One dollar. That’s all it takes for you to produce a movie, thanks to Amy Walker, an all-in-one performing arts machine. She acts, sings (her original songs too), dances and writes. And, if you contribute a dollar, she’ll be directing your movie too.
You might have seen the clip that sparked the phenomenon which eventually became SoulFire. More than four million people from all the world over have: a simple, two-and-a-half minute video on Youtube where she’s framed in a close-up.
“Hello,” she says. “My name is Amy Walker. I’m 25 years old and I was born in London, England.” That explains the crisp, plummy accent.
Which really is nothing spectacular until she re-opens her mouth and repeats her line almost verbatim, but sounding totally different. She’s still speaking in an English accent, but one clearly distinct from the previous.
That’s just the beginning; she does it again for nineteen times, a different accent each cycle, spanning almost the entire Anglo-speaking civilisation. When she’s done, you are left to wonder where in the world she comes from. Russia, California, or Australia? Maybe Ireland. (She’s actually from Seattle, Washington)
The video caught fire when someone posted it on humour website Break.com. Within three days, Amy’s unique talent has drawn hundreds of thousands like moths to a flame. Even the States’ biggest morning news show, TODAY, was intrigued.
Amy was invited to the programme
where she treated Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera, as well as to the rest of America, to a sampling of her repertoire.
Slightly more than a year on, Amy is working on a bigger, more ambitious project: an indie movie, funded entirely by like-minded friends on the internet. The film, Connected
, explores diversity within a family and tension that results.
She talks to me on a platform apt for the internet sensation -- Skype -- and gives us insight into what sets her on fire. Acting, her first love; accents, many of which she lapses into even in this interview; movies, her current pet project; and her family because they all play vital roles in her exploration of human relations.
JASON: Hey Amy, thanks for speaking with us. When did your fascination with accents start?
Well, I didn’t know then that I divided it into accents, but I guess I started when I learnt to read and sing as a child, and listened to stories. You know how children memorise not just the words, but how they are pronounced? I guess for me I learned them very specifically.
If I was listening to a story read, and if it was (turns on trans-Atlantic accent) “Once upon a time”, I wouldn’t go (reverts to her native Seattle accent), “Once upon a time”.
J: What was your first accent?
When I was in fifth grade, I became a major Beatles fan. Of course, they were in Liverpool, but I learnt a lot of their songs and guitar solos and everything. And I would memorise them in their accents. That might have been sort of the beginning.
It was probably the first accent I would go off and talk to myself in it. I haven’t done that since Middle School. I was in fifth grade, when I was twelve.
J: Is that your favourite accent?
It’s hard to pick a favourite. I really love (with an Aussie twang) Australian because it’s so chewy and it’s just so fun! And there’s all these bizarre words, all the jargon like “goon”. It’s like chewing this big wad of language. And they are such fun people.
J: Accents are what made you famous, through your youtube video. What was your response when you realised that it had become a hit?
I’ve only been hosting videos for only a little over year, so I was just brand new to the Youtube scene when that (the 21 Accents video) went viral. Someone put in on Break.com (a humor website) and in 24 hours it had 400, 000 views.
But the most fascinating thing was that people in non-English speaking countries like watching it. That I wasn’t anticipating; it was really surprising.
J:All these accents, are you sum of them all, or are you none?
(Contemplatively) Well, how do I say this? I’m all of those, and I’m none of those. All of us are different with friends than we are with our grandparents. And we’re different with our boyfriends or girlfriends then when we are interviewing someone. It doesn’t mean that one’s the real you or not the real you. They are just different aspects of you. We’re just like a kaleidoscope and you can’t ever be all of those things that you are at one time.
J: So it’s about the situation, and just because you interact differently with different people, it doesn’t mean that you're fake in one scenario. They’re both equally real.
Exactly. Even when I was a tiny child, the goal for me was having a clear channel of connection with a person. I was always aware as a kid when I was treated as one. I wanted to be treated like an equal.
People can think you’re just like that because you’re Asian, or because you’re young or whatever. But I just want to get pass all of that to the core level where we’re just people.
If you speak in the exact same accent as someone else, they won’t see you as different. People don’t think they have an accent usually. They think, oh everyone has an accent but we don’t have one.
J: SoulFire films and your movie, Connected, are also about human connection. How did you make the jump from Youtube?
It didn’t seem like a jump to me. At the time I was living in Philadelphia and I didn’t really know anyone there, so I was communicating solely through email, Skype and cellphone.
It’s not like being in person with someone you know? You can’t really feel their energy and tell how well we’re communicating and it’s harder to connect.
But in some ways, communication was happening at the same time between me and people around the world with my Youtube video. Someone would email me and say, “I was inspired by your video and I’m in Russia.”
That completely blew my mind. It is such a small world that we can connect to people who we’ve never met and probably never will meet.
I just wanted to explore all of that. I’m not against or for any of that. And then I had that kind of theme and the story just started to come out about the family.
J: Who came up with the idea of the entire world chipping in a buck to fund the movie?
Hmm... it was sort of a collective idea. My mom was telling a woman about the 21 Accents thing and the film I am working on. And the woman said: “You know, if just one out of three people gave one dollar, you’d have enough money for the film.”
I thought, you know, if we did that, if we had all these people and say for a dollar, “you can have your name in the credits of the film”, then all we need is a million people. That sounds a lot, but it’s not when something really catches on.
And the thing we love is that it gives power to the people, because normally the film industry is quite esoteric you know?
J: And there’s the commercial aspect too.
Definitely. Sometimes, not all, but sometimes the integrity of the artistry of the film can be at risk. And the one thing I knew when I wrote this film is that I did not want to sell it off and have it made into cookie cutter plots.
But really, we really want to empower other people too. For them to say, “all it takes is a little bit. If we just give a little bit, even if it’s just a dollar. But if lots of us do it, then we can make amazing things.”
J: Empowering people through the web.
A: Right exactly. Before we had the idea for the one dollar thing, we wanted to make a website. A community called SoulFireProject.com where anyone could make a page or a mini-site about their project, their soul fire project. Something they’re burning to do, whatever it is. Go study journalism in Toronto, or start a school in Africa, or raise funds for a bone marrow transplant for someone in the community. Anything.
J: Connected is about familial relationships. What was it like growing up in your family?
I was the middle girl of two brothers who I love. And there was lots of music going on all the time. My brothers were sporty, but I was artistic enough for all of us.
We had our good fights too, but that’s part of it you know? It’s hard, family is hard no matter what. Even if you love them, it’s hard because you’re stuck with them, you know?
But there’s something so important about that. And I’m just always so fascinated by family dynamics.
J: What inspires you?
My parents are very inspiring; they’re pretty amazing people. They have a lot of integrity. My mom is a music therapist. She’s been doing her soul’s work almost all of her life through music and therapy. And my Dad works for the Salvation Army and he was a minister before that.
So both of them are very service-oriented, community minded and earth minded and they are very true to themselves.
But I’m also inspired by everything. Inspired by the bird outside my window, and great art and you.
J: Ever considered Hollywood?
I really follow my heart. If I wake up tomorrow and know in my heart that I had to go to LA I totally would. But as I’m demonstrating now, it doesn’t matter where you are. What matters is that I’m doing the work of my heart and soul. That’s the exact thing I’m doing through my film.
J: Finally, you often end your videos with “good vibes to you”. What do you mean?
Haha, it’s just me sending pure loving energy. Some people pray, but for me it’s just taking it beyond a level of words to just a pure and energetic form. It’s just a way I like to think about it!