April 10, 2015

SCA Family Stories: Paisley Smith and Genie Deez

Two Trojan Scholarship Winners Chat with SCA

Genie Deez and Paisley Smith. Photo by Alix Spence.

Paisley Smith and Genie Deez are two students in the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Production Division who, in addition to their school work, found time to make their own web series for children Hangin’ with Genie. The musical web series looks to teach kids the importance of their own voice and raises awareness of emotional intelligence. People are starting to notice. Smith and Deez were recently awarded The Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship for their work on Hangin’ with Genie.

Smith and Deez recently sat down with SCA Family Stories to discuss the DIY space, the importance of “getting it out there,” and how despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to create art sometimes kids just like watching videos of trucks.

To watch Hangin’ with Genie, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRa022pJrOmK6sx6Im-B_Og

Genie Deez and Paisley Smith. Photo by Alix Spence.

So let’s start with your names and graduation year.  Paisley Smith: I’m Paisley Smith and I graduate May 2015.

Genie Deez: My name is Genie and I’m a 5th semester and I’m slated to graduate next semester, but we’ll see what happens.

In your own words, what is the Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarship? PS: The Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarship is this amazing award for students who want to make high quality content for kids.  By receiving the award, you are welcomed into the Television Academy Foundation network of kids television creators and matched with industry mentors.  These mentors advise you while you create your work.  The Television Academy grants the award at the College Television Awards, which is like the Emmy awards for students. It’s pretty incredible.

GD: That’s how I break it down for my Grandma. I called my grandma and she’s like, [imitating Grandma voice] “Baby, what happened? What did they give you, baby?” She said, “Did you get a Grammy?” I said, “Almost! You know the Emmys? I kind of got like, a junior Emmy from the people who give out the Emmys!”

What was the project that you were awarded for? GD: It’s a kids web series called Hangin’ with Genie – it’s super music centric. [The series] explores emotional intelligence and collaboration and creativity. We were super inspired by Mr. Rogers and his philosophy and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. We took this super colorful and vibrant and musical, urban approach to Mr. Rogers’ philosophy. So it’s really cool. We just make really cool stuff.

Genie Deez. Photo by Alix Spence.

Do you remember the genesis of the show? GD: Sure. I met Paisley because she needed a producer for her 547 [Graduate Documentary class]. It was a good fit so we did that together and became good friends through 547, as most friendships are forged. And at 547, we were sitting at St. Ignatius Café thinking – what do we do next? And we were just talking, – I grew up doing magic – and Paisley was like, “you do magic and you make music, so how about we just do that for kids? Let’s just make something cool.” And we brainstormed names and we came up with Hangin’ with Genie within twenty minutes.

What’s your version Paisley? Let’s cross-check it. PS: I’ve known I wanted to do kids media since before I got to USC. I had known of The Fred Roger’s Memorial Scholarship and had it in the back of my mind for a long time because not only does the scholarship give you a grant to do your project, they also introduce you to a network of people in the kids’ industry.  It’s not just people in film; it’s also researchers and people who study how kids use media and are affected by media. So that’s something that really interests me. I had been thinking about kids’ TV ideas for a long time, and Genie and I – he was teaching me how to play guitar, actually. We had been playing a lot of music, and I just thought, “Man this is – I’m having the best time hanging out with you, so I feel like the whole world will have a good time talking to you.” Genie has a special way with people when he talks to you that’s very relatable, charming, comfortable. You have a face for television. Especially children’s television.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this was produced outside of the school system, is that correct? GD: Mmhmm.

Walk me through that choice. PS: There’s not really anything that fits this quite yet. We’re in a start-up class right now. We’re in a producing class. Both of us are using our classes that we’re in to explore how to launch an innovative show for kids, whether its living on the web, whether it’s living in a traditional TV sense –

GD: Or is it an app thing.

PS: We definitely use everything we’ve learned at SCA.   

GD: It’s been really helpful.

PS: There are so many amazing people at our school who study children’s media as well, so they’ve been a great resource for us.  Honestly, the reason that we’re in this amazing situation is because Dean Daley helped us to attend the Fred Forward conference in Pittsburgh.  

We were invited to the conference from the Television Academy – as a part of our scholarship -- they presented us with the opportunity to go out to Pittsburg and connect with people there. They call it “Kidsburg.” It’s this kid-centric world, and that’s where the Fred Rogers archives are and that’s where the Fred Rogers community is. That’s where he got his start on TV. The stage is out there. So through that trip to Pittsburgh, we were able to befriend and meet all these amazing people.

Is there anything in terms of making a project on your own – DIY style – that you learned through this process or something that a student should be aware of if they are starting on that road? GD: That’s a cool question.

PS: One of the best pieces of advice I think we’ve had was just to put stuff out there. You’re not always going to have the perfect opportunity to present a polished, 100% perfect piece of media. So especially with the new environment of the web – what is it called? The landscape of the – the YouTube and stuff?

GD: The digital landscape.

PS: The digital landscape! It’s better to just see how people react to it. How do people respond? Does it get views? How does it live?

GD: It’s so interactive right now. I did my undergrad at Notre Dame. I’m gonna plug the great University of Notre Dame. I heard a great quote from the founder of Homeboy Industries, Father Boyle, who I met at ND, and he said that the word “perfect” comes from an older word which means “unfinished.” So perfect is – you’re never going to make anything perfect. You’re always working and developing and growing or whatever. So we just started doing stuff.

We made a theme song. We did a lyric video for that. We started working on concepts for the show, and just started doing it! I had a USB microphone that I just had, so I said, let’s get two more. I had a mini-keyboard. I said, let’s get another keyboard. And we kind of just used what we had. Technically, I had, like, not so good software. But going back to the digital landscape, you just gotta make stuff and test it out -- see who it resonates with.

Is there anything that you learned about working in the kid’s space that you can pass on? PS: We’ve had the advice to just go out and just shoot dump trucks. Because apparently that’s very popular with kids on the Internet.

GD: That advice was use existing material to craft what you have.

PS: But that actually forced us to look back on what we actually wanted to do, and even though the advice is to put things out there, we really want to focus on producing high quality content, so that actually forces us to go back to the drawing board and make sure we’re super happy with what we’re putting out there.

GD: Yeah. I mean, it’s the wild west right now. There’s no book. There’s no rulebook or whatever.

PS: The thing that’s really exciting about being in kids’ media right now is that there’s about to be so many new portals for kids media to be in a safe, accessible space. For example, Vine just launched Vine Kids. YouTube just launched the YouTube Kids platform, which is for iPad, so there’s all these kid-friendly platforms that are out there. 

Who at SCA helped you get here? PS: We have to definitely have to thank the Television Academy Foundation and the Fred Rogers Center. Our mentors Donna Mitroff and Nancy Steingard. They’ve been – they are – the Mr. Rogers family that we’ve been supported by. And of course, Dean Daley. And other than that, all of the fabulous faculty who wrote our reference letters – Pablo Frasconi, Doe Mayer. For sure.

GD: Lisa Leeman wrote a letter for me.

PS: But our 547 Faculty is exceptional and I think, especially, because it’s a space where you can be exceptionally creatively free, that space is definitely what allowed us to connect.