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Feature Mon Sep 22 2008

An Interview with Misty Tosh

Misty Tosh, a 34 year-old filmmaker (and self-described hustler, schemer and dreamer) has made a life for herself on the road - maybe you'll find her in a vintage trailer that she remodeled herself, or in the sailboat she bought for a song, or helping babies with cleft palates in Indonesia, or chowing down on tamales in Rogers Park. Wherever she goes, she brings the same creativity to her lifestyle that she brings to her artmaking.

In a nutshell, what is Fatcake Productions and how did it get its start?

Fatcake is my production company that started out making TV shows and has now branched off into pilates/volunteering retreats, writing projects, etc. I basically just created the company because I knew I wanted to produce my own travel/adventure related shows and sell them -- much easier to do when you are an established company.

Do you think formal education, like grad school or a degree in an artform, is necessary to make it as a successful artist? Like, did you get an MFA or just jump into filmmaking DIY-style?

I have to be honest: I think it's a gigantic waste of time and money. I moved to LA from Tennessee when I was 20 years old -- dead broke, no contacts, no clue really. I had no education and literally moved into a youth hostel. Being the hustler I am, I just figured out a way to break into the industry (my first job was coordinating a TV show on Fox).
I say jump in 100%.

Example: I am doing a TV show right now in Kentucky for a huge production company and I just hired this kid (whose grandfather I just bought a sailboat from) who lives in Florida and has been dying to get in the industry. When I threw that nugget his way, he just straight up quit school to come and be a production assistant on the show for 10 weeks. He's like me: taking a brazen chance and just figuring that it will all work out. He will learn more on this show than 4 years of film school would ever teach him. And, that's the thing: you have to be a go-getter, be available, be fluid and ready to jump on anything that presents itself to you.

It's funny because now I speak at Northwestern and at Colombia, two great educational houses. This from a girl who never even considered college as something that would propel me into the lifestyle I wanted to create for myself.

You seem to use art as a jumping-off point for adventure, combining film/writing with things like pilates and eating good food into a viable career path. If this is true, you've totally made nine-to-fivers look like suckers. How'd you do it?

Like I said, I'm a hustler, a dreamer, a schemer. I learn as much as I can on real, paid projects and then I turn around and utilize those skills on my own projects. So in the end, it's like I get paid to learn. I've managed to combine my deep addiction to travel, to food, to adventure and off the beaten path places into a full on career -- one that I call the shots on.

And another thing that I never, ever do is this: I do not sweat it when I'm not working. I just hit the road and find inspiration there. I head deep into the belly of third world countries and live cheap. Like: last year, I bought a little vintage 14' trailer for $1,000 and rigged it out with solar panels and hit the road. I did 6,000 miles through all of Mexico and camped out in my trailer (and drank copious amounts of cervezas) and explored for three months -- totally alone.

The people I met, the organizations I volunteered with, the stories I came up with: they are all fuel for future projects. You have to have spirit and gumption for journeys like these and know that everything is one step closer to the next thing.

I'm also a master of manipulating circumstance for myself. Like: if something doesn't work out the way I want it to, I never fret. I just twist it into a new scenario that does work for me. It's by far my best skill.

Your life seems to involve a lot of travel. Where did this love of travel begin?

My mom joined the army when I was 10 years old and my family was immediately ripped from the mountains of Tennessee. She first built missiles in Germany and then became a career prison guard at Ft. Leavenworth, the most maximum-security prison you could imagine. I sorta didn't have the traditional upbringing, as you can imagine.

I went to a different school every single year and had to become extremely adept at befriending strangers, localizing myself and fitting in. All of that childhood "training" made me who I am today: someone who is totally unafraid to travel alone and also someone who sees people in very different ways than most. I never judge anyone -- from the lowest man on the totem pole to the top dog. I'm sure I was judged every time I showed up in the middle of the school year, and that feeling can be harsh and alienating. I never want to inflict that onto anyone. And of course, with travel, especially as a child, comes insight.

What's the latest news on your NGO, 4th World Love, and what inspired you to found it?

4th World Love is in the Phase 1 of its pilot project in Indonesia. We're opening an English school/community center on the small Muslim island of Lombok, just East of Bali.

Long story short: I've been to Indo a handful of times and it's one of my fave places in the world. Last year, I went there specifically to volunteer, and I had such a transitional experience (especially since I'd just come off a huge and hellish TV show) that I wanted to give back more, much more. I knew when I came home that I wanted to do something bigger than just volunteer. Something more long term.

I loved volunteering, but being the creator that I am, I thought that my skills are much better utilized as the full wheel, not just a spoke in the wheel. I brainstormed a bit and figured I could create my own NGO and get a little bigger with it all -- get volunteers excited, teach locals new life skills, get all locals into some long-term English classes, etc. And I knew that I could take this pilot template and literally transplant it to any third world community and have it stick. That's the goal anyway.

So when I am done with the current project I'm on, I'm heading back to Indo (along with Lisa Colangelo, my partner in crime for 4th World and at Fatcake) for a few months to start Phase 2, which is where I figure out how to turn over the community center to the locals. That's the toughie because you want it to run itself without you having to be there overseeing the day-to-day operations. It's all a learning experience though, and that is where I sort of excel. I just don't look at the downfalls in any capacity; for some reason they don't register with me. I totally throw caution to the wind and do it. It all works out somehow, you know? Do what feels right, what makes sense and it will all come together.

The web site will be up and running by the end of Sept. It's www.fourthworldlove.org. Lots of intel on there, including how to donate, how to volunteer with us in Indo, and information on a big contest we're having to raise funds. Basically, if you donate $50, you are entered in a contest that offers the winner a full, all-expenses-paid 10-day trip to Indonesia to volunteer with us. The more $50 donations you make the better your chances are. The goal is to raise $10,000 (that is 200 people donating $50 each) -- shouldn't be too hard. It will be a life-changing experience for the winner, and all volunteers, really. We're setting it up right -- really focusing on what the volunteer gets out of it, as well as the locals.

We just sponsored five surgeries for little babies in the village who needed cleft palate surgery. Their parents, who make about $20 per month, would never have been able to afford the surgery, but with a bit of fundraising efforts on our end, we pulled together the dough and literally changed these kids' lives. You cannot beat that sort of fulfillment, I don't care what you do!

Little things like this are the goal. Our motto is all about supporting community development through grassroots projects.

What're your three proudest moments, of late?

First, definitely the surgeries for the babies. (One of the families was so poor that when they were picked up to be taken to the hospital, they brought all the money that they had, which was 1,000 rupiah -- that's the equivalent of 10 cents.) To go back and see the joy on their faces after the surgeries was priceless.

Second, when I sold my TV show (Craving Adventure) to the Travel Channel. Me and a few pals (via Fatcake) basically went to Mexico, shot a demo tape of a foodie adventure-style program, and then I worked my butt off learning to edit on Final Cut Pro (again self-taught and not relying on anyone). We sold that idea to the Travel Channel, and it turned into a special that they continue to air. It was awesome for me, because I basically created the show, hosted it, directed it, wrote it and produced it all based on a little idea about budget travel and food in exotic places. We shot the episode that aired in Nicaragua. It was pretty cool because when I signed my contract, Discovery Channel said it was the first time in the history of their network that they'd allowed an on-air talent to direct, host, write and produce a show. I'd made history at Discovery Channel. Not many people can say that.

Third, buying my new sailboat is a biggie for me. I've always had the idea of my dream boat -- an old-school pirate ship of a boat -- and I just happened across the boat of my dreams about a month ago (this is my third boat). Serendipity stepped in, and it all worked out, and I am now the proud owner of a Chung Hwa 36, which I plan on sailing to Central America this spring and using as a home base as much as I can. As long as I have wi-fi, I'm all good. I'm pretty much a flight away from any job.

How do you simplify your life and stay sane with so much creative work going on?

I live really lean and mean. For real.

I do keep a thousand projects going at once, but I make sure that I can handle them all -- and the way to guarantee that is to make sure that I do projects I'm passionate about. Things that I don't mind researching, and staying up all night obsessing about, like: how to rig a sailboat with solar panels; how to start an NGO; fundraising ideas; new TV show ideas to explore; articles to pitch about things that interest me; etc.).

I live pretty cheaply too -- like, I bought a condo in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Chicago (East Rogers Park) instead of getting myself all wrapped up in a huge mortgage. I drive a really rugged 10-year-old truck that I know I can haul through the mountains of Mexico with a trailer strapped on the back of it, instead of traipsing around in some ritzy car. It's all about making concessions and prioritizing things. I'd rather not work for six months and explore Central America than work all the time and live the supposed "large" life that most people seem to think is the right way to live. That sort of life -- one of all consumerism -- makes no sense to me.

Can you give some advice to creative people looking to make a living off their artmaking?

I know it's been said a trillion times, but you just have to do it. There is absolutely no reason not to. Trust me, if you're thinking about it, dreaming it up, wishing for it, etc., then you better believe someone else is conjuring up the same scheme. It's all a matter of who gets there first.

And, no matter what, do not make money the priority. If you do, it might never come. Just fill your head and heart with things you are passionate about and the details will work themselves out. So will the dinero.

Follow the further adventures of Misty Tosh on her blog at www.bigsweettooth.com, or find out more about her production company at www.fatcakeproductions.com.

About the Author:

Lindsay Muscato is a Gapers Block staffer who escaped from a toaster fire in Buffalo, NY at the age of four. She now lives in a slanty shanty in Andersonville, has written and performed with Around the Coyote and 2nd Story, and she's the managing director of The Neo-Futurists. Read her scribblings at lindsayliveshere.org.

 
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Julie / September 26, 2008 11:40 AM

So stoked to see my pal Misty here, who inspires me every time I think about her!

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