Leah Taylor, senior content manager at Flavorpill, found herself starting NYU just two weeks before September 11. She shares with us that incredible experience and how it unified the citizens of New York. Now, she works to bring cult classic films, like Ace Ventura, to life in an unique interactive film viewing experience.
What was your first week like in New York?
That’s actually a very interesting story, can I tell you what my second week was like in New York? I moved here to go to NYU two weeks before September 11, and I was living on 10th and Broadway. It was weird because I had never really been to New York before that, I had come once to explore and take a tour of the campus. So I only really know New York in a post 9/11 sense.
My parents were like, "I’m sure UCLA will still take you if you want to come back, no big deal!" But really they meant, "Come home!" I was very adamant that I still didn’t want to leave New York. It was very surreal, which is weird to say because I feel like that word’s been overused at this point but I don’t really have another word to describe it. I was asleep when the first plane hit because I didn’t have class until 2pm, so I wasn’t going to wake up at 8am.
My roommate came home and told me class was cancelled, and that something had happened, the world trade center is falling down or something … she wasn’t really sure. So we turned on the TV and then, woah … what is going on! Literally, what the fuck! We went up to the top of our dorm building and watched the second tower fall. It was far enough away that we didn’t get blasted with dust or anything. We were like ‘what happens now?’ What do we do? There is no game plan for something like this, obviously. You just felt very helpless, you want to spring into action and do something but there is nothing to do.
I couldn’t really get in touch with people because cell towers were completely jammed with people trying to reach their loved ones. So I emailed my mom and dad saying, "I’m alive, I’m fine." I then went to St Vincents and tried to give blood. Eventually they said they weren’t accepting any more people because there was no one to give the blood to.
That night we went to the Javits Center, they had a Red Cross station there, and made meals for the emergency workers. There were caravans and huge trucks going up and down the West Side Highway filled with relief workers going down and then coming back up. I just remember watching that, and walking to the Javits Center and back home again in the middle of the night. Everything was so quiet, except that there were lines of people along the West Side Highway with signs saying ‘we love you’, ‘thank you for doing this’, ‘go team’. It was a very weird time, but it was also galvanizing.
I think that’s a common narrative that comes out of that time, that New Yorkers really came together. But it was true, even down to the most minute interactions. Everyone was just nice to each other.
Did that last a while?
Yeah, it did. I think that common bond, ‘we were here’, ‘we dealt with it together’ kind of remained. It’s certainly faded now, and I’m not a huge fan of remembrance day every year … of rehashing everything, but I admire the spirit that came out of that. The idea that we can do something together, even if it’s not what we want to be able to do right now. Instead of just sitting there and feeling helpless (which I think we all did), we can at least be together and find some kind of good will that we can share between each other.
How did you feel, you just came to New York and started school and this happened … did it make you question if you were doing the right thing to be here?
If anything, I think it solidified my need to be here. I thought, well, I’m definitely not leaving now. I never questioned it … going back to California.
Has that lasted until now? Do you see yourself in New York forever?
Yeah. The only reason I think we’d leave is if my husband (who is an actor) got an opportunity in LA, then we would go. There’s always that LA vs NY rivalry, where we’re kind of supposed to hate each other. I’m originally from Northern California, the Bay area, Fremont. There’s definitely also a Northern California vs Southern California rivalry, so I’ve also kind of been bred to hate LA. As a baby I had a onesie that said “Fuck the Dodgers”.
So that sentiment remains. [Laughs] However, I have been to LA several times recently and have friends there now. I dig it. I could see myself there. It’s wildly different but I would go. I’m not done with New York though.
What was it like growing up in Fremont?
It’s the epitome of the suburbs, it’s a great place to raise a fairly, good public schools and all that jazz. Boring, but very culturally diverse. We have a Little Kabul, the largest Afghan population outside of Afghanistan. My high school was about 65% Asian, which includes Indian and East Asian.
You said that after 9/11 it solidified your need to be here, was New York always on your radar?
Yes, absolutely. From when I was about 10 or 11, I just romanticized the city entirely. The hustle and bustle, the drive that is portrayed in movies, the whole ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’ deal … I love that. The city buzzes. There’s a constant energy, and I thrive on that. I can’t hang out in the country and be quiet and slow. I can’t go home to California and not jaywalk. I need that speed, I need that energy. I’ve definitely mellowed, even if I’m not out partying and going out all the time, that underlying energy is still there and I really enjoy that.
What were you studying at NYU?
English and American Literature and Creative Writing.
And now you work at Flavorpill.com ...
My title is Senior Content Manager, which is a fluffy title but it means that I oversee all the written content that we do for our advertising partners. Like a copywriter, kind of.
How does that work?
Within Flavorpill we have a mini creative agency, we come up with more creative executions for the people that advertise with us. My job is to make Starbucks, or Honda, or whatever fit into our own voice, and make it appealing to our readers. That can happen through either a blog post that’s sponsored by them, native advertising, or if we’re throwing a party … we threw something called ‘Absolut Lunch Break’ which is a really fun program we came up with.
It sounds amazing ... Right up my alley!
Yeah, it was a lunch time dance party. It was just an hour. You come and you get one free drink, you dance for an hour. DJ Questlove was our main guy. You party in a club and then when you leave you donate money to the New York City Food Bank, and then we would give you a brown bag lunch. The idea being that you donate your unused lunch money. So that’s an example of something that our team came up with. My job would be to write up the invitations and to make sure that the content is in Absolut’s voice, but also in Flavorpill's voice … to make it authentic. Another example is we’ll hear from a brand, that they’re looking to promote a certain thing, with a certain amount of money. What can we come up with? So we brainstorm.
That sounds really fun.
I love it. Brainstorming is my favorite thing ever. It’s really really fun, to just be as creative as possible (obviously staying within a certain budget). But those constraints can also fuel your creativity.
How long have you been at Flavorpill?
It will be 10 years in 2015. I started there right after NYU … I’m a company man! I started as an editorial intern, then an editorial assistant, production manager, managing editor, group managing editor and then I moved over to the Creative Services side which is where I work now. I was looking to do something else, and to move out of a strictly editorial position, but I loved Flavorpill. The fact that I was able to make that lateral shift is really awesome. They helped me flex those muscles, and to grow there.
Did you have a dream before school of what you wanted to do? Or did it evolve as you started working?
I think it evolved. I always wanted to do something with words.
That’s very broad!
Yes. It’s very broad. I like to say that as an English Major you can do anything or nothing. It’s a very broad liberal arts foundation. I could just as easily be bartending right now. I love writing, and I have some background in advertising. Growing up, doing child modelling, I saw that side of the world.
Where are your offices?
We’re in Soho.
Awesome area! And you’re living in a great area …
Yes, I love Carroll Gardens. It’s a bit quieter than, say, Williamsburg. It’s family, but it’s not as family as Park Slope. We don’t get the stroller brigade every weekend. Good restaurants, good bars, and it’s a little bit slower than other parts of Brooklyn but that thrumming energy is still here.
Do you have any favorite restaurants or bars?
I do. Buttermilk Channel is where we had our wedding rehearsal dinner. It’s fantastic. Their fried chicken is wonderful, but they also have an entire vegetarian menu. I only recently started eating meat again, for a long time I was a Pescaterian, but the fact that they have this huge vegetarian menu means the whole table doesn’t have to participate. It’s very flexible, their fresh produce is delicious.
Frankies is down the street. We got married in city hall and then had the reception there. Frankies is Italian, it’s just really really good.
What about around Soho?
Botanica is my home away from home, shout out Botanica! It’s a little dive bar but I’ve been going there since I’ve been working at Flavorpill, so 10 years. The owner is super nice and all the bar staff are really nice, and they have the cheapest happy hour in the area which runs until 8pm!
What? We’ll see you there!
The other awesome place is Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. Alex (my husband) works there.
What about clothing? You have such great style.
Thank you! I love thrifting. Crossroads is always good, Beacon's Closet is OK but they’re snooty. I feel like they’re judging me when I shop there. I love Buffalo Exchange and Housing Works. But you have to pick the right one with a chain thrift store. If you go to Williamsburg it’s been really picked over because there are so many fashionable people there, but I go to the Buffalo Exchange in Boerum Hill or Cobble Hill. Not a lot of hipsters in Cobble Hill, so you get good finds.
Before we forget, I want to talk about BBQ Films! Tell us about that.
I got involved a couple of years ago, it’s an immersive cinema production company. We throw parties that are themed around our favorite movies, and we try and bring the audience into the film in some way. For instance, when we did Back to the Future, we invited people to the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance from the movie. Everyone came decked out in 1950s clothing, we had a DeLorean parked outside. Actually the second night we did it we had two DeLoreans! The DeLorean community I guess it small (laughs) and tight-knit, so when they heard we were doing this party a guy from the Upper East Side drove his DeLorean down.
We also did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We hosted the foot clan try outs, we built out the shredders lair. We had a skate ramp and everything.
Wow! How does this even work?
I learned of it through a press release I was sent at Flavorpill. It was for a party at the Moon Tower from Dazed and Confused. In the movie, the whole big event of the film is this party at the Moon Tower. We ended up going, it was at Windmill Studios in Williamsburg. They had a car parked inside with a keg in the back, everyone dressed up, and then you watched the movie. I was blown away and wanted to know how i could be involved. They were receptive to my request, and I came on board! The next one that we did was Zoolander. We threw the Derelicte fashion show. Alex (my husband) was actually Mugatu. That was the first one where we got even more immersive, and it was even more produced. It became a show within a show. We had built in storyline that ran parallel to the movie itself.
The most recent one we did was Weekend at Bernies, that was the most ambitious one we did. We had this amazing opportunity to actually work with Terry Kiser who plays Bernie in the movie. He came out for it! But we needed to figure out how we could update the movie for today. We created Bernie Junior aka BJ, and just like his dad he has some shady dealings. So what does a shady investment dude look like in 2014? He’s a start up bro! So we had BJ the start up bro inviting you to the launch of his crypto currency burn book. We threw a party out in the Rockaways, raging with BJ. We watched a ‘documentary’ about his dad Bernie (which was the movie).
Do you get sponsors?
Right now, we make zero dollars from them. We just do it because it’s really fun. We’re trying to make some money, but the way that we do it is we do get some sponsors so we can make cool shit happen. One of our basic BBQ Films tenants is to not lose money, to have fun and to get invited back to the venue.
When is the next one?
The next one is in February, we’re doing Ace Ventura Pet Detective.
Ahhhhh, I love that movie!
But we’re doing it in Miami.
It’s our first one we’ve done out of town. It is a Miami story, we’re trying to work with the Dolphins. It’s going to be on the lawn in front of the Bass Art Museum. We just kicked off with a massive brainstorming session with our film crew.
Everyone has a favorite movie, and even if it’s not your most favorite there is something about being part of a group that creates this stuff. It brings joy. Straight joy. The nostalgic factor is strong.
What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
Be braver. I think that in New York it’s easy to get swallowed up. I consider myself fairly outgoing, but in a lot of ways it took me a long time to explore everything that I wanted to explore and to feel like I was worthy of exploring it and experiencing it. Man, I am. I’m worth it. New York is only going to be as cool as you let it be. If you’re just stuck to the Washington Square Park campus of NYU then you’re missing out on a lot. Be braver!
What do you think of when you think of New York?
I have a movie montage, the 80s shot of everyone going to work and it’s that crowd shot crossing the street, it’s fast and it’s furious. It’s busy and driven. When I think of New York, I think of being driven.