Day 19: The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo

november

It’s November again, and if you know anyone who has ever thought about writing a book, you may already know: November is NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo parses out to National Novel Writing Month. Basically, writers are challenged to write 50,000 words—a novel—in the month of November. The challenge started in 1999 with 21 participants, and today has grown to nearly 500,000 ambitious writers each year.

My eighth novel, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse, actually started out as my first novel, and I started writing it for NaNoWriMo 2003. I got about 20,000 words in and could never get any further. Almost ten years (and seven completed and published books) later I picked up that first draft again with an aim to revive it. I realized then why I’d never managed to finish it: it was—pardon my French—crap.

But I still liked the core idea; the questions I’d been trying to answer still wouldn’t let me go. So in late 2013 I completely scrapped the entire first draft and started over again with just the kernel of the idea, and what I wrote became my eighth book (and one of my favorites).

Over the course of the last ten years, I’ve grappled with the question when would-be-writers ask me: “Do you recommend I try NaNoWriMo?” There are pros, of course, but there are also cons. And thus, this post.

First, the pros.

If you’ve always wanted to write, anything that gives you a nudge to get started is good. You can finally see if what you thought was a book inside you, waiting to get out, was actually a book; or if maybe it was just an idea you had but aren’t really passionate about. Writing isn’t a glamorous activity. There’s eye strain involved; there’s carpal tunnel and shoulder and back problems. And it’s not “hard” in the sense that coal mining or digging ditches is hard, but it’s hard in the sense that it brings up every insecurity you never knew you had, every fear, every resistance to judgment, every vulnerability. If you want to write well, you have to dive into those fears and vulnerabilities, and that can be hard. So, to my point, if NaNo (as it’s shortened) can give you that push over the fear hurdles, that’s great.

And, in theory, one could develop a habit from this. If you sit down and write every day for 30 days, by the end of 30 days you’ll have a writing habit, and that’s what it is to be a writer.

But on the other hand, the cons.

On the other hand, the 50,000-word mark is a not-entirely-arbitrary number; it’s the very lowest baseline for what most consider a “novel” as opposed to a “novella.” (See here and here.) It may come as no surprise that if you asked a hundred novelists how long it takes to write a novel, the most common answer would not be “one month.” Certainly some people write that fast. I do not. Even if I’d spent a year planning out my novel, I doubt I could write one in a month.

And as I said, 50,000 is really a baseline. Most novels (depending on genre) are longer. If you want to technically write a complete novel, you’ll be writing more than 50K. But beyond that, 50,000 words in 30 days amounts to almost 1,700 words per day. I’m a seasoned writer, and generally when I’m in my writing groove I aim for 1,500 to 2,000 per day. A huge number of writers aim for 1000 per day, every day (not just when they’re in their writing groove). The most words I’ve ever written in one day is somewhere over 6,000, and I’ll tell you, that is exhausting. 1,700 every day for 30 days (especially for a new writer) is a feat that leaves most people completely drained. Anyone who ends up writing 50,000 words in one month is likely to be too tired to continue. I’ve known far too many people who go hard in November and then don’t touch their work again for months.

In my opinion, a better idea is to adapt NaNoWriMo to more realistic aims. If you want to build a writing habit, decide on a goal to write every day for 30 days for an hour. An hour is a reasonable amount of time to stare at your computer or pad of paper, even if at the end you only have 200 words. It’s the habit you’re trying to build, not the word count (just as I’m firming up my own writing habit with these daily blog posts). The word count will come with time and practice. When I started my first book, a 200-word day was not uncommon. Here I am, seven years later, and now a 1,000-word day is pretty easy. Start small and build up.

If, on the other hand, the goal is to write a novel, then by all means, start writing a novel. You don’t have to complete it in one month. Two of the hardest parts of writing a novel are starting it, and then finishing it. If you’ve done both, you’re miles ahead of the game—even if it takes you 31 days, or 90, or a year.

I think the idea behind NaNo has merit, but the execution of it leads people to focus too much on goals rather than on process, and further, leaves the “winners” exhausted. If a person’s goal is simply to put 50,000 words on paper (or computer) in 30 days, that’s one thing. But if your goal is to write a real, quality piece of work, or to build a writing practice, I think the NaNo project is best if adapted to your own needs, and if “success” is measured in some way other than 50,000 words.


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

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Day 12: When Hard Work Pays Off

In June 2009, without really realizing what I was doing, I joined the ranks of independent artists.

In the years since then I’ve had the joy, honor, and delight to meet dozens of independent artists in all genres: writers, visual artists, jewelers, musicians, film producers, and more.

I was talking last night with a friend who creates jewelry. We were commiserating over the fact that though we work hard and create, and work hard and create, it sometimes feels like no one is paying attention. Getting traction, finding our audiences, making progress on our goals, sometimes feels impossible.

We love the work, we agreed, but it would be nice if a few more people noticed what we’re doing.

I passed on to her a quote I’d read just that day from writer Zadie Smith: “Don’t confuse honours with achievement.” (See link for Zadie’s 10 Rules of Writing.)

Of course, we aren’t doing the work for the honors. (Or, if you’re British, honours.) We’re doing it because we can’t not do it. That creative instinct is more than an urge; it’s a drive.

“Unused creativity isn’t benign. It metastasizes.” So says Brené Brown, and I think she’s right. We don’t create just for the fun of it; we create because we must create in order to thrive.

And yet.

And yet, the honors, when they come, are nice. Very nice indeed.

Which is why I’d like today to congratulate my dear friend Damian McGinty on the release of his gorgeous new CD This Christmas Time, and its debut at #2 on the Billboard World and Holiday charts. I hate the word “deserve” as it implies that those who don’t receive the honors didn’t deserve them. But I do know Damian has worked so hard to get where he is. He poured every bit of himself into this album, and I’m beyond delighted to see him getting such great recognition for his efforts.

Creators keep creating because we can’t not create.

But the awards, when they come, are very nice.

2-billboard-world-and-holiday-chart


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

Join Pam’s mailing list!

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Day 10: A House With No Books

One time in college, I went to stay the weekend at a friend’s house for the first time. As one does.

I expected the house to be normal. As one does.

But this house was not normal.

There were no books. I don’t even remember any bookshelves. There were no magazines lying out on tables, decorative or otherwise. Nowhere was there any evidence of the written word.

It felt disorienting and uncomfortable and awkward. Like I’d walked into a house with no oxygen. Like I’d discovered something about these people that no one was supposed to know.

“Why do you write?” someone asked me the other day.

The only real answer I could give was: “How do you not?”

shelf


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

Join Pam’s mailing list!

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Q&A With Damian McGinty on Release of His New Album, This Christmas Time

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Damian McGinty’s new album, This Christmas Time

My favorite Irish singer and actor, Damian McGinty of Celtic Thunder and Glee fame, has a new album out! Damian McGinty: This Christmas Time features ten songs, including two originals Damian wrote that are already proving to be hits with his fans. The album definitely tops my all-time favorite Christmas CDs list.

I had the chance to chat with Damian recently about the album, touring, and more. Thank you, Damian, for your time!

Pam Stucky: As you know, I recently did a Q&A with Grammy-nominated producer Warren Huart, who produced your album. Tell me about working with him? It seems you two have a real synergy together. How important is that in creating an album, and in what ways does it affect the end result?

Damian McGinty: Warren has been incredible throughout this entire experience. From the very first day I met him, he understood me as an artist. He knew exactly where I was in my career, and what I wanted to achieve with this record. Having a producer that gets all of that is hard to find, and is priceless. We originally worked on some material for another project next year, and once the Christmas record concept begun, there was only one producer I wanted for that. I was delighted Warren wanted to come on board. We did rough vocals in April before I toured Australia in May. When I was in Australia, Warren built a lot of the tracks, and then we did the master vocals in June before Warren mixed the record. He has been crucial in the entire process and I’ve absolutely loved working with him.

Warren Huart and Damian in Warren’s studio. Photo: Kasia Huart
Warren Huart and Damian in Warren’s studio. Photo: Kasia Huart

PS: This is your first full-length album, coming four years after your eponymous EP. What were some of the differences between making your EP and making this album?

DMcG: The EP I made was more experimental than it was serious. I wanted to try something I’d never done before, and it had much more of a pop feel to it than the new record. I was very surprised by the success of it; it was very humbling. It made me want to develop myself as an artist, and create a sound. That takes years. You can’t all of a sudden release a record after a few months of work. This [This Christmas Time] is my first full length album, and I’ve had a 10-year career. I want to do myself justice, and know what I’m putting out is a product I can be proud of. Once its out there, it’s out there forever. So the time and thought put into this album was much more than the EP. And the budget was naturally much bigger. This project was a big undertaking, huge. And it has taken over my life this year, but I’m delighted with the final product.

Damian at his photo shoot for the album cover. Photo: Damian McGinty
Damian at his photo shoot for the album cover. Photo: Damian McGinty

PS: In his Q&A Warren gave us a breakdown of the steps to creating an album. From start to finish, how long did This Christmas Time take to create?

DMcG: Honestly, all year. The work has not stopped. I sat down in January and looked at concepts, ideas, funding, etc. This is an independent record, so it’s not as simple as saying “Lets make a record.” It takes thought and the business behind it is months of work in itself, before the recording process begins. I had to open my own company, lock in the funding, hire the right people for my company. That is a lot of work. And it has been a learning curve. I don’t have a degree in business so I’m learning as a I go. And I was writing for the album with my writing partner Tom Harrison, before the album was even confirmed, in February. I had to be ready to go as soon as we confirmed the project, because I was touring in May and four months in the autumn. My schedule allowed little time for error.  So we had all of that done by March, locked in the funding, then started recording with Warren in April. We recorded through the end of June, then mixed and mastered in July and August.

A dapper Damian at his photo shoot for the album cover. Photo: Damian McGinty
A dapper Damian at his photo shoot for the album cover. Photo: Damian McGinty

PS: You wrote two songs on this album (along with co-writer Tom Harrison). Writing Christmas songs seems like the ultimate challenge—our traditional favorites are so iconic that to make a dent in that playlist seems almost impossible. And yet your songs are both fantastic. Let’s talk first about “Irish Christmas.” What sort of mood did you want to convey; what sort of story did you want to tell in “Irish Christmas”?

DMcG: I wanted to tell a story about Ireland. Home. I wanted to try and paint a picture of what that looks like at Christmas time, and capture the feeling. It was tough, because writing Christmas songs can easily get cheesy, or generic. So finding something to make it unique was the challenge. It came out quite easily though, myself and Tom had it written, lyrics melody and arrangement, in the space of four hours. Which is rare.

PS: The other of your original songs on this album is “Will You Dance With Me (This Christmas Time),” from which we get the title of your CD. This song is so catchy I catch myself humming it randomly without even realizing it! What was your inspiration for this song? How long did it take to write this one?

DMcG: I wanted to tell a story about love at all ages during Christmas. This song is about young love, old love, middle-of-the-road love. No matter what the situation, Christmas brings that together in ways that no other season can. That was the inspiration behind it. Again, it was one studio session and Tom and I had it done. We didn’t want to complicate these songs, or overthink them. We wanted organic results, and I think we got that.

PS: How does one even go about writing a song?

DMcG: Practice. Song writing is a muscle. I started writing when I was 19. The only way to get better is keep writing. The reason I haven’t released anything is because it hasn’t been good enough. I’ve only gotten really serious about it in the last two years. I’ve written close to a hundred songs at this point. I don’t believe in the concept of people trying to sprint before they can crawl. So I wanted to get to a point in my career where I’d crafted my performance and singing to a level that I was comfortable moving forward and beginning to write. That takes a lot of time. It doesn’t happen overnight; if it does, it won’t be right.

Warren Huart with Damian and co-writer Tom Harrison. Photo: Kasia Huart
Warren Huart with Damian and co-writer Tom Harrison. Photo: Kasia Huart

PS: How did you decide which other songs to include on the CD?

DMcG: Myself and Warren sat down and spent a few days and picked the setlist. We had to decide which direction to take the album in. We decided we wanted a few big hitters production-wise such as “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), and we wanted songs stripped back such as “River” and “Hallelujah.” It was important to have a good mix. We wanted diversity in the record.

PS: Do you have any favorites on the album?

DMcG: I think, you know, naturally you’d be quite close to your original songs, the ones you’ve written. I’m quite proud of “Irish Christmas” and “Will You Dance With Me (This Christmas Time).” Outside of that, I guess I like some of them for different reasons. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” I quite like that because of the production. I think Warren has done an incredible job on that and has made the production on that incredible. But I’ve also always loved the song River, and that was one that I was very passionate about putting on the record and having it stripped back, with just the piano. I think River might be my favorite on the album.

PS: You have a duet on the album, “Last Christmas.” What can you tell us about that?

DMcG: Yes, I do. That is actually my girlfriend on the album, Anna Claire. When we were coming up with the concept and idea of the record, we thought it would be a good idea to do a duet. Naturally, we looked within the business, and our marketing team thought it would be really good to get a big name on there for obvious reasons. But when I actually stopped and looked at it, I thought, you know, I want to do this my way. We’ve been dating about three years now, and we have fun together more than anything else. We’re boyfriend and girlfriend but we’re also best friends. So when I sat down and thought about a duet, I thought, Anna Claire’s a great singer, and no one really knew that about her, honestly, outside of the people she grew up with. So, looking at the record, I thought, why not do that? I think people would enjoy that. I think people would like the realness to it, instead of getting someone I don’t know or who would be completely random who has X amount of follower online, which is honestly the way business is going now. People collaborate for those reasons. I wanted to do something real; I wanted to make something real. That’s why I asked Anna Claire, and she was delighted to come on board. I think she killed it. She’s incredibly talented. I hope people enjoy that track.

On release, Hallelujah went to #1 in the iTunes Holiday Songs Chart, and the album hit #1 on the Holiday Charts in the US as well as Canada and Mexico.
On release, Hallelujah went to #1 in the iTunes Holiday Songs Chart, and the album hit #1 on the Holiday Charts in the US as well as Canada and Mexico.

PS: When the CD was released for pre-order on iTunes, Hallelujah was available immediately, and the day you announced it was available on iTunes, Hallelujah went to #1 on the Holiday charts on iTunes. Did you expect that? For those of us unlikely to ever have a song at #1 on any chart, how does that feel?

DMcG: I did not expect that. It’s a very strange experience when you make an album and get to the release stage of the cycle. You do all this work creating it, funding it, building it, recording it. And then when you put it out there, you’re not in the living room when somebody’s playing that song. Or you’re not, you know, on the plane with them when somebody’s playing that song for the first time. I don’t get to experience that. So it’s always quite strange, and actually quite underwhelming when the record is released because you’re like, “Now what?” When that went number one, that was just a really good moment. Quite bizarre. But as an independent artist, it was nice to see. I don’t necessarily judge my work on how it does in the charts; it’s more of a creative thing for me. I just want to put good work out, something I’m proud of. If it tops the charts, or does well in the charts, that’s a bonus, and it was certainly that way with Hallelujah. I didn’t expect that. That was very overwhelming and very uplifting that it went to number one.

This Christmas Time also hit number one at Amazon on its release date.
This Christmas Time also hit number one at Amazon on its release date.

PS: You’ve mentioned before that you’re also working on a CD of original songs. What have you learned from the process of creating This Christmas Time that you can apply to the next CD?

DMcG: Oh! So much! I don’t even know where to begin on that. Making a record and doing it right, or at least trying to do it right, the first time around, has been the best learning experience I think I’ve ever had as an artist. And that’s saying a lot. In the nine or ten years I’ve been doing this I’ve obviously worked with some big companies, some big shows, been very fortunate to learn so much from so many great people. Starting out the process by myself, having to create a company, having to create the funding, having to get all the right people on board and hire the right people and make it happen, the learning process behind that was phenomenal. Moving forward, it will not necessarily become easier, because creating a project like this is tough. It’s not easy. It can be quite draining. It’s a lot of hours. It can sort of take over your life, which it sort of has done in the last nine months. So it won’t necessarily become easier, but it’ll become clearer moving forward, in terms of what I need to do and what needs to get done to create what I want. That certainly is the case with the [upcoming] original album which, as you say, I’ve been working on for a few years now. That’s a whole different baby that we’re currently nurturing, and it’s getting there.

PS: Will you be touring This Christmas Time? And where can people find out about it?

DMcG: I will be touring This Christmas Time. We are going to be going out in December after the Celtic Thunder tour, and there will be an announcement at the end of this week. I’m excited about that, I’m excited to tell people and get out there with the record. It’s going to be a fun experience. It’ll kind of be my first time on the road with my own project, so I’m quite excited for it. It’s going to be the first time I’m on the road as Damian McGinty. Just like the album, it’s a purely independent operation, so running that is challenging in itself, but again, it’s great, it’s growth, it’s how we build the brand and prepare to move forward, so it’s exciting.

Warren and Damian in the studio working long hours. Photo: Kasia Huart
Warren and Damian in the studio working long hours. Photo: Kasia Huart

PS: Your This Christmas Time tour will come at the tail end of a 72-city Celtic Thunder tour! This will be your third tour of the year, and that doesn’t include the week you performed on the Tranquility Cruise with Holland America. Are you ready for a rest?

DMcG: To be honest, I am ready for a rest. It’s very strange, because I do feel ready for a rest but I’m also more excited and more ambitious and driven. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been. I feel like I’m at a very good period, I’m at a very good age. Which allows me to be fully committed to what I’m trying to achieve. There’s a much bigger picture with everything going on. It’s not just about making a living; I’m trying to build something long-term, which takes a lot of planning, takes a lot of work, takes a lot of time, takes a lot of patience. But I think when all is said and done the time, work, and patience is really worth it in the long term. This album has me more driven, more excited, more ambitious than I’ve ever been. I’m excited to get back into the studio in January and get creating. We have a lot of projects next year that I’m excited about. So on the one hand, I am ready for a bit of a rest—it’s been the craziest year, probably, of my life—but on the other hand I’m also ready to move on to what’s next.

Damian at his photo shoot for his album cover.
Damian at his photo shoot for his album cover.

PS: Do you have a preference between touring and creating CDs? What do you love about each? What are the hardest parts of each?

DMcG: That’s a very hard question. I really love both of them. They’re very different in their own right. The creative process in making a record is a bit more like a 9-to-5 job, if that makes sense. It’s a bit more normal. Because basically what you have to do is, every day you go to work, pretty much, where “work” looks like a studio where you’re writing and playing instruments and creating melodies and lyrics and all that stuff. So it allows for more of a routine, which is nice. Touring, on the other hand, is incredibly sporadic; you never really know what it’s going to throw at you. Your routine is non-existent. This year, we were down in Australia in May, and that was so many flights in the space of thirty days. I crossed the entire world, I went LA to Ireland, Ireland to Australia, four weeks across Australia, back to LA, and was back working on this record. That amount of travel doesn’t really allow you any routine. It can be draining. But the great part of touring is you get to see all these places, you get to meet people, you get to perform every night, you get to do what you love. That’s worth the travel. Because the travel part can be physically challenging at times.

Damian on the set of his upcoming video
Damian on the set of his upcoming video

PS: I’ve heard there’s a video coming, too! What can you tell us about that?

DMcG: Yes! We shot the video in August. I finished the record in late July, then flew to Europe for ten days to spend with my family before the release of the record and the tour. We shot the video in the middle of August in LA before I met up with Celtic Thunder again. It’s great. It was a great experience. Again, another new experience, another independent one. I had to hire a producer, Julia Hodges, who’s a great friend of mine. She’s a darling, she’s really incredible, and the video wouldn’t have happened without her, to be honest. She hired our director, Tommy O’Brien, and we got actresses and actors in the video, which are some of my friends. We shot it over two nights, we did night shoots, which was funny, with friends. We started shooting at 8 p.m. and finished at 7 a.m. because it was Christmas and we were in California, so to create that environment because it had to be dark, because no one really thinks of Christmas and thinks of sunshine. So it was important to create the right atmosphere. I’m excited about it, about seeing the final product. I’m really proud of it. I think people are really going to enjoy it. I hope people enjoy it. It’s going to be out there in November sometime.

This Christmas Time is available now and can be found at iTunes, Amazon, and CDBaby.

Find out more about Damian McGinty at his website, as well as on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, YouTube, iTunes, and Soundcloud.

 


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

Join Pam’s mailing list!

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Q&A with Grammy-Nominated Producer Warren Huart on Producing and Working with Damian McGinty on his Upcoming Christmas CD

Warren Huart in his studio. Photo: KASIA HUART
Warren Huart in his studio. Photo: KASIA HUART

When Irish singer and actor Damian McGinty (from Glee and Celtic Thunder) decided to put out a Christmas album in 2016, one thing was clear: He wanted to bring on a world-class producer to bring the album to life in the best way possible. Enter Warren Huart, a Grammy-nominated producer with incredible energy and passion, and endless talents and skills. Warren and Damian have been working tirelessly since early this year to create This Christmas Time, and the end result is truly gorgeous.

I caught up with Warren recently for a Q&A to discuss his career, his love of music, his passion for helping others, and his work with Damian on This Christmas Time.

Pam Stucky: What first sparked your interest in music?

Warren Huart: When I was really young, about seven, my dad bought me, for Christmas, Queen’s A Night At The Opera. My father is a huge classical and jazz fan, and Queen were the only band he thought were worthy! Needless to say that album changed my life. It is still my favourite album!

PS: How, when, and why did you move into producing?

WH: All of the albums I fell in love with at seven years old were production masterpieces, like Queen’s A Night At The Opera, ELO’s Out Of The Blue, and The Beatles’ Revolver! So, years before I discovered girls I discovered music! As I got older and played in bands, even playing with successful artists I knew my real love was the recording and creation of music. The performing I loved, but the recording, for me, was huge!

Above: From Warren’s YouTube channel, Warren and Damian McGinty at Warren’s studio recording Damian’s cover of the Bee Gees’ hit “How Deep Is Your Love.

PS: In your role as producer and studio owner, you have a really successful YouTube channel. It’s clear that helping and educating others is a passion of yours. Tell me about that: What is your interest in sharing educational videos? What do you get out of it?

WH: Absolutely 100%!! I didn’t grow up with any advantages, I didn’t have friends or family in the music industry, I didn’t go to school for Audio Engineering, and I didn’t assist in major studios; everything I learned was by trial and error! So now with the decay of the traditional studio system and the erosion of the roles of Producer/Engineer/Mixer/Songwriter/Musician, all bets are off and anyone who owns even the smallest amount of equipment, like their cell phone or tablet, is able to make music! All you need is creativity! That speaks to me hugely! Almost everyone coming up in the industry mirrors the way I had to come up, so I feel I can help them in so many ways! It’s incredibly exciting time!

Gabriel Hugoboom, left, in Warren’s studio with Warren (center) and Damian McGinty (right), working on music for another album. Photo: KASIA HUART
Gabriel Hugoboom, left, in Warren’s studio with Warren (center) and Damian McGinty (right), working on music for another album. Photo: KASIA HUART

PS: How did you and Damian McGinty meet? What made you want to work with him?

WH: I met Damian through a mutual friend of ours, Gabriel Hugoboom. Gabriel is also a multi-talented artist and songwriter who I have had the privilege to work with. Gabriel brought Damian by one evening and we immediately hit it off. Damian’s voice is truly wonderfully unique, and combined with the fact that his work ethic is unparalleled, it was a no-brainer for me when he mentioned he wanted to do a Christmas album! Plus frankly he’s a thoroughly lovely guy who you know just wants the best for everyone, a product of great parents!

PS: You two started working on this Christmas CD very early in the year, and I know it’s been a long and intricate process. Once you and Damian agreed to work together, what were the first decisions that needed to be made, to create and guide the vision for the CD?

WH: Great question! The most important question, because all great albums are made in preproduction, and we spent quite a few days just running through ideas, choosing the right songs, making sure the key, the arrangement, and the tempo were right. Plus we discussed the shape of the record, how many fully orchestrated songs versus the stripped-down intimate songs. The album had to have an ebb and flow, and Damian was very conscious of the fact that we needed to make something timeless and classic, something he could be proud to stand behind for the rest of his career.

Damian McGinty’s upcoming Christmas CD, This Christmas Time, produced by Warren Huart. The album is currently available for pre-order (see links at end) and will be released October 14. Photo: Damian McGinty
Damian McGinty’s upcoming Christmas CD, This Christmas Time, produced by Warren Huart. The album is currently available for pre-order (see links at end) and will be released October 14. Photo: Damian McGinty

PS: I know this could be a very lengthy answer, but in a nutshell, what are the broad stages of CD production, and what happens in each stage?

WH: The basics of the album for me:

  1. The vocal comes first, and is the priority. So we did a basic piano or acoustic guitar part and then Damian would sing to it and we made sure it felt right on all levels, any adjustments to the key, tempo and arrangements were made then before further instrumentation was laid down. Interestingly a handful of songs Damian felt great singing over just a piano and he sang amazingly and even after additional overdubs those first vocals were still the best ones!
  2. After the basic vocal/piano or vocal/acoustic guitar we would get into overdubs, because I played many of the instruments on the record I would often start with a bass groove against the scratch track, then add more guitars or a very simple piano part, all of this even before drums! When I listen to great Motown tracks I hear everyone playing the song, not parts, the song, so often when tracking on my own I just play instruments in the way I’m inspired to, often doing drums last.
  3. Strings were done by Oliver Kraus, a master, who plays multiple instruments. He would come by and discuss the song with us (he lives the next street over from me in the Canyon!). This was great for the process as Damian was able to discuss his vision as well with a world-class string arranger. These details, however seemingly small, are what take an album to the next level for me! Our piano player was Steve Maggiora. He came by for three or four days and worked with us on the basic tracks, changing the arrangement, the key, and the tempo as the songs developed. Having a player of his talent makes life extremely easy.
  4. Lastly after all overdubs I did rough mixes for Damian to hear. The artist, and only the artist, should hear these, because the artist has to connect with the songs; they have to feel like something the artist can be proud of. Damian gave me great notes and came back to the studio for a few days and we re-sang just a handful of things that he felt he could beat (which if course he did!), and at his suggestion I did a couple of extra overdubs that brought the songs to the next level.
  5. The next step is the mix process. I mixed all of the songs and sent them in their entirety to Damian. He gave me great notes for recalls and we were able to meet just a couple more evenings and finish everything off.
  6. The album is mastered. Mastering is not something I skimp on at all! I use Adam Ayan who is a wonderful Mastering Engineer. His job is to give everything one final listen and apply any small sonic changes that he feels are necessary. These tweaks are Compression, EQ, and Limiting, and although very subtle at times can really do an amazing job to have the album feel cohesive!
Warren, Damian, and songwriter/composer Tom Harrison, who co-wrote two of the songs on Damian’s album. Photo: Kasia Huart
Warren, Damian, and songwriter/composer Tom Harrison, who co-wrote two of the songs on Damian’s album. Photo: Kasia Huart

PS: In the CD credits on Damian’s CD, your name is everywhere! You’re listed as performing on guitar, bass, percussion and drums, mandolin, banjo, backing vocals, as well as producing, engineering, and mixing. Is any of these your favorite—if you could focus on just one, you would—or are you the kind of person who thrives on variety?

WH: I love it all! I’m a guitarist by trade! Bass player secondly, thirdly a piano player and lastly a drummer out of necessity! Playing music is such a joy, I am truly blessed to be able to do it and every time I pick up and instrument and record myself I feel fantastic! I am also blessed to have great musician friends like Ben Potter on drums and Phil Allen who is also an amazing multi-instrumentalist who contributed to the great album! I have a wonderful team of people around me; it really does take a village!

Warren in his studio on bass guitar, one of seemingly dozens of instruments on which he is a master! Photo: Kasia Huart
Warren in his studio on bass guitar, one of seemingly dozens of instruments on which he is a master! Photo: Kasia Huart

PS: In the CD liner notes, in the choir of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) I noticed the names Charlie Huart and Lucy Huart. Are these your kids? How old are they? Are they picking up on your love of music?

WH: Haha yes the kids contributed their voices, my daughter is still very young, under two, so it was more of a murmur! My son, who is nine, loves to drum and has been known to play some rock guitar! But I certainly don’t want to push them in any direction. My father is an artist—a painter and a sculptor—and his love of art and music was inspiring. All I can hope is they see the passion I have for great art and they take that use it do what they are passionate about!

PS: Do you have any favorite tracks on This Christmas Time? If so, which and why?

WH: Big question! I love Joni Mitchell so I got chills hearing Damian do “River,” and of course “Hallelujah” turned out beautifully! I must say that “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is a favourite of mine—my good friend Jack Douglas was an engineer on the original John Lennon version and we stayed very true to it. The big band songs were so much fun to do! Dave Ralicke is probably the best horn arranger and player I know, truly gifted, and his work on this album was incredible!

Warren in his studio. Photo: Kasia Huart
Warren in his studio. Photo: Kasia Huart

PS: What other projects do you have coming up?

WH: I just finished Cristian Castro’s album, his first in seven or eight years, and that was very exciting! I am currently working on multiple projects, a couple of which are very exciting, new artists Little Empire and Sage Humphries, plus I will have mixed a Cheap Trick cover of “She Said” by the Beatles by the time you read this, produced by Jack Douglas and featuring Joe Perry on lead guitar, and I will be working with Calum Scott who is already a big star in the UK.

PS: Where can people find you online?

WH: My sites are:

loved chatting with Warren! What a positive, kind, dynamic guy! I especially love his attitude toward helping others and paying it forward. Anyone with interest in the music industry should be sure to check out the wealth of information at Warren’s YouTube channel.

Warren, thanks so much for your time, and I wish you all the best in the future.

Damian McGinty’s Christmas CD, This Christmas Time, is currently available for pre-order on iTunes (release date October 14, 2016), with an immediate download of his exquisite rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Physical copies of the CD may also be pre-ordered at Damian’s website.

Find out more about Damian at his website, as well as on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubeiTunes, and Soundcloud.

‘Halfway’: With Movies Like This, The Future of Indie Movies is Bright

HALFWAY – Summer 2016 Teaser from Ben Caird on Vimeo.

Rating: *****

Several months ago I had the opportunity to talk with some of the key players in the new movie Halfway: writer/director Ben Caird, producer Jonny Paterson (twice), and actor Quinton Aaron (also from The Blind Side). The film is out now—to much acclaim (including winning Best Feature Film at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival)—and I finally had the chance to see it! While I’m not a movie reviewer and definitely not a movie critic (I don’t like to be a critic, really, of anything), I’m delighted to have the chance to share my thoughts on a truly excellent film.

Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) plays a recently released convict who finds himself trapped between his urban criminal past and his new life on probation as the only black man in a conservative white Wisconsin farming town.

I’ll begin with the cinematography (by cinematographer Benjamin Thomas). (Note: because, as I said, I’m no film critic, I decided to look up “what is cinematography” to make sure I knew what I was talking about. I found a good answer here: the cinematographer “makes every creative choice related to composition, lighting, and camera motion—anything that audiences can see in a given shot.” I assume this is done in collaboration with the director.)

To talk about the cinematography of Halfway, I first want to talk about wine.

Just as I am no connoisseur of movies, I am also no connoisseur of wine. In general, I like wine. I am not someone who has a “palette” or who could tell you if a wine is “oaky” or anything else. In general, if you open the bottle, I’ll have some. Sometimes I won’t like it. Generally, it’s fine.

Well, cut to several years ago when I worked at a not-for-profit organization that has an annual Gala event. One year, as often happens, staff who were attending were interspersed amongst guests to fill empty spaces at sponsored tables. By chance, I ended up at the table with the owners of the winery that had donated all the wine for the event. We drank some of the wine they’d provided to everyone, but, much to our delight, they also provided our table with a couple of $100 bottles of red wine.

Maybe you, dear reader, drink $100 bottles of wine all the time. I, however, did not, and still do not. Before I tasted that $100 wine, I assumed wine was wine. That first sip, however, opened my eyes—and my taste buds. The wine was smooth, creamy, delicious in a way I did not know wine could be delicious. The wine was a revelation.

The cinematography in Halfway was, in my opinion, a similar revelation. In general, I don’t much notice or think about cinematography in films. In this movie, however, I found myself mesmerized by the choices of angle, of depth of field, of positions of the subjects in the frame, of the subjects themselves.

Mind you, the movie was filmed on location in Montfort, Wisconsin. A place which—no offense to Montfort—is not known for the sweeping vistas of, say, Hawaii or the Grand Canyon or Iceland. Which made the cinematography that much more spectacular and impressive, frankly.

The richness of the cinematography also made me think about the difference between a Hollywood blockbuster and a small indie film. In Hollywood, the idea frequently seems to be that if you throw enough money and visual effects at something, that will hide all imperfections. With a smaller indie budget, there’s nowhere to hide. To do so much more with so much less is absolute talent, and in this Benjamin Thomas demonstrated exemplary skill. There is a raw, pure poignancy to the visuals in Halfway that reminds you: this isn’t a dream created in someone’s mind. This is real, this is our planet. This is something we can connect to on an authentic and visceral level, whether or not we actually know the area.

At any rate, I could recommend the movie for its cinematography alone.

Next, the writing. I’ll divide this into two components: dialogue and plot.

As a writer I am all too aware that writing believable, natural dialogue isn’t as easy as it seems. Not too long ago another indie movie was getting a lot of buzz, so I found it on Netflix and gave it a try. The premise seemed interesting, but the dialogue was awful: forced, cliched, unnatural. The actors did their best but everything felt stilted and uncomfortable. I couldn’t bear it, and gave up on the movie after about ten minutes.

In contrast, Caird’s dialogue is so natural as to make writing it look easy. With only a few exceptions throughout the film, the dialogue felt so consistent with character and with how people actually speak that it almost never felt “written”—the highest praise. This kind of writing is a gift to the actors, who then had a solid foundation on which to base their characters and make them truly come alive and feel real. To this end, all of the acting is excellent. From Quinton Aaron in the role of Byron, to Amy Pietz in the role of Beth, to sweet little Nicole Scimeca in the role of Julia, the actors all breathed life into their characters so convincingly that it seemed they were made for the roles.

As regarding plot, as I said, I am not a critic. The choices Caird made in his plot were his voice and vision, and he portrayed the story in the manner he wanted it portrayed. The movie goes deep and heavy, but I might have liked a little more complexity and range, even some longer scenes of light. The sparse dialogue felt true and honest, but I felt on occasion there may have been opportunity for a greater exploration of relationships. It also seemed Caird was hesitant to put his characters in too much danger, and he was quick to get them out of it. As well, some plot lines seemed a bit extraneous. These are valid choices—in no way do I want stories to be told inauthentically—but I suspect as Caird continues to write (as he absolutely should be encouraged to do), his characters and plots will also grow in depth.

This, too, made me think about the differences between Hollywood and indie films. Hollywood films follow very narrow constructs, but I wonder if indie films might start breaking these constraints. Halfway runs about an hour an forty-five minutes, fitting perfectly within the standard movie length. To fill out more of the plot, some of the visuals may have had to have been sacrificed, which would have been a great loss. Maybe as indie movies grow, filmmakers will begin to experiment more with structure, introducing us to new ways of storytelling—something which I think is an exciting prospect.

While I’m sure acting as both writer and director was exhausting, the benefit of having the writer also in the role of director was so evident in this film. The integrity of Caird’s vision was never compromised, and every choice contributed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And again, I suspect this is something far more often afforded to independent films than the big budget films we’re used to.

If Halfway is representative of the future of indie movies, I am on board. Some of you may know that last year I decided to try writing a screenplay, both because I’m always trying to learn and grow as a writer, and because it seemed like an interesting challenge. In doing so, I did a ton of research into the industry (and have listened to every episode of John August and Craig Mazin’s fabulous and fascinating Scriptnotes podcast). Throughout everything I’ve read and learned, one thought that continues to come to mind is my prediction that the movie industry is on the verge of a very big disruption.

In my opinion, Hollywood studio executives and studios are dinosaurs that have painted themselves into a corner. What’s more, while in the corner, they’ve created the very meteor that will crash into them and ensure their extinction. Because the stakes have become so high—hundreds of millions of dollars per film!—there’s no room for risk or error, and that kind of culture can never lead to innovation or growth. I’m obviously no movie industry expert (as I’ve mentioned), but I predict—or at least hope—that the fears that have led the studios to so severely restrict their offerings will open up the space and audience interest for more independent filmmakers to create and present real stories again.

Because the fact is, we are not getting real stories from Hollywood anymore. We are getting special effects. Case in point: I am what I would consider an moderate or average Star Trek fan. I watched all of TNG and Voyager, some of TOS, never got into DS9, tried Enterprise and couldn’t get past the pilot. I saw that Star Trek Beyond was in theaters and thought, Why not? I watched, and it was certainly enjoyable enough but it felt like something was missing. What it felt like, truly, was that what little story it had was merely a platter on which all the spectacular visual effects were served.

Now, I have nothing against spectacular visual effects. They’re spectacular! But it does seem that more and more Hollywood is giving us nothing but big names and spectacular visual effects. Human beings do not need big names and spectacular visual effects. But we do need stories. I believe we need stories like we need love, like we need air. I believe that the reason we have language at all is because the stories inside our ancient ancestors burned so deep, the need to connect was so intense, that they were driven to create words. Think of all there is to language! To create something so complex out of nothing—not all at once, certainly, but eventually—came from a powerful craving. Visual effects are fun, but stories are life.

To that end, I am thrilled to see that Caird and Paterson and all the others involved in this film have created a truly special film—and what’s more, that they show great promise for the future of independent film. These are people to watch. Put them on your radar. They have stories in them that need to be told, and I believe we need to hear them.

The challenge, of course, with anything independent, is getting the word out. So spread the word!

Halfway will be screening at the following times in the coming weeks:

  • Milwaukee Film Festival on 9/23, 9/25 and 10/3
  • Woodstock Film Festival between 10/13 – 10/16
  • Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival 9/18 and 9/22

The film has already played at the Dallas International Film Festival, the American Black Film Festival and the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival.

Links:

www.facebook.com/halfwaythemovie

www.halfwayfilm.com

Cast: Quinton Aaron, TJ Power, Gillian Zinser, Amy Pietz, Marcus Henderson, Nicole Scimeca, and Jeffrey Demunn

Writer/Director: Ben Caird

Producer: Jonny Paterson

Cinematographer: Benjamin Thomas

Composer: Miles Mosley

Original song: Jimmy Napes

Executive producers: Tommy Oliver, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jonathan Baker, Quinton Aaron, and Bonnie Greenberg

halfway

Marta Dusseldorp on the Australian Crime Drama Janet King and the Changing Landscape of Television

If you’ve linked to this page from the story at the Huffington Post, click here to find where the Q&A left off.

 

Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.
Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.

 

After I did my last interview with Marta Dusseldorp, star of A Place to Call Home, the people at Acorn TV sent me the DVDs of one of Marta’s other shows, Janet King. For a while, I set the DVDs aside. After all, if you’ve read the intro to my Pam on the Map books, you know I’m a woman of integrity: I won’t be bribed or bought! And furthermore, I’m not really a reviewer. I’m not good at capturing the nuances of a show that might or might not delight audiences, and I don’t watch enough shows to make apt comparisons. I know that my opinion of a show has little to do with whether someone else will or won’t like it. It’s all so subjective.

However, one night I was looking for something to watch, and my eyes lit on the Janet King DVDs. Why not? I thought, and next thing you know I was three hours into the eight-hour season. The storyline of Janet King (a crime drama; eight episodes in season 1) is compelling, and the show is well-written. The acting is excellent, the cinematography is intriguing (which is, I’m sure, a challenge, as most of the show takes place in an office or court room). There are red herrings and suspense and twists and turns. I stayed up too late watching it two nights in a row. I loved it.

What’s more, I love Marta. You wouldn’t know in talking to her that she’s one of Australia’s busiest actors. In speaking with her, you get the feeling she has all the time in the world for you. She’s present and with you in every moment; there’s nothing else she needs to be doing, nowhere else she needs to be. Whether that’s the truth, or she has mastered the art of mindfulness, I don’t know. But after watching a few episodes of Janet King, I was hooked. I emailed Marta to see if she’d do another Q&A with me, and of course, being the fabulous person she is, she said yes.

From the Acorn publicity materials: “The 8-part Australian series focuses on the life of Janet King, a senior crown prosecutor. Determined to prove she still has her edge, Janet returns from maternity leave to find her workplace even more demanding than when she left. She quickly becomes involved in a high-profile and controversial case, making several enemies throughout her search for the truth – enemies that will threaten her career, family, and ultimately her life.”

All episodes of Janet King are now available online at Acorn TV, which is good, because this show is eminently binge-worthy!

Here’s our Q&A, edited some for time and because my audio recording of our conversation turned out to be not so great. Any errors in fact or transcription are mine, not Marta’s, with my apologies. If anyone has a recommendation for a quality, inexpensive way to record outgoing international calls, let me know!

As always, my deep gratitude to Marta for her time!

 

Hamish Michael as Richard, Marta Dusseldorp as Janet, and Vince Colosimo as Jack in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.
Hamish Michael as Richard, Marta Dusseldorp as Janet, and Vince Colosimo as Jack in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.

 

Pam Stucky: I’ve watched all of seasons 1 through 3 of A Place to Call Home, and season 1 of Janet King. I’ve noticed, there are some pretty intense storylines involved in both of them. Does that ever weigh you down? There’s the pedophilia and the murder and the Holocaust, just to name a few. How do you keep from bringing that home, and how do you keep that from infiltrating your personal life and your mind?

Marta Dusseldorp: Well, season 3 of A Place Called Home I did with my real-life husband [Ben Winspear], who played Rene, my husband on the show. So I found that quite easy, and then when he died on the show, it was quite difficult. We would talk a lot about that at home–well not too much, but enough that it was a very comfortable place for both of us and something that I found really special. And then when he died [on the show], I had a moment that I thought, oh, this is a bit too hard. And then you do another take, and you get through it, and it was fine. And then Janet King season 1, I think the hardest part about that was it was a spin-off from another show and I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I had never been that kind of a lead character, and I was very nervous that I didn’t have what it took. So that took a lot of my emotional energy at the beginning, and then slowly I started getting into it, and I had a ball being able to do almost everything and work with everyone on the set.

PS: Did it start airing while you were still filming?

MD: No, it was a whole year, for some reason, before they put it to air on ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], so I had a long time between shooting it and it going to air. By the time it went to air I had kind of moved away from it, so it was really joyful watching it, because I couldn’t feel it in my body anymore. It was a real pleasure, actually. And people just loved it here, so that allayed my fears that it hadn’t worked. But emotionally, I have to say that I’m like everyone. Some days, I’m at my wit’s end and I just want to curl up in a ball, and I have other days where I’m really proud and very excited, and it’s usually to do with the people around me. I don’t believe you ever do anything, really, in my job, in isolation. So if everyone around me is prepared–and they usually are unbelievably prepared and open and generous–and then I have a great time. We have pretty great crews in this country, I have to say. I think they’re the hardest working–not that I’ve worked with many overseas, but they’re just fabulous people [here] and that really helps, too, because everyone comes, actually, with a smile on their face, they really do the best that they can, so that really helps.

 

Damian Walshe-Howling as Owen Mitchell and Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Simon Cardwell.
Damian Walshe-Howling as Owen Mitchell and Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Simon Cardwell.

 

PS: That does help. You mentioned another show which Janet King spun off from, which I know was Crownies. For people that have not seen Crownies, can you give us a brief history of the show, and of your role in the show? Is there anything a person would need to know to get caught up on that before starting in on Janet King?

MD: Not really. I thought they did a really great job making that transfer. Crownieswas about the younger assistants to the Crown Prosecutors, the ones who do all the grunt work, and the Crown Prosecutors are sort of the front people. That’s what that show was angled toward, and I think it was an attempt at bringing in a younger demographic to ABC. It went to 22 episodes [as opposed to Janet King‘s eight]; it was much sexier, in the sense of people falling in love, and having sex on desks in the office. It had serious stories, you know, but it was also geared toward the quirkier, funnier side of the office. And Janet [the character] was kind of this stalwart who stood in the middle and said, “Stop laughing, stop smiling, and get on the job!” That was kind of her role in regards to the 22-episode arc.

And at the same time she has this relationship with a woman, Ash, her partner, and she underwent IVF [in vitro fertilization]. And she got more and more and more pregnant through the series, through the 22 episodes. So what happened was there was this funny sort of banging out between her seriousness, and her lack of sense of humor, and her becoming like a beached whale, and trying to be taken seriously as she became more and more pregnant with twins. That was that show. And then I think at the end of it, ABC, I think I read somewhere that they heard the audience felt like they identified more with the Janet character. So they decided to try a spin-off that goes up to the senior Crown Prosecutor level. A lot more serious and dangerous and more of the thriller genre. And then they shortened it, of course, to the eight-parter. Yeah, the audience numbers show that ABC made a good decision at that point, at that stage. And television has changed so fast, people’s appetites, what they want to see, how long they want to sit and watch, and when they want to watch it. I find all networks are now negotiating that.

PS: Yes, like, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched The X-Files …

MD: Yes, that’s right.

PS: They came back for six episodes, and now they’re saying they might do more seasons if they could just have a short season. But those actors don’t want to do the full 22-episode seasons anymore. 

MD: I think audiences don’t want to watch 22 episodes anymore, either. I think it has to have hiatus, like The Walking Dead, and then watch the next 12 episodes in six month’s time. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because Jack Irish, which was always telemovies–we did three telemovies, based on the Australian books by Peter Temple, straight out of the books, actually, with a little bit of change. And then the ABC said, we would like to make it into a six-parter. Would Guy [Pearce] be interested? Would you be interested? And they said yes. So they took the fourth book and morphed it into more fiction on top of fiction. So that’s how that came about.

PS: Were you involved in all three of those telemovies as well as the series?

MD: Yeah. My character was introduced at the beginning of the first telemovie, and then they kept her in there throughout, which I think is great, because, it’s portraying a character completely different from the other two [Sarah Adams on A Place to Call Home and Janet King on Janet King]. And I got to work with Guy, which taught me a lot, as well. His breadth of experience and generosity as an actor taught me a lot.

PS: What kinds of things did you learn from him?

MD: He’s got an incredible stamina. I’m going back now to the first telemovie, this is before I was on Janet King or A Place to Call Home. He’s so focused on set, and he’s totally dedicated to detail and nuance. It made me realize that my sort of spectrum was okay, but that really focusing on the little things you could make it better and better, rather than dealing with the sweeping things, which I think you can deal with quite quickly. And then you get into the nitty gritty, and that’s where the audience are more interested, which is in the quick changes inside of the character. The emotional journey. He’s really great at that, if you watch him. And then, after the take’s over, he’s super relaxed and charming and fun to be with, and that’s my favorite type of co-worker. Someone who works really hard when you have to, and when you’re not, is relaxed in real life, and serious but not too serious.

If you’re joining this post linked from the Huffington Post article, start here!

(Sorry about that! I hate breaking up posts but it was too long for HP.)

PS: Janet King season 1 told a story over the course of the eight episodes (as opposed to standalone episodes), subtitled The Enemy Within. There are some major twists and turns and red herrings in the season! Do you, as actors, have a chance to read the full season’s scripts before you start?

MD: Yes, in the sense that I sit down with the head story person, Greg Haddrick; he and a woman, Jane Allen, were on season 1. And so I would sit down with them and they would take me through my arc, so I knew exactly where it was going. The scripts aren’t written before you start. That’s something I would love, but it’s sometimes not possible for that to happen. So I had a fair idea [of what was going to happen]. For season 2, which is on air now in Australia, I was in the writer’s room from the very beginning this time, because I felt I needed to catch up with things in season 1, and that took a lot of energy, so I asked to be in from the very beginning of season 2, before—while they were talking. So I was completely embedded in the story and the twists and turns, so I didn’t have to do as much work when I was shooting, to keep up with where the story was going and changing, if you know what I mean. And that had a profound effect on me, because in season 2, it was so inside me that I had to barely think about it. And all the things that make up the spectacle of Janet, that was completely effortless for me, because I’d been there from the very beginning. It was like seeing a baby born and just being so connected to that child. It became much easier to work. I feel very lucky on Janet that if we were to do it again that would be the process, and so I’d be as close to the material, and it would mean as much to me. Because there’s nothing like being in the room when an idea hits the table and everyone realizes: that’s it, that should be part of the series. And actually, everyone gasps, in the room. That does happen! They all go, “(gasp)! That’s it!” And then when we’re shooting the scene, in season 2, I’m thinking, “It worked!” It added a whole level. In season 1, a lot of times I was going, “So, who’s that? Right. And I’m? … okay. So, do I find out … ?”

PS: So that’s my question. You have characters who are not always who they seem to be … I don’t want to give anything away. Does it help to know in advance if someone is going to turn out to be someone other than they seem? Or does that hinder you?

MD: It’s fine. I think it’s important to know. You have to have the ability to go against it. In season 1, when I found out who [the villain] was, then I was able to play it up, get incredibly close to that person in the scene, so that the audience goes, “Oh no!” So you can actually manipulate it, so that it’s better. You focus on the friendship more, you put your confidence in them, or share something you shouldn’t, or … yeah, I like playing with that, actually.

PS: As far as Janet King, the character, what do you love most about playing Janet?

MD: I like the directness, and I like that she doesn’t always say and do the right things. I love that she can be misinterpreted, and the audience can hate her for a minute, and then realize she’s doing it for the greater good…. I love that she’s in a same-sex relationship with a woman that she loves dearly, and they’re in a functioning marriage that’s kind of, you know, a little bit boring and a little bit strained, and a little bit unsexy, which, after nine years and the nine-month-old twins, that’s what we all are. I wanted that to be really based in the reality that everyone experiences. But I also love that she doesn’t define herself in relation to men. I think she’s not a man-hater; she just wants everyone to treat everyone as they should be treated. And when she doesn’t get that respect, then she’ll arc up, man or woman, it doesn’t matter to her. I love that there’s a lead woman on screen …. It’s unusual [in Australia] and I like that, I like being part of that push. Although that’s changing, the more I think about it, there’s lots of great women in the country are leading in beautiful ways. That’s changed since I started with Janet.

PS: Is there a season 3 planned?

MD: I hope so. Season 2 is going really well; it’s been overwhelming, actually, how much people have loved it. As I said, it’s a changing landscape. But I hope so; I’d love to do another one. I guess we’ll find out soon!

PS: Okay, random question: Have you ever done any comedy? Your shows are all so intense that I can’t help but wonder!

MD: Not really. I’m not very funny, Pam. I mean, I’d be happy to try. Occasionally I do try to throw in funny bits into my scenes, and they usually fall flat, which means they’re laughing at me, which I guess is okay, too; that seems to be what clowns do. Yeah, I’d love to!

PS: I think you should have a goal for one funny scene per episode. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

MD: Exactly!

PS: Occasionally when we’re talking—you say you’re not funny, but occasionally, something funny will pop out, and I’ll think, “Oh, that was funny!” So I think we should investigate this.

MD: The Reluctant Comedian.

PS: And there would have to be a Jack. You could have you, and three characters named Jack. [Because every show Marta is in has a Jack!] I can write it for you!

MD: Yes!

PS: Last time we talked you said you were working on doing more of your own projects. What are you working on these days; has anything moved forward? I know you’ve been busy.

MD: Yeah, I’m still talking to people about various projects. In the break that I had we went on family holiday, and then I made it to LA. I found my visit to LA really invigorating. I talked to some extraordinary people, and I just felt really excited about the possibilities of coming there. So I’ve added that to the list of things I want to prioritize and aim toward once these shows are finished. So I’m balancing that out. But I’m still talking to people, trying to come up with ideas. One of the projects I think I was talking about with you before, we’re still developing, still pushing forward, and we’ve brought on a producer to that. And I’m still working on my own story, but that’s in the background. I’ve got management now in America, and I think there is a possibility to come over there and do something there as well. There’s a lot to think about. I think they are great ideas, and very different, and important stories. There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m excited about changing the landscape. Maybe end of next year.

PS: So you’re currently working on season 4 for A Place to Call Home, how long does that go, and then what’s next?

MD: It goes until August, and then I’m doing a play.

PS: Oh? What play?

MD: I’m doing an Australian play written by Benedict Andrews. I worked with him at the Sydney Theatre Company. He’s written a fabulous play called Gloria, and that will be late this year.

PS: Fantastic! Well, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Janet King, or Jack Irish, or anything else?

MD: I think we’ve about covered it!

PS: Thank you so much, Marta! Please keep in touch about all your projects!

MD: Thank you, Pam! Take care!

You can find Marta on Twitter.

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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Q&A with Ernie Manouse on Manor of Speaking, Downton Abbey and its Final Season, PBS, and More

If you’ve linked to this page from the story at the Huffington Post, click here to find where the Q&A left off.

Ernie Manouse, seven-time Emmy winning PBS anchor and producer, and host of the Downton Abbey after show Manor of Speaking. Photo: Houston Public Media.
Ernie Manouse, seven-time Emmy winning PBS anchor and producer, and host of the Downton Abbey after show Manor of Speaking. Photo: Houston Public Media.

If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you might already know that one of the most delightful personalities on PBS today is seven-time Emmy winning PBS Anchor/Producer Ernie Manouse of Houston Public Media. And one of the best shows on PBS right now is Ernie’s Downton Abbey after show, Manor of Speaking.

Manor of Speaking is like a post-Downton water cooler gathering–a chance to re-hash the show and also learn a bit about the era, hosted with the perfect balance of decorum and dishiness by Ernie Manouse. In fact, Ernie told me that someone once told him they started watching Downton Abbey because they were such fans of Manor of Speaking! If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey but not yet watching Manor of Speaking, you’re missing out!

With the final season of Downton Abbey airing on PBS starting January 3 (check your local listings), I knew I had to talk with Ernie about Downton Abbey, Manor of Speaking, and beyond. Ernie is smart, funny, engaging, quick-witted, interesting, charismatic, and all-around fabulous, and I am so grateful for his time!

At first, I sent questions for Ernie to answer via email. However, as a fan of Manor of Speaking and of Ernie, it turns out I was a little over-enthusiastic and sent him about a million questions. He started answering via email, but eventually we decided just to chat on the phone instead! So halfway through the Q&A below, the answers get a lot more in depth. (The first question was from our phone conversation; I decided to move it to the top.)

In a tip of the hat to the Manor of Speaking audience interaction style, at a couple of points below I’ve invited reader responses. Leave a comment and let us know what you’re thinking!


Pam Stucky: What did you love about Downton Abbey? Why do you think it enraptured us all so much?

Ernie Manouse: There have been so many of these costume dramas that we’ve seen over the years from Masterpiece, but the reason that this one works, the reason that this one pulls us all in, is because I think they have an amazing ability of taking today’s issues, common concerns that we have in our generation, and placing them on a period story. What Mary’s going through, people today are going through. When the Granthams lost their money, it was a time when we all were facing financial troubles, with the drop in markets and all that. Julian Fellowes has been very clever in taking what look like old issues but they’re actually current issues, so I think that quickly ties us to these characters. We can relate to what they’re going through. I think that’s what makes it different from all the other period pieces that they put on Masterpiece.

Also, they’re skillful in the way they direct the episodes. It might be a long scene, but they cut it up. They cut back and forth with another scene, so there’s always movement in the show. So it’s not a five-minute scene in the drawing room. There’s a moment in the library, then they’re in the kitchen, then they’re in the drawing room, then back in the kitchen. It gives the sense of movement. I think they’re telling the same story, but with a faster eye, and I think for today’s generations, that, and their being stories you can connect to, the two together really make for a strong show that draws us in. That, and that fact that it’s wonderfully written and they’re great characters, and we love to see them suffer, and we love to see Mary get her way, there’s these things that are guilty pleasures. That’s my take on it.

Ernie and his panel of experts on Manor of Speaking. Photo: Houston Public Media.
Ernie and his panel of experts on Manor of Speaking. Photo: Houston Public Media.

PS: Personally I think one of the reasons your after show, Manor of Speaking, is so popular is because it reconnects us in an increasingly disconnected world; it serves as a sort of nationwide water cooler where we can all gossip about our favorite show. What do you think? Why do people love it? What feedback have you gotten about Manor of Speaking?

EM: I think the reason that the show is so popular is that we have a warm friendly way of reconnecting with the audience after the show is over. I think the humor, warmth and wit shows a love and appreciation for Downton Abbey but also gives us the opportunity to poke a little fun and it in a loving way. We serve as a sort of book club where maybe the folks at home watched the show, had a glass of wine, and joined us in our manor house. I worry sometimes some of our viewers are watching the show alone, and when it ends the experience is over for them, but they still want to share. Our show gives viewers a chance to engage, to share, to see what other viewers are saying through social media, and to laugh and celebrate their favorite program.

PS: One of the fun things about Manor of Speaking is that you have on experts, who can explain some of the finer details and subtle nuances of the historical aspects and accuracies of the show. Have they ever caught the DA producers in a historical inaccuracy?

EM: The best answer would be what Alastair Bruce (Downton’s historical consultant) told me–the job is to inform the production of what was historically accurate, and then what the producers, directors and such do with it is up to them. But for us, Helen Mann has noticed a few timeline inaccuracies, or at least “strange timings”… But for the most part they are pretty on point.

PS: Have you seen all of the final season yet? What did you think? [This Q&A with Ernie was done before Christmas and the airing of the final Christmas episode in the UK.]

EM: I have–all but the last [Christmas] episode. I think it has given us what we would want: intrigue, humor, scandal, emotion, and excitement. It seems a fitting end to a wonderful series.

PS: If you haven’t seen the series finale [Christmas episode], how do you think it should end?

EM: I have always joked that the series should end on a close up of Mr. Bates … Slow pull out revealing Anna at his side, holding in her arms their small child … Pull out further to reveal Bates holding an ax with blood on it … and finally, a wide shot with the cast dead at their feet … Turns out Bates killed them all–all through the series–poisoned Mr. Pamuk, cut Matthew’s brake cord, etc. … And the baby’s name … Norman, Norman Bates! [Of Psycho fame, of course!]

PS: I think that would be perfect! Favorite storyline from the past seasons?

EM: I have enjoyed Thomas’ journey. They have given him plenty of opportunities to show dimension and character growth. I actually initially was not at all interested in Rose, but in Season 5 I became very invested in her and Atticus’ story.

PS: Which storyline do you think played out too long?

EM: Mr. Green and Bates’ imprisonment–those two…. Enough said!!! I will not prolong it any further!

PS: Which storyline do you wish they’d given more time?

EM: Gregson in Germany–I really would have been curious to learn more about what went on there…

Downton Abbey's dearly (and not so dearly) departed are honored on Manor of Speaking's Mourner's Corner. Photo: Houston Public Media.
Downton Abbey’s dearly (and not so dearly) departed are honored on Manor of Speaking’s Mourner’s Corner. Photo: Houston Public Media.

PS: Which characters did you find yourself wishing you’d seen more of?

EM: Cora’s mother and Jimmy.

PS: Thomas: Good guy or bad guy?

EM: Most complicated, intriguing character. That’s what makes him endlessly fascinating. I think at his vote he is a wounded good guy, who has built up his walls and feels he needs to strike before he is found out. He is my favorite character on the show.

PS: Of all of Lady Mary’s suitors, who do you think was best suited for her?

EM: He wasn’t her suitor, but Tom Branson–since they both lost their loves, I always wanted to see them happy together. Otherwise, of course Matthew, then Gillingham.

PS: Carson and Mrs. Hughes: Why do you think we love this pairing so much? Where do you think they’ll be in twenty years?

EM: Happily married–they have since the beginning seemed as the mother and father of the downstairs staff, a loving unit who oversee their children with love, and a firm hand.

PS: Okay, and Bates and Anna. Come on! There is no chemistry there. Am I right? What do you think of Bates and Anna?

EM: See my answer for how the series should end ;-).  But the audience does just love to see them in turmoil. I will say I was caught off guard when they were coupled–I guess I missed all the subtle cues!

If you’re joining this post linked from the Huffington Post article, start here!

(Sorry about that! I hate breaking up posts but it was too long for HP and I didn’t want to leave out any of the Q&A, as Ernie is just spectacular and interesting and fabulous. Back to the Q&A …)

And then Ernie and I got on the phone together … and the answers got a lot longer (which I love!!)!

PS: Do you think we’ll see a Downton Abbey spinoff? If so, what should it be?

EM: I know that early on there was an idea for a spinoff, which actually I kind of like, but I don’t think it’s going to happen now. It was going to be the Robert and Cora story. They were going to go back and tell the Robert and Cora story, how they met, and how they came to be who they are today. I think that’s actually a pretty fascinating story, and I would have loved to have seen that, I would have loved to have seen the negotiations between Violet and Cora’s mother. I would have loved to have seen all of it. I think that would have been a great story. That would be a spinoff I would enjoy.

Also, as I’ve said throughout, my favorite character is Thomas. I’m fascinated by him, I think Rob James-Collier has done an amazing job. Because of his complexity, he’s an interesting character to follow.

I don’t know how much you’ve seen of Season 6. [PS: I’ve seen all of it except the Christmas episode.] They even continue into Season 6 making Thomas really a complex character. I think some people think they draw him a little too often from the same card, like “He’s bad,” but I think they’ve done a good job. Especially in the Season 3 or 4 where he first warmed to Jimmy, and kind of showed a dimension of him that was like, he does care, and he loves. But the world has made him “bad.”

READERS: What do you think? What kind of spinoff would you want to see? What characters do you want to see more of? Answer in the comments!

PS: In a smackdown between the Dowager Countess and Professor McGonagall [Dame Maggie Smith’s character in Harry Potter], who would win?

EM: If it’s a battle of wits, it’s gotta be Violet. Physically, McGonagall.

PS: Who do you think would better represent at the Great British Bake Off, Daisy or Mrs. Patmore?

EM: Oh, please! Mrs. Patmore! Of course! Daisy knows everything she knows from Mrs. Patmore. Anyway, Daisy would have yelled at the judges if they got it “wrong,” and she’d be in trouble, because Daisy’s gotten way too uppity.

Ernie looking dapper and happy. Photo: Houston Public Media.
Ernie looking dapper and happy. Photo: Houston Public Media.

PS: How did you come up with the idea for and format of Manor of Speaking? I hear there’s a connection to Celtic Thunder (which, of course, is the show that launched the career of a mutual friend of ours, whom PBS audiences might also be familiar with, Irish singer/actor Damian McGinty)?

EM: I was in Ireland shooting the national pledge breaks for the Celtic Thunder show, and shot for a week. At the end of the week, they shot the show on Friday, so I had the weekend. I decided I was going to stay in Europe for the weekend because it was my birthday. I decided I’d go to Amsterdam for my birthday. I’d be all alone, but I’d go to Amsterdam, have fun, and fly home. So. Finished shooting Friday night, flew out Saturday morning to Amsterdam, got to my hotel room. I always travel with a media player and a digital media reader, that’s just the way I am. So I hooked it up, and I had gotten a little touch of a cold on the flight, and I thought, well, I’ll just sit in my room a bit and watch a little TV.

I realized I had Season 1 and Season 2 of Downton Abbey on my player, so I thought, I’ll watch those. So, I started, and I watched both seasons, episode after episode. I didn’t go out, didn’t enjoy Amsterdam, I spent my whole birthday weekend in my hotel room in Amsterdam watching Downton Abbey. When I finished it, after every episode, I was like, “I wish I had someone to talk to about this show!” Not only was I not around anybody I knew, I wasn’t watching it when anybody else was watching it. So there was no one to share it with.

When I got back to the U.S., I was at work, and one of the people I work with came up to me and said, “You know, Downton Abbey is doing really well. I wonder if there’s something we could do for membership drive with it. Do you have any ideas?” And I said, “No, but I’ve got a great idea for an after show, because if our audience is anything like I was, when each episode ends, you want to talk about it. You want to share it with someone who just experienced it with you.” And so, that was the birth of Manor of Speaking. It was a show just to help people decompress after an episode. I knew I didn’t want it to be stodgy, I didn’t want it to be too heavily thought out. I wanted it to feel like you and a bunch of your friends got a bottle of wine and were in a book club, and you just wanted to have fun with it.

I think at times people think we’re a little disrespectful of the depth of it, but I think that’s what makes it work. We love the show so much, we can have fun with it. We can laugh with it, we can be sad with it.

So we came up with that concept. Then we decided we wanted to interact with the audience, so we wanted to have tweets. But we thought, well, if we’re in a manor house, how are we going to get tweets? So my director came up with the idea, “You should have a butler deliver tweets to you.” That’s where the idea of me having a butler came along.

We have a friend of mine who’s an actor … it’s a long story of how he got to do it. Suffice it to say, he took the character and ran with it. All we knew is it was going to be a butler bringing tweets. He came up with the name, he came up with the schtick we do each week of me asking questions and him giving an answer, he just kind of made the Mr. Rodgers character into something. That’s all on Luke Wrobel, who created it…. Luke just was right for that role. He’s been wonderful. He’s gotten Emmy nominations twice for playing Mr. Rodgers, it’s just worked out great.

PS: How does that work with the tweets? I know being on the west coast, they aren’t our tweets. Are they east coast tweets? How does it work? Is it a live show? Is it pre-taped? What’s the magic behind the tweets?

EM: (Evil laugh.) You want to know the dirty secret of our tweets? Okay. The deal is we pre-tape our show on Tuesday nights. We have to pre-tape the show. The first season we did it live, but now we have to pre-tape the show because we distribute it. We’re on about 140 PBS stations across the country. So we need to send out the tape, and it needs to be processed and all that, it’s complicated, but that’s how it works. So the thought was, how do we keep the live tweets on the show? So when the show airs in the UK, we gather all the tweets that are generated by that episode. The tweets that we’re posting are real tweets, and they were inspired by the episode you just saw.

Then, when I lay out what we’re going to do on the show that night, we kind of know what areas we’re going to talk about. We know that in the first break we’re going to talk about this storyline, and in the next break we’re going to talk about that storyline. So we have a “Tweets Producer” who basically culls through all the tweets the UK does, and then matches them up. We know we’re going to be talking about this storyline, so all the tweets will reflect that storyline, and look like they’re coming in in the moment.

That’s the first week. But on the second week that we do our show, by that time the first episode has aired in the US already. So we go through all the tweets that come in during that episode [in the US], and any that are more generic or character-driven and tie in with what we’re talking about the next week, we’ll incorporate those into our show. So if on the first episode you tweet something about Violet, and then she does something in the second episode that we’re going to talk about, your tweet might show up there. So in the first week we don’t have your tweets on, but by the second week we’re starting to incorporate tweets from the US.

It’s a very complicated process, and then out of all the tweets that come in, we cull through them and I pick out like nine of my favorite tweets, no matter what they’re about, and those are the ones that make it to Mr. Rodgers’ tray.

I think that’s the biggest question people ask when they realize the show is pre-taped. They’re like, “How do you get the tweets, then?!” “It’s magic! It’s Mr. Rodgers’ magic!”

Mr. Rodgers looks on with the others as Lyle Lovett, a guest on the first episode of Manor of Speaking this season, captures the moment on his phone.
Mr. Rodgers looks on with the others as Lyle Lovett, a guest on the first episode of Manor of Speaking this season, captures the moment on his phone.

PS: So back to Damian McGinty, I have to ask you because I know you know I thought he should have been cast in Downton Abbey at some point. If you were to cast Damian in Downton Abbey–too late now, of course, but there are always time machines–what role would you give him?

EM: I would think, two roles that maybe he would be good for. People aren’t going to like this. One, he could be a new house butler, a house boy, but I also think for some reason Daisy might encounter him out at the farm. He could be a good love interest for Daisy.

PS: I had thought that he could be Tom Branson’s younger cousin, come to visit.

EM: Ahhh. See, my thing is, because I know him, I know he’s not stodgy and stiff-collar, so I had to see him as one of the more down-to-earth people.

READERS: If you know Damian McGinty, what role would you have created for him on Downton Abbey? Tell us in the comments!

PS: How do you handle it, especially in … I don’t remember what season it was, but there have been some pretty heavy storylines, and then you have a sort of light, dishy, gossipy show, how do you balance that? How do you maintain the tone of your show when the tone of Downton Abbey gets heavy?

EM: I think that’s the best thing about Manor of Speaking, because we’re there with the audience to help them decompress from the story. The best example of that would have to be the episode when Anna was raped. [After that episode] all over the country, stations got phone calls and complaints, people were upset and bothered by it, but our station didn’t get a single complaint call, and that was because of Manor of Speaking, I think.

What we did was, when we came out of that episode, knowing it was going to be so heavy and disturbing, and also knowing that in the UK it got the reaction it did, we opened our show with a grief counselor on the panel, from the Houston Area Women’s Center. Just me and that woman. And we came to us, and we explained why sharing that story was important in today’s day and age, what we can learn from that story, and told our audience, if you find yourself in a similar situation, or if the storyline brought up feelings or memories in you, we had a help line, and we put that number up. I think that transitioned our audience through that uncomfortable moment. Then we went into the open of our show, and then we did our regular show. We kept that woman on the couch, because, you know, we reminded everyone, these are characters. It’s a story.

I think it was a huge service to our community. That’s when we broke format, and it’s the only show when we’ve actually broken format. It was important to do, and I’m happy we were there to do it, and the audience reaction was very strong to it. We didn’t get any negative reaction. We handled the rest of the show, looking at the other storylines, the same way as we always did. We didn’t then want to make the whole thing down and sad and all of that. But it was important to realize there are serious issues that are dealt with. Luckily for us, they haven’t given us a whole lot of those, so we’ve been able to keep our laughter and our humor going. We try to match the audience where the audience is.

PS: I think that’s fabulous you did that. I’m sure that made a real difference for some people. But, you’re almost done with Manor of Speaking now! What’s going to happen next? Will you do this format for other shows?

EM: I think if the right program came along, we would do it. You have to realize that Downton Abbey is very unique in the way people react to the show. And it’s also cleverly written in a way that allows us to have fun with it. It has fun with itself, and so we’re not being disrespectful to it. There are some shows where I think they take themselves so seriously and the audience does, too, that if we came out and did this, they would be offended. But Downton Abbey has a good sense of humor. If something comes along, we’re ready to do it again. But other than that, I’ll go back to doing InnerVIEWS and the other shows that I do.

READERS: We need more Ernie, am I right? Are there other shows you’d love to see Ernie do an after show for? I’ve suggested Poldark and A Place to Call Home–I especially think A Place to Call Home is ripe for an after show! (If you’re not familiar with the 1950s Australian post-war drama, check out my interview with one of the show’s stars, Marta Dusseldorp, and then call your local PBS station to tell them you want to see it!) What shows do you think need an after show like Manor of Speaking? Let us know in the comments!

They're going to need a bigger trophy case for all those Manor of Speaking Emmys!
They’re going to need a bigger trophy case for all those Manor of Speaking Emmys!

PS: That segues perfectly into my next question. You also have a show, in its 13th? season, InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse.

EM: Now we’re in our 14th season, and we’re already taping for season 15.

PS: Fantastic. Tell me about that. How do you decide who to have on? What is your goal in your interviews, your guiding mission?

EM: A couple different things. One is, they have to be someone who has a story or career worthy of a half hour conversation. You think, “Oh, that’s easy.” But it’s not. There are so many people that are popular today for one or two things, and to sustain that for half an hour would be hard. I like to find somebody who has a good body of work that we can talk about. But also who’s done something with themselves. When people ask me to describe what the show is, I often say that it investigates the creative mind. I want to know how people achieve what they achieve, and how they got to where they’re at, and then also how they give back with it, what they do with what they’ve learned. That’s usually the overlying guideline for that show.

The other thing is when we put up their name underneath them, we don’t have to explain who they are. So if it says “Judy Collins,” I don’t have to put underneath it, “Singer.” People will just know who they are. That’s what I look for. Also, I tend to like people somebody I tend to like. You know? So someone I’m a fan of or who I like. I’ve been fortunate. Yes, I’ve done some people where I’m not a huge fan of their work, just because I haven’t been exposed to it or it’s not in my wheelhouse, but that doesn’t mean they don’t belong there. For the most part, I’ve been lucky, and I get to pick who I want, when I want.

PS: And you clearly love interviewing people, talking with people. What is the draw for you? What is it that you love about that?

EM: I said very early in this career that if I ever sat down with a celebrity or star or somebody of accomplishment or of note, and I was bored with it, that I should retire. Because really, it’s a fascination of talking with these people, of being in the room with someone who can tell me these stories, you know? They were there, and they can share it. I think it was Walter Cronkite who said, “My natural curiosity,” and I was like, yeah, that’s what it is. It’s my natural curiosity that carries me through these interviews.

It’s wild. I mean, if I want to talk about visiting the moon, I can talk with somebody who actually stood on the moon. If I want to talk with somebody about having eighteen top 10 singles in their career, I can sit down with Taylor Dayne, and she did it. You know, it’s not, I can sit with friends and speculate, “What would it be like?” Or I can talk with the people who really did it. It’s so cool.

PS: That is definitely very cool. So tell me, what else do you have going on with PBS, and in your career?

EM: I also do a show on PBS here in Houston called Arts InSight. InnerVIEWS airs across the country on multiple stations, Manor of Speaking airs across the country, and Arts InSight is a local show, but we share our content with thirty-two other stations, called the “major market group.” Our stories, that we do at our station, go to other stations, and their stories come to ours, and I host the Houston version of the show, but all the other stations have their version of the show. So we do that.

But now, with the shutting down of the manor house at the end of March, my station offered me a very nice situation. And that is that starting in March, I pretty much have my own production company within our station, and I can do whatever I want. They want me to find stories, and tell stories, and make shows, and I have the full use of all the facilities we have at our station. So that’s a huge deal to get. The only stipulation is they don’t want long-term series. They don’t want like a weekly series that would run for ten years. What they want is maybe a short, limited series, like Manor of Speaking, pledge specials, music specials, art shows, documentaries, whatever I want to do, it’s free for me to do, as long as at the end of the day we’ve made “event television.” So that’s what we’re going to be making. And then we’ll be distributing them.

PS: So do you have ideas already, anything you can talk about?

EM: Yeah, I have something, I know what the very first production is going to be. It’s going to be a documentary about a crime that happened here in Houston, that kind of changed Houston and had impacts across the country. But I don’t want to say what it is quite yet. But you’ll probably be seeing it on Twitter before long, so you’ll know.

Lyle Lovett joined the group for the first episode of Manor of Speaking this season. Photo: Houston Public Media.
Lyle Lovett joined the group for the first episode of Manor of Speaking this season. Photo: Houston Public Media.

PS: You and I both love PBS. Personally, I think public free access to education and information is critical to the health of a community — things like PBS, NPR, and public libraries being at the core of that idea. Talk to me a little bit about why you love PBS, and why you think PBS is important?

EM: I love PBS because I feel we’re given the time and the resources to tell the stories in a complete and competent manner. I think too often, with the way the world is today, everything has to be done in sound bites, or ninety-second stories, or even if it’s a two-hour news magazine, not to call any out by name, it’s built around the commercial breaks, so the story has to have a very certain arc, so that at each commercial there’s a cliffhanger. And that doesn’t really serve telling a true story in a truthful way. At PBS what we’ve been allowed to do is tell stories the way the stories need to be told. If it warrants a half an hour, it gets a half an hour. If it warrants an hour, it gets an hour. For the most part, we’re not judging for you. We’re giving you the information, and then you get to decide. I think that’s so important. That’s one thing I try to keep with anything I do, that I’m not telling you how to think. These are the different sides of the story. Now your responsibility is to figure out where you fall on it. It’s not my job to tell you. My job is to give you the information so you can decide for yourself. And that’s really the beauty of working in PBS, and especially Houston Public Media. We’ve been very fair and balanced in what we do. I know sometimes some people will say, “Ah! PBS is so liberal!” And then other people will say, “Ah! PBS is so conservative!” So I’m happy they say it’s both.

PS: What do you hope the next five to ten years of your career look like? What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?

EM: I think that I just get to continue to do the work that I’ve enjoyed doing. It’s going to be hard to put Manor of Speaking to bed, because that show so beautifully fits in my wheelhouse, it’s what I like to do. As much as InnerVIEWS is one side of me, the in-depth, thoughtful conversations, Manor of Speaking is the quirky, funny, quick-witted, one-liner side of me that most of my friends probably know.

PS: It’s clear that you’re very comfortable in that. It comes across that that’s you.

EM: I’m friends with Lyle Lovett, the country singer, and Lyle is on the first episode of Manor of Speaking this season, he’s going to sit on the couches with us. [The first episode has already been taped.] After the show, he said he’d never realized that the whole show is ad-libbed by me. There’s no script. Manor of Speaking is all just off the top of my head. And he was like, you know, he’s known me for a while, he knows my sense of humor, and he knew that was there, but he was like, “Every single toss, everything you do on the show is just in the moment.” And I was like, “Yep.”

So once the show starts, for me, it’s a challenge, and it’s a roller-coaster ride, and in my mind a little game, “Will I hit the points, will I get it right, will I make this work?” Because we don’t have anything to fall back on. Even though the show is now pre-taped, it’s live-to-tape. We go through it as though it’s live. There are no re-shoots, there are no fixes, we just do what we do. So I’ll miss the adrenaline, the excitement, the fun of all that.

PS: You’ll have to find something to replace that. If I think of something, I’ll let you know.

EM: Please, let me know!

READERS: Do you have any ideas for Ernie or his production company? What small series, pledge specials, music specials, documentaries, etc., do you want to see? Leave your ideas in the comments!

EM: I’ll tell you some other people who are going to pop up on the show this season. We’ve got Lyle Lovett on the couch, we have Brené Brown …

PS: I love Brené Brown!

EM: She’s going to be on the couch, she’s on the second week. Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, is going to do Across the Pond with us. A few other surprises up our sleeves, but those are the ones I know are written in stone.

PS: That sounds fantastic. So much to look forward to! Ernie, thank you so much for your time! You’ve been just fabulous to chat with, and I’m so grateful. I hope we see more of you! Happy New Year!

EM: Thanks, Pam!

So, fans of Manor of Speaking, Downton Abbey, Ernie, and more, there you have it! Be sure to catch Manor of Speaking right after the Downton Abbey Season 6 premiere on January 3. It sounds like a fantastic season ahead!

Find Ernie on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as at his own website.

 

We need more Ernie on TV! Can't wait to see what he comes up with next! Photo: Houston Public Media.
We need more Ernie on TV! Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next! Photo: Houston Public Media.

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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“I Want to Be Challenged Every Day”: Q&A with Poldark’s Heida Reed

 

Heida Reed as Elizabeth Chynoweth in the BBC series Poldark, wearing her favorite tricorn hat. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.
Heida Reed as Elizabeth Chynoweth in the BBC series Poldark, wearing her favorite tricorn hat. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.

If you watched the BBC show Poldark this year (which aired in the U.S. on PBS), you’re not alone; the 2015 remake of the 1970s hit series is attracted huge numbers of viewers around the world, all of whom are eagerly awaiting the second season of the show, set to air in 2016.

And, of course, one of the things we love most about Poldark is the abundance of strong female characters, including Elizabeth Chynoweth, who is portrayed in the new series with beauty, grace, and strength by actress Heida Reed.

I was delighted at the opportunity to interview Heida, but my interest in talking with her was even more greatly piqued when I found out she hails from Iceland, a spectacular country which I visited two years ago.

I’m so grateful Heida agreed to chat with me, especially considering she’s very hard at work these days filming Poldark season two. Below are some of Heida’s thoughts on Iceland, Poldark, acting, and life. Thank you, Heida!

See also my interviews with Aidan Turner (“Ross Poldark”) and Robin Ellis (the “original” “Ross Poldark” from the 1970s series).

Q: I visited Iceland in 2013 to write a book about it, so I’ve done a lot of research on the country. There are a lot of conflicting opinions concerning the lovability (or lack of lovability) of Iceland in winter. Give me your insider’s insight: Winter in Iceland is ________?

A: Winter in Iceland is harsh but beautiful. If you’re cold, all the houses are geothermally heated. So is the water and it is always warm and cosy inside. It’s the wind that’s the worst. If it’s calm, there’s nothing you won’t love.

Q: Would you recommend people visit in winter? 

A: Absolutely. Only way to see the northen lights properly. If it’s snowing, there’s nothing like it.

 

Poldark cast members Ruby Bentall, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jack Farthing, and Kyle Soller visited Heida in Iceland this summer. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter. All Heida's photos via Twitter used with permission.
Poldark cast members Ruby Bentall, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jack Farthing, and Kyle Soller visited Heida in Iceland this summer. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter. All Heida’s photos via Twitter used with permission.

Several Poldark cast members visited Heida in Iceland this summer. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter. All Heida’s photos via Twitter used with permission.

Q: What are some of your favorite destinations in Iceland that you would recommend?

A: I always go to the Blue Lagoon. Have lobster soup at this old bait shop “The Sea Baron” down by the harbour in Reykjavík. The Golden Circle which consists of the national park, a waterfall and the hot spring geysirs. The Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón) and the Westfjords.

Q: Iceland is now a hot travel destination, but that’s a fairly recent development. You grew up there (near Reykjavík) before Iceland was really “discovered” by the outside world. (Is that a fair assessment?) What was it like growing up in Iceland? Did it feel isolated? What made you want to leave?

A: It has definitely changed since I grew up there in terms of tourism. The places I’ve mentioned before were mostly just visited by natives and there wasn’t much structure around them. Now it’s a little different but still great. Iceland has never felt isolated to me. Due to the second world war and British and American soldiers stationing on the island, it has since been very Americanised when it comes to popular culture and the media. I loved growing up in Iceland. Nature is very important to us and we try our hardest to preserve it. Wherever you live on the island you’re always by the sea. No one really lives inland. There’s a feeling of infinity that comes with being by the sea. As soon as I’m by it, I feel I can breathe properly. I left because I wanted an international career and to study in English. Our language is only spoken by 300,000 people and therefore it is a bit tricky to approach a career abroad without expanding your language skills.

 

Eleanor Tomlinson ("Demelza Carne Poldark") and Aidan Turner ("Ross Poldark") at Heida's for dinner, not eating fermented shark. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Eleanor Tomlinson (“Demelza Carne Poldark”) and Aidan Turner (“Ross Poldark”) at Heida’s for dinner, not eating fermented shark. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: Hákarl (fermented shark): Yes or no?

A: I’ve never had it. I think it’s something they seem to force on tourists. Although eating it is an old Viking tradition.

Q: Your original name is Heiða Rún Sigurðardóttir. Can you explain the Icelandic last-name system? Does having the last name of Sigurðardóttir mean you are related to other Sigurðardóttirs? 

A: No! My dad’s name is Sigurðar, therefore I am the daughter of Sigurðar; Sigurðardóttir. My brother is the son of Sigurðar; Sigurðsson.

[Learn more about Icelandic names.]

Q: What made you want to change your last name, and how did you choose Reed? 

A: Well I think it’s obvious why I changed it. I’ve never met a person abroad who can actually pronounce it. My middle name is Rún. As in “rune” like the secret runes in ancient Icelandic magic. At first I changed it to Heida Rune, but was advised later on to just change it to something more English. A friend suggested Reed, and I thought it sounded nice. Sometimes I wish I’d given it more thought than that, but I quite like it most days.

 

Heida with Poldark cast members Ruby Bentall ("Verity Poldark") and Jack Farthing ("George Warleggan"). Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Heida with Poldark cast members Ruby Bentall (“Verity Poldark”) and Jack Farthing (“George Warleggan”). Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: How would you describe the character of Elizabeth Chynoweth, your role in Poldark? What are her best strengths, her most challenging weaknesses? 

A: Elizabeth is very much a girl of her time. Ross is right when he says, she was born to be admired. It’s not so much that that is what she lives for, but it’s all she knows. She has been taught from birth how to behave and act in polite society and to always do what is expected of her. I always say Elizabeth is cursed with doing the right and proper thing and seems to be continually punished for her decisions. She lacks the courage of her own convictions, as she says to Ross when Verity runs off to be with Blamey. Her biggest weakness would be the deep need she has for Ross’s admiration. She loves him, but even though she knows she can’t have him, she still needs to know that a part of his heart belongs to her.

Q: You’ve said that Debbie Horsfield‘s portrayal of Elizabeth is somewhat different than the Elizabeth created by Winston Graham in the original books. For those who haven’t read the books, tell us more about what you see as the differences? 

A: In the books Elizabeth is a lot colder and more matter of fact. It seems sometimes unfathomable why someone like Ross would hold such a big torch for someone so lacking in warmth. Debbie’s version of Elizabeth is just a lot more rounded. She’s not the warmest person in the world, but she is written with the idea in mind that you would at least understand why Ross could have loved her so. Also if she starts off hard and cold and stays that way throughout the story, that is very monotonous for an actor to perform. Then she has nowhere to go because, later on, she does have a reason to harden somewhat. At the beginning of the story, I don’t think she does.

 

Heida on location for Poldark, riding side saddle on her horse Dylan. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Heida on location for Poldark, riding side saddle on her horse Dylan. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: If Elizabeth were a modern-day woman, living in 2015, what would her life be? Would she be working? Married to a prince? A CEO of a company? Who would she be? 

A: To be honest I think is impossible to say how she would be if she didn’t have to live up to the standards she has to in the 18th century. But if I’d had to take a guess I don’t think she would be career driven. She would probably be married to a wealthy man who adores her. I think her focus would be family, children, and society.

Q: Through no fault of her own, Elizabeth has taken quite a fall in social standing by the end of the first season of Poldark. And, basically, she had no control over that, due simply to the fact of being a woman. Has your experience with Poldark given you pause to think about the state of womanhood throughout history, and how far we have–or haven’t–come? 

A: Absolutely. Having been raised in a modern, liberal society as an independent woman whose choices in life are limitless, it is actually incredibly hard to put yourself in the shoes and mindframe of a woman whose life is laid out for her and livelihood depends on the financial success of her husband. Of course we have come along way in the battle for gender equality but we have a lot more to achieve before we can count ourselves equal.

 

Heida in Iceland in autumn. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Heida in Iceland in autumn. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: Before you saw any Poldark season two scripts, you said you were looking forward to Elizabeth having a stronger character in season two than she did in season one. Now that you’ve seen the scripts, are you pleased with what you’re seeing? 

A: Very much so. There’s a much bigger journey she goes on in the second series. Mainly due to the fact that there is more to deal with. She is put in impossible situations and she has to either live or perish in those conditions.

Q: I saw in interviews somewhere that both you and Eleanor Tomlinson each think that your own character is best for Ross Poldark. (That is, you think Elizabeth is best for him, and Eleanor thinks Demelza is.) Why do you think Elizabeth would be best for him? Why not Demelza? 

A: I think I said, It would have worked out, had they ended up together. Whether she’s best for Ross or not, I can’t say. I’m not sure about that necessarily. I think the question should be Who’s best for Elizabeth? 😉

[Pam’s note: Indeed!!]

 

Heida on location filming Poldark with Eleanor Tomlinson (Demelza). Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Heida on location filming Poldark with Eleanor Tomlinson (Demelza). Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: I’ve heard actors say that when they take on a role, in order to convincingly play the character they have to love and believe in the character–even if, to the outside world, the character is an unlikeable villain. Do you agree? Tell me more. 

A: I agree. I think you need to believe in your character the way they would themselves if they were real. I try not to objectify them as one thing. That way they can’t breathe the way they deserve to. I’ve definitely taken it personally when I’ve seen comments about Elizabeth being a bitch or a wet blanket. But then so would she. Of course I’m able to separate myself from what is aimed at her and what is aimed at me, but I take it as a good thing when I take it personally. Because it means I am fighting for her. With her. I see things from her perspective no matter whether her intentions and actions are right or wrong. That is not up to me to judge. That’s the audience’s job.

Q: If you had to act in a different role on Poldark, which would you choose and why? Either male or female!

A: I think I’d like to be George. He has such a machiavellian mentality which is a joy to play as an actor.

Q: When you think about the huge success of Poldark, is that thrilling–as in, “finally, I’ve made it!”–or is it scary, as in, “what if this is the biggest role I’ll ever have?” Does it feel intimidating, like there’s no way anything else can match the success? Or does that knowledge offer a sort of solace, like the pressure is off? 

A: No the pressure I put on myself is never off. I don’t see this as the “I’ve made it” role, but then I don’t think I ever will with any of them. If you have that mentality I think you’re in danger of your work suffering once you think your “moment has arrived.” I’ll never think I’ve made it. I’ll always want to feel like I’m on my way rather than at some end post. Because what do you do once you’ve reached it?

 

Heida in Scarlett. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Heida in Scarlett. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: Earlier this year, you performed in Scarlet at London’s Southwark Playhouse, a play about a victim of revenge porn. You’ve said the play was about sexual identity, self acceptance, online bullying, and the expectations that people have of young women. That’s a very different role from Elizabeth in Poldark! Is it a goal/priority to choose a wide variety of roles to showcase different aspects of your talent or grow your own skills, or do you just take on what is interesting and available in the moment? 

A: I think it’s a combination of all of that. I certainly hope to get to play as many varied roles as possible during my career. It’s not so much about showcasing different aspects of my talent. It is more about telling different stories through different characters. Scarlet’s story is extremely important in the society we live in today and I am very proud to have been a part of that work.

Q: You love board games. Favorites? Why?

A: I love Pictionary, Actionary and Trivial Pursuit and I’m obsessed with Cards Against Humanity. We play it on set all the time! Board games and cards just make me laugh. The more serious people are with the rules the better. I just think it brings out the best and worst in people and it makes me laugh so much.

 

Heida and others from the cast and crew of Poldark, bowling. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.
Heida and others from the cast and crew of Poldark, bowling. Photo: Heida Reed via Twitter.

Q: You love traveling. Dream destinations? Why?

A: I want to go to Fiji and Bali and Nepal. I’m in love with the East. I love the mentality there and the landscape is so beautiful and different from Europe.

Q: You’re in your late 20s, which is generally a time of a lot of soul-searching and thinking. Has that been the case for you, as well? If so, what are the Big Issues you think about? What do you think matters; what is your Truth? 

A: The older I get, the more I realise that I know nothing. But that’s ok. There’s freedom in accepting that not everything is black and white and you can’t always define things. I think my truth lies somewhere in the acceptance of uncertainty and being able to put my ego aside in order to be honest with myself and others.

Q: What are your short- and long-term hopes, goals and dreams? What do you want?

A: I want to keep working, I want to work with my idols, I want my work to take me to all kinds of different places, I want to be challenged every day and with every new role and fellow actor, I want to challenge them back and create something that affects whoever’s watching. I want to share my life with amazing people who take me as I am, flawed in so many ways, but unapologetic.

Follow Heida on Twitter and Instagram.

Find Poldark on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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“Work Hard, Stay Humble, Be Kind”: Fashioning a Dream and a Positive Message

 

Britney Keeler in her North Hollywood studio. Photo: Love & Bambii

“Fashion doesn’t always have to scream. Sometimes it’s just a whisper, softly telling the world that I am here and I am beautiful.” ~ Love & Bambii

Britney Keeler thought she was going to be a physician. Instead she’s an entrepreneur of a fashion line with a message of kindness and a goal to make a positive impact on the world.

Sometimes we find our dreams; sometimes our dreams find us.

I first heard about Britney as a young entrepreneur with a company that promotes a positive image and message. “A beacon for young aspirational, female entrepreneurs who need a role model,” I was told.

With an introduction like that, how could I not be intrigued?

I reached out to Britney for a Q&A to find out more. Below, she shares her story, her mission, her challenges and her goals. After chatting with her, I agree. “Work hard, stay humble, be kind,” she says. With a life motto like that, I know she’ll go far.

 

Britney at work. Photo: Love & Bambii.
Britney at work. Photo: Love & Bambii.

Q: Hi, Britney! Thanks so much for chatting with me! First, the name of your company: Love & Bambii. How did you decide on this name?

A: It sounds silly but my friends and I have always said that my “spirit-animal” is a deer or more specifically “Bambi,” so it was important for me to incorporate that into the name, henceforth… Love & Bambii was born! I added the extra “i” to avoid potential backlash from Disney for using a character’s name, better safe than sorry.

Q: You’re only 23 now, and already you have your own clothing line. Tell me how this happened! When did you first come up with the idea? What, exactly, was the initial idea, and what did it blossom into?

A: Honestly, I never really planned it; I’ve always loved fashion but I never really thought it was something that would end up as my career. It all started when I went to Coachella for the first time a few years back and decided to make an outfit for myself (a very colorful ensemble), and while wearing it I was stopped more times than I could count by people asking where I got it or if they could take a picture of me for their fashion blog. I was a bit surprised but more so intrigued by the fact that I had created something that a lot of people seemed to love. From there my mom suggested that I make a few more and to put them up on our favorite shopping website Etsy, and the outfits sold within a week. After that, it had a bit of a snowball effect and it all just fell together.

Q: Having an idea is one thing, but acting on that idea is a completely other thing—and, I’d guess, the part of the equation that stops a lot of people. After you thought, “I want to have my own online boutique,” what did you do next?

A: As I touched upon in the last question, it was never really something that I planned. I was actually aspiring to be a physician and had just gotten my EMT license to make sure I liked working in the medical field when this all happened. I just never thought I had the personality to be in fashion, by nature I am a very shy and introverted individual but once I started, I realized that didn’t matter and that there was a place for me in this industry that I have since fallen in love with. The beginning was a bit chaotic since I had very limited experience in fashion. I never went to fashion school or worked in retail so I truly had to learn on the job. My mom jumped on board with me early on and we have worked together ever since, building up our Etsy shop which has changed a lot over the years. We started out making costume pieces and slowly evolved into clothing. We now even have a children’s line that was launched just a few months ago.

BK4-good vibesQ: Did you find any mentors to help you? Who, if anyone, helped you take your idea and make it into a reality? How did you find them?

A:  Someone who really inspired me was a woman named Kimberly Gordon; she is the owner and co-founder of Wildfox. I came upon her Tumblr a few months into starting up and was incredibly inspired by her story as it was quite similar to my own; she and her friend started making tee shirts for themselves in her bedroom and it has turned into one of the world’s largest fashion labels. I only recently met her at a networking event, which only strengthened my respect for her.

All of this aside, my biggest mentor would definitely have to be my business partner, my mother. She is one of the most headstrong, albeit stubborn people I have ever met but she has always been my biggest supporter and would do anything to see me succeed. Being my mom, she isn’t afraid to give me her opinion and even though we butt heads sometimes, we are a great team. She has owned a business alongside my dad for 15 years so she’s better with numbers and the technical side of things than I am, which allows me the flexibility to focus predominately on the designing side. We’re a great team.

Q: Do you design all of the items yourself?

A: Yes, all of the designs are a collaboration between my mom and me. One of us will come up with a rough design and bring it to the other and we build it from there. We each have massive notebooks filled with jotted-down notes and seeds for ideas that we come up with while on the go or while working. Half of them never see the light of day, but it’s still fun to go over what we have come up with to see if any of them are viable designs.

BK3-chevron dressQ: Do you do the production of all the items yourself?

A: We do not make the base pieces ourselves but we hand decorate each piece from our studio in North Hollywood. We work with sequin fabric a lot so I love finding pretty new sequin colors to design with. Our studio literally looks like a unicorn exploded with sequins hiding in every nook and cranny; I oftentimes come home to find sequins stuck all over me. We only recently started working with printed designs but I especially love it as it allows me much more creative freedom than sequin patches do. My favorite new addition though is definitely the kids section, I feel like I am building my future child’s wardrobe and kids are much more fun to work with!

Q: How did you figure out who would be the right people to handle the production?

A: We always make sure that our base piece supplier’s use fair trade methods in their production and have ethics that align with our own. Our biggest supplier is Alternative Apparel who are a certified Green Business meaning they use sustainable methods to create their products.

Q: Do you have a personal or company mission statement or philosophy—an idea or set of ideas that drive how you run your company (and life)?

A: Our company’s philosophy is this: “Fashion doesn’t always have to scream, sometimes it is just a whisper, softly telling the world that I am here and I am beautiful.”

We believe that your clothing should be a compliment to you, not something that takes away from who you are and more importantly it should make you feel good about yourself. One of my biggest problems with current fashion is its obsession with negativity. It seems that teen culture is obsessed with slogans than demean one another, shirts that make young girls think it’s okay to be rude, self-absorbed individuals. I think that many people in the fashion industry don’t truly understand the impact they are having on girls’ lives and I want to turn the trend that seems to focus on the negative, to instead focus on the positive.

Personally, the number one quote that I live by is, “Work hard, stay humble, be kind.” I try to live my life by this and ever since I have, my life has changed for the better. I always look for the good in bad situations like yin and yang, and this has really helped me get through hard times both in life and work, and I try to exude this message in everything I do.

If you look at a Love & Bambii piece, you will find notes of positivity hidden everywhere. My personal favorite is our hangtag that reads, “Be kind. Work hard. Stay humble. Smile often. Stay loyal. Keep honest. Never stop learning. Be thankful always and love.” I hope my customers who who read it, will take it to heart.

 

Some products from Britney's boutique clothing line. Photos: Love & Bambii. Fashion photography by Ross Ferguson.
Some products from Britney’s boutique clothing line. Photos: Love & Bambii. Fashion photography by Ross Ferguson.

Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges in setting up your own business?

A: The list is truly never-ending, there are thousands of clothing designers out there, new ones popping up every day. With this constant influx of new faces, and it can be hard to be seen amongst the crowd. Fashion is a business of incessant ebbs and flows, one month I’m overwhelmed with the amount of orders coming in and the next, I find myself wondering where everyone has gone! This can be extremely disheartening especially since this is my sole form of income. It can be hard sometimes to resist throwing in the towel for a more reliable and consistent job but then I look at what I do, what I am trying to do, and realize how much I truly love it and know that I can’t give up. Running a small business requires a massive amount of responsibility to be put on a very small number of peoples’ shoulders and in my case, that means just my mom and me. It’s extremely hard work; I never get actual days off because even if I’m at the beach on a Sunday, I’m still answering dozens of questions and emails, helping my mom keep track of inventory or the thousand other things it takes to run a business without any employees to delegate to. Hopefully we will be able to bring on some full time assistants in the not-so-distant future.

 

Photo shoot with Ross Ferguson. Photo: Love & Bambii.
Photo shoot with Ross Ferguson. Photo: Love & Bambii.

Q: What aspects of your personality do you think have helped propel you to success?

A: Despite a few years in teenhood that we all go through at some point or another, I have always been an extremely optimistic and positive person. It takes a lot to upset me (I get this from my dad) and I handle stress extremely well. I’ve always believed in “killing people with kindness.” Nothing good ever comes from showing animosity; you may gain respect out of fear but people aren’t going to like you. This all has led me to gaining and keeping amazing connections with people I have met over the years as well as most importantly, enabled me to deal with stresses as they come and work through them calmly and professionally.

Q: What are your goals for this company?

A: My main goal is to make an impact on the fashion industry in a good way (however small this impact may be). I want girls to grow up believing they are beautiful and for people to be kinder to one another. I know this sounds a bit far-fetched for a clothing company but clothing is a lifestyle, you wear what you feel and this is especially true for young girls. You look at almost any clothing line and it will have a “vibe,” and I want Love & Bambii to radiate good vibes! I hope that one day I will have made an impact on at least a few people, whether it be bringing a smile to a person who needs it when they see my shirt on the street or by a teen girl who feels just a little bit better when she sees her shirt from Love & Bambii’s tag reading “You are beautiful in every single way” after she was just made fun of at school.
A goal that I only recently surpassed was selling to twenty-five countries. I just shipped out an order to Brazil, which marked number twenty-five!

 

Photo: Love & Bambii.
Photo: Love & Bambii.

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the process of bringing your own business to life?

A: One thing that really stands out is the day I realized that I needed to discipline myself into becoming more assertive. I was at a networking event and I was talking to a girl at my table that has been extremely successful in fashion blogging, it genuinely took me a good thirty minutes to work up the courage to hand her a business card just to ask her to check out my website. I was so intimidated by her success that I was actually afraid to just hand her a dang business card. It was after that event that I made a genuine effort to become bolder not only in my work but also in life.

Q: If you could go back and give yourself advice at the outset of your journey, what would you tell yourself?

A: I would tell myself “you can’t always make everyone happy.” I’ve always been a people pleaser and it was a rough road at the start when I would receive tough criticism in reviews or feedback. It took me a while to learn this, but if I had understood it a little better beforehand, it would have saved me long stressful hours and sleepless nights over issues that I would now be able to solve and put behind me in a heartbeat.

Thank you, Britney, for your time, and best wishes on your endeavors!

Britney Keeler, 23, is the founder of the boutique clothing line Love & Bambii, which she started in 2012 as a 20-year-old. The brand focuses on clothing and styles that promote a positive message for women, teen girls, and children.

Find Love & Bambii at loveandbambii.com, on EtsyFacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Britney also occasionally has a booth at the Melrose Trading Post in Hollywood, so to check her websites for updates on future events!

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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