Tamara Olson - model / actress / filmmaker, "Fashionably L.A."
On the phone with Philip Anderson - Spring 2000
Of all the aspiring "whatnots" in Los Angeles, there are a few who aren't afraid to break out of their mold of daily employment and make a statement, let alone a funny one that can be shown to the public. Tamara Olson was/is a fashion model in the City of Lost Angels who realized that her job was not all that it was cracked up to be and decided to make a statement of it - more as a warning to any potential up-and-comings who may venture into the big city in hopes of being noticed. Tamara's lesson - Watch yourself! In her first film outing, "Fashionably L.A.", Tamara pokes fun at the modeling industry, while at the same time offering quite a few behind the scenes lessons to be learned about what really goes on. Basically, modeling is hard work. In fact, by watching this film and comparing it to the music industry, it is almost like Spinal Tap - many clueless people running around telling others what to do and where to be.
We had a chance to speak with Tamara about her film and her career. Unlike many stereotypes of models (especially those headed into film) being sometimes "standoffish", Tamara was one of the nicest people I have spoken with and was more than happy to talk shop and just chat.
K2K: To start with, Fashionably L.A. is your first film, right? How did you get around to deciding to do it?
TO: Well, it's something that I had thought about doing for a long time. I've been working as a model in L.A. for quite a while and would find myself in ridiculous situations doing ludricous jobs and being shocked by what I was actually doing for a living. Also, I'm an actress. I've been in theater, done plays, have written other things, done video shorts, so I've always aspired to be a filmmaker. This was a perfect, perfect thing for me to make as my first film. It was something that I knew very well and completely wanted to tell or expose this sort of "other side" of the modeling business that nobody ever sees.
K2K: Is it kind of like the Spinal Tap of the modeling world?
TO: Yes! Definitely. That's a good byline. Yes, it totally is. Spinal Tap was one of the films that inspired me to write this film and do it this way.
K2K: I'm sure there are better films that I could've compared it to but Spinal Tap seems to be the most popular anyway.
TO: Yeah, well, it's absolutely true. I love Spinal Tap and I'm sure everyone, if you wanted to label the film as a mockumentary, are going to look at that film and try to live up to that film.
K2K: So, you look familiar. Where might I have seen you before?
TO: I was on a soap for a short time. I was on a very short-lived sitcom, "Wild Oats" it was called. I've been in some small independent films. I've modeled in L.A. for the last eight years. They have all sorts of modeling on TV, like I've done everything from specials, they always have those fashion segments on everywhere from "Hard Copy" to "Access Hollywood".
K2K: How long ago did you make the film?
TO: From start of the script until today, it's been about three years.
K2K: Was it theatrically shown or just to video?
TO: No, it went from home video to this, First Rites, in Hollywood Video.
K2K: When did it first come out?
TO: January. This January [2000].
K2K: Didn't I see it advertised on a website for quite a while?
TO: We had it on our website for at least a year.
K2K: Have you gotten any flack for the movie, from anyone who you might have "stepped on"?
TO: No, because everybody has helped me do it. I mean, people, well, not people, I think I heard one time that somebody thought that, "Oh my God. People might hate you." Everybody's helped me in the fashion industry in Los Angeles. So, these people, they see it too and they want to expose it, whether they're hiring or whatever. It's not like this one little "revenge-oriented" model going out to step on everybody. All these people helped me. They read the script and loved it and thought that it should be exposed as well.
K2K: Even though they are part of it as well?
TO: Well, they're doing their jobs. Of course this is fiction, not a documentary. It's not a autobiography. I mean certainly there are elements. There's a lot that I've seen or have discovered over the years, being a model, but it's a story. It's taking the worst of this business and the most unglamorous jobs of this business so that people can see that. So I have no one who has a vendetta against me. (laughs)
K2K: When I first watched the film, twice by now, I didn't know what to expect but you had some really funny lines in there.
TO: Thank you. The Russian?
K2K: Yeah, her... um, flashing her boobs was pretty amusing. I wasn't quite expecting that but it was a nice surprise - as a guy.
TO: There you go.
K2K: Actually, you fighting with your boyfriend was hilarious during the interview segment. How much of the character is you in the film?
TO: Like I said, it's based on some of my experiences. It's based on the business, but definitely based on some of my experiences. It's a very truthful movie because when people see it and models see it and people in this business see it, they come up and say, "Oh my God. I can't believe you guys. You said it. You really said it." People who are not in this business will sometimes look at it and think, "That is so exaggerated. This can't be true." Anybody who has anything to do with this business will see that it has so much truth in this. Even the characters. The characters, people think, if they don't know any better, think these characters are over the top, they're generic. You ask any model who you know and they know a woman, just like all those women, they know that woman. There's a lot of truth to all of this. That's why people respond to it. I've gotten really great response.
K2K: Now, do you still want to be a model or a filmmaker?
TO: NO, I don't want to be a model! (shocked laughing) You saw the film, didn't you?
K2K: Given the option, would you rather be a well known filmmaker or rather get picked up for a big, cushy modeling job?
TO: No, I've always, always wanted to be into acting and directing. I started modeling to enable me to do that.
K2K: Do you think that too many young girls think that modeling in L.A. is the answer to everything?
TO: I think that too many young girls think that modeling anywhere is the answer. Period. Not just in L.A. They're overwhelmed by all the fashion and the TV and the Cindy Crawford's. The all want to be supermodels when they're 12 or even younger. There's very little reality in that business.
K2K: Things have changed in the last 10 - 15 years in L.A. and it's become kind of desolate on the Strip unlike how it used to be, but I have seen these girls on the street who claim to be models, dancers, strippers, whatever but are totally broke. Do you think that a lot of girls come to L.A. from around the country and try to get work only to get despondent?
TO: I can't really speak about that wisely because, from my experience, all the women whom I work with are actually making a living as models. These aren't like "wannabe" models, they're just taking a job. So, I don't really know any of those girls.
K2K: You never run into any others?
TO: At casting calls, where there are millions of women, or out, you might meet some who say that they're models but you've never seen them before at a job. There's also all sorts of modeling in L.A. too. There's centerfold models, Playboy models, but that's a whole different realm and has nothing to do with the women I know. Mine is like runway, fashion models, but Los Angeles fashion models, which is the bottom of the bottom. There's not a lot of fashion in L.A. anyway. New York is the capital of fashion in America. L.A. is a city unto it's own, concerning this. There are all these different type of women, just like men, there are the musicians and strippers, the Playboy bunnies, the this type of model, the lingerie model, so I really don't know about that.
K2K: When you say that L.A. is a city unto its own and doesn't really have a fashion center - do you think that is because of its decadence and reputation?
TO: No, I don't think that that's it at all. It's really sort of business. The fashion industry just isn't based here, it's all based in New York. So, if you look at all of the magazines, all of the fashion magazines are all coming out of New York. There's like nothing coming out of L.A. That's where it all happens. The designers are all in New York. The showrooms. Everything is in New York. L.A. has it's own, a few Los Angeles designers, but you're not going to find Versace out here. In that case, if you're working as a model here in Los Angeles, what you'll end up doing is runway shows for department stores, morning fashion show on KTLA, you'll end up doing "trunk" shows where the designers don't come but they send the clothes in the stores, shoe shows, working the showroom at the California Mart. It's a whole different world. There's bikini work out here and beach work. Companies that are shooting a small catalog, nobody's based out here.
K2K: I was going to ask why you were still in L.A., but it's for the filmmaking.
TO: Exactly. If I had aspirations to be a big supermodel, I would have left a long time ago.
(We got onto music industry vs. modeling and some other subjects)
K2K: So, I'm curious, how tall are you and everyone else?
TO: I'm 5'10". All the women in the film are [tall]. The shortest woman in the film is Jessilyn and she's 5'9". Holly who plays Ariel, she's almost 6'. All those women are actual models with the height at the right size.
K2K: Are all the women [characters] in the film taking from people who you've met?
TO: Yes, they are. They're a combination of various women whom I've met and worked with over the years in Europe and here.
K2K: Simone is the tall one. She cracked me up in the film.
TO: She's great. She's an actual Los Angeles model whom I've worked with for years. She's an acquaintance friend of mine, a business cohort. I could not find this character. I was casting for two months. I had to have someone beautiful, someone tall, somebody witty and somebody who could work a runway like a real Diva model. I tried for two months to cast that part and it was hard and coming down to the wire. There were a couple of women whom I've worked with over the years who I thought, if they could come in, relax and be themselves, they have it in them to do this part. And Darien, that actress, was one of them and she could do that and she was great. Wasn't she great?
K2K: She seemed the most like that could be the real her and not acting.
TO: She's not like that evil Diva person, but she's got the wittiest biting sense of humor. That is just her. I knew that if she could bring that energy and that humor to this part, this person, you really don't end up hating her, you feel sorry for her.
K2K: Her pomposity was more amusing.
TO: All of the women are based on a composite of women whom I've worked with, European and American. The European women, they are more open, they will talk about sex much easier than Americans. When I go over to work in Europe, I'm always amazed at how liberal everyone is over there, because we're so conservative. The very first time I went to Paris and all the girls were taking their tops off, in front of everybody, in front of the photographer, all men, I was like hiding behind a curtain trying to cover up. They have that certain more open, liberated mentality. That's what happens though, you're 18 years old and you're in Europe for the first time and there's a bunch of European older men in the room and an American girl's going to take her top off? No. It just doesn't happen that quickly.
K2K: What finally broke it for you?
TO: I think that once you're in the business long enough. I always have my eyes open and I am always aware if there is a heterosexual man in the room who is not supposed to be. No matter where you are, no matter what kind of show you're doing, there's going to be some guy trying to sneak in there to watch the girls change. It's like if you're doing a show in a hotel, God knows the busboys will be walking through that room in the middle of a show. It's going to happen.
K2K: On the other hand, is it any more evil for a hetero guy to see your breasts as opposed to a gay guy? It's all just flesh anyway.
TO: That's absolutely true, but you're your own person and you have your own choices and your own privacy.
K2K: Gee, how American. (laughing) I've come to find that it doesn't matter, so long as no one is taking unpermissoned photos.
TO: Yeah, but see, I think that they're taking advantage of you in a situation in there. They don't have to be in there watching you. You're not doing a show for the busboys. That's not it. You're doing a fashion show. You're getting paid to be here for the show. Fine, if you're the dresser or the designer whatever, and we're all back there working together, that's fine. I have to be naked, that's fine. I don't have a problem with that. But, if there's somebody in there just to leer, for no other reason than just to leer at those of us who are trying to do our jobs, then that's not right.
K2K: I had met a couple of Dutch models who had a whole different approach to leering guys. They just popped them out and said, "Fine. Here. You want to look? Go ahead. Do it." Guys would just run out of shock.
TO: That's a whole other approach. (laughing) I'll have to try that one next time.
K2K: As much as a guy would love to brag to his friends that he slept with a model, I think that if you approached a guy and just said, "Hi, I'm a model and I want to be with you now", they would not know what to do.
TO: You think so?
K2K: Sure. You're a model and thus, intimidating.
TO: Well that would be a good experiment. Somebody should try that. That would be a good research study.
K2K: So, back to the movie, why did you go brunette?
TO: Because all of the good actresses that I was casting, that I was finding, were blonde and I didn't want the whole cast to be blonde - and I'm, of course, blonde. I have one other girl, Jessilyn, who actually dyed herself for the role. I myself got a wig, which it worked much better because I didn't have time to do hair and makeup anyway. There would have been no time. It was the perfect solution.
K2K: How's the response been with the film?
TO: Fabulous. It's been fantastic. We have this deal with Hollywood Video, this First Rites program.
K2K: What are your next projects?
TO: Well, I'm working on a couple of scripts and hopefully I will be directing one of them soon.
K2K: You do all of your own writing or do you accept stuff?
TO: Well, I would. I wrote Fashionably L.A. and my producing partner, which we are Glam Slam Productions, we actually are looking for scripts to produce. I'm working on a script myself, of course to direct again.
K2K: What kind of stuff do you want to do?
TO: We want to do something more in an independent vein, something that's an original. Probably something that everyone else is looking for, something original, something unique.
K2K: Comedic? Drama?
TO: Drama, or, we're not looking for broad comedy. We're looking for a more edgy comedy or drama. Independent fare.
K2K: What kind of ideas are you working on?
TO: I have a thriller that I'm working on. Women. Women in peril. The other one is sort of a Noir, also with a woman hero.
And with that, the tape ran out. How professional. But the main idea about the film had been expressed. Modeling is not easy, but it makes for a funny film. Towards the end of our conversation, the fact was brough up about who was naked in the film and why. Tamara pointed out that, if it sells or rents more copies of her film to guys out there, make sure that they know that this is a chance to see actual professional models naked. We're not talking about amateurs here. But of course, aside from a few brief glimpses of skin, this film is very much worth seeing for its great storyline and humor. Tamara has shown some great directorial qualities with Fashionably L.A. and we look forward to seeing what further ideas and accomplishments she comes up with.
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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