ROCK iS RED FEATURES AN EXCLUSiVE iNTERViEW WITH CHOCTAW FiLMMAKER iAN SKORODiN!!! THE FOUNDER OFSKiNSPLEX.COM HAS MADE iT HiS MiSSiON TO GET MORE NATiVE PEOPLE BEHIND THE CAMERA AS WELL iN FRONT OF iT!!!
There is a staggering amount of entertainment out there thanks to the internet. For those who grew up in a time when there were only three channels it is trulystaggering but thousands upon thousands of platforms is essentially par for the course these days. The only challenge is finding said platforms. Everyone is aware of NETFLIX and how it destroyed the DVD rental industry and is now competing with larger networks with a potent mixture of original series programming and original films. Hell, even AMAZON is making waves with AMAZON PRIME.
With a platform popping up here and there these days one that has caught our attention is SKINSPLEX.COM.
For anyone feeling that there isn’t enough Native American representation in television or films SKINSPLEX is the solution to that concern. Established by Choctaw filmmaker and founder of LA SKINS FEST IAN SKORODIN, SKINSPLEX boasts over a hundred titles of film documentaries and original series programming all directed, written and produced by Native people and it’s all free.
Yes, you read that right!
For years Native people have held onto the hope that a Native television network would come and put us on an equal footing with the rest of the world and more importantly – get our stories and our perspectives out there for a massive audience whose only knowledge of Indian people comes from westerns and school plays about Thanksgiving. Sure there is a network out there at the moment called FIRST NATIONS EXPERIENCE (FNX) that is heavily advertised in publications such as NATIVE PEOPLES’ MAGAZINE and INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY MEDIA NETWORK yet is only available in rather paltry markets and not on any cable package that we’ve seen. Hell, we can’t even find it on DIRECT TV but why wait anymore? SKINSPLEX is here and it’s our humble opinion that Mr. SKORODIN needs a statue erected in his honor. This fellow did what all of the government grants and the best intentions ins the world couldn’t do. Get the job done.
I was all too eager to get IAN on the phone. It’s one thing to put up a website, a blog, a podcast or a video up on the internet but it’s whole other type of thinking to create something as big and as exciting as SKINSPLEX.COM out there with the kind of programming that people have been waiting for from Native people. It’s beginnings came out of mere necessity. ” I started my nonprofit back in 2004 and 2007 I started a film festival in LA called LA SKINS FEST.” says SKORODIN. “We were coming up on our tenth year and we amassed a library of some really obscure Native films that were getting distributed . Over the years I have developed a great relationship with filmmakers. I was being consulted by COMCAST to build a website that would stream all of this programming and make it free and they would support it through ad-buys. Every month the site has new titles whether it be movies, documentaries or a full series. It varies. The programming reflects the various tastes of native filmmakers from throughout the country and the narrative run the gamut from comedy to horror to drama. The site has over one hundred titles now and there will be more to come as time goes by. It took about a year to get the site together and finding someone who could create and run the site.”
SKORODIN may be what you’d call a CEO for SKINSPLEX but he is hands-on as a filmmaker with some of the projects featured on the website. “I write and produce as well so we’ve got a lot of original content. We produced a stop motion animation show that aired in Canada for years called CRAZY INDIAN. The show is set in an alternative reality where Indians reclaim the Earth and features Indian GI-JOE figures shooting white GI-JOE figure for twenty minutes.”
One of the shows to be featured on SKINSPLEX is called SKIN SKETCH. “[It] is a series of sketches with Native American actors acting out sketches from professional comedy writers . There are a lot of comedy writers here in LA”.
The one show that is gaining a great deal of attention for SKINSPLEX is the black comedy series WAVE starring NOAH WATT (Crow) and thankfully, native stereotypes are eschewed in favor of good, old-fashioned gallows humor. “It is not a native-themed project and NOAH doesn’t play a native person.” says SKORODIN. “He plays a production sound man who teaches during the day and at night works on cheap productions. Having lived in LA for a while he’s developed a healthy drug and alcohol problem. It’s a dark comedy. It ‘s about abuse whether it be spiritual, moral and physical through a comedic lens. He has to decide who he wants to be.”
Another show of note on the SKINSPLEX roster is A JEW IN CHOCTAW COUNTY. “It’s about a Jewish guy form Chicago who moves to Oklahoma and works at an Indian Hospital as a Doctor. He hooks up with this nurse and gets involved with the criminal element of 1970’s Oklahoma. SKINPLEX explores a lot of different genres. We try to push the bar a little bit but alongside some of the more unconventional stuff we do we do have programming that promotes traditional stuff as well. We try to cover everything.”
As a child SKORODIN’s fascination with film came from an unlikely source. “My dad took me to the movies and we saw ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. The movie was four hours long and there was an intermission. There aren’t too many movies these days that have an intermission. I was young, but I enjoyed the movie. My attention didn’t waiver for a minute. It was hard for it to waiver because it was a gangster movie. It was a film about Jewish gangsters. From there I was fascinated with the medium. As I grew up I wrote very simple scripts and made these short films.”
The endless hours spent toiling behind the camera resulted in being accepted at film school at New York University. It was during the course of his academic studies that he wrote and directed the film TUSHKA. “I wrote a screenplay loosely based on a conglomerate of several native activists in the seventies. The film culminated with what happened with JOHN TRUDELL and his home burning down. It had a scene in it where the FBI was burning down a Native activists home and killing his family. [The film] got into SUNDANCE. This was like a year before SMOKE SIGNALS. My film was shot in 16mm and very low budget with actors from Oklahoma. It was a good film but SMOKE SIGNALS became the darling of SUNDANCE and the darling of our own Native community. It was this easy going, pleasant comedy whereas my film was low budget and very melancholy.”
After graduating NYU, SKORODIN returned to Oklahoma to work for his tribe – The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma for a year before moving to Los Angeles where he found work shooting news for a Spanish Television station. “It was a union gig that paid $35 an hour as opposed to Oklahoma’s right-to-work which meant you only got paid $8 an hour.” Laughs SKORODIN. “Los Angeles has the largest urban collection of Native Americans and there are tons of social organizations there so I helped produce any multimedia stuff they may have needed.”
Having made Los Angeles his home SKORODIN started his film festival LA SKINS FEST in 2007 while at the same time working on his stop-motion series CRAZY INDIANS. He was also seeking in-roads into the television industry and had developed relationships with both NBC and CBS. “They have diversity programs so they would look at my work but what I was doing didn’t fit into their wheelhouse.” says SKORODIN. “Television networks are like tribes. They have a culture and to assume they are all the same will make you look ignorant when you try to approach them. For me, getting to understand that culture of each network was important. They do want new voices and you can see that in the development of Black, Hispanic and Asian shows that have been coming up lately. We as Native people don’t have that because we don’t have Native writers and then we complain that we’re not being represented. Native representation behind the camera is just as important as having a Native actor in front of the camera.”
And SKORODIN has sought to remedy that situation not simply with SKINSPLEX but through the development and establishment of writer’s workshops designed for Native writers with TV and film scripts. The first workshop was launched at the 2012 LA SKINS FEST. “In the workshop we have actors read these scripts and then we give the writers feedback.” says SKORODIN. “We invite executives from NBC and CBS to come and offer their feedback to give the project some credibility. For the first two years of the workshop we never got any TV scripts which was strange because in LA there is nothing but TV opportunities and if you are a writer in LA you should have a healthy, ample portfolio full of TV scripts. Recently we’ve been getting more TV scripts from Native writers. Submissions for our new NATIVE TV WRITER’S LAB closed last week. We received about a hundred scripts and we have slots for seven writers and it’s being sponsored by CBS, HBO and NBC. It’s a five week course and the instructor is the head of the NATIONAL HISPANIC MEDIA COALITION who was also an executive at NBC for many years.”
At the end of the day, the goal for SKORODIN is a simple one. “My hope is to develop more Native television writers. I want this to be like SUNDANCE. I want this to be an apparatus to to help develop filmmakers. People need to realize that there are no barriers to making this your living. If you can make money for these networks they’re gonna love you . This is a money making corporation. If you do well they do well.”.