Danielle Barker has been to the depths of Craigslist hell, and lived to tell the tale. She’s the woman behind Starvival, a web series that looks at the strangest ads on the world’s biggest free classifieds website.
It started off pretty normal — you know, if normal means being strapped down and tickled for a little extra cash in a strange man’s apartment — but this web series has exposed some pretty weird people posting on Craigslist’s Toronto portal. I caught up with Danielle over a very crappy Skype connection to discuss the series, her plans, and strange folks on the Internet.
So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I’m from Salmon Arm, in British Columbia. It’s a small town, like, 20,000 people. Then I came to Toronto last year in the beginning of February. I’m actively going after my career goals, acting plans. Acting is my passion, and on the side I enjoy playing Nintendo, Guitar Hero is a special skill of mine on my resume [laughs].
Where did the idea for Starvival come from?
The idea came from, I guess, my choice of lifestyle. I’ve lived through Craigslist for the last two years, ever since I’ve been in Toronto, and I’ve just survived from gig to gig so I’ve just been making my money through these random odd jobs, these acting gigs that I pick up and just getting by that way. So, I decided this year, why don’t I actually just continue living it and just film myself living it? So that’s where the idea came from and then I edited it, put it together and then launched it in June.
So I suppose you’re a pretty big Craigslist user naturally, then.
[Laughs] I know Craigslist better than anyone else I know. But I only stick within two main categories, the TV/Film/Video section and the Talent section. Those are the two that I target. So, since I moved to Toronto I would be on Craigslist, like, every two days applying to all the random jobs that would go up in those two sections.
How do you decide which ads are the weirdest? Which ads will you use as material for Starvival?
Last year I started saving certain ads, these strange or bizarre ads … Ads that would be, like, totally outrageous ones. But I never actually thought in my life that I would actually respond to them. So, the first ad, the tickling ad, for example, that was probably the weirdest one I’ve ever come across. Especially in that category, the TV/Film/Video section, there was this tickle ad, and I was like, “What?!” [Laughs]. So, the strangest ones, to me, are the ones I’d never consider responding to.
Are you out of your comfort zone when you’re responding to these ads? Have you ever debated in your mind between which ones are weird but good and which are weird but too sketchy?
I am entirely out of my comfort zone! It’s pretty scary; it can get pretty risky. I have a pretty clear idea, though, before I go to one. I would say the tickling one was the riskiest of all of them, because it was in his apartment. But there are certain precautions that you take; I had two friends go with me — who also tried to convince me not to go — but they came with me, came inside with me, we all checked it out, made sure it was safe, legit, and then decided to go through with it. But even at that point, it still is risky, especially with straps involved!
Those two friends were trying to talk you out of it; has anyone ever tried to talk you into an ad?
Yeah! I get people almost every day sending me ads, ones they come across on Craigslist now, I guess they associate me with that. I’m on there almost every day, so most of the ones people send me I’ve already seen or they’ll send me ones that I’m not interested in doing. I mean, I probably did cross that boundary with the tickling one, but I knew that if I wanted to launch this show, I wanted to launch it with a bang. I wanted to do the most outrageous one I’ve come across, and that was it.
Is Starvival your main focus career wise or do you have other projects/work on the side?
Starvival is my main focus at this time, preparing for season two, but I have other projects as well. I am involved in Moderation Town, another new comedy web series that just launched December 9th. And then, as a “day job,” I take on as many unpaid acting gigs as possible. Just kidding; I really do try and get paid, but the reality behind it is you can’t always get what you want. However, the biggest benefit for me is I get to incorporate everything I do, good or bad, into my show!
Do you like any other web series? Which ones?
Well, I love Moderation Town! [Laughs] So everyone should definitely tune into that. And I absolutely love the sketches on Funny Or Die, “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis.”
Any future plans for the second season of Starvival and beyond?
So many plans! So much more to come. I seriously can’t wait to get this season launched on January 1st. I have so much footage stacked up right now and so many more unbelievably strange offers coming in through YouTube alone, you can’t even imagine the absurdity that is to arise! I haven’t even had an opportunity to go back on Craigslist in over a month due to these strange requests in my YouTube inbox. But this season covers so much more than just weird web worlds. I am going undercover to expose some of the largest scams in the film industry to start and later branch out into all realms of the web.
Any advice for anyone starting a web series?
Ha! Maybe a proper computer that works! Also, map out a plan. That is one of the most beneficial tasks you can do. Then prioritize it. What do you need? Who do you need? And how hard are you willing to work for it? So be willing to commit yourself 100 per cent! And in moments of doubt, know that you’ll always resort back to your original plan and overall goals. So accept the doubt, let it pass, and just do whatever it takes to make the dream come alive. But most importantly, enjoy the process and soak in every minute of it. Even in the most challenging of times or frustrating of moments, remember this: it will always be funnier later.
You can check out more Starvival episodes here.