SAVANNA KIEFER : the dorky diva, blogger, podcaster, up-and-coming superstar

Write down the name Savanna Kiefer. You’ll be hearing that name and reading about her a lot in the near future. She runs the amazing website The Dorky Diva; a place to talk about Star Wars, fashion, and photography. She’s a walking how-to for being a badass young entrepreneur.

TheTenthDegreeSavannaKiefer

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

My average morning is never the same. I’m pretty bad at keeping a solid routine so most weekday mornings start with jumping out of bed and putting on makeup while simultaneously shoving a bagel with cream cheese in my mouth. On an ideal weekend morning, I love sitting outside to eat my breakfast and staying in my pajamas for as long as possible.

02. Can you tell me a little about your upbringing? What did you want to do when you grew up?

I was born and raised in a super small, country town in central Florida where raising cattle was cool and Star Wars was not. I was homeschooled from 6th grade through high school. Yeah, I was one of “those kids” who did their school work in pajamas. It rocked. When I was younger, I thought I was born to be a photographer. I love creating new content to share online so I dove into photography for a few years, but ultimately decided it would be best as a hobby for me rather than a career.

03. You just finished getting your degree. What did you go to school for? I know you did some interning and I would love to hear about that.

Yeah, I’m graduating next month. Woot Woot! I pursued a degree in communication with a focus in public relations and ended up minoring in photography. My final semester required me to complete 210 hours at an internship, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I interned for a digital agency in Jacksonville, Florida, for a few months and learned so many things about marketing, social media and videography during my time there. I’m thankful every day for that experience and the people I met along the way. I truly think my professional skills were shaped at that internship in just a matter of months.

04. Can you tell me a little about The Dorky Diva? I believe it started out as a blog but it’s turned into something much bigger.

The Dorky Diva is a blog I started in 2015, but actually originated as a Facebook page in 2014. There’s a little bit more history behind The Dorky Diva. When I was about 14-years-old, I started a blog called Pandas, Lightsabers and Cameras, oh my! Yep…still cringing at that name. Anyways, I used this blog as a platform to talk about all the things in life that I loved and for some crazy reason, people enjoyed it. After evaluating my interests as I matured, I decided it was time to let go of the panda shtick and rebrand my blog into something more grown up. That’s when The Dorky Diva was created. Today I use this blog to display my love of Star Wars, Disney and fashion along with my newly launched podcast – The Dorky Diva Show.

05. I love The Dorky Diva Show. Is podcasting something you’d like to delve deeper into?

I’ve been podcasting since 2011 in the Star Wars fan community, but last year was the beginning of something new. In the past, I’ve only contributed to other podcasts as a co-host or special guest. It’s been super fun to do something completely on my own and just have fun with it. My only plans for The Dorky Diva Show is to keep enjoying it every month and get to know people as I interview them. It’s a great experience to connect with someone on my podcast.

06. How did your fascination with Star Wars start? I think you’re too young to remember the original films coming out…Do you consider the prequels your trilogy?

Oddly enough, I still consider the original trilogy “my trilogy”. I grew up watching the original films on VHS over and over and over. My mom is a huge Star Wars fan so she quickly converted my older brother and I into the fandom when we were very young. I never fully embraced my love for Star Wars until I watched The Clone Wars television series and discovered a fashion line made specifically for Star Wars fangirls called Her Universe. I honestly don’t know what kind of person I would be today without Star Wars in my life. It’s changed everything.

07. How do you view the current state of fan culture and conventions? How do women fit into that typically male dominated scene these days? I’m curious if you see cosplay and things like that as a positive starting point for women in the arts.

Fan culture and conventions are through the roof now. It’s cool to be a nerd these days which is great for people like me because we’re less likely to be bullied. I used to attend a few local conventions every year, but now I only focus on attending Star Wars Celebration because that’s my primary interest.

I think women are still struggling to make their mark in fandom, but it’s really improving each and every day. I remember when I was a kid, I could never find Star Wars clothes for girls. Now I can walk into any Target and find Star Wars clothes not only in the little girls’ section, but also in the women’s department. It’s really awesome to see that progress.

Cosplaying as a female is extremely frustrating for me sometimes because there are a lot of women who use sexy cosplay as a way to get their five seconds of fame. I respect people, male or female, who actually put the time into replicating a costume from a movie. I wish more people would cosplay for the sake of perfecting a craft rather than getting famous from showing their assets. I understand that sexy cosplay has it’s place in the world, but it’s just not my thing. Contrary to that though, cosplaying has opened me up to a ton of new skills and a brand new level of confidence. I love looking at a massive project and thinking, “I have no idea how to start this, but I’m gonna do it.”

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

I’m really excited to share that I’ve recently accepted a position with Hot Topic as their newest associate digital media producer and I’m making the big move to Los Angeles. The greatest part about this new job is that I’ll be working directly with the Her Universe and Hot Topic brands. I’ve looked up to Ashley Eckstein, the creator of Her Universe, ever since I met her at an autograph session back in 2010. It’s a dream come true to work alongside her now. Box Lunch is a newer brand that provides a meal to someone in need through Feeding America for every $10 spent at their store. It’s really exciting to start a new adventure with such amazing brands!

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

Anything related to Donald Glover or Childish Gambino is giving me life right now. I’m so psyched that he’ll be starring as Lando Calrissian in the new Han Solo movie and I really can’t get enough of his music. There’s something about him that’s so inspiring. I recently learned that he was hired by Tina Fey to write for 30 Rock when he was only 23 years old. Insane!

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

At the end of the day, my favorite thing to do is get in my favorite cozy pajamas and turn on The Office. I’ve seen every episode of the show at least 20 times, but I still crack up at all of Michael Scott’s hilarious mannerisms. I think it’s one of the most masterfully written shows in television history.

You can find Ms. Kiefer on the web:

ISLEY REUST : actress, musician, documentarian & transgender activist

Isley has her hands in just about everything. Google her. You’ll find enough articles to fill up your entire day with reading. She’s an actress, a musician, an up-and-coming documentarian, and a transgender activist. Her creative output is inspiring, but more than that she’s just an inspiring person. She’s out there in the world trying to make life a little easier for someone else.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

My mornings tend to start different all the time but, there are a couple routines that are a must for me. I usually get up around 7am and have some tea. Tea is a must to start my day off right. Then I check my e-mails and depending from then on out my day can vary from working on music, to shooting a video, or brainstorming a project, traveling.

02. Can you just tell me a little about who you are? Where were you born? What did you want to do with your life when you were young?

My name is Isley Reust and I’m what I’d like to think of as a well rounded artist. A jack of all trades in a way. I was born in Whittier, California to a German immigrant mother. I’m first generation on her side. I spent my summers in Germany, Austria and France growing up, while going to high school in a small desert town in California.

When I was growing up I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, play in a rock band and be a movie star. I’ve been in films, played in a rock band but yet to have had any work in National Geographic.

03. You’ve been involved with music for a while. What were your first bands like? Did you always want to be a singer?

I started playing piano at age 8 then picked up the bass at age 12 and guitar at 13. I played bass in my first band at age 12 and it was a Nirvana cover band. From the first time I picked up a guitar I was really into the classical techniques of playing and finger picking. To this day I incorporate that style into all of my songwriting. I didn’t always want to be a singer. Music and writing music was something that always inspired me more.

04. A simple Google search of you brings up an impressive list of press (New York Times, Huffington Post, Rookie Mag, etc.) What’s that been like for you? Has it been a positive experience?

It’s been great but it all came with a lot of responsibility that I don’t think I was ready for at first. I never really wanted to have any acknowledgment from helping others. It was just more of me giving back to those who were looking for the right path in life, or struggling. I’ve had more people than I can keep count of who have said I saved their life, and just knowing that is rewarding enough for me. But like I said the recognition that came with that was great but I didn’t at the time want it. I was just being the best version I could be of myself and living my authentic life. I was trying to lead by example to show that others can do that also and be happy.

Now in my life I can’t see myself not helping others. The world needs more positive influences to make a better change, and I’m happy that I’m one of those people now. It’s been the most rewarding thing ever.

05. Your band Spectacular Spectacular has been touring and you recently released an album. How’s that been for you? Any new developments with the band?

Yes, we have and it’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve recently been writing new material for another release due sometime next year.

06. Can you describe a moment when you finally felt happiness? What did that feel like?

I think it was around 2010, possibly late 2009, that I knew life was going to get better and that I was on the correct path. A path I wanted to be on and knew I would eventually be on. Each day gets better and the the happier I become. Life has a funny way of working out. I always knew from an early age that I would do and be where I am now in some aspects.

07. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

I just spent some time in Quebec and Ontario Canada directing a documentary about a trans woman named Zoey. I also have a documentary I’m directing in October that I’m thrilled about. My band is working on new music, which is great, and I also hope to do some more acting when the right roles come around. I wrote music for an Emmy-nominated show last year which was so cool.

08. I’m really interested in the documentary you’re working on. Can you tell me a little more about how that came about and what the process has been like?

For a little over a year now I’ve been trying to develop a series which I can’t go too far into detail at the moment. I got the idea of creating a doc-series about the lives of normal everyday transgender individuals across the U.S and Canada. I wanted to share what they go through on a daily basis. Starting this project has been a real eye-opening experience. Some of these individuals go through so much hate, hardships and also beautiful moments everyday just to be their authentic selves.

I remember a couple weeks ago in Canada, as I was half-way through one of the episodes, I was laying in bed and just started crying for about 2 hours. This particular transgender woman deals with so much on a daily basis that it would make the strongest people crack. The confidence that she exudes was so inspiring. I’m filming a episode on a trans police officer this month and I’m really excited for that one as well.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

As far as films go…Casey Neistat is pretty inspiring. Currently I’m just trying to make the best of my time and who I spend it with. When I was in Canada this last month shooting that documentary it was such an emotional and inspiring experience, and it’s something I will treasure and remember for the rest of my life.

Musically I’m inspired by my surroundings and life experiences. It’s really hard for me to force sincere music when I’m not feeling inspired.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

I usually edit my videos or work on music until about 2am. Then I plan out my next day.

You can find Ms. Reust on the web:

ALEX HORWITZ : Director of HAMILTON’S AMERICA

Alex is a New York based director, writer, editor and producer. He directed and produced HAMILTON’S AMERICA, a RadicalMedia feature documentary that explores America’s founding while following Lin-Manuel Miranda through the creation of his pop culture sensation, Hamilton. We talked about fatherhood, theater, the creative process, and getting films made.
HAMILTON’S AMERICA premieres Friday, October 21st at 9PM ET on PBS’ Great Performances.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I became a father in the course of making this film (we shot over a period of three years). So when I wasn’t following Broadway actors with a camera around Valley Forge, I was taking my son to daycare every morning before going into the edit suite. On a good week, I go for a run with my border terrier.

02. Can you tell me a little about your background? Where did you go to school? What did you want to do with your life?

I’m from New York originally, but grew up mostly in and around DC. My mom was a classically-trained mezzo soprano and my dad won a Tony for creating Ain’t Misbehavin’, so theater nerdery is in my blood. I’ve always been a film geek though, always wanted to make films of all kinds, and went to Wesleyan University, where I majored in film studies.

03. How did you meet Lin-Manuel Miranda? I’m curious to know what your working relationship is like and how the idea for this film came about.

I suggested the film to Lin, but someone else would have if I hadn’t happened to be first. Lin and I met at Wesleyan and were housemates senior year. We were friends long before I asked him to let me roll cameras on him as he was writing Hamilton, and I’m guessing that it was more comfortable for him having a friend documenting his writing process than it would have been with a filmmaker less known to him. Still, as open as Lin was with my camera, I tried to maintain a respectful distance of the creative process as much as possible. I got great stuff, then got out of the way so that he could do the amazing things he does.

04. I love that people who haven’t been fortunate enough to see Hamilton will now finally be able to see bits of it in your film. What were your goals in telling this story? Is it simply a record of the phenomenon or did you want to try and touch on something bigger politically or culturally?

The film was always designed to be about history seen through the show’s eyes, rather than a straight-forward “making-of” look. I love creative process films, but I had seen that movie before, and wanted to do something different here. Lin was always onboard with that mission as well. To be sure, I’m excited to share parts of the show with a wider audience and give them a backstage peek at the musical, but this film is about creating a companion piece to the Hamilton experience, in which we go to places and hear from people far removed from the Richard Rogers Theatre.

05. What kind of research, if any, did you do when going into the project? Were there any documentaries or films that you looked to for inspiration?

Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard was always the cinematic inspiration for the film’s thesis: history seen through the lens of a company of actors. As for the history itself, I did what Lin did and started with Ron Chernow’s incredible biography of Hamilton. I crammed a lot of studying, especially for the two interviews with former Treasury Secretaries. The film — like the show — barely scratches the surface of how rich our early American history is, but what we do cover is accurately and evenly presented (I hope).

06. At what point did RadicalMedia and PBS become involved in the project? What’s it been like working with them?

I started filming Lin on my own, for about six months, and developed a little demo reel, which I took to RadicalMedia. We continued to develop it together for another couple years before we officially partnered with PBS. But really, we were just getting the band back together. Radical had made In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams for PBS’s Great Performances, and I had known Lin for a long time and worked as an editor at Radical for years, so we’re all family.

07. You interviewed so many amazing people for the film. What it was it like talking theater and history with such high profile people? Are there any moments that stand out for you?

Certainly, rolling on President Obama in the White House and having the better part of an hour of President W. Bush’s time are privileges I won’t soon forget. And this is to say nothing of Stephen Sondheim, Nas, and many other impressive characters. It was such a joy to make a film in which such a heady mix of people all had a valid reason to be commenting on the subject. That’s a testament to the universality and deep reach of Lin’s creation. He opened the doors, we just walked through. I don’t expect ever to have it that good again as a filmmaker.

08. People now have the ability to shoot, edit and distribute films entirely via their smart phones. Technology has made it possible for everyone to make something and get it out there. Do you have any advice for young people wanting to become documentarians?

Ultimately, just start. That’s the hardest part. Have a nose for a compelling subject (but you can make any subject compelling if you’re passionate about it), and use personal connections to stories where you can (I certainly exploited my proximity to Lin to get my foot in the door before anyone else did). True, not every doc subject will be as big as Hamilton became, but when I started, almost no one had heard of it. So just be first and be tenacious. And although technology is getting tiny and cheap, I would recommend some extra care. Take your time to make it a cinematic experience if you can. Even in the early days of Hamilton’s America, my cinematographer and I laid down some dolly track to get some elegant shots. We took our time capturing more visuals than we needed, which made the film better years later in the edit room. Also, don’t skimp in the sound recording department. It’s the first giveaway of amateur work. It doesn’t cost much money or time up front to make things look professional, so just be thoughtful.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

I’ve been so plugged into Hamilton for so long — not to mention rearing a toddler and expecting a second kid soon — that I’m way behind on everything else. I watch very little TV, but do still like Game of Thrones. I try to go to the movies as much as possible, but it’s tough. I think the last gut-punch I had in a theater (in a good way) was The Witch. But I’m really a curmudgeon who prefers to listen to older music and catch up on films and books I missed. I guess living in the past explains why I made a movie about American history.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

Netflix and chill — but literally. This film has been an amazing journey and its month of rollout and screenings leading up to release has been a great joy, but ultimately, there’s nothing I’d rather do than build magnetic tile castles with my son and relax on the couch with my very pregnant wife, scratching my dog’s head. But after they go to bed, sometimes Daddy gets to watch a movie by himself. Life’s good. Can’t complain.

You can find Mr. Horwitz on the web:

Hamilton’s America
Alex Horwitz

photo borrowed from Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

PAUL TAZEWELL : Tony award winning costume designer of HAMILTON

Have you heard of a little musical called HAMILTON? Paul Tazewell designed the costumes for it and won a well-deserved Tony for his amazing work. He’s been designing costumes for theater, opera, dance & film for over 20 years. I could go on and on about his incredible life and achievements, but let’s let him speak for himself…

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

Oh Dear. Well, it depends on the day. I tend to wake up between 7:00 and 7:30. If I have early fittings that start at 9:00 then I am up earlier (5:30-6:00) because I live in Westchester one hour north of Manhattan and have to take the train or drive in. Coffee, shower, yogurt & granola and then I’m out the door!

02. You were born in Akron, Ohio and I believe you went on to higher education in North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. As a young kid in Akron, when did you know what you wanted to do with your life? Did you always know or was it more about getting out of your small town?

I did grow up in Akron Ohio. I was one of four boys born to my dad who was a research chemist for Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. and a mother that was a French and English teacher, but also very proficient in painting, puppet making and performing. My mother, even to this day, is my biggest fan and cheerleader. I painted and created puppets alongside my mother early in my years and was exposed to both professional live theater productions as well as school plays and productions. When I was old enough to take part in productions in junior high I fell in love with theater and performing. In High school, I was in the performing arts program half of the day and then took academics the other half. We were all fortunate to get to intern at Akron University. I did mine with the costume shop in the theater department. Even though I was designing the costumes and sets for the productions I was playing a role in while in high school, my greatest love was performing. After I graduated, I entered into Pratt institute in Brooklyn NY to major in fashion design. My hope was to spend my off time from school taking dance and acting classes to further my skills as a performer. That was what growing up in Akron gave me. I was able to be inspired to look outside of Akron for the most proactive way to succeed in theater, whether designing or acting.

After a year I decided to transfer to The University of North Carolina School of the Arts. I received a BFA in Costume design after three years and then went immediately to NYU Tisch School of the Arts to pursue my Graduate degree. Three years later I was graduating from Tisch with an MFA in costume and set design. That was the spring of 1989. After graduating I was fortunate to start designing regularly around the country for multiple regional theaters.

03. Can you tell me a little about the first productions you designed for? Does the project always inform the work, or does your own personal style come into play?

As a costumer I have learned to be a bit of a chameleon. I think many designers would say that of themselves. That is the fun of designing. As a costume designer I live vicariously through all of the characters in a production. Whether those characters are young or old, male or female, Asian or Latino. It changes as the stories change and the need of a specific production changes. I adapt to how the director has decided to tell the story.

04. So…HAMILTON. What was your initial reaction when the idea came across your table? A hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton seems so crazy. Were you hesitant at all to the idea?

I have to admit that the only historical facts that I knew about Alexander Hamilton when I was asked to join the team were that he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, and that his portrait lives on our Ten dollar bill. So to answer your question, yes I was skeptical. But I had also already designed a musical that Lin had written and starred in and that Tommy Kail had directed, IN THE HEIGHTS. I had full faith and trust in the brilliance of HAMILTON.

05. I know you’ve talked about this before, but how did you initially tackle the costumes for Hamilton? Was there an immediate spark of inspiration or did it take lots of research digging into 18th Century looks?

I worked for a long time developing the design of HAMILTON, starting by collecting a large file of research on 18th Century and American Revolutionary uniforms and clothing. I also developed a file of images of 18th Century inspired contemporary clothing. The challenge was to find within the clothing spectrum of 18th Century, through to contemporary fashion, the most compelling way to present the story that Lin had written. Also to keep within the contemporary style that it had been written.

06. Can you tell me a little about working with Lin-Manuel Miranda? How important is it for you to have a connection with the creator you’re working with?

First, let me say that it is very rare to work with someone as talented but also as accessible as Lin. I think the great trust that I have in Lin and Tommy Kail allows me to do my best work. It’s very important.

07. Can you describe a moment when you felt like you really made it? Was is winning the Tony, or did it come before that?

I feel like that idea of “made it” has continued to evolve and change throughout my career. I would say that designing HAMILTON, experiencing all of the joy around the show, and receiving the Tony Award for my work has moved me closer to feeling like I have arrived.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?.

I am currently in the middle of shooting The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks. It is a very compelling film for HBO that stars Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne and is directed by George C. Wolfe. It is about the woman whose cancer cells became known as HeLa.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

I am inspired by any story of people being good to each other and taking authentic care of each other, especially stranger to stranger.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

I usually have a lovely dinner with my husband or friends and then crash into sleep from the exhaustion of the day. If I am working on a current design project that might happen much later in the night.

You can find Mr. Tazewell on the web:

Paul Tazewell

photo borrowed from The MET ARTIST PROJECT.

AMY FLEISHER MADDEN : author & indie record label entrepreneur

I’ve known Amy forever, she’s incredible. I saw her at every local South Florida concert when we were growing up. When I moved to Los Angeles I would show up at her house unannounced every week just to bother her. She is the founder of Fiddler Records, a very important institution in the history of South Florida indie music. Her book, A Million Miles, was recently published and has been getting rave reviews. Be sure to check out her links at the bottom because it’s hard for me to wrap up everything she does in a quick intro. I think you’re gonna like this one!

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I wish I could tell you that I run five miles or that I write a thousand words by 10 am… But I can’t because I don’t. My morning starts when my five month old daughter, Elle, wakes up. Sometimes it’s at 5:00 am… Sometimes it’s at 7:00 am… But no matter the time my day starts with her. There’s a lot of singing, some dancing, and of course diapers… Lots and lots of diapers.

02. I’ve known you since the late 90s. We met in those exciting days in South Florida when everything seemed possible, every band was going to get huge. How did you get involved in that music scene? And is it still part of your life?

I have no idea how not to answer this without sounding like a total asshole… But I’m on a bit of a tight schedule (see answer #1) so let’s just get to the good stuff.

03. Your record label, Fiddler Records signed some bands that actually did go on to huge success (New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, etc.) This is probably a complicated question, but how did you go about negotiating these artists’ contracts away to major labels? Was that hard?

You’re right, that’s a very complicated question. To put it simply, I didn’t. Bands get big and when they do they don’t always play fair (and to be fair that doesn’t only apply to bands). It was hard because there really wasn’t any negotiating. I worked with bands and put out records that no label would have touched in a million years… Then when a few thousand copies sold it was clear to people what was going on and I had bands muscled away from me with the illusion of points and royalties that were never paid. To be really fucking honest, it sucked. It still sucks.

04. You moved from South Florida to Los Angeles forever ago. I believe you’re living in New York City now. Was moving away from home a necessary step in your personal growth? If so, did you know it would be then?

I’m back in LA now, but yeah I knew. Something in me always knew I needed to leave Miami. I traveled a little bit with my parents when I was growing up and as soon as I could drive I was never home. I’ll make something up and call it the Oyster Theory–let’s just say you’ve got to get a little itchy to make something beautiful.

05. You had your first book A Million Miles published last year. Just the task of writing a book seems like sort of an impossible endeavor, but you wrote it, got it published and it’s gotten incredible reviews. What made you want to write a book?

I thought I was going to die. I had a tumor growing on my thyroid and doctors couldn’t tell if it was cancerous or not–so I started to really think about ‘the end’. I’ve always wanted to write about music and touring and nothing gives you quite a dose of the hurry-ups like terminal feelings. I think I’ve really only talked about this publicly once before–at my Miami book signing–one of my doctors was there and someone asked a similar question and it felt wrong to withhold the truth with my doctor looking right at me. I don’t usually like to talk about it because I don’t want the whole story behind my book to be clouded with the big ‘C’, but I guess you caught me in an extra truthful mood. It’s late. I’m tired.

06. What advice would you give to someone wanting to get a new indie label started? Is that type of bedroom business completely dead?

I think that type of bedroom business is more alive than ever, but I’d tell whoever this wonderful young entrepreneur is that being a label is a lot like being a bank. Sure there’s an art to it, and there’s a need for talent, but at the end of the day the bottom line matters–and that’s a bummer. If you’re the softy emo type (like me) it might not be the best use of your time. Or maybe it is. Just go into things with your eyes open, and read everything you can. And email me if you have a question!

07. Can you describe a moment when you felt like you really made it? What did that feel like?

No, never. I still stare blankly into nothing at all and daydream about different careers and projects I want to start. I feel like I haven’t really accomplished anything. My mom is pretty psyched about the book, though, so that’s nice.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

I’m writing what seems to be the next installment (I really don’t want to say sequel) of A Million Miles. I’m also messing around with something that could maybe be a movie? I don’t know. I’m learning how to be a mom, so that’s wild.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

Ugh. Is it horrible to say nothing? Maybe it’s food. Food, yes, let’s go with food. Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax is fucking inspiring, that’s for sure. Try the meatballs. And my family. My family inspires the ever living shit out of me. Oh, and this young kid, Troye Sivan. His record ‘Blue Neighborhood’ is all I listen to these days. My friend Malia James directed a video for him and it’s stunning.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

What is this unwind that you speak of!? If I have an hour of mental stability left at the end of the day I enjoy a good snuggle on the couch with my husband. You know that scene in Titanic with the old couple holding each other on the bed as the water rushes in? Yeah, that’s us at the end of a long day, just add two cats. It’s adorable.

You can find Mrs. Fleisher Madden on the web:

LOU MONGELLO : Walt Disney World expert, podcaster, author, speaker & entrepreneur

Lou is the host of the wildly successful WDW Radio podcast. If you have any interest in the Disney brand or the parks you’ve probably heard of him. He’s also an author, public speaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He’s an inspiring guy. He left behind the life he cultivated after college to dive head first into his passion. That’s something I really admire. This interview is shorter than some others, but only because Lou is a busy guy. He answered my questions on a layover coming home from a speaking gig in the Philippines.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I’m up around 6:00AM, I get the family off to school and work and then I’m at my desk by 7:00. Triage the inbox, create and post a morning quote and image, and then hit whatever project is next on the list!

02. I’m very interested in your pre-Disney career. From what I understand, you were a lawyer living with your family far from Orlando. What did you originally want to do with your life? It seems like you had things pretty figured out, why weren’t you content?

I was planning to be an attorney forever, but I never woke up excited for work then the way I do now. Getting up to argue every day just wasn’t in my DNA. I’m blessed and fortunate to have found my true passion and calling.

03. Quitting a job and uprooting your family for a bigger dream is something most wish they could do, and you did it successfully. What was the tipping point and how did you convince yourself (and your family) that the time was right to make a change?

I knew pretty early on that this is what I wanted to do, and that I could turn it into a business. I didn’t know how, but I knew I had to try. I never wanted to look back with regret and wonder “What if…?” Fortunately, my family was (and IS) very supportive. I wouldn’t be here without them.

04. Here’s a quick question: Why Disney?

Simple: It’s what I’ve loved since I was a kid. I had gone yearly since I was 3 and was fascinated by the place and the memories my family and I shared. When I wrote my first book in 2004, I never hoped or expected it would turn into anything more.

05. Your podcast is currently hovering around #3 on the ranking of most popular podcasts on iTunes, right below Serial and This American Life. So, first of all Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Did you ever think WDW Radio would become so popular? Why did you decide to do the podcast in the first place?

Thank you! But let me be clear: That ranking, any recognition, awards, etc. is not about me – it’s about the community and family of people that listen to the show, and allow me to share my passion for Disney with them. I started it because I know the spoken word is much more powerful than anything I could write. You just can’t convey emotion or express yourself the same way. The medium is incredibly powerful and intimate. Plus, I’m a horrible typist.

06. You do a lot of public speaking around the country at all kinds of conferences and schools. What is the focus of most of these talks? Do you tie them all in with Disney?

They range from business, social and new media, Disney, entrepreneurship, to other motivational-type talks. The Disney Difference: Achieving The Ultimate Customer Experience, Leadership Lessons Learned from Walt Disney, “Quit Your Job and Do What You Love Full Time! I Did It, and So Can You!”, The Power of Community – Using Offline Interactions to Increase Online Engagement, How to Create, Grow, Launch and Monetize Your Podcast, and How and Why to Use Live Streaming to Build Your Brand and Business. For students (middle, high school, etc.) some topics include: IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT! Follow Your Dreams and Do What You Love!, Storytelling, entrepreneurship, etc.

07. Can you tell me a little about the Dream Team Project? You’ve raised an impressive amount of money for charity and I’d love for you to plug it a bit.

It’s probably easier to just read my story about the Dream Team at our website. It explains how it came to be and why I do what I do.

08. As any listener of WDW Radio knows; you love to eat. I bet most people think food in Disney World is mostly just overpriced hamburgers and soda. Is it possible for a foodie to actually eat well in the parks?

Ohhhh yeah!! Some of the best meals I’ve had anywhere in the world (the entire world, not just Disney World), have been at WDW. Don’t get me started on bluezoo, California Grill, Flying Fish, Artist Point, etc etc etc.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

Being a parent, I try to emulate what my father did for me, and strive to be even better. It’s something that motivates and inspires me every day, in everything I do.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

My “day” usually ends closer to the middle of the night, but when it does end, I usually will unwind a little by eventually falling asleep watching something educational on TV, or maybe a movie.

You can find Mr. Mongello on the web:

TOMMY LOVELL : co-owner of WHITEROOM Salon Brooklyn

Tommy co-owns WHITEROOM Salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his wife Elisabeth. Elle Magazine named it one of the top 100 Hair Salons in the country. I’ve known Tommy for a long time, he’s one of my favorite friends to talk to, always game for a rambling up-all-night conversation about anything and everything. We talked about growing up, higher education, weight training, and opening a business in New York City.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

We don’t start at the salon until noon, so we have a lot of time to work in the mornings; and on a superficial level, I wish that were my answer! But the truth is, we get up relatively early and make coffee, play with our dog Arrow and just kind of hang out and talk. Our day at the salon is built around appointments, so if ever there is a gap, that’s the time we use to get shit done.

Three days a week or so, though, I go to the gym and train. I remember reading something Richard Branson said about how going to the gym regularly is the best way to get things done outside the gym. Like, if you want to make moves in business and stay motivated and energized, go move heavy stuff around on a regular basis.

02. Can you tell me a little about your upbringing? I remember seeing you out at clubs in South Florida before we actually met, but you weren’t born in Florida, right?

Yeah, I lived in Florida for about three years before moving to New York. I was born in Mississippi, which is where all of my extended family lives, but I grew up in Louisiana, in a town called LaPlace which is about 25 miles west of New Orleans. It’s what I imagine a pretty typical suburban upbringing would be, except at the end of my block was swampland. That was a lot of fun. I loved going out into it and catching snakes. Once, I traded a snake for a bike… Or a bike for a snake. I can’t remember. But I’m sure kids in the Northwest did things that would seem wild to me.

I’ve always felt a little special being from Louisiana. It’s the only state with parishes instead of counties. We’ve got Mardi Gras. It’s one of only a few places in the country with a distinctive personality, in my opinion. But really, it was just a place to get away from. That’s important.

03. How did you get interested in cutting hair? Is that what you always wanted to do with your life?

I never thought once about doing hair until the day I decided I would. In college, I majored in History and I wanted to be a professor. I took a break after two years, because it all just felt too typical (which is just as typical). I guess I was complaining to a friend about how the time away from school hadn’t really shed any light on… anything, really. I thought I’d figure so much out, but I was really just working minimum wage jobs to pay rent to have a place to stay before I went to back to work. As depressing as that was, the idea of going back to school and locking myself back into that same mold I was trying to free myself from was almost worse.

She said I should go to beauty school. I didn’t get it at the time, but she was making a joke. The joke being that beauty school is a place for drop outs. But when she said it, this light went off. I knew it was the answer. That’s only really happened to me for three or four things in my life, where I got an idea to do something that I knew was just really going to work out for me. I’m lucky to have been able to recognize it. The next day I enrolled in beauty school. I threw myself into it completely. That’s what I do.

04. You left Brooklyn and moved back to Florida to open your own salon a few years back. The salon was seemingly pretty successful, but you ended up moving back to NYC after about a year. How did you come to the decision to leave that venture?

Yeah, the move back to Florida… Everything was going great in New York, I was busy, I was making money, I was saving money. But I was looking for something, who knows what. The same thing every 26 year old thinks they need to find, I guess.

My old boss reached out to me and said he was going to open a salon, and that I should be a part of it. And here’s the problem with looking for something so hard, you can end up jumping into something you shouldn’t. I didn’t do any research. I didn’t do any of the things I now think are really necessary in making a business decision. I lost all my savings and ended up with a fractured relationship with someone I thought of as a bit of a mentor.

All in all, it lasted less than 4 months. As cheesy as it sounds, I had to go somewhere just to see where I’d been. I’d love to call it all a mistake, but it definitely leveled my head, so for that I’m thankful.

05. You seem to be very focused on weight training and exercise these days. How did you get interested in that and what have been the benefits for you?

A couple of years ago, I started going to the gym and just doing typical bodybuilding routines. Probably what most people think about when they think of lifting weights. From there I moved into strength training specifically. I decided I didn’t give a shit what I looked like, I just wanted to know that I was the strongest.

Growing up I would watch the World’s Strongest Man competitions on ESPN anytime they were on. Strongman, in its essential form, is moving heavy objects. Really heavy. Pick up something heavy and run with it. So it rewards not only explosive strength but also speed and stamina. I’ve always wanted to be the fastest, strongest, smartest… just the best, at everything.

Then last year, I found out that there were amateur strongman competitions with weight classes. I didn’t need to be a giant to compete. This is another one of those lights that went off for me. I threw myself completely into it. I got a trainer. I took it very seriously. 4 months after I decided to try it, I placed first in a local competition. That got me an invite to the national championships, where I placed second.

The funny thing is, I feel like I’m done. That happens to me a lot too. I used to think it was a weakness, but now I’m convinced it’s a strength. I want to be the jack of all trades, and pretty damn good at all of them.

06. You opened WHITEROOM in Williamsburg with your wife last year. Things seem to be going really well. What do you attribute that to? What do you think you’re doing that other salons you have worked for aren’t doing?

Relentless enthusiasm, a stoic work ethic and a refusal to feel sorry for ourselves. The truth is, we were lucky. The salon we worked for shut down overnight and just left this void that we picked up on. We also already had clients, so the money was there. I’m not saying it was easy; it’s definitely the most, and hardest, I’ve ever worked in my entire life. We also have some amazing people that let us use them as sounding boards.

I can’t really speak to what other salons do or don’t do. I remember saying over and over how we learned what not to do from that last salon. We vowed to not make the same mistakes. I also remember very clearly when I first noticed that I was right in the middle of one of the very mistakes I vowed to avoid. I think the thing that separates people, is the degree to which they’re willing to acknowledge the data in front of them and adjust accordingly. I’ve learned to focus on progress, not perfection.

07. I imagine opening a brick-and-mortar business can be pretty difficult and stressful, especially in New York. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start that process for the first time?

Honestly? There is no advice. Don’t do it. I’m not being pompous, but you won’t know when to apply the advice until it’s too late, anyway. Then you’ll start to imagine all the advice you’ll give to people, only to realize it doesn’t even matter. You basically wander in the dark with a light that points behind you. I think the people that will actually go for it, just have to. They almost don’t have a choice. And they’ll figure it out on their own. They know who they are.

Philosophy aside, the only advice I have, and this goes for anything, is that if there isn’t a move to make, don’t make one. Let the fruit ripen and fall on its own, but have your bucket ready.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

The salon occupies most of my mental space. There are lots of little things that I get to work on. So many things to figure out. Our next move will be making a product. I’m saving up my excitement for that.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

I can’t think of anything specific right now. These things really come in waves for me. Generally speaking, early Romantic piano music really does it for me.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

Dinner, an hour long serial drama and Scientific American.

You can find Mr. Lovell on the web: