Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TAKE TEN: Director/Author Gary Hardwick

Gary Hardwick is the very definition of a creative powerhouse. The Detroit native is the man behind some of the great movies of the past decade including The Brothers and Deliver Us From Eva and hit tv shows like Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, but there is more to him than what you see. He has even been an integral part of what we read as well, producing several books over the years that have sparked conversation and satisfied readers.

Candid, approachable yet undeniably a force to be reckoned with, the Los Angeles, CA resident talks to Cyrus Webb of Conversations Magazine about his career in entertainment, how he balances his various roles and what all aspiring creatives need to know about the business.


Gary, thanks for talking with Conversations. Let's talk first about your career in the arts and entertainment as a whole. What has surprised you the most about what you have accomplished? 
That I actually accomplished it. I was very naive about Hollywood. I thought it was a place where all you had to have was talent. There is so much more to it, like hard work, perseverance, politics and yes, luck.

Take us back. When did you realize that you were good at telling a story?
I was 12 and one of my teachers read one of my stories in class and there was silence. All these knucklehead kids just shut up and listened.

Was it something that was encouraged by your family and those around you?
No and you'll hear this from most writers. No family wants their son to be a writer because it seems like a pipedream. And your friends? They never want anyone to achieve more than they have. I hate to sound cynical but it is hard to have a public dream. Most of us kept it quiet until we couldn't anymore.

When it comes to a big break, Gary, what would you say it was for you?  This is a tough one because looking back it could have been many things.
But I'd have to say it was being selected by the Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program. There were 1,000 or so entrants and only four of us made it in.

Some know you because of your work on movies, but you have had a great deal of success as an author as well. Have you found that your being diversified as also brought you different fans for each project?
Yes and I am trying to get them to consolidate! My film fans say "You wrote a book?" and I say "I've written eight." Book fans never quite put me together with the movies.  I've spent so much time trying to get one of my books made into a film. So far, I've sold three but none have made it to the screen.  I think that when it happens the two camps will come together.

All of us experience highs and lows. How do you stay motivated when things don't go our way? 
I write. I just sit down and create something new.  Writers are the only people who don't need anyone else to get their job done. We are self-originating you could say.  Fan emails and posts on Facebook also help.

Talk to us about the next book you are getting ready to release.
It's titled Darktown Redemption and it's a mystery thriller set in 1967 and '68.  There was a riot in Detroit in 1967 then Dr. King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and the Black militants came into the city to stir up a violent revolution.  In my novel, a boy is killed after the riots and his brother a Vietnam Vet turns detective to find the killers while history swirls around him.  The book is based in part on true events and I hope everyone will read it in Black History Month 2011.

What advice do you have, Gary, for individuals wanting to break into Hollywood? 
Go to college, become educated, get married have a life. Experience life and have something to write about. These days everyone wants to write a screenplay and cash out. It just doesn't work that way no matter what you've read. They make up so many b.s. success stories out here. No one stumbles into success. You work for it or it's given to you because of who your parents are.  That's just the plain honest truth.

What about for writers? What do you normally tell those who want to know the secret of being published?
There is no secret anymore. The publishing business is a wreck. Self-publishing, regional publishing, digital books, e-readers are the future of our medium. The publishers are trying to compete with Hollywood by creating franchises and bastardizing our most artistic undertaking. If you want to get published the best way now is to prove it to them by doing it yourself.  Point of fact, Darktown Redemption caught the fancy of two major publishers but both wanted me to change the story in opposing ways. So, having already had success in publishing a novel under my own imprint, I decided to do it again and keep all the money.

Thanks again for your time. How can our readers keep up with everything you have going on?
They can go to my website www.garyhardwick.com and look under the title "What's Going On." they can also join my FaceBook page and read my blog at http://garyhardwick.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

TAKE TEN: Actress/Author/Entreprenuer Cherie Johnson

There is only one word that truly describes the young woman that is Cherie Johnson: Driven. After starring on shows like Punky Brewster and Family Matters as a chid, she has blossomed into a creative force to be reckoned with, not only acting, but executive producing, writing songs and balancing her love of work in front of and behind the camera.

In 2010, Cherie added a new title to her name, that of author. And if the rest of her life is any indication of what will happen in this new arena, the world better watch out.

On Tuesday, September 7, 2010, Cherie joined Shadow Play Entertainment's literacy campaign called TAKE TIME TO READ as the national spokesperson, sharing her thoughts on why reading is so important no matter what your career. She took out time out of promoting her first book Around The World Twice to talk with Cyrus Webb of Conversations Magazine about her journey, her success and what's next for her. 

Cherie, I know you are busy, so I really appreciate your taking out the time to speak with us. Many of our readers will know you from television, so let's start there. Looking back on it all, what has surprised you the most about where you came from and where you are today?

 Thank you so much for the interview. I think what surprises me most is this right here. The fact that people would want to interview me, that what I did 27 years ago on Punky Brewster would turn into a career. I honestly did not realize that I was working, or I was what people call "famous". I was just having fun doing what I love and feel so blessed that I have continued that.

 Did you expect the road of success that you have been blessed with while growing up?


       I knew very early on I was going to strive to be successful. I didn't know it would come through entertainment. I had plans on becoming an architect, and an author.


When did the stars seem to align for you? What project seemed to be your big break and what happened next?

 For me the realization click in 2005 while I was Co-executive producing and acting in a film called "Dead Tone". I have loved horror films since I was a small child, and here I was on set not just acting but producing. I was tickled. I went through a major reflection period on my life. From there on out it was simple I have the power to make all my dreams come true. Since then I have produced 5 other projects and wrote 1.


With some child stars it seems as though we always want to remember them that way and don't expect them to really grow up. Did you have any fear of what would happen to you as time went by and you got older?

 Never a fear but definitely have a point to prove to make people see me as the 34-year-old woman I am.  When I was working on Punky Brewter and Family Matters I never thought about it at all. I was a kid I didn't even realize I was working much less the impact that I was making on my own life as well as the life of other peoples. I never got into the habit of being an avid TV watcher so I didn't understand fully the impact it has on other people lives. I still don't think I fully comprehend it and I am floored daily when approached by people who either liked or disliked characters that I have played and the fact that people have a really hard time depicting between what is fact and fiction. People believe I am the character's I get paid to play. "Its crazy" but it's a compliment because it means I am doing my job well.

 Being in the public eye at any age is not easy. How did you avoid some of the pitfalls that have overtaken so many throughout the years?


       My job doesn't define who I am as a person. Fame is one of the most addicting drugs ever. I have never sought fame nor am I addicted to anything! I love what I do its my passion, if my passion is ever taken away God forbid I have many other goals. My mom told me early on the only stars in the world are in the sky.

  The reason we are speaking to you know is because of a new career you have begun this year, that of author. How did this come about, and when did you realize that writing was something you were interested in?

                            When I was 5 years old I made my mother a book out of paper and yarn. She told me it was the best book she had ever read! I promised her that one day I was going to have books in the library. See the library was really important to me when I was little. We didn't have one in my hometown Duquesne PA because white people burnt it down in 1968 because they didn't want black people to swim in their pool.

My mother would take me two towns over every week to check out a book. I was in love with the building. It was huge, white with pillars and had more books than I could count. The library was the most beautiful place I had ever seen (I'm from the hood). I always knew I wanted a piece of me to live in that building. 30 years later my dream is coming true.

The first book was recently released. What is the title and tell us what it is about?

 Around The World Twice is a story about two best friends whose lives are synonymous, despite the different social circles they traveled in. It is a story of true friendship in which both ladies, together, contribute to building each other up in order to become better and stronger women, as well as triumphant for love of self and one another.

Ashley is a successful half Black-half Latina female living a glamorous lifestyle of a Hollywood movie star, or so it would seem, if you were on the outside looking in. Truth is, she is tired of failed relationships and is fearful of being alone. She struggles to find love and begins to question herself.

 Lillian cashed in on the normal life of a housewife early...marrying the guy all the girls wanted back in high school, house, white picket fence, etc..she was living the American Dream. Her dream life soon becomes one that resembles a nightmare, leaving her vulnerable.

After an invitation and a lot of persuasion from her friend Ashley, Lillian decides to leave the security of her long time home in New York and move to Los Angeles. It is there that she realizes maybe she has more in her life to change than she may have initially thought...

 From what I understand, you have been signed to publish seven books. Some aspiring writers would be happy with just one. Do you feel any pressure for this phase of your life to be a success?


 I don't feel pressure; I think success comes when you love what you do. I love writing and the power if gives me to convey my story to an audience. The reward for me is then receiving their feedback. It's all about having fun and I enjoying being able to share my life with others. The real success is when I get to hear I have touched someone else's soul because a piece of my work stays with them forever.


Outside of the writing, what's next for you?


I have more films I will be producing and a TV show in development. This new chapter in my life is providing lots of opportunity that I will not let slip by. Sky is the limit!

 Thanks again for the time, Cherie. How can our readers stay updated on everything you are doing today?

Thank you so much I appreciate you for giving me this platform. I keep everything updated regularly. I can be found on www.twitter.com/cheriejohnson75  or www.Facebook.com/CherieJohnson75 .