I’m delighted to introduce the mega-talented writer and filmmaker, Guy Magar. I’ve asked Guy to talk with us about his wonderful new memoir, Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot, a book about magic – the magical life of a Hollywood filmmaker, the magic of film-making, and the filmmaker’s magical, long-time marriage to the love of his life. The memoir begins when the author is a young boy living with his family in Egypt and reaches across the decades in a brilliant, rollicking celebration of film making, marriage and life.
Interview with Guy Magar
When you were a child, your family suffered devastating losses – your father lost his business; forced to leave Egypt, your home country, family members scattered never to be seen again. Many people would fall apart, yet, throughout the displacement period and afterward, you seem so upbeat. This seems a theme throughout your life. What is your secret?
I don’t think most of us realize how difficult life had been for our parents during and after World War ll. All of us born after those terrible years really don’t have a clue what a scary world it was then and especially after the revelation of the Holocaust. So, when my family was part of the Jewish exodus out of Egypt in 1958, it was indeed a time of great unknowns and uncertainties as we were all immigrating to whichever countries would accept refugees. Though I was ten at the time, I recall my family’s great desire to come to America, the triumphant nation that preserved the world’s freedom, and my parents looking forward to working hard and making a life for their kids in this land of hope. That perseverance and commitment to pursue a goal against all odds certainly left its mark on me. So when I chose to pursue a career in film, I was not intimidated by the difficulties or the lousy odds of an immigrant going to Hollywood to become a movie director.
Regarding the upbeat part, I’m pretty sure that came from my philosophy studies at Rutgers when I adopted an existentialist outlook on life. In a nutshell, it’s about enjoying life as much as possible, pursuing what you want to do, and don’t let the big questions create stumbling blocks to the journey; such as a sense of fear or guilt for example. And finally, being lucky enough to find and experience true love for the last thirty years will keep you pretty upbeat throughout the stormy weathers of life.
In a brilliant section early in the book you talk about the difference between artists and craftspeople. While you differentiate, you don’t assign any judgments. Can you talk briefly about this? Do you consider yourself an artist or craftsman? Why?
I believe that artists create their art by themselves. It’s a one-man or one-woman job. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Shakespeare. Whether you’re a painter or sculptor or writer, you’re working alone. But if it takes a group of folks to create something, like a movie, then I believe you are a craftsman and that’s what I consider myself to be as a director. I cannot make a film by myself; I need actors and a crew. So, a musician playing his/her instrument I believe is an artist, but if they sit and play in an orchestra, they are now a craftsperson. For me, the differential is a numerical entity.
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? Why?
That’s such a great question, which I’ve never been asked, that I will ask your readers to indulge me with two thoughts. First, as I mention in the book, I believe we all have a certain amount of luck and I know most of mine came the day I met my wife Jacqui and I would not change a minute of it for the last 30-years. But as busy a career as I was blessed with, because I love filmmaking so much, I wish that certain opportunities had opened for me and that I had handled certain situations that could have opened the doors wider in the film business. I have the passion and the skill and the leadership to have made some bigger and more memorable works, and my love for the craft makes me wish I had made my own Saving Private Ryan or Crimson Tide or The Godfather or Gladiator. I do believe all filmmakers wish they could have done more-all except Spielberg, of course, who did it all!
The other wish for change was to have been blessed with a better, more efficient metabolism. As a European with Middle Eastern tastes, I’m a foodie and especially enjoy gourmet foods. As a result, I have been heavy most of my adult life and it has been an on-going battle for better health. I wish I was one of those skinny people who eat just as much as I do but never show it. For me it’s all about the luck of efficient metabolism, and as I get older, the pressure to lose weight and remain healthy gets more challenging. Let me know when that magic pill gets here!
Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot
In your own words, could you please describe Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot.
KMQBIS is an unconventional memoir because it deals with diverse topics. I’ve been blessed to have had such a kaleidoscope of experiences starting as a child in Egypt and immigrating to America, growing up in New York and learning to speak English, going to college at an incendiary political time in the country, and then setting myself on such an unlikely journey to become a filmmaker in Hollywood. That wild career adventure was a story I always wished to share.
Also, after falling in love with Jacqui, and having a Camelot wedding where I got to duel for her hand in a romantic union that has not only endured but blossomed to this day, this journey was also worthy of telling especially with the extreme dramatic turn of Jacqui suddenly being diagnosed with leukemia three years ago. That unique medical journey to find the way to heal her through a cutting-edge clinical trial was definitely a triumphant story of the human spirit – of her great courage – that deserved to be shared with the world. Everyone knows someone with cancer, and I wanted to write a book about our experience that would help those folks and inspire them to get through their illness. For me, the grateful feedback from caregivers and cancer patients has been the most emotionally satisfying response to this memoir and the 18-month writing journey it required. It took me longer to write this book than any movie I ever made. And it’s my one and only memoir, so I packed it all in one book with over a hundred photos. Crazy!
Could you take us behind the scenes? Tell us something about Kiss Me Quick that we couldn’t pick up by reading the description or blurbs.
For me, writing this memoir was a celebration of life. Focusing on the magic of movies and the magic of true love is one heck of a great palate to work with. As cliche as it sounds, life for me is about following your dreams and making them come true. And that’s magical for me, as it is for all of us, and I was hoping to share that universal commonality. In both the book’s introduction and epilogue, I encourage my readers who share my story to be inspired to celebrate their own unique life experiences. It was my desire and hope that by sharing my magic it would inspire folks to reflect, to take the time to be aware and appreciate their own great life journeys. We are all so busy living life and dealing with our big and small daily challenges that most of the time we don’t take a time out to appreciate the magic of just being alive, and celebrating our own magic, our own harmony. This is why the last parting line in my book is ‘Dare to dream-I did. From one magician to another: Peace.’
You’re obviously passionate about filmmaking. With Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot did you enjoy the writing process? What were the major differences? Did you ever wish you’d written the story for film instead of writing a book? If you encountered snags, how did you resolve them?
This book was a surprise. I never had an intention to write it. After the difficult seven months it took to treat Jacqui’s illness and do the transplant that healed her, and after sleeping on a cot next to her and living in a tiny hospital room for months, I had gone to see a therapist looking for ways to unwind. She told me I was going through post-traumatic stress syndrome which surprised me since I thought only veterans coming back from wars suffer from that illness. She pointed out that I had just gone through my own ‘war’ to heal my wife. She told me I needed to find a ‘release’ and encouraged me to find it immediately.
The very next morning, I just sat down and started writing. Somehow I knew I needed to write about this journey as my release, and without an outline or any plan whatsoever, I just thought to start at the beginning and see where it took me. The first memory that came to mind was when I was eight and sick in bed with measles and my dear mother taking care of me by candlelight during an air raid when all lights had to be turned off during the Suez Canal War with British bombers heard flying above the city of Alexandria where we lived and Egyptian anti-aircraft guns firing at them from outside our window.
This memoir was a remarkable experience because once I started writing I never stopped. I was waiting to get stuck or lost and have to go back and outline the story properly but somehow I always knew when to end a chapter and how to begin the next. In the most amazing organic process I’ve experienced, this went on for four months until I reached the end of the story. Then, like with all writing, it was a matter of rewriting over and over and I believe I did over 20 full rewrites over a period of 15 months until I was happy and done with it. It was one of the most exciting endeavors of my life and took longer than any movie I ever made.
Like with any writing, especially a memoir, you have to be a diligent editor and make sure the story is properly paced, interesting, fun, entertaining, unusual, full of your wild and crazy voice, and yet have a sense of purpose and direction throughout just as you do with any storytelling, such as writing a screenplay for example with which I have a lot of experience. You have to write a story that engages the readers, that gets them emotionally invested in the storytelling. Though many people who’ve read it mentioned it would make a terrific movie, I haven’t yet made that transition though Jacqui has already come up with the casting idea of Drew Barrymore playing her (she used to babysit for Drew) and the European actor Javier Bardem to play me. Who knows? I think she just wants to meet him!
WRITING & PUBLISHING
Why did you decide to go indie? Are you glad you did? Why or why not?
It wasn’t really by choice. During the writing, I was doing quite a bit of research regarding agents and publishers and the whole book world I knew so little about. Traditional publishers want to deal with big numbers and a Hollywood memoir with diverse topics makes it difficult to figure out on which bookstore shelf it belongs and it was too much of a distribution challenge for them. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because a memoir is a very personal story you write only once in life and so it was important for me to control and have final say over every publishing decision from book title to cover art to text layout design to the over 100 photos spread throughout the narrative which I prefer as opposed to a center section. And finally, no editor needed to be assigned to rewrite my words without my approvals. I hired my own editors and got to make the final content decisions. I wanted the book to be like a good friend you curl up with along with a hot chocolate and enjoy its company whenever you pick it up. And I feel that the final product is that way and thus going ‘indie’ and self-publishing was the only answer to realize my own book dream design.
What did you do to prepare for your launch?
For self-publishers, I think it’s important to promote a book professionally through publicists because there are so many obstacles you need to overcome. When bookstores won’t carry indie books and major publications such as the Los Angeles Times won’t review indies, it becomes very challenging to get your book in front of readers. The rising proliferation of ebooks makes it even more difficult to compete in such an overcrowded arena and get attention.
If you’re going to self-publish, you have to make the launch investment which PR requires. You have to research the right PR firm for your book and have them do the dance from writing a killer press release and media advisories and your bio to sending it out to everyone that should know about your book including the most widely read reviewers they can contact, and then book you on as busy an interview tour as possible doing as many media appearances as you can. It’s all about exposure and what separate PR folks are their resources and the contacts they’ve cultivated and who they can rally around your book and what bushes they can shake on your behalf. Like anything else, there are few great ones and lots of lousy ones. It’s all part of the self-publishing marketing experience which is a whole other enchilada you gotta tackle after you’re done writing and publishing your book.
For example, I really wanted to do Connie Martinson’s Talks Books which has been on public access TV for decades and she’s interviewed everyone from Mailer to Obama. Well, you need a publicist to contact her and pitch your book and send it to her if and when she expresses interest. Obviously, she has to like your book to invite you on her show and she gets inundated with books from every publisher out there. Again, it’s tough as a self-publisher to even get her attention, but five months later she invited me on her show and it was terrific for me and for my book exposure. You can see that TV show nationwide in major cities and on my website. This would not have happened without a publicist doing my book launch.
How is marketing a book different from producing and marketing a film?
The development of the ebook world has created the democratization of books by allowing everyone and anyone to write an ebook and self-market it which is a good thing, but it has also created the proliferation of hundreds of thousands of new books competing for reading eyeballs. I think getting readers is a lot tougher these days plus it has forced the price of ebooks to ridiculously low pricing which is unfortunate for authors. I’ve read blogs where people say they would not pay $9.99 or even $3.99 for any ebook but would at 99-cents-maybe! This is crazy-a book has less monetary value these days than an order of French fries? An author friend of mine who sells about 100 ebooks a month offered a one-day special for free downloads and got over 1600. Are you telling me 1500 of those folks wouldn’t have even paid 99-cents to read that book? I mourn the devaluation of books in America.
Same with film as the proliferation of digital cameras has exploded the amount of short films that are being made by everyone who can afford even a cheap camera and an inexpensive home editing system. I know because I’m the founder of the annual Action/Cut Short Film Competition and have screened thousands of shorts from around the world. Great filmmakers still manage to rise to the top of the heap and forge careers with shorts. But in the feature world, especially at the studio level, ticket prices keep going up and this is the third year in a row U.S. theatrical box office has topped a record $10 billion. So in the world of features, it’s business as usual with massive advertising TV campaigns and pricey tickets, especially if they can grind an extra dollar or two for 3-D movies.
Interestingly, the traditional book publishers are still trying to sell hard covers at the higher pricings. Two new biographies on somewhat obscure film directors were just published: John Huston for $30 and on 1930s director Raoul Walsh for $40. I’m real curious to see how they do in today’s world of 99-cent books.
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers or filmmakers, what would it be?
Love what you do and work hard to make sure you get as good at doing your writing or making your films as you possibly can. For me, both endeavors are passionate pursuits and I think we have a responsibility to deliver as good a product as we can every time we are privileged enough to write a book or shoot a film.
I’m often asked if I recommend film schools and my answer is always ‘yes’ but not for the obvious reasons that they have instructors and equipment, but to find out if you love it – if you love the process of filmmaking, which can be very arduous by the way – and if you have any talent for it. One of my book chapters is titled ‘Falling in Love at Film Schools’ because that’s where I went to find out if I loved the process and if I had some aptitude for it before I devoted myself to a career in filmmaking. And as a writer, because I’ve written many screenplays and knew the value of rewriting – which is the true definition of writing – it took over twenty revisions on my memoir before I got it just the way I wanted. It was my first book so I was probably overly careful with it but I did write the book I was hoping to write.
What are you working on now?
I founded an annual short film competition called Action/Cut which is now in its 9th year and the call for entries begins on January 15 and that takes quite a bit of time. I’ve also been asked to direct some theater which I haven’t done since in I lived in New York thirty years ago before coming to Los Angeles. Also, my wife Jacqui is pushing me to adapt Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot into a stage show and I’m quite intrigued with the idea especially if I can figure out how to pull it off and feature the crazy story humor in the book. I just got a special review from my Directors Guild’s publication that said the book was ‘a riot.’ If I can put that riot on stage, we may have a great fun evening of theater.
How can your fans connect with you?
If they wish to read more about the book and want to read a very fun blog, they should sign up at www.kissmequickbeforeishoot.com and I can be contacted from there. If they love film and want to see some great shorts, I can also be reached through the Action/Cut website. And they can tweet me @GuyMagar
KISS ME QUICK BEFORE I SHOOT: A Filmmaker’s Journey into the Lights of Hollywood and True Love (Excerpt)
“RED SOCKS & DUSTIN HOFFMAN”
One morning, during Jacqui’s chemo treatment for aml-leukemia, she had been taken for X-rays early before I arrived for my 10-hour daily visit. When I got to her room, the nurse told me to wait and they would bring her back within an hour. An hour? I asked where the imaging department was and she told me it was complicated to go there as it was in another building down the street. Jacqui had been taken through a connecting underground tunnel, not accessible to the public. She advised, ‘Please be practical, wait here. She’ll be back shortly.’
I lasted three minutes. I’m not an alarmist or a worrywart. I just found it unnecessary for Jacqui to be alone at imaging and silly for me to just wait in her room like a putz. What followed reminded me of a scene from The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is running like a maniac to find the girl (Katherine Ross) before it’s too late and she marries someone else. I started running down hallways on different floors till I reached reception. I was told Cedars-Sinai imaging was indeed across the street. I ran outside, crossed the street, almost got run over, and ran down a block into a medical building that had a crowded lobby. It was well guarded, with security guys by every door. I knew they would never let me inside and I didn’t bother asking or pleading with the front desk. I was so committed that when opportunity soon struck and a guard got distracted long enough for me to slip by, I James Bonded through the double doors that read NO ENTRY.
I started opening doors, peeking into rooms like a mad person. I reached doors with signs that read WARNING – RADIATION, and I was now terrified of opening a door at just the wrong moment when some giant X-ray beam would zap me and my testicles would fall off. But I was a man on a mission and could not be stopped as I moved from hallway to hallway. I was sure I was seconds away from being stopped by a security guard who would find me through the surveillance cameras, which were everywhere. He’d run in and just shoot me-shoot the crazy intruder!
Finally, kismet struck. I opened a door and saw rows of gurneys in a waiting room, but all I could see were their bottom halves because curtains separated each patient, leaving just the sight of a series of bare feet sticking out of robes. And then I saw them, like beacons flashing: one pair of feet wearing bright red socks, the same socks I had washed at home the previous day and had brought back to Jacqui. And sure enough, just like in the movies, I raced in and followed the red socks, and found my baby. I had found the needle in a radiated haystack! Her face lit up and she gave me her million-dollar smile. She told me she was done with her X-ray, but they were backed up with patients waiting to be returned to their rooms. She whispered, ‘Get me out of here!’
I raced to find the orderly and begged him to move her. I haltingly told him I almost got my balls zapped off looking for her in this Frankensteinish radiation building. He laughed, grabbed her chart, pulled her gurney out of a waiting line (sorry, folks), and we headed back to her room.
I had found the red socks. I was Dustin Hoffman. I got my girl back!
About Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot
“For me, there is no more magical a professional endeavor than making films,” says Guy Magar. With production work spanning over 100 credits from shorts to TV shows to feature films, Guy Magar’s behind-the-scenes stories range from his first producer turning out to be a Mafia assassin, to shooting in Egypt for the original series Battlestar Galactica, to directing a grunting Mr. T on The A-Team, to almost decapitating a young Drew Barrymore, and coming close to derailing James Cameron’s career (or slowing it down as he proved way too talented for anyone to alter his storied destiny!)
Kiss me quick before I shoot was Guy’s welcoming catchphrase to his wife Jacqui whenever she visited on-set, seemingly always just before he rolled cameras. And so this book is also about a deeper magic, the magic of finding your soulmate, your life partner.
But then, out of the blue, after 26 years into their marriage, Jacqui was diagnosed with leukemia. Guy put his film career on hold and his entire 24-hour life focus became to find the right, new cutting-edge treatment to heal Jacqui.
This book is about daring to dream-and making dreams come true. Join Guy on a wild and thrilling rollercoaster ride as he shares the behind the curtain reveal of a Hollywood directing career, the intoxicating highs of finding and sharing true love, and the sweet triumph of survival and healing, all rolled into a ‘unique and engaging’ memoir read which will become a favorite to curl up with (hot chocolate required) and to recommend to all your friends.
About Guy Magar
Guy Magar was nine years old when he left Egypt in 1958. His family immigrated to the U.S., where he grew up in Middletown, NY. Graduating from Rutgers University, Guy began his film career at the London Film School. Soup Run, his first short won a Special Jury Prize at the 1974 San Francisco Film Festival.
In 1978, Guy relocated to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute. His first short, Once Upon an Evening (made for $500) got him a 7-year deal at Universal Studios. Guy went on to earn over 100 film credits including episodes of La Femme Nikita, Sliders, The A-Team, Blue Thunder, Fortune Hunter, The Young Riders, Lawless, Hunter, and the CBS pilot/MOW Dark Avenger. He also directed 35 shows of the daytime drama Capitol. His film credits include Lookin’ Italian (starring “Friends” Matt LeBlanc and singer Lou Rawls in their first film); Stepfather 3 which launched HBO’s World Premiere Series; and the cult thriller Retribution which will be released for the first time on DVD on its 25th anniversary in 2012. His recent feature is Children of the Corn: Revelation based on Stephen King’s original story.
Guy is founder of the Action/Cut Filmmaking Seminars, which for the last ten years, has provided the acclaimed “page to screen” 2-day educational industry workshop. Action/Cut has taught thousands of filmmakers during seminar tours around the world. His seminar is available as a 12-hour DVD most acclaimed home film course. He is also founder of the annual Action/Cut Short Film Competition, which provides an opportunity for young filmmakers to showcase their talents. Action/Cut was one of the first to stream films on the Internet, which can be viewed year-round on its website. MovieMaker reviewed Action/Cut as one of the “Top 10 Shorts Festival in the World for Filmmakers!
Guy lives in the Hollywood Hills with Jacqui, his beautiful wife of 28 years.
To win an autographed paperback copy of Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot, please visit Guy’s website and enter his weekly contest. To be eligible, all you have to do is pick your favorite excerpt. What are you waiting for?