Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Monster and The Machine...

A long time ago, on a campus far, far away (well relatively speaking) I wrote a college paper. It was 15 pages, double spaced, typed on an entry level Dell laptop. It was not, however, researched online but rather in a library and on a Lexis Nexis terminal (remember those?). I had a commentary I wanted to make on society and entertainment as I had spent a semester at USC and interned at a Hollywood agency, so I wrote it as part of a film and television final. It was called The Cult of Celebrity. I wish, oh how I wish that I still had that paper handy but it resides on an ancient relic known fondly only as the floppy disc, stuffed somewhere in an old box. But I clearly remember (and I remember maybe four papers that I wrote in college) that it was a paper themed around a topic of fascination for me- something not really in vogue for academic discussion- but none the less of sociological relevance- that of celebrity, and the impact of the television set and the movie screen on said social phenomenon. That topic has reared its fascinating but ugly head again so I must blog.

At the time, well besides ‘90210’ and George Clooney’s ‘ER’, I didn’t have an addiction to filmed entertainment. But I loved movies as art and was curious about how the world around me, for lack of a better term, felt they ‘knew’ Jennifer Aniston, simply because she showed up as Rachel on ‘Friends’ every Thursday evening in their television set (usually 25” and under). I kicked butt on the paper, especially considering I was throwing around phrases like para-social relationships and exploring the role of vintage movie stars as cultural icons and mythological demi-gods and this was before I had even read Joseph Campbell! I was fascinated how this ascension of the television actor to a household product had manifested and accelerated so quickly in the late 90’s. It didn’t seem normal that my contemporaries would converse about the characters and the actors that played them as if they were, well friends; it didn’t seem normal- ha! I didn’t have a clue how normal this was compared to these ‘friendships’ now. (Poor Jen...but she does look fab in a bikini). So now I ponder out loud.

I figure this paper was really before its time. It was written before Us Weekly veered away from it’s respectable ’People’ like tone, before Life and Style, Star and TMZ, and before, wait, what is that thing called- the Internet? Hold that thought, I’m having a Robert Pattinson craving. OK I’m back- thanks to a quick Google search which landed me on Scandal Sheet via Perez Hilton and (Canadians have the best gossip sites!) I found out that RPattz did a few open mic nights in London this weekend and was really good…sigh…even a few pics posted…double sigh. OK enough self-inflicted public embarrassment but obviously my little detour was to prove a point (though sadly genuine in the moment). At the time when I wrote the paper, I could not have popped onto my computer (or my phone for that matter) and found out what my celebrity crush had been up to in the past 24 hours. That sort of immediate access to semi- gratifying information was impossible. But now it’s not. Shoot, I really want to read my old paper and see if I am truly a soothsayer but regardless, I was on to something and am strangely piqued by my renewed interest in the phenomenon of celebrity, now in relation to the future of entertainment, web content and if it will or already has been the demise of the true movie star.

I just watched an interview with Laura Culpepper the other day on MTV’s movie website. Do you know who she is? She is the uber-Twilight fan who won a job as a guest blogger for MTV- she interviewed Robert a few times- was at the premiere, etc, etc. What was my point- oh right- she ‘hearted’ enough that she was able to cross the threshold from fan to ‘friend’. Access to a mythic realm was won because she proved herself the biggest fan, consumed by the fictional characters and story enough to gain short-lived access to the real people behind it. It’s as if she were in the Twilight version of 'Tron', sucked into the computer screen that she once watched. Now, trapped in the media player, she becomes part of the story, perpetuating the fantasy that the world of Twilight and Edward is actually real, instead of a clever ploy by the MTV marketing department to bring the massive Twilight fanbase to

In the hey day of the studio system, the only time you ever saw Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart or even Steve McQueen was on the big screen. Perhaps the LA Times would run a picture from a premiere and there would be a Time magazine spread. These stars were talented, charismatic performers who commanded an audience from a 30 by 70 foot screen. These actors were larger than life as were the characters they often played. It didn't matter whether they were playing a part or simply being themselves because all the audience knew was that they were captivated, they didn't judge….they couldn't judge, because they didn’t know. The studios had found these magnetic performers through their scouted talent pool, shepared them up through the studio system (well until the 60’s when the studio system was turned on its head and bunch of rebels decided to make movies- read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls if you haven't already) and then controlled the filmed product that the star would headline. Sure you would see a picture of Gregory Peck on the cover of Life but you wouldn't see a picture of him shopping for groceries at Whole Foods with a week's worth of stubble.

As we now know, most of these said performers were often deeply troubled human beings. It was never much of a secret within Hollywood but the media kept a wrap on what was ‘real life’ for these stars. The media, in some strange marriage of convenience with the all powerful studio system, let the studios feed these stars to the public as they saw fit- usually as a piece of Chateaubriand. I heard a personal account from someone who used to see Steve McQueen get depressingly drunk every afternoon at the bar of a now famous Malibu restaurant.  No one wanted to see that side of McQueen, they wanted to see him romancing women or racing cars if they weren’t watching him save the day on screen. The studios took care of the messy stuff and just let the stars do their work in front of the camera and on the red carpet.

Television changed that paradigm. The TV set brought actors into the family rooms of every American household. The faces that filled the screen were almost the same size as the faces watching it. The elevated status of these actors began to morph. They seemed more accessible, attainable and available. Even the movie stars ventured into this realm, guesting on variety shows like the Ed Sullivan show to showcase their talents or plug their new movies. Televising the Academy Awards furthered this integration. This more casual access created a false sense of ‘knowing’ the star and is the basis for the term ‘para-social relationship’.

I could go on further, delve into the psychological elements behind para-social relationships, but really, you understand what I’m saying. You ‘know’ Katie Holmes right? You have an opinion about her cutting her hair, that she might not like Scientology as much as she purports, likes to wear Current/Elliott boyfriend jeans and wants to stay in NYC and not move back to LA even though her play is over. You ‘know’ a lot about her but she has no clue about you- talk about a one-sided relationship. Plus, I’m not writing this for a grade (though sometimes I have to remind myself of that!) so I won’t explore the roots of this phenomenon any further. But we have to acknowledge that the hunger for this ‘real life’ knowledge of our society’s celebrities exists and that it has created a monster that is now fed by the Internet. This monster threatens the very existence of the movie star but has birthed a new genus of ‘celebrity’.

Steve McQueen and Judy Garland couldn’t hack it in a YouTube world. Audrey Hepburn would have run off to help the African orphans way earlier if someone was always filming her with a camera phone. Movie stars are dropping like flies these days and declaring the end of their careers. They are speaking out about their inability to create mystery on the screen anymore because someone just posted a picture of them walking into a hair salon without makeup on and chewing with their mouth open (just read an article where either Kate and Cate stated as much but can't find it to link to for the life of me!). Society seems to want it both way- the demi-god on screen, and the fallible imperfect person on the street (as interpreted by 

So if the Internet will be the death of the movie star, who (or what) has it birthed? Personalities. Multi-hyphenates that are comfortable revealing every moment of their life and making it viral. People that dare you to unfollow them on Twitter. Most importantly, people who can be their own CEO’s. They are CEO, COO, CMO, CFO….they are a corporation and control the product that they produce. Look at Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht from Diggnation/ Revision 3, Julia Allison, Gary Vaynerchuck, Buck Hollywood. Ashton Kutcher is even getting web savvy with his new ventures. Barack Obama. Yes, him too. They are all comfortable enough to expose themselves to a mass audience, talk about what they are passionate about (whether it be wine, as in Gary’s case, or herself, when it comes to Julia) and have total transparency and accessibility- or at least the illusion of such, to satiate society’s appetite for a celebrity connection. 

Oh transparency…there’s that word again. Gone are the days of mystery. That’s a good thing when it comes to Wall Street but a sad thing when it comes to entertainment.  Access to web personalities is really only a few clicks away.  Barriers to entry have disappeared!  But is this really the case?  If Jimmy Fallon follows me back on Twitter does it mean that I’m his friend now? Of course not!  He clicked 'follow' so I feel included in his world and inclined to support his new late night show. The same would go for Kevin Rose. He may respond to something I ask him via his website but it doesn’t mean that I have a relationship with him. But, it does feel be acknowledged by someone you look up to. 

At the Diggnation Live Show last week, hundreds of screaming fans packed into the Knitting Factory to watch Kevin and Alex sit on a couch, drink beer and talk about all things cool on the web. Then the two guys would get up and throw t-shirts and mingle with the crowd. These web-celebs had leaped out of the proverbial screen and into your family room, or at least the metaphoric family room of the 500 fans who braved the long line.  The cycle was complete- access granted- and it was great. Perhaps that is what this whole quest for celebrity access and the explosion of the social media networks reflect- our desire to feel, well, liked and part of it all. As Facebook friends numbers rise, I stretch to think, where will it end? How many people can we actually 'know'?  When will it become too much to handle? When will we use our phone again to actually talk? 

There's so much to discuss on this topic as the proliferation of entertainment 'news' and social media sites hits new highs and the exploitation of celebrity mishaps hits new lows.  Can actors who become movie stars survive more than a few years before fleeing to a farm in Tennessee or bottoming out in Promises?  Will I try not to Twitter out what actors are in first class on my flight up to Vancouver anymore?  I will do my best because I would hate to be on the other end of it.  Unless my hair and makeup are done.  

Next post will look at Oscar noms and a few movies in development that I am excited about...and probably some random topic that pops into my head.  And I promise, it will be short(er)!  Be back soon, 

All Things T

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Creativity: Part 2

If you happened to read my last post, I can only assume that you have been patiently waiting on my reveal.  You've been sitting by your computer, waiting for your inbox to ding, signifying that All Things T had come to rescue you from your creative haze.  What is the secret to becoming creative!?  How did I go from an unhappy rarely working actress to a multi-hyphenate in charge of my own destiny?  Why do I have to check my iPhone Twitter app every second and read Twilight for the 5th time?  All excellent questions but only the second question do I actually have an answer to, but hopefully it will illuminate on all the rest.  

Growing up, I always considered myself an artistic academic; I was a figure skater who's strength rested in my gracefulness and my ability to express to music, I was talented at piano and ballet. I was really smart in school, booksmart in every subject.  But I definitely sucked at art class - trying to recreate a flower or a face was impossible for me so I never pursued it. It's funny how much I love painting abstract works of art now (at the grade school level), but I digress. So I was artistic and top of my class, but I also was very insecure. I cared what my peers thought of me, wanted them to like me and didn't like to be seen as different. Being a super smart figure skater with short curly hair already labeled me as different so I wasn't about to let them in on what was going on inside my head. I most certainly wouldn't act on my thoughts. I was too much of a pleaser.  It's frustrating to look back over the past few years and see how acting (ie. auditioning) was just me trying to please the other people in the room by giving them the performance that I thought they wanted (which I thought I was able to figure out due to my intelligence).  When I boil it down, I just wanted to make them like me. Ugh. That's sadly never been my strength. I should have just been my unique, complicated self that feels entirely too much and not given a damn about what they thought.  But hindsight is 20/20.
Thus, failing as an artistic forced me to become creative.  It happened on a rainy day in Vancouver when I was sequestered in my parents' rec room perched in front of my temporary workstation, ie. a laptop and notebooks set up on a small leather trimmed card table.  The Vancouver skyline was invisible from the layers of heavy clouds suffocating the city and the only sound was the dull roar, on the floor above, of the vacuum cleaner sucking up our Goldens Retrievers' shedded fur.  There were no auditions that day, nor had there been the day before but I was making headway on getting flagged by Homeland Security and I felt really alive.  I finally felt that I was working on something that was bigger than myself.

I had had an idea for a short film that I had shared with a director that I had worked with a short time before.  I can't get into the details of it, but at the time, I wanted to write it and produce it as a means to an ends.  I wanted exposure, a platform upon which to show my true acting talents as I felt that no one really knew what I was capable of.  And the idea tied into a cultural icon that was making a resurgence.  This short would be my ticket!  My need for quick fixes struck again.  But the universe wouldn't have any of it.  My propensity for research took over and I started looking into the mythology and true history of this icon.  I came across article after article, (the internet really is a beautiful thing) and all this newly discovered information started doing strange things to me.  It started creating tiny explosions in my head that I couldn't control, and out of the bright light came images.  Storylines, characters, even full scenes that played in my head like vivid memories started hitting me.  I started to give myself over, just to the story, not to the end result, and over to not knowing where the story would take me (hence the crazy, red flagged websites that I landed on).  I would have a insane thought on a plot point and say 'why not?' and then I would research the idea and low and behold I could make it feasible, make it work for the story.  'Why not?'  Ask yourself that.  There are lots of reasons why you shouldn't, but really why not.  I also like the phrase, 'what would be cool?'.  It helped me come up with a lot of really nifty ideas- things that excite and intrigue people, that make them react.  'Cool' is the vernacular for what is the new, hip thing that captures the attention of the masses.  And coming up with something 'new' is a result of the creative process in some way or another, isn't it? 

In giving myself over to this story, I had three very important epiphanies on that rainy day. First, this story was bigger than anything that my partner and I could shoot on our own so we would just commit to writing it and reevaluate from there.  Second, I would not attach myself as the lead character as it did not best serve the story.  And third, I wanted to find something really badly that we could produce on our own.  'Ding' 'After Judgment' arrived in my email inbox from my writing partner.  It had been waiting of me to wake up.  It's been a year and a half since that moment.

It has not all been rainbows and glamorous interviews since that moment, let me tell you.  It's only been as of late that I have been taken seriously in my endeavors.  Much of that has come from taking the risk and putting myself out there personally, along with the series.  The web is an easy place to get lost and there have been myriad shows (I'll list some of my favorite shows next post) that have come and gone because the creators thought that the content would be enough, that it would speak for itself and land in the lap of a huge audience.  I didn't realize how saturated the internet is with content until I really started exploring it.  I came to understand that I would have to tell people why they should watch the show, why it was relevant and unique and why my partner and I were talented multi-hyphenate creative forces to be reckoned with, because no one else would!  They say when it comes to personal branding that you tell people something often enough, they will start to believe it.  And since I believed in my show, that was all that mattered when it came to the confidence I needed to 'sell it'.  I really only had this opportunity once we decided to release it outside the studio system.  When old media and the traditional channels for distribution didn't materialize, we were able to exercise our creativity again.  With a little help, we brainstormed on a unique way to design the site and extend the world of the show beyond the borders of the video player.  The episodes themselves were finished but 'the show' was just being born.  After our lackluster studio experience and a conversation with a successful web producer (you must meet innovators in your field and learn from them!) I realized that I didn't need permission or an agent to approach the proverbial powers that be.  If I wanted something, I just had to create the best way to ask it and then go and ask it.  Why not?  Unless you ask for it the answer is already no.  

So what have I done thus far to foster my creativity?  

1.  Identify that my artistic aspirations were not being fueled by artistic endeavors.

2.  Erase the pre-determined end result and give over to the idea and the inspiration.

3.  Ask Why Not?  

4.  Create a personal brand and don't be afraid to disregard the status quo.

I still haven't explored that whole idea of 'finding your voice' and I promise I will as that's been one of the most rewarding parts of my creative journey but as I warned you in my bio and opening post, I often have no idea where these thoughts take me and I think that I've monopolized your time enough for now.  Be back soon.

All Things T  


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Creativity: Part 1

It's 2009 and I am thinking about the word 'creative'. Over the holidays, I was speaking to, let's call her Jane, about a mutual friend who had just finished his second book and about the fact that I had started this blog, when she almost wistfully commented how she was so lucky to have such creative friends. That took me by surprise as she is a whip smart successful (and gorgeously put together) lawyer and I, well, am not (though I most certainly will play one on TV one of these days). We creatives are always struggling, striving towards that elusive 'big dream', lamenting about the road blocks and our lack of 'breaks'. Wouldn't she instead be annoyed by our heightened prattle and think of us as perpetual Peter Pans, refusing to face the realities of being an adult? I mean, I know quite a few people who quietly think that about both me (myself included sometimes) and my peers who have not reached mainstream success after a lengthy period of pursuit, regardless of how entertaining we might be at dinner parties. Did Jane really think that being able to come up with (in our friend's case published) stories and the like, regardless of the lack of steady income and our inclination towards the unconventional, was impressive? And more importantly, (to my little insecure artist self) she thought I was equally creative as someone who had written two books?!

That conundrum quietly followed me around for the rest of the holidays until it was jolted to attention when a few guests at an event I attended revealed their secret dreams to me. Don't laugh, I'm being serious. These adults (all had spouses and children) confided what they had really wanted to be: a musician, a novelist, a musical theatre actress. These dreams were very alive within them; sometimes it was a dream never pursued and regrettably shelved (like a pair of jeans one size too small that you keep in your closet and look at), and other times something they still hoped to pursue. In all cases they looked at their current life as not fully complete and viewed their job not only as a means to an end but as one of them stated, something they honestly didn't like it. I was floored. I felt almost honored that they would confide in me and think that they could gleam a little solace from my experiences and even be potentially motivated to make a few changes in their lives (I'm one for encouraging big dreams). I also felt a tinge of guilt as even just having the chance to pursue a dream seemed such a blessing coming out of this experience. Why me and not them? Was it luck, blessed circumstances or just sheer drive that I purposefully still walk down this path? (That sounds oddly religious and I'm not, but you get the picture). Probably a combination of all three, or at least the latter two. But still...hmmm.

These experiences prompted quite a bit of food for thought, but the topic I wanted to explore in this two dimensional forum is this: Who is truly creative and what do they do? To start this exploration one has to look at what the word 'creative' really means? When I googled it's definition my screen spit back the wordnet.princeton definition of 'having the ability or power to create'. 'Creativity' is defined as a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts. And what is the definition of the root verb 'create'? To bring into existence. This word certainly resonates heavily. It leads us away from the flowery connotations of artists and free thinkers to the realm of religion, of science, to the eternal question of 'why are we here?' and what did we do before email? When something is created, it simply did not exist before. Someone had to challenge the status quo, imagine something that exists far beyond the already established boundaries and then turn it into a physical (or digital) reality. Bill Gates is creative. Albert Einstein was creative. Alexander Fleming and Dr. Fazlur Khan (former created penicillin and latter was structural engineer /father of the skyscraper) were creative. In these instances, the word creative can be interchanged with 'genius' and 'visionary'. But they are ultimately creatives, they just created things of monumental significance. Then there are all the creative artist types, Da Vinci, Joseph Campbell, Bono, Alan Moore, I could spend weeks just researching artists who have created groundbreaking works of fiction, music, film, etc that have changed society's paradigm. These are the people that directly influence me on a conscious level daily but I subconsciously interact with the works of 'non-artistic' creative types every moment of the someone invented the filter in the fridge that purified the water that I am now sipping.

I have three (unfinished as I'm a Gemini procrastinator) writing projects, this blog, and a web series to promote on the go. I also audition for commercial and print work. There was a time when I just had a day job career coaching actors and an active film and tv auditioning career. As the auditioning seemed to be going really well, so well that it looked like it would ultimately lead to actual steady acting work, I quit my day job. I had been pouring all my energy coming up with great ideas on how to help my clients with their acting careers but was barely getting paid for it so I decided to quit and focus all this energy and time on myself. This was a mistake (though not a BIG mistake as it wasn't the best of work environments). This period of my life was pretty miserable. I would get auditions, have a moment of excitement, then work on the characters, memorize the lines, stress about the lack of time I had, feel nervous about not having coached, worry that my outfit wouldn't look good on camera, try to make these casting directors, producers and directors like me in a matter of minutes when I had just heard them chumming it up with the girl who had gone in before me because they had worked on a film together last year in New Mexico, throw my soul out onto the floor (while cheating my eyes up), stomp around on it and then say thank you. And THEN have NOTHING to show for it! I always wondered why my old acting coach said that you must always be acting, directing and writing- auditioning is not acting. It is Chinese Water Torture. Oh and I would also go to the gym. So I wasn't being very creative. I wasn't creating anything except stress and fleeting characters in the night that had to dissolve as soon as I left the casting room or risk losing my sanity.

Looking back, I was attempting to be a working artist. Beyond that, I wasn't actually acting except in auditions and in class so I had nothing tangible to show for it. I would try to put up plays, search out obscure works, innovative playwrights, rally my classmates to see who wanted to collaborate, but for some reason nothing ever came together. I like quick fixes and pulling together a play proposal that might get approved, only to wait for nine months to stage it seemed and still seems so archaic (hence why I love my digital community). But basically, I hadn't figured out how to use my creativity. My voice. How did I learn to? How might you? Will there actually be hyper links that you can click on in case you get bored? Well that's to back soon.

All Things T

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Little Slice of Me...(wait that sounds weird)

Hey all, happy new year!  I hope that 2009 brings you whatever you are envisioning.  I sense an energy of inspired change! (I wonder if a certain event on January 20th has something to do with it??)  I'm working on some new postings right now but as they are always a wee bit lengthy, in the meantime I thought I'd share some recent interviews/ articles that I've been lucky enough to have written on me and on my work as a producer/actress on the webseries 'After Judgment'.  Please click on the links and then comment on the sites and help spread the word.  I'd really appreciate it as would the rest of the 'After Judgment' team!

Pink Ray Gun is an awesome entertainment news and review website geared towards fangirls like me!  They profile all my favorite shows and even have a Buffy for Beginners for those of you looking to dip your toe into this mythic and amazing series.  They also have their own sci-fi comic strip called Intergalactic Law.  

Slice of SciFi is one of the best sci-fi sites out there!  It has been around since 2005 when a bunch of Trekkies banded together to save Star Trek Enterprise from being cancelled.  Now the site hosts news, reviews and a great weekly radioshow/ audio podcast on all things cool (well in my opinion!).  Mike and I were interviewed last month and the interview was just on Sirius Satellite Radio last Monday and you can download the audio podcast from this link!

On a final note, please check out AFTER JUDGMENT on!  We are proud to have them as distribution partners.  A brand new episode will launch next Tuesday the 13th!

Keep being inspired and I'll be back soon...

All Things T