Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mastercard Priceless Experience 2004

Wow it's been three weeks since my last post. I am not so good at this blogging thing. I've been busy, mainly moving to a new apartment in Manhattan, and settling in. It's great and I love it.

Anyway, back to where I left off. About a week or so after graduating from Harvard, I was on a plane to Los Angeles. The sixteen of us interns were put up in the Universal Studios Hilton for five weeks, with all expenses paid for, plus a small stipend for spending money. In addition, we were given free trips to the Universal Studios theme park, and vouchers to restaurants at CityWalk, a shuttle ride from our hotel. It was pretty surreal. We also got a tour through the different sets and studios of Universal Studios, including the soundstages and the fake New York City. They also treated us to a Hoobastank concert (during which we wanted to rush the stage but were stopped), complete with a limo ride.

The internship was split into two parts. There would be the filming of Hoobstank's next music video, "Same Direction," along with seminars moderated by Lara Schwartz (who produced many of "Puffy" 's videos) with Universal Studio music executives and random people involved in virtually all facets of the music and music video business, including a couple music video directors (Nigel Dick and Dave Meyers -- who had been working on Britney Spears "Outrageous" video before she dropped out of the rest of the tour and began her fall from grace), Kevin Lyman (who started the Warped Tour -- we also got to "help out" and hang out at one of the venues, where I first saw Flogging Molly from backstage), and some people from KROQ.

Now, Hoobastank isn't my favorite band, either, but the process of making the videos was exciting and edifying. "The Reason" was a decently big hit that summer. It was a ballad that had been released with the intent to appeal to soccer moms. They wanted to follow it up with "Same Direction," a more punk rock song that would appeal to their original core fan base.

Early on we met with Brett Simon, a young director who had done the video for The Reason, which was a pretty cool video (probably because it has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. I also recently realized that he directed that NLT video I love.) Despite the internship being advertised as one where the interns would be directing the video, ultimately Brett had creative control over the project and final say, although he did incorporate our input. Each of us was asked to submit an idea for the two videos (both for Same Direction). One would be a sequel to The Reason video, as it was quite popular, and one would be more creative. Four ideas were chosen (two for the sequel, two for the other) and we were divided into four groups. We were split into groups based on our ideas.

A girl named Rachel came up with the idea of a "Mad World," and I ended up in her group because my idea was similar (I wanted to set it in the 19th century). Our group wrote a treatment, which is basically a detailed summary of the plot of the video, where the band is in an alternate reality where everything is garish and exaggerated. We submitted images of makeup and props as well. Our group's idea was the one chosen for the "other" video but with modifications. Brett anchored the idea with a concrete story -- the video would be about a fifth member of Hoobastank that was cut from the band 17 years prior -- a triangle player. It would depict him imagining what his life would be like if he were still part of the band, concocting dioramas in his basement to embody his fantasies. The four groups were combined to form two -- with the sequel groups together and the "other idea" groups together.

Ultimately, we ended up helping out with both videos but we spent more time on the one we were working on. The Mad World video was filmed in a huge open warehouse type space, where we helped the crew construct the sets -- life sized replicas of the dioramas that we helped the art director construct. Using clever set design and camera work, the video goes from the dioramas to the life-sized replicas. Here it is:

The video is hilarious and odd -- definitely not what you'd expect from such a commercial band. Which is why the band didn't choose it for the official version. I definitely would have chosen it. It featured a cameo of Joan Jett (playing the triangle player's mom, cleaning out his earwax?!) and Dennis Rodman's limousine.

The other video is a prequel/sequel to "The Reason." It was shot at an abandoned restaurant space and the nearby alley. The coolest part was the cameos, which I forgot about until I watched again -- Joel from Good Charlotte, Chester from Linkin Park and...... KANYE WEST! This was before I even knew who Kanye was, or I totally would have tried to make friends with him. I was like, who are these people? I think they are all on the same label, which is why they agreed to do the cameos, during the band auditions for lead singer (they were all pretty funny).

Here it is (it will make more sense if you watch The Reason first, although both videos take multiple viewings to kind of catch certain details).

Looking back, it was definitely a wonderful experience, although I hate to say that the crew members were cooler than the actual band (although Dan, the lead guitarist, seemed cool and was our favorite). You don't realize until you're on a set how many people are involved and necessary for these types of production, who don't necessarily get credit -- all the crew members, camera people, ADs, DP, art director, wardrobe, producers, PAs, etc. I'm definitely still interested in film/music videos and would like to get into that somehow in the future, but the experience was discouraging because I realized how difficult it would be to put together that sort of a project without serious funding or the support of a studio. A successful fashion house generally operates in a similar manner, with the designer in a role parallel to a director, but at the same time, one person can and often does make a dress alone from start to finish. I also didn't like LA, which is where most of the contacts we made were.

[Another random cool aspect of the trip was when I got to meet up with Stephen Stills and his wife, Kristen (whom I had met at Harvard). They took me to a Democratic rally at the Saban (as in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) residence, and then we bought steak dinners for takeout and drove in his Aston Martin to his house in the Hills. I met his kids and he let me listen to his album in his personal recording studio. Totally amazing. (I recently saw him again when he played with Nash and Y oung in Central Park).]

And so, before I left LA, I set up my interview with Proenza Schouler.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Back to School/Graduation

After returning from Paris, I took a short trip to South Korea to visit my family there. It was soon after the documentary in which I had been featured aired, and a couple random people recognized me on the streets of Seoul... mostly because of my distinctive eyebrow ring (very few people in Seoul have eyebrow rings). I met with the producer to catch up and he gave me a tour of the MBC (the broadcasting company) studios. It's funny how small TV sets are. They use wide-angle lenses to make them look bigger on TV.

Then it was back to school. A lot of things were on my mind. The biggest thing was probably the question on many college senior's minds -- what am I going to do after I graduate? Up until college it seemed that my path in life had been virtually predetermined -- get good grades, keep up the extracurriculars, and get into college. Now it seemed that there were so many options, it was hard to focus.

Graduate school was quickly ruled out. The only graduate school I could see myself doing was an MFA in art and didn't seem like a feasible option. Should I do a second BFA in fashion? Apply for a fellowship? What kind of job should I apply for? I knew that because I didn't have formal training in fashion, it would be difficult to get a design job straight out of college.

I was tempted to try to apply for the sorts of jobs my friends were applying for in finance and consulting but my GPA and background did me a favor and ruled those options out. At that point, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap Inc, and Polo Ralph Lauren were all recruiting for their executive training programs at Harvard, so I applied. I went through the interview processes with all three companies, making it to the final round with each. A&F flew us out to Columbus, Gap flew us out to San Francisco, and Polo flew us to New York.

Along the way, my friend Michelle (who had done the fashion show with me) found out about a career fair at FIT in the fall and we went. It was interesting but the best part was that the original keynote speaker, who was supposed to be Michael Kors, I believe, had suddenly been unable to attend, and was instead replaced by Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, the designers of a new line called Proenza Schouler.

One woman who had worked in the industry for a while told me that my best bet in learning the business would be to work for a young startup, especially since my ultimate goal was to start my own business. The two that had been getting a lot of buzz around that time (this was fall of 2003) were Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen, and I knew it would be a great opportunity to work for either of them. At the end of their talk, Michelle and I went up to them and I talked to the designers (I remembered Jack from my very brief stint at Marc Jacobs) and I handed them my resume. They said they didn't have a job open at the time, so I didn't expect much to happen from our encounter.

The interview processes with the three aforementioned companies happened in a succession with A&F finishing in late fall, Gap finishing in early spring, and Polo finishing later on in the spring. (Funnily enough, I ran into a Galliano intern at the Polo final round interviews.) One after another, I made it to the final round only to not get hired. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have mentioned that I was more interested in design than being placed in the training programs, but I also knew deep down inside that they weren't the kinds of jobs I wanted, where I would be another cog in a corporate machine. However, I was still devastated. I wanted some sort of security, reassurance that I'd be OK after I graduated from college.

If security was what I wanted, I probably should have chosen a different profession.

In the meantime, I had also been half-heartedly applying for fellowships and admission to FIT. My mentor had introduced me to Kenneth Cole, who did a talk at the Kennedy School some time in the fall related to his book, which was about how he advanced causes he supported through his business and vice versa. I wrote a thank you note to him with my resume enclosed, and soon got a phone call from his HR department. We met but when I realized that they didn't really have a separate design department for clothes (at the time the clothing design was done out of house), the talks stopped.

I was also focusing most of my efforts on my VES thesis, which was studio work about the nexus of art and fashion. We were each given studio space and a fairly generous budget for materials based on our proposals. Doing the thesis proved difficult in a number of ways. Firstly, I felt pulled in all different directions. I really wanted to do a painting thesis but there is a bit of a negative bias against painting, which is often viewed as backwards and old-fashioned. Since I was exploring fashion, I was encouraged in critiques and discussions to do photography and performance, media which interested me less than painting. Secondly, I had a hard time managing myself, being disciplined and putting in regular studio time -- something I still struggle with today. I would work in fits and spurts. My thesis reflected these problems. While I received decent marks at the final review, they were less than what I had hoped for because my thesis didn't feel resolved. Rather, my reviewers said it felt more like an exploration of ideas than a comprehensive project. I included paintings, photographs, and performance, but each component seemed like a separate project. They didn't really work together. I was very disappointed with my work and when it was over, wished that I had stuck to my guns and done more of the representational photorealistic work I had started out doing.

Spring rolled around and I was feeling pretty depressed. I was disappointed with my thesis, I hadn't gotten any of the jobs or fellowships I had applied for, hadn't gotten into FIT (although I knew the portfolio I submitted was poorly done), and wasn't sure what I would be doing after I graduated in June. I felt lost.

However, I soon discovered that God did have plans for me.

Sometime in the spring, I found out that I had been chosen as a semi-finalist for the Mastercard Priceless Experience Internship Contest, which I had applied for on a whim when I had seen info about it on a e-mail to the house list. The internship would involve living in LA for several weeks and shooting a music video. The initial application was a very short essay on why you are interested in music videos. For me, music videos was a great intersection of my artistic interests -- fashion/visual art, music, and film. I think they had chosen 32 semi-finalists. To be chosen as a finalist, you had to submit a video of yourself, discussing your favorite music video and why it was your favorite, without using clips of the actual video. My family friend Casey had shown me a bunch of Guns N Rosesn and Michael Jackson videos when I had visited Yale for the Game in the fall, and I chose November Rain, partly because I liked the dramatic costumes (especially in the wedding scene), and discussed how fashion plays an important role in music videos.

I found out a few weeks later that I had been selected as a finalist, and would be flying out to Los Angeles a couple of weeks after graduation.

Soon after that, I got an e-mail from the production manager at Proenza Schouler, telling me that there was an opening and to contact her if I would be interested in an interview. We corresponded and I informed her I was definitely interested but would be going to Los Angeles for several weeks after graduation. She told me to contact her when I was back in New York.

By the time I graduated, I was still unsure of what I would be doing after the summer, but I was feeling more hopeful as I prepared for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles.