Q&A with Anne-Marie Hess, writer of Lifetime’s “Britney Ever After”

britney-artworkBritney Spears is a queen who grew up in the public eye. She’s an icon we adore and treasure. Whether she’s the flawless pop goddess at the top of the charts or a very human woman struggling with the challenges of everyday life, we love her wholeheartedly. Unconditionally. And, we all know her story. Or at least we all know the unique version that we carry around in our heart.

This Saturday, February 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, Lifetime is premiering its own version of the story in, perhaps, the company’s boldest offering ever: “Britney Ever After.” The film stars Natasha Bassett as Britney Spears. Additionally, Nicole Oliver plays Lynne Spears, Nathan Keyes plays Justin Timberlake, Clayton Chitty plays Kevin Federline, Jillian Walchuck plays Paris Hilton, Connor Paton plays Lance Bass, and Matt Visser plays Joey Fatone. The movie was produced by Asylum Entertainment for Lifetime. Steve Michaels, Jonathan Koch, and Joan Harrison served as the executive producers.

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Leslie Libman, Director of Lifetime’s “Britney Ever After”

The two women responsible for providing the soul of this remarkable film are Leslie Libman (director) and Anne-Marie Hess (writer). Leslie’s riveting approach to storytelling has allowed her to excel in a field that is overwhelmingly populated by men. She has a gift for bringing a genuine humanity to everything she touches. Anne-Marie refined her craft as an editor. She has an uncanny sense for knowing what is vital and effectively trims away the rest creating a compelling work that grabs a hold of you and refuses to let go.

Anne-Marie graciously agreed to answer a number of questions about this highly-anticipated movie.

Entertaining Options: How did you get from Houston, Texas to writing the story of one of the greatest pop stars the world has ever known? What was your career path?

Anne-Marie Hess: After high school, I went to NYU film school and studied production. Like many people after college, I struggled with how to break into the career that I wanted. I made a short film that got good festival play and won some awards, but I needed to turn my ambition into a career. I ended up moving to Los Angeles, where there is more work, and more opportunity. Opportunity presented itself, and I was offered a job editing television. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, but it was a fun, exciting job. After a few years I refocused my energy back into writing, which is my passion. I wrote a number of TV specs, and I wrote a feature film called “Good After Bad,” which I directed last year. That writing sample got me a job writing a movie for Lifetime called “Perfect High.” They liked my work and gave me the opportunity to pitch for the Britney project, and here I am. I was very excited to write about Britney. She is such an icon, and her life and her rise to fame are fascinating.

EO: Were you always a storyteller?

Anne-Marie: When I think of storytellers, I always think of my grandfather’s coffee club he used to have at the local Dairy Queen in his small town. A bunch of old timers would get together and shoot the breeze and talk for hours about basically nothing. What happened wasn’t all that interesting, but the way they described it was. They were true storytellers. That has always stuck with me in thinking of the journey of a narrative. I have always been the kind of person who carries around a notebook to jot down ideas, so yes, I guess I have always thought about storytelling, and wanted to be a storyteller. Being an editor for a number of years definitely helped me hone in my storytelling skills. To see what makes the cut, and what doesn’t and why, can be very illuminating.

EO: What do you do in your downtime?

Anne-Marie: When I’m not working, I spend time with my friends and family, hit up a live concert, or a new restaurant. I am a food hound.

 

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Natasha Bassett as Britney Spears. Photo by Katie Yu.

EO: Is there anyone who served as a role model for you while you were growing up?

Anne-Marie: My godfather, Bill, was a big role model for me growing up. I’m also very lucky to have had a wonderful and loving family.

EO: Do you think Lifetime is changing the playing field for women in the industry?

Anne-Marie: Lifetime is a great company to work for, and I think they are developing all kinds of new and different female centered content, which is really important these days.

EO: Do you have a favorite Lifetime show?

Anne-Marie: I am a big fan of “UnREAL,” especially since I used to work in unscripted television.

EO: Looking through your credits, it seems music has always been a part of your life.

Anne-Marie: Music has always been huge to me. I collected vinyl in high school, and have been to more concerts and festivals than I can count.

EO: Were you ever in a band? Do you sing or play an instrument?

Anne-Marie: Sadly, I am not a musician myself.

 

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Natasha Bassett as Britney Spears. Photo by Jenna Berman.

EO: What was the best concert you ever saw?

Anne-Marie: That is a hard one, because there have been so many. I would say Tom Waits at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. I had been in town for the SXSW film conference, which was wrapping up. I left the festival to drive back to Houston, to visit my parents. Then I heard a news story on the radio. Tom Waits was going to play a show the next night in Austin, his first show in years. The location of the show was a secret, but tickets would go on sale the next morning at 10 a.m., and you could only get one per person, in person. But they wouldn’t say where the tickets would go on sale — that was also a secret. I got back in my car, and drove back to Austin. I took a wild guess that the show would be at the Paramount Theater and got in line around 6 a.m. I wasn’t the only one, there was a line around the block. My other friends guessed the tickets would go on sale at Waterloo Records, and they got in line there. I ended up being right, and I got a ticket for the show. Nobody else I knew got a ticket, so I went to the show by myself, and it was just a phenomenal night. I am a huge fan, and I had a great seat not far from the stage. He kicked, and howled, told stories at the piano. He rumbled and roared and played my favorite song, “Downtown Train.” It was nothing short of magic, and there were three standing ovations.

EO: Were you a fan of Britney?

Anne-Marie: Not always. Most of my life I have gravitated toward indie and folk music. Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Wilco, The National, and things like that. Obviously, I was aware of Britney. She makes really great pop music. I really became a big fan in the process of writing this script.

EO: Did you learn anything new about Britney while writing this story?

Anne-Marie: So much. I mean, we all have an idea in our head about her, because she has been covered in tabloids for so many years. But I learned a lot about her as a person, her upbringing, and her family.

EO: With her entire life being in the public eye already, how did you decide which key moments you would focus on?

 

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Natasha Bassett and Clayton Chitty as Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Photo by Jenna Berman.

Anne-Marie: I really just wanted to focus on her search for love. To say she grew up in the public eye almost feels like an understatement. I think Britney was really the first person to be so heavily chased by the paparazzi. They were her greatest champion when she was up, and her greatest critics when she was down. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be, especially for a young person.

EO: How did the writing process work in this particular situation?

Anne-Marie: Well, I delivered a detailed outline to the network first, and then after they signed off on it, I went off to script. That really helps because you have worked out the act structure and all the story points already. The network gives you deadlines, so that helps you stay on track.

EO: Do you have any advice to up-and-coming writers?

 

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Anne-Marie Hess, writer of Lifetime’s “Britney Ever After”

Anne-Marie: Just to keep writing. I think the more samples you have, the better. If you can show an ability to write a range of topics and styles, then you have a better chance of getting noticed.

EO: What do you want to do that you’ve never done before?

Anne-Marie: I would love to go to Antarctica. It’s a really long trip involving two weeks on a boat, so it’s not the easiest thing to pull off. Hopefully one day!

EO: “Britney Ever After” premieres this Saturday, February 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, on Lifetime. Why will we all be watching? Is this must-see tv?

Anne-Marie: Whether or not you are a fan, she is one of the biggest stars in the world, and has dominated pop culture for over a decade. She has had many ups and downs, but she is incredibly resilient. So yes, I would say that “Britney Ever After” is absolutely a must see, because, well, because it’s Britney, bitch!

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