute in “The Office.” Both have strong personalities — masculine and removed and serious and brash, respectively — yet both repeatedly show affection for various members of their offices time and time again.

A contradiction doesn’t have to be an issue of black and white, right or wrong, kind or mean. Like McKee says, it’s in the way Walter White treats the various people in his life. Contradictions can be found in personality traits, choices made, things said, or even subtle physical reactions. Sometimes contradictions are in the way these various aspects differ from each other.

Though McKee was referring directly to television shows, this way of looking at characters is also applicable to movies but in a slightly different way.

In television, writers have a seemingly unlimited amount of time (episodes) in which to tell a character’s story. They have the luxury of letting a character’s complexities reveal themselves slowly, and for a character to change over the course of an entire series. But in movies, that time is limited. A writer has roughly two hours to tell an entire story that features multidimensional, complex characters. Those consistent contradictions, therefore, must be more immediately obvious and lead to a greater change in the character in a shorter amount of time.

In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the narrator, Greg, assuages the audience’s worries early on and says that his friend, Rachel (the “Dying Girl”), doesn’t die. Upon making it to the end of the movie we learn that his statement was a lie, but the fact that he lies is a contradiction that reveals more about his character and his mental state given the circumstances. It makes him multidimensional and complex.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Inception” portrays himself in a different way to each member of the team he assembles, with only one person knowing the truth, something that comes back to hurt him in the movie’s third act. Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in “Casablanca” is seen saying that he’ll stick his neck out for nobody, then proceeds to do the exact opposite. And in “La La Land,” Ryan Gosling’s character says he wants to save jazz, but turns his nose up at John Legend’s character’s modern interpretation of the music genre.

“That’s what a dimension is: a consistent contradiction within the nature of a character.”

We are complex, confusing, flawed, and that complexity is a direct result of our innate contradictions. No one, real or fiction, is simply three-dimensional. Certainly our characters deserve no less. 

A Pilot's Life

When he travels, Florian Trojer packs his suitcase, makes sure he has his passport and license, and drives to the airport. He thinks about the flight ahead, who he’ll be sitting next to, and where he’s going — the destination is always in the back of his mind. He’s usually at the airport two hours before takeoff. 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals)

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals)

Though his travel preparations are nearly the same as any passenger’s, there is one distinct difference: Florian is the pilot.

While the passengers check their bags, go through security, find their gate, and wait to board, Florian is getting ready to fly a Boeing 777. 

He meets with the other pilots, and, together, they go to the flight dispatcher who gives them the documents for their flight: the flight plan, weather information, alternate routes, and airport restrictions at arrival. The pilots — there are at least three on long-haul flights — assess the flight and anything special about that day’s flight.

They meet the cabin crew, who tell them about anything unique to their flight — VIP passengers, unaccompanied minors, passengers in wheelchairs, animals. Then they head to the plane as a crew, where the flight attendants prep the aircraft and the pilots prep the cockpit. 

The pilots check the emergency equipment and enter the flight information into the computer. A mechanic briefs them about the technical status of the plane, and air traffic control gives them route clearance for the flight. 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

Passengers start streaming onto the plane, the loading crew gets the luggage into the cargo hold, and the cabin crew makes sure the correct number of passengers are on board. Then the doors are closed and the pilots get clearance to push back and start the engines. 

They head to the runway, get takeoff clearance, and start to accelerate. 

During takeoff, what sometimes comes across as tension to the passengers is really just extreme focus on the part of the cabin crew. Florian, in the cockpit, experiences everything a passenger does during takeoff — he just gets a better view. 

Then, the pilot lifts the massive metal plane off the ground, and, finally, they’re airborne.

Florian’s office is at the helm of a 775,000 pound Boeing 777. 

His colleagues work as one — monitoring the flight progress, checking the weather, communicating with various air traffic control stations along the route, making sure the passengers are comfortable. They chat about work, sports, politics, hobbies, their families, and the places they’ve been.

The view out Florian’s window is always changing. Sometimes it’s day, sometimes night. There could be icebergs, oceans, mountains, or deserts. Sometimes he sees the sun rise, and other times he watches it set. He watches cloud formations, and can often spot other airplanes crossing in the distance. No flight is ever the same. 

Florian’s cousin was a pilot in the Austrian Air Force, and, when he was a teenager, they would go to the airport together to see the planes. He started flying gliders at 16. When he finished with university, all he wanted to do was start flying again. 

While training to be a pilot, he learned about aerodynamics and the principles of flying. His studies included a lot of physics, math, geography, and meteorology. He learned about radio technology and communications, how to cope with stress and navigate changing time zones, and the mechanics of specific airplanes. Three years later, he was flying short haul flights around Europe, gaining experience that would eventually help him get his current job — flying Boeing 777s. 

Flying just never stopped being interesting. 

Today, Florian is still obsessed with flight. He loves the romanticism around flight, and how a rainy night flying into Hong Kong is completely different than a sunny day over the Rockies. He’s fascinated with the technology of the engines, the aerodynamic aspects of the planes, and the sheer size of the machines he operates.

About an hour before landing, the pilots brief the rest of the crew on their impending arrival. They check the computers and make sure everything is programmed correctly. They calculate the landing distance and study the ground charts for the airport they’re landing in. 

Air traffic control issues descent clearance and eventually gives them permission to land. 

Sometime during the descent, the pilots will switch off the autopilot. They’ll steer the plane safely onto solid ground. 

Being a pilot has shown Florian just how special the world is and how much more there is to see. 

Every time he lands, he’s ready to takeoff again.

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

All of Florian’s photos were taken during non-critical phases of flight, or from the cockpit observer seat as a non-acting crew member. You can see more of Florian’s photography on Instagram.

Wonder Woman and the Triumph of a Consistent Superhero

Originally published on

I’ll admit, I was one of the doubters at first. There was nothing missing from my cinematic life and I didn’t think I needed a female superhero movie. That changed completely when I saw “Wonder Woman.”


Less than a month after its release, Patty Jenkins’ movie has grossed over $430 million at the box office. It boasts a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, is the best film debut for a female director in movie history, and the trailer, which was uploaded to YouTube less than 30 days before the premiere, has been viewed over 10 million times.

But what I loved most about “Wonder Woman” wasn’t the way it continues to destroy records. I loved how, unlike most superhero movies, “Wonder Woman” triumphs because it maintains character consistency.

Gal Godot plays the Amazonian princess/demi goddess, Diana (Wonder Woman), who travels from her home, Themyscira, to 1918 London after an American pilot and spy, played by Chris Pine, crashes near the island and brings news of the war to end all wars. Diana, having been told from a very young age that it is the duty of the Amazon’s to protect mankind from the God of War, believes she can save the world by destroying Ares.

My favorite scene in “Wonder Woman” took place at the front. Diana, Steve Trevor, and their gang of misfit rebels are simply crossing through, intent on pushing forward to where the poisonous gas is being manufactured behind enemy lines in Belgium. But upon speaking with a distraught woman from a nearby town, Diana can’t stand by while the Germans fire on innocent people.

She dons the Wonder Woman tiara, sheds her cloak, and climbs up and out of the bunker. During one viewing of the movie I attended, someone in the theater actually cheered when she started climbing the ladder.

It took me a second viewing to understand why this particular scene captivated me and the explanation requires analysis of Diana’s character throughout the story and a jump ahead to the end of the movie. (Warning, there are spoilers ahead).

As a child, Diana idolizes the female strength she sees in her fellow Amazon warriors, and she grows up believing that mankind is good and requires saving from Ares, who corrupts and causes war. She believes, steadfastly, that if she defeats Ares, the war will end and peace will be restored.

While her insistence that Ares exists and she alone can defeat him are sometimes portrayed as comical to the audience and her fellow characters, that insistence shows consistency of character. Upon arriving on Earth and seeing the extent of the war, she is only more sure of what she already believes.

That belief carries her to the movie’s third act. Having found and killed the man she wholeheartedly believed to be Ares, General Ludendorff, Diana looks around, only to find that despite his death, the war is carrying on around her.

She is devastated. When you believe something as wholeheartedly as she believed Ares’ death would bring peace, it shakes you to your core. Because this fundamental belief proved false, everything Diana knows comes into question — the nature of mankind, her role in saving the world, even her ability to do so.

In the pivotal moment immediately after Ludendorff’s death, Steve rushes to find her and confronts her about what needs to be done to actually stop the war, but Diana is insistent.


“Ares is dead; they can stop fighting now. Why are they still fighting?”

“Maybe people aren’t always good. Ares or no Ares. Maybe it’s just who they are. Diana, we can talk about this later but I need you to come with me.”

“No, after everything I saw, this can’t be. It cannot be. They were killing each other — killing people they cannot see ... children. It cannot be. She was right. My mother was right. She said the world of men do not deserve you. They don’t deserve our help.”

“It’s not about deserve ... maybe we don’t. It’s not about that, it’s about what you believe. You don’t think I get it after what I’ve seen out there? You don’t wish I could tell you that there was just one bad guy to blame? We’re all to blame.”

“I am not.”

“But maybe I am. Please, if you believe that this war should stop, if you want to stop it, help me stop it right now. Because if you don’t, they will kill thousands more. Please, please come with me. I have to go.”

Diana refuses to go with Steve. And though in that moment she didn’t make the right decision, it was a moment of truth given what her character was experiencing at the time.

So many superhero movies feature accidental, reluctant, or begrudging superheroes. They are pulled into battles they don’t want to be involved in, fighting for things it’s not clear they believe in at all. After a moment like this one, those characters would do the right thing. But their characters aren’t consistent throughout the course of a single story and they rarely stand for anything.

Wonder Woman is the exact opposite. She is a purposeful superhero, and the story itself stays true to her character. Everything that happens over the course of the movie is in line with Diana’s character, whose personality is made clear from the start. That’s not to say she doesn’t change — she does. But it is the events of the story that force her to abandon what she previously believed was true and fight for what she now knows is truth.

Compare other superhero moments to that scene at the front, when Diana ignores everyone around her and walks toward danger. It’s the first of many scenes in which she stands up for what she believes, for what she knows to be true.

When I see Diana walk, unafraid, across the battlefield, it moves me because of what the act itself stands for and what it says about her character. She’s so sure of herself that she is able to walk without hesitation toward the enemy. She’s so sure of her beliefs that she purposefully makes a statement.

In a way, the movie itself does the same thing.

“I used to want to save the world,” Diana says in her closing voiceover. “To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside everyone one of them there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves — something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give — for the world I know can be.”