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Web Series Crush-o-the-Week: THE POWER OBJECT July 17, 2011

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Long before Bridesmaids hit the scene there were funny, raunchy chicks doing it DIY-style on the web. Although Claire-Dee Lim’s The Power Object a new web series about three ladies who discover a magical vibrator — launched just last month, the idea began buzzing years ago.

Originally conceived of as a live-action feature back in 2003, the script peaked the interest of some major studios and led to Lim’s first big feature gig, Firehouse Dog (co-written with Mike Werb and Michael Colleary). Still, at the time, The Power Object was was a “no go” — seen as a bit too “risqué” and “out there.”  (Whatever THAT means… what does that mean? And why doesn’t it seem to apply to male writers like Judd Apatow or Trey Parker and Matt Stone?)

But a lot has changed in the last eight years, as evidenced by films like Bridesmaids and female-created TV shows like 30 Rock and The Sarah Silverman Program. And the web is packed with serials that go far beyond the usual dating and retail commiseration comedies. Some of my favorite examples are gritty, girl-centric comedies like Girl Trash, Self Storage, Ylse, that give the viewer a more expansive version of girl culture.  Even in the year since Real Girls launched, we’ve gone from being told that we’re too “niche” (aka: not marketable to the coveted 13-34 white male demo) to making the studio circuit as a viable commercial entity.

Still, the fight ain’t over yet. According to a 2010 report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State, women account for only 27% of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography in broadcast television. This is still better than film where women hold down only 16% of these jobs (at least among the 250 top grossing films).

But it does mean that the tide is turning, and that women (and men) are responding favorably to smart, female-centric material (so far Bridesmaids is number 7 in the top grossing films of 2011). My arts-school economic theory is this: first we have to buy it, and then they’ll start to make it. So get out there and support some awesome girl-powered entertainment today! Let’s show’m what sells….

And now for my interview with the awesomely talented Claire-dee Lim… (Oh and did I mention that all the actors are DOLLS? I did not? Eat your heart out Barbie!!!)


RGG: Where did the initial inspiration for the series come from?

CDL: The series came out of my desire to tell a story that blended all my favorite things: the friendship aspect of SEX AND THE CITY, the fun, supernatural bits of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and my love for wish fulfillment stories.  Having one’s dreams come true is sweet and wonderful but when it all goes pear shaped, that can be so much more interesting.  I first wrote the screenplay then later adapted it into the series.

RGG: I love the fact that you not only created custom dolls, but that they interact with regular size objects like cell phones and hamburgers. How did this come about?

 CDL: It didn’t start out with dolls.  The initial conception was to make a Flash cartoon.  Ten years ago, I had made a goofy and barely animated 4-part Flash cartoon called GAMEGIRL—about a hotshit girl gamer who enters a tournament—so I thought I would do something similar in style and longer in length.  After I had recorded and edited the voice tracks, I attempted to draw the backgrounds but quickly realized I was in over my head because of my limited drawing skills, so I decided to bring in some real illustrators.  That’s when I met the incredibly talented artist Jean Kang.  She informed me that drawing and animating 45 minutes of material between the two of us would take forever.  We kicked around more simplified ideas like using sock puppets, inspired by the MTV show SIFL & OLLY, which was hilarious by the way, and the doll idea evolved from there.

RGG: Why did you decide to go the web-route with this?

CDL: When the show was conceived a few years ago, the web was exploding again with content and I knew self-distributing on it was an opportunity not to let slip.  Plus the series is suited for the web—5-minute episodes which will hopefully appeal to that vast global audience that likes kooky content.

RGG: Can you tell me a little bit about the progression from screenplay to web series?

CDL: Adapting the screenplay into the series involved simplifying the story as much as possible.  So after whacking out a few subplots, forty-five minutes of material was left.  That was broken up into nine episodes of approximately five minutes with all of them ending on a cliffhanger.  Narration was added to help bridge the scenes and add that omniscient character, who also plays off the scene.  Even after all the story trimming, I was still left with so many scenes, characters and locations—production seemed daunting at times.

RGG: Do you think movies like Bridesmaids are making room for a new type of “girl comedy?”

CDL: I hope so!  BRIDESMAIDS proved that audiences will respond to female-driven stories that are funny, honest, emotional and raunchy—in other words, comedies about real women and the shit they have to deal with.  And it paves the way for more.

 RGG: Where does something like The Power Object fit into that conversation?

If I had a magic vibrator, I’d wish for THE POWER OBJECT to be perceived in the same vein.  The goal was to tell a story which is also about some of the issues–like career, marriage, family, romance–which women go through.  I attempted to do that in a funny, heartfelt and wacky way but with dolls.

RGG: What was the most challenging part of this process?

CDL: Learning all the editing and music composing software and overcoming technical hurdles like bit rate compression, and don’t get me started on all the lighting and green tests I had to do!  That stuff is hard and as you can see from the show I still haven’t mastered it.  Fortunately, there are plenty of 14-year-old geeks who are happy to share their knowledge and tutorials on YouTube.  I salute them.

RGG: How is working with dolls different from working with people?

CDL: The best part about working with dolls is that they were so amenable to the most egregious working conditions.  I never had to provide call sheets, bathroom breaks or food!  I could shoot whenever and however I wanted.  They never bitched when I turned them into projectiles.  I love that about them.

RGG: Did you have any puppeteering experience before you started?

CDL: None at all.  I did however watch lots of puppet shows as a kid and was mad for marionettes.  And let’s not forget THE MUPPETS.  I did play with dolls and like most girls staged elaborate dramas so I’m sure some of that experience was incorporated into the series.

RGG: Do you feel like you’ve personally experienced any unique challenges that come from being a woman, or a “woman of color” in this industry?

CDL: So far the most unique challenge I had was co-writing FIREHOUSE DOG with Mike Werb and Michael Colleary.  For the record, they are dear friends and gifted writers.  They’ve also been writing partners for forever so they have their own rhythm and process, which I was enfolded into.  Let’s just say that my creative process was a tad different than theirs, which is to gross each other out during every working moment!  Now, I like to think I can keep up in the raunchy department but clearly I was outnumbered.  It was relentless—we were writing a family movie for god’s sake!  Then when I’m all focused, writing an emotional scene where the lead kid character is concerned that his firefighter dad’s been killed in a blaze, unbeknownst to me, they’re putting alligator clips in my hair!  I know it was all in good fun and they were just excited to have someone else to torment instead of each other.  But sometimes, it was a bit juvenile.

RGG: …if so, how did you handle them?

CDL: I resorted to juvenile girl behavior.  I screamed and hit them with my water bottle–the only effective method for teasing boys.  Seriously, working with them was a lot of fun and taught me so much about story structure and how to write action mean, lean and clean.

RGG: Was this your first time producing?

CDL: When living in San Francisco, I had worked for an industrial production company so I had production managed and produced many projects.  I had also produced my own indie videos and films.  It’s highly rewarding putting a project together and getting it done.  Getting back into it with the series, reminded me how much I missed doing it.  That’s why I’m keeping the producing momentum going with a live-action female revenge thriller called STEALING FACES.  My producing partner Jackie Cruz and I are in the talent packaging and funding stage.

RGG: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a writer?

CDL: My father Paulino Lim, Jr. is a novelist and English professor, and a huge inspiration.  When I was young, he always encouraged me to tell my own stories and write them down.  So I did.  He’d read what I wrote, and besides correcting my grammar, his critical eye taught me how to use the precision of words to convey ideas.  He also advocated exploring my own voice and not self-censoring, which can be a mistake for any writer.  That early influence is probably why I’ve written some of the things I have.

I really didn’t focus on screenwriting until after film school.  And it took a long time and a lot of poorly written scripts till I learned how to write a screenplay that was entertaining and well crafted.

 RGG: Do you have any advice for first time web series creators?

 CDL: If one can, complete the entire series before releasing it.  Everyone says “content is king” on the web, well, in my observation so is consistency.  If it takes weeks before another episode is up, viewers can forget you just because there’s so much other stuff to see.

I’d also advise creators to maximize what they’ve got.  Make something unique and entertaining out of limited resources rather than attempting something that’s beyond their time and money.  Offer a different experience, maybe one you don’t get watching TV.  And that’s why I think creating online content is so exciting—one gets the opportunity to innovate.

RGG: What are your future plans for the series?

CDL: Right now I’m focused on how the series is received.  Will the cyberuniverse watch it and be entertained? And if they are, then I’ve got a few ideas ready to go.  And the dolls, well, they’re always ready for their close-up.

The REAL GIRLS return to the Dinah for REVENGE (and Jello Shots) April 1, 2011

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Web Series CREATOR Crush-o-the-Week: Yuri Baranovsky January 25, 2011

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When I first encountered Yuri Baranovsky –creator of one of the first viral hit web series, Break a Leg– he was “giving away free babies” on Twitter in an effort to increase his followers. I was in the market for some babies anyway (I thought they would make me look more respectable in holiday mailers) and he was psyched to be followed by a whole passel of Real Girls (rather than “the usual fake ones”) and one thing led to another…and TADA: this interview!

Way back in 2006 (which is like a millennium in web series years…), even before Felicia Day hit the scene with The Guild, even before there really was a “scene,” Yuri and his brother Vlad Baranovsky launched their series about a writer whose sitcom has been green-lit, but who, we discover, is destined to die mysteriously by the end of the first season. Originally created as a five-minute pilot for a MySpace contest, Break a Leg evolved over the next two years into a critically acclaimed 17 episode-series. With over five million hits and fantastic press everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to the SF Chronicle, BAL was finally picked up for distribution by Fox Italia in February 2010.

Deliciously twisted and darkly hilarious, BAL is guerrilla film-making at its best. Go watch it now! I mean… go watch it right after you read this interview…

RGG: Okay, so let’s go all the way back to 2006 when the web-series genre was still in its nascent stage.  Did you feel like you were pioneering a new form of entertainment?

YB: Well, we did get a flag and a banner that said, “We Are The Future,” so we had an inkling.

We had no idea what was going to happen, honestly. I was shooting a feature film that has yet to see the light of day – it was my first feature – and my brother was working on novel-writing (which is his forte) and being a programmer (which is still his full-time job). Break a Leg wasn’t meant to be groundbreaking, if you told us we’d be getting the press and views we got, we’d politely tell you to shut your mouth. It just wasn’t something we even fathomed.

The thing is – there was no such thing as a web-series genre at the time. There was no genre at all. There were cats. There was The Burg. There was us, and there was a few other people doing sketch comedy with hopes that someone on TV would spot them. But it was about as much of a genre as standing on the street and yelling out show ideas.

RGG: You and Vlad originally conceived Break a Leg as a TV pilot, correct?  Did you try and pitch it to TV before your launch? Did you have any interest at that time?

YB: Yes, originally the idea was for a TV show, though when we shot it, it was a 5-minute teaser for an online contest (called: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia MySpace Contest). There was a community kind of built around the contest, and our little mini-Break a Leg was a big hit among them, so we decided we should roll with it, make a full Pilot, and maybe try and pitch that. The Pilot got more attention, so we thought – okay, let’s make three episodes and be able to deliver a good amount of content to a studio to really show them our worth.

Ironically, we never quite ended up pitching Break a Leg. But as it got popular, a lot of people started calling us. We had meetings with NBC TV and NBC Film, with HBO, with ABC, with CBS – you name em’, we had em’. No one knew what to do with us. It was always, “Great, what else do you have?” – “Well,” we’d say, “What are you looking for?” – “We’ll know when we see it.” They’d respond. But they never did. Nor do I think they really do now. They’re definitely figuring it out more, but it still kind of feels like the guys with the money are blind men groping for the teat of success. Nothing ever worked out with any of them, except, of course, FOX Italy, who bought the distribution rights (www.floptv.tv – no, I don’t know what it’s called FlopTV, but you can see Break a Leg with Italian subtitles on it!)

RGG: What was the first really awesome web-series you saw?  Were you inspired by it?

YB: You know, I honestly, honestly don’t watch a lot of web-series. I wish I did. But I just never had time and, as the problem with most people, I’ll sit down to watch one, kind of hate it, get disillusioned, and don’t watch anymore. There is no centralized place for people to find high quality series, so it’s hard to separate the good ones from the overwhelming amount of not-so-good ones.

That said, I think The Burg was probably the first really awesome web series I saw. I love the actors, the writing is solid, it’s just a fun show to follow. Those guys pushed us to raise our game too – they were great.

The Bannen Way really impressed me as well – here was a show that did exactly what I had been preaching for years, which is, take the web series genre seriously and create a piece of content that rivaled film and television.

RGG: You shot BAL episodically (rather than continuously). Can you tell us why you decided to go that route?

YB: I’d love to say it was a carefully orchestrated plan, but it’s because we didn’t know what we were doing. I wish we did shoot it continuously. We were that blind man I referenced earlier, and we only got managed to swipe that teat a few times (I’m really in love with this metaphor, sorry) a few times during Break a Leg’s run.

That said, there’s a part of me that’s glad we didn’t shoot it continuously. It evolved naturally, with time, we got better, with time, and we also invented the idea of mini-episodes in-between longer episodes (what we called “conversations”) which I think were really fun and helped evolve the show a lot. Also, we got to put inside jokes in for fans and that’s always a blast.

So, let’s say it was a carefully orchestrated mistake.

RGG: Was there any funding for BAL initially?

YB: Nope! We begged and borrowed and didn’t pay anyone a dime. The two other Producers, Justin Morrison and Dashiell Reinhardt, worked at a place that I still can’t name, but we managed to borrow a lot of film gear from it without them being exactly privy to it. I always joked that it was the manifestation of God, because it somehow yielded everything we needed: locations, lights, cameras, even that laugh track machine in the first episode.

We ended up getting the last episode sponsored by Holiday Inn Express – which I later heard was one of the first sponsorship deals. We also made a bit of money from YouTube’s Partner Program when that actually meant something. We got a lot of help on YouTube from their entertainment editor at the time, Felicia Williams (who is with Rev3 now I think), she was very, very kind to us and featured the show a lot. That helped it get views and a bit of money.

We also got the FOX Italy deal a year after the show was done, but we’re still waiting for our Euros. I’d say we probably ended up breaking even on actual cash spent, so, you know, it wasn’t all that bad.

One of the characters in Break a Leg says that art is borne out of restriction – and I very much believe that BAL is a good example of that.

RGG: You wrote an article published in Gawker.com in 2008 about online monetizing (or the lack thereof) called “I’m a Web Celebrity. Am I rich yet?” Have your views changed since then?

YB: Well, my views have changed because times have changed. There is money on the web now. We’ve, knock on wood, sustained and flourished with HLG Films solely from money we earned creating content for this genre. But, back then, it was this weird thing where people kept saying how TV was going extinct and how amazing and lucrative this space was.

Was it amazing? Sure. It still is. Was there potential for it to be lucrative? Definitely. Was it at the time? Absolutely not. Most of the content was very amateurish and no one was really making money. We just kept talking big like we knew a secret no one else did. It started to bother me because there was this perceived success when all these creators were struggling to make something good, not making money, working themselves to the bone and no one was helping because all the articles said that we were DAYS away from toppling network television. It was all very silly.

RGG: BAL and The Guild are kind of in the same “generation” of web shows. Can you tell me about your relationship with/awareness of The Guild while you were working on BAL?

YB: Well, Felicia and I are – and I’m announcing this for the first time – engaged to be wed. So, we’re pretty close. Once she finds out about the engagement, I feel like we’ll be even closer.

The Guild popped up around Episode 3 and spread like wildfire. It was the first mega-hit and it was really good for the genre, it showed that that can happen, that the views were there, that even the money was there. Did it bother me that Break a Leg was getting, “This is a great show, why is no one giving it money?” write-ups while The Guild was getting, “All Hail The New Queen of Internets!” sure. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But it’s not because The Guild wasn’t good or that Felicia isn’t talented – it’s because I’m very competitive and my brain said, we came first, we deserve to be written up as the “first successful web show” ­– because dammit, we were.

But you know what? Felicia is fantastically talented and a great person. We’ve talked periodically throughout the years and she deserves the praise that she gets. The things that we’re doing now wouldn’t be possible without Felicia and The Guild blazing that path, so, I’m thankful for it and, I say, in my best, good sport voice, I’m very happy for her.

RGG: What’s your opinion of going with multiple distribution outlets as opposed to just one?

YB: Depends on the show, who is making it and how much money you’ve got to market it. If it’s a series that has solid backing, that you can really get a lot of press and advertising for – then I’d say go for one distribution outlet. Get everyone to watch it on your website, build the community – people like Zadi Diaz and Felicia have made a living by successfully creating a powerful community at their backs.

If, however, you’re going at it alone – put it everywhere. The more people see it, the more it spreads, the better. It may not be a hit on YouTube but maybe the Blip.tv version hits it big.

It all just depends on what you’ve got to work with.

RGG: Did you do a lot to publicize BAL and get your videos to go viral, or did that just happen?

YB: In the beginning, I just blindly wrote to every newspaper and blog whose email I could find. Most of them ignored us, but then we got a few bigger bloggers to write about us and then it started coming in waves. We worked with For Your Imagination starting with Episode 3, and they helped with marketing as well. They made us a nice website, art, etc. and that really, really went a long way. I’m not sure where the big articles were coming from, but they were coming, and it was overwhelming – Wall Street Journal, LA Times, SF Chronicle, The Times in England – it was incredible.

As I said before, YouTube was a huge help because they kept featuring us. It was a different time for YouTube – people on there were still fighting the good fight, still trying to make good content shine over the Nerdy Guy With Lightsaber-type stuff that filled up most of it. Sadly, those people lost that fight in the end.

RGG: What other career opportunities did BAL’s success create for you and Vlad?

YB: All of them, honestly. I was the head writer for a series called The Circuit on MOJO HD, which was like a Daily Show for tech news – that was my first network gig and I got that partly because of Break a Leg and partly because of some of the writing I did for Gizmodo at the time.

We started working with Blip.tv because they knew us from Break a Leg, which lead to the 7-11 job through Blip, which lead to pretty much every branded entertainment video we’ve made since.

We’re doing a series soon with CJP Digital with Wilson Cleveland and – how did we meet him? Through Break a Leg.

Break a Leg has been the most amazing thing that’s happened to our careers. It changed our lives completely and it helped launch our careers. My dream is to return to it some day, with a real budget, revisit the series – either start anew or continue with a second season, but… who knows? I have a lot of dreams. Still, if anyone with money is reading this – if you’ve got the cash, we’re always in for more Break a Leg. I love that universe.

RGG: How do you see the web-series world changing in the last few years? What’s different about starting a web series now?  Where do you see the genre going?

YB: Oh, it’s a completely different ballgame. For one thing, there’s money now. We’ve managed to pay people money and that, in itself, is a huge difference. The quality is completely different too – while there’s still a lot of junk out there, there’s also some real art coming out, great scripts and great shows that are telling great stories — I think that’s fantastic.

Most importantly, advertisers and networks are spending money in the space and it’s yielding dividends. That’s going to drive creators to really up their game to get the money they need, and that’s just going to make the entire genre better and better.

I’m not sure where the genre is going. I think the next big step is that we need a big hit – Felicia’s was Big Hit – Phase 1. I think now we need Big Hit – Phase 2, which is a show that regular people watch too. We need a Sex and the City, or a West Wing, or a Friends that comes from the Internet. We need a series that isn’t famous in our community, or to a niche audience, but has worldwide acclaim. I think once we have that, we’re in the next stage of web show-making – that’s when we’ll really see where this thing is headed.

That said, I don’t think it’ll replace TV. I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting interplay between the two, I think someone just has to figure out how to do it correctly.

I’m hoping that someone is going to be us.

RGG: You’ve written the first text book about Web series-es (what the hell is the plural when one is referring to multiple web series anyway?=)) Can you tell me a little about that?

YB: Web Seriesi. I actually hate the term web series. And Internet Sitcom. Something about it sounds cheap to me, for some reason.

The book we’re writing is tentatively, and very creatively, titled: Writing for New Media. It’s being published by Holcomb Hathaway and is, as far as we know, the first textbook geared for this subject.

It’s being written by me, Vlad, and a teacher at San Francisco State University named Marie Drennan. I met Marie at a NewTeeVee conference (like the first NewTeeVee conference) many years ago – Break a Leg had just started taking off, and Marie was the only teacher I ever met who was interested in the web space. Marie also happened to be one of Vlad’s teachers at SFSU. She’s a fan of the genre, and one of the only teachers teaching it. She realized that there were no books that guided her students so she asked if we’d be interested in putting together a proposal with her to get this book made.

We did, and we got a contract offer surprisingly fast. So now, we’re writing a textbook – which is the bizarre cherry on my bizarre vaguely-berry-tasting career thus far!

RGG: What advice do you have for first-time series creators?

YB: Be brave, be smart, try not to say, “We can’t do that” – just figure out how to do it, and most importantly, know you’re going to have to suffer if you want to get anywhere.

Wait, wait, I’ve got more.  Get a close knit crew that isn’t just a crew but a team, people who are as passionate about the project as you are, who will work day and night to make sure it’s made.

Study the genre, see how things work – there’s a million web shows out there now, so know your audience, know your hook, know your battle plan when the series comes out because it ain’t going to be easy getting viewers.

Write for what you have. If you’ve got a handy-cam, write a series where that kind of quality makes sense. If you’ve got a great writer, great actors, and a great script, you can turn that handy-cam into something magic.

Finally, stop sleeping. It’s wasteful.

RGG: You have a new series, Lovemakers, coming out.  What’s it about and when is it launching?

YB: Lovemakers is a dramedy series about four people running a matchmaking company. It stars Mark Gantt (of Bannen Way fame), Alexis Boozer (of Break a Leg fame), Daniela DiIorio (of Break a Leg fame), and me (of this interview fame). The style is very – and I hate to do this – Ally McBeal-ish if Ally McBeal was written by Aaron Sorkin. That said, it still very much has our style in it, so, expect a certain amount of silliness, like Opera-singing orgies.

The idea is that it’s a very honest, blunt study of love and sex. I think it’s a very relate-able show and I’m extremely excited about it, if we can get the budget to make it!

Right now, we have a promo made that we’re pitching to a variety of places. We’ve had an amazing response to the promo and I’m hoping we’ll release it online to the general public soon enough. I’m hoping that we get a deal by early next year so we can start shooting this thing, but, we’ll see. It’s a very big project – I want it to have 30-minute episodes and a variety of interactive elements that I think people will really dig, but that need real money and time to pull off correctly.

It’s the biggest thing we’ve done to date, so we’re taking our time to make sure we can do it before officially embarking on it. But so far, it’s feeling really good. I hope. Who knows? There have been so many projects that we’ve tried to get off the ground and… I think the way to survive this career is being able to accept failure, take a breath, and move on to the next scheme, tirelessly, endlessly. Otherwise, you go a little crazy.

RGG: Any other cool projects you’re working on that we should know about?

YB: We just shot a satire of the Old Spice commercial for MTV using Vinny from the Jersey Shore, which was fun. We’re also doing another series – our first scripted series since Break a Leg – that’s going into production in late February or so. I’ll have more details on it soon, but we’re very excited about having another show to work on and that’s what we’ll be getting busy with starting first thing next year!

RGG: When can we pick up the babies? And are you going to throw in a free nanny or do we have to provide our own?

YB: The babies have been outside my apartment for weeks now. I really should have told you that… I threw in those timed feeders that they make for cats, you know? My brother has one – it makes it so he has to put as little effort into taking care of his cat as possible. I got you those for the babies. Also, there are so many babies, I figure they can probably take care of one another.

By the way, I love what you girls are doing – keep it up, it’s fantastic! Thanks for the interview!

Thanks for reading!  xo- Carmen

www.therealgirlsguide.com

REAL GIRLS on ALHLive November 10th! November 3, 2010

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Next Wednesday (11/10) A. Lawrence Haskins from ALHLive will be interviewing Charles Malik Whitefield (The Guardian, The Temptations), Michael Ralph (Bernie Mac, Blow), our friend Don Wallace (Blue, Resurrection Blvd) and, of course…US!

Check out the trailer for the event:

We’ll be live at 10 am PST.  Live Q&A with viewers following the interview. See ALHLive.com for details.

xo-Carmen

The Real Girls Guide to Everything Else – Season 2 is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of The Real Girls Guide to Everything Else – Season 2 are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Click HERE to contribute to Season 2!

An Update on Real Girls Season 2… November 2, 2010

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The Real Girls Guide to Everything Else – Season 2 is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of The Real Girls Guide to Everything Else – Season 2 are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Click HERE to contribute to Season 2!

You make Real Girls a reality. xo-The Real Girls


Drinking the Social Media Kool-Aid October 29, 2010

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Before the launch of Real Girls back in February, Twitter was something I knew relatively little about. Like most “non-users” I regarded it with skepticism, unknowingly bandying about anti-social-media clichés like “do I really want to know every time your dog takes a dump” and “it sounds like a big a waste of time.”

But there was a moment last week when I realized how far out I had ventured into the Twitta-sphere. I was talking to my dad on the phone and heard him repeat some of these now-familiar phrases, which then led to a conversation about invasion of privacy, the culture of self-indulgence and exhibitionism (whadda you want? He’s an English professor, that’s just the way we talk…), and I found myself saying ”yeah, there’s an aspect of that, but there’s a LOT more to it.” And suddenly I realized I had become that person, the one who gives unpaid testimonials about the value of social networking and how it’s being used to “create community” and “level the playing field” and rambling on about hashtags, @replies, direct message and IRL encounters. If this had been a Skype call, I would have seen his eyes glaze over.

The subject came up because a couple of weeks ago I was asked to be on a panel representing at the “140 Character Conference” in Hollywood. So now (despite being a Luddite with an active AOL account and an uneasy relationship with a second hand iPod), I can pretend to be an authority on a tech-related subject. Cool! (And just for the record—and because he’ll probably read this—my Dad has a first-hand iPod and was happily Skyping long before I was).

The conference, created by Twitter seed investor Jeff Pulver, runs for two days in half a dozen cities and features panel discussions on the value and use of social media. The range of panelists is pretty impressive, from marketers to homeless advocates, to street performers, to aid workers in Haiti, to small businesses, to some of the biggest creative forces in Hollywood. I was invited to appear on a panel about “writing and community” along side moderator Debra Eckerling, creator of the writer resource site WriteOnOnline (who did an interview with me a few months ago), and Zac Sanford, creator of the popular #ScriptChat (a twitter based forum for screenwriters). The conference, as a whole, was a thrilling experience. It felt like something truly democratic was taking place. Finally, here was a forum where having a voice had nothing to do with money and prestige and everything with having something to say. Here was a forum where homeless bloggers were given the same respect as pop-culture icons.

For example, in the green room, waiting to go on stage, I ran into Tim Kring (creator of Heroes), Ilene Chaiken (creator of The L-Word)…and Smokey the Bear. Where else could this have possibly happened? (Read another interesting article about the strange menage of Real Girls, Smokey and Tim King HERE.)

Carmen Elena Mitchell, Tim Kring, Debra Eckerling & Zac Sanford

Me & Smokey

And yes, I asked Smokey (recalling a frustrating encounter at Disneyland with Eeyore) if he—like his Disney brethren—was forbidden from actually speaking. He nodded his head “Yes” sadly (but TWEET he does…and yes, the rumors of my brief un-reciprocated twitter-flirtation in the week following the conference are true, but I digress).

So yes, in some respects I have drunk the Kool-Aid. And yet at the same time, I recognize that there’s a dark side to all of this too. One need only look at the recent suicides of gay teens attributed to “cyber-bullying” to see that there’s something else very troubling going on. Through our drunken consumption of social media we’ve carelessly laid open the doors to a world without privacy, a world without boundaries, and—most problematic—a world of self-conscious childhood, where every moment of one’s evolving vulnerable self is potentially captured, exposed and critiqued in front of millions. We’ve created Big Brother and he is US. And no one born before 1990 can truly appreciate what it feels like to grow up in that world.

But then at the same time consider the reaction to such acts, like activist/columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” Project, which started in September as a response to Billy Lucas’ suicide (which has inspired everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to President Obama to create videos directed at LGBT youth letting them know that “it gets better”); and The Trevor Project, which provides 24/7 nationwide suicide prevention hotlines and support.

If you missed it please check out this video by Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns released on October 13th, which already has over 2 million hits.

Consider the NOH8 campaign.

Consider the countless on-line non-profit organizations that act as lifelines to teens in communities where there are no other resources.

Consider independent web series like Anyone But Me that have earned an enormous international audience though normalizing representations of LGBT teens.

Consider that before social media (BSM?!) many LGBT youths still took their own lives because of a lack of community, visibility and access to support.

Consider that in this brave new world the bully is often now exposed, and that there are consequences, whereas before most of this behavior went unreported and unpunished.

In the end social media is just an innovation, like TV, like radio…like the automobile even. And like those innovations it’s going to be regarded with skepticism. There will be people who refuse to utilize it and who claim that it’s impacting the culture in negative ways. And they’re right, it is. But it’s simultaneously changing it for the better. As with all advances in technology, we need to grow as a culture in order to learn how to use social media responsibly, and how to counter abuse so it does not go unchecked. We need to wear seat belts—or more importantly…we need to learn how to drive.

But in order to do that, we all—particularly those of us who are parents—need to be part of the conversation and at least take a sip of the Kool-aid. Right, Dad?

xo – Carmen

Real Girls Season 2 brought to you…BY YOU! October 20, 2010

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NOH8 Video September 30, 2010

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Last Sunday, we went to get our pictures taken for the NOH8 campaign at the United Methodist Church in Hollywood. Our friend D.C. Douglas created this incredibly moving video documenting the event (you’ll see us towards the end).

Video produced by D.C. Douglas. Music by Dona Oxford.

Thank you DC & Dona!!!

Please spread the word….

xo- The Real Girls

Web Series Crush-o-the-Week: Twins – It’s Like Looking in a Dirty Mirror September 10, 2010

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This week I decided to interview the director of Real Girl’s herself, the fabulous Heather de Michele about her OTHER (that slut!) web series, Twins: It’s Like Looking in a Dirty Mirror.

We snatched Heather up to direct Real Girl’s, the minute she moved back to LA after 10 years in New York, and haven’t let go of her since. In the past year, Heather’s directed several of our projects including our critically acclaimed stage play Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto, written by and starring Anna Khaja (“Aliyah” from Episode 5 of Real Girl’s), and our snarky-fun video The Crimson Tide (co-directed with Real Girl Reena Dutt) which parodies the utterly inane but eminently mock-able National Organization for Marriage ad The Gathering Storm.

Twins: It’s Like Looking in a Dirty Mirror follows a couple of 13-year-old twin sisters PBS science-show style “as they journey through life’s sibling-related obstacles during those awkward teen years.” The Twins, Sigourney and Sandy Snamf, are played by Anna Fitzwater (“Sexy Barista” from Real Girl’s episode 2) Emily Burton respectively.

The thing I find so intriguing about the series (besides the fact that Heather directed, shot it, and edited it herself…on the sly, in between Real Girls takes)…is that it’s entirely improved based, was shot on a zero budget, with only one or two locations…and is still funny and creative as hell. Jealous. But then I remember…she’s MINE, all mine. Well sorta. I mean, she does own an American-Girl Doll version of herself that I have easy access to. Picture below (when you’re done reading, as a treat).

RG: Where did the idea of Twins come from?

HDM: Two of the funniest women I know like to pretend they are headstrong teenagers from time to time.  I was inspired.

RG: Can you tell us a little bit about your process?

HDM: The entire series is improv based.  Lines were never scripted, though ideas on how the story would evolve were discussed before shooting… sometimes.

RG: How long does it take to shoot, edit and post an episode?

HDM: Each episode was shot in 3-4 hours time.  The editing process would take a full day or two and then the posting would happen the following day.  Our typical flow was Monday shoot, Friday air.

RG: Why did you choose to do this as a web-series?

HDM: Because we had absolutely no budget and the freedom to be as experimental and wild was we wanted was very appealing.  Web work is a very low-stakes medium and I think that lack of pressure breeds some of the best comedy!

RG: What’s the background of your team?

HDM: We all have theatre backgrounds sprinkled with some screen work here and there.  The three of us made up half of the NYC based sketch comedy group, Lesbian Pulp-O-Rama! Emily and Anna played some of the most vibrant, ridiculous and kooky characters in that illustrious body of work and I knew they would be perfect for a character driven web-series.  Lesbian Pulp-O-Rama!  ran steadily for four years, prior to that I had directed each of them in several plays.

RG: Any wacky on-set anecdotes?

HDM: Oh, wow, there were so many.  The wackiness often came from Anna and Emily taking their comedy to a vulgar and inappropriate place – I’d have to reign them in and remind the gals that TWINS is PG… sometimes PG-13.

RG: What is the most challenging part of the process?

HDM: Editing.  There was always an abundance of material to distill down to a short web episode.  Episode one could have been a feature film.

RG: Any advice you have for other female web creators?

HDM: Get a camera.  Honestly, though mine is already a bit out dated, having the ability to pick it up and shoot is very empowering.  Teaching myself to edit also gave me a great deal of control over my projects.  Not that I don’t love collaborating with large production teams, but when money is tight and ideas are flowing, it’s great to know you can just do it yourself.  Like Rosie the Riveter.

RG: What’s next for Twins? DATING?!

HDM: Season 2: episode 1 is in post – stay tuned for more from Sandy and Sigourney Snamf!!

RG: Any other projects you’re working on that we should know about?

HDM:  Yes!  I have the great fortune of directing Season 2 of The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else – coming soon to a computer near you!

To find out how YOU can help the support the cause of creating more awesome girl-powered comedy, please check out our Real Girl’s Season 2 Fundraising site (All donations are tax deductible!)

Carmen (with accomplice Jen) abucts Heather American Girl Mini-Me during the shoot.

The non-doll version of Heather on-set, with Robin Daléa.

Bitchin’ review in BITCH! September 3, 2010

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So today was a BIG day for the Girls! We found out that not only is our NPR interview “Move Over Sex and the City, Hello Real Girls” going to be re-broadcast on Labor Day, but that one of our favorite print magazines, BITCH, had published an awesome review of Real Girl’s in their latest issue.

If you don’t know BITCH, get thee to an independent magazine stand now (yes, they still have them…)! Launched in 1996 by a couple of former Sassy Magazine interns, who “decided that if they wanted to see some smart analysis of feminist pop culture, they could start by writing it themselves,” BITCH has, twelve years later, become something of a phenomenon, with a substantial subscriber base and regular interviews with some of the leading feminist scholars (it’s also EXTREMELY well written, fun, irreverent, delightfully obnoxious and awesome…and I love them and want to be them when I grow up, sigh.)

Here’s Sara Kantner’s review of Real Girl’s (click 2x to make BIG=))

xo-Carmen

To find out how YOU can help the support the cause of creating more awesome girl-powered comedy, please check out our Real Girl’s Season 2 Fundraising site (All donations are tax deductable!)

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