Interview: Kristen Nedopak – Actress, Host, Producer, Geek
It’s hard out there for the creative people with big ideas and projects. How do you get your project started? What happens when you need help with parts of it? Where do you go to get the project exposure? The entertainment industry can be like the tank from Indian Jones and the Last Crusade and you can be the dude that gets crushed under its caterpillar tracks if you’re not careful. Failure can seem inevitable. That’s why awesome people such as Kristen Nedopak are riding in much like Indy himself and throwing you a lifeline before you follow those tracks down to an untimely doom.
Last November, Kristen took a big step forward in her mission to help inspire people to be able to do things they are passionate about by putting together the “Geek Girls Creating Their Own Films and Shows” panel at LA’s first Comikaze Expo (which she and her lovely panel of geek ladies will be taking to Wonder Con this year). Don’t let the official title throw you off: the main intent behind the panel is to help anyone of any gender, size, age or race figure out the tools they need to get their creative endeavors off and running. In general, Kristen wants to help creative types realize that with the right mindset, a good work ethic and the support of a fantastic community they can succeed in getting their project finished and displayed for an audience.
Due to technical difficulties, the actual conversation between Kristen and I did not get recorded. She was kind enough to do some follow up questions so we could have direct quotes from her. There may also be some strong language.
Like many creative types, Kristen has been a one-woman creative studio since a very young age. Writing plays, acting, producing, costuming and painting practically all her life, she knows the difficulties in balancing the artistic side of a project and the business side of a project. When discussing those difficulties, she told me that most people stop before they really start and that the intention of her panel was to break things down so people had tools and steps to fall back on so that they don’t give up. The main tools needed to create your own work are:
- The ability to do hard work
- “Epic” amounts of passion
With those things in your back pocket, there really isn’t anything you can’t accomplish if Kristen’s example is the norm (just talking to her for an hour and I was completely convinced I could take on the world). The first three are pretty straightforward and common sense for anyone who’s done any kind of project, but that usually means they’re the first things you forget about in the heat of battling with creating your own content. You have to treat it like your job, even if you’re working 40 hours a week or more at that crap “day” job to pay the bills and finance the projects you’re passionate about. You can have all the passion in the world, but until you’re willing to put in the long hours every day and stick with it, your passion will always be a weekend hobby. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to stay in that nose to the grindstone zone when you feel like you’re getting nowhere with all your hard work.
Summer: We talked about how having “down days” is pretty inevitable – how do you recharge or come back from those moments of doubt or set backs so you stick with it and don’t give up?
Kristen: It’s all about finding the inspiration to keep going, and taking a moment (or a month!) to remember why you do what you do. I’m guessing it’s because you LOVE to do it! I think we sometimes have “down days” when we work our butts off and don’t feel like we’re getting the response we were looking for (or any response at all) from fans, colleagues and the industry. I try not to set expectations for myself because honestly, life is about the journey and you never know what one little thing you did or are about to do will make your career. Always work from the heart and you’ll be fine. Down days also come from working too much! I’m a firm believer in Eastern philosophy that the brain needs a break every once in a while to recharge and allow new ideas to flow. Taking the time to go to the movies, turn on the TV or hit up the web to watch other people’s work that you like (as long as you don’t let yourself fall into “jealous mode”), physical activity, even meditation all help. When you let your brain chill for a bit, that spark will kick in and you’ll be driving the passion train before you know it!
That leads us to the fourth point, you have to have passion for what you’re working on or all that hard work won’t matter in the end. On this subject, Kristen said, “If you ever want to know what
you’re passionate about, think about it not being in your life”. If you can see your life going on with no major hiccups if you take a certain element out, you weren’t passionate enough about it. If you can’t imagine not having a certain element in your life, you’re passionate about it and that, in the end, will make the tough days worth sticking it out for.
Sometimes that passion can get in the way of actually seeing your project to completion. As most artists are willing to admit, they have a vision of what they want to present, so they want to beinvolved in every aspect of the creation process. This isn’t possible sometimes, whether because of time constraints or because you may not know how to do some aspect of the process. That’s when having a community (when referring to “community”, Kristen is referring to the group of people who have similar interests as you, i.e. the “geek” community) to draw on will help you. Community can help you in the places you are lacking in knowledge or level of talent you’re looking for in your project. Being active in the community will also help you find the people who can help you carry your vision through to completion in the way you want it to.
“This industry is 70% networking and 20% craft,” was the long and short of what Kristen had to say about this aspect. Networking, in this case, isn’t just giving out a business card to random people. It’s getting involved with people, helping them with their projects, staying positive in your interactions, being willing to learn and collaborate and being reliable that will help you build your network within the community. It may be the most time consuming part to creating your own content and getting it out there for an audience, but it’s well worth it (even when the community has it’s bad elements).
I know that we touched briefly on the fact that there’s sexism in the entertainment industry, and it sounded like you’ve run up against it in either in the acting or producing capacity – how do you deal/handle it?
I’ve been lucky in the “creator” arena to have never run into that issue. I have so many awesome guy friends and colleagues who are so supportive because they are also chasing the dream, and everyone knows how hard it is to get your voice and work out there. In the hosting world, I did face a lot of sexist behavior being a female geek. Like, I was “too sexy” or that I was only hired because I was “hot” (even on shows I produced myself… way to do the research evil YouTube fans). Those were always from crazy, opinionated fans though and never anyone working in the business. So, that I can handle.
There’s been a lot more talk about how sexism runs pretty rampant in the geek community this past year or so – have you come up against any of it there, either as just a female geek or the “hot” female geek (quotes used to designate the title it’s been given not to be snarky)?
Other than the fans I mentioned above, not really. When I created my first show (Outta This World), I was SO scared of that… and ready to kick someone’s ass. I don’t know if it was because I was creating the work too, as opposed to being just an on-camera girl, that got me respect, but I do feel like more people were inspired than snarky. I have seen it though, and I think it’s more prevalent in areas like comics or maybe games. I work in TV and film, and I think those dudes are used to chicks!
These tools and steps Kristen, and the ladies on her panel, talk about are cyclical. Just like when you run into your down days when you feel like you’re not getting the results you want, running into negative people can bring you down. Perseverance and dedication to create what you want to create will help you get past the jerks, but you have to remember not to be a jerk yourself. No matter who you work with (in your projects or someone else’s), always remember to be nice to all of them. You never know who can help you out in the future, and your willingness to help others and be nice to everyone will stick out in someone’s mind just as much as if you were a jerk to people.
If there’s one thing I got from my interview with Kristen (other than I really needed to get off my tuckus and get back into SCAD to finish my degree in Sequential Art – which I did shortly after speaking with her), it’s that you need to keep busy. If one project is treading water a little, start up another one to keep you working until you can come back to the other one. Or, if you’re really good at multi-tasking, work on a bunch at the same time. At the time of our interview, Kristen was in the midst of multiple projects, with the most recently finished and released project being Skyrim: To Lydia With Love. A video about the universal gaming experience of everyone’s favorite Housecarl, Skyrim: To Lydia With Love is succinct in it’s message that Lydia is a pain in the ass. Almost all the time. Or maybe Lydia just likes to give me, Tiffany and Kristen a hard time by stand in front of our characters while we are trying to kill dragons.
What’s your dream project you’d like to see completed one day?
I want to create a geek-genre TV show. It’ll be either sci-fi or fantasy, or better yet, the combination of the two! (No vampires, I promise!) Something with an incredible story and brilliant art direction and costumes. I’m all about the visuals. I’m already working on pilot scripts and pitches!
Final Geek Question (I can’t help myself, have to get one in there): The machines take over and you’ve become legend in the Human Resistance. What’s your theme song and your signature cyborg destroying move?
Oh baby, it’s gonna be “The Final Countdown” by Europe! I’d so be the 20-something century’s version of Ash from Army of Darkness. Epic with a touch of cheeky fun. As for my move, I’m obsessed with the Unrelenting Force dragon shout in Skyrim. I’d want to just yell and have everything and everyone get tossed aside. Wait… is that really lazy?
You can find Kristen reviewing/hosting weekly on Think Hero, on Fight Class (which is starting back up soon with a The Princess Bride sword fighting scene – cue fangirl squee from me), on Twitter (where she’s about the nicest person ever) and if you’re at Wondercon on Saturday, March 17, 2012 from 5:30-6:30PM, hit up Room 207ABC to catch her “Geek Girls Create” panel in person.