Ask Me Anything is based on your novel Undiscovered Gyrl. What was your inspiration behind the story?
Allison Burnett:Seven years ago, the Writers Guild of America went on strike. I, along with every other union writers, spent my days picketing the studio lots. During this period, we were under strict instructions from the union to set down our pens. But this applied only to film and TV. Since I had already published two novels, I wondered if I might use this tumultuous time to write another novel. One morning, as I stared at my blank computer screen in the hours before picketing began, the voice of Katie Kampenfelt came to me. She was a combination of an extraordinary teenager I knew and various bloggers whom I had encountered in the promotion of my last novel. All of these girls had certain things in common: confidence, determination, charm, and recklessness in their romantic and sexual choices.
PW:Was it hard writing the screenplay? Did you have to cut out any of your favorite parts from the book?
AB:At first I did not want to adapt it myself. I turned it over to a young, female video director and her young male friend to do with as they pleased. A year later, they still did not have a script. So I decided to do it myself. I had to cut a ton of wonderful things, but my heart did not bleed or even ache, as I had been adapting novels long enough in my studio work to know that the adapter's only responsibility is to the audience who wants to be entertained. The moviegoercouldn't care less about the book. And once the script was finished and could not be cut down any more, I removed another ten pages. And once the movie was edited and could be no shorter, my editor and I cut another twenty minutes. What is left is the essence of Katie's journey -- the spiritual arc of the book.
PW:The cast did a great job in the movie. Were you happy with the casting choices?
AB:Overjoyed. Our budget was very small. We paid the actors absolute minimum. Never did I imagine that I would be able to assemble such an incredible cast. The talent and stature of the stars in the lead roles are obvious, but the actors in the secondary roles are just as incredible: Robert Patrick, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Andy Buckley, Molly Hagan, Gia Mantegna, Max Carver, Max Hoffman, and Zuleikha Robinson. I felt blessed every day on the set to be working with such wonderful, gifted people.
PW:There were quite a few intimate scenes, were they easy to shoot?
AB:Surprisingly yes. Britt Robertson has been working professionally since she was a young teenager, so she approached those scenes with confidence and poise and this becomes contagious. Naturally, if there was any nudity involved, the set was cleared of anyone that did not absolutely need to be there. In the editing room, my editor and I did everything to cut the scenes in a way that showed respect for both verisimilitude and Britt's modesty. The nudity is very tasteful, I think, and yet the scenes feel real.
PW:Speaking of Britt, what was she like to work with?
AB:I felt telepathically linked to her. Every move she made I understood, and I found that the slight directorial hint from me would set her in exactly the direction I wanted. She is a consummate professional. Hard working, intelligent, unpretentious, and kind. If I had missed in my selection of Katie, the movie would have been awful. She carries the entire film. In fact there is not a frame of film that includes any other character's point of view. Because Katie is the blogger, she is God. Pure solipsism. It is her world and everyone else is her creation.
PW:Britt narrates the movie as though we are reading Katie's blog. I liked that. Was there a deeper meaning behind the blog/social media aspect? Would a diary have had the same effect?
AB:Absolutely not. A diary is all interior. A blog is a reaching out, a striving for connection. The former is static and literary, but the latter, like radio, works very well cinematically. The blogger is performing in a way. She is putting on a social mask. Only a fool or a crazy person would lie to her own diary, but bloggers -- consciously or unconsciously -- bend the truth all the time. They self-mythologize.
PW:I noticed that, aside from Britt winning Best Actress at the Nashville Film Festival, your movie won Best Music. Tell us about the music.
AB:The score was written by a major TV and film composer named Jon Ehrlich, and it's haunting and beautiful. It expresses the deepest longings inside Katie -- for love, wholeness, a father to protect her. But I wanted a soundtrack, too. Something that would express Katie's personality -- her compulsive charm, her denial of her pain, her sexuality, her aspirations. But we had very little money. This dilemma led me to a simple but unique solution. I held a song contest via Craig's List. The songs had to be written by female singer-songwriters 21 years old and younger. Wonderful songs came flooding in from girls around the country, ages 13-21. We chose 15 songs. I am really proud of these girls and their incredible songs. The soundtrack will be available on iTunes any minute.
PW:The movie has been in the works for a long time. Why has it taken so long to be released?
AB:The reasons are boring and logistical. What matters is this: It never entered the marketplace. The very first distributor who saw it bought it.
PW:How long did the film take from start to finish?
AB:Because we were sharing Britt with another movie whose set was hit by Hurricane Sandy, we shot sporadically, whenever the other movie could spare her. As insane as this sounds, we shot the movie for five days in October, six in November, five in December, and six in January. To say that his was an ordeal would be like calling the Vietnam War a spat. But in a strange way, we turned the curse into a blessing. The delays allowed me to see edited footage, take more time with casting, and plan better for what came next.
PW:The ending was an eye opener. What are you hoping viewers will take from it?
AB:Well, first of all, I hope they'll keep quiet about it, so that others can be equally shaken. Second, I hope it will elevate the movie for them, inspire them to step outside their mere feelings and get them thinking about the nature of the internet.
PW:Where can our readers watch the movie?
AB:The movie is out in the U.S. now in selected theatres, and streaming on every imaginable digital platform: X-Box, iTunes, Amazon Instant, and every cable and satellite provider. The DVD will be out in March. Other countries will follow.
PW:Do you have any upcoming projects you'd love to tell us about?
AB:Not really. Dreaming up another novel. And I have three studio movies with directors attached that are working their way toward production. If even one of them actually happens, I'll be immensely grateful. It's a miracle when anything gets made. I am also raising money to direct my own adaptation of a wonderful novel called Inside Out Girl by Tish Cohen. What don you think, dear readers? Have you read the book? Will you go see the movie? Let us know in the comments below!
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