Interview with Carmen Elena Mitchell, creator of “The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else”

 
 

This week we’ll air the finale of the web series The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, but the show has only just begun. Creator Carmen Elena Mitchell took some time to answer our questions about the show’s origin, the ensemble cast and the advantages of internet production over the traditional television route.

AfterEllen.com: What’s the story behind RGG? How did it come about?

Carmen Elena Mitchell: I’m that person who buys the New Yorker at the airport but then gets totally sucked into the predictable chick-flick on the plane, and afterward thinks, "Now why did I do that?" So, the story came out of wanting to see an alternate narrative to the “desperate, shoe-obsessed, white women on the mad quest to snag a man and procreate before menopause.”

I wanted to see a story about women who don’t attempt to cure failed romances with ridiculously overpriced footwear, who read books (besides self-help and romances). I wanted to see a story about lesbians and women of color. I wanted to see stories about women who wear three-pack cotton undies, who shop at Payless Shoe Source and who have big oversize dreams that don’t end on their wedding day.

AE: As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of RGG as Sex and the City but with a lesbian/feminist sensibility. Was the series inspired by that show?
CEM: It was both inspired by and a response to the show. Rasha, Vanna, Sydney and Angie are all loosely based on SATC characters Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. I think I was asking the question,“if these women were real (as in — my friends), who would they be?” They would be ethnically diverse, passionate, hilarious, strong, intellectual, nerdy, goofy, opinionated women (gay and straight) whose weekly brunch conversations would take them way beyond dating and shopping. So it was kind of this exercise in “what would happen if?"

Also, what would happen IF we weren’t so afraid of the “F-word” (feminism)? What if it was a normal part of discourse? What if it was just assumed that this was a good thing and something to be celebrated rather than a word to be used cautiously?

AE: You have a stellar ensemble cast. Can you tell us a little about each of them?

CEM:
Well, Reena Dutt (Sydney) and Jennifer Weaver (Liz) are both producers on Real Girl’s as well awesome phenomenally talented actors. This project would not have happened with out their incredible support, imagination and hard work. I actually wrote Sydney and Liz specifically for them.

Reena, like Sydney, is completely zany and has a potty mouth, but she’s also a total pro who has worked with some of the best (including Albert Brooks, Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Arquette and Henry Winkler). Her theatre resume includes the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival, the National Asian American Theatre Company, the NY Fringe Festival and Here! Arts.

Jennifer Weaver, like Liz, is this totally fierce, passionate woman. She recently portrayed Mona in Theatre of NOTE’s Kill Me Deadly to sold out crowds. Some recent film and TV credits include Stupidface on Fuel TV and the Cannes distributed short film Magdalene, directed by Director’s Guild of America award winner, Rebecca Cremona.

Robin Daléa (Rasha) was the only actor we hadn’t worked with before, but we all immediately fell madly in love with her as soon as she walked in the audition room! Robin is both a seasoned NYC stage actor and an award-winning screen/TV actor whose credits include Without a Trace, What I Like About You and Jerry Bruckheimer’s upcoming CBS medical drama, Miami Medical, which begins airing on April 2.

Nikki Brown (Vanna) in addition to being fabulous actor is also a producer/director. She’s currently producing (and starring in) the soon to be released web series, Sheroes, a comedy about four women who discover that they have super powers. She also has her own production company, Rizen Routez Productions and will be directing a short thriller, Turn Off The Dark, this fall.

Bruno Oliver (“Big”) is my next door neighbor! He’s a regular in the Sacred Fools late night hit “Serial Killers,” whose and his recent TV credits include House, Mad Men and Modern Family.

As for myself, I’m a total theatre-baby. I’ve been obsessed with acting since I was about seven years old, and have performed on stages in Chicago, London, Seattle and LA. Recent film credits include the short films Rations and Who Could ask for More? as well as my short, Evidence, which I wrote, produced and starred-in.

AE: Can you share any memorable production stories?

CEM: We were like a bunch of 5-year-olds who had eaten too much sugar. In between takes there would always be this crazy eruption of silliness. At one point Nikki Brown started channeling the character of this foul-mouthed “Granny." Whenever Heather de Michele (our director) yelled cut, “Vanna” would disappear and “Granny” would show up and start giving everyone all sorts of unsolicited advice. It was so utterly wrong and hilarious. I actually ending up writing Granny into a promotion that we did for the show a couple months ago.

But I think one of my favorite moments had to be when our director, Heather de Michele, got this idea to use the veggies that Liz is chopping up in the kitchen scene (episode two) to make us all enchiladas while we were in the middle of shooting. So, in between takes she’s checking on the food, giving the actors notes, adding a dash of salt, making sure no one accidentally touches the oven, adjusting the lighting — like some really chilled-out Martha Stewart. And somehow she timed it perfectly so that we wrapped on time and had these fabulous enchiladas for dinner.

AE: Your own background is in playwriting and fiction, so how did you come to write the script for RGG?
CEM: All my life I’ve been doing some kind of writing. In high school it was poetry, and then it was short stories and then novels. When I moved to LA, everybody I met was writing a screenplay. I have a bit of a rebellious streak so I fought really hard to not jump on that bandwagon.

But then in 2006, I was invited to be a part of this collaborative film project and it opened my eyes to a new way of storytelling. Fiction writers tend to toil over their prose endlessly. You can workshop a 10-page story for years and no one outside of your writer’s group will actually see it. Even when it’s published, your audience is usually relatively small and restricted to a pretty narrow demographic.

It was the summer of 2008 when I got the idea for Real Girls. We were in that last stretch before the presidential election, Prop 8 was on the ballot, the movie Sex And The City had just come out — it was a perfect storm. I knew a guy who had a hugely successful web series with viewers all over the globe. And I thought, "I can do that!" And no matter what happens with it, at least I’ll be able to share my story rather then waiting for permission. 


AE: What’s up next for RGG? Will we see a season 2?
CEM:
Right now we have a second 10-episode season ready to go and are in the process of fundraising and talking to potential sponsors and investors. In season two, we really get to know Vanna, Angie and Sydney and take on issues like marriage equality and sexuality in a totally bizarre way. Oh and there are musical numbers! And dogs!

AE: What’s up next for you and Off-Chance Productions?
CEM:
In addition to Real Girls Season 2, we have about half a dozen other upcoming projects that are in various stages of development, including the world premiere of a one-woman play Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto written by and starring Anna Khaja (Aliyah in Real Girls episode 5) and directed by Heather de Michele running April 30th to May 22nd at the Stephanie Fuery Studios in Los Angeles. We have another a short Eat, Dream, Play, S–t, Die (written by Luis Reyes) that I directed, currently in post-production.

Currently in development, we have a feature (starring Jen Weaver, Reena Dutt and Carla Tassara), a short film based on a story by the acclaimed science fiction writer David Gerrold (written by Luis Reyes, directed by Steven Calcote). Additionally, we also have two stage plays that we’ve been workshopping: The Limitations of Genetic Technology by Luis Reyes and Relay by Steven Calcote.

AE: What are some of the perks and pitfalls of producing content for the web?
CEM:
The perks are reaching an international audience on all levels of the economic spectrum and building a fan base that is really driven by the quality of your content. Also, I love the opportunities to expand your story laterally through interactive sites and bonus features.

I honestly don’t see any pitfalls. People keep telling me there’s no money on the web. But when was there all this money floating around for independent, multi-ethnic, activist, female driven projects?

I feel like what we’re able to do online (which we can’t really do in any other venue) is to prove that there IS a market for this. We went to a new media mixer recently where they were featuring the latest studio-funded web series. The panel was made up entirely of white men, the characters in the series were white men, and the content could not have been more clear about its demographic — a slick, action series about sexy clever white men and easily seduced women.

We spoke with one of the executives on the panel afterward and we asked him if they had any plans to expand their demographic to include female-centric stories, people of color, LGBT etc. and he told us that unfortunately no, “not for the foreseeable future.” He explained that right now they needed was to go with a “proven market” and that they were going to have to wait on marketing to more “niche” groups.

My thought is (after I get over the idea that women — 52% of the population — are considered a “niche” group) perhaps we shouldn’t go after that source of funding. Let’s do this NPR-style and fund our series with $10-20 donations from people who believe in what were doing.

I have this theory that all these supposed “niche” markets (women, people of color, LGBT) combined actually make up the majority of viewers, particularly online. Because these audiences (for the most part) are not seeing themselves on TV, they go online to see shows that represent them.

 
 

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