Thursday, March 26, 2015

Advice to a Young Friend

Dear Elizibeth,

So, you've said YES to the offer to be on tv. It's a true crime series, and you are certainly connected to a true crime. You know the details, you know how you feel, but that's not enough. I'm here to protect you and prepare you. I've had some experience in these matters, after all.

I was na├»ve going into it. I called my girlfriend – she used to dress Oprah – for the most important advice. What should I wear? She cautioned against a white blouse and a dark skirt, which surprised me. She was the one who told me that was the outfit which could go anywhere, be any level of fancy it needed to be. Apparently, white is not a great color on tv. Blue is best, she said. Be careful not to wear something with a busy pattern, and avoid stripes if at all possible.

Let nothing distract from that beautiful face. That seemed to be the theme of her instructions.

From my own experience, I'd encourage you to stay away from dangling earrings. They swing and sway and were all I could see, even though my words were profound and the rest of my outfit was bland. Others noticed them too; Big Cuter thought they were lovely. I didn't intend that he notice them at all.

Don't wear anything that will encourage you to fuss. No scarves, no long necklaces, no bracelets … especially ones that clank. Be sure your lower half is clad in easy to maneuver clothing. It's likely that they will film you for B Roll.... the walking along the street scenes over which the announcer will describe your situation. You don't want uncomfortable shoes or tight pants getting in your way.

Again, it's your face and your words which should take center stage.

Before you meet the interviewers (and there will probably be more than one of them), be prepared.Think of three or four or five sentences which make the points you want to share. They should be your message to the world, what you want people to remember about you and your mom. Think it through. Take notes on your random ideas. Share them with Amster on the plane to NYC, and ask her if they are clear, concise and powerful. Then, memorize them.

Yes, memorize them. Write them down and read them over and over and over again so that they are the first things that come to mind. You will be flustered – I promise you that. Having these lines immediately available will bail you out of almost any scenario.

You will be asked things you don't want to answer. You will be cornered. The questions will come from a perspective unlike any you've encountered before. Unlike the law enforcement officials and the court connected legal eagles, television reporters are less concerned with the facts themselves and more concerned with how they are shared. They are looking for drama, for highly charged content, for the WOW moment.

You can choose whether or not to provide it.

That's probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. You can choose. As TBG told me when I started down that path, “Just because the camera is rolling does not mean that you have to speak.”

Read that sentence again and commit it to memory. You are in charge. You do not have to answer the question that is asked. You don't have to say anything at all.

You've given them an outline of what can and cannot be covered, but don't assume that they will abide by the rules. It's not to their advantage. They are looking for ratings, and ratings are driven by drama. You can decide to play along, and you can also decide to protect yourself. You're a kid, after all.

They will seek your most vulnerable spots, and will continue to poke and prod and needle you until they get what they're looking for. That's where those memorized sentences come in handy. If the silence is too uncomfortable for you to handle, just pull out one of your lines and recite it. They will film for a long time, and use very little of it. I promise that they will not be using your long, silent responses to questions you choose to ignore.

They may not ask the questions to which your prepared remarks are relevant. That doesn't matter either. Remember that they don't care what you say or if you really answer what they ask. They only want you to say something.

If you don't like a question, if you don't understand a question, if a question feels intrusive and makes your skin crawl, try to control your facial muscles. Don't show them that they've pulled too hard on a particular scab. Don't roll your eyes or be sarcastic. Look straight at the questioner, pause before you open your mouth, and remember your Five Things I Want To Say.

The piece will be edited. They will throw out what they don't want and organize the rest into something that may not be recognizable. Go into it knowing that might happen. Don't let your ego get too involved with the result. It's not your finished work product, after all. It's theirs.

You are the material they are trying to shape. Remember to smile, to be polite, and to be in control of everything within your power. They asked you. You didn't seek them out. They need you to make the show work. You are important to them. That gives you certain advantages. You can ask for a break. You can say I won't talk about x, y, and z, and you can do just that if those issues arise.

Just sit there and smile. It's a beautiful smile, and when it's on your face you can't say things you might not want to reveal. Take your time. Say less rather than more. If you don't like an answer ask if you can give a better one. Remember that editor – she'll make you look good because that's her job. All you have to do is be yourself.... and remember that it's a pretty wonderful self.

Check out the technology and the efforts that go into creating the show. Collect business cards. Make connections. Ask if you can come back sometime for a closer look at the action. Don't be shy; if you're curious about something, be sure to ask.

When it's all over, remember to write a thank you note. If journalism is truly your long term passion, these are pretty fancy connections to have.

Above all, have fun! It's not every 17 year old who gets to tell her story on national tv, after all.

With much love,


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