"The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool." - Miguel de Cervantes
Origin of Alexis
Totally Alexis! or Alexis is a satirical web series parodying our modern ideals of beauty, women and dating through the eyes of Alexis S. Sornberg a self proclaimed model, actress, singer and dancer.
She attempts to become “famouser” by having a YouTube channel. We explore her life through her quirky vlogs, blog posts and comments.
The idea for the character began in an interactive video in 2004. I collaborated with AlienMelon to create interactive video content with the revolutionary .FLV format. The result was the interactive cinema piece “Moosie”. Eventually we decided to expand the concept into fictional vlogs in 2007.
2007 to 2011 : The Love & Hate of Alexis
With films like Mean Girls and Clueless it’s obvious Alexis reminds you either of your high school nemesis or evil ex-girlfriend. She’s annoying with her narcissism, valley girl accent, squeaky voice and bitchy attitude.
When researching the psychology of the modern girl I saw an individual who was constantly being told by peers, marketing and society that they are not pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, and essentially just not ever enough.
There is this goal of the ideal woman you’re supposed to be and it’s an unattainable mirage in the desert of social illusions but the punchline is every single person tries to find it like some kind of CosmoGirl El Dorado.
I spent a lot of time figuring out how to bring Alexis to life watching the body language, mannerisms, speech patterns and accents of today’s young women. I watched some reality TV shows and vlogs but mostly stuck to people watching.
Alexis hides her insecurity behind a wall of narcissism which she mistakes for confidence and lives in a delusional world where she’s famous and everyone loves her. On the inside she’s a dysfunctional psychotic mess and it shows.
At first I hated the character but eventually I saw the message that this chaotic persona in pink lipstick was trying to express. The message was rolled in irony, baked with sarcasm and topped with satire it was a simple “Just be who you are and be happy!” Like the ending of every summer movie, it’s really that simple.
Comedy Character Brainstorm
- What am I openly sharing about myself?
- What am I trying to hide?
- How am I trying to hide it?
- Why do I think this duality is necessary?
- What’s illogical and ridiculous about my beliefs?
- How can I question my beliefs and/or social beliefs through comedy?
The Quality vs. Quantity Conundrum
I started with a Canon GL2 and an obscure prosumer editing program from my videographer days. I had to cut corners on sound, lighting and the entire setup to push forward so I could release as many videos as possible. In retrospect I regret this and would definitely spend a lot more time on quality but it’s a tough call to make.
Quality is important especially when everyone can record and upload to YouTube but if you can’t get the best set design, cinematography, or visual effects then go back and rely on the little things. Tell your story with heart, sincerity and comedy and don’t stress about your view counter.
Creating the Episodes
It was a challenge to see how fast one person would make an episode a week. Pre-production was an essential phase even for the simplest of videos.
The Simple Video Outline
- Who am I talking to?
- What am I talking about?
- Why is this important?
- What is the underlying message?
At the beginning I added the voice pitch change and overly pink tint so that it felt like Alexis had edited the episode herself. The change of pitch and speed of the video was fun to play with but at times the dialogue got lost so I decided to tone it down.
The first few vlog style videos were shot in a bathroom and the setting worked to my advantage because it’s something stupid Alexis would do. The lighting was manageable after putting in some Full-spectrum light bulbs and the small space made the sound bearable other times I chose a white neutral background in a room or a ridiculous backdrop.
I also spent a lot of time working with green screens learning the tricks of the trade. The different types of green screens from paper, muslin to nylon based and how to light them best.
Mastering the use of a green screen expanded my creative possibilities and presented a lot of room to experiment and place the character in her own imaginary world.
Squeezing everything you can out of a zero dollar budget is a craft worth mastering because If you can paint like Van Gogh with crayons imagine what you can do with the latest high end technology.
How much do you need to tell a great story?
It might seem amateur to stand in front of a camera and simply talk especially when film has evolved into this visually spectacular medium but sometimes a great story and talented narrator can top all of that.
The monologue vlog is a great medium to explore a character, polish up on your actings chops, test run a character seeing how the public reacts and watching the statistics of your viewers and to challenge yourself and see how much you really need to tell a compelling story.
This series has taught me everything from the dos and don’ts of production to creating a character. There are so many things that are wrong with it and at times I feel like it was the worst idea I ever had but at the same time one of the best.
Many thanks to everyone who helped in creating the series through feedback, creative fuel, contribution and space for setting up my green screen. Also all the awesome fans of the series and even those who laughed or chuckled at a video or two.
You all made this Alexis experiment worthwhile, thank you! <3