Twitter sensation Kelly Oxford hooks Hollywood
From a snow-crested corner of Alberta, Canada, Kelly Oxford made her Hollywood screenwriting dream come true. She did it without leaving her close-knit family or giving up her free nationalized healthcare. She did it without toiling in Westside coffee shops or confronting painful rejections.
She did it 140 characters at a time.
Oxford, a suburban housewife and mother of three, is a Twitter superstar (@kellyoxford), with more than 350,000 followers. Oscar winners, late-night talk show hosts, even film critic Roger Ebert follow her on the social media service, eager to read wry observations about daily life and celebrity culture.
The worst part about having kids is that they magnify every single thing that’s wrong with you. And they wake up early.
If you have a taxidermy marlin and you’ve never tried to joust someone with it, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
If the majority of your followers are idiots and you like wine, you’re probably more like Jesus than you think.
Those are a few of the 2,900 tweets she’s sent since she discovered the medium three years ago.
NBC hired Oxford to write a pilot last fall, Harper Collins will release her first book of essays (“Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar”) next April, and in April she sold her first movie script toWarner Bros. It’s about a pot-smoking young woman suddenly confronted with the prospect of motherhood.
Her success points to an appetite for humor from a female point of view. But unlike stars such as Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, who honed their craft in the"Saturday Night Live” writers’ room, Oxford found and shaped her comedic voice in online chat rooms and blogs and on Twitter.
“She’s just funny, very consistently and solidly hilarious,” said comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who befriended Oxford after following her on Twitter. “It’s heartening to know that somebody with nothing other than the quality of their tweets can become very popular and actually make a living as a result of it. It’s like Twitter was invented for Kelly Oxford.”
Long before the advent of social media, Oxford, 34, yearned to share her stories with the world. The child of two hippies dreamed of having her own public access TV show, and she loved taking trips on her uncle’s house boat, as long as she could operate the CB radio.
When she was 8, Oxford created her own newspaper filled with reports she invented about her lower-middle-class neighborhood in Edmonton.
In high school, her love affair with writing took a back seat to adolescent flirtations and a few part-time modeling gigs. She dropped out of Mount Royal College in Calgary after one semester; her professors, she says, were more interested in teaching her to write like famous authors than in helping her cultivate her own voice. She tried a screenwriting seminar but realized that at 19, she had no life experience to draw on.
Oxford waited tables, sold shoes and had a baby at age 23 with her boyfriend James, an environmental engineer. She didn’t go back to work after her daughter Salinger was born. Instead, she spent time in chat rooms as she got used to life as a mother.
In 2002, she launched an anonymous blog, posting daily, short stories about her adventures in motherhood or rants about the world at large. Nothing was off-limits.
Her confessional style generated lots of comments. Soon, she had struck up email relationships with those readers, and they championed Oxford to their friends. Before long, thousands were reading regularly and had signed up to receive email alerts any time Oxford posted something new.
“I was so happy ... knowing that every time I wrote a blog about my kids or whatever, that there were 7,000 people excited to get an email,” Oxford said in a phone interview late one night from her home in Calgary. “That was enough for me.”
Oxford used MySpace and Facebook the way a comedian uses small clubs — as a place to try out material. Twitter made her irreverent humor accessible to the masses.
Daughter in Gymnastics = 1% chance she’ll be an athlete. 100% chance she’ll be the drunk girl doing backflips in a bikini.
Kids are home from school and arguing. Remembering them as their former selves. Orgasm.
“Twitter is like the back page of Tiger Beat, where you found celebrities’ addresses and you could write them a letter,” Oxford said. “On Twitter, all the celebrities and producers and writers and directors were there. You didn’t have to write them, but you could see what they were thinking about. It was suddenly an even playing field.”
Not only did she cultivate her own online celebrity, but celebrities began to take notice of her.
First it was screenwriter Diablo Cody, the blogger-turned-screenwriter who won an Academy Award for “Juno.” Then it was singer-songwriter John Mayer, who brought Oxford to the attention of his own Twitter followers. When Ebert started retweeting her riffs, Oxford’s fan base expanded further.
“She speaks honestly from her own experience,” Ebert said in an email. “She can be funny and some of her tweets are snarky, but there’s a person there, leveling with us.”
Enchanted by Oxford’s voice, Emmy-winning screenwriter Jhoni Marchinko encouraged her to write a pilot and offered to serve as her mentor.
Cody became a close friend and confidant. A stripper-turned-blogger who came to Hollywood after being discovered by her current manager, Cody believes that starting a career through social networking is a sound strategy.
“As someone who came from the Internet myself, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t,” she said. “Self-publishing is fantastic. You don’t have to deal with anybody. There are no rejection letters. You just find your audience. Plus, you get instantaneous feedback.”
Oxford had visited Southern California as a teenager and again in her early 20s, quick trips to L.A. to “soak it in” or, in one instance, on a failed quest to meet her movie star crush, Leonardo DiCaprio. In March 2010, she flew to Los Angeles for her first business trip, a four-day visit in which she met with just about every studio and development executive in town.
“A lot of them thought I was going to be this cute country housewife or something,” Oxford wrote in an email. “I guess they had no way to know that I’m fairly controlling and business savvy, except for the fact that I’ve been controlling my entire image and work myself for the past 12 years online.”
Oxford stays up late most nights to write at a cluttered desk in her second-story bedroom in her home in Calgary. A bulletin board near her head is covered in children’s art and baby photos of Salinger, now 11, Henry, 8, and Beatrix, 3.
Her fingers race across the keys of her MacBook Air while her husband James — they married in 2007 because Henry became enchanted with the idea of being a ring bearer — strums his guitar a floor below.
In addition to making final revisions on her book, she’s rewriting her screenplay, “Son of a Bitch,” which Oxford says is about a young pot-smoking party girl with a legion of loyal online followers who must reconcile her new motherhood with her online persona.
Last year’s summer box-office hit “Bridesmaids,"a raunchy comedy starring Wiig that earned two Oscar nominations, paved the way for unflinching depictions of young women in previously taboo settings.
“Before ‘Bridesmaids,’ I never would have thought to pitch an R-rated girl-centric movie because I knew the odds of it going were pretty slim. But all of a sudden there is a market for this — the outspoken women,” said Oxford.
Lately, when she travels to Hollywood, she stays with Kimmel and his girlfriend Molly McNearney, co-head writer on his ABC talk show"Jimmy Kimmel Live!” They’ve opened their Hollywood Hills home to Oxford, and lent her a car.
Now, Oxford is preparing to transplant her family to Hollywood for a six-month trial run. (“My weirdest friends are there,” she said.)
On a recent Thursday, she slid into a seat at a Sherman Oaks bakery, a bit anxious about the day ahead. She was in town to sign contracts, meet with studio brass and check out a rental house.
Running 15 minutes late, and dressed in a lace top, chunky beaded necklace and jeans, Oxford looked more like a coffee shop employee than a budding Hollywood player.
She was well-armed for the day’s affairs: extra shoes, an extra purse, a new outline for her meeting with Warner Bros.development executives. Her biggest concern was her stomach. James was sending reports from home: All three kids caught a flu and little Bea had just started eating again. Oxford wasn’t hungry — a bad sign for the usually ravenous writer.
To make sure she left each meeting in time to make the next one, she had set the alarm on her iPhone. She’s become a master at Google maps. “It’s like’The Amazing Race,’” she said, checking the traffic before heading to her next destination. “I’ve never been late yet.”
Her agent, Cliff Roberts, said he isn’t worried that her impending relocation or her higher profile will dull her edge.
“She’s not coming out wide-eyed, fresh off the bus from Iowa,” he said. “She’s had some pretty fancy people that have been chasing her to do stuff for a long time.”
The tone of her tweets certainly hasn’t changed. In a recent one, she asked her followers, “How do you get a red wine stain off a baby?”
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