Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Importance of Indie

Oscar night, the most loved and hated in the business of show. It’s the A-Listers dressed to impress, dawning the red carpet and talking to reporters. It’s the speeches, some where the recipient hogs the floor. Of course there is the crying, and the hope they wear water proof mascara.

However, never watch the Oscars in a room full of New York actors. Did I say actors? I meant unemployed wannabes kvetching about how it’s not them on the red carpet. How they are not working. How they went to college with so and so and they weren’t that good. How so and so has no talent. And then there is always the nut that cries mid-show about their dreams not coming true. New York actors have ruined Oscar night for me.

In the past I always left the party drained, depressed, and painfully aware of how broke I was. It got to the point where I would just skip the Oscars. That is, until recently.

Two weeks ago was one of those weeks where the wear and tear of the last several months have caught up with me. I won’t get into detail, but there has been a lot going on. However, at the same time I now have an incredible individual guiding my career and have had some of my dreams materialize. Still, the bad has been nothing short of a dark and lonely hell. It has made me wonder if my dreams would ever materialize. So when Tony, a guy I am dating, invited me to see some Oscar shorts the only thing out of my mouth was a bunch of swear words as I delayed answering his email.
It was a reminder that I had faced a retaliatory eviction. It was a reminder that I had a cancer scare. It was a reminder that through no fault of my own I had to replace most of my belongings. It was a reminder that life had seriously sucked. However, dating is a diversion and I decided to go see some animated shorts.

Tony ended up taking me for oatmeal at a niche eatery and we smuggled it surreptitiously  into the theatre. We watched various Oscar nominated shorts from around the world, many adorable and some sad. However, one name caught my attention. That was the name of Bill Plympton.

Bill Plympton is featured in the first edition of SPAZ comics with me. You see, Bill is a legendary and awesome film director. His strip is a few pages from mine, yes the one with May Wilson and I being a crime fighting ventriloquist duo. As I saw his name I felt a flood of emotions. I felt envy of course. Then there was the self-conscious realization that he was nominated and I felt slightly less than. Finally there was the damn, I am in a comic book with an Oscar nominee. This is freaking awesome.


All of a sudden I felt as if I was really cool for a wrinkle in time. Not just to share comic book space with such a talent, but also that perhaps an Oscar wasn’t as far away as I thought it was.
I nudged my date. “I am in a comic book with Bill Plympton!” I exclaimed.

“Nice.” Tony said. Of course, Tony holds a Guinness Book Record like I do. Bernie Goetz and Kristin Davis are personal friends. Nothing surprises him anymore.

The same feeling of pride swelled over me as when I saw my book on the same shelf as Junot Diaz, Ophira Eisenberg, and Anne Frank. It was published through an indie press. Yes, my little I Came, I Saw, I Sang on the same shelf as a MacArthur Fellow, a woman who sold her book to Hollywood, and a young diarist who’s words not only immortalized one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century, but one who never lost hope in humanity despite all she had to endure. Yes, it was all intimidating company, but it was also the realization that someday I might be just as good.

And now my company was someone nominated for an Oscar. WOW. I went from being in an awful mood to being excited about the Oscars. We all should be.

Around that time I was asked by my old station director to do a tribute video about BPTV. Apparently it was the 20th anniversary of the station. I was so young when I was there, just a kid. At the same time, it was a lot of fun and I learned how to even be on television let alone how to collaborate. It was a family.

The opportunities led me to send my VHS tapes of Storytime with April and Friends around the world in high school. On a shoe string budget, my show where my puppets and I read bedtime stories to children was aired in 36 states and 6 foreign markets. We also made the NYC TV Guide and were the first American program in the South Korean Public Television Library.

Even when I embarked on a career performing ventriloquism in the park, people who had come to New York to chase the same dream remembered seeing me on their public television stations and labeling my tapes. I kept some of those connections who were quite helpful too. Connections I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Not to mention I have been on television quite a bit not just in the United States but all over the world. Each and every time I have known what to do and people have spoken about how “professional” I was. Truth be told, I just had a good training ground. That’s all.

This past year, one of the blessings was my children and I got press around the world. Some of it was people knew who we were because of our time sending out VHS’s on a shoestring. Some of it was the dedication I have to my family and craft. Some of it is you never hear of a woman leaving a man for a bunch of puppets.

As the story hit headlines in every reach of the globe, I meant journalists from literally everywhere. Some worked with major press agencies, others for indie publications. The ones who worked for indie publications were just like me, those kids who’s mother’s were collecting their writing. And now here they were cracking a story in America. Each and every time I was blown away by their talent and command of description. (I don’t want to say English because it is arrogant and rather American stupid assuming everyone speaks English). I couldn’t help but compliment them. And let me tell you, each of them shyly told me it was nice to hear. One even admitted that he was currently trying to publish a novel and wanted to turn it into a film.

Another thing that happened this past year was The Break Up, I did puppet work for, was nominated for  a Project Greenlight Greenie Award. This was a big deal. Yes, it was a festival affiliated with HBO and sponsored by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. I remember the excitement we felt, because this was up there with Tribeca, Sundance, Independent Spirit. (Okay, not quite Independent Spirit but this was a big deal). This was my first big award nomination for anything I had ever done. Even though we didn’t win, it was still exciting and it still meant that something I was a part of mattered to someone. That something I contributed to was being watched. That I wasn’t just some dork who played with puppets.

The arts are a career choice like no other. It’s not like being a doctor where everyone is excited when you articulate your ambition. Rather they are biting their lip and hoping you grow out of your impulse like the Vans sneakers in your mom’s garage. Even teachers and professors you have teaching you give you the news that yes, you will probably fail. This is a career that if you embark on it, you know that your teachers are correct, failure is a strong possibility. Ten percent employment rate at any given time. So when people see that obnoxious kid who wants to be in front of the camera, that weird writer kid who has an idea for a book or script, or the annoying kid with the camera phone, they try their damnest to discourage them.

This is why each town needs a public television station. So that obnoxious kid can see whether or not they even like being in front of the camera. Where that weird little writer kid can make his script come to life and see if it even has life. Where that annoying kid with the flip cam can learn how to use a real camera and see if he really wants to do this. Where they can be supported and fail safely as well as succeed beautifully. That way, those kids have an outlet and those kids can have a plan.

This is why we need independent film festivals, too. That way the outgoing kids can be a part of a film as it comes to life, yes the one written by the weird writer kid. And that annoying kid with the flip cam can be the visionary who ties the whole thing in a pretty little package. When we see these ideas on the big screen, we marvel at their creativity. We gasp. But they were just youngsters who started out with a dream and a big idea.

Artists aren’t mere entertainers but storytellers. They need to talk about what is good, but what is bad. This is their way of reminding us of our history so we are not doomed to repeat the horrors of the Holocaust, segregation, or any other form of human failing. This is why the world needs artists. They make us laugh, they make us cry, they make us think, but ultimately they use their own unique voices to stop bullying in it’s tracks. Now what would the world be without the arts?

So tonight, as you watch the Oscars, do not think of it as a parade of the Hollywood elite. As a nonworking actor, do not grimace that it’s not you. Instead embrace the success of art and think if you keep going it might be you. Also know that each of them at one time was an obnoxious kid who wanted to be in front of the camera. That they were a weird writer kid who’s mother’s attic is still filled with their badly written angst poetry. That they were the annoying kid with the flip cam who everyone wanted to smack. Tonight is their night. They paid their dues. They were made to believe by a great many it would never happen, so much so that they spent a lot of time crying themselves to sleep. Their families prayed at every church and temple for the success of their lost artist son or daughter. And now they are here. So if you have an artist family member, watch and support for them.

But before all that they were indie. They were throwing an idea at a wall seeing if it would stick. And they kept going. Today’s indie is tomorrow’s mainstream whether it is a comic book, novel, film or television show.

That being said, good luck tonight, Bill Plympton. 

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