Interview by Natalie Hulla; posted by Dustin Jenkins

 

On the set of Jess Archer Vs. the Ex

On the set of Jess Archer Vs. the Ex

Natalie: Welcome back!

Amy: Thank you very much!

Natalie: Are you excited to be back?

Amy: Yes, very excited. It’s very hot, but I think we’ll make it, and it’s cool to see the town again. So, we’re excited to start shooting soon.

Natalie: Congratulations on your Kickstarter. Last summer we did a story on the actual campaign itself, but it was super successful, so congratulations.

Amy: Thank you very much.

Natalie: I know that you had some specific details and production logistics that you wanted to be able to do when you were creating the Kickstarter. Were you able to do everything that you were hoping to do?

Amy: Yeah. Actually, moving the production to Ohio has allowed us to do pretty much everything we wanted to do. You know, initially we were going to shoot in L.A., but it is very expensive to shoot in L.A.

Natalie: Yeah.

Amy: So, we just kept being like, ‘Oh, we can only shoot this many days, so we can’t shoot the whole script.’ You know, ‘How can we cut it down, can we make half the episodes, is there a way to end it with a cliffhanger, so that potentially we could shoot more if we raise more money?’ Finally, it was just like, that’s not what I wanted to do, so somebody suggested that we move to Athens, and were like, ‘Yeah, maybe that’s an idea.’ Then we started looking into it and it became really feasible and it was a midpoint for a lot of the actors, so it was an easier travel budget, and just in general, everyone here has been so helpful that we’ve contacted. Getting locations has been much easier than L.A. So, yeah, it’s been a pretty good experience so far.

Natalie: Where are you shooting?

Amy: We’re going to shoot in Glidden, we’re shooting in and around the library over at Alden, various exteriors around that area… Glidden is our major location because they have that nice hallway that looks very much like a school already, so we don’t have to do too much set dec. We’re shooting down at the practice fields.

Ben: The rugby fields on South Green and the South Green amphitheater for our exterior location.

Amy: And then we’re going to shoot a little bit at the Forum, right?

Ben: Yes.

Amy: Yes. I always want to call it the Hahn, but it’s the Forum.

Ben: We were originally going to shoot in the Hahn, but the Forum actually works out better because it has more space and they have a grid that you can actually get up and work in.

***

Natalie: Tell me about the story.

Amy: So, we shot the short film for my thesis, which is the story of these two friends -- Jess Archer and Chase Pollard -- and in that one, Chase has had his comic book stolen by an ex-girlfriend. He asks Jess to help him get it back and she does, so that’s sort of like the little mystery. In this one, we have a bigger mystery, and basically we have our all-star lacrosse player, and he’s been framed for selling midterm answers, and is a very prickly character so she doesn’t necessarily want to help, like go out of her way to help this guy. But Chase brings him in and is like, ‘No, we should help him, he offered to pay us a lot of money, this would be a really great thing to do because we need some money.’ And she’s like, ‘Fine, I’ll do it,’ but then she gets into it because she loves puzzles and solving mysteries. It sort of goes deeper and there are more twists than she had thought, so she gets very excited. Then her nemesis from the original short film, Officer Turner, who is the school security guy, he’s constantly interfering in her attempts to crack the case. We brought him back as well, so that’ll be fun.

Natalie: Cool, that’s really exciting. I re-watched the short film last night. Annie had shown that film when we were in our first-year class. We were like, wow, that kinda set the standards high for postproduction, not going to lie.

Amy: Oh, cool.

Natalie: So, how many episodes are you shooting?

Amy: We’re going to shoot 12 episodes and it’s a whole story. So, it’s the story of the midterm exams. Each episode will be about four to six minutes, and that will be season one. We’ll have a whole, contained story when we’re done, and you know, there’s room hopefully for more seasons. But if not, it’s a contained story so there’s not a cliffhanger that people will be like, ‘That was frustrating, I just watched 12 episodes and there’s no end.’ So, yeah, we wanted to do the contained story and then leave room for ourselves for ongoing adventures.

Natalie: When you were making the short film, did you anticipate turning this into something larger?

Amy: Not really. I mean, I hadn’t thought that far ahead -- I was like, ‘I hope I make it through this thesis and graduate!’

Natalie: Yeah, ‘Let me survive!’

Amy: So, I was sending it out to festivals and it got into the DragonCon Short Film Festival -- DragonCon is sort of like ComicCon for the East Coast -- and, so, it played there and I went and watched the screening, and a couple people afterward were like, ‘I really like that, can we see more of these characters, are you going to do any more?’ I was like, ‘Well, I hadn’t thought about it, but, yes, I think I should!’ So, then I had to percolate on that idea and I was like, ‘What do I want to do, do I want to try and do another small short film?’ And then it seemed like a web series was the way to go, and so yeah, I wrote the script, and was like, ‘Hey, Stefan and Emily, do you want to come back and reprise your roles?’ And then they said, ‘Sure, why not?’

Natalie: So, talk to me about bringing the original cast members back. Were you worried that you wouldn’t be able to do that?

Amy: Yeah, I was, because it’s been four years now?

Ben: Four since it was finished and five since we shot it.

Amy: It’s like, they’ve moved on, they’re doing other things. I think I had talked to them a couple of times throughout the years, if they would be interested in reprising their roles and they were always super positive about it. So, when I finally had something to show them, like, ‘We’re doing this now, we have the Kickstarter, we have the script,’ they were all just like, ‘Yeah, we want to do it.’

Natalie: Where is everyone located right now?

Stefan: We’re in L.A., so we all flew in yesterday together. Emily and Chris and Joel are all in the New York area. Lindsey’s in Chicago. Kind of all over the place.

Ben: Some local, some from Columbus. Literally, across the board.

Natalie: Literally all over the map.

Amy: It was kind of a nice place to meet, sort of in the middle, to come back to Athens. Emily was always like, ‘If you ever do Jess Archer again, of course I’ll be involved,’ so I was like, ‘Good, as long as we have Jess Archer, we should be good! She can convince other people to become involved!’ So, yeah, it was really nice. Because, you know, it’s sort of difficult with everyone spread out to do in-tech rehearsals or anything beforehand. But I knew that these guys knew their characters, so I wasn’t as worried if we had cast all new people.

Stefan: Yeah, we tried to do rehearsals. There were a lot of back and forth emails going on. I wrote down my schedule for a week, for the next week and then the next week, and then the overlapping time was only, like, 15 minutes.

[Laughs]

Stefan: Yeah, so it didn’t unfortunately work out, but it’s easy to jump back into the character, four or five years later, however long it’s been. We all wanted to do it. It was so much fun the first time. We love everybody -- the cast and crew. We get to be back here in Athens. So, it’s exciting.

Natalie: The Jess Archer family.

Amy: Yeah, hopefully it does feel a little bit like a family. You know, we have our same DP back and our principal actors. Who else is back? They’re not coming here, but Cody, who edited the original, he’s game to edit some more. And then a couple of other people who are out in L.A., contributed in terms of editing and pre-production stuff. Whenever I mentioned it to them, they were like, ‘Yeah, let me know what you need.’

***

Ben: I think it’s great that we have a woman writer/director. We have a strong, female protagonist, we have a majority female crew, and I believe the majority of the cast is women as well. For me, that’s pretty cool to shatter the boys’ club thing.

Amy: Just a little bit!

Ben: And it’s not just, like, ‘We have a bunch of women on the crew but they’re all doing craft services.’ They’re actually in really important positions.

Natalie: They’re department heads.

Ben: Yeah. We have four producers, two of which are women. Dylan is first AC. We have sound, key grip, art, costumes, hair and makeup. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool. I hope that becomes a talking point once we put it out into the world, that people can watch it and they can appreciate that.

Natalie: I think that’s really important because it’s not like you’re doing a rom-com, or any of those tropes that people like to shove female storytellers in to.

Amy: Yeah, like, ‘This is a chick flick, this is what you can work on.’

Natalie: Right.

Amy: I mean, those are fine, but that’s not really what I’m interested in.

Natalie: It’s a creative box. Like, ‘What do women like? They like romance and they like chick flicks.’ Not really. I don’t watch that kind of stuff and I don’t make that kind of stuff.

Amy: Yeah.

Natalie: Well, talk to me a little bit more about Jess as a character.

Amy: Normally, female characters are the girlfriends or they’re the love interest who gets killed so that the man can be motivated to do whatever he has to do. Or they’re the girlfriend who gets two or three lines, and is just there to look pretty, I guess. It’s like, they don’t have any character, really. They’re just a pretty face. So, I didn’t want Jess to be that, obviously. And I’m not interested in writing stories like that because that’s just super uninteresting. So, Jess is a very prickly character and I wanted her to be very prickly. There’s the idea that women need to be nice and agreeable and not hurt anyone’s feelings. We’re always apologizing for nothing.

Natalie: Yeah. I’ve probably done that about ten times since we’ve been sitting here.

Amy: I’m sure I have. I’m always like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ I wanted to write a female character who doesn’t apologize. Because, you know, she’s not sorry. She knows what she has to do. She’s kind of a weirdo, but she’s fine with that. Yeah, she’s motivating her own story. She’s going after this mystery and she doesn’t really care what people think, which is something that I would like for myself, because I wish I cared less about what people think. Like, how you look as a woman or how you come across, you can’t be too aggressive because then you’re a bitch. And Jess doesn’t care. She will be a bitch if that’s you want to call her, but she’s going to get stuff done and you would be lucky to have her as a friend because she has your back. So, yeah, I think the audience for this -- hopefully it will be my age, too, because of all the geek references -- but also, you know, if younger girls are watching this, like teenagers, I’d like them to see a character like that and say, it’s okay for you to like weird stuff or you don’t have to be agreeing with everyone or going along with the crowd. You can hopefully see Jess and be like, ‘Oh, I can be like that -- that’s not bad, either.’ She’s pretty cool.

Natalie: Yeah. It’s really fun to watch, too. It’s a fun show to watch. It’s really cool and it’s humorous and cool and super geeky, at the same time.

Amy: Yeah, I don’t want to beat people over the head with the message, ‘Women are strong!’ I just wanted to write her as a real person, which is so rare.

Emily Williams as Jess Archer.

Emily Williams as Jess Archer.

Natalie: So, is the program providing any kind of support for equipment, or any other production use?

Amy: They are providing us with a large amount of equipment. Pretty much everything we need. Steve has been super helpful in getting us everything we need and getting us organized to get the equipment, so yeah, we’re pretty much set. I think Josh is using a few little things, but yeah, we’re most using the School of Film equipment. We’re staying over at Bromley, so residential housing has been super helpful. All the locations people have been really helpful. We have a couple of people who we know here who have been facilitating and they have been amazing. We couldn’t have done it if they weren’t here because it would just be too hard to manage.

Natalie: What camera are you using from the equipment room?

Amy: We’re using the Red.

Natalie: Nice!

Amy: Yeah, our DP is very excited about that. We couldn’t have afforded a Red in L.A. So, he’s excited to use that, and I’m excited to use that because I’ve never shot on a Red before.

Natalie: Yeah, that’s very exciting.

Amy: I’m excited to see the dailies.

Natalie: Is it too early to ask about marketing and distro, and how you plan to distribute it?

Amy: No, it’s not too early. We don’t have a super solid plan yet, but our basic distribution plan is to create a YouTube channel and it’ll be available there. We’ll do our own website and embed the YouTube stuff there. I’ve been trying to build up our social media so that hopefully we have at least -- I don’t want to say a fanbase -- but at least, like, everyone’s family and friends will be following it, and then hopefully we can get some good numbers when we post. We’re trying to post at the beginning of Fall, like the beginning of the TV season so it’ll coincide with that. So, hopefully, if we can get some good numbers, we can go to places like Hulu or Vimeo for their original programming. There are some channels on YouTube that we would fit in well with, and we can present that to them and say, ‘Hey, our numbers are alright, take a look at it, see what you think, maybe you want to help us with a season two?’ So, that’s the general plan.

Natalie: Cool. Well, best of luck to you. Congratulations already!

Amy: Yeah, it’s been such a long process already, that to finally film it, it’s exciting.

***

FOLLOW-UP AFTER PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY WRAPPED

NH: Tell me what it's like to work with O.U. students and alumni on your crew.

AT: So much fun. For the alumni it was like a little reunion. Some of us haven't seen each other in person in four or five years, so right off the bat that was amazing. And then of course part of the fun of filmmaking is collaborating with friends who really want you to succeed, so that positive vibe was definitely present on set. Working with the students  - well, I'm just so impressed with them. We had a TON to shoot. Even by industry standards. For the short film we shot 13 pages in 5 days and for this shoot we shot 53 pages in seven days. And the students jumped right in there and hustled and were just extremely professional and got it done.

NH: Do you think you'll keep connections with your crew after the shoot?

AT: I hope so. Especially if they're interested in coming out to LA. We weren't able to pay people this time around so hopefully we've at least been able to provide the opportunity for OU people who would like to head out to LA to network with alumni who are already out there.  People [in LA] are always asking if you can recommend a good AC or sound or gaffer, so we love to be able to pass on names of fellow Bobcats.

NH: So, you work out in L.A. now, but it looks like you've collaborated a lot with O.U. film alumni since you graduated a few years ago. Is there a Bobcat film family out there?

AT: There are a ton of Bobcats out there and they are always happy to help fellow alumni get work. We have an especially strong network if you're interested in camera and lighting

NH: Was the availability of resources (locations, equipment, etc.) from O.U. a large factor in deciding to shoot in Athens?

AT: Absolutely. We would never have been able to shoot the whole script if the film school had not been so generous with their equipment. If we had had to rent equipment, we couldn't have shot for seven days with the added cost and would have probably had to make huge cuts to the script. Shooting on a RED would also never have happened in LA because again, it's just too expensive, and so when we talked to Steve Ross and got his blessing, it was HUGE for us. I think just the fact of being able to shoot on the RED has upped the production value of the whole thing because it just looks really amazing. And since we are such a small production with no big names attached, anything we can do to make ourselves stand out is fantastic. The school also has this great dana dolly, which has saved our butts over and over again on this shoot. It's a great piece of equipment for shooting in small spaces, which we were because obviously we're shooting on real locations and can't move walls around like in a studio to accommodate camera. We'd just move in with the dana dolly and bam bam bam, got the shot. Our DP, Josh Young, loved it.

NH: I think those should be good. Thanks lady!