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November 5, 2015

SCA Alumni Stories: Lindsay Kerns

What pushed you to pursue an education and career in the cinematic arts? As an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, I was all over the place. I studied film, new media, theater, literature, classics, and I even dabbled as a research assistant in the Medieval and Renaissance Studies department. I graduated with wonderful mentors in several fields who encouraged my interest in cinematic storytelling—yet I was a “jack of all trades, master of none.” Having no mastery of any one subject, I decided to get my Masters. Little did I know, when I graduated from Stark, I was STILL a jack of all trades. But even more little did I know, it turns out that being good at lots of things and really good at one thing is essential for aspiring writers, producers and directors in this new era of DIY digital storytelling. Did I answer the question? No? Okay, the real answer, unbearably cliché as it is, is that I watched Wes Anderson’s Rushmore in high school and it changed my life and I decided that whatever moviemaking was, I had to be a part of it. Shortly after that, I went to college and was all over the place, and from there you can pick up my truly fascinating story at the beginning of this paragraph!

What is your fondest memory of your time at SCA? I have many fond memories, but the moment that brought me the most profound joy was when my friends and I turned in our thesis projects and promptly fell asleep in the sun on the lawn outside the building. I was working full-time during the day while writing that thesis and going to class at night (as were many of my Stark classmates), and finally finishing it felt like the greatest accomplishment of my life. My second greatest accomplishment was the epic weekend-long nap I took right after that. Actually, that might have been the first greatest. It’s a toss-up.

How did your time in the Peter Stark Producing Program shape your creative vision and overall growth as a producer? Stark gave me many important industry relationships and practical filmmaking tools, but more than anything it provided me with a big-picture philosophical framework for my entire career. My professors taught me to think of my career as a marathon, not a sprint—and it’s a horrible thigh-burning hilly marathon at that, with as many valleys as peaks. Above all, Larry Turman taught me to aim at the center part of the Venn diagram where Creativity and Commerce overlap—because at the end of the day, this is the film industry, not the film hobby. As a writer and producer, I have to try and channel my creativity into a marketable product, otherwise I might as well quit and take up semi-professional bocce ball (my back-up plan—pretty solid, right?)

As a filmmaker, in what ways do you hope your work touches an audience? First of all, I truly hope one day to honestly describe myself as a “filmmaker”! In the meantime, what I aim for is entertainment. I want to make people laugh a lot, think a little (or a lot—really, it’s up to them), and walk away with a sense that our world is a lot better and a lot worse than we would like to think it is. I want to surprise people.

Could you share about your start with Funny Or Die? What has your journey with Funny Or Die been like so far? Through the Stark Program, I got a paid internship at Mosaic Media Group, the management firm that reps Will Ferrell. That piqued my interest in Will’s zany digital circus called Funny Or Die, so I contacted Joe Farrell ’11 whom I knew worked there. He set me up with an internship at Gary Sanchez Productions, and then I eventually replaced Joe as the executive assistant to Mike Farah, President of Production at Funny Or Die, when Joe was promoted. Joe and I shared a closet-sized office for a year, and if that isn’t a gold star illustration of the power of SCA Networking then I don’t know what is. After that, I worked really hard, got promoted a couple times, and made my way over to the creative side of things, where I got to meet hundreds of celebrities (including my hero Dr. Quinn a.k.a. Jane Seymour), go on crazy adventures (like shooting with First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House), and constantly stretch and sharpen my pitching and writing skills. It’s been a brain-bending ride going at breakneck speed, and I’ve loved it.

While working on shorts for Funny Or Die, what are some challenges you have confronted both on and off set? How have these experiences helped you grow as a writer and creative producer? Funny Or Die thrives on collaboration, so I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate closely with writers, directors, producers, editors, sketch groups, marketing/PR teams, charitable organizations, brands, and celebrities. Creative collaboration with friends and strangers can be as fun as it is challenging, especially when it comes to comedy, as everyone has a different idea of what is funny. To meet in the middle, you have to set your pride aside and quite stressing over whether someone likes you—or, as a natural people-pleaser, that’s what I have to do. Oftentimes you have to serve multiple masters, especially when there’s A-list talent or a brand involved, and sometimes you struggle to find creative compromises and solutions. I’ve learned a lot through these experiences, including 1) communication is everything, 2) you have to be brave enough to fight for your darlings, 3) you also have to be humble enough to kill your darlings.

What are your thoughts on the rising number of women in both the academic and professional spheres of the entertainment industry? I’m thrilled about the progress Hollywood has made in recent years, but from what I can tell there’s still SO far to go. I’ve encountered plenty of shockingly overt sexism in my short career so far, and I’ve heard countless stories from friends about institutional misogyny, harassment, and inequality. Certain sects of comedy can tend to be a “boys’ club,” and while I have no interest in joining that kind of club, it’s easy to feel like an outsider nonetheless. I’ve spent a LOT of time in huge meetings where I was the only woman in the room, and honestly I’ve never gotten used to it and I never will because it’s just plain ridiculous. It’s insane to be the sole representative of your gender in a room of twenty men, where you feel like you have to precede every statement with the disclaimer, “As a woman…” I’m excited that there’s a spotlight on Women in Hollywood right now, which is inspiring and amazing, but all of this talk still needs to translate into action, and we also need to make sure we broaden the conversation to include all types of minorities. Diversity transcends gender, and Hollywood desperately needs more diversity.

One of my favorite projects ever was a video I made with Margaret Cho about women in Hollywood, which we shot at Funny Or Die with an all-female crew. It was incredibly empowering and meaningful to see all of these women kicking ass at their respective jobs on set, and we wrapped three hours ahead of schedule because everyone worked together so efficiently. That video never would have been made if the women at Funny Or Die hadn’t banded together and said, “What can WE do about this problem?” While it’s important for everyone—men and women alike—to fight the injustices of discrimination, I think it can be particularly effective for women to take the lead in helping other women.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your early-twenties self? DON’T CUT YOUR OWN HAIR! YOU WILL REGRET IT! But also—take a year off (or two, or three), travel everywhere you can, try and fail at unexpected things, and meet some strangers—the stranger the better, and work some weird and terrible jobs, because if you want to be a storyteller, you’ve got to build a deep library of stories to tell. Once you jump onto the roller coaster ride of working in the entertainment industry, you’ll find it hard to step off, so enjoy your freedom if/when you have it. Also—keep a journal! Digitize your class notes! Sync your pictures to the cloud before you drop your phone in the toilet! Memories fade quickly, so document your life and build up a library of inspiration and instruction for yourself, including the photos of you with that bad haircut you gave yourself which will remind you forever not to cut your own hair ever again.

What projects are you currently working on? I'm wrapping up post-production on a web series that I co-wrote and co-produced up in the Arctic on icebergs with Jack McBrayer, Alexander Skarsgård, Funny Or Die, and the Yes Men. (We spent a week on a Greenpeace icebreaker ship and shot comedy videos in the wilds of Greenland under the protection of an armed polar bear guard, which sounds like something I made up to sound cool, but I promise it's all somehow true.) So look out for that series on Funny Or Die this November, and help #SaveTheArctic! Apart from that, I'm working on moving onwards and upwards out of digital content into my dream of writing for television, which means I'm endlessly writing another pilot. The work never ends! But I love the work—or, at least, I love having done the work once the work is done.