by Bri Castellini
I have always been a shameless self promoter, but now that I’m attempting to join an industry built on networking and chance, I’ve gotten so much worse. Now, even in my Facebook bio, I have to make reference to the fact that I’m an indie filmmaker, that I have an award-winning web series, and that I work at MTV. All these things are things that will hopefully eventually impress someone enough to give me money or a TV show.
And because it’s unavoidable that people who notice Brains will notice that my face is all over it, I also end up referencing the fact that I am also the lead character in the show. This is where things start to get complicated, for me at least.
First up, I hate the phrase “star.” Technically, I am the star of Brains. I have the most lines, I am in every episode (except for the final minisode of season 2), and my character is in complete control of the narrative of the people around her as well as the camera. But “star” seems awkward, and self-important in a way that, surprisingly, I’m not super comfortable with. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m not a narcissist, because I am. I’m a millennial in the arts, after all. But, and I’m not joking, sometimes I forget I’m in Brains, because the acting part of it is so last priority, even on set. I will talk about the writing and producing and promoting until the cows come home and die of boredom, but the acting? Meh. So, “star” seems too grandiose.
But I also don’t love the word “actress.” It’s more descriptive and less self-congratulatory, sure, but it still doesn’t feel right, especially with the incredible talent of my co-stars. I have seen the way Colin and Marshall (Carl from season 2 and Damian, respectively) prepare for scenes and roles. I’ve seen the notes in the script margins, the binders of research material.
I once had a two hour coffee meetup with Marshall just for him to better understand the timeline of season 2. That level of commitment is on a whole other level, and I so do not feel worthy of the title. I’m not going to auditions constantly, doing as many plays as I can get cast in, shopping for agents, and maintaining my physical appearance to be more cast-able. I’m saying some lines on camera in between running sound and coordinating crew and buying craft services and managing media and making sure the set pieces haven’t fallen. Watching my actual actor friends hustle is enough to dissuade me from calling myself one as well.
Granted, maybe if I ever get cast in something I didn’t write (unlikely- I have a very specific look, and it’s not one people look to cast) I’ll get a chance to spread my acting wings. Because to be fair to me, I did write the stupid show, so if anyone doesn’t have to do extra character work on Brains, it’s me. Also, Alison is me if an apocalypse hit and I made [slightly] worse decisions, so there’s that.
Which is why it’s incredibly confusing for me when, during the two negative-slanted reviews of Brains that have been published, I am criticized for my writing and celebrated for my face person-ing.The term/job description I’ve landed on that feels the most comfortable is Face Person. Whenever I have an extra few characters in a social media bio, or I have to explain on camera or in audio form what I do on the production of the award-winning web series Brains, I say “I’m the face person of Alison Sumner.” If I’m feeling nasty I’ll say I’m “the boobs,” but that’s a conversation for another time.
In reviewing the first season of Brains, the blog Nerdophiles said this:
“The only bright spot is that Bri Castellini as Alison does a solid job with the material she’s given, and she’s largely what makes the series watchable.”
Similarly, a less than thrilled reviewer of the show for NetTVNow said this:
“To be fair, Alison is actually pretty great. Castellini has a natural charisma, and Allison benefits from by far the most screen time in the series. She’s one of the only character who feels remotely like a real person”
This isn’t me being like “PERHAPS I HAVE BEEN FOOLISHLY LEANING INTO WRITING ALL THESE YEARS AND SHOULD SHED MY INTROVERTED NATURE IN PREPARATION FOR BRI 3.0- THE ACTRESS!” I’m flattered that when people don’t like my show they seem to still like me, but I have to admit, I’m confused.
I figured I’d be written off as an over- (or, occasionally, under-) performer, and honestly I figured at least one person would be like “she was only cast because she was the writer, not because she was a strong face person.”I knew some people weren’t going to like my show. After all, it stands to reason some people have bad taste. But what they didn’t like about the show and what they specifically called out as passable surprised me.
They would be correct- we 100% cast me because the idea of finding someone else to commit to that long of a production and that many lines for no money was incredibly anxiety-inducing.
What is the point of this blog? I’m not 100% sure. But people have started asking me more frequently what my goals are in the industry, and they’ve started changing since I became an indie producer. I still would definitely love to write for a TV show, and to eventually run one, but I also am starting to get addicted to the thrill of indie filmmaking. I like producing, I like directing, and I like how much control I have and how little oversight others do over my creative works. Plus, I actually really like acting, and as far as I can tell, I’m the only person who will ever cast me.
But who knows what the future holds? All I know is that I needed to post 2 blogs this month to keep up my New Year’s Resolution #3, and now I’m off the hook for another 30 days.
Bri Castellini is an top indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Last week was the last of her scheduled columns for TVWriter™ on the ins and outs of making web series. It didn’t take very long for us to start missing her, though, so we lifted this article from her blog, and if we get away with it we’ll go back for more. Meanwhile, watch Bri’s deservedly award-winning web series, Brains, HERE