Where are they now? Interview with “Switcher Girl” Ellen Feiss

ellen feiss

“I’m Ellen Feiss and I’m a student”. Back in the Spring of 2002, those words launched one of Apple’s more memorable, if not effective, ad campaigns. Known as the “Switcher” ads, the spots featured real people telling real stories of being fed up with the hassles of PC ownership, and their subsequent relief upon switching to the Mac. By far the most popular of the ads from this series starred Ellen Feiss, a 14-year-old girl who ended up in the commercial totally by chance. While other “switchers” quickly fell into obscurity, Ellen grew into an overnight internet cult hero of sorts, her fame spurred largely by the rumor she was high during the filming of her spot. Sites selling merchandise with her image sprung up on CafePress shops across the web, and fan sites declared their undying love for her.

Ellen recently started college, but not before taking a year off to star in an independent foreign film entitled Bed and Breakfast. We caught up with Ellen to see what she thinks of those Switcher Ads five years later, how she feels about acting, internet fame, and what she thinks about her image being on a Frisbee.

Macenstein: Hi Ellen. Thanks for taking the time to meet with us. The last time most of us saw you, you were what, 14? What have you been up to?

Ellen: Well. I finished high school, got accepted to college and then got a call from the Bed and Breakfast director. I decided to go to France in August and put college off. Two free tickets to Europe later I would say it was worth it for me, I’m not sure how they feel about it.

Macenstein: Why’s that? Do you think the movie didn’t turn out well?

Ellen: I think it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t really make sense. But it was really fun to make and the other actors are, in reality, very talented. The crew was also incredibly impressive and on to better things. I think it was just a fun silly project and perhaps somewhat of a joke for everyone.

ellen feiss

Above: Ellen in a Scene from Bed and Breakfast (2006)

Macenstein: Where can someone see it? There’s very little info on IMDB.com other than a 2006 release date.

Ellen: Contact Screenrunner, the production office if you want to buy a copy.

Macenstein: Take us back to that Switcher ad shoot. I understand you were not actually supposed to even be in the ads, you were actually just a friend of the Director’s (Errol Morris) son and just happened to stop by the set?

Ellen: That’s true. I was friends with his son Hamilton in high school and a few friends and I went with him to watch him make his ad. The two other girls I was with that day also made ads. We were asked to when we got there. What I was wearing in the ad was what I had worn to school that day.

Macenstein: So, were you really a Mac user at the time?

Ellen: Yes. I still have the same powerbook G4 at school with me.

Macenstein: Really? Apple never offered you any free gear?

Ellen: I got a free iPod.

Macenstein: So, that “beep, beep, beep” story was 100% true? How soon after your dad’s PC “ate” your paper did you force him to get you a Mac?

Ellen: The story is true, the 15-page paper was about the history of Chinatowns in America and I wrote it for my 8th grade history class. My parents bought my sister and I the G4 to share the next year.

Macenstein: So how did that shoot work? Was it all just stream-of-consciousness, or did they give you a script or direction of some kind? Multiple takes, etc.?

Ellen: The camera Errol used you could see his face in. So while he interviewed me, I was looking at him, and into the camera the whole time. The commercial was engineered for non-actors. It was literally an interview about my computer. He asked me questions to get me to tell him stories.

Macenstein: You achieved a sort of “instant internet celebrity” based on your Switcher ads that didn’t seem to fall upon any of the other “Switchers”. What do you think it was about your ads that made you a stand out?

Ellen: I don’t know? Because people thought I was stoned, because there aren’t that many young girls in computer commercials.

Macenstein: So back in 2002, you were just a regular kid, no agent, no manager etc. How soon after your ad aired did Hollywood call?

Ellen: Quickly. I got all the calls within a month or two. The “movie” I was ultimately in called 3 years after I shot the commercial. Everything else was all at the same time and fizzled out within the first year after the ad had finished airing. The online stuff has, obviously since we’re doing this, surprisingly held out.

ellen feiss

Above: a Scene from Bed and Breakfast (2006)

Macenstein: What was the best thing to come out of appearing in the Apple ads?

Ellen: Making the movie, Bed and Breakfast, was really fun. The film itself is really not a reflection of all the great people that worked on it. I enjoyed the shooting immensely. It’s something I would do again even though I don’t consider myself an actress. Plus I then lived in France for free for most of the next year. A lot of astounding things have come out of that 30 second spot.

Macenstein: And the worst (aside from this interview)?

Ellen: Being “famous” in high school isn’t fun. I got bitter pretty quickly. For some reason people lose their sense of what’s appropriate social conduct when you have any kind of celebrity persona. People would come up to me and say really rude things that they either thought or they had read someone else had said. People for some reason have an urge to tell you what they think about you and your fame. You feel relatively powerless.

Macenstein: You seem to have a large male following, even to this day. Does it creep you out that they are, in effect, into a 14-year-old Ellen Feiss?

Ellen: It was creepy from the beginning. It was always one of the worst aspects about the whole thing. I was famous but not that famous. It’s not like I had to get a body guard, but my parents stopped letting me go out alone for a while. It was an annoying balance and the constant commentary I was constantly reminded of pissed me off. Plus a lot of my fame seemed to me to be based on the fact that I seemed to be a vulnerable (stoned) young girl. That is never who I was or am. I don’t want that kind of gendered fame and I was never proud of the fact that a bunch of dudes on the internet thought I was hot, or ugly or stoned or stupid or any of the other things people talked about. That being said, a lot of my fans have turned out to be nice, intelligent Mac using people. Mostly men but a few women too.

Macenstein: So aside from the positive experience of making the movie, do you wish you had not made the ads?

Ellen: No. I think ultimately the benefits have outweighed the negatives. Plus it has been so long I don’t know what my life would have been like had none of it ever happened.

Macenstein: You were actually offered guest spots on both Letterman and Leno following the success of those ads, yet you turned them both down. Why?

ellen feissEllen: Because it seemed like I would be the guy with the talking cat on the show. I would be the side guest the host would make fun of and then move on to the real celebrity guest. Mostly I didn’t do it because I was told my fame would escalate. My then agent told me there would probubly be people outside my house if i did the talk shows. I didn’t see any real acting jobs or cool things/opportunities coming out of that, especially because going on the talk shows would be categorizing myself as a stoner computer chick. It didn’t seem worth it to me.

Macenstein: Now, you actually made 2 ads, but the 2nd one (“I love my
G4
“) was never officially released. Were both shot the same day, or did they ask you to come back and shoot a second based on the success of the first?

Ellen: Both were taken from the 20 minute interview / stream-of-consciousness I did initially.

Macenstein: Do you still get recognized today?

Ellen: I got recognized last year in NYC. But not frequently.

Macenstein: Has any one ever asked you to sign their laptop or iPod or anything?

Ellen: I signed a printed still of the ad once.

Macenstein: You recently started college. Did word of your “celebrity” follow you there?

Ellen: Actually no. I don’t mention it unless someone specifically asks me about it. No one figured it out until a month into school someone Googled me for another reason.

Macenstein: So, in that short film, Bed And Breakfast, you star as one-half of an American couple searching for a friend across France. How did you land that job? Were you actively seeking acting roles?

ellen feissEllen: I was in my last year of high school and the director called me after having Googled me, found the name of my school somehow, called the school and got my home phone number. This disgusted me at first. It took him 2 and 1/2 months to convince me to do the unpaid role. My flight, ticket and housing were paid for though. He had seen the commercial and wanted me for this particular part-mostly because there is a scene where I trip on mushrooms in it. Plus it’s a short movie, he thought the internet star power would help. I never officially began looking for roles. Right after the commercial aired, I had an agent, but I would have had to move to LA to really attempt any kind of career. Acting was never something I was actively interested in. But i do like it.

Macenstein: Did you have a problem taking the role at first because of the drug theme?

Ellen: I didn’t read the script-so I didn’t know about the scene beforehand, but furthermore I don’t care about being depicted taking drugs.It took them 2 months to convince me because I didn’t want to put off college for two weeks of shooting. Plus, they got my number in an illegitimate way so that took a while to convince me they weren’t illegitmate as well.

Macenstein:That’s a pretty brave thing to do, going to Europe at 18 to do a film with a stranger who found you on the internet. Without any real acting experience, and no script, what convinced you you could handle the part?

Ellen: I got nervous once I was there and on set, but when I decided to do it, my performance in it wasn’t really a concern for me. I thought about it as: they chose me, so if they don’t like how it turns out, that’s not my problem. They know I have no acting experience, it’s their risk. I think ultimately I did ok.

Macenstein: I read that after the Apple ads aired, Apple sort of advised you to not try to capitalize on your celebrity, and sort of fade away. Why do you think that was?

Ellen: A multinational company obviously doesn’t want to be associated with weed. Their instructions made me want to capitalize on it though.

Macenstein: So as far as you know, your friends who did the ads with you did not get those same instructions from Apple? You were singled out because of the “stoner” moniker?

Ellen: Hamilton’s ad was the only ad besides mine that was picked up. The other two girls I was with, their ads never aired. Apple was advising me not to take acting roles, not to go on the talk shows, so they were talking specifically to me.

ellen feiss

Above: Ellen was profiled in this 2002 Joy of Tech cartoon entitled “Mona Switcher”.

Macenstein: Soon after your Switch Ad aired, there were T-Shirts, coffee mugs, etc. with your image for sale all over the internet on sites put up by your fans, as well as folks out to make a quick buck. Those sites seem to be largely gone now. Did you (or your agent) have to go after them, or did Apple do that for you?

Ellen: Apple did that for itself. My image in that commercial belongs to them. The money from Ellen Frisbees and alarm clocks would have to partially go to Apple.

Macenstein: Do you have a MySpace site? There is one called “http://myspace.com/ellenfeiss

Ellen: i don’t have a MySpace.

Macenstein: There are 131,000 returns on a Google search for you. What’s it like to still have fan sites and folks pretending to be you on MySpace? Do you ever miss your anonymity?

Ellen: It’s not present in my day-to-day life, so I don’t think about it unless someone asks. Plus I rarely meet fans.

Macenstein: A large part of your mythology seems to stem from the internet’s obsession with the idea that you were “high” during the filming of your Switch ad. We’ve read past interviews where you attribute your slightly dazed look and red eyes to a late night shooting and your allergy medicine. That all seems perfectly plausible. However, you are now in college… Ever tried marijuana?

Ellen: I was not high during the ad. But I have smoked weed. Is that really surprising? You just had to ask.

Macenstein: So what are you majoring in at college?

Ellen: Photography/video or women’s studies.

Macenstein: Are you contemplating a show-biz career of any sort?

Ellen: Not really.

Macenstein: You met Steve Jobs after the debut of your spot at the 2002 MacWorld. What was your impression?

Ellen: I don’t really remember, it was very brief.

Macenstein: What do you think of the newly announced Apple iPhone?

Ellen: Sounds expensive.

Macenstein: Ok, we’ve taken up far too much of your time already. Let’s wrap this up with a quick lighting round to get to know Ellen Feiss:

What’s on your iPod right now?
Ellen: Nelly Furtado, Sleater Kinney, The Organ, Patti Smith, Sassie.
What’s your favorite movie?
Ellen:Bed and Breakfast. psych! anything with Diane Keaton.
What’s your favorite book?
Ellen:The Happening by Annie Ernaux
What’s your favorite TV show?
Ellen:Next, The L Word.
Currently single or taken?
Ellen: No comment
Do you currently own a Mac now?
Ellen:Same computer I had when I made the ad. G4

Macenstein: Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions and update our readers on what you’ve been up to. It really is an honor to speak to a Mac-icon.

Ellen:
Oh stop. No big deal.

Comments
113 Responses to “Where are they now? Interview with “Switcher Girl” Ellen Feiss”
  1. Ed in Accounting says:

    Wow.
    I have to see that movie.

  2. Great interview Doc, Ellen seems nice.

  3. g says:

    She went to europe without seeing the script and no money and never having met or heard of the director? Didn’t she see “Hostel”?

    :)

  4. Jere says:

    Cool chick. Funny how desperate stoner’s are to find anyone famous who has done pot. They made her a symbol for weed and she never even did any (at the time).

  5. hahahaha says:

    yeah, she definitely looks and acts high in that commercial, and its good to see shes still a cutie all grown up

  6. Jimbo says:

    Jere:

    You’re making some assumptions there.

    1) That the people calling her a stoner are stoners themselves.
    2) That she’s being honest about not being stoned for the commercial.

    I think people associated her with being a stoner because she looks high and acts high, not because they’re looking for someone famous to affix their stoner label on.

  7. Way Cool Jr. says:

    Hey “hahahaha”, she said she wasn’t high during that commercial. She seems pretty f-ing honest about everything else, so I doubt she would lie about something like that.

    Great interview guys! Glad to see she’s doing well.

  8. Foo says:

    It’s funny how she says “But a lot of my fans are nice, mac-using people.”

    What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Like PC and Linux guys are scruffy, bearded perverts?

    *Looks at self in mirror* Um, Never mind.

    Ellen, if you’re reading this, you totally should act, because I bet you could make lots of money at it. Just do it.

  9. dave says:

    im totally going with Ellen is queer. She likes all these queer-rock idols, is studing womyns studies and wont comment about her girlfriend?

    ellen – live it up honey. don’t make me make jd sampson to call you! :)

  10. Ellenfan says:

    A lot of this was covered in an earlier interview with Ellen, and as a bonus, it’s audio, so there’s some new classic Ellen-isms:
    http://www.theflux.tv/index.php?/Podcast_Player/ellen-feiss-interview/

  11. Way Cool Jr. sucks says:

    Way Cool Jr.:
    First, hahahaha just made an observation, not even making fun of this girl for looking high

    second, you are freaking out about NOTHING

  12. Mac Guy says:

    Give me a break, she was stoned.

  13. kc says:

    Kind of a long interview, but kind of interesting. Too bad she gave into the peer pressure of trying weed.

  14. Bilbo says:

    kc, who says it was peer pressure? I think trying weed is a non-issue these days. it’s not like an after school special from the 80’s anymore. do you think everyone who drinks as an adult gave in to peer pressure? how about people who have had sex? sometimes you try things because you are curious and it helps you grow as a person. she doesn’t sound like a stoner to me, her thoughts on the fame thing are pretty well thought out, especially for an 18-19 year-old kid.

  15. Benhertz says:

    Personally, I do think she looks high in the ads after watching them on YouTube. Bloodshot eyes are a telling side-effect of marijuana use. She should have admitted it.
    On second thought, to keep the mystery alive, she should have refused to give a yes or no answer. Keep everyone guessing forever. That would have been the coolest thing to do.

  16. Ralph says:

    My cat’s breath smells like cat food.

  17. jebus says:

    Did you know that Janie Porche is in an indie rock band?

  18. Matthieu says:

    Ellen: One more question, you mentioned Keaton so I must ask… Sleeper or Annie Hall? I hope this experience in France gave you as much to think about as the ad, in a better way ^.^

    Bilbo: They are, but I think you’re assuming 19 year olds aren’t capable of such reflection. On the contrary I think they are very sensitive to these issues, she just had more to think about.

  19. Melissa W. says:

    Great interview! My husband and I loved that ad.

    What a well-spoken, intelligent, young woman. Ellen has a good head on her shoulders, and I wish her well. I’m glad she chose not to allow that ad define who she is as an individual. Way to go, Ellen!

  20. Great interiew. Amazingly, this ad will live alongside Apple’s “1984” forever.

  21. chort says:

    What an intelligent and down-to-earth young woman. Someone that grounded should go far in life.

  22. Mehturt says:

    Ellen impresses me as a quite obviously intelligent, sensible young woman. Even at 14. How many teenagers would turn down an invitation to Leno and Letterman based on the (probably accurate) conclusion that they would be the side guest to be made fun of? Not many, I wager.
    Ellen, I’m sure you’ll get far.

  23. Shaun says:

    I always just attributed her lugubrious speech to being a teenager, not being stoned.

  24. Poor Ellen, all the interview about the same… let her go, she has better things to do than talk about 4 years ago…
    the last 6 questions (fast ones) were the best, thought.

  25. X-rod says:

    “What’s your favorite TV show?
    Ellen:Next, The L Word.
    Currently single or taken?
    Ellen: No comment”

    Hmmmm…. anyone else putting 2 and 2 together and getting the same answer as me? Not that there’s anything wrong with it…

  26. Mossy says:

    Anyone else notice the single or taken.. and TV Shows questions?… hmmm.. nevermind and the L Word..

    Now not that this matters.. she is cute as hell but those answers spell Lesbian to me… come on girl let it out.. break those boys hearts…

  27. Way Cool Jr. says:

    Oh great guys, give her another rumor to live down. She just got over the pot thing. (although, to specifically mention those shows and music groups, she either IS, or just wants to screw with our heads.)

  28. What, no questions about if she had ‘french-style’ scenes in the movie? That would have driven sales through the roof from the fanbois! I have to admit, I’d forgotten about her ad, so I don’t think the 1984 analogies are entirely on track.

  29. buzzdat says:

    > Bloodshot eyes are a telling side-effect of marijuana use.

    And of hay fever, colds, and swimming in a chlorinated pool. Get a life.

    I always saw her as a ditzy teenager, not as a stoner. And based on her interview, I think she would have admitted to being stoned during the commercial if she actually was.

    Even if she was, who cares? It’s a cute ad.

  30. Stone watcher says:

    well, the fact her pupils are so friggen dialated indicates she was stoned, or perhaps on a good dose of hefty drugs. She can’t honestly say she wasn’t on some drug. Its like the Dell dude, “Hey Dude! I’m going to jail!”

  31. Tsagaan says:

    I was amazed at the use of poor grammar. Secondly, she does act like she is stoned. But she does look cute.

  32. stowner says:

    She rolled one right before the commercial shoot. It was good paper.

  33. nocturnal says:

    she seems really down to earth and real

    having smoked pot since i was 15 i can tell you that i can act and look exactly like she did in that ad weeks after i smoked any pot, just because i am naturally like that, i look tired, she says she had the same clothes on that she had to school that day, so she was probably just tired from school

  34. chowderhead says:

    She seems like a regular kid in this video. Stoned or not, doesn’t matter; why should anybody care?

    Nowadays she’s thoughtful, has had a bit of an extraordinary experience in terms of celebrity, and just wants to live and grow like anyone else. Sounds relatively normal and likeable. Good interview.

  35. adrian says:

    Ellen is gorgeous, who cares if she’s gay or not or stoned or not. She fucking rocks.

  36. Anon. Scruffy Bearded Dude says:

    Well… I can state for the record when I take any alergy meds I sure act stoned… slured speach, slow reactions, and everything. Decongestants tend to make my eyes dry and red, too…

    For obvious reasons, I don’t drive, code, or use sharp objects while in such a state!

  37. gary says:

    I’m stoned right now.

  38. Whatever says:

    Hmmmm…. anyone else putting 2 and 2 together and getting the same answer as me? Not that there’s anything wrong with it…

    If there’s nothing wrong about it, why are you doing the math?!?

  39. YoBaby says:

    “The story is true, the 15-page paper was about the history of Chinatowns in America and I wrote it for my 8th grade history class. My parents bought my sister and I the G4 to share the next year.”

    Gimme a break.. 8th graders don’t write 15 page papers for History class.

  40. Placid says:

    Interesting article. Why have I never heard of ‘Bed and Breakfast’?

  41. poptones says:

    Oh please – Apple didnt weant to be associated with pot? THEY edited the commercial, and you can do anything in editing. They didn’t have to pick the parts where she looked stoned, and there’s no way they didn’t know she looked stoned in those ads.

    Nice seeing her again though. She sure was a cutie.

  42. myanmarr says:

    In the years since the ad, she’s developed a really beautiful face. The lips were awesome then and are more so now. Good luck to her, whatever she winds up doing.

  43. Anon-withal says:

    I think that, and I’ve “viewed” the clip, it is readily apparent that “many” confuse “ditzy” with “drugged up.” Stoned she might be, but I don’t automatically call it that.

  44. Wiley says:

    Stoned to the bone!

  45. Anonymous says:

    Now the obligatory: I’d hit it.

  46. Jason says:

    Good interview. I am impressed how well put together and poised Ellen’s answers are. Most 19 year olds are not so cogent.

    As someone with a decent head on their shoulders, maybe you should look at law. You would make a hell of a good public defender.

  47. Justin says:

    Still kicking around with a G4? Time to upgrade that shitbox to a Core 2 Duo! x86 pwns PPC.

    How many geeks out there got a raging boner from an 8th grade girl in a Mac ad? F-ing pathetic.

    P.S. She’s either stoned out of her mind or she’s a space cadet on no sleep.

  48. dirty says:

    EDITED BY MODERATOR

  49. Schoschie says:

    She does look very drugged! If it was allergy medication that she took, it could probably have been an antihistamine. Now read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antihistamine#Adverse_drug_reactions .

  50. Aaron says:

    “I was not high during the ad. But I have smoked weed. Is that really surprising? You just had to ask.”

    No, not surprising, but pretty disappointing.

Leave A Comment

ADVERTISE ON MACENSTEIN

Click here to inquire about making a fortune by advertising your game, gadget, or site on Macenstein.