Thanks to Jezebel for linking!
Last week, I wrote about how influential Sex and the City had been to various web series creators. Along those lines, I asked the creative team behind a new (gay) series about women, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, to talk about how they developed their show and what the philosophy behind it was. Carmen Elena Mitchell, the executive producer and writer, wrote me back and filled me in on the behind-the-scenes planning. The show premiered last week.
The main goal behind The Real Girl’s Guide was to offer an alternative on Sex and the City (particularly the film).
“We got into this conversation about the world of Sex and the City…the world of rich, white, straight fashionistas. And it started me thinking – what’s the inverse of that world?,” I was told. “Perhaps a more ethnically diverse world where materialism is not valued, where being straight is not ‘assumed,’ where a woman’s goals do not end at getting married or finding the perfect pair of ridiculously expensive shoes.”
Interestingly, however, it’s about more than just the story. Real Girl’s also provides opportunities for actors of color who are often typecast by traditional media. This is something I’ve heard from other web series producers.
Below, the creators talk to me about finding financing, producing extra content to engage fans, what’s good about The L Word, troubling about Sex and the City, and what a “web series” is!
TELEVISUAL: How did Real Girl’s Guide start? Where did the idea originate?
REAL GIRL’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING ELSE: The idea grew out of this aggravation I’d been feeling for a while about all the lame romantic comedies marketed to women. But it really crystallized when I went to see the Sex and the City movie. I actually had really liked aspects of the series itself and had felt it was quite innovative… but the movie felt more like a fashion show – with a little bit of story thrown in for fun. I saw the film with my co-producer Reena Dutt (who plays “Sydney”) and my friend Vivian Rogers (inspiration for “Vanna”) and afterwards we got into this conversation about the world of Sex and the City…the world of rich, white, straight fashionistas. And it started me thinking – what’s the inverse of that world? Perhaps a more ethnically diverse world where materialism is not valued, where being straight is not “assumed,” where a woman’s goals do not end at getting married or finding the perfect pair of ridiculously expensive shoes. Where perhaps the goal is to write a book, or have an art show or to run for political office or to save some small part of the world.
TELEVISUAL: Why do this series? What distinguishes Real Girl’s from what we see either on television or in film? I’m particularly intrigued by your ethnically diverse cast and storyline(s).
RGGTEE: I think Real Girl’s…is about real women. It’s about everybody who is not represented by this heightened, glossy, almost-drag femininity. It’s about women who do not fit neatly into the mainstream world of chick-lit… which honestly, I think, is most of us. In terms of the multi-ethnic cast, I think it’s really essential to show viewers a world that doesn’t utilize people of color in stereotypical ways. I love what Shonda Rhimes did with Grey’s Anatomy… where you have a multi-ethnic cast of characters who are not primarily defined by their race. Sure it’s a part of them… but their race isn’t continually being used to make a point. So often I hear from actors-of-color how difficult it is to get cast in roles where they are not primarily defined by their race. Reena (Sydney) for example is continually cast as medical personnel, while my Latina actor friends get called in for prostitutes, Black male actors for gangsters etc. But it goes beyond just wanting to create opportunities… I think how we represent people on the big and the small screen actually effects the way people see and treat each other in real life.
TELEVISUAL: What are your thoughts on the very lucrative chick-lit industries, both the books but also the rom-coms and Sex and the City‘s? Most women-oriented blockbusters today fall in that genre, especially film.
RGGTEE: Well first of all, I want to say I think we’ve come a long way from the Sweet Valley Highs and the Harlequin Romances that I grew up with. At least a lot of the chick-lit books are decently written and feature female protagonists that are smart, savvy career girls, who often question their own obsession with designer foot wear (while at the same time dishing up lots of handy product placement!) However, I think we are ready for the next step. I think we have done this genre to death and we will continue to consume it… until we start seeing other options out there.
TELEVISUAL: Was The L Word on your mind while producing this series? Either in bad or a positive way.
RGGTEE: I’ve only seen about three or four episodes (from Season 1) of the L-word – which I quite enjoyed. I know a lot of Lesbian viewers have a love/hate relationship with the series and I haven’t seen enough of the series to speak to that myself. What I can say is that it seems like it was a break-though in terms of serving an underserved audience and also introducing the straight world to some of the dynamics within certain parts of the lesbian community. I’d love to be able do the same thing with Real Girl’s, show investors the power of underserved audiences. That when you combine all the people who are marginalized by virtue of their sexuality, race or economic power… you’re not really talking about a minority any more, you may even be talking about a majority.
TELEVISUAL: How did you fund and produce the series? Was it a difficult process? It’s quite professional all around: writing, cinematography, acting, etc.
RGGTEE: We were able to fundraise about ½ the money, and the other half was self-funded. We were in pre-production during the height of the economic crisis so it was a little tough going and none of us are independently wealthy – which makes it that much more challenging! The magical part of the process though was that it wasn’t as expensive as it looks. We had a lot of interest in this project from really talented people who were willing to work for either deferred or very little and who were extremely resourceful. We owe a lot for the visual style of the piece to our brilliant cinematographer, Rob Webb. And our director, Heather de Michele, is a seasoned NY theatre director who really knows how to work with actors. She put together a fantastic ensemble and created a great really fun vibe on set.
TELEVISUAL: How did you get together with Strike.tv? I think it’s a terrific site.
RGGTEE: I had been hearing great things about Strike. I love that it was started by writers. I loved the fact that they seemed interested in doing shows that were a little more experimental… particularly shows that either because of their demographic or style or their lack of conventionally beautiful actors would never make it on network television. The shows on Strike are projects of passion rather than stories scripted by supposed demographics and “market research.
TELEVISUAL: I know you just completed season one, but do you have plans for a second one? What would it take for you to undertake another set of episodes? A sponsor? Grant money? DVD/franchising money?
RGGTEE: Absolutely! We are really excited to get started on Season 2 (which will be even more outrageous than this one! Hint: musical numbers!) and we are looking into sponsorship and possible grants. But right now we are strongly encouraging donations from viewers.
TELEVISUAL: Now for a meta-question I ask everybody. What is a web series? What makes it different from other forms of storytelling?
RGGTEE: The web-series is different because there are no rules on length, story structure, or on how you cast. It feels like a tremendous opportunity creatively. The exciting part for me is that there are all these ways to expand your story laterally. For example in Episode 1 – there is mention of this online dating service called www.truelovealwaysforever.com so what we did was buy that domain name and create a page on our website with video dating profiles. The viewer can then vote on Rasha’s “dream date” and see the results in Episode 2. The cool thing is these videos stand alone as wacky little pieces in their own right, but it also gets people to actually participate in the show and hopefully drives traffic to the series.
The other part that really excites me is that unlike film and TV, the web is accessible to anyone who has a library card, so you really do reach an audience at all levels of the economic spectrum, and those viewers that have been traditionally left out have the power to support content with clicks rather than their wallet. I also love that you have the ability to reach fans all around the world (within a few days of posting Episode 1 was translated into Spanish by an Argentinean fan!) My background is theatre where, unfortunately, it seems like most of the audience is made up of your friends and you never really know if you’re touching people on any profound level. Online they let you know – either way.