By Bill Scheft, Screenmancer Correspondent
SCREENMANCER presents 89-year-old journalist Joan Kron’s first film, “TAKE MY NOSE….PLEASE!” This award-winning documentary about female comedians and plastic surgery begins its limited theatrical run in New York October 6 at the Village East and in Los Angeles October 13 at the Laemmle Santa Monica. She sat down for Screenmancer and talked with former Letterman writer Bill Scheft, the executive producer of the film, who also happens to be her cousin.
SM: WHAT IS THE FILM YOU SET OUT TO MAKE, AND WHAT IS THE FILM THAT TURNED OUT?
JOAN: I set out to make a film about the importance of female comedians and their honesty about plastic surgery. But the honesty was so affecting, I never expected they would inspire so much empathy. Comedians always inspire laughter, rarely empathy. The fact that the audience became so attached to the two main characters (comedians Jackie Hoffman and Emily Askin) and that they would embody so many of the feelings that real women had about plastic surgery, that ended up being the charm of the movie.
That was the biggest surprise in making the film. The second biggest surprise was I never realized I was such a control freak.
SM: DID YOUR 40-YEAR CAREER AS A PRINT JOURNALIST HELP YOUR TECHNIQUE AS A DOCUMENTARIAN?
JOAN: I think that if you don’t try to entrap the people you’re interviewing, to try and get them to say what you want them to say, just let them talk, they open up and then the honesty takes over.
In many interviews, I felt I had asked a question and didn’t have to ask anything for ten minutes. Aaron Latham, a wonderful writer who I worked with at New York Magazine, once explained his interview technique to me. He said that when people stop talking, there’s a long pause, and they hate the silence so they need to fill it. That’s when the truth comes out. So, I had to keep my trap shut, which is extremely difficult for me. The days I did that were some of the best filming days.
SM: WHAT JOURNALISTIC ADVANTAGES DOES FILM HAVE OVER PRINT?
JOAN: It is a huge advantage for a filmmaker to be a writer. Even though you don’t have to write any of the connective tissue, you’re writing all the time. 100-word synopsis. A 200-word synopsis. A 1000-word synopsis. You have to articulate the film on paper. All this happens before you shoot. At the moment of filming, all you have to do is ask good questions.
SM: WHAT IS THE MOST PRACTICAL PIECE OF ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO SOMEONE MAKING THEIR FIRST FILM?
JOAN: Get a lawyer before you do anything else. Buy a dozen good pens and three large binders. Buy plastic covers for important papers. Get a graphic logo for your movie made early. When you’re shooting, make sure someone shoots you so you have some publicity shots. Get thank you notes made to send with checks. This is important, because many of the checks you’ll write could have and should have been larger.
SM: JANE FONDA GLARED AT MEGYN KELLY LAST WEEK BECAUSE SHE DARED MENTION HER PLASTIC SURGERY. WAS IT BECAUSE IT’S NOBODY’S BUSINESS OR BECAUSE IT WAS IN FRONT OF ROBERT REDFORD ?
JOAN: I think it definitely had something to do with Robert Redford. He has been outspoken against plastic surgery. And everyone wants his approval. Jane has been very courageous and outspoken about the work she’s had, even mentioning her doctor on her website. Years ago, she went out to promote a new movie and it ended up being a facelift press tour. But you want to talk about it when you want to talk about it, and maybe she didn’t feel it was appropriate. I will say, Robert Redford looked quite good. Not as rumpled as usual. Maybe it was just good make-up. Maybe it was something else. Perhaps she was being considerate of him.
SM: DID THE EXPERIENCE OF MAKING THE FILM CHANGE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE SUBJECT MATTER, OR SOLIDIFY THEM?
JOAN: I don’t think it changed my feelings about plastic surgery. I had very strong feelings when I started. I had never been moved by anything I saw about plastic surgery. People were always looking at either the horror aspect or the extremes. They viewed it as something to make fun of. I never felt anyone in the media had any empathy. They were just going for the bizarre.
I call it the “Ain’t that awful?” approach. “Ain’t that awful she wanted her lips so big?”
And I had my own experience with plastic surgery. The feeling of looking in the mirror afterward and seeing the magic. Seeing that I looked better.
People do not go through the pain, expense and risk without a benefit. It’s a $13 billion industry. People don’t endure the jokes and criticism without getting something for it. We don’t all look like Jocelyn Wildenstein. Why do people need a car? To get from her to there. Why do women need a facelift? Same answer. No one ever complimented anyone on looking worse.
SM: WAS THERE A DOCUMENTARY THAT INFLUENCED YOU FOR THE LOOK AND EXECUTION OF YOUR FILM?
JOAN: I was mostly influenced by the type of films I didn’t want to make. I didn’t want to make what I call a “seven-sofa documentary.” Seven talking heads on seven different couches. And what happened was people became so attached to Jackie and Emily they forgot it was documentary and began to think of it as a dramatic movie.
SM: WHAT WAS SURPRISING ABOUT AUDIENCE REACTION SO FAR?
JOAN: By the end, the audience is not only empathizing, it’s identifying. So many times, women come up to me after the film and give me the famous facelift gesture (pushing their cheeks up underneath their ears). “What do you think?” they say. I feel there is something magical about plastic surgery, and inside every one of us there is hope for magic.
SM: DID YOU WAIT TOO LONG TO MAKE YOUR FIRST FILM, OR JUST RIGHT?
I started five and a half years ago, and I was worried throughout the process that I wouldn’t live to see it finished. Now, I just want to make it to Friday. (October 6, when the film makes its theatrical debut in New York .)
BILL SCHEFT was a writer for David Letterman from 1991-2015, during which time he was nominated for 15 Emmys. He is the author of four novels and was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. He and his late wife, comedian Adrianne Tolsch, were the Executive Producers of TAKE MY NOSE…PLEASE! The film is in her memory.
ON THE NOSE, QUICK FILM FACTS & DETAILS
Joan Kron, veteran journalist, spent the past 25 years as contributing editor-at-large at Allure magazine where she covered the hot topics of cosmetic dermatology and plastic surgery. Prior to Allure, she held senior editorial positions at New York Magazine, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Avenue Magazine. Kron is known for her books and numerous articles and commentary on design, beauty and plastic surgery. And now at the age of 89 years old, she has embarked on a new career as a documentary filmmaker.
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
TAKE MY NOSE PLEASE is a seriously funny and wickedly subversive look at the role comedy has played in exposing the pressures on women to be attractive and society’s desire/shame relationship with plastic surgery. More than 15 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US in 2014. And 90% of them on were done on women. Yet, for those who elect to tinker with Mother Nature, especially for high-profile women, plastic surgery is still a very dark secret. Funny women, though, are the exception. From Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers to Roseanne Barr and Kathy Griffin, comedians have been unashamed to talk about their perceived flaws, and the steps taken to remedy them. For these dames, cosmetic surgery isn’t vanity, it is affirmative action – compensation for the unfair distribution of youthfulness and beauty.
By admitting what their sisters in drama deny, comic performers speak to women who feel the same pressures, giving them permission to pursue change (or not to) while entertaining us.
TAKE MY NOSE PLEASE follows two comedians as they deliberate about going under the knife. Emily Askin, an up-and coming improv performer, has always wanted her nose refined. Jackie Hoffman, a seasoned headliner on Broadway and on TV, considers herself ugly and regrets not having the nose job offered in her teens. And maybe she’d like a face-lift, as well. As we follow their surprisingly emotional stories, we meet other who have taken the leap – or held out.
Putting it all in perspective are psychologists, sociologists, the medical community and cultural critics. And for comic relief and the profundity only comedians can supply. The film includes commentary from Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, the late Joan Rivers,Judy Gold, Julie Halston, Lisa Lampanelli, Giulia Rozzi, Bill Scheft, and Adrianne Tolsch.
FESTIVALS AND AWARDS
Audience Award – Miami International Film Festival
Audience Award – Berkshire International Film Festival
Official Selection – Newport Beach International Film Festival; San Francisco Doc Fest; Arizona International Film Festival; Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival; San Luis Obispo Film Festival; Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival; and more
# # #