Saturday, May 09, 2009

Melora Hardin and her film, YOU

So, just in time to coincide with all of the discussion about celebrity interviews, I'm very excited to take a second here at Ask Allison to promote Melora Hardin's new film, YOU.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, a little bit.

I met Melora a few years back when I interviewed her for an American Baby piece. We had one of those wonderful conversations that you sometimes have with an actor, in which it doesn't matter one hoot that she is on television every week (for those of you who don't know, she plays Jan on The Office) or starring in movies (17 Again) or whatnot. We just really got along, enjoyed what the other had to say, and have stayed in touch ever since.

She told me about this project way back when. She had directed it, produced it, starred in it, AND done so with her husband, who wrote it. And so, because yes, she is a friend, but also because we are all about entrepreneurialism and forging your own path here at Ask Allison, when I was given the chance to help spread the word of the film, I, of course, jumped.

Here's the scoop, straight from Melora:

YOU is a love story. It spans 21 years, bouncing around in time, creating a kind of family quilt that wraps around a father as he struggles to overcome the grief of losing his beloved wife and raise their daughter alone. A coming-of-age journey for both the father and his daughter, YOU is filled with the magic of life and love and family.

We made this film in 18 days with our own money and in our own home as well as many locations donated by friends and family. Though it was fast and furious, we were determined to make it a great experience for all. Gildart and I frequently scrambled eggs in the morning -- simultaneously getting hair and makeup -- so that everyone would have a hot breakfast. Our friends brought their signature dishes for lunches and dinners.

Needless-to-say a lot of heart went into making our film and I am so proud that audiences seem to be moved by the story, leaving the film inspired to call their spouses or loved ones to say "I love you”. Our first review – In Boulevard Magazine – was fantastic:

Melora has given us more than a cool indie film. She has succeeded in gently reminding us that every moment in life is a gift – with all its frustrations and hardships and imperfections.” (Boulevard Magazine)

YOU is one of the first movies to ‘Open’ on the internet. We are very proud to be pioneering this new world and would love your support. Please visit us at and if you like what you see please buy YOU from Itunes, Amazon or from Please watch it with your family and friends. Thank you so much.

So I hope that you'll click on the links above or below and check it out. I'm always a fan of people pursuing their dreams, aiming higher than they did the day before. And also, she's a kick-ass woman. Which counts for a lot too. :)

Friday, May 08, 2009

And the Dam Has Broken

I'd planned to blog today about celebrity publicists, but have to save that for Monday because I wanted to report THAT I HAVE HAD A BREAK-THROUGH!!! (Yes, those caps were necessary!) Alert the authorities, shout it from the rooftops! Hallelujah!

Here is what has happened since I last checked in on Wednesday. I have become possessed. Seriously, some sort of super-writing machine has overtaken the person who is normally AWS, and I have been unable NOT to write. To that end, I have written 13 thousand, yes, you read that right - thirteen freakin' thousand - words in the past two days. In fact, I might just wrap this sucker up today, and if not today, then over the weekend or on Monday.

This is the part of writing that I love. It is the part that I crave, that we all wait for, when those characters will just not leave you the hell alone, and you HAVE to get their stories down. After a slow-going manuscript, these words cannot get out of me and down on paper fast enough. And it has occured to me during this incredible spell that all of the words (62 thousand of them) leading up to now were MEANT to be laboric, they were SUPPOSED to be difficult because this is not an easy book to write! My others have been much more linear, but this one, with its jumps into the future, has required a lot more plot-threading, a lot more serious brain work (honestly, sometimes, it gives me a headache to work through it), like I'm swimming through hazy water trying to get to something clearer.

And I have. I HAVE! The water is so clear from here on out that I can see the shore. So I am swimming furiously hoping to get there as fast as I can. A good reminder that all legs of this journey are worthwhile, and that this sprint at the end of the marathon (yes, I'm mixing metaphors) is worth savoring, not just because the finish line is in sight, but because work that came before it allowed me to get here.

Hurrah! Yahoo! I'm cooking this sucker until it's done!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Interviewing Logistics

Do you do your celeb interviews in-person or on the phone or through email, or does it vary? If you do them in person or on the phone, do you tape record the whole conversation or just take really good notes?

I do as many of them as I can in-person, not because it's fun to get a cup of coffee or drop in at the apartment of an actor, but because there are a lot of things that you can pick up on in an in-person interview that are obviously lost over the phone or worse, via email. I think that also, in-person interviews can lead to a certain congeniality and/or intimacy that you miss out on over the phone, BUT, in many cases, because so many actors are in LA or on location all over the world (I just interviewed Anna Friel from her farm house in the mountains of Spain), many times, this isn't possible.

So my second choice is always the phone. And I don't think I've ever done an interview via email. In my magazine days, yes, I would have (and I know that hard-school journalists frown on this, but in some cases, I have no problem with it), but there is, in my opinion, a difference between getting a specific quote from, say, a nutritionist and conducting a more nuanced interview with an actor. Email limits the flow of a conversation, and one of the things I love best about my interviews is that I really go in to them with very few preset questions: some, sure, but mostly, I let the interview go where it goes, and I often get great material this way...with email, you're out of luck. I do, occasionally, ask for quick follow-ups via email because celebs are very tightly scheduled and getting them back on the phone can be tricky, but initially? No.

Finally, yes, I tape EVERYTHING. I am super-paranoid that a publicist would go bonkers on me if I got a quote or innuendo wrong, not to mention that, obviously, as a journalist, you want to be 100% accurate, and the only way that I can ensure this is via tape. So I just plunk that good old recorder in between us over dinner, and we go from there. I also feel like it would be awkward to carry out a really good conversation while taking notes...I think the key to getting a good celeb interview is to really pay attention and see where the tangents can lead you. If you're wrapped up in note-taking, this just isn't possible.

Anyone do things differently?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Yeah, I Should Leave My House More Often

One of the things that I think I forget as a writer is how much fun it is to be, um, you know, not sitting in my office by myself all day long. I swear, in high school and college, I was super-social, but slowly, with every passing year, I've become hermetic, and honestly, if you locked me in my house with a computer and some supplies, I could probably live out my days happily. :)

So the good news is that I got off my ass last night, put on some killer heels (which subsequently twisted my ankle, proving that I am definitely more of a Converse gal than Louboutin gal) and trekked down to Prince Street to read with Laura Dave at McNally Jackson. And oh what a night we had!

The store was packed - standing room only, and it was chock full of friends, industry-folks and writers, including Anna David, Joanne Rendell, Alison Pace and Jasmin Rosemberg, and it was so, so, so awesome to have their support (and meet a few of them for the first time after years-long internet friendship). Laura and I each read sections from our books and then we took questions, which we answered in tandem. It's always interesting to hear how different authors approach different things - from the writing process to the research process to what we enjoy most (and least) about this whole shebang, so I actually thought it was a pretty informative gig (personally speaking, since I loved hearing Laura talk...I have no idea if I came off as a blithering idiot or an acute smarty).

Anyway, more importantly, I got out and met some readers who loved the book and talked to friends whom I haven't seen in a while and grabbed a slice of pizza with my agent (yes, very glamorous, we were both so exhausted that we begged off of the chichi drinks with Laura and her editor and some others), and came home both exhilarated and totally pooped. But it was a wonderful reminder that part of being a writer is getting out there in the world and soaking it all in...and now I have all the more material to seal myself in my office for at least another year. :)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Which Comes First: The Celebrity or the Interview?

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked, in terms of celebrity profiles, is about the logistics: someone writes me and says, "I have this great idea for a celebrity interview, but don't know if I can get him to talk to me...and if I do, how do I know if the magazine will be interested?" And therein lies the first challenge of the celeb interview: landing either the celeb in question or the assignment without commitment from the other party. (There are many other hurdles which we'll discuss too.)

Here is the problem: a celeb, especially the real high wattage stars, won't agree to an interview that hasn't already been confirmed (and likely won't also agree to something if they don't have a project to promote, so forget about approaching Brad Pitt simply because you want to interview him), but writers often feel risky (with good reason) pitching an editor, knowing that it's not a sure thing.

So here are some solutions: 1) if you have an ongoing, friendly relationship with a publicist (we'll talk more about publicists this week too) or a celebrity (yes, some of them do happen to be friends or friendly with us regular folk), then, by all means, you might want to put some feelers up. I've definitely done this. "Hey, would you be open to me pitching XYZ, as I know the editor there." Once you receive the go-ahead, then you can inform the editor that you're certain you can pull the trigger.

Given that this isn't too frequent of a situation, your best bet, in my opinion, is going with scenario 2), which is pitch the story idea without locking in the celebrity. This, however, only works in a few specific cases, which is partially why this type of writing can be so difficult. I would only do this with editor with whom I have a very, very good relationship and also only with editors who understand the snafus that occur all too often with celeb writing. These editors know that a pitch isn't always a sure-thing, and they also know that while you will try your very, very best to ensure 100% smooth sailing, it isn't always smooth sailing: actors sometimes flake, they sometimes get stuck on set, they sometimes don't want to answer questions that you'd really liked answered. A good reporter will find a way to deal with all of these things but even the very best reporter can't anticipate the craziest of scenarios, which, yes, sometimes flare up.

When I pitch and write my celebrity stories, I do so only to and only for editor who know that I work my tail off for them, but sometimes, a publicist will turn me down or sometimes, a subject will be tougher to crack than I'd like...and that is the nature of the beast. What I WOULDN'T do, if I were new to this realm, is toss of celebrity pitches with no contacts, no real way of getting it done. Don't, say, see a trailer for a movie starring an actor you'd always wanted to meet and fire off a note to your editor saying why he'd be perfect for XYZ profile. Luring celebs often requires the trust of their publicist, and if you don't have that, you're a lot less likely to get a "yes." (Again, more on publicists later in the week.) And it's also a pretty quick way to prove to your editor that you don't really know the ropes of this tricky dance.

I'll talk more about this in my upcoming posts. I'll end with this: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that I get to do this for a living. I love the actors I interview, I love hearing things about their lives, I love sometimes making a connection that continues long after we've hung up or had coffee. BUT. Celeb writing is not for the faint of heart. The logistics are tricky, sometimes the details and the back and forth can be a bit nightmarish, and if you think that you'll totally lose your crap when you're on the phone or in front of your all-time favorite actor ever, this is not for you. :)