Writers Molly Pease and Ash Barker Make Us Consider a Dietary Change with "Eat Rich"

40889511_235210323819473_5682220326490996736_n.jpg

Eat Rich is a comedy-horror narrative about Rose, a trans femme zombie who nourishes  herself via a ravenous diet of cisgendered, hetero-males, written by multi-talented partners Molly Pease and Ash Barker. Molly is a graduate of Northwestern University’s film school and Ash is a singer-songwriter and web-comic artist, who together additionally combine their brilliance into a podcast called Queer4Queer. A four-panel comic drawn by Barker, found on the short film’s Facebook page encapsulates the synopsis: Rose, Emily and Rich are tethered together for a night in which the question is pondered: should Rose eat Rich, a straight, cis-het male? The title of the short firmly answers the question. Eat Rich is a comedy-horror, undoubtedly, but the driving force behind its creation is earnest, dire and in need of attention. Molly and I sat down in front of our respective electronics to discuss the film content, further inspirations, funding and inner dynamics of Ash’s and their relationship.


Paul: Hi, Molly. I’m glad I was fortunate to interview you for this project. Eat Rich is incredibly novel in its approach, someting so bold and necessary and does its work through a blended comedy-horror form and stunning animation. What were some of the initial inspirations for the film and its conception?

Molly: So many things inspired this idea! My partner and I created the story together. We were inspired by the trope of the queer/trans character who never survives the film or tv show almost regardless of genre and the real life homicides of trans women that happen at a devastating rate in 2018. Basically, we wanted to bring back the trans woman who dies in a film and actually give her a voice and immortal power.

That's powerful. Initially, I can see how horror fits into the frame of this story, but how did comedy come into play?

Well, I've always been a comedy writer. Most of my scripts are about taking a ridiculous situation and playing it out realistically which is naturally funny. My partner and I also both strive to make queer art that is more light hearted and funny since it can often be dramatic and dark (which ours is too but not til the end). Also I always feel bad for queer actors for having to play all those dramatic roles and I wanna give them a chance to be funny!

That makes complete sense. I think often when marginalized, oppressed folks do get representation in media it's repeatedly shown in a tragic, one-dimensional light and I think it's important to turn that trope on its head. What other troubling themes does Eat Rich tackle in response to queer community and representation?

Exactly! And dramatic realism can be done well, but is not what I'm ultimately gonna have fun watching on a queer date night. Probably the most important theme is how boring straight people are & how queer people always somehow get roped into doing their emotional labor.

Great answer, haha. What has the filmmaking process been like in terms of shooting, funding, etc? You’re throwing a dance party for funding?

Yes, we’re excited for the dance party! Getting together the crew and cast has been great. We finalized our cast this weekend and am super excited to be working with an all LGBTQ cast! They were all our top picks for Chicago actors, and I feel really excited to work with them! And our crew is a mix of my friends from Northwestern film school and some new people I've met in the queer community. We don't start shooting til after we’re finished fundraising in October. The fundraising is daunting but we’re taking it one day at a time & hopefully we'll get a big turn out at our dance party! We also have an amazing drag performer who's doing make up for the film & the party! I'm super stoked to have them on board.

 Molly & producer Ali Abbas

Molly & producer Ali Abbas

Did you go into film school knowing you wanted to share queer narratives through comedy?

My partner runs a trans nerd web comic called Fake Gamer Girl which has gotten a ton of awesome support! We also do a podcast together called Queer4Queer and we’re overwhelmed at how quickly a kind & supportive community has shown up for those projects. Those projects gave us the confidence to try and make this film! And yes I did want to write queer stuff going into NU! But I didn't realize how much I’d write about being a Southern queer which is like a whole different species to Midwesterners.

Haha you're originally from GA, right? What differences do you notice?

Yeah, I grew up outside of Atlanta and I feel like one difference is I'm a lot louder with my opinions in a "Bless your heart way." Midwesterns are actually passive aggressive, Southerners are actively aggressive. My partner is also from Kentucky but we met in Chicago.

I understand "Bless your heart” all too well. Who do you have in mind in terms of the Eat Rich’s audience? Are you wanting people to come in with some awareness or have this be a 101?

For audience, obviously we want to make something that will be entertaining for everyone to watch. But awareness is always a funny thing to think about as a writer cause people have Google haha. It’s more, “Do I want them to be aware before or 10 secs after the film?” But the biggest thing is we didn't want Eat Rich to feel like a standard Trans 101 film where we have to explain everything. We want this to be something that a trans audience can actually enjoy and not just a lesson for the cis audience.

40914342_1086923181465389_917475211371085824_n.jpg

How would you describe Ash’s drawing style?

Ash’s drawing style is very cute & original. All of the art for our project is being done by them!

Do you both share a similar sense of humor? I can imagine that facilitated the writing process.

Yes, we definitely do! She's been asking me fake interview questions through most of this to try to get me to laugh.

Haha, what was one of the questions?

My favorite so far: "How do you #Hooligan?"


Eat Rich is an LBGTQ-inclusive and centered comedy-horror film in production. You can donate to its creation at Barker and Pease’s Indiegogo found here.

Joy, Struggle, & Resilience: "the T" creators Bea Cordelia and Daniel Kyri on their Recent Webseries and the Power of Queer Storytelling

 a still from  the   t

a still from the t

For many queer and trans people and people of color, television and film haven’t always been a place that we see ourselves reflected in positive, nuanced ways. When we do see ourselves reflected in media, it gives us opportunities to imagine living long, fulfilling lives – something many of us struggle with in a society where our identities and experiences are too often erased. Seeing ourselves on screen reminds us that we aren’t alone, that we have ancestors who navigated the same paths we walk today, and that there will be many more who come after us. 

This is one reason that LGBTQ+ representation matters so much in 2018. Film and television have, increasingly in recent years, seen LGBTQ+ and creators of other minorities take the reins on groundbreaking projects. As many before me have observed, the outburst of support for these projects reflects how hungry we are to tell and listen to better stories. It’s about damn time!

One such groundbreaking project to emerge recently is the T, a crowd-funded web series created and filmed in Chicago and released for free online this summer through the Chicago-based platform OTV |Open Television. The T follows Jo, a white  trans woman, and Carter, a black queer man, as they navigate friendship, dating, and family in Chicago. It’s a welcome addition to a growing list of stories that portray queer and trans lives with grace and humor.

I spoke with the creators, directors, and stars of the show, Chicagoans Bea Cordelia and Daniel Kyri, to talk about how the show came to be, the importance of storytelling in our communities, and what’s next for the pair.

(Author’s note: the following interview contains mild spoilers for the T!)

theT_2.jpg

The T began to take shape several years ago, when friends Bea and Daniel realized they had been working separately on parallel ideas for a show that they wished existed. Daniel recalls wanting to play more nuanced queer characters: “One of the impetus for me was a desire to create the work I wish I had as an actor.” He approached Bea about his idea for a show about two friends navigating dating, friendship and family in Chicago, and Bea told him she had already written the pilot.

For Bea, the idea for the show began with a real-life relationship. “In 2013, I came out of the closet and also went through a difficult breakup. Eventually though, enough time passed and then things were different and we were friends. I haven’t really remained friends with anyone else like that. It was just really cool because there was already so much love there.” One night at a New Year’s Eve party with that friend, Bea asked herself: “Why isn’t this on TV?” She began writing what would become the T, which also begins with Carter and Jo going to a New Year’s Eve party.

Once the pair began to work together, it became important to them to depict their characters and their native Chicago in honest, nuanced ways.

When asked about how Chicago and its queer/trans communities are important to the show, Daniel and Bea both bring up the idea of the “reverse diaspora” that is often an experience in those communities. As an urban center, Chicago draws many LGBTQ+ people together who are born in places and circumstances scattered across the world. To Daniel and Bea, this is part of what makes the Chicago queer community special. Bea says: “In the queer community here you have these people who come from all different socioeconomic, racial, religious, and geographical backgrounds. We have these bonds that connect us across all these supposed divisions. There’s an underlying core of humanity that we can find amongst each other.” 

Daniel agrees. “Chicago brings so many of us together,” he says, “and though we’ve all come from such different upbringings and geographies, we find that in learning to accept ourselves, we have related or even sometimes identical experiences. So that makes our communities rich, in embracing our commonalities and respecting difference. In the T we wanted to capture all of that in a joyful expression– which is how our spaces so often look. That joy in queer spaces is a real and vibrant aspect of Chicago.”

Indeed, some of the show’s most successful moments come when Jo and Carter encounter obstacles and joy, and the show refuses to look away. Several of these moments revolve around the character’s different experiences with family; towards the end of the series, we see Carter reconnect with his estranged father, a Christian pastor, and the two have a frank, difficult conversation: “I’m gay,” Carter tells his father with a certainty that he finds over the course of the show’s story. Daniels says of the moment, “There’s trauma in families, certainly, but also love. In writing those scenes, we asked ourselves, how can we retell those moments in a meaningful way?”

We also see Jo spending time with her mother. The two characters have such a warm familiarity that I was surprised when Bea told me the actress isn’t actually her mom – but agreed that Chicago actress Barbara Robertson absolutely nails her portrayal. Showing a warm relationship between Jo and her mother was important to Bea. She says that after coming out, she grew closer to her parents, and wanted her character to have similar circumstances. “I wanted to make sure that there would be a strong counter-narrative to what people are used to seeing about queer and trans people and our parents. Just because people are used to tragedies surrounding us [in film and television] does not mean that that is the only narrative,” she says.

The T also portrays the struggles and joy of queer and trans dating, something that we don’t see enough of on television. Bea identifies one of her favorite scenes in the show as one in which her character stands up for herself to a partner. During editing, Bea fought for Jo and Robin’s breakup to stay. “Robin is like a lot of men that I’ve had the misfortune of coming across– who, under other societal circumstances would absolutely love trans women but just cannot bring themselves to openly date trans women because the stigma is too much. And what a slap in the face that is, to be told by people how hard it is for them.” In the scene, Jo responds, “You’re scared to be seen with me in public if people knew who I am. I am that person all of the time.”

That moment, Bea says, is one she’s never had in real life, and she felt it was important for anyone watching the show to see Jo as a trans woman “standing in the length of her spine, in every ounce of her truth, and telling Robin that he’s not doing enough.” 

Bea continues, “It was important to portray a trans woman choosing herself over external validation. Which can be hard to do when most of the world seeks to invalidate us– our governments and people at work and on the street and often times family members.”

For Daniel, his favorite moment in the show was a similar opportunity to confront stigma. After his character is diagnosed with HIV, he struggles to cope, but ultimately, asks for help from his partner and family. Daniel says, “I wanted to make his experience authentic and human, and to end with acceptance and humanity, rather than rejection. There is so much joy in being queer and black, but also flaws and struggles. So we portray Carter dealing with both, and he grows up when he decides to tell his partner Teddy about the diagnosis after retreating at first. And Teddy’s response is important– he responds with compassion but also holds Carter accountable for initially ghosting him.”

theT_3.jpg

Considering the importance of representation in the show, I ask Daniel and Bea about the first time they saw themselves reflected in media. Daniel responds, “I remember being in my basement at night, after my folks had gone to sleep, and coming across shows like Queer as Folk, Noah’s Arc, even Six Feet Under, which has a major gay character. I remember relating to characters in those shows, but even then, that was still just a sliver of my identity, and never the full picture of my experience. Shows like that were also all on cable, which costs money. It was important for us to make the T free and available online for everyone.”

For Bea, it was much more recently: on a day off from shooting the T, she saw Una mujer fantástica (A Fantastic Woman), a film from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio that came out in the U.S. earlier this year. Bea says she was floored by how relatable some of the main character’s experiences were to her as a trans woman, that she had never seen on a screen before. “That movie resonated really profoundly.” In a key scene, the character navigates both the women’s and men’s sides of a spa. Bea says of the scene: “Navigating different gender spaces that you’re not supposed to be able to move between, it’s like a superpower that trans people experience. That was just so affirming and cool to see on the screen.”

Seeing A Fantastic Woman influenced the way Bea approached an important scene between Jo and Robin having sex. Bea says that the number of positive portrayals of trans women’s sexuality in media is depressingly low.

“So the question was, how do we have a trans sex scene that honors both people and celebrates their bodies and pleasure? I realized that there wasn’t much of a roadmap for that. Having just seen A Fantastic Woman, I was thinking about what that movie meant for me, and I wanted to create something that would mean something to someone else in the same way. That was what gave me the strength that I needed to go in there and shoot the sex scene between Jo and Robin.”

Like for so many of us, seeing themselves reflected in series and films changed how Daniel and Bea relate to themselves and their world. Both speak about wanting to give others opportunities to see themselves reflected in the T, and to create television that they wish they had as younger queer people. 

The power of storytelling in LGBTQ+ communties is that it can bring people together within the “reverse diaspora” that Bea and Daniel describe. This is increasingly true in the age of the internet, in which more and more people can instantly choose from a vast collection of media and stream them instantly from computers in our bedrooms and pockets. 

In the T, Jo’s relationship with Emerie, played by Evilyn Riojas, reflects how the internet and media bring queer and trans people together. In the show, they meet online, and the opening scene brings us to Emerie’s New Year’s Eve party, where it all begins. Bea says, “Evie and I met exactly the same way in real life. We had been talking for like six months on Facebook and were becoming pretty tight, but had never met in person. And at some point I went to this birthday party, partly because I knew Evie would be there. I got there like, completely sober, and she saw me and she screamed and was really drunk and it was so cute. Just like in the show. And where else would we have met? You know? It’s crazy how much the internet has been a lifeline for people in our community.”

The recent success of series and films that place minorities behind the helm prove not only that artists that are underrepresented in Hollywood can tell their stories excellently, but that there is a wide audience for them. When I ask what he hopes for the future of queer storytelling, Daniel points to shows like Insecure and Pose as shows that place women and queer people of color on boths sides of the camera, to incredible results. “With shows like POSE, I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s so good! Having a show created by all these vibrant queer voices, I can really relate. There’s something so special about that show, and now I don’t want to see anything else.” 

When I ask what’s next for the show and the pair as writers, they respond with cautious optimism about the possibility of a second season of the T – though not through the same DIY process that the first season had, which both Daniel and Bea agree was “arduous.” The first season certainly stands on its own as a cohesive story, but the pair say that if the resources for a longer season become available, the world might get to see more of Jo and Carter.

After their collaboration on the T, Bea and Daniel tell me they’ve continued to write together for other projects they hope to produce – particularly comedy, which was much more prominent in the original script for the T. Bea mentions that they have been meeting with people about the future of the show, as well as pitching their new work.

With a powerful debut and a growing list of projects to come, it looks like we haven’t seen the last from Bea and Daniel (thankfully).

Be sure to watch the T at thetwebseries.com, and stay tuned for more from this talented and hard-working pair.

Watch the T for free  
Follow the T on facebook and instagram 
Follow Bea and Daniel on Instagram

Lana Wachowski on Bound, The Matrix and Sense8 at Cinepocalypse 2018

By Cody Corrall

On Wednesday night, Chicago-born director and screenwriter Lana Wachowski came to the historic Music Box Theater for a conversation on the evolution of her career following a screening of her feature directorial debut: Bound.

The event was part of Cinepocalypse, one of Chicago’s newest film festivals showcasing the greatest in genre film: from world premiers to screenings of cult classics like the Chiodo Brothers’ Killer Klowns from Outer Space and The Wachowski Sisters’ Bound.

Bound, released in 1996, follows Corky (Gina Gershon), an ex con and Violet (Jennifer Tilly), the girlfriend of a gangster named Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) as they fall in love and make an elaborate plan to get Violet out of the Mob and take $2 million with them.

Bound is a sapphic noir film that plays with traditional notions of genre and character. Corky, for example, is a butchy handyman doing renovations in the apartment next to Violet. She is visibly queer: she wears baggy cargo pants and combat boots, drinks beer, and always has dirt or grease on her hands.

Violet, conversely, is much more femme. She speaks with a high, nasally voice, wears form-fitting dresses and high heels, and is seen as a sex object by Caesar and the rest of the men in the Mob. Because of her non-traditional queer appearance, Corky questions the legitimacy of her identity and their relationship. 

While Violet is soft spoken and subservient, she has the advantage of being underestimated. Like a classic femme fatale of the 1940s and 1950s, she is able to use her seduction as a weapon to manipulate her enemies into getting what she wants. This is especially true with her relationship with Caesar, who is so caught up in the peacocking masculine hierarchy of the Mob that he doesn’t question Violet’s loyalty.

Even when it is revealed that Violet and Corky are attempting to get away with the money, Caesar does not take their threats seriously, especially Violet’s. He even taunts Violet as she pulls a gun on him, never for a second believing that she would pull the trigger – until she does.

The Wachowski Sisters play with archetypes and perceptions of femininity in Bound. Violet is not the traditional, feminine damsel in distress: she is the one with all of the power. While Corky comes up with the plan, she spends the majority of the film waiting and listening next door. Violet is pulling the strings as the plot develops, and makes sure no one suspects her to be anything but subordinate.

In many ways, Bound flips the perception of masculinity and femininity in genre film as well as relationships and social hierarchy within queer spaces. Genre, by nature, is formulaic. It is built on repetition of tropes and storylines, and their acceptance by the audience. Audiences see popular tropes associated with genres like horror or romantic comedies – like a woman’s scream or a first kiss in the rain – and find a sense of comfort when they see it play out in a theater. Wachowski describes genre as a “democratically agreed upon expectation,” similar to the predictable but enjoyable chords of pop music.

“I wanted to introduce the love story and the connection and then make you start to feel all of the things you think when you see a character like Violet,” Wachowski said, “Which would be another way of exploring the idea of being out or judging a book by its cover and judgements of identity.”

Not only does Bound play with the audience's’ perception of its characters, it also disrupts classical notions of genre through its form. Corky and Violet’s sex scene happens early on in the film, which establishes the intensity of their relationship while still giving them chances to question their loyalty to one another as the plan gets more dangerous.

This scene also challenges norms of genre because it is done in one take. Genre films, especially in noir, rely on fast montages to cut through the plot and get to the action. In Bound, the pivotal moment in the film is drawn out to let the audience into the heat of the moment. 

That scene in particular is an example of The Wachowski’s directing style and how it’s evolved over time. Bound is highly calculated – every frame has been written and rewritten and workshopped so that by the time it’s projected on the screen, it feels effortless.

This highly specific directing style translated into The Matrix Trilogy and even V for Vendetta. As time moved on, they let themselves experiment more and more – from Speed Racer to Cloud Atlas – until they came to the recently finished Sense8 which Wachowski calls “absolute, organic chaos.”

22 years after its release, Bound serves as a disruption of genre and perceptions of queerness that are still relevant today. In the end, Corky and Violet win. They get the money and each other – all while refuting violent and harmful depictions of LGBTQ characters in media. What started with a frustration of not seeing people like herself accurately portrayed in media, turned into the ultimate dismissal of those conventions.

“I was trying to think of a film set in a genre world where an LGBTQ character won and got a happily ever after,” Wachowski said. 

“So, I said ‘I’m gonna make it!’”
 

IMG_1552.JPG

Conversation with Ali Abbas, Creator of New Supernatural Web-Series The Girl Deep Down Below

By Molly Pease

Ali Abbas is a Chicago-born, queer, Muslim writer who is drawn to horror, sci-fi, and comedy. In 2017, he was awarded the Chicago Digital Media Fund which is the same grant that helped produce Brown Girls and Brujos. He used this grant to create The Girl Deep Down Below, a Chicago-based horror web series in which Muslim women begin to disappear. I got the chance to meet up with Ali at Chicago Filmmakers. Ali goes by he/him and sometimes they/them pronouns. We talked about everything from AI morality coding to filming a pitch video with your Pokemon paraphernalia in the background. We also discussed having your comedy icons tell you that queer, Muslim scripts just won’t sell. Hearing his stories, I could relate to his frustrations. As queer writers, we are often told that you can’t write genre pieces (horror, sci-fi) with an LGBTQ+ and/or racially diverse cast because there is a false belief that it will be “too much” for an audience. But, when we did find our way back to discussing his web series, it became obvious that Ali did just that. He created a supernatural, Muslim web series that does not need to fit into any boxes. Our conversation continues below…


Hey Ali, I already know from talking to you that you’re a great human being, but would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m a screenwriter based out of Chicago and New York. I split my year down the middle. I’ve only been writing scripts a few years, my degree is in philosophy and I started in publishing and journalism. I started to learn screenwriting at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC one Summer. It was sketch comedy at first, but I moved towards longer formats. I’ve always loved television a little too much. My daily routine starts at 5am with watching every newly aired episode from the night before.

What is your new web series The Girl Deep Down Below about?

The Girl Deep Down Below (TGDDB) is a horror dramedy about a string of missing girls in a Chicago Muslim community, and the girls working to find them.

Yes! We need more female centric sci-fi! Where did this particular idea come from?

Though I usually incorporate a science fiction element to most of my scripts, most of my ideas come from news stories that catch my interest. The concept for TGDDB had a couple of seeds, the first being crushing disappointment. At the end of 2015, CBS had touted a “diverse” Nancy Drew reboot that was set to feature Sarah Shahi, probably one of the most talented and hardest working people in the industry. CBS later cancelled the pilot, reportedly because it skewed “too female” in testing. It was an opportunity for someone in our community to play something unique, for someone that looks like us to solve crimes and have some character depth.

A short while after the cancellation, the election started ramping up and so did the attacks on women that were visibly Muslim (wearing hijab.)

In one 2016 case, a teen Muslim girl went missing for a week and then mysteriously returned. The media speculation around her story didn’t have much hard evidence about where she had fled and why, only speculation. A lot of Amel’s character (played by Samira Baraki) was inspired by the ambiguity of those events. We just gave her a fantastical lore.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 6.47.35 PM.png

How do you feel like the supernatural interacts with the political in this piece?

Well the main antagonist is a being without a name, so the characters refer to it as “the white man in the suit” because of its physical appearance. Like in any good horror, I wanted the monster to be representative of a deeper anxiety the characters share. Though the monster is beyond human politics, you find out later in the series it’s functioning on a very prejudice instinct from a past life.

Donald Glover hit on something a little similar a few weeks ago on the horror episode of Atlanta. In the scene where his now infamous and terrifying Teddy Perkins persona walks Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) into a room within his “museum” featuring a white mannequin in a suit. When asked about the mannequin, Teddy Perkins explains “this is my father, he’s the reason for all of this.”

I think there’s something about the brand of patriarchy a white man in a suit represents that hits on a deep rooted fear for a lot of people of color. It’s not just authority, it’s dysfunctional fatherhood, brotherhood, and toxic masculinity, too.  

Our monster:

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 6.38.29 PM.png

Do you have a favorite character or plot moment from the series that you’d like to share?

I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on all the women in our cast, but Amira (Ragda Izar) is by far a fan favorite. From our premiere to every screening afterwards, people never fail to mention their love for her. She’s a hypocritical narcissist with extreme parasocial behavior, but I think she brings a very masculine energy to the story. We usually punish women characters that are vicious by using them as a plot device for a moral lesson, but not Amira. She just keeps moving forward. She’s grossly aware of how shallow and fake she is, but in a world where a creepy sci-fi word like “influencer” is considered a good thing, I think it’s fresh to see the moments behind the curated fake vlogs and photos.

Great! As the director/writer/producer, were there any moments where you got to take a break and enjoy this beautiful thing you were creating?

I really enjoyed our conversations after night shoots. There’s something about 3 am after ten hours of shooting that makes you so talkative. I think it’s that moment at the tail end of hypothermia where you experience great warmth. The sleepiness of our last scene would wear off and suddenly we would be knee-deep in a salon on philosophy or science. Most of our cast and crew have never acted and are members of the community trying it for the first time. That said, my community is freaking brilliant so many are pre-med, engineering, or scientists in a lab. I’m blown away by the interdisciplinary brilliance of my cast and crew.

In writing a comedy with such strong human rights implications, how do you balance the entertainment with the social message of the series?

I always make it a point in my work to never stand on a soap box. I think the counterculture to the terrorist narrative of Muslims in television has been pretty vanilla. There’s a growing trend in television in which the simplest way to work around writing complex Muslim characters is to make them super innocent or one-dimensional gay characters meant to somehow be edgy or subversive. I wanted my characters to be as problematic as they were entertaining. They can be earnest, brilliant, and resourceful, but also self-absorbed, mean, or just plain incompetent.

I don’t like to perpetuate the idea that Muslims need to prove they are nice or helpful in order to be accepted. There are plenty of comedies featuring vapid and vacuous white people and nobody bats an eye.
 

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 6.46.49 PM.png

How was the experience of getting to work with an awesome all Muslim female identified cast? What do you think they brought to these characters, in both expected and unexpected ways?

Awesome. It was great working with an entirely Muslim cast and crew. Everyone came together often donating their time and energy to long hours of thankless shooting. Most of our cast are newbies to performing, but I was impressed with everything they brought from auditions to the final moment we yelled cut. We really came together as a team to make this happen. Acting veterans Arij Mikati and Sazi Bakhti played Zee and Megan respectively, while also helping the newcomers perfect their scenes. Everyone took amazing direction on set and ran with it.

As a Chicago native, how do you capture the streets of Chicago in an authentic way?

I really wanted to show the more industrial parts of Chicago. I think a lot of new Chicago tv shows try to make Chicago seems as though it’s all brownstone neighborhoods or high rise apartments. Living between New York and Chicago, I’ve started to realize that we Chicagoans take our industrial history and beauty for granted. Nowhere in Manhattan will you find a factory the size of Morton Salt’s in the middle of a neighborhood. And you’ll never see the quantity or size of car dealerships as you see in Chicago’s downtown. It’s obviously horrifying in terms of the climate, but I think it’s a part of this city’s history that’s undeniable. My brother and I used to play in the sheet metal factory my father worked in before he became a car salesman downtown. Machines and factories strangely remind me of the city.

We also take our alleys for granted. Walk down the Lower East Side on a hot new york day with all the garbage out front and tell me that Chicago alleyways aren’t the greatest invention humanity has ever made.

Where did y’all get the music for the series?

Our music, like everything else in the series, was created by a member of our community, Liyaquat Lashkariya. He’s a brilliant sound designer. When we first told him about the slightly-campy tone we were trying to hit, he came up with some great ambient tracks.

WATCH THE SERIES HERE

A Conversation with Summer Blake, Creator of forthcoming Web Series Insignificant Other

MV5BZDRkZTQ2YmUtNzYzNy00MjM3LWExZTgtNjUwYzNlMjI3ODE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjQyNjkzODM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,955_AL_.jpg

I was able to speak with Northwestern alumni Summer Blake about her new comedy web series Insignificant Other. This series follows two exes as they continue sharing an apartment even after their break up.


First off, I’m always interested in seeing how people find comedy as their main creative outlet. Mostly, because comedy is hard. How did you come to love writing comedy?

Divorced parents. Anxiety. Depression. Getting picked on in school. Having a head that was too big for my body, bucked teeth, and incredibly hairy legs that my mom wouldn’t let me shave when I was eleven. Comedy’s just a way of coping with life, which can be such a huge bitch sometimes.  It’s like a neurotic’s meditation practice. When things were rough at home I would binge my family’s collection of Simpsons DVDs. Then I moved on to Seinfeld. Arrested Development. I actually have a tattoo on my back that’s a reference to AD. It taught me that having a dysfunctional family is yes, at times a bit sad, but anything sad or painful or embarrassing can be funny. And that’s pretty much my motto to this day.

So while this web series is a comedy, there is also a realism in how it deals with the central romantic relationship. Though it is definitely not a rom-com, if anything it seems like the anti-rom-com. Why did you decide that this story needs to be told now and how is it relevant to your own life?

Oh god, love and the lack thereof is everything. It’s EVERYTHING. It’s comedy, it’s drama. It’s the highs and the lows of life. Funny enough I stole the idea from my friend Mary who was living with her boyfriend for a month after they’d broken up. Those year-long leases are a bitch. Especially in the coastal cities it’s impossible to afford rent. I pretty much go on dates now trying to sniff out whether I can stay with the person long enough to be my bedmate and pay 50% of what I pay now for silver lake. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. I think the trick people into liking you is playing hard to get and not ‘ready to wed.’)

Since the time I asked permission to use my friend’s story, I’ve come across the same premise in actual life like two or three more times. Living with your ex and hating them! It’s rampant! Like the millennial version of kids putting too much strain on marriages.

But I think above all else, this is a comedy about growing up and learning that to find yourself you often have to let go of people or habits that define you. And that process rarely happens overnight. What will Gerry and Carl mean to each other in ten years? I’m not sure I know the answer. Only that love fades, but I don’t think ever completely evaporates.

What was the process like for creating this series, especially as the auteur (writer, director, star) of the piece? What did you learn along the way and what might you do differently next time?

The fact that we even made the damn thing is a huge success. But aside from that, I learned so much as a relatively new director. I learned both the power of compromise, because filmmaking is inherently such a collaboration. And also the power (which I’m still working on, because I’m a people pleaser and it’s difficult) of sticking up for yourself. Females so often are taught to be peacekeepers and agreers. To not stir up tension or be too assertive. My co-director and DP are two of the smartest motherfuckers I know - and also two of the loudest and most aggressive in their decisiveness and vision. If I was gonna get a word in or make a change, I had to stand my ground. That was difficult. Not just being a female filmmaker, but also just as a person working with their friends….who are all working for free!

In the future, I think I’ll probably stay away from acting and directing simultaneously. I don’t know how so many big hollywood icons do it! Your brain is split between two opposite roles on set and you are only able to give 50% of your brain to each. Acting is all about presentness. About being true to your scene partner and listening to their lines in order to give an organic response. But when your eyes are drifting to the monitor and you’re thinking about when to call cut, you start to phone in your performance. Thank god, my co-director, Sam Freedman (shout out, I love you) is a total pro. Our second round of shooting went so much more smoothly when we more established our roles.  He’d set up the shot with Ryan our cinematographer, while I’d run lines with the actors.

Screen+Shot+2017-07-17+at+1.32.36+AM.jpg

Yes, I can definitely see how serving in so many roles would be difficult but manageable during pre-production and post-production, but insane during the actual production. Any insight into how you made things work on set?

Being on set - at least when you have an all-consuming no-time-to-breathe role as director/writer/producer/actor - is about as fun as life gets for me. With a mind that runs a mile a minute and destroys my soul with anxiety when sitting at a 9-to-7 desk job, being consistently under pressure to get the shot, get it right, then set up the next one, is like heroin. Time passes so quickly you wouldn’t believe.

Of course, filming isn’t without its stresses. We shot the entirety of episode 3 in a day and by the end I think we all wanted to kill each other. First there was the taping of a camera to the hood of a car to film a driving-and-talking scene, which, suffice to say, when you’re working without insurance, might just be the most stressful thing you can do to yourself. Then my co-director lost his backpack on the beach. (Funny story, he was pulled over later that day making an illegal u-turn, and the officer who gave him the ticket found his backpack that night.) But it was all worth it because a) we got some amazing footage. And b) we saw Caitlyn Jenner in a starbucks!

I got to watch the trailer and was very impressed by the cinematography, especially the beach scenes. How did y’all achieve such beautiful shots?

Thank you! We three (me, my co-director, and my DP) are all such film kids deep down. We may not have learned anything relevant about being a professional in the industry in college but we DID learn how to shot list the hell out of a scene.

I can’t emphasize enough how important good pre-production is to the success of a project. It’s a bitch to spend hours around your kitchen table doing preliminary concept meetings, shot listing and scheduling meetings, etc etc - especially when you know the project you’re creating is in a sense, super amateur. But taking the little steps seriously is what gets you a decent looking hour of content on a miniscule budget.

Not to say we didn’t fuck up. We totally did. Our third weekend of shooting we completely forgot to take times of day into consideration and ended up taking six or so hours to tape trash bags to the windows. Then take them all back down again. I’m sorry to our actors. They were wonderful and very patient. I love them to death.

Astrology sign?

Cancer sun / Taurus Moon / Leo Rising 

(my shrink thinks the latter one is super important for some reason. I think I have to keep paying her to find out why.)

Those are good signs to have! Especially the Leo Rising (though I am biased.)

How did you all find the music for your series? Where can we listen to it after we watch the series and become obsessed?

I don’t know too many indie bands, so I reached out to people who I thought were more in the know. My friend/roommate Sadie, for instance (who’s also helping out with our publicity) is big into smaller labels primarily in Chicago, and an ex who works as a composer who knows several indie acts around LA. And then for some finishing touches I dug deep for hours on Spotify, searching for artists who are up and coming and had the right sound for the project.

Our list of amazing performers includes: Beach Bunny, Huxlee, Space Cadets, Doso, Tealideal, and Maddie Ross. Our composer, Chris Anselmo (look him up on wikipedia he’s gonna be a huge deal!) also wrote some of the music, as did our incredible sound designer, Laszlo Bereti.

Where can we find the series?

YOUTUBE. JUNE 10TH.