Hellcats is not a show that, by design, I should like. Even though Marti (Aly Michalka) was always established as the anti-girly girl and someone who was dead serious on getting ahead in life and making her dream of being a lawyer come true at any cost, she fell into the bubbly, cheerleading, mainstream lifestyle a little too easily for my taste. Still, with each new episode, I found elements above and beyond the surface of the squad that not only entertained me but hit my nerves, as well. And this week's "Woke Up Dead" episode may be the quintessential moment of that, even if the character I'm relating to most is not Marti but Dan (Matt Barr).
Yes, Dan. The seemingly perfect boy-next-door who could be the real life model for Ken (as in Barbie and Ken)'s little brother. Does he even have a little brother? Well, if the Mattel people see a screencap of Barr, he might!
Anyway, Dan is an aspiring film student, as was I, but unlike me who somehow got it into my head that I could do everything myself and therefore made my creative process a very solitary, private one, he actually reaches out to his friends to help him with his video entry. A big part of why I never asked for help with my own video projects prior to film school was because I was so sick of hearing people in my family tell me to stop dreaming and "messing around" that I was worried my friends would reject me in a similar way. But thankfully for Dan, all of the help he has given everyone over the course of the first season is reciprocated, and it sounds kind of ridiculous, but it made me tear up. It's not even a focus of the episode. There is no big fuss made about him going to people and asking them to be apart of his film; the fuss is made over the actual film itself because it's stylized; it's a genre piece; and everyone is done up in their cheerleader uniforms with zombie make-up to top it off. But I read between the lines, and when you're willing to do that for a show like this, you find heart you never expected to.
If Hellcats is to be believed, the film school application process certainly changed a lot since my day. I never had to submit a video prior to being accepted (looking back, though, it probably would have been smart of U.Freakin' S.C. to require such a thing!). But the kind of lowest common denominator schmaltz that film schools respond to still appears to be the same. There's a really wide dichotomy in the kind of students these schools accept: sure, they take the gritty, indie kids who put subtext into mere insert shots of coffee tables and car keys, but then on the other end of the spectrum, they take the ones who have the most potential to go on to be a big deal and make them look good in return. It's a good business model, when you think about it: they have enough who are interested in the artistry to retain their street cred, but they have enough that go on to produce big deal rom-coms and summer action blockbusters so their alumni rosters show off measurable (and let's face it, enticing) commercial success.
Dan seems to be somewhere in the middle. I fell somewhere in the middle. I had an indie sentimentality when it came to story-telling, but of course I didn't want to just play film festivals, art house theaters, and small engagements. Dan got discouraged when seeing what "won" the previous year. I got discouraged when I saw what was being sold at times, too. It's not that either of us thought we didn't match up (though maybe that was in the back of our minds at times, too); it's that we didn't like what was being praised and didn't know if we wanted to go through a machine that might make us crank out copies. But Dan has these great friends who will step up when he's a bit down and not only re-energize him but give him the extra push he needs to move forward. I, on the other hand, ended up leaving production (for a variety of reasons).
Maybe the reason his story hit me so hard now, even though other things-- more emotional things-- happen in this episode, too (which you can read more about that in my preview from the cast here) was because I've reached that point of my life where those who went to film school with me and actively and consistently pursued the industry afterwards are reaching those levels of success. Some are much more moderate than others, but they're still out there doing it. And I can't help but wonder if I had stuck it out, too, working alongside some of them rather than retreating inside my own head, if I would be, too.