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Seeking Stardom, Actors Flock to YouTube, MySpace

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Brooke Brodack isn't an actor or a writer; she's even wary of calling herself a filmmaker. Under "Work Experience" on her résumé, she'd list jobs as a waitress and receptionist for local businesses in her Western Massachusetts town. It's surprising, then, that the 20-year-old recently signed an 18-month development deal with former MTV veejay Carson Daly's production company to create content for his network late-night talk show and other projects.

But it's all thanks to the popular video-sharing site YouTube.com, which logs about 200 million page views and features more than 50 million videos per day. Brodack never thought she'd become one of the site's first "stars" when she began posting her homemade music videos, comedy sketches, and faux news reports on the site eight months ago under the name "Brookers." "It really shocks me because I'm not a professional actor," she said. "I just like to have fun. For me to be, I guess, the first person 'discovered' on YouTube — really, I don't get it."

Brodack said making and posting her videos on YouTube and social networking site MySpace.com has almost become a full-time job. She now receives far more fan emails every day than she can answer. "I'm getting to the point where I feel really bad because I can't answer any of them. I'm so drained," she said, sighing. "People even go out of their way to type out practically whole novels using a translator."

One of those emails turned out to be from Daly. "I thought there was something extremely charismatic about this girl," Daly told the Los Angeles Times in a recent article. "Her directing, her use of music — it was very MTV to me."

Digital Revolution

As it has for professionals in all fields, the Internet has become an invaluable resource for performers to land jobs and make connections seemingly overnight. The proliferation and popularity of inexpensive Web-only series and "mobisodes" (content created for mobile devices) has been a boon to nonunion actors. The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have also recognized the importance of online media, making negotiations for residuals from content rebroadcast on the Web and mobile phones a priority.

Some actors aren't simply waiting to be cast in "webisodes" and shorts. Many are using sites such as YouTube and MySpace to post their amateur films, reels, and résumés, and even to audition for roles being cast across the country. This course of action is already starting to work for Stevie Ryan, an Orange County, Calif., actor who has posted almost 30 self-made videos under the name "littleloca" on YouTube and MySpace. In the shorts, Ryan plays Loca, a Southland Latina gangsta girl blogging her life. Loca has become such a fixture on YouTube that other users post video replies to her and even parodies of her shorts.

Indeed, some users were disappointed to learn that Ryan was playing a character. "I really just wanted to get feedback from people. I didn't have intentions to fake people out," she said. "A lot of people think I did it to trick everybody and see how long I could get away with it."

Ryan, who recently wrapped an independent film titled John Doe, didn't have any expectations as an actor when she unleashed Loca. Although she'd love to receive offers from production companies as Brodack did, Ryan pointed out that on YouTube and MySpace, she can control how her character is portrayed — control she'd most likely lose if a studio built a project around her character. "If somebody wanted to make [Loca] into something and it was all the right things, I think that's great," said Ryan. "What happened to Brookers — more power to her. I think it's wonderful. She's just going to have a bigger outlet now."

Ryan added that she's developing short films featuring Loca that she hopes to screen at film festivals. She envisions the films will act as public service announcements warning people away from ethnic stereotypes.

Casting directors, producers, and even network execs are also waking up to the talent on the sites. CD Bonnie Gillespie of Cricket Feet Inc. said a New York actor who regularly posts his audition videos on YouTube told her about the site last year. "He can't fly in for auditions but always wants me to see him for films I'm casting," she wrote via email. "I think it's a great use of a free resource. Most online audition footage services are very expensive for actors. For example, one upload of an actor's two best takes of an audition can cost $50.

"As fun as video-surfing is on YouTube," Gillespie added, "I think we've yet to unlock its full potential for actors and electronic auditioning."

Jane Francis, senior vice president of 20th Century Fox Television's boutique programming arm Fox 21, noted that the company's executives regularly troll video-sharing sites for new talent. "These sites can be particularly fertile ground," she said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "While these efforts have not yet resulted in a major piece of casting or story idea or project, we believe it is only a matter of time." Fox companies are owned by News Corp., which also now owns MySpace.

Beyond the Headlines

MySpace was launched by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe in 2003 as a marketing tool for unsigned bands. According to Alexa Internet, a company that charts Web traffic, the site currently boasts more than 87 million registered accounts and is the world's fourth most popular English-language website and the fifth most popular in the world. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchased MySpace last year for $580 million and has announced plans to expand it into 11 countries, including France, Germany, and even China, where Internet content is heavily censored.

But News Corp. has come under fire by a variety of groups for not protecting its millions of underage users from child predators, who can easily contact and communicate with them via the site. A 14-year-old Austin, Texas, girl sued the conglomerate last week for $30 million after allegedly being assaulted by a 19-year-old man she met on the site who misrepresented himself as a student at her school. In response to similar reports, News Corp. hired Hemanshu Nigam, a former security executive at Microsoft and a federal prosecutor of Internet child exploitation, as MySpace's chief security officer. He announced last week that users will soon be able to mark their profiles as "private," thus preventing uninvited users from viewing their pages. In addition, users over 18 years old will not be able to contact those under 16, unless they already know the minor's email address or real name. Certain advertisers, such as online dating services, will also no longer be able to advertise on MySpace. "We take aggressive measures to protect our members," Nigam said in a statement. "Ultimately, Internet safety is a shared responsibility."

YouTube, which attracts 6 million individual users daily, has encountered its own share of controversy: for potential copyright infringement. Studio executives initially viewed the site as a video version of the embattled music-swapping site Napster. In February, a year after YouTube's launch, NBC demanded that YouTube remove the heavily downloaded short "Lazy Sunday" featured on Saturday Night Live. C-SPAN made a similar demand last month concerning the videos of Stephen Colbert's now-infamous address at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Both videos have since been taken down. However, after seeing how the "Lazy Sunday" downloads boosted SNL's ratings, NBC changed its tune regarding YouTube, deciding to work with the site rather than fight it. NBC will now advertise on the site — in essence paying YouTube to post the network's approved clips.

Almost Perfect

Some actors say promoting themselves on MySpace and YouTube is not without its annoyances or potential dangers. "I don't really know anyone that has made a connection through MySpace and booked a job," wrote actor Elizabeth Engle in an email to Back Stage. Engle uses the site to keep in touch with friends and promote her plays but became suspicious of users with ulterior motives after she joined the site's acting network. "I got a lot of scamlike emails from people I did not know," she wrote. "Some were from photographers who wanted to solicit headshots to me. Others were from illegitimate casting directors or from fake modeling agencies that wanted me to sign up for something and pay a fee."

Producer Boris Acosta of Master Films Productions said the response to his MySpace page promoting the company's film Dante's Masterpiece has been overwhelming. "I started a MySpace page about two weeks ago and have been bombarded by actors and actresses from all over the world," he wrote via email. "The number keeps growing by the hour and day."

But Acosta said he welcomes the emails and requests to be approved as his page's "friends." "In general, most actors who have responded are passionate about [the film], and some have offered to volunteer for free during preproduction to get a chance at getting paid during production," he wrote. "It's been a really exhilarating experience, all in all."

Whether YouTube and MySpace become their gateway to mainstream success, Brodack and Ryan agree it's a great creative outlet. "It's definitely opened up a whole world for me. It's been the funnest and best thing I've ever done for myself," Ryan said. "Even if it doesn't do anything else, just being on YouTube, I'm satisfied with that."

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