Monday, August 24, 2009

We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends

"I was sustained by one piece of inestimable good fortune. I had for a friend a man of immense and patient wisdom and a gentle but unyielding fortitude.

I think that if I was not destroyed at this time by the sense of hopelessness which these gigantic labors has awakened in me, it was largely because of the courage and patience of this man.

I did not give in because he would not let me give in."

Thomas Wolfe

Good thing I don't have due dates on these blog posts because seriously, I never know what my next topic is going to be until it hits me (usually when there is some serious physical distance between myself and my computer or the shower makes it difficult to type a note on my iphone). And the idea is almost always the result of a random conversation that, in the moment, seemed, well, like any regular conversation but somehow the next day it morphs into a platform for thought. Not to dissuade you, fair reader, from hiring me as a writer (as you'll be giving me topics to mull over and muse on if you happen to be in a position to do so) but I don't want to waste anyone's time by reviewing District 9 or writing about my food journal. Wait I do that. Sorry. But I really only try to twitter out that posts that are either embarrassing or fun (usually involving pictures of stealthy bad ass babes.)

So back to my point. It is usually through that nifty interpersonal activity called talking that I get the light bulb moment that inspires me to write. This time it was when a friend bemoaned a number of bad business decisions that she had made at her last job. "If only I had had someone to tell me that I should have signed that actor. I didn't know! I was just sitting there trapped in my closet of an office doing things as best I could on my own." There are a lot of other things that she regretted that I won't repeat, and her office was definitely bigger and infinitely better decorated than a closet, but the root of the conversation kept pointing back towards one definitive thing, her lack of a mentor. She was at a fantastic company, at least it seemed like one if you waited in the post modern chic lobby sipping your Americano, but her office might as well have been in Siberia for all the inter-office support she received as a junior manager. The corporate culture supported competition and secrecy; co-workers clashed about projects and clients as if collaboration was a dirty word. And there was no effective farm system to train the young associates; they either made it off of a desk or they didn't. And once they were promoted, they either learned how to swim or they sank. (Cue 'Swimming with Sharks' clip) Oh, old Hollywood. How I don't miss you.

No one doubts the value of a mentor so why do so few of us have one these days? Musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, creatives in general throughout history have looked to an elder for guidance and inspiration. Even well known artists of this decade admit to being mentored: Oliver Stone was mentored by Marty Scorsese at NYU, poet Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey. But in looking at my peers and contemporaries (both in corporate and artistic fields), either in traditional Hollywood or New Media, I don't see it (and if you do, skip to the bottom and just leave a comment ;-p)

The word mentor was first used in the Odyssey when Odysseus left his son under the charge of Mentor whilst he partook on his epic journey (and then the proper noun turned into a verb, but that is for another post, not to be written by me) so it's been around for a while. Given, us modern day whiz kids have access to information and inspiration any moment we chose by clicking on our Safari browser (Odysseus' son nor the majority of famous mentor/protege pairs had the interwebs to learn from) but I see such value in having someone take a personal interest in your career. Believe it or not (and I know some of you out there don't think people do anything that is not in their own self interest), these mentors did it because they wanted to and someone probably did for them. "Every student deserves to be treated as a potential genius." Anton Ehrenzweig said it well.

Perhaps that is why Seth Godin or Tony Robbins are so popular because they offer up a wide brushstroke of guidance, through their seminars and books, that is lacking in the work force. It's not tailored to you specifically though. The life and executive coaching sectors are certainly expanding but that is still a business transaction; the coach is helping you because you pay them to. Why is it that people aren't simply helping each other out anymore? And during this time of economic crisis and change, the need for this, the need for a mentor, is even stronger. But there in lies the problem. What would our potential mentors be mentoring us on...if everything is changing.

So I pull focus back to my own industry and the specific landscape that I inhabit: that of content creation and the attempt to monetize it on the web.. There is a fantastic article in Wired about 'Socialism' and the intellectual collectivism that is elevating the internet to a cyberland where we, as a society, benefit from sites like Wikipedia, operating systems like Linux and 'free' restaurant recommendations (from all the people that took the time to write a review) on Yelp. I would like to think that our web community is an offshoot of that idea; that the creative members of our space are a supportive community that often work to simply to elevate the original web content landscape, or within the context of my mentorship topic, help someone out...just for the sake of helping.

But here's the thing. How can someone be my mentor in the digital space, how can they 'help me out', when we are both struggling to monetize our own content, create an active and interactive audience around our own shows and be abreast on all new technological developments that affect the space that we distribute via so we can make a successful living at this? Is there one digital company that has 'cracked the code' yet? Nope. Regardless of the VC that does or does not back us, we are all at the precipice of big change and all of us are guestimating the outcome. So, if we are technically competitors then how can we foster a mentor/ protege environment? By changing the vertical nature of that relationship and re-examining competition.

I have always believed that that the sum of this industry is much greater than the individual parts. Gennefer Snowfield wrote a great article for on this topic called 'The Only Competition for Webseries is UnAwareness' where she posited that 'the underlying issue isn't competition (between series) but discoverability' thus content creators, especially those creating series within a similar genre, should band together and cross promote each other's shows, not consider each other competitors. Out of that article and subsequent twitter conversation spawned The Scifi Collective. Still waiting to hear what exactly that is, but between it and the soon to launch SciFinal site (where original scifi web content will have an awesome home) we're on the right path in joining our powers.

We also all got our starts in different sectors: entertainment, technology, law, etc but have landed in this upstart sector together because we see the opportunity to be a pioneer. Even if we can't foster a traditional mentoring relationship, like say Bob Evans had with his mentor Darryl Zanuck as Mr. Zanuck was the head of 20th Century Fox and Mr. Evans was a producer who aspired to such (ended up becoming the head of Paramount), we can each look to each other's strengths. The fact that we all didn't start in the UTA mailroom is a GOOD thing.

I have experienced nothing but support and kudos since stepping onto this quickly changing landscape. It's the first time that I didn't have to limit my identify to one field: I'm just an actor, I'm just a web producer or I'm just a writer. In the web community, I'm all of the above because I have to be. Being a multi-faceted creative is a fiscal necessity because of the budgets that we must deal with in this space, but in being such, we are setting ourselves up to reap the rewards when those budgets become bigger, when Madison Avenue has faith in the space or the web subscription model takes off (?). So what do we need to do to make certain this happens? BE BETTER. I need to be a better writer, a more knowledgeable producer, a more savvy salesman (I think my acting is pretty cool but you never know). I can learn from media blogs, conferences and articles as much as I can, but I can ultimately learn more from you. Would you be my mentor? I would be happy to be yours as well.

Be back soon.

All Things T

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meeting the Master

Greetings non-alien friends! It's been a week since
I published my Operation B.A.B.E. post- I don't quite feel like an alien fighting, action hero yet, what with a lingering cold, achy knee and a stubborn scale, BUT I know I'm on the right track and am definitely focused (with the help of @rudy) so follow me on Tumblr if you're interested in tracking my attempts at transforming into a bonified Riplesque action star.

Now, on to a fun All Things T segment we'll call Storytime with T:

Check out this letter I just found on my computer!!

Dear Joss,Well, first off…

Dear fabulous assistant to Joss, please allow this note to pass to him. It is brief, and besides me being an actor I am not crazy and I was an assistant at William Morris for a year and a half out of college so I know what you deal with and that you can just choose to not throw this away and put it in his inbox. Please? I appreciate it.

Ok- Dear Joss,I’m already running out of room…This little letter has been a long time coming…my agents and managers always dissuade me from doing any personal letter
writing- they think it is intrusive and desperate- but this is important:
You need to meet me because I could be your Diana Prince.
It happens that I am a huge fan of yours- yes, a Buffy devotee- but for the past year I have been surrounded by the same phrase upon people meeting me- ‘Wow- you should be the next Wonder Woman…’ I hear it all the time from casting directors to a person on the street. What does that mean? That I just really look like a young Linda Carter or do I possess that certain WW presence? Well I know that I’m supposed to play a strong, mythic character in my life and I know that I need to tell big, high stakes stories in my work so I think it’s both. I know my agent in Vancouver and other contacts here in LA say they are keen to put me on someone’s radar if unknowns are considered but what’s the chance of that? Plus, only I can relay to you the passion
that I have for acting and storytelling and
how the universe just keeps pushing me to contact you. I don’t know what happens next, but I promise you that our paths should somehow cross. Thank you so much for reading my little note.

Sincerely, Taryn O’Neill (


Yup, seriously! I wrote and sent this letter to Joss Whedon in the summer of 2007 after I learned he was writing the new Wonder Woman movie. I honestly believed that I was going to find a way to get myself in front of him. I rented all the old Wonder Woman episodes and even wrote a short script based off of the more dramatic episodes (I just found that document too but it's not registered so no you can't read it). But sadly Joss dropped off the project a few months later, and no, I never heard anything from him (I enclosed a postcard headshot along with the letter). But I really did send the letter, and I had completely forgotten about it until last night.

Cut to Comic Con last month:

I met him! I met Joss Whedon! And he couldn’t have been more un-enthused. Given, I had a little bit of liquid courage in me, via a few sake helpings that I had had during my lunch at the Hard Rock, but upon spotting him and Eliza (Dushku) in the lobby, I just knew that I had to introduce myself; I mean 'After Judgment' had been up against ‘Dr. Horrible’ for a Streamy, so I had the right. Hmmm, maybe I was actually intoxicated, and not just feeling warm and fuzzy, as Joss looked at me as if I were speaking German. I know I told him my name, what show I worked on, that I was upset at not meeting him at the Streamy’s thus wanting to introduce myself, and that I was a huge Buffy fan (and after a few seconds said Dollhouse too). Joss smiled, said 'thank you', there was an ackward beat and then I professed how nice it had been meeting him and turned on my heels and spead towards the bathroom.

Oy! I actually think I’m upping the drama a teensy bit in the re-telling of my encounter as it couldn't have been as uncomfortable as I made it out to be, but then again, a few hours later, I met someone who thought that Joss would have been very chatty with me, as apparently I’m his type. Apparently not that day! Ugh.

But something else this other person said colored my experience in a unique way. He said that Joss’ script for Wonder Woman had sucked. I'm sorry WHAT!?! He said that it was just a rehashing of Buffy characters and read like a Buffy episode. Hmmm, Joss, someone who I dare say I idolize, wrote a bad script? (*this is of course one person's opinion*) He couldn’t crack the Wonder Woman riddle of how to re-interpret the comic material to make it worthy of a big screen adaptation without seeming dated and hokey? Maybe he’s not perfect after all.

And maybe he was a little intimidated by this feisty, slightly inebriated brunette in Wonder Womanesque boots who grabbed his arm, yammered feverishly and then left. Maybe he is as overwhelmed by the main convention floor and the thousands of comics, of fantastical stories and mythologies that already exist, wondering why do I even bother, there are so many talented writer/creators out there already, as I was. Maybe.

So I'm not going to put Joss onto that pedestal anymore; well maybe not one so high. He was indeed the one who created a TV show that I lived and breathed, Buffy. He created a tangible world that revolved around a strong, conflicted and unique female character that I deeply connected with. It was almost as though it was through this show (and Alias) that I could come to terms with the fact that I never quite felt normal as a girl- didn't have the same impulses and desires of other people of my gender to settle down, have kids, lead a normal life. There was nothing normal about Buffy Summers (or Sydney Bristow), either who they were or what they did...and they were fierce (hence the Operation BABE). The character and the show woke me up and may be one of the reasons that I write today. But as for Joss, I don't know what moves him, drives him to write. But I know he reads WIRED for inspiration, exactly like I do. So instead of dwelling in the doldrums about my lackluster first date with Joss, I rallied the way I always do, I get to work, something I always do when feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. I will work with Joss one day, I have no doubt, but it will be a collaboration in some fashion. I believe that I too can create fantastical, thought provoking, moving worlds that people want to visit. Because what my meeting with Joss and The Con gave me, besides aching feet and a perma-grin, was a reminder that we all start out on the same playing field, we all start out as fans.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I think this is why I love doesn't let me get away with anything. Namely my Gemini tendencies of coming up with a great idea and then losing interest in it a month, a week or even a day later, especially if I'm working on it solo. But with Twitter, I have a team! I put it out there and the twitterverse gets hold of it, creates momentum, takes it to a new level and then keeps me accountable for the follow through. Yikes! But also, very cool. We ARE champions of our own destiny but that doesn't mean anything if we don't act on our dreams.

So let's get to the point- Operation B.A.B.E.

B(adass) A(lien) B(ody) E(ndeavor)

Here's my tweet:

Yup, that's right. I'm going to pretend (ie. act, which is what I'm trained and experienced in doing anyway) that I am up for the lead role in the upcoming Ridley Scott directed prequel to 'Alien', where to do the role of Ripley justice (or whatever form that role is re-written into), I will have to be a lean, mean alien fighting machine. With cleavage (let's be honest). So I have decided to document/journal/blog about my training, my periodic results, articles and tips that I find to help the process along, and most importantly my personal and professional discoveries.

But first, before I go (to the gym no doubt), what was the genesis of this Tweet you ask and what were the responses that lead me to take this single thought and turn it into an Operation? Well I was coming back from the gym, bemoaning the strict diet and exercise regime that I was just starting to shed the excess pounds that I have put on as of late (due to vacation, writing for long hours, Comic Con and a few episodes of day drinking with my girls and evening out with my hubby) when I read a tweet from @Whedonesque. It basically said that Eliza Dushku was's first choice to play a young Ripley in the recently announced 'Alien Prequel'. Umm, why should Eliza get to play such a kickass role? Just because she is hot, ripped and can kick some ass? Well hell yes! She may not hold a candle to Signourney Weaver in the acting category (sorry Eliza fans, but maybe after she has more meaty roles under her belt and some theatre?, but maybe not even then) but do you know what? She already looks the part, she walks the part...and that my friends, is half the battle. So I took a moment and then tweeted the above. Because when it comes down to it, Ripley is the type of character that I want to play as an actress. It's why I got into this messy business to begin with: I know I look like a normal gal, but underneath it all, I feel anything but normal: I feel like a misunderstood badass. I started martial arts training years ago because I connected with 'Buffy', I pulled every string to audition for 'Alias'. And as many of you know, I believe I am secretly an Amazon and actually started writing because I attempted to write a Wonder Woman short that would get me an audition with Joss (but that's another story). In a nutshell, I want to play kick ass, life or death defying I better be able to look like one.

The response I got from friends and strangers alike was no less than awesome.

My favorite?:

If this doesn't get you motivated then what the hell does?! Plus, more importantly, I had tweets from people who said that I had motivated them to kick it up a notch themselves and aim for something big as well. Hell yeah!

So I'm going to be disciplined. I'm going to be fierce. And do it on my own- at this point anyway- without the help of food delivery service or a trainer. Because I have a mortgage and bills (but I would be happy to shoot another national commercial or sell one of my webseries- by all means). And I'm going to keep track of it over at my brand new Tumblr blog:

So, see you on the other side...guns blazing!

And kick some ass people.

All Things T