A small secret about the do’s and don’ts of book interviews: avoid asking about the cover. OK, perhaps it isn’t a rule. Yet just about everyone in public radio has talked to authors over the years who are overjoyed at meeting someone who has actually read the book in preparation for an interview. And then those authors almost inevitably relate a tale of meeting an interviewer who hadn’t and then resorted to asking about the cover. So it’s almost a matter of honor to avoid asking cover questions.
However, it’s impossible to look at the cover of Steve Boman’s memoir “Film School” and not have your curiosity piqued.
It’s the story of how a Minnesota-born lad faced down a mid-life crisis by taking himself off to film school at USC. He went in with some expectations, but he anticipated few of the curveballs which flew in his direction. They ranged from equipment problems, whacked-out fellow students and bullying instructors to the fact that at age 42 he had a stroke just as he began his second semester.
Then just months later in a twist which Boman says is reminiscent of a Hollywood plotline, he found himself writing a new series for CBS, based on a pitch he’d made in film class. You can get some of the details in our interview.
When Boman came in to chat about the book I couldn’t resist asking him to describe the cover, and the thinking behind it, particularly because the towering figure on the cover is clearly him.
“It’s an incredibly Conan the Barbarian-like figure wearing a ripped USC shirt,” he said, “Ripped just enough so you can’t have copyright infringement for USC, holding a perfect representation of an Ariflex 16 millimeter camera. And at this heroic figure’s feet there’s four women, girls. Three girls and a beautiful woman – a representation of my wife and kids.”
“In the background Hollywood is burning and there’s sort of a nemesis character in a Che shirt and a beret. And it’s over-the-top, and it’s a great cover because people either love it or hate it.”
This apocalyptic scene is capped by the blood red title “Film School.”
Boman admits to having asked the artist to lard on a few extra muscles.
But what is also quite eye catching is the subtitle “A memoir that will change your life.” It’s quite a claim, and it’s one that causes Boman to roll his eyes. Believe it or not the subtitle is a compromise between him and his publishers.
“I wanted to say ‘A true story,'” Boman relates. “And they said, ‘The sales people don’t like that. They need a memoir.’ And I said ‘I hate the term ‘a memoir’ – it makes it sound so self-important. And this is not as much a memoir as a story that happens to be true. So I said ‘In all memoirs it’s implied that this is very important,’ so I thought ‘this will be a memoir that will change your life.'”
He thought it up as a joke.
“And they put it on the cover,” he said.
Actually the over-the-top feeling of the cover neatly captures the tensions and roiling sense of crisis in the book. Boman says he really likes the cover, although his wife isn’t so sure. He admits to getting a little queasy however every time he sees the book in the stores.
“I feel squeamish sometimes because it’s pretty personal. But I thought if you are going to write something, you’ve got to have a point of view and tell the story. I also thought if I was a reporter and someone came up and said ‘Here’s my story,’ and I interviewed them and reported on it, I’d certainly tell these stories, and I thought ok I have an obligation to tell it, for good and for bad.”