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An Interview with Gabriella Plotkin

Gabriella Plotkin isn't interested in fairytales about the lifestyles of creatives, and that's what I respect about her. A journalist and a director, Gabriella focuses her energy on showing things as they are. Her writing conveys the beauty of hard work and perseverance, as opposed to the fantasy of getting by on talent alone. She created the series Side Hustle on exactly for that reason, to tell the side of the story that so often goes unheard: the side jobs your favorite artists have to take in order to support themselves.

Her other articles for Milk have a similar honesty to them. When she profiles an artist, she gives a holistic view of their character and makes you feel like you know them. Her work for Milk's Gender Diaries is insightful and adds to the dialogue regarding gender constructs without making it seem like gender is the only defining characteristic the featured artist has.

Even in a completely different medium, Gabriella's voice carries through. Although wildly different from her writing, the music videos she directs have the same rawness she is able to achieve in her articles. Her directorial endeavors are visceral and, because they are so genuine, they have a certain purity to them, which mixed with her sometimes grungy aesthetics, create something truly remarkable.

I had admired Gabriella's work for a while before meeting her, and I was always curious if she was different in real life than she was online. It should come as no surprise that her personality in real life is exactly what you would expect from viewing her work: humble, friendly, laid-back, stylish and cool without trying too hard. Even though I was considerably shorter and less accomplished, she made me feel like I was her equal, and I'm so appreciative of that.

What work are you most proud of?

I thought about this for the longest because it was so hard to pick. I also direct music videos outside of my work for Milk. But if I had to pick, I decided it would be Side Hustle. Especially in our current society, being a creative is often glamorized. With social media, we're living more curated and filtered lives. Side Hustle came about because I wanted to expose the hard work that's behind being an artist or creative. I was inspired by a lot of my friends who are successful musicians with thousands or millions of plays on Spotify, yet they still have part time jobs. They're still working service jobs. I was able to write about so many people's stories. Even if they did become successful enough to no longer have a side hustle, they did in the beginning and it was really humbling to hear about where they started and how they got to where they are.

Do you have a favorite Side Hustle story?

They're all so special. There's a couple that haven't come out yet that I'm really excited for. But I think Hidji because I really look up to him as a director and editor. I love making videos as well, so he was like one of my biggest inspirations already, and hearing about how he came to New York, and rejected doing a 9-5 just for the security of it. He didn't have a safety net. He was sleeping in a warehouse. He was selling drugs. Also, the fact that he can make videos. That's another thing about Side Hustle, it really shows the people who are dedicated to the work and their passion, what sacrifices they are willing to make for it. Like serving til 4 in the morning, bar tending, whatever it might be. Hidji is so successful but extremely humble about where he's gotten to. He sees it all as work, as a project he's trying to make the best he can.

Using a metaphor, how would you describe your creative process?

Like washing a pig. I didn't coin that. I definitely got that from a book. But it's like, when you have an idea, it's kinda dirty the way a pig is dirty. You have to keep washing it, trying to make it cleaner and better. And it's like, how clean can a pig really get? But you just try to clean it and keep going.

Do you remember what book that's from?

Yeah, it's from this advertising book called Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This. It's written by one of the most iconic men in advertising, Luke Sullivan.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

I think in the beginning when I was starting to make a lot of work, I idolized really successful, well known people. But at this point what's keeping me going and inspiring me to work harder are my friends. A lot of them are wildly talented musicians and stylists and tattoo artists and filmmakers. Getting to see them make advances in their career is super exciting and helps me keep going as well. I know how hard they work, and they deserve it all.

How has your work changed?

I think in the beginning I was really focused on detail and execution and wanting things to look a certain way. I had blinders on and was only seeing a very small detail. But now I think of things in a broader scope, like a broader idea and vision that can be executed in many different ways. Like for example, Side Hustle is this bigger idea yet it can be executed with so many different people. I think I used to be more detail-oriented, whereas now I'm interested in ideas that can be manifested in different ways.

What's been the most transformative experience of your life?

When I was younger my best friend-- we were like family friends, we spent all of our holidays together and I was really close with his family and still am --he was diagnosed with cancer. He had a brain tumor. He passed away when we were about fourteen. It was the most difficult experience of my life. But I was going to art school and the thing that made it okay was making things. And I think that after I graduated high school, it still had a huge effect on how I live. But he was so talented and so special. Now I think of it as, "I'm so lucky to live." I try to work as hard as possible because I feel lucky to have the opportunities that I do and be alive.

What's your favorite piece of art?

I have so many! But I would have to say David Bowie's work. I'm just going to pick him because I can't just pick one record. When I got into him as a teenager, it was the first time I really understood figurative storytelling. The way that he creates stories through his lyrics and how they symbolize so much more than what he's saying was the first time that really clicked for me. Ziggy Stardust-- those lyrics are incredible. And Frank Ocean's Blonde. Both of those records had the same effect on me. They mastered a figurative way of telling stories that commented a lot on our culture, but they said them in such a beautiful way, and they sound even more beautiful. It's really brilliant to me.

What's something people would never guess about you?

Probably that I'm highly interested in the stock market. I guess from my experience, people don't think that I think at all. Being a woman in the entertainment industry, or being a woman anywhere, a lot of people assume that you aren't thinking about anything. But I am! I think about how much privilege I have, the unequal distribution of wealth. I think deeply and heavily about a lot of the things that are happening in government, between races, oppression. I think people take me at surface level, but that's okay because I use it as a weapon to come at people. So yeah, I don't think people think I think, especially about the stock market, which I do.


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