Quantcast
Photo by Patti Perret / Focus Features

Over the past decade, the medium of podcasts has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry, attracting celebrities, journalists, and everyday people due to the relative freedom the platform provides. As podcasting has grown bigger, it has naturally seeped into other mediums, with the show Only Murders in the Building being the latest and greatest example.

Now, actor/writer/director B.J. Novak has made what might be the definitive movie about podcasting with Vengeance. An unrepentant serial dater, Ben Manalowitz (Novak) is a writer/aspiring podcaster in New York City who pitches his ideas to Eloise (Issa Rae), a producer at a podcasting company.

When Abilene Shaw (Lio Tipton), a girl Ben had dated casually, dies of a drug overdose, Ben’s presence on her social media leads her family to assume they were more serious than they were. Guilted into coming to her funeral in Texas, Ben soon finds himself drawn into their world, especially when Abilene’s brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook) suggests that Abilene’s death was not accidental. He starts recording everything to not only get to the bottom of the potential mystery, but to document a way of life he knows little about.

The film, the first movie written and directed by Novak, has an interesting tone. It’s not a full-on comedy, although there are a lot of comedic moments. While it has some heartfelt scenes in its relatively short 94 minutes, the inherent cynicism of Ben keeps it from becoming too sentimental. And the story introduces a degree of mystery, but it never becomes consumed by that part.

What Novak seems interested in more than anything is examining the way people from different parts of the country interact. While perhaps not the most profound investigation of the human condition ever put on screen, the film is much deeper than one might expect. Novak doesn’t eschew Texas stereotypes like religion, guns, and Whataburger, but he doles them out in small increments, focusing more on who people are than what they represent.

And so while Abilene’s sisters Paris (Isabella Amara) and Kansas City (Dove Cameron) are seemingly shallow on the surface, they also are worldly enough to know about the works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Quentin Sellers (Ashton Kutcher), a small-town record producer with whom Abilene worked, gives off a creepy vibe, but he’s also among the most erudite people in the whole film.

Novak obviously knows what type of role fits him best, and he does extremely well as the jaded-but-curious Ben. Holbrook steals the film as Ty, a potentially one-note character that becomes much more in his hands. Rae makes the most of a part that has her mostly talking on the phone. And all of the actors who make up Abilene’s family provide nice color to the story.

Vengeance is much tamer than its title would suggest, and it’s all the better for it. It does what podcasts often do best, diving deep into a particular aspect of American life, providing revelations that can surprise both the podcaster and the audience.

---

Vengeance is now playing in theaters.

Ashton Kutcher and B.J. Novak in Vengeance.

Photo by Patti Perret / Focus Features
Ashton Kutcher and B.J. Novak in Vengeance.
Courtesy photo

New true crime podcast with CultureMap ties dives deep into baffling case

A Must Listen

If you've got a true crime addiction (and don't we all?), here's another podcast to add to your list. Final Days on Earth comes from investigative journalist Claire St. Amant, a development producer for CBS News who just happens to be a former CultureMap Dallas editor.

St. Amant has produced over 20 episodes of the true-crime television show 48 Hours since she joined CBS News in 2014, along with a handful of stories for 60 Minutes. But she began researching her latest subject while at CultureMap, where Texas-based murders and mysteries were often part of her beat.

Final Days on Earth premiered on April 20 and focuses on Dammion Heard, a college wrestler who vanished after a party in 2014 in Gunnison, Colorado. After a six-month investigation, Gunnison Police ruled Heard's death a suicide, but his friends and family have always wondered if foul play was involved.

The 12-part podcast from Cold Case Productions and PodcastOne covers his baffling disappearance through police interviews with witnesses from the party and Dammion's friends in 2014, as well as original interviews conducted in real time as the podcast is being produced. It debuted at No. 30 on the true crime podcast charts, and is sure to keep climbing.

We chatted with St. Amant about her foray into podcasting, why this case has stuck with her all these years, and why she's hopeful that new witnesses will come forward to shed light on Heard's death.

CultureMap: How did you first become interested in the Dammion Heard case?

CSA: I was actually the managing editor of CultureMap Dallas when Dammion's story first came across my desk in April 2014. It was a compelling story to me because of how suddenly Dammion's life was turned upside down. One day, he's a rising star on the wrestling team, with tons of friends and close relationships with his family, and then he just disappears out of thin air.

The college freshman walked into a party and had no idea it would be the last night of his life. It's just such a tragic turn of events on a seemingly normal night that I had to know more about who Dammion was and what events led up to his disappearance and death.

I never imagined my reporting journey would last this long — seven years and counting — but believe I'm closer than ever to getting the answers that Dammion's family has been looking for ever since his death.

CM: How did the podcast come about?

CSA: I was contacted by a recruiter in 2018 about hosting a true crime podcast and she pitched me on a bunch of different cases, but none of them felt like the right fit for me. I already focus on true crime cases for CBS News, so I have a pretty high threshold of what kinds of cases that I find interesting.

There was a local newspaper poll that came out after Gunnison Police ruled Dammion's case as a suicide, and 85 percent of respondents said they did not believe that police were justified in closing the investigation. I realized it wasn't only Dammion's family who had questions about the suicide ruling, and I wanted to see if I could help find some answers.

Dammion's story had so much material — the Gunnison Police Department conducted 47 recorded interviews with witnesses in the case — and it had never been heard by the public. When I got ahold of that raw audio, it was a jaw dropping moment. I realized it was a podcast waiting to happen, and I wanted to be the one to put it together.

CM: What extra reporting have you done for the podcast?

CSA: I've conducted over 35 interviews of my own for the podcast, and in June 2020, I roadtripped to Gunnison and spent a week reporting on location. The cornerstone of my reporting was putting together a timeline of Dammion's final days on earth and the ones following his disappearance, before police found his body.

The police file on Dammion's case was 187 pages long, but it was just a listing of individual reports from three different investigators. No one had ever taken the time to go through everything and put all the events in order.

Using eyewitness statements, bank records, cellphone data, and information from Western Colorado University about Dammion's ID card usage, I constructed a timeline that paints a much clearer picture than anyone has ever seen in this case.

CM: What was the experience of putting it together like?

CSA: It was a lot harder and took a lot longer than I ever could have imagined when I started the process back in 2018. But I've learned so much about every aspect of podcast production. In the beginning, it took me a week to put together one episode, and it was so stressful handling all the technical aspects of audio editing. But around the third episode, I really hit my stride and got into a rhythm.

CM: Did you discover anything new while making it?

CSA: Absolutely. You'll have to listen to the full season to get all the details, but suffice it to say I've found new witnesses and consulted experts from all over the world, as close as McKinney and as far away as Germany, to get insight and answers that no one else has about Dammion's case.

CM: Do you think this case could benefit from increased exposure and renewed interest from the public?

CSA: Definitely. There are key witnesses in Dammion's case who have never been identified, even though there are vehicle descriptions and other pieces of identifying information available. We need the public's help to get these descriptions out there and hopefully compel someone to come forward and share what they know about Dammion's case.

CM: What are some of your favorite podcasts?

CSA: Oh man, so many! The classics for me will always be season one of Serial and season one of Up and Vanished. More recently, my favorite podcasts of 2020-2021 were season two of American Nightmare; Murder in a Safe Place with Paul Wagner; and Tom Brown's Body, the first podcast from Skip Hollandsworth at Texas Monthly.

---

New episodes of Final Days on Earth with Claire St. Amant are released every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other podcast listening platforms. The 12-episode series runs through July 6.

Original CultureMap Dallas managing editor Claire St. Amant.

Courtesy photo
Original CultureMap Dallas managing editor Claire St. Amant.

New national Selena podcast offers personal look at the Texas superstar

High Notes

Selena Quintanilla, known to millions of fans as the queen of Tejano music, is one of the most celebrated Mexican-American entertainers of the late 20th century. Her immense talent and tragic death captivated millions, and now with a Netflix series and a new podcast, Selena is inspiring a new generation of fans.

On January 13, WBUR and Futuro Media launched Anything for Selena, a nine-episode podcast about the music icon’s life story, her enduring legacy, and what she means to the Latinx community. Ultimately, as host Maria Garcia describes it, “it’s a podcast about belonging.”

Using a deeply personal lens, Garcia weaves her own story as a queer, first-generation Mexican immigrant, while using cultural analysis, social justice history, and real-time politics to explore the impact of Selena. Each episode, available in both English and Spanish, unwraps another layer on Garcia's journey "to understand what it means to love, mourn and remember Selena."

That journey begins at the border where Garcia was born in Juarez, Mexico, and later grew up in El Paso. “[It was] a place where for a long time, I felt divided in two,” she says in her podcast promo.

When she started attending school in El Paso, her schoolteachers anglicized her name to Mary. “This was the early '90s when assimilation was incredibly rewarded,” she says during a phone interview. Around the age of 7, Garcia discovered the rising star on television.

“Red lips, brown skin, big hoops, [Selena] was magnetic no matter what side of the border she was on,” Garcia explains.

Selena debuted on the music scene in 1981 as the lead singer of the band Selena y Los Dinos, which included members of her family. Later, after breaking out as a solo artist, she achieved stardom with songs like "Como la Flor" and "Amor Prohibido."

In 1995, Selena's life came to an end when she was shot and killed by Yolanda Saldivar, her friend and former boutique-store manager.

Pop music fans who may be unfamiliar with Selena's Spanish-language work may remember her posthumously released 1995 hit song "Dreaming of You." Two years later, the film Selena was released starring Jennifer Lopez in the title role, catapulting Lopez into international stardom.

Only nine when Selena died and 11 when the biopic was released, both had a formative impact on the young Garcia. “This [podcast] is like my dream,” she said in a phone interview. “I’ve been thinking of her all of my life.”

And so, when creating Anything for Selena, Garcia says she needed to tell the story from her own perspective, a goal she feels she has accomplished.

“I wanted to situate it in today,” the host says. “I didn’t want to make a podcast that was just looking back. I wanted to make a podcast that was helping us make meaning of our culture today, of the moment today, of our lives today with the insight of the last quarter-century since her death.”

The podcast will likely find a very public audience, but for Garcia, it's a personal homage to the superstar who helped inspire a little girl growing up in El Paso. Even today, Garcia still listens to Selena's greatest hits whenever she feels she needs a little motivation.

“I love 'La Carcacha',” she says. “It always makes me want to party.”

How about if you’re in a pensive mood?

“'No Me Queda Más',” she replies without skipping a beat.

---

The first two episodes of Anything for Selena are now available for download at WBUR, NPR, Apple podcasts, Spotify, and more.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Global superstar Beyoncé rides into Arlington on highly anticipated world stadium tour

Worldwide concert news

Texas-born pop superstar Beyoncé is coming to Dallas-Fort Worth as part of her just-announced "Renaissance World Tour." She will perform at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on September 21.

And, fans who can't get enough can also catch Bey in her hometown of Houston, at NRG Stadium, on September 23.

Tickets for the world tour dates go on sale Monday, February 6. BeyHive members will enjoy an exclusive presale, while other fans can register now with Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan technology here. Those interested can find tickets, schedules, and more information at beyonce.livenation.com and tour.beyonce.com.

Beyonce kicks off her world tour on May 10 in Stockholm, Sweden at the Friends Arena. She'll dot Europe with big stadium shows through June 27, where she'll play Warsaw, Poland.

Her North American tour starts July 8 in Canada, where she'll play Toronto's Rogers Centre. Beyoncé will trek the U.S. through the summer and into September; her Dallas and Houston shows are the sole Texas performances.

She will end her tour in New Orleans (Caesars Superdome) on September 27.

The world tour comes as Beyoncé is awash in Grammy glow: in November, she was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, tying her with her husband (neé Shawn Corey Carter) for the most nominations in Grammy history. The Grammys take place Sunday, February 5.

Critics and fans have lauded Renaissance, her first solo work since the wildly popular and deeply personal 2016 effort, Lemonade — even through its minor controversy.

Start packing and planning those trips. Here's the entire tour schedule:

Europe

May 10, 2023 – Stockholm, SE – Friends Arena

May 14, 2023 – Brussels, BE – King Baudouin Stadium

May 17, 2023 – Cardiff, UK – Cardiff Principality Stadium

May 20, 2023 – Edinburgh, UK – BT Murray Field Stadium

May 23, 2023 – Sunderland, UK – Stadium of Light

May 26, 2023 – Paris, FR – Stade de France

May 29, 2023 – London, UK – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

May 30, 2023 – London, UK – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

June 08, 2023 – Barcelona, ES – Olympic Stadium

June 11, 2023 – Marseille, FR – Orange Velodrome

June 15, 2023 – Cologne, DE – Rhein Energie Stadion

June 17, 2023 – Amsterdam, NL – Johan Crujff Arena

June 21, 2023 – Hamburg, DE – Volksparkstadion

June 24, 2023 – Frankfurt, DE – Deutsche Bank Park

June 27, 2023 – Warsaw, PL – PGE Narodowy

North America

July 8, 2023 – Toronto, ON – Rogers Centre

July 12, 2023 – Philadelphia, PA – Lincoln Financial Field

July 15, 2023 – Nashville, TN – Nissan Stadium

July 17, 2023 – Louisville, KY – L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium

July 20, 2023 – Minneapolis, MN – Huntington Bank Stadium

July 22, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Soldier Field Stadium

July 26, 2023 – Detroit, MI – Ford Field

July 29, 2023 – East Rutherford, NJ – MetLife Stadium

Aug. 01, 2023 – Boston, MA – Gillette Stadium

Aug. 03, 2023 – Pittsburgh, PA – Acrisure Stadium

Aug. 05, 2023 – Washington, DC – FedEx Field

Aug. 09, 2023 – Charlotte, NC – Bank of America Stadium

Aug. 11, 2023 – Atlanta, GA – Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Aug. 16, 2023 – Tampa, FL – Raymond James Stadium

Aug. 18, 2023 – Miami, FL – Hard Rock Stadium

Aug. 21, 2023 – St. Louis, MO – Dome at America's Center

Aug. 24, 2023 – Phoenix, AZ – State Farm Stadium

Aug. 26, 2023 – Las Vegas, NV – Allegiant Stadium

Aug. 30, 2023 – San Francisco, CA – Levi’s Stadium

Sept. 02, 2023 – Inglewood, CA – SoFi Stadium

Sept. 11, 2023 – Vancouver, BC – BC Place

Sept. 13, 2023 – Seattle, WA – Lumen Field

Sept. 18, 2023 – Kansas City, MO – Arrowhead Stadium

Sept. 21, 2023 – Arlington – AT&T Stadium

Sept. 23, 2023 – Houston – NRG Stadium

As always, As with previous tours, Beyoncé will create activations, programs, and giveaways via BeyGOOD, the foundation she created in 2013.

Monumental new sculptures by  renowned 9/11 artist take root at Texas Botanic Garden

blooming work

Here is something new for Texas travelers who enjoy exploring art in nature. An intriguing new collection of sculptures called "Intertwined: Exploring Nature's Networks," by renowned artist Steve Tobin, opened at the Houston Botanic Garden on January 28.

Tobin's collection of pieces soar and wind and unfold against the backdrop of the gardens paths and trees, connecting the bronze, glass, ceramic, and steel sculptures to the landscape.

The connection is important for Tobin, an artist who may be most well known for his Trinity Root, a memorial that was cast from the roots of the tree that protected one of New York City's cathedrals during the 9/11 attacks. As a child, he was known as "Nature Boy," which he says was as apt then as now.

"I would find twigs or mushrooms, and they would mean something to me," he says. "I'm the guy with my nose in the sand and my butt in the air, looking deeper than most people. I think I see more. I think it's part of my DNA."

Originally from Pennsylvania, Tobin graduated from Tulane University in 1979 with a degree in math. He was always drawn to art, however, and his massive creations - from eggs in birds' nests to roots and limbs woven together to branches stretching to sky - evoke the powerful pull he feels to the natural world and a desire to help others see its beauty. The Christian Science Monitor described his works as "monuments to the meeting of science an art."

"Science is more creative that art," he explains. "Scientists have to describe the universe from nothing, and the explanation has to work. Artists can make up whole worlds. Scientists don't get credit for their vast creativity."

By focusing his works on the natural world, Tobin looks to showcase how the two subjects work in harmony, and how people can interact with them. In Eagle Nest, a huge, polished steel egg sits perched in nest.

Polished to a high gloss, the egg becomes a mirror. "You look at the egg and you see yourself," Tobin says. "It shows that you are in the egg."

For Tobin, there is magic in helping people, whether they are art novices or aficionados, find a connection with his art.

"I've done my job when someone has an expression of magic," he says. "And once you open that door, even for a second, it can never be fully closed."

He says he is looking forward to Texas audiences seeing his works in the garden, which he feels is a natural place for his sculptures — the biggest of which is 30 feet high and took 2,000 hours of welding to complete.

Showcasing his sculptures there cements the harmony with nature he feel and thinks is something others should strive to see. Tobin even has a connection to Houston: one of his great friends, a woman he met at Tulane, lives there.

Two other pieces also have roots there. Tobin says Steel Roots will resonate particularly well in Texas. "It's made from repurposed oil pipe, a lot of it from Texas," he says. "So now, it's back home in a different context."

And when Botanic Garden guest encounter the Twisties, they'll likely recall hearing the terms from gymnast Simone Biles, who famously used the word to describe the disconnect she felt between her mind and her body. Tobin's sculptures are between eight and 17 feet high and evoke Asian calligraphy. He describes them as "distorted gymnastics."

Mostly, though, Tobin wants visitors to get a window into how he imagines the world.

"I try to translate into sculpture what I see so people can see what I see."

-----

"Intertwined: Exploring Nature's Networks" runs Saturday, January 28 through August 13 at Houston Botanic Garden, 1 Botanic Garden Ln. Regular garden admission is $15. For tickets and more information, visit Houston Botanic Garden online.

Photo courtesy of Houston Botanic Garden

Tobin's 'Romeo & Juliet' sprouts from the grounds.

Bolstered by 'Yellowstone,' Fort Worth ranks No. 25 on new list of best cities for filmmakers

That's showbiz

Taylor Sheridan continues his magic touch for Fort Worth: For the second year in a row, the city has landed a top-25 spot among the best big cities to live and work as a moviemaker.

Fort Worth repeats at No. 25 on MovieMaker Magazine's 2023 list. It is joined by four other Texas cities in the top 25: Austin (No. 12), Dallas (No. 20), Houston (No. 21), and San Antonio (No. 22).

MovieMaker compiles its annual list based on surveys, production spending, tax incentives, additional research, and personal visits whenever possible — with the notable exclusions of Los Angeles and New York:

"We don’t believe people should have to be rich or well-connected to make movies," writes MovieMaker editor Tim Molloy. "And we know plenty of people who moved to L.A. or New York with filmmaking dreams and ended up working industry-barely-adjacent jobs just to pay the bills. We think the best place to live is one you can afford — a place where you can be happy, inspired, and financially free to pursue your art."

These criteria are themes throughout the ranking: Atlanta, Georgia, took the top spot overall, followed by Vancouver, British Columbia (No. 2), and New Orleans, Louisiana (No. 3). The five Texas cities on the list all boast more affordability than Los Angeles or New York, and each one features a deeply supportive film community and various local incentives.

Fort Worth made the list for the just second year, thanks in large part to the shooting of series in the Yellowstone franchise.

"Fort Worth is the proud home of Taylor Sheridan’s upcoming Paramount+ limited series about Bass Reeves, the once-enslaved man who became a famed federal marshal," Molloy writes. "Sheridan’s Yellowstone prequel 1883 also shoots in Fort Worth, and is based in nearby Weatherford, where Sheridan owns a ranch. Fort Worth offers clear skies, easy permitting, and a vibrant film culture that includes the Lone Star Film Festival.

"The 13th-biggest city in the country also has experienced crews and a cost of living almost exactly in line with the U.S. average. While there’s no official local incentive program, the city’s very accommodating film officials work hard to offer soft incentives like deals on hotels."

Neighboring Dallas came in at No. 20, selected for its location and architecture, among other factors.

"Why choose Dallas? The city offers an online document that addresses just that question, and points to factors including its equal access to both coasts, great weather (except for some cold nights) and striking visuals, including modern and futuristic buildings that form a strikingly camera-worthy nighttime skyline," Molloy writes.

Dallas' diversity, plethora of permitting options, and cost of living also bolster its ranking.

"It’s one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a deep, experienced crew base, easily obtainable permits, and hotel deals to be had — if you’re shooting in Dallas and staying in the city’s hotels for at least 15 nights, you could qualify for up to 10 percent back on rooms," Molloy writes. "It’s a great city to work on other people’s projects so you can save enough money to create your own, and is almost exactly in line with the U.S. average cost of living. Just drive or walk its streets and it’s impossible not to notice the new construction and businesses popping up all over town, and it’s full of rising filmmakers who pitch in to do each other favors and bring one another’s projects to life."

He adds that the Dallas International Film Festival does an admirable job of showcasing must-see films, such as last year’s documentary Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom.

Elsewhere in Texas

"Texas is booming, as you’re about to see from the five Lone Star State cities on this list — all of which would be higher in our rankings if Texas offered more generous tax incentives," Molloy writes. "Still, the state is working hard to attract film and TV projects, and the signs of growth are obvious all over the state."

Austin unsurprisingly took the highest Texas spot at No. 12, scoring points beyond the obvious benefits of SXSW. MovieMaker praised smaller fests like the Austin Film Festival, as well as the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, and Austin's impressive list of filmmaker residents (Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Terrence Malick — to name a few).

Houston placed right behind Dallas at No. 21, with MovieMaker touting its diversity and low cost of living.

San Antonio came in fourth among Texas cities at No. 22, selected for its plethora of permitting options, reinstatement of local film incentives, and growing educational opportunities such as the University of Texas at San Antonio’s new Bachelor of Fine Arts Film & Media Studies program.