Vol. 27
Alicia Malone Typography Portrait

Hugging Celebrities with Alicia Malone

September 2017

Film reporter, TV host, producer, editor and author championing for more women in Hollywood.

When it’s 6AM and you're doing a Skype interview with one of the busiest film journalists in Hollywood and your Skype call recorder decides it wants to stay in bed, you’d be forgiven for letting a few beads of sweat run down your forehead. Luckily for me, on the other end of the virtual line was Alicia Malone, who is not only patient but also helpful, sorting out the problem and proving first hand why she’s one of the most respected people in film critic circles, appearing on many movie news sources coming out of Hollywood.

In her TEDx talk, Female Directors in Hollywood & Impact of Movies Made From 1 Perspective, Alicia recalls her first cinema experience and the sadness she felt when the horse Artax from The Neverending Story is swallowed by the Swamp of Sadness. Whilst not a pleasant memory it was one that taught her the power of film at a very early age. From thereon, the Canberra native, raised in a film loving household was bent on becoming a full-time movie lover, whether there was a real job title for it or not.

The only thing to rival Alicia’s love of film is her knowledge of it, evidenced in her many critical pieces across various media for over ten years in Australia and the United States. Known for her unique and quirky style of interviewing, offering hugs to Hollywood stars, Alicia immediately breaks down the barriers and monotony of the press junket scene, and showing she’s never failed to take up a challenge that leads her out of her comfort zone.

Never doubting what the pursuit of her dream might look like, Alicia now travels the world reporting on movie news, critiquing new releases and championing the cause of women in film which has culminated in her book debut, Backward and In Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working In Film which chronicles the role of women from the first days of film until today. Enjoy this amazing story of following one's dream, all the way from Canberra to Sydney, to Los Angeles and around the world...

Alicia Malone--- 6 September 2017

By Lorenzo Princi

What you do?

So it’s hard to describe what I do because there’s no actual job title for it but I say I’m a film reporter. I get to travel around the world, go to all the film festivals, watch movies, talk to filmmakers and then tell people all about the movies. It’s a job I didn’t actually think existed when I was young, I never thought that it would be my job but it works out perfectly and it really is a dream job.

It’s a dream job because you love film. Where did your love of film come from?

The love of film came from my parents basically, my dad loved classic movies and I remember him showing me a lot of these classic movies when I was young, I also remember a lot of VHS (Video Home System) tapes in our place. He used to keep everything that he recorded from Television and I used to love watching the Bill Collins Presents movies. He always talked about classic films and my mum also loved watching films and she would go to the video store every week and I’d go with her and I’d get the seven films for seven days for seven dollars and make my way through them throughout the week and my big sister Yvette loved films as well, she loved independent movies and she showed me a lot of those movies when I was young.

"I’d get the seven films for seven days for seven dollars and make my way through them throughout the week."
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You went straight from high-school to working in media as a control room operator. How did that come about and how did you find it?

That was actually in Sydney at Channel 7. I lived in Canberra right until I finished high school and then I moved to Sydney because I wanted to work in television and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. So when I moved to Sydney I just started doing a television production course just for something to do and when I was there I met a girl who had just started working at Channel 7 through a job that she got from her drama teacher at school, sort of a friend of a friend kind of thing. And when the Olympics came about in Sydney in 2000, Channel 7 were looking for more people, so they asked her whether she knew anyone from her course and she suggested me, so I started to work first as an autocue operator and I got to work on the Olympics which was amazing and then from there I worked in a variety of jobs behind-the-scenes in the control room at Channel 7.

How did that transition into your career as a film critic on radio and television in Australia, how did you break into that?

Yeah, I used to do my own little podcasts and things while I was at working at Channel 7 and I had a little website where I could talk about film but it really kicked off when I got a job working at Movie Network Australia which was a group of channels on Foxtel. There was a classics channel, an indie channel and a new release channel. So, they were looking for a producer/editor and one of my friends at Channel 7 suggested I should go for the job and I didn’t really know how to edit but I taught myself over that weekend before my interview [laughs] how to edit on Final Cut Pro so when I walked into the interview I said, “oh, I know how to edit on Final Cut Pro” and they said, “well, that’s okay because we use Avid anyway, we’ll get you training.” So I was like, “good.”

So, I got the job as producer/editor and I started to develop little shows that would go in between the movies on those cable channels but I always wanted to do the stuff on camera because it just looked like the most fun. So I was doing some radio, writing some reviews for film magazines, but I thought it would be so fun to interview the filmmakers. So I just started pitching ideas for new shows that I knew would fill the gaps that they needed to fill that I could produce and edit for no-- much-- no more money and I could also host them as well [laughs] and eventually they said, “yes!”

"I didn’t really know how to edit but I taught myself over that weekend."
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You have a great approach to your interviews, building instant rapport with actors and filmmakers, even getting yourself lots of hugs. Do you feel this approach works best when trying to get them to open up?

Yeah at first it was really daunting, you know, talking to these celebrities because you walk into these rooms for the press junket filled with publicists and with people from the studio and with cameramen and it’s a very daunting experience. You feel like everybody is watching you so I thought I should do something to really try to increase my confidence fast, so what I do when I need that is to do something outside of my comfort zone. So, I thought, what could I do that is out of the comfort zone in that situation but is still a nice thing to do and I thought well, “a hug”, you know, you’re not supposed to touch these celebrities, they’re kind of the untouchable-- some of them you can’t even shake hands with. So I thought a hug would be a great way to break the ice, to make it be like, we’re both humans and also something I was terrified to do so then that would throw me in the deep end in terms of getting my confidence up with those interviews and then it became kind of a theme. And what I realised was-- as well as the red hair and the accent it was something that-- they would remember me by for the next interview which does really help because as soon as you walk in those rooms they’re recording. You don’t have much time to chat before you get started. You’re one of maybe a hundred journalists that day, so whatever you can do to just break the ice and build that rapport is very important.

"I thought I should do something to really try to increase my confidence fast, so what I do when I need that is to do something outside of my comfort zone."
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How did the move to LA come about, why the change and risk?

Well again, I used to watch all the stuff that the reporter would do in LA when I was working at Movie Network and I would think, “Wow! That looks like so much fun” because in Australia, you know, you get a couple of stars coming down under for premiers but not very often and in LA obviously you get access to all the stars and all the filmmakers and you get to go to all the film festivals and suddenly the world opens up.

So I started looking at that and I was thinking, “I’d love to move to LA one day.” I always wanted to move to Hollywood, that idea of Hollywood born from the classic films I used to watch when I was young-- seemed very glamorous and-- even though I didn’t really like it when I came over here as a tourist because I didn’t know where to go or what to do and the touristy areas aren’t so nice here in LA but I just loved the idea of being where all film happens, being in the film centre of the world.

So, it ended up being that I had so much leave that was owing to me because I would never take holidays, I would just work really hard, so Movie Network said, “you have to take holidays, this is costing us money. You have to go for a month.” So, I thought, “What can I do for a month?” I’ve always written and done writing courses and then I thought it would be really romantic and something like in a film if I did a writing course in Paris [laughs].

So that’s what I did and just getting out of that day-to-day rut of working-- you know when you’re in that mode you don’t really see any other option, once I was away and I was experiencing Paris, I thought, “well if I can come and do this maybe I can move to LA?” So by the time I went back to work, I’d decided that I was going to move to LA at the end of that year and then that’s what I did.

"I always wanted to move to Hollywood, that idea of Hollywood born from the classic films I used to watch when I was young."
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You’ve done a lot of movie reporting and eventually joined the YouTube revolution. What made you decide to start creating videos as a way to get your voice heard?

Well, when I first started working over here I started working for Australia and I was covering all the press junkets and doing these kind of junkets where you’re, like I said, one in a hundred or so a day. You only have four minutes to do it and you have to do a lot of different films and a lot of the stuff you cover is obviously the big mainstream movies that everybody wants to see the stars for but they have never been my interests. I’ve always loved classic films, independent films, (and) talking about women in film.

So, I saw YouTube just as a place I could talk about the things I wanted to talk about and also as a good excuse to keep my editing skills up and also learn more about cameras. I love doing vlogs when I go to film festivals just to test myself in creativity and in trying to cover things in a unique way. So I started my YouTube channel and-- and I thought, “even if my-- only my mum watches it at least I’ll be-- this is a place where I can talk about everything I’m passionate about.” But I also have the thought that work begets other work, so even if you’re doing something for free, it’s really establishing—for want of a better word—a brand [laughs] and then from that-- so from doing the little YouTube videos about independent films and classic films it actually led to jobs where I get to talk about this stuff so it’s all come full circle and helped.

"Work begets other work."
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You’ve been a panellist on Schmoes Know, AMC (now Collider) Movie Talk and you’ve even done a few Screen Junkies’ Movie Fights. How did you find yourself in these circles and seeing the rise of these new movie punditry channels, how do you feel they are changing the landscape for film journalism?

It really is changing things because, like the Schmoes (Kristian Harloff and Mark Ellis) they are just regular guys that loved movies and they started their own YouTube channel and now they’re actually accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewers and I do love that, that now you can just pick up a camera and you can become a reviewer.

I always say to people who want to do my job, I say, “start now! You know, start a blog, start a podcast, start a YouTube channel, whatever you can do to start practicing and working on it.” And again, having place to show your unique voice and it’ll lead to other things… But I got the job at AMC by applying-- I saw on Twitter they were looking for someone and I’d watched the content before and I’d thought it was really great and I’d mainly been working for Australia up until that point and I’d done a few things for American stations but I wanted to do something that was over here in America and so I went for the audition and I went for an interview and I ended up getting that and then from there I met Kristian Harloff who was also on the team and hired the same day as me and he invited me on The Schmoes (Know), so I became a guest there and I thought that was really fun to hang out with them and then through the Schmoes I met Screen Junkies [laughs] and they invited me onto Movie Fights and that was something that was such a challenge for me because I’ve always been, you know, a little bit quiet and not like that loud debater. So I thought, “that’s a good challenge,” again, put myself out of the comfort zone and get out there. And then from there, because they have such passionate and great followings, then people started to follow me and I was able to parlay that into talking more about indies and classics and women in film and now the book!

Yes! Now the book, congratulations on Backwards & In Heels. It chronicles the lives of important women who have helped shaped Hollywood since the very beginning, why did you feel it was important to tell their stories?

Well I came across a fact when I was reading one of the film books as I often do-- in a film book called Movie-Made America by Robert Sklar and it said that at the very beginning of American cinema there were more opportunities for women working in film then there are today and I thought that was really surprising because that was before women had the right to vote here in America.

So, I started looking into it and discovering all these stories and realising that although I thought I was very knowledgeable in film I had so much to learn when it came to women and I thought, “if all these women were around at the very beginning of film and then throughout film, all the achievements that they’ve done, all the innovations that they’ve been a part of.” I thought, by not reading these in all the other film books-- like, there have been some great film books that have been focused, particularly on women but in general, if I don’t know about these stories, then other people don’t know about these stories and their absence from film history tells us the false narrative that film has always been and always will be a man’s world.

So I wanted to put together just really short stories that people could get a brief overview of these women. Maybe go and discover more about them if they’re interested and just to paint the picture of A, that women have always been around and they’ve been very important and vital to American cinema and B that, you know, it’s gone in waves and nothing’s really changed that much since they got turfed out in the thirties and then I wanted to look at the present day and delve into that through interviews with people like Geena Davis and even JJ Abrams. You know, people who are really working inside the industry to try and change things for the better.

"Their absence from film history tells us the false narrative that film has always been and always will be a man’s world."
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There was a famous story recently which broke about Ed Skrein (british actor) who stepped down from a role in the new big budget Hellboy comic book adaptation after realising the character being adapted was Asian-American in the source material. With that in mind, do you see a change coming, not only for women but minority groups in general in Hollywood?

Yeah, I loved that! Yeah, I think it is coming, it’s definitely not here yet, there’s a long way to go for women and for minorities but the difference is, the level of conversation and I do think social-media. YouTube and everything have been a part of that-- an important part of that, where now, people are not going to let studios get away with it, you know, as soon as that role for Ed (Skrein) was announced people jumped onboard and they were able to voice their concerns and then he heard them and then he decided of his own volition to step down.

So, Hollywood is still behind because they’re still casting people like him in those roles but I think now people in the industry are really conscious of it and they really want to do the right thing and it will take people like Ed stepping down-- it takes those people with power to actually change things. It takes people like JJ Abrams, you know, who has a lot of power in Hollywood to make a stand and change things, so, it’s not going to change easily or quickly, it’s going to take a long time but I think it is definitely starting to. Whereas in the past-- when I was writing the book and I noticed that there were other little peaks and troughs for women and diversity, it always went backwards but I think now, just the level of conversation-- it can’t be ignored.

We are reaching new frontiers in terms of storytelling, people are reading books by listening to them, playing immersive video games in virtual environments, streaming 12 hours of television. With theater chains and studios trying to adapt, how do you see film production, and the viewing experience changing in the next few years. Will we always have film as it is?

Yeah, I think they haven’t quite figured out what to do with VR yet, I do find it interesting looking at the VR experiences that put you in the mindset of someone, there are some great VR experiences that show you someone’s perspective from two different sides. I think that’s really interesting but I think film will stay the same. I think what will increase is streaming services, they’re becoming more and more important, particularly over here with Netflix and Amazon and for original filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho and also Angelina Jolie-- people like that who are getting financing to make these stories that the studios would never finance and they have the ability to be able to share independant films-- original voices with the whole world whereas the theater owners will only play the movies that get the big crowds that you need the big screen experience, which are usually the superhero films and the big blockbusters. So, I think the streaming services will increase and the theaters; it’ll become about the franchises but I think-- I still think the way we watch films will stay similar.

Lorenzo: It is interesting, what you say about the big blockbusters, I remember going to the cinema, say in the 90s and you just watched whatever was on that was new and there was a range whereas now you only go to the cinema to put 3D glasses on...

Alicia: Yeah, exactly and there is such a big divide now between the blockbusters and independent films. It’s that whole range of middle films that we had in the nineties, they’re all gone now. You don’t really get the mid-range small budget dramas, the rom-coms and action films like you used to which is a shame.

Lorenzo: I guess there’s also too many big budget films that it’s become part and parcel to just dismiss even a massive film, something like Valerian (and The City of a Thousand Planets), which was immediately predicted to bomb.

Alicia: I know, it’s a risky business because the studios are putting all their eggs into the big move basket and you know sometimes it pays off, hugely, in big dividends, like-- especially overseas, like in China. Markets like that which are becoming more and more important that the US but yeah, it’s a huge risk also if it fails.

What’s Next for Alicia?

Well, I think my ultimate, ultimate goal is to one day own a cinema of my own, you know, even just talking about how now it’s getting harder to find these independent films, I know it wouldn’t be profitable at all but I would love to have a one screen cinema somewhere that would play classic films and indie films and be one of those great revival cinemas. So that’s my ultimate goal and then-- between then and now I just really enjoying where I am right now. I loved writing my book and maybe there’ll be another one in the future, we’ll see how I go but I also love working for Fandango where I get to cover these film festivals and independent films and then FilmStruck which is part of the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies-- Kind of the culmination of all of the films that I love! So I feel very grateful and happy where I am right now… but I miss Australia! [Laughs].

Find Alicia on Twitter and Instagram at @aliciamalone to follow her various film news reports and critiques. Find Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present And Future Of Women Working In Film on Amazon now!

Proofreading by Luke Yates. Photography by Charles Torrealba.