Once again Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Nat Segaloff. Over the years Nat has worn many hats including TV writer-producer, journalist, studio publicists, college teacher, entertainment critic and many more. He has authored several book and his most recent one, Screen Saver: Private Stories of Public Hollywood has recently being published.
Norm: Good day Nat and welcome once again to Bookpleasures.com
What do you consider to be your greatest success or successes so far in your various careers?
Nat: Getting paid for what I do. Seriously. Many people today think that writers just do what we do fun, or because we have a demon to exorcise. Actually, the demon we need to exorcise are people who think writers do it for fun. You probably know better than anybody what writers go through, as you interview so many of them. Other than this, my greatest success was when I was making “Biography” documentaries for A&E. I was working for a good production company, we had fun, and the subjects (San Lee, John Belushi, Shari Lewis, etc.) were exciting. Plus I got paid real good.
Norm: Can you tell us about your first job and how you got it?
Nat: I had just graduated college in Boston and was walking through that city’s Film Row, the neighborhood where all the movie companies had sales offices, like Yonge Street used to be in Toronto. A man named Carl Goldman, who was the New England lobbyist for movie theatres, said I should speak to Harvey Appell, who ran the local American International Pictures office. I did, and got a job in group sales. I discovered years later that Carl had no idea who I was but he had seen me so often along Film Row that he figured I belonged there. The lesson we learn from this is “be seen.”
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Nat: I used to throw off vibes of being judgmental and it intimidated others. It wasn’t something I tried to do, but when I entered a meeting I almost felt people acting like I was about to ask them why they got in so late last night. I turned this around so that I came off, not as a parent, but as a confessor, and have been able to get the most amazing interviews by simply listening to what people say.
Norm: Many people have the skills and drive to write a book, but failure to market and sell the book the right way is probably what keep a lot of people from finding success. Can you give us 2-3 strategies that have been effective for you in promoting your books?
Nat: First and foremost is finding kindred spirits like you. Interview exposure by an informed host to an interested readership is key. Second is plugging into the market that can best appreciate ones work, whether it’s writing a research book for a popular course or a biography of someone interesting or well-known. Third, one absolutely needs a presence on social media. In that area I lag behind. When someone hears of your book, he or she immediately checks it out on line. If you’re invisible, you’re dead. As we know from advertising, one impression reinforces another. People need to encounter something three or more times before it sinks in.
Norm: What do you you believe is the greatest challenge today in the movie industry?
Nat: From the point of view of filmmakers it’s bringing meaningful stories and characters to the screen instead of special effect fantasies. From the point of view of the film companies it’s making profits despite escalating costs. Several of my sources tell me that Hollywood’s dirty secret is that the major film studios cannot afford to make movies any more. They just release them. That’s why you see so many entities investing in a single film. They are happy to distribute them, however, because distributors get their share off the top. As anyone who has ever run a failing business knows, when you are surviving on cash flow instead of net, it’s time to worry.
Norm: As follow up, if you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?
Nat: Easy: establish a separate system for financing, distributing, and exhibiting small films which appeal to grownups and others who have tired of movies starring people in tights. We had a vital art and specialty film circuit until the late 1970s when the major film companies bought them all up figuring to corner the market. Instead, they destroyed it for everyone. You can’t feel the brontosaurus on peanuts.
Norm: What motivated you to write Screen Saver: Private Stories of Public Hollywood? As a follow up, what were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Nat: I started noodling with the manuscript in 2003 when I was going through a period of depression. Not clinical depression, but depression where my new TV job wasn’t going anywhere and I couldn’t sell another book. I decided to write down all the stories I’d been telling for years at parties and, for the first time, I’d use First Person. On the seventh page (see above) I had a breakthrough. Writing from my own declared point of view I could both praise and excoriate people I had encountered in the business – primarily praise, as I hope I show in my affectionate portrait of the reporters who broke me into journalism. I feel I met my intentions, which surprises me. Let me put that another way: nobody has yet served me with papers.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing it?
Norm: In your book you talk about why film critic is one of the most dangerous jobs in journalism? Could you elaborate? As a follow up, have you ever been threatened in your role as a critic?
Nat: Other than war correspondents (and, more recently, people who cover Donald Trump rallies, and there are many similarities), the film critic has the most dangerous job on a newspaper because he or she is the only writer who criticizes advertisers. I was never personally threatened but my employer was, which why my newspaper job went away one day.
Norm: You also talk about Hollywood press junkets in the book. Could you tell us what these junkets entail and how does one get invited to participate in a junket?
Nat: Eager to be invited on one, are we? A movie press junket is where a gaggle of interviewers from numerous cities are flown at film company expense to a central location where they are wined, dined, shown a movie, and do interviews with the people who made the movie. The implied agreement is that, even if the movie isn’t any good, neutral coverage will still appear. In the old days – i.e., before Hollywood became conglomeratized in the mid-1960s – these junkets were known for their debauchery. Now they’re all cut-and-dried.
Norm: What do you believe makes a good film and entertainment critic?
Nat: A good critic of any artistic endeavor must be well-versed in his or her field, have the skill to express his or her views, be consistent, be old enough to have perspective, and have a supportive venue. Because of the big money involved in entertainment, particularly motion pictures, the pressures are greater. Nowadays a 16-year-old kid tweeting reviews from the back of a mall cinema may have an outlet but he has no credentials, and one follows his advice (as, alas, millions do) at one’s own risk.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Nat: This won’t surprise anyone. The most useful tool in learning how to write is reading. That and learning how to type. The least useful was having parents who kept telling me to stop typing at night because it bothered the neighbors. It took me twenty years to break that psychological block against typing after 10 PM.
Norm: Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
Nat: Never. I won’t be so arrogant as to say “I only write for myself,” but so far nothing has done that.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Screen Saver: Private Stories of Public Hollywood?
Norm: Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
Nat: My next book, which I expect to hit the streets by the end of the year, is the biography of award-winning speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison. Harlan gave me complete access to him, his family, friends, and his enormous body of work, which I believe I’m the first to be able to quote from with permission. The book is as mercurial as Harlan himself and we’re both looking forward to shaking up a lot of people with it. It’s called A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison and the publisher is NESFA Press
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Nat: Here’s a question I’d like to have you ask others, too: “Why do you write?” In my case, the answer is, “Because I can’t help it.” I find that both admirable and tragic.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors