We continue today with our series of interviews featuring the contributors to Inside Scoop: Articles about Acting and Writing by Hollywood Insiders and Published Authors. When I read Sue Thurman’s accomplishments, I stood in awe. Sue is listed as the producer for Arizona Entertainment Weekly—which covers local and global entertainment news. She’s written a humor column for the Scottsdale Tribune and the ezine Stuff, and will be shooting a pilot in April, titled Ghost Hunters. She’s also working on two new books. I’m tired after saying all that, never mind doing it. Sue was kind enough to let me catch up with her to talk about some of these projects and her contributions to Inside Scoop.
Welcome to The Book Connection, Sue. I’m honored to have you with us.
Thanks Cheryl. It’s wonderful to be here and thank you for inviting me.
Let’s get started by finding out more about you. What is your fondest memory from your childhood?
My mother reading stories to me. She made me fall in love with books and the wonderful characters that came to life in my mind when she read their adventures. One of my favorite stories was Peter Rabbit. Then there was Mother Goose with her short little tales that would get my imagination going, then I’d think about what might have happened next. I often imagined they have a life off the pages of the books.
Do you still live in the place where you grew up?
No, I grew up in the Midwest and now live in the Southwest. I always wanted to be a cowgirl, so I got my wish.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My husband, family, and friends, especially my best friend in the universe, Vicki Ray.
From one busy woman to another, how do you manage to find time for all that you do?
For me, it’s all about having a passion for things. My days are filled with the things I’m driven to do. It’s not like there’s really a choice. I have to do them to sustain myself. My creative energy has to constantly be fed. Sometimes it’s overwhelming.
How do you stay organized?
If you saw my office, you’d really wonder. Without my computer, I’d be totally lost.
This looks like it will be a big year for you.
That’s my hope. I just signed a publishing contract for one of my books, Maybe We Are Flamingos, so now things are even more exciting.
In addition to your contributions to Inside Scoop, you’re in the process of developing some pilots for television and writing books. You’re involved in two extremely competitive industries. What keeps you going?
My husband, Pat and an inner need to express myself creatively. I’ve been producing play times since childhood for the neighborhood. It brings me tremendous joy to touch others in a positive way, to bring a smile to someone, and explore possibilities. When my twin sons were little, we had the greatest adventures. I loved watching them discover the world. I’ve always loved children and the way they think.
How do you keep from getting discouraged by rejections?
Those initial rejection slips from literary agents or publishers hurt, but now I just cross them off the list and move on to the next one. The same is true with the television pilots. It’s my belief that most of us know when we’ve created something special, something important. It’s just a matter of finding someone in the industry who shares the vision. Sometimes that takes longer than we’d like.
The entertainment industry fascinates me. Can you share with us a little bit about shooting a television pilot and what happens afterwards?
Cheryl, how much time do you have?
The entire process gives me a major adrenaline rush. Most people would probably be surprised how some actors need to be reassured and encouraged. One of my gifts is apparently being able to put people at ease and it’s like a special kind of magic. During a movie junket, one actress was so nervous before and after an interview and wanted to be sure she did a good job. It took a great deal of reassuring to get a smile on her face. She honestly did a fantastic job.
When taping an entertainment news program, like Arizona Entertainment Weekly, it’s critical to establish a comfort level quickly. The win-win part is providing an opportunity for the person being interviewed to share their dreams, passions, or work with the audience.
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. Writing, scheduling, arranging every tiny detail. There are differences each time, but there are always many, many things to keep track of to do the best job.
It’s hard to watch a movie or television show now and not notice when there’s a production error. Like someone is hurt and bleeding in a scene. Then in the next scene there’s no blood, then it’s back again. Most of the time scenes are shot out of sequence, so it’s important to have a script person tracking each character, how they look from scene to scene, what they are wearing, down to the jewelry, manicure, and makeup.
Taping outdoors brings another set of problems. Once we were doing a shoot at a fire station surrounded by wild peacocks. Every time the cameras started to roll, the peacocks would call to each other very loudly. It took numerous takes for a short scene. There can be airplanes and the sound of regular street traffic that also requires numerous takes.
One of my favorite television shows had a production error recently that drove me crazy. A female character had eye shadow on in one scene, then it was gone in the next, which was just a moment later on screen. In reality, it could have been several days later.
After the shoot, it’s all about editing, music, special effects, voice overs, b-roll, and other things that polish a rough story into a work of art. I rely on expert editors to do that. They are truly the wizards that make it magical and make it all look so great in the end. I’ve worked a lot with an incredible editor, Todd Hunt. He is amazing and we’re working together on the current pilots.
Once all of that is accomplished, comes the time to pitch the pilot to potential sponsors and/or studio, depending on the material. Often times it really boils down to contacts and who you know that may be looking for something.
Making a pilot doesn’t guarantee success, so it’s a gamble and often an expensive one, but somehow, it always feels like it’s worth the time and energy.
What are some of the reasons that pilots don’t get picked up by networks?
From my experience it’s typically funding or the person contacted isn’t interested in the subject matter, sometimes for personal reasons, other times because others have something similar. Then, sometimes they want something similar. Competition is strong. Many industry experts have turned a project down then have later been very sorry when it’s a hit elsewhere. Timing plays a major role too, along with production costs. If one can walk in with a sponsor, that’s half the battle.
Reality TV seems to have taken over television. Why do you believe these shows are popular with viewers, as well as, network executives?
That term is such a hoot, when there’s typically not much reality involved. They are less expensive to produce and typically don’t have a major star. I’m sure there are other reasons, but those come to mind immediately.
Let’s move on to writing. You write for the children’s market—among others—and one of the television pilots you’re working on is a children’s show to promote reading. What do you enjoy about reaching out to young people?
Absolutely everything! There’s nothing as exciting as the opportunity to ignite a child’s imagination. They are like thirsty little sponges taking in everything they hear, see, touch, taste, and experience. To have a chance to share a new experience with them and the potential to create a lasting special memory is the best. It’s really the same with most audiences. When it’s children and their families, that’s even better.
How can parents encourage a love for reading in their children?
By reading to them from the start. I read and sang to my twins before they were born. As infants, they heard many stories. When they were toddlers, they loved to pick out their favorite stories and we’d read them frequently, not just for bedtime. Sometimes I would make up stories to tell them. Soon, they wanted to learn to read themselves and begged me to teach them. So, at the age of around three, they started reading their favorite books to me. They have been avid readers ever since. Our theme song says it all, Reading is magic, all you need is a really good book, it’s the key. The key to unlock the realm of imagination. For many years we saw the success of this live production and now we’re going to bring it to television and touch millions.
Do you feel America has done a good job of promoting reading and writing in our public school systems?
That’s hard to say because schools are not identical across the country. However, during educators’ day at the opening of the Challenger Learning Center in Peoria, Arizona, we were amazed how many teachers shared their concerns with our cast. They said in the last 15 to 20 years, kids are more observers than participants.
This is due to video games, toys that entertain with little imagination required, and some television programs. Too much of anything is not a good thing, and kids need balance, just like adults. Teachers said children just aren’t using their imaginations. It hurt me to hear that and part of our mission is to ignite those imaginations. Creativity is where our inventions and scientific discoveries begin. If you give a child blocks, they use their imagination to create anything. Our sons created incredible things with Legos, even their own transformers. As the great Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Is there anything else you think we can do?
Absolutely! Set a good example as adults and read more. Have a special story time to share with your kids. We often did this with a pot of tea. Take turns reading a story out loud, especially if your children are older. Discuss the story and maybe make up what might have happened to the characters after you close the book. Go to the library and to their story times. Support programs like ours, all about the magic of reading.
Let’s talk about Inside Scoop. How did you get involved in this project?
Through my virtual office, Emerald City Imagineers, on Zoetrope, I met Marilyn Peake. I’m very proud to say she’s one of my Imagineers. Marilyn publishes "Golden Goblet" Newsletter and invited me to contribute. Stories from "Golden Goblet" were included in the book.
You contributed an interview with Allison Dubois, who is a real-life medium. What is the focus of this interview?
It was my sincere pleasure to interview Allison for Arizona Entertainment Weekly. We spent an hour together and I was amazed and delighted to have the opportunity to spend time with her. Her segment was on-air about 2 minutes, which was typical for the format of the show. I had so much incredible information and wanted to share it with others.
In the interview she shared things about a book she had just written, her life, her family, and what it’s like to be a medium. She also talked about Patricia Arquette, the actress that plays Allison on the television show Medium. Allison talked about visiting the set with her children so they could play with the “little” actresses that play them on the show. She also shared what it was like to have children with her gifts.
I’ve always been interested in the paranormal, so meeting Allison was a very special opportunity for me.
You also contributed an article titled Ghost Busters. What can you tell us about it?
Since the first house I lived in from infancy until I was several years old was haunted, I experienced some odd things and since that time I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal.
Debe Branning is a ghost hunter and after sitting in on one of her classes and interviewing her, we discussed program ideas. Debe shared some of her experiences, which I thought people would find interesting. Most people are interested in celebrities and ghosts, not necessarily in that order.
We talked about shooting a program in the future, Now the time is right and we plan to shoot a ghost event she’s hosting in April. I’ve been sworn to secrecy, but will be happy to report on what happens. We hope to see a ghost during our adventure, which sounds like great fun. This could easily be a special, so that’s how we’re approaching the project. We’re going to visit some of the locations with Debe before the event, so maybe we’ll meet some interesting spirits along the way.
Can we look forward to more contributions from you to “The Golden Goblet” newsletter and books based upon them?
Absolutely! We’ve discussed another interview that was done with Jeff Willes, UFOlogist. Some of his footage of the Phoenix Lights was used in the DVD, Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs. It was amazing to talk with David Sereda, the producer and director of the DVD and learn about his interest and Dan’s. Working with Marilyn is wonderful and she’s a dynamite editor, writer, and person.
What other projects are you working on?
In the writing area, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve just signed a publishing contract for my first book in the Safari Series, MAYBE WE ARE FLAMINGOS. It’s a series of children’s books inspired by my days as Safari Sue at the Phoenix Zoo, where I produced children’s programs.
I also have several paranormal romance novels and others in the works that can be easily adapted into screenplays. One day, my dream is to work with Ron Howard to bring them to life on the big screen.
Recently I decided to write a book based on interviews with psychics and those involved in the paranormal, along with actors that are also interested in the subject, or have been in TV series or movies with ghosts. I would love to talk with the cast of Ghost Whisperer.
Also thinking of developing some Internet casts for some interesting characters from our live productions.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
Yes, the material in my books and the children’s television show has been field tested with tremendous results. My dream is to share quality stories and shows with children and their families, while making a positive difference, and stimulating those wonderful imaginations. Please watch for the release of my book, MAYBE WE ARE FLAMINGOS, in late May, 2008.
Thanks so much, Sue, for sharing your time with us today. I hope 2008 turns out to be a great year for you. May you be blessed with continued success.
From your lips to God’s ears.
Thank you so much for your wonderful words and this opportunity, Cheryl.