Lauren Martin is one of the good people that work in nightlife on their way to someplace else. Some are actors, others artists or dancers or writers or comics or students ...you get the idea. Dustin Hoffman waited tables at The Village Gate, and Debbie Harry might have given you a scotch and soda at Max’s. Bruce Willis was a bartender at Kamikaze, and Keith Haring took tickets at Mudd. The list goes on and on. Without nightlife and its after-castings, school or day job-generated incomes, many people could not live and pursue their big city dreams. When clubs and bars and restaurants are regulated out of business, people are put out of work. To many, these are faceless statistics. Lauren Martin is a pretty face paying her dues on her way to fame and fortune. She and Kera Yonker have created a short film called You Are Not Special.
Lauren is actually very special, and she is hosting an event at Brooklyn's SRB, 177 Second Avenue at 14th Street, this Sunday starting at 7:30 pm. It starts early since there’s a lot going on. Musicians and bands that are featured in the film’s soundtrack will perform, including Evan Braun and the Royal High, The Sneaks, Amos Torres, Paul Fairell, Villian, and Quavis and J-Cast. There will be comedy from Brian Omni Dillon, Faraway Greenbaum, Marc DeMayo, and of course Lauren and her cast and crew. I'd walk a million miles for one of her smiles and of course I will attend. My mom always told me I was indeed special - even though my wives insisted I was not.
Here, Lauren shares all about her film, cast, and how being young, hot, and in charge in nightlife has impacted her artistic career.
Tell me about this film.
You Are Not Special is based on an essay written by my friend and partner Kera Yonker. Kera and I worked together in midtown bar Cornerstone Tavern; she was a hostess and I was a bartender/karaoke host. There was a flyer on one of the employee doors announcing this reading series she was doing. I knew she was a writer, and I watched her scribble furiously on napkins and in notebooks in between slinging drinks and belting songs. I went down to her event a week later and listened to her essays. I loved her vernacular ... I laughed at her opinions. Later, I asked If she would let me read some of her work, and I read the essay "You Are Not Special.” I knew there was a film in this two-page piece and I asked if she would be willing to trust and believe in me... and the foolish gal did!
You Are Not Special is about a woman from New York in her, ehem, late thirties-early 40s who works as a stylist. Surrounded by everything and everyone who is fabulous in this city can sometimes make even the bravest of spirits feel very "un-special." She has replaced the idea of dating and finding that person with excelling in her work and spending time with her good friends. Then, she’s introduced to a man who entirely throws her off track ,and we get to see her unravel and experience some great comedy that helps her remember she is, in fact, special.
How did you gather the cast and crew?
Getting the cast and crew together was the most fun. In the beginning stages, I took the first drafts to several writers workshops. I wanted to make sure that, although written from a woman's perspective, there was a strong male presence in the dialogue and characters. The dudes dug it. I had definite people in mind - comedians that I knew and loved and had friendships with, actors/friends that I wanted to work with and crossed paths with over my many years of trudging to auditions in this city. Parts were written specifically for their cadence. The idea of "If you write it, they will come " worked, though I did get a couple of people drunk first (don’t judge).
I brought the idea to my oldest and dearest friend Tom Concordia, my amazing DP and confidant in life. The man has been taking pictures of me for over 20 years and, next to my father, is the most important man in my life. I trust him. So when I asked him "Who are we going to get to direct this?” and he said "You, I'm not doing it if you don't direct it,” I nearly choked on my tuna melt and quickly asked the waiter if they had tequila. Tom handed me my ass and said “You have been on set most of your life, you've produced projects, you’ve coached actors; if you haven't learned anything by now, then WTF! Pull it together.” Kera had the same sentiment and had assumed I was directing. I got my tequila and shook my head "OK.” Our crew is a dream; they are family, and everyone that has experienced shooting with us can't get over how much we laugh but get shit done. We all have been in this business a long time, and these amazing people have my back and me theirs’ every step of the way .The actors ,the musicians involved in the soundtrack, and my beloved crew are the cat's pajama's!
You’ve been in the entertainment and nightlife industry for a while. How has nightlife supported you in your artistic career? Where have you worked, and what jobs have you had?
Ah, the nightlife, or rather the life of the night! I remember walking into Eugene on 24th street - what a day – I had been on Another World and had just been written off As The World Turns after four years of several accolades and a Soap Opera Digest "Best Supporting Actress" nomination. I had bought an apartment, resigned a contract with the soap, and all of sudden a new writer came in with new ideas that didn't include my character, so off into the sunset I went. I walked to Eugene, and little did I know that I would meet some of the most incredible people there that would shape the woman I have become. I needed a home, and there within those crazy walls was one. It was hard a first; I was recognized often and ladies aren't always kind, especially with alcohol - the courage to be a bitch. But that family cheered and supported me and to this day still do.
We were so lucky. We just celebrated a reunion and many of the original crew were there. Bartending, cocktail waitressing, coat checking, being a door person, a bathroom attendant - everyone had a dream, and we sacrificed the nights and watched the world dance the night away to come home with the sun and try to make something magical happen the next day.
Balance. The nightlife gave me the opportunity to still believe. How could I give up my days to work a “normal job” and give up my dream? It kept me alive. It forced a new and different courage that I didn't know I had in me. It hasn't come without pain and suffering - anyone can bitch about the exhaustion, the tolerance of assholes, and the imbalance of never really knowing what you will make that night - but never has there been a better place to learn about human nature than in nightlife. I worked at Eugene, Gypsy Tea, Pier 69, Mantra, Hudson River Café, Bungalow, Barbounia, doing many a door stints, singing karaoke, making drinks, and counting cash all at the same time at Cornerstone.
Do you still bartend? Do you think the expansion of nightlife and the amount of money made by waitrons and bartenders has expanded or decreased the amount of artists, as people see it as a career unto itself?
I still bartend... at three different venues. One day the bar key and cocktail dress will retire. I have nightmares of being the oldest bar hag in this fine city! I remember in the beginning there was big money in it, but after 9/11, people developed a fear of large places, and the city changed a bit.
I coach young actors and all of them work in big fabulous clubs since the idea of struggling is unappealing. I know, I know all too well. I had to make a choice and focus or regret. I ask them sometimes "What did you come to New York to do?” And they all say to me, “But look at your resume, how can you still be struggling?” I always say this: if you want to be famous, you could play the guitar in your underwear in Times Square...brilliant by the way! It's very easy to get caught up in the glamour, the alcohol, the drugs. The power of being young, hot, and in charge. The balance of it all is imperative. Oh, if I could go back to being young, hot, and in charge... knowing what I know now! I have made a lifetime of friends and learned life lessons. I’ve met people and had experiences that have made me better – all of that I believe has shaped me as an actor, certainly as a writer and a director. A huge thank you to all of the bars that let me film in them! I'm not done!
Where are you at right now with You Are Not Special? How are you spreading the word, besides talking to me?
We are beginning our fundraising process and have been so blessed by the amount of talent and artistry behind this project - from the actors, the crew, the brilliant fashion, and the amazing musicians that are sharing their music to create this very electric backdrop of New York. I hope to make people laugh, cry, feel something. This process has been ridiculously frightening; directing everyone, including myself, looking at playback and trying not to cringe at your own insecurities is not AWESOME - it sucks! I should have saved up for Botox! Hearing the actors say the words and laugh has been a great experience, especially when you’re writing for comedians. We still have a journey ahead of us, more to do. Eighteen locations in the can, without a penny. Those bartending dollars helped to supplement food for our crew. We have a Facebook page I would love everyone to check out, and head to the amazing event this Sunday, Oct. 7th at SRB in Brooklyn, featuring seven of the bands from our soundtrack, and two of our very funny stand-up comedians. Ticket info is on the Facebook page; $10 for all that, come one! $15 at the door. Our Kickstarter campaign will be launching soon with a very funny video.
Sorry, must pitch. Mr. Lewis, I believe you taught me that. You always believed in me. Thank you. I truly wish for anyone who is still believing and creating not to give up. Trust all that is already in you. Don't put a time limit on it. Love, fame, art ...just believe.