Street: Can you talk a bit about your partnership with Sundance?
Chaz Smith: There’s this fellowship called the “Sundance Ignite Fellowship” where 15 young filmmakers between the ages of 18 and 24 get chosen to be a part of a full–time fellowship where they’re flown out to Sundance for free and you receive mentorship from another filmmaker in the independent film industry and at Sundance we get to go to all these events, get to meet all these major filmmakers and just get swept up into the Sundance network for life, really. I’ve benefited so much from it, it’s been awesome.
Street: Have you done any short filmmaking yet?
CS: Um, I mean, in Video 1 I made stuff, but all of it makes me cringe just thinking about it. Everybody had to submit something, I made a PSA last year at the beginning of last year on sexual assault and rape culture and that’s what I submitted and they loved it and that’s yeah, yeah they really liked it. That‘s the last thing I made that I’d really say was important.
Street: Why did you get involved with MARS?
CS: As a male, I understand that I have a lot of privileges that women don’t, particularly when talking about sexual assault, which is very one–sided. When groups of people that are oppressed speak up about their oppression, people tend to turn their ears off, but when people who have power in the situation, for example, in this case, men who are privileged are able to speak up about it, it makes much more of a difference because other guys will be more inclined to listen just based on the fact that we don’t really get it so when another guy who they can relate to talks about it they’re more likely to pay attention.
Street: What’s the biggest eye opener for people when MARS presents to other men?
CS: From friends who I’ve spoken to, big eye openers have been statistics. One example is reportedly between 20–25% of women in their lifetime will have been the subject of a sexual assault. For men the statistic is 1 in 33, but I think it’s far, far higher just because of masculinity standards in our society. Something else that people kind of have to learn to get in the presentation is the whole idea of victim–blaming. In the news you might hear something like, “A woman was raped at 3 a.m. last night,” just something like that, right? And they talk about where she was, what she was doing, but we don’t really focus the conversation on the perpetrator. This is an example I like to use, if I’m laying down on the beach and somebody comes over and steps on my back and I say “Yo what are you doing?” and they say, “Well you shouldn’t have been lying down in my way,” then nobody would side with the person who stepped on me. So why is it that when we talk about assault we’ll ask somebody what you were drinking, what were you wearing, how late were you out, why were you by yourself, did you bring any type of protection, you could have said no. No! The perpetrator should not have attacked the victim, it’s that simple.
Street: How did you get into Vine and YouTube?
CS: Growing up, I always had everything that I needed or wanted, my parents have always been able to provide for me, and because of that I’ve always been happy, but more importantly, just content no matter what was going on. I realized since I didn’t really have any burdens I could do the best with my time helping other people out and making them smile. So at the end of my senior year I went to YouTube to try to do what I said I wanted to do. So I made my first YouTube video in May, it was way too long, I think I deleted it because it’s one of the most cringe–worthy things, but I really enjoyed it and then that same month I started my Vine account and within a month and a half I had like 2,000 followers and then I made the Watermelón Vine. In one summer I went from having zero followers to having 50,000.
Street: How do you see yourself using the platforms differently?
CS: Not everybody nowadays is going to watch a three–to–four–minute video. So even though I can’t really influence people on Vine, everybody loves to laugh and you can brighten somebody’s day just by throwing a punchline into a six–second video. I’ve gotten a couple messages where people were saying that they were suicidal and that your videos always make me laugh and brighten my day. That’s huge to me, because that’s what I was trying to do with my YouTube videos, I didn’t even think I could do that. Being able to do that remotely through some piece of glass and metal with a screen, it’s just really good to know that I’m affecting people.
Street: Do you consider yourself “Vine famous?”
CS: I don’t like that word honestly. I’d say I have famous vines. But in order for me to be “Vine famous” I think I’d have to be recognized in public on somewhat frequent occasion which doesn’t happen at all.
Street: Do you have a favorite word to intentionally mispronounce?
CS: Definitely not “Watermelón,” I’m serious, I’m tired of people saying that, honestly. If you see me don’t say it. I don’t know, I always pronounce me and my brothers’ names [wrong], I won’t really be thinking about it, I’ll just be walking by…Oh! Actually, baguette: bag–a–titty. It’s so immature.
Street: Do you want to be a creator full-time?
CS: Yes, except not Vine content, I just really want to be a director behind the camera telling stories that are entertaining but have greater impact, not like something where you can just walk into a movie theater with your popcorn and sit down and enjoy it for a little bit and then leave and that’s it, my aspiration is starting to be becoming the greatest of all time.
Street: Do you have any stories you know you want to tell?
CS: Yeah, the story of King David, because it’s a story that everyone can relate to. Literally and figuratively facing giants and having to overcome, it’s a story about overcoming fear and being underestimated and having confidence in yourself and your identity, but also when he’s older it’s about failure and making mistakes that totally alter your life, and redemption, Also, I want to do a modern remake of this movie from 1927 called Metropolis. This movie was made 90 years ago in a different language, on a different continent, in a totally different era and I think it tells a better depiction of—this is a German movie— I think it has a more accurate depiction of American socioeconomic and race relations for the future than any other movie.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
CS: Those who know how to finish a sentence…
Street: If you are what you eat, then what are you?
CS: Anything potatoes.
Street: What do you love most about Penn?
CS: Honestly, all the relationships that I’ve made, I’d say the people, for real. There’s always something to do at Penn, but it’s not like you’re doing it by yourself, it’s the people you’re doing it with that make it really special.
Street: What do you love the least about Penn?
CS: It’s really segregated. I think just Penn in general has to do a much better job of stepping out, the people at Penn in general, we all have to do a much better job of stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing diversity.
Street: What was your first AIM screen name?
CS: Chizzaz1020, that’s still my AppleID.
Street: What’s something we forgot to ask you?
CS: What kind of music I like. New age Jazz, there’s this EP coming out called Blue Skies, you have to listen to it. I hate mainstream hip hop that all sounds like, literally, okay, this is my pet peeve. People will listen to music and I’ll ask “Do you even know what they’re saying” and they’ll be like “No, but the beat’s hot, though,” that makes no sense to me.