Author/Filmmaker Nancy Goodman Surprises Us
By Carin Chea
Within the first seven minutes of speaking with Nancy Goodman, she had become one of my favorite people in the world.
A published author, accomplished food guru, and (recently) an award-winning director and screenwriter, Ms. Goodman is a success at whatever she sets out to do. Someone so empathic and authentic will only end up attracting like-minded souls.
Indeed, though Ms. Goodman has the appearance of an ingénue college co-ed, she is through-and-through an old soul. Grounded, yet buoyant, confident, yet comically self-deprecating, this refreshingly dichotomous filmmaker is not up-and-coming. With the release of her first film Surprise Me!, she has arrived.
You are a health and food specialist, a children's book author, a novelist and a director and screenwriter! Which came first and how did the others follow?
It was Food Vs. Me...and I Won, and before that, I was a stay at home mom. But I had food issues, and I was so angered by the media's focus on diet and exercise. It was one fad diet after another.
I remember thinking, "This is crazy. These are such dangerous and erroneous messages." My husband said I should write a book. It took 8 weeks. It happened so fast. At that time, in 2004, there was still such a stigma with bingeing and talking about it. I wanted to take the stigma out of this, not sensationalize it.
In all the work that you do, what inspires you the most?
Connecting. Finding the places and feelings that seem to be the emotional DNA that we all share. I suppose it's my "crusade", taking people away from all the diets and fads, and leading them to what's truly behind it - the feelings and emotions.
There's a story behind food, and that's what I find interesting. The more attention we pay to the story, the better we know ourselves. We all have triggers. I believe the reason we have problems with obesity and eating disorders is because we're afraid of pain and discomfort. But, it's normal part of life.
The movie Surprise Me! is about finding the pain, adjusting to the pain, feeling it and moving on from it, separating it from food or anything else that will distract us.
We're all trying to get to this magical weight, and we do it by eating less. But, eating less can cause binging. So, my philosophy is the "cravings diet". What I learned is that every time we reach for food, it's because something is happening. We're not trained to look for it. Either we're hungry and we need to eat, or something else is going on.
When I was binging, it was because something got triggered. Maybe someone said something hurtful, or I was about to go into a meeting that made me uncomfortable in some way. When you start to track where you eat more and where you eat less, what time of day it is, who you're with, you'll find there are certain people or times of day when you eat less or more.
It's important to face those moments and find things that either entertain you or make you feel better about yourself. Food can no longer serve that purpose, a person, event, or situation.
I know you've formulated a highly effective health program. Do you offer private food diet consultation sessions or life coaching?
I do. The movie was my way of doing it for the masses. What I'm hoping is that, with the movie, everybody can feel like they can talk about it. That is how we connect.
Your life will open up because you're making these very astute decisions based on who you are. Your control over food comes from there, not from following a diet. You just have to address the feelings and make small choices around them, and at the same time you structure yourself around food and snacks.
You're feeding yourself, but not allowing food chaos. It's taking the feelings, organizing them and taking calm time to go through them. I promise that will calm down your cravings because you're calming the feelings first.
You've recently written, directed, and produced your first feature based on one of your novels. Tell us more about Surprise Me! and how it came to be.
It's a really fun romantic comedy. The protagonist, Genie, has a hilarious gay partner who calls her out on everything. During the course of the various relationships she has in the movie, her food starts to get out of hand.
She starts bingeing and she doesn't know why. She goes to a therapist and she starts to learn what's going on behind this eating. She learns that bingeing isn't a food problem: It's a feeling problem.
Meanwhile, her company has hired her for this Hollywood producer who wants to surprise his girlfriend with a wedding. Genie has to get the bride down the aisle without the bride knowing it. It's fun, but it's got a kick-ass message about what is behind our country's obsession with food. It is my deep desire to address eating disorders, obesity, and bingeing.
I am a HUGE fan of Nicole Sullivan from Mad TV. How did you secure this all-star cast?
The casting director [Leah Daniels] was so open to so many people and types, but Nicole was so funny and wonderful. She nailed it. She's hysterical. I spent a lot of time talking to her about the issues. I really let people change lines here and there, but with her, I needed it to be exactly the way it was written. I had very little time to get my message across, and so with the therapist we had to get it right.
With the journey she goes through with Genie - there are 3 sessions - you really see two people who have gone through something together and emerge into a wonderful place.
Nicole brought such spirit and hilarity to this role. It was a hard role because you had to be crazy quirky, but also smart, and come off as sincere while also being outrageous. It was tough, and nobody could have done it better than she did.
Nicole was so patient. It was hotter than hell that day, with no air conditioning. She had to wear heavy clothes and lots of jewelry, but she wanted to get it right and she did. She just became the person, and it comes off as so natural. At the same time, she was delivering a very important message that we can all relate to.
I wasn't even planning on directing until 3 or 4 weeks before the shoot, and I was still looking for a director. The crew told me, "You'd be the happiest if you directed it." And I'm so glad I did.
Your movie has garnered many accolades and awards. Could you describe the journey of Surprise Me!?
I was going to hire someone to write the screenplay, but an acquaintance who became the co-producer said, "You can do it. Download Final Draft." In 3 weeks, I had a screenplay. Then we took it to an entertainment attorney to see if it was marketable. He wanted me to go to a seminar in LA and meet the people on the panel.
They were producers, distributors, and so forth. I got up there and threw up [verbally] all over them. I was so embarrassed - you know that hot sweaty feeling when you feel like you made an ass out of yourself?
At the end of the seminar, they announced the 3rd place winner, then the 2nd place winner, and the 1st place winner was Surprise Me! I was shocked! We submitted to festivals, and at one of them, the movie won "Best Supporting Actress" which was Nicole [Sullivan], and best editor, and best comedy.
We sold the film in 9 countries so far. We've done some more editing and the goal is to be ready to submit to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu by the end of this summer.
What is the primary message you want to send across with your film?
I didn't want it to be preachy, and I didn't want it to be dark. I made this movie because I have millions of girlfriends out there who need for it to not be dark. They feel so dark about themselves already. We need to normalize this so that people can talk about it.
I want this movie to be a place where people can connect over the happy and sad things that go on in life and know that we ALL go through it. Even if we don't have pain, we'll find it. It's part of our nature. We have to fight it, but it's normal.
Isn't it interesting that some of the people who have experienced the most tragedy are the most productive? I think people could be a lot happier if we acknowledge that we are not always happy.
When you go against your core, food is going to be tapping you on the shoulder because any time you go against your truth, you are going to have major battles with food. For each of us, especially women, we need to find our voice and stick close to it.
When you're bingeing, there's a voice inside that's trying to get your attention and you're not listening because you're so involved in the food. What I truly believe is that running to food is running away from ourselves.
What is your favorite memory of Surprise Me!?
The 25-day shoot. Every day was wonderful. My favorite was when my kids, my dad, and all my family members were in a scene.
Yes! I saw that in the trailer! That couple at the top of the stairwell celebrating their anniversary!
My dad is the man who was up on that stairwell. That was a thrill, sending my family to hair and makeup. I have one daughter and two sons, and they were also in that scene.
Do you have any upcoming projects, novels, films, or otherwise?
Hallmark liked the movie, but it doesn't follow their format, there were too many issues in it. On the other hand, Lifetime said it wasn't dark enough. So, I'm in this funny place.
I think it's a viewer's movie, not about the producers and a network. I have to stick with my original plan: To send this message across to women. If it's successful, it'll be because of word of mouth.
If you could work with your dream team (actors, directors, etc.) who would you collaborate with?
Fiona [the actor who played the protagonist] was up for anything. She wanted to understand the character. This cast really wanted me to be happy. They cared so much. They genuinely wanted me to get what I wanted.
Each actor liked their character. They turned out to be my dream. We were one big happy family and we had so much fun, and everybody worked so hard. Everyone gave it their all. They surpassed my dream. So, my dream is to work with these same cast and crew again.
Nancy Goodman is revolutionizing the stigma around this nation's obsession with food. Her movie, Surprise Me! takes a comedic spin to uncover the deeper issues behind unhealthy eating habits and how you can regain power over your emotional and physical health.
To keep updated on all things Nancy Goodman-related, please visit her website at: www.SurpriseMeTheMovie.com.
You can also follow her movie's journey at their Facebook page at facebook.com/SurpriseMeTheMovie/
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