Last week, I saw myself on the big screen for the first time. I didn’t realize until it happened that it was a moment I’d been waiting for my whole life. Even more radical was the fact that the screening was at the famous Chinese theater in Hollywood, and the piece I had in the festival was an episode of Girl Behind the Glass, something I’d written and created in addition to being on-camera. A surreal experience to be sure, and one I could get used to.
Along with this new milestone, the evening also marked the death of the project. Girl Behind the Glass was the series of videos I filmed as a Box Girl at the Standard Hotel, a performance art installation in the hotel lobby featuring a live model in a glass box going about whatever she feels like doing for all the world to see. I had submitted in the webseries category of HollyShorts Film Festival and by the time I was notified of my acceptance, the series had been put on indefinite hold.
In short, because I told the Standard about my lil guerilla series, hoping to collaborate with them, and their response was to fire me.
I’d loved being a part of the guests’ experience at the Standard. I’d inherited the gig from Beth, who was a Box girl for about a year before me. It was the weekly gig that got me out of my writer’s seclusion and into the glamorous buzz of Sunset Blvd. I finally lived the reality of “If only I was trapped in a box I’d get so much writing done.” And I did. I wrote the pilot of Johnny and the Scams in the Box. I also sketched, painted my nails, caught up on emails, pretended I couldn’t see people seeing me, took selfies, and ultimately — started filming myself.
My vision for Girl Behind the Glass was to create a next-era variety show, featuring clips of artists from around the world, musicians, painters, photographers, hosted by a girl in her white undies in a Hollywood glass box. I pushed myself to finish writing, filming and editing within the four hours of my Box shift, making it a practice in trusting my first creative instincts. I experimented with mediums I’d been itching to explore, like spoken word and video art. I was able to incorporate Machete’s desert video Sleepwalking into the episode that screened at Hollyshorts, so her work got the big screen treatment as well.
Finally, to put it plainly, the Box gig made me feel sexy. And interesting. I’d usually take my comp employee meal in the 24-hour Standard diner after my shift, work on whatever I’d been writing in the Box, have Beth meet me for a milkshake (best in LA!), or just observe the other patrons, who didn’t recognize me with clothes on. Look at those who’d been looking at me. A few times I was asked to model for the official photograph of that month’s installation for the Standard website.
The only thing we couldn’t do in the Box was sleep, though sometimes I got dangerously close. The biggest risk was being too comfortable, forgetting altogether I was on display. Once I remember spying a hair my razor had missed behind my knee and plucking at it, then realizing this wasn’t an attractive activity for the crowd gathered in the lobby.
For me, being the girl in the Box was the sort of artsy, edgy, sexy cool gig my inner Gardnerville girl had always wanted. Along with signing up at Central Casting and being hit on by a slimy producer, being a Box girl is almost a rite of passage, the “ingenue in LA” thing. The gig was validating, literally “be seen, not heard” which felt good in some twisted, objectified way on my nerdy, over-thinking writer’s brain. I did things I never do, like wear black thigh-highs with a bowler hat and shop at American Apparel (for my white undie “uniform”). I also thought the concept was really cool. So simple, just a girl sitting there, but so riveting. Watching a human be a human. Tilda Swinton started sitting in a box at the MOMA the same week I started at the Standard.
You get the picture that I loved the job. So you understand my disappointment when I shared my guerilla webseries with the hotel and they not only didn’t want to collaborate with me, they fired me. At first they said the videos were cute, they just had to make sure I could be filming. They’d “get right back to me.” They never did. Then they took me off the schedule. No explanation, just a stone wall. I was seriously bummed out.
My hunch is it was a legal thing, but I’ll never know. The gig couldn’t have lasted forever, I’ve climbed new rungs of the Hollywood ladder and it’s better to say I was a Box Girl than I still am. At least I went out pitching an idea I believed in. And I certainly had fun. Coming up with the title of the series was hilarious (Hot Box? Fox in a Box?), and once I ran into Josh Hartnett and friend in the lobby and had pizza and beer with them. The show has a life on YouTube, and I’m glad my first big screen moment came out of it. By the way, HollyShorts absolutely rocks, those guys are doing more for emerging filmmakers than anyone out there. The night of my screening I also loved the film Join Us, by writer/actor Brooze Lenzi. It’s about cults, in a way you’ve never seen. Check it out, stat.
I’ll always have those moments when I first hopped into the Box for the night. My shift was 8pm – midnight, and a DJ played in the lobby starting at 9pm. But the first hour was quiet, Zen-like. It was like being hermetically sealed in a fish bowl, or a diorama at a museum. “Observe the 21st century twentysomething female!” And I reflected on my life as such. What was I creating right then? Who was I loving? For much of that year, my life was a series of boxes — the Standard box, hundreds of boxes of books for my non-profit job, the mysterious box that kept popping up in a script I was writing. It’s now tempting to write a wordplay on living “outside the box.” But I won’t, because you get the idea. I do miss being a part of the art, and the vanity validation of it all. But it’s good that I’m out of the box. It’s easier to breathe out here.