The Hartley Hustle with Keely Schafer
Keely is one of the only, if not the only, lasting friends I made in high school. I'm not always great at keeping in touch, but I've enjoyed keeping tabs on what she's up to. I was so excited for her when she made the move to New York (hard to believe it's been 4.5 years since I visited her there, during literally the coldest weekend in NY that year), and it's been so cool to see her come into her own. Film and video have been totally on my brain lately, so I took it as a sign when Keely messaged me about our 8 year Facebook Friendiversary to do a Hartley Hustle interview on the blog.
So, we go all the way back to high school newspaper. Do you remember ever actually writing a single piece? Because I don’t.
Ah, our lovely little newspaper breakfast club. That's something I miss about High School. I feel like I wrote about some event, maybe a show or an album review? I don't even remember seeing a copy of the newspaper, so who knows if anything actually got in or if it was just a blank piece of paper.
Let’s talk about high school while we’re at it. Is there anything else you miss about it? You graduated early…did you walk? I did not walk and my parents thought I would always regret that. I don’t.
Oh lord, high school, what an absolute mess. I might miss aspects, but I wouldn't ever want to re-live it. I guess I sometimes miss the freedom and the idealization of it all, the whole the world is your oyster shtick and all the fun that's had in 90s teen movies. The parties were fun. You could be wild with fewer consequences. Now, I have so many things to consider before making any sort of decision: my job, my health (the concept of mortality sets in more and more with each birthday), my friends, my family, my image in society, etc. Before, all I knew was that I was unhappy and anything that made me feel better or [made me feel] nothing was what I did. This became very unhealthy obviously and mixed with a whole slew of high school drama, made for someone who needed to get out or give up. This was a big reason that lead to my decision to graduate a year early. It was the best decision of my life. I walked, but I don't think it would've mattered if I didn't. My parents would've been a little pissed.
If I remember correctly, you spent some time at UK before going to NYU. What was that process like for you? Was that decision a long time coming? What made you finally take the leap, or was the entire process carefully planned?
Yes, I did a year and 1/2 at UK, studying English and Analog Photography, before transferring to NYU. Honestly, my mom worked at UK and it cost practically nothing for me to attend. My deal for graduating school early was to start college asap. I definitely didn't turn my application in on purpose, so I could take a semester off and move to Atlanta, GA to stay with my aunt. I traveled around with them and pulled myself together. It was cool, I met some people I'm still friends with in the photo program.
I imagine it was quite a transition from Lexington, KY to New York. What was that like for you? Did you feel more at home in NY?
Honestly, the transition took about a week. The first night living alone in NYC was rough. My mom, aunt, and I drove up from KY with all my stuff, they dropped me off, we got dinner, and they left. My roommate didn't come for 2 weeks and probably stayed there 4 times out of the whole summer, but I've always liked my space. I would walk a little farther out every day. I acted in a friend from KY's film the second week I was here and made friends with some girls in my class (we all still keep in contact). The subways were probably the hardest thing to learn. I still live by the Transit app (it tells you when to leave and all your transportation options, it's a life saver), but now I could figure it out on my own if I didn't have my phone. Since I've been here I can't imagine living anywhere else. I blame it on some past life.
You studied film at NYU. How did the program mold you? Did it change the way that you think and perceive? Do you feel that the program itself was absolutely vital, or would you say making the move to New York was the more integral step? Or both?
I feel like the best thing I got from NYU was my network/community/friends and the great critiques I've received in my script and film workshops. I've always been the person who creates stuff behind closed doors and never shows it to anyone (until it's perfect and as we all know, that's impossible), but you quickly learn how important collaboration is. Now, I'm all about collaboration. I'm writing and creating things with friends. I'm begging people to read my stuff. I think it really gave me a confidence in myself and my work (and making it known to me that this industry doesn't just have to be a pipe dream). For your teacher who worked on and wrote tons of great films to say they love your scripts; there's nothing better. For the cost, eh, I don't know. I think it gives you a bit of pedigree to attend NYU, which is useful in the job world because it's a recognizable film school. Also, getting a job is all about who you know. Sadly true. Every job I've gotten is by someone else's recommendations of me, even at my restaurant job.
I think the move to NYC was a big part of it because you're right in the hub. There are a lot of opportunities up here (I got to be an art intern on Obvious Child with Jenny Slate and David Cross while I was in an art directing class) and a lot of awesome people to work with. The friends I've met from NYU are all such talented sweethearts. All my friends are doing great things and it's such a privilege to be a part of it. For example, a group of my friends turned their basement into an art gallery (some of my photos included), threw a party, did DJ sets, handmade these awesome zines, and raised $1,000 for the CAMBA charity. And don't get me started on the music scene, some of my friends included.
So, currently, you're at Vh1. Can you elaborate a bit on what you do there and what your day-to-day looks like?
I've been working as the executive assistant to the Creative Directors (VPs of Creative) for Logo & Vh1 for a little over a month. I really love it. Both of my bosses are fantastic and have taken an interest in me. I get to sit in on any meeting I find interesting. During my interview, I brought up that I was a writer, which is usually a big no-no, for most jobs they want you to aspire to be an agent or a producer not a creative. But, they were really excited about it. On my first day, I was asked to write copy (the catch phrase on an ad/tagline), I'm getting to sit in on brainstorming sessions for new show promotions and am given the opportunity to give my ideas. I get to go on shoots and observe and assist. The job itself is more office based, I run their work lives and schedules, plan meetings for them and help them out whenever needed. I get to chat and hang out with people who are high up in a career I'm so interested in and it's a real dream.
You also recently started a blog called Thrift the Movies. Can you explain the idea behind the blog? What motivated you to start?
Thrift the Movies has been a passion project in the making for years. I never actually executed it, until now. It started with me discovering thrifting in KY. Then my friend Ami and I got close to starting a fashion blog together (she now has a great blog: klinkerbell). I was always obsessed with outfits from movies and old photos (I'm a sucker for nostalgic) and a need to find something like them for myself.
I started reading this book about fashion that my friend loaned me, called A Fashionable Mind and it made me want to write about fashion and to see a beautiful way of doing it. It's like if Joan Didion wrote about fashion. The blog itself is a mix of me being a film nerd and wanting to visually critique a film. I'm very interested in the portrayal of fashion and art direction as a psychological choice, it's something I try to focus on in the first paragraph of the blog post, then I move to describing the outfit and goals of emulating the character. I explain my thrifting tips for finding each piece and show how I styled them in hopes people will feel they can be a movie siren in their own life.
The thing I hear the most from people is "Oh, I could never pull that off" and it's just not true. You can do and wear whatever you like and you don't have to have a movie budget or personal designer to get it. Plus, thrifting circulates sustainable clothing (clothes that are reused instead of purchasing something that didn't exist, thus adding one more piece to the heap). I love vintage clothing and feeling like I'm a character, maybe I should try to act haha. I get bored easily and feeling that I can wear something and it will make me feel different for a day is a wonderful feeling.
Making myself write something once a week and trying to keep me on a schedule is a great exercise. I feel accomplished seeing something I did in print out there in the world. I've always been terrible at social media, I'm a private person and I don't like posting about myself for all to see, but this blog has given me a new perspective, I have a queue of images ready on my Instagram, I'm trying out this whole hashtag thing, and I'm trying to post something every day. It keeps me active and creative and it's just been really fun. I bought lights and a backdrop and made a home studio to shoot the pics in. It was the same price as a few hours at a rented studio.
How do you see technology deeply affecting and changing our society? Do you feel compelled to embrace or resist it?
Instagram and Snapchat are the only social media I care about now, mainly because of this blog and a love of capturing funny things I see on the street on Snap. Facebook is mainly for talking to my mom, aunt, and grandmother and keeping track of events. Technology always worries me. At heart, I'm a purist. I want to take photos and make movies on film. I want to dress like I've come out of a time machine, and a big part of me wants to throw my phone off a bridge and travel the world. But, here I am in front of a laptop. I think it's made human interactions a lot harder. I miss that aspect of being a kid. I want to reject it, but it's become so necessary now in everyday life, especially at work. Being able to Shazam a song is amazing and calling a car by tapping a button is pretty sweet. I think we rely too much on it and it has a way of putting a filter between us and reality. Especially in this surreal nightmare that the world is in right now. You have to make fun of it to get through. It's become a meme and a reality show, but it's really happening and I think people forget that.
Politically, what role do you think artists and cultural influencers should play today? Has your opinion on that changed recently?
I think art right now is the most powerful thing. Just listening to all the outspoken celebrities and shade thrown at the award shows in resistance to Trump's mess. Fame is power nowadays and you should use it to put things in perspective for people who need a little direction. I know that if anyone gives me a chance to speak, I won't hold back on issues I care about.
What’s next for you? Or, if not next, what’s the end goal?
The big goal is to get a show I wrote on television or even just to work in the writer's room for a show I'm heavily invested in. I wrote a spec season for American Horror Story and a spec Episode for Black Mirror (when you take a show's format and make your own thing with it, something used as a pitching writing sample, if you want to work on a show that is similar), so those would be something I would want to work on. Netflix is killing it right now, I'd love to hop on that train. I need to work on getting an agent and getting a new draft of my scripts ready to send out. I need to take all the projects I've been sitting on and finish them as far as I can on my own. Also, I'd really like to take that stereotypical month-long vacation around Europe.
What does the ultimate “girl boss” look like to you?
The ultimate girl boss is someone who can kick ass and not be an asshole about it. Someone who isn't afraid to be their self, no matter what society, life, or others tell them. They have to keep creating and brainstorming, no matter what. Take the painful moments and make something out of them and do the same with the happy ones. They know their worth and 'fake it till they make it' because they know they deserve it.