Photos By Dez Mandl & John Ruff
In an eclectic and diverse community like North Hollywood, there are many times where one might be overwhelmed by all the prospects, events and good times to be had, but what many often find underwhelming is the lack of resources highlighting these events.
A web-based travel show that not only advertises the happenings of North Hollywood, Sassy Survival Guide takes you inside these proceedings, effectively allowing viewers to test-drive the opening reception of a figure drawing exhibit, or a night of Burlesque dancing with the De’Lish Dames before actually committing to making an appearance. “I think being in the NoHo Arts District, there are a lot of young people that don’t know what’s available for them to experience,” says creator and host Marielou Mandl in our phone interview, “so I’m like their on-camera concierge; I cover things that I want to participate in.” And with her producing partner John Ruff, things that Marielou have participated in range from jamming out on stage with a heavy metal mariachi band to bringing viewers the best that the NoHo Rockin’ Food Truck Festival has to offer. Produced by RuMan Productions, which Marielou and partner John Ruff founded together, and broadcasted via the NoHoArtsDistrict.com and YouTube– the secret behind the shows success is really not a secret at all, but quite obvious the moment you lay eyes on its energetic and relatable host. “She has this charisma when she’s in front of people,” producer John Ruff explains, “and also this quirkiness that’s not so prim and proper; but this goofiness that comes out of her.” Ironically, one could argue being charismatic was essential to Marielou’s survival from a very young age.
Survival Guide for Kids
Born in the Philippines, into a military family, Marielou experienced an unnatural amount of traveling early on, having gone to six elementary schools- and surviving almost every type of natural disaster from a volcanic eruption to a typhoon, before finally settling down in Florida where she went to high school. “My entire life, we were always moving,” she says, “and I was always the new kid, so I learned pretty quickly how to make friends and figure things out on my own.”
After high school, she attended the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and it was here where she finally started to get her feet a little wet. “As a kid, it was very much about my grades; my reading, my math, my history,” she confides, “but in college you have a little more flexibility to try new things, so I took a bunch of random classes just to get a taste, and one of the classes was Acting for Non Actors.” It was at that time that Marielou realized she loved being in front of people and quickly chose theater as her major.
We Found Love in a Fictional Place
Not one to waste time, Marielou dove head first into all things acting. But it was on the set of an independent film where she tackled the real-life role of girlfriend. “It was one of my first acting gigs and John was working on the crew,” she remembers, “and we became friends and talked all about film-making and its impact on the world, and we were really on the same level in that respect.” Shortly after, a team- as well as a romantic relationship- was born. “Maybe not all couples could’ve done that,” Marielou says, “but I felt very comfortable with John in the fact that we could be honest with each other.”
Surprisingly, though, one of the things that Marielou had to be honest about was the fact that- while she loved being in front of people- she wasn’t totally in love with acting. “There was one play that I did, and it was a dramatic role,” she says, “and I was torn up for weeks because you have to be in this place, and I knew it didn’t feel good; I felt there had to be another way because you’re not always going to be given comedy roles.” So she decided to give improvisational acting a shot, and quickly fell in love with the light-hearted, spontaneous nature of it. “Then somebody said to me, ‘You always know what’s going on,’” she says, “and I was always watching Travel Channel shows, and I was like, ‘I could do that; that’s basically what I do already.’ So that’s when I tried hosting.” And with that, Marielou unexpectedly found love again.
Casting a Wide Net
After graduation, with the goal of becoming a host in mind, Marielou took a job working for a casting director where having an intimate knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes only made her smarter. “I saw actors of all ages and types, and I saw that there is a place for everyone,” she remembers, “and that was inspiring to me.”
It wasn’t long after that she and John both traded in Disney World for Disney Land, moving to Los Angeles. “When I first came out to LA, I was an assistant to an agent and that was just so I could learn the behind the scenes of how it is out here in LA because it’s very different from Orlando,” she says, “and that taught me a lot as well.” Probably the most important lesson she learned was that if she wanted opportunities here in LA, she was going to have to create them for herself- thus the genesis of Sassy Survival Guide. “I wanted to host my own show, and I wanted to explore North Hollywood because I knew there was so much happening here that I didn’t know about,” she says, “and now with social media and such access to an audience, there’s no reason not to create your own opportunities.”
And with John also having made leaps in LA, working in the entertainment industry as a director / editor, with access to camera and editing equipment, the opportunity was right. “When she pitched the idea for the show to me, I just thought it was so perfect for her,” John confides, “and I thought that we could really put together something of quality, especially with her being the face of it.” The couple immediately went to work researching events in North Hollywood, and- shortly after teaming up with NoHoArtsDistrict.com Founder and CEO Nancy Bianconi- began filming and airing episodes via the web.
A Fantastic Voyage
Over the past year, Marielou and John have helped viewers in North Hollywood discover the brave new world right outside their front door with nothing more than John’s skilled camera work and Marielou’s colossal personality. And she certainly needed a big personality in order to hold her ground during an interview with the worlds first and only heavy metal mariachi band Metalachi. “That was probably the most fun episode to do because they were nice enough to actually let me come on stage with them,” she says. “Also, we saw them warming up ahead of time and they were really phenomenal musicians. And people might not think that if they hadn’t watched the episode, but you see the video and you hear the music and you realize these guys are actually good.”
You also can’t help but realize how talented John is with his camera work when you watch any episode of Sassy Survival Guide. “I do a lot of work on commercial projects also, and you’re there until it’s done,” John says. “But producing something like Sassy Survival Guide where there’s limited amount of time to get coverage, and no going back for reshoots has taught me how to work quickly and troubleshoot on the spot.”
And with both Marielou and John consistently improving with every shoot, the next chapter in their story will be certain to impress. “I always said if I had a show, I’d want to learn how to do anything one of the Charlie’s Angels might do,” Marielou explains. “Next I want to do a shooting range, I want to go sky diving; I’m already doing a pole dancing class. It’s all about the adventure for me.” And with a commitment to bringing these types of adventures to a computer screen near you, it’s only a matter of time before a Charlie’s Angels lifestyle seems more approachable to us all.
Up, Up and Away
Now, with viewership for Sassy Survival Guide steadily increasing with every episode, Marielou and John are hard at work strategizing ways to take the show to the next level. “For 2012, we’ll be using the 12-episode package we’ve produced, with basically no budget, to sell the show to more sponsors,” John explains. “Keeping it online-based would be great, but I’d love to see it get picked up by a network too.”
And getting picked up by a network would certainly coincide with Marielou’s goals for the New Year as well. She confesses, “I would love to expand the show to every city and even over seas. I want this to be international.” And for someone as seasoned at creating opportunities for herself as Marielou is, not even a body of water could stop her from making that global dream come true.
Yes, Marielou Mandl and John Ruff have made good on their promise to guide viewers through the playground known as North Hollywood, all while keeping it sassy. But like anything in life worth having, this producing team has certainly had to sacrifice in order to live their dream. “If you ask any of my friends, they will tell you that I work a lot, I’m a workaholic,” Marielou says, “and you do the work to pay the bills, of course, but you make time to chase your passion so that one day- your passion will be your job. And when you find something you love, you will make time for it.” Sounds exactly like what Sassy Survival Guide viewers are doing every time they tune in.