I have never met Sasha Stone of Awardsdaily.com in person, but I have been reading her work for fifteen years. That’s a long time to be reading one person’s input on a website. Prolific might be the word to describe her, though Sasha’s choice of words may be very different indeed. Some of you know her far better than me, and some of you are perhaps a little more fresh-faced with regards to the awards season fiasco. Gratefully, I was able to speak to the Oscar-watching First Lady with my own burning questions. Make sure you read the rest of the interview tomorrow.
ROBIN WRITE: To begin with, forget the Oscars, if that is at all possible, and tell me, why do you love the movies?
SASHA STONE: I wish that the Oscars didn’t ruin movies. In a way they do. Once it becomes a matter of there being a winner and a loser films must reconcile all of that baggage. Makes them harder to love. But I grew up watching movies. My sister and I were moved around a lot by my mother who was into flipping houses. We didn’t stay any one place long enough to grow roots so we spent a lot of time indoors watching whatever movies would come on television, mostly old movies with Bogart, Astaire & Rogers, etc. We were caught up with Star Wars and Jaws at the multiplex. My mom would drop us off there in summer and leave us there until late at night. We’d watch the same movie over and over or else switch theatres. As I grew up I learned about film as an art form – I had some great teachers. I feel like I’ve lived my life THROUGH movies, or at least I used to.
RW: Okay, now I don’t need you to rank your all-time top ten, but what are your personal favorites regarding movies, actresses, actors, writers, directors?
SS: It would be a long list indeed. Though I love the acting and writing I’ve always been about the director, for the most part, so I therefore gravitate towards them – Lynch, Scorsese, Allen, Welles, Coens brothers, Hitchcock, Spielberg, Coppola, Freidkin, Bogdanovich, Lumet, Campion, Cassavettes, Truffaut, Fellini, Ken Russell, Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, etc. As far as actors go – there are a few I would follow anywhere, even into a bad movie: Diane Keaton, Denzel Washington, Holly Hunter, Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer. Too many to name.
RW: In simple terms, then, before Awards Daily came about, before Oscarwatch even, who was Sasha Stone?
SS: I was a drama geek in high school (Ojai, CA) where I had the lead role in plays like The Skin of Our Teeth. I went to study acting at an intensive theatre academy after graduating. I was cast in Amadeus as the opera singer but dropped out to chase a musician guy to Pasadena. Finally recovered from that quake in my personal life, eventually put my life together, painted oils (very badly) for a few years, then went to NYU’s Tisch for Dramatic Writing for one semester before dropping out and heading back to Los Angeles to finish college at UCLA as a playwriting major. I won a writing contest for a script I wrote in three days. That helped me get into Columbia University Graduate film school. I met another guy and dropped out after a semester. That relationship ended badly and that was when I decided to exile myself on the internet.
This was back in the 1990s. I found a film group online and spent five years or so contributing to that group (archived on Google groups!) and that eventually directed me towards starting my own film site. The first one I started was called Cinescene, which I eventually handed over to other people. I had fallen in love with an Italian, gone to Italy for a month and came back pregnant. I decided to have my baby and raise her as a single mother. I wanted to stay home with her so I started Oscarwatch.com hoping I could somehow turn it into employment, which I eventually did.
RW: And what was your professional experience with entertainment journalism before those websites?
SS: I had no experience writing professionally until after I started my website.
RW: Well, did you enjoy and participate in reading and writing as a child?
SS: I was never a good reader. I have terrible terrible dyslexia which meant I could never read that well. Once I discovered audio books a whole new world of reading opened up to me. I have always been writing. Scripts, short stories, plays, poetry and blogging.
RW: Do you know when you first sparked interest in the movies, and more precisely the Oscars?
SS: I was never interested in the Oscars the way some people are. I don’t think I ever even watched them growing up. The first I remember being excited about them was when The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture. I thought at the time it was a huge surprise but if I’d been blogging then of course I would have known that movie, which I loved SO much, would win. I was more into the game of predicting. I did a bit of it on my cinema group and correctly predicted Titanic to beat LA Confidential. Writing about them was a way to reconcile the contradiction of film history in our culture. Why was Citizen Kane thought to be the best film ever made yet didn’t win the Oscar? That was my starter question. Now I know the answer.
RW: When you were younger, what were your career aspirations? How and why did they change?
SS: I wanted to be a filmmaker for a long time. When I finally got to Columbia I realized my personality was not suited to being a director. I couldn’t ask people for favors like helping with lights or finding actors. I had the vision and the ideas but not the people skills. I was just too shy. If I could do it all over again I would go into Anthropology or Archaeology. Other aspirations I had I still have. I’m writing a novel for instance about movies in the future. I would also like to teach at some point, either kids or at some kind of adult education.
RW: So, go back to before Oscarwatch, what would you say to Sasha Stone prior that time in your life?
SS: I learned a lot of lessons BEFORE starting my site. The girl who started that site is someone I would have loved to advise. But to answer your question I was a single mother which took priority in my life. What I wanted then was to be a good mother. So I would say: take more pictures and video of your daughter and put them in a safe place. Have that second kid you almost had. You will not regret it. The internet is going to change and what it will change into is not going to be a nice place for human interaction. Build a world outside of it. Start a website about climate change and try to help bring awareness to that cause.
RW: How did Oscarwatch come about, then? What were your initial intentions?
SS: I think I answered that above. I had a modem and a computer and the rest I taught myself. I learned html code from stealing the source code of other sites and rebuilding my own site end tag by end tag. It didn’t take long for the site to become popular and build a following. It seemed I was at the right place at the right time though I couldn’t have possibly known that then.
RW: Who or what helped or influenced you in those early days of Oscarwatch?
SS: I was strictly concerned with predicting and watching the race, not trying to influence it. Other awards sites back then helped with history. Early readers were really helpful in sparking discussions and helping me in my mission to discover the race from beginning of the year onto the end.
RW: I remember the internet was fairly young then, but websites talking about the Oscars and awards season were practically newborn. Who else was out there producing similar awards season coverage online?
SS: When I started Tom O’Neil had Gold Derby. I think Jeff Wells was writing but he hadn’t yet started his site. David Poland was around, I think. Anne Thompson and Dave Karger were writing about the Oscars in print mostly. Some awards sites that are no longer here were excellent – Alex Fung’s Film Site, Fennec.org, Zeusefer. Shortly after I started my site, needless to say, awards sites sprung up everywhere. Kris Tapley started in Contention, Scott Feinberg started And the Winner Is… Variety and Hollywood Reporter owned the Oscar content at that time. The blogs shook that up a bit.
Oh and I should add that blogging wasn’t yet a thing when I started. I wrote my site with HTML. Pretty soon software was developed like Movable Type and then eventually WordPress. I was here before the blogs, then turned into a blog because it was a matter of evolving along with what dominated internet content. Blogging sort of requires you inject yourself into the daily coverage more than a site that mimics a print site.
RW: And how soon did your website take off? Do you remember seeing the growth of awards talk coverage back then?
SS: For a long while my site really dominated the field. But little by little as more sites sprung up it began to spread. Soon the New York Times covered the Oscar race and then all of the major newspapers did it and that’s where find ourselves today. Way too much coverage on a fairly insignificant topic.
RW: So would you like to explain exactly what happened to Oscarwatch, to those that don’t know?
SS: I was sued by the Academy for using their name. A cautionary tale. I rebranded to awardsdaily.com
RW: From the outside looking in I was very fond of your site, being a complete movie and Oscar nut back then. What do you remember most fondly about the Oscarwatch years?