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.

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

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

    Perhaps it’s that, and that you were all beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep, and we were like, “huh?” It was a really funny commercial so I had to watch it again.

  2. frank says:

    Stoner dood paedophile doods awesome stoner mushrooms sweet awesome doods macs are better. Maybe she’s a lesbian. Maybe I’m a lesbian. Doood.

  3. chris says:

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

    one of my favorite shows is “queer as folk” and i am married with two kids. what you watch on TV says nothing about you.

  4. hylas says:

    Ellen,
    My Wife and I loved your ad(s), and think you have a great outlook on things with a sense of humour well beyond your years.
    If you listen to anyone, first listen to yourself, you’re doing great.
    Never mind the yammering idiots that seem to follow you everywhere with that whole “stoned” crap – I think your honesty speaks to that quite well.
    If we were ever to have children, we’d want one like you.
    Thanks for the interview, we always love hearing about you.
    Now, about that G4 PB – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Hylas & Ayla

  5. Rogueboy says:

    For everyone’s information, The “L” word does not imply lesbian or gay. it is referring to the “Love” word. What ever happened to the simpler times. Granted, now more of the gay and lesbian society is making their selves known now. The “L” word has always been known for Love and always will be.

  6. Stathis says:

    I think that it’s really sad how everyone was speculating as to whether she was stoned, and now everyone thinks she may be a lesbian.

    People are crap, Ellen is beautiful.

  7. anonymous coward says:

    YO!!! did any1 else notice how friggin high she is!!!! Damn im bout to light up!! yeeeeeee

  8. Mikupertino says:

    Dudes, one word:

    SPLOOOOOGE!!!!!11one!

  9. Woah … “Bed and Breakfast” sounds like a fun movie.
    The apple fanbase should buy her a MacBook or something, out of appreciation ;)
    Also I would not mind bumping into her sometime … but that’s just the sad macfanboy talking :p

  10. Craig says:

    Ellen .. you rock! I loved your ad. I watched it again this morning. It’s cute, you look very natural and authentic and likable. You will go down in Apple history. :) That part’s not ……………………………………

    …………….. a bummer.

  11. Hippo-crit says:

    Rogueboy, I don’t think you’ve seen the show…

  12. sw33tpixiesmile says:

    YoBaby:
    Just because YOU may have been dyslexic in Grade 8 doesn’t mean the rest of us were.

    In Grade 8 I wrote a paper on a similar topic, the History of the Chinese in Canada. My history teacher submitted it to the Junior Historians of Canada Society essay contest and I won 2nd prize ($75). It was 37 pages long, with appendices and bibliography, 97 pages, 9 months of research and took 3 months to write.

    Estimates of the Chinese dead on the Canadian National Railway run at one for every 4-6 kilometers of track, although documents show about 10, 000 Chinese that entered the country paying $500 dollars per head but were never again accounted for. Most major cities in Canada have burned down their Chinatown at least once. Vancouver, which was owned and operated by WASPs at the time, twice.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think she looks stoned. I’ve been sober around people who are stoned or high plenty of times, and they don’t sound or act like that. Could be she’s stoned, but it’s just as easily explained by dozens of other possibilities.

  14. AL says:

    Hylas & Ayla –

    Are you kidding me? You saw a commercial of a flighty, medicated 14 year old girl, then read what she thought about it in, what, a 5 minute interview, and you are ready for a child just like her? WOW. That’s what I call desperate for a role model.

    I thought some answers seemed pretty mature for a 18-19 year old, props to her for that, but who knows how long she had to compose the answers, how much editing was done, etc. I certainly wouldn’t pin my hopes of how my children turn out based on a media interview of a one-commercial wonder who grew up to smoke weed and star in a really bad film for no pay.

    What a ludicrous thought that you would want a kid just like her. You always love hearing about her? I’m not sure whether you are just a REALLY insane fanboy or a closet stalker.

    MOTD Ellen: AVOID FUTURE INTERVIEWS.

  15. The Vet says:

    Never scene this commercial, didn’t know this girl existed until now. I found this article on Slashdot, and no I don’t own a Mac, and NEVER will. I live in Canada where we have more sane laws (although still yet to be sane) regarding pot. I have smoked since I was 12 twice daily, don’t smoke cigs they make me sick. Early on in highschool often I would know girls accused of “being stoned” when they just had facial features that make them look that way. Ellen is a spitting image of a girl I know who was suspended for being high, but DEFINITELY was not. Blonde hair and bright eyes combined with fatigue make one look VERY high. She seems smart enough that she would have put Visine in b4 goin to a friends fathers place of work. It’s amazing how American media thinks being ‘high’ changes everything. You’re just high. Only thing it changes is how many burgers you order at the end of the day. Or fish sandwichs (Shit that wasn’t cool, but I had to :O )

  16. dontBelieveApple says:

    Anyone that listened to the Ellen Feiss Apple testimonial commercial would realize that the story was fraudulent and problably fed to her by someone at Apple. Windows XP has always been more stable and reliable than any Apple Mac has ever been. I switched from Mac to Windows XP back in early 2002, I use XP intensively every single day and I have never seen any of the problems described by any of these (jewish) morons Apple used in the “Switch” ads.

  17. Ed over in Accounting says:

    Wow, that comment is just filled with ALL KINDS of hate, “dontBelieveApple”.

    But I will take it as a professionally “flame-war-starting” ranting just to get attention.
    It is obvious from your comment that you have never used Windows XP, and likely typed that on an iMac when bored just to mix it up.

    I’m pretty sure even Bill Gates doesn’t use Windows, at least not when writing a 15-page paper of any importance.

  18. Ellen Degenerate says:

    Did you do L with Steve?

  19. Wow, this is walks me down memoir lane. I think that this girl defined a whole generation of what 15 yr old geeks wanted to find in a girlfriend. I think I am going to have to go and rent her movie now to see the scenes they outlined. –
    ===EDITED BY MODERATOR

  20. poptones says:

    “Also I would not mind bumping into her sometime … ”

    Me neither.

    Repeatedly.

  21. Anonymous says:

    reading this interview was a total waste of time……who gives a crap about this girl’s thoughts on anything, i dont see the fascination…. sorry to sound mean–but come on people: wake up

  22. Public-Educated Idiot says:

    She said she shot that ad after having been at school all day. She wasn’t stoned, she was suffering from post-traumatic-BOREDOM syndrome.

  23. spot says:

    i hated these stupid ads. this one may have a cute chick, but i’d like to know how a mac would have prevented her problem.

  24. SRL says:

    You’re doing well, Ellen. You seem to know what really matters. I’d take a chance on doing a mysterious movie role in France for no pay in a heartbeat. Anyone who’d pass up such an experience is made of wood or living in a cardboard box under a sink in Montana.

  25. aurin says:

    My absolutely drugfree friends daughter looks and acts completely like Ellen. This nice slightly funny voice and those dangling body movements and eyes going a bit all over – she’s been like that all the time. No need to be stoned for this, its called puberty, oh, and maybe the steiner school:)

  26. reg says:

    Ellen Feiss – you have more talent in your little fingers than most pop star girls today !

    And that is just with 1 commercial and 1 movie.

    Things get better and better the more you do!
    You go girl.

    Do some acting, but pick the scripts, and read them first! [And Get Paid for real this time - even if it is union scale wages!] With your film studies, try directing, writing too. (There is usually more money to be made behind the camera, than in front of one – but many talented people enjoy both!)

    All the best to you, stay healthy, have a great time in school, have fun and do good!

  27. Mark says:

    Listen, no reason to be a hater. Her story is very plausable. I had a “stoned” incident at work on Halloween. I had used that spray to change your hair’s color temporarily… white because I was going as Albert Einstein. Anyway, I was spraying my moustache while, when I got a big nose full of the crap.

    Anyway, I had never used that stuff before. I tried not to breathe in the fumes, but the damage was done. Boy was I in for an interesting night.

    Halfway through my shift at work, because we had to come in costume, I realized that I was stoned. So I told my boss what had happened and the fact that I had never used that stuff before.

    It was all a good laugh later. Apparently, I spent my time pretending to be Einstein and kind of neglected taking care of my tables. Wasn’t on purpose.

    Anyway, so I have no reason not to believe her.

  28. John Travolta says:

    Get a life people.

  29. jake says:

    “aurin Says:
    My absolutely drugfree friends daughter looks and acts completely like Ellen.”

    If she’s not on drugs then she’s retarded. Congrats.

  30. Jerry D. says:

    She was a HOT piece back then and is STILL hot!!!!

  31. stonj says:

    Whether or not Ellen was stoned when she made this video is not important. The video was EDITED to make her seem to act stoned.
    Apple has always been trying to recruit sales from stoners. Where have you been? Remember the flower-power iMacs? This was the culmination of it. I guess they realized they went too far this time. Or, perhaps they are enjoying all this free publicity.

  32. Jerry D. says:

    and my god…what an AWESOME set of lips!!!!!

  33. Martin says:

    Jeremiah Cohick, another “switcher”, is gay too. Yea! :)

  34. John D says:

    I don’t see what’s wrong with someone saying they’d like their kids to “be like Ellen.” I think all they mean is, they’d like their daughter or son to be level-headed and reasonably resistant to temptations that could cause harm. Goodness, there are so many HORRIBLE “role models” among the famous and not-so-famous.

    I’ve got five kids, and am glad they’re who they are. I’d like to think that if any of them got a “shot of fame” like Ellen, they’d react as well as she seems to have.

    It’s too bad that the comments here don’t come associated with an age. I don’t think it’s creepy for one 14-year-old to find another 14-year-old attractive — for example, Jerry D’s comment would seem very different if he’s 45 (my age) than if he’s 19 (Ellen’s age). Hopefully between how her family raised her, and her own innate character, she’s protected from the attentions of less appropriate “suitors.”

  35. Cypy says:

    Ah… she’s not stoned… she just came from school that’s all. She looks sleep-deprived and board.

  36. Carmen says:

    She’s so gay! That’s wonderful.

  37. Marusonu says:

    Who cares if she was stoned?
    Since when is it wrong to experiment as a teen or anytime in life? The government might think its wrong because they can’t “Control you” but in the public eye, everyones done something they shouldn’t have in there life.

    I mean, i doubt she was, but i dont see the big poof that everyone is complaining about.

    If you can find a teenager that hasn’t tried or atleast thought about trying a doobie, ill show you the biggest liar ever.

    (To Ellen Feiss if you ever read this comment: Don’t care what other people think of you, Just let life pass you by and enjoy what you can of it. If you worry about the stupid things in life, like people thinking you were a stoner, youll miss all the good things.)

    Anyhow,
    Marusonu out.

  38. fangola says:

    I live near where they do a lot of shooting for the L-Word. So far Im still straight. And Ive been accused of being stoned when Ive had allergies and Ive been rockin high and noone’s had a clue. If only they’d say “You put out so much code today we’re going to make your hash a company expense.”

    As for Apple do a search on Steve Jobs and LSD. Illuminating

  39. jbs says:

    She wasn’t stoned? Is she just retarded?

  40. Anon says:

    Two words: she’s gay.

  41. smoth says:

    So Stone watcher, you can tell she was stoned because her pupils were *dilated*? Have you ever actually smoked weed, or looked into the eyes of someone who’s stoned?

  42. S says:

    I would just like to say for the record that I am MALE, STRAIGHT, and I love Sleater Kinney (amongst other bands). Liking Sleater Kinney doesn’t infer that Ellen is GAY; it just means she has GOOD TASTE in music.

  43. smith college student says:

    i go to school with ellen and she’s not a lesbian

    – someone who knows her IN REAL LIFE

  44. a says:

    very smart woman

  45. LOL says:

    Man, she is sooo stoned in that ad…it’s hilarious!!! Anyone that tells you she’s straight is either a total liar or has never smoked weed before…hahahaha

  46. jgarland says:

    I don’t know who ever got the idea that she was high in that ad. Sure, it’s a funny thought, but she was a 14-year old girl put in front of a camera for the first time in her life and told to tell the world how great her Mac was. She had no idea how she was supposed to act.

    Apparently common sense isn’t all that common these days.

  47. Taekaieo says:

    man so what maybe she was stoned maybe not maybe she is a lesbian why should you care shes not hitting on you or your girlfriend is she so you can judge all you want but its not any of our place

  48. anonymous says:

    ellen does date women. — i hate to prove you wrong. she asked me out in new york once, but i was (am) taken. she is a really cool girl. smart, fun, the whole nine. :)

  49. dean s says:

    fuck me she sfunny love it
    n bong on

  50. El Mex says:

    I’d like to make her go: Bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep >3

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