What can you tell us about your new eBook Reality Boulevard http://apostrophebooks.com/books/realityboulevard/ ?â¨
Reality Boulevard is a fictional account of the “backstage” world of Hollywood, television and reality TV, based on my years in the business. The novel follows a groups of quirky characters in different parts of the business – moguls, producers, fading television stars, writers, wanna-be reality celebrities – in their cutthroat quest for the next big hit. It reads like a wacky satire, but as some of my readers in the business have already recognized, it’s actually pretty darn close to the truth. You have to have a great sense of the absurd and a sense of humor to work in non-fiction television.
You have been in entertainment for more than 20 years, so what made you want to write your experiences down in a book?
I’ve been blessed with a long, colorful and fairly successful career, doing everything from pure documentary, ‘movie of the week’ work, series television, independent features, to reality TV. In many ways, I think of myself as just another ‘worker bee’, a kind of ‘Zelig” who has observed a lot of wild things and, being a fiction writer, has conveniently kept a lot of good notes. I have a lot of shocking “road stories” to tell but despite all I’ve seen, I’m not comfortable with writing a “tell all” that might hurt individual people. That’s just not me. I believe you can also communicate a much deeper, more universal message through fiction, which is what I tried to do in this novel.
You have also written books on dog training, so tell us about these experiences.
The Dog Whisperer books were co-authored with Cesar Millan, with me as his “credited ghost.” My job was to translate his message into words, since English is not his first language and he is not necessarily a writer. As an Executive Producer of Dog Whisperer for 9 seasons and having directed and written dozens of episodes for the series, I was fortunate to be able to frequently observe Cesar’s impressive work in action as well, and I absorbed a lot that way. Interestingly the last Dog Whisperer book was written with the help of five other dog trainers, many of whom didn’t necessarily agree with Cesar one-hundred percent, so that in itself was another type of education.
What first appealed about Hollywood for you?
My father was a photographer, a film and theater buff, a motion picture historian, and as founder of the Boston Public Library’s AV Department, a curator and supporter of independent films as well. I was weaned on Hollywood. From the age of four I started to act on stage, I wrote my first plays at five or six, and at age nine my father taught me how to shoot, direct and edit my first Super-8 film. I was always attracted to the art of visual and verbal storytelling that is filmmaking.
What was you biggest high and low of working in the entertainment industry?
I think the biggest high for me was winning the Documentary Emmy for Titanic, Death of a Dream, a documentary mini-series I did for A&E, in 1995. My late Dad was my “date”, which was really special for him (he was in his 70’s at the time) and I was so certain I wasn’t going to win, I had used up all the film in my camera before my name was called. I won for writing, and one of my two editors, Yann Debonne, won for editing. I had produced, written and directed the entire mini-series with basically a staff of two plus the editors so it was a real labor of love for me. James Cameron relied on it as part of his research for his mega-hit, Titanic, and buffs and historians of the disaster will still tell you that it is the quintessential Titanic documentary - the ‘one to beat’.
As far as lows go, sure, there have been a lot, as it is a very cruel business and the hurts, betrayals and disappointments will pile up on anyone who has been around long enough. I try not to focus on the negative, however, because it serves no purpose. Just learn the lesson, move on, and if you are angry about something, you can always write a novel!
What is the biggest attraction to reality tv for the watcher?
I’d like to ask a psychologist that question! I also think there is a degree of schadenfraude in watching people whose lives appear to be more messed up than your own.
TV goes through fads and phases, like any form of art or entertainment, and I think at the time (the 90’s) that reality TV first came into vogue, dramas on television were getting stale and in the beginning, reality TV like The Real World, Survivor and American Idol brought something fresh to audiences. I also believe people are attracted to the idea that, as Andy Warhol said, everybody will have his or her “15 minutes of fame” – you too can be the next mega-celebrity; and you don’t necessarily have to have any special talent to do so! It’s a scary, potentially dangerous carrot that reality TV dangles, and I explore that in my novel. The early freshness of reality TV – in my opinion - is long gone, however, and today I think people watch reality TV as a guilty pleasure and also because basically, that’s all they’re offered. Most of the really exciting scripted drama has migrated to the high-end cable networks.
When did your talent for story telling begin?
I’ve been writing plays and stories, as I said, since I was probably five or six. My mother used to tell me that even before that, I’d play with my toys aloud using dialogue and descriptions. Perhaps that is because my parents, both librarians (and my English teacher Grandmother) read aloud to me every night from practically the time I was born.
Your characters have been said by critics to be original and visceral, so how did you capture this fresh look at a very stereotyped world?
I happen to love people. All people, deep inside, are seeking a way to connect with one another. Real people are complex and are comprised of shades of gray, not black and white. Reality TV portrays their characters as black and white, which is one of the things I most dislike about it. It relies on stereotypes - mostly harmful stereotypes, especially negative gender and racial stereotypes - to tell simplistic stories fueled by artificially constructed conflict and fake drama.
In creating characters, I admire Charles Dickens who shows us that you must love all your characters and see the world through their eyes, even the ‘villains’. That is something I learned through acting as well. You have to get inside every character and see the world through his or her eyes, beyond just describing the character from the outside.
There’s also the fact that people in Hollywood are often truly outrageous in their behavior. A lot of what I wrote in Reality Boulevard is just describing what I saw. Like I said, I have a lot of freaky “road stories.”
How can people who are not avid fans of reality tv enjoy this book?
You absolutely don’t have to be an avid fan of reality TV to enjoy this book – in fact, if you are one, you might not like the behind the scenes world I portray! If you dislike reality TV, this is definitely the book for you! If you don’t care one way or another, or have never even seen a reality TV show, I hope this novel will still resonate with you because the characters are so real and they want what all human beings want – love, acceptance, success – and face the same obstacles we all face – rejection, betrayal, the question of whether or not to sell out, the fear of not reaching your long-held dreams. The world of the novel is a colorful one. And every reader so far tells me it is impossible to put down!
What is next for you?
I just came back from shooting (directing, and will also write) a Discovery ID pilot about the psychological aspects of murder, which I hope becomes a long-running series because it’s so fascinating! I adore Discovery ID because it’s stylish documentary and re-enactment storytelling and it’s addictive viewing. I love going out into the field and intensely interviewing people and being a fly on the wall in different worlds and different lives – it’s a real gift of documentary filmmaking. And I also love true crime – that’s my guilty pleasure TV!
Speaking of crime, I’m also working on a psychological thriller (hopefully a trilogy) for my next novel. My husband, film and television writer/director and Ghost Whisperer creator John Gray and I, are also developing our own independent feature projects together (in 2010 we produced an indie feature White Irish Drinkers together that you can find on Netflix, iTunes or Amazon, etc.) as well as developing television drama series.