Nancy Goodman’s Film Surprise Me! Is Full of the Unexpected
Courtesy of Nancy Goodman
With a background in journalism and advertising, Nancy Goodman loved to write but had never considered authoring a book until an idea hit her. After seeking professional help for a bingeing problem and taking a look at how diets were being viewed in the media, she found the inspiration to pen It Was Food vs. Me… And I Won. In a recent interview, Goodman recounted the impetus for writing that debut novel in 2003. “At the time, I was angered by Oprah’s fixation on diets and fads. I had completed my therapy sessions with a full understanding of the intersection of food and feelings and what was going on in those moments. This message was nowhere in the media. So, I decided to write a book. It was finished in eight weeks, I got a large publishing deal with Viking/Penguin because they thought the message and voice was unique.” “It’s a very ‘girlfriendly’ memoir,” she noted. “I wrote it as though you and I were sitting around in our sweats, dishing about marriage, kids, diet obsessing and bingeing. I asked for your trust because unlike professionals and therapists who study lab rats, I am the rat. I ran the maze, I ate the pellets and I knew what it felt like to be there. I learned the way out. And now I’m here to get all the rest of the rats out.” Although the book did not perform as well as Goodman had hoped due to what she calls “a stigma to bingeing” at the time, she used that experience to propel her forward. “Frustrated, I decided on a romantic comedy,” she explained. “No stigma there. I figured if I came up with a fun plot I could bury the food message in the subplot and a movie would reach the most women. That became Surprise Me.” Goodman described her follow-up, saying, “It’s the story of a surprise party planner, Genie, who hates surprises. She plays life safe. She has three men in her life: her partner, Steven, Danny, her best friend from college and then she stumbles into a relationship with Jeff that hits a lot of emotional triggers. She starts bingeing and sees a therapist who’s wacky, but smart. Meanwhile, Genie is hired by an anonymous Hollywood producer to throw a surprise wedding for his girlfriend. Genie has to mastermind a way to get the bride down the aisle without knowing she’s the bride. Through all of this, we see a woman grow her voice and all of the decisions that follow. With a surprise on her in the end.” The concept for the book came from Goodman’s own life. As she explained, “I love throwing kooky surprise parties. When my kids were little, I started a light business called Surprise Enterprise, which I used in the book. To give an example, I once surprised my husband (we’re divorced now but very close family still) by taking him to a movie. We were late and the theater was dark so he couldn’t see the audience. Ten minutes in, the film stopped, his face was on the screen, the lights went up and the audience, which was our family and friends, turned to him and yelled, ‘Surprise!’ He was floored.” The idea to turn Surprise Me into a feature film did not come out of the blue. Even before she wrote the book, Goodman had imagined bringing the story to the big screen, writing “very movie-esque dialogue” in the novel. What she didn’t anticipate was how many roles she’d have to take on to get the film made. To realize her vision, Goodman not only wrote the screenplay but produced and directed as well. “It just happened,” she conceded. “Other producers were taking it away from me. Directors were rewriting and changing the heart. I was told I’d be kicked off set if I opened my mouth. I kept trying to find someone I trusted. It was the producer I ended up with, Kevin McGrail and the assistant director Anthony Cabral, who encouraged me to direct. They said I wouldn’t be happy with anyone else. I was so afraid I’d ruin the movie but they assured me I could do this. And that it was their job to get my vision up on the screen. All I had to do was answer everyone’s questions about the characters, wardrobe, furnishings, location ideas, etc. And I had such clear pictures in my mind. That was never hard. It’s funny because one producer had said, ‘You have to trust someone enough to hand over your baby.’ Them’s fightin’ words to a mom.” Proving that ability to juggle a million things at once, Goodman admitted that she didn’t find multitasking that challenging. “Our crew and cast were so professional, patient, kind, supportive and so enormously talented. If there were problems, they fixed them,” she acknowledged. “In the editing room with Danny Fogarty, I learned how to fix any mistake or oversight. Scoring the movie with Craig Snider, a musical genius, I even learned how to write a song. It was fun every day. I had my kids in the movie, my folks, friends… even my dog. It was magical.” She also had a top notch cast that included Fiona Gubelmann, who is currently on The Good Doctor, Jonathan David Bennett from Mean Girls, Sean Faris of Pretty Little Liars and Nicole Sullivan from MadTV. And, Goodman’s maternal nature really came in hand when directing. She described her style as “warm and nurturing. I used my mothering side here. Lots of talking, setting some boundaries with the script, then letting them create their own moments and nuances. Many of them told me it was the safest they ever felt on set. That was the word they used. For me, they surpassed any dream I could have for the movie. They were incredible, each and every one.” Now that the movie is out in the world, Goodman wants viewers to take away some important messages from the film. “I hope they see themselves and it normalizes who they are, what they feel and what they do. I hope it redirects their thinking and they’re able to track their own eating to find the hidden emotions. Every time they pay attention to a feeling and manage it, that’s the weight loss plan that works.” To find out more about Nancy Goodman and Surprise Me visit SurpriseMeTheMovie.com.