More Roast than Toast

With 60 issues to its name, RealScreen is an established and polished publication. But, it wasn't always thus. RealScreen's editors, past and present, share some of the behind-the-scenes blips and bloopers
September 1, 2002

RealScreen‘s original editor confesses

Much drinking characterizes mag’s first years

By Mary Ellen Armstrong

July, 1997

After raucous and prolonged debates on logos, possible names for the mag (What’s Up Doc? was actually an option), and what the hell it should be covering, the entire RealScreen editorial staff (of two) springs into action to produce the first issue. Or, more correctly, tries to get in touch with some people, somewhere, to timidly ask questions. (The staff writer is shy, and waits for the editor to go to the bathroom before calling for an interview.) Challenges include the fact that the staff doesn’t know the first thing about docs or anyone in the industry, and that the ad reps are hearing nothing but incredulous chuckles every time they make a sales call. The publisher is worried, the editor is polishing her resumé.

September, 1997

RealScreen‘s first issue features stories on Nat Geo’s rollout in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Australia, and a flurry of doc channel launches in France. The MIPCOM report looks at copros, some of which actually got made. After wrapping the issue, the staff realize they must do it again, every month, forever. Everyone drinks.

October, 1997

MIPCOM – the Holy Grail. At Cannes, the horrifying realization strikes that people will see this little magazine experiment and expect staffers to know what they’re talking about. Each night it’s decided which industry execs to meet (a.k.a: accost) the next day. At week’s end, the editor sneaks off for a weep in the WC. The publisher is still worried. Everyone drinks.

Fall, 1997

The publisher and editor go to the U.K. in a desperate attempt to convince key people they’re legit. The hotel bill totals more than the revenue from the first issue.

January, 1998

Just when the staff think they’re getting the hang of things, they take RealScreen to NATPE. Standing in front of the 65 other magazines is daunting. Trying to get people’s attention while they line up for David Hasselhoff’s autograph is damn near impossible.

February, 1999

It’s decided RealScreen should have an event of some sort, maybe in Washington, D.C. where the key people hang out. Nobody knows how to do an event, but nobody knew how to do a magazine either. Over 500 of you come, and you like it! Ron Devillier speaks at lunch about how surprised he is that we pulled this whole thing off, bringing a tear to the eye of the publisher. The publisher is now less worried. It’s decided we’ll do this every year.

The Brendan Years:

RealScreen – all of this and tears’

By Brendan Christie

To my hazy recollection, RealScreen was born of a cloud of swearing, booze and tears – two people in a room with a third soon to join. (A woman with a penchant for sleeping off hangovers under her desk. I can’t recall, however, whether she was overly small or the desk overly big.)

There were ominous signs from the start. The editorial VP’s observation of my initial efforts: ‘At first I thought you sucked, but you’re not too bad.’

Right then, back to work. I recall being nearly fired many times. Early on, Mary Ellen had a meeting with the owner to discuss how we could improve the mag. I wasn’t involved in the meeting as I was busy writing, but I did receive the (long) list of suggestions via email afterwards. Not realizing the email had come from the company owner instead of Mary Ellen, I replied: ‘Considering I’m the one who has to do all this, thanks a lot, fucker.’

Now, MEA and I have always kept an open line of communication, so such a response would be considered amusing. The owner found it less so, responding: ‘I’m not sure how to take this.’ To his credit, I kept my job, but I have often been pointed and laughed at ever since.

Then there’s the time I read an email too fast before responding. It was notifying me that a story Kimberley Brown (then staff writer) was working on wasn’t going to happen, because the interviewee had pulled out. My response (thinking KB had sent the email): ‘Wanker.’ The email had come from the interviewee.

The worst part was that my panicked attempts at making things better were, well, pathetic. The person on the receiving end of my ‘Wanker’ observation was understanding, and once again, I kept my job.

I decided to stop answering the phone or emails shortly after that and spent large portions of the day trying to fit under my desk. At least I wasn’t the only one to do it.

Someone at a film company sent Susan Zeller a lovely collection of porn pictures once, complete with the note: ‘Your sister will really like these.’ At least I never resorted to visuals.

I really enjoyed my time on RealScreen. Now they shush each other and stare ominously when I approach. Strange. I don’t remember calling any of them fuckers.

The Road to Here: Thank you for not yelling

By Susan Zeller

I was fortunate enough to join RealScreen a year and a half after its birth, by which time Mary Ellen (then editor) and Brendan (then assistant editor) had the mag humming along as though it had been around forever.

I relied heavily on them for advice during my early days, but even they couldn’t prepare me for the verbal onslaught I endured from an irate Russian filmmaker my first summer. My offense was querying her copro partners on their contributions to her film (most of whom cooperated, I might add). As soon as she found out, she phoned in an absolute fury.

So many words, so loudly delivered. All I could say, over and over, was, ‘You have to stop YELLING.’ It finally worked, once I was loud enough to be heard from one end of our office to the next.

The one time I would have gladly accepted the lexical lashing, I ended up signing on a new subscriber instead. I had noted in an article that one of the members of a film crew had died during a shoot. He hadn’t. How did I find out, you ask? The kind gentleman emailed to inform me of his less-than-dead state. I was horrified; he was not. In fact, he told me how much he liked RealScreen and asked how he could get an issue every month. I love this industry.

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.