|Electronic Hollywood / Jaime Levy Press From 1990 - 2000|
You'd think Jaime Levy would have a hard time keeping the various incarnations of her personality together. And you would be right, sort of. It isn't simply that Levy, founder of the Internet multimedia design animation content-providing production studio… Well, the firm Electronic Hollywood
pretty much embodies the Levy Streak, a gajillion thoughts at once, a cyberspace heroine with a thousand faces. You get the idea.
So it isn't simply that Levy represents the familiar paradox of the Silicon Alley netizen, the creative versus the fiduciary; it's that Levy who has been in the game since the late 80's (when her instrument was an Amiga), represents all the Alley neuroses. "I feel really old now and slightly burnt out," she complains, "and I'm only 33 years old!"
Seen it, done it, jeered it, failed at it, succeeded, lost money, raked it in - Levy is Silicon Alley's living record. If the Alley were an Indian tribe, she'd be venerated and stored in a special wigwam atop the Flatiron Building. If it were ancient Greece, she'd inhabit a temple and be consulted as an oracle. If she died tomorrow, the cortege would clog lower Fifth Avenue from 23rd Street to Washington Square.
Her wisdom is both sage and jagged, and evidence of a Third Way, a trans-schizophrenic way: an unapologetically greedy neo-humanism, a machine dream with heart and a slow-growth plan culminating in grudging domestic bliss, though one fraught with apprehension. "If I'm not making stuff in my 40's, that would be sad," she says. "But if I just want to sell this company when I'm 36, get married to some Jewish guy, and then stop, buy my little $4 million apartment… Is that my goal?"
She resumes, jadedly, "That's the goal of the majority of the people in Silicon Alley right now."
Levy knows. When the Web was still a twinkle, she was developing (as her graduate thesis at N.Y.U.'s Interactive Telecommunications Program, where she now teaches) an e-zine, CyberRag, distributed on disk. When Billy Idol wanted to reinvent himself as a cyberpunk, "his people called my people," reports Levy, in whiplash fashion, between screw-all skatebetty and Tinseltown playah. Poof! The first interactive press kit, to accompany the Idol's CD. Since then, she's published a digital book, Ambulance, which paid homage to the L.A. punk scene (she was raised in L.A.). She's done Malice Palace, an exercise in apocalyptic San Francisco bashing via a multi-user virtual environment. (Her mood when she lived there and conceived Malice Palace was "I hate San Francisco this year, so I'm going to make something where I burn the city down and ridicule everyone." But she adds that it's "the best thing that I ever did in my life.")
Later came the move to New York for good and Word
, the spry, individuality-obsessed early webzine, co-founded with Marissa Bowe (Bowe covered the editorial; Levy managed the publication's influential design). She also has interface work for EMI, AT&T and HBO under her belt, from the time when it dawned on corporate America that there might be something to the whole web business. It's not clear that Levy has ever missed a trend; she seems, in fact, to have started about half of them. Paleo-media took note. She was often photographed, frequently anointed. A "most powerful 20-something," a "most influential" person in cyberspace. Digital celebrity gave her a healthy respect for the absurd.
And now she's taking a stab at the authentic big time. No more podunk projects that turn heads and merit admiration or bolster her minor cult but eventually flounder or get passed by as the technology evolves. "Eyeballs are a big problem," she admits. "I prefer to create stuff that goes on a big-ass site." There's disappointment to be had in the maturation of Jaime Levy. Where has the bleach blond hair gone? Where are the glistening black leather or polyvinyl pants she wore in her 1996 Esquire shoot? Where is Silicon Alley's gutter-mouthed misfit princess?
Growing up. Instead of eye catching threads, she wears faded jeans and a black t-shirt with a small hole in it. A relatively tiny bob to her chestnut tresses. Rad: the natural Jaime Levy. Once, she posed in tube socks with a skateboard for Newsweek. Now it can't be long before she darkens Donna Karan's threshold. Her Electronic Hollywood offices, just Northwest of Flatiron near Manhattan's antiques and carpet districts, are bustling and chic. There's work for Tommy Hilfiger. There's a cartoon series, CyberSlacker, on the drawing board: Daria meets tech. Noninteractive. A throwback, using the Web as a "delivery medium," Levy says. Besides animation, EH is also producing games: the latest is Dog Run, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Business is good, but it wasn't always; until a backer came along - who "knew how to sell me," according to Levy - the operation almost tanked. But no more in the sunny internet investment climate. "People younger than me are getting $50 million thrown at them for ideas that are only slightly different from each other," she says. This bugs her. But it's hardly an ethic.
"Right now I have a lot of control. But if we sell Cyberslacker to TV, they'll put a lot of show writers on it. But it will still have aspects of me in it."
A pause. "Whatever. We'll still take the money."
Nevertheless, she doesn't want the juicy lucre to poison her. Unlike every other human in Silicon Alley, Electronic Hollywood isn't courting venture capital, she claims. A double take: throughout Levy's press kit there are quotes from her about how she wants to get rich. But that was the old Jaime. The new Jaime realizes that she has options.
"I can shoot completely over the top," she says. "Or work 50-hour weeks and continue to go snow boarding and be who I am instead. Build the company slowly and not completely burn out. When I go to my shrink, I feel like I'm a spoiled brat, but really there's no downside. After all, it could be the 80's and I could be working as an art director for some music label, thinking I have a cool job. Music videos? How cool is that anymore? All the bands they put on MTV blow."
All the bands they put on MTV blow. This is why you make your pilgrimage to Levy, for comments like that: so obvious, yet so righteous. Levy honestly believes she can do better than MTV - indeed, she feels that people deserve better than MTV. And even though with CyberSlacker she's flirting with a despised medium, with the Devil's Own, she still thinks she can uphold her smartass utopia on the Web. "A lot of people are making branded content right now that's just a reappropriation of television or print thing. She says, "and that's boring. They aren't changing things in any way. I'm beyond all that. I'm conceptualizing ideas, giving users a new experience. To me the Internet is an art movement, like Warhol in the 60's."
Huh? Isn't that a tad, um, predictable? But then it begins to make sense. "I'm indulgent," she says, elucidating. "I'm Pop. There are some people who take themselves seriously and make fine art. Not me. I want to see the goods. I want to have my ass kicked. I can't stand people who just talk about it."
Is any of that going to last?
"Consume now, baby," smiling like she's just struck gold, or soon expects to.
is a contributing editor atFeed. He also writes about wine for New York Press. To everyone else he offers his services as a vulgar generalist.