MN Web Series Spotlight: FEM 101 + Interview w/ the producer, director, showrunner & cast

Hello loyal FlixChatter readers! Today I bring you yet another exclusive interview with Minnesota filmmakers. It’s an extra special one as firstly, it’s a web series (which is a first here on this blog!) AND secondly, we don’t just have one or two key people participating in the Q&A, but a team of talented filmmakers/cast to give you insights into the making of this witty, well-written, oh-so-timely web series!

I’m so honored to feature producer Jeremy Bandow + writer Wenonah Wilms (who’ve both won the prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship awards), plus director Carrie Bush AND leading lady Erin Roberts (yes, Miss Kat herself!).

A community ed teacher gets more than she bargained for when she tries to teach feminism to a diverse and motley crew of misfits.

Feminism can be a complicated word these days! Jeremy Bandow & his team are Twin Cities filmmakers trying to stay true to the definition of feminism – ADVOCACY for equal rights for women – and with diverse, compelling characters explore the topic through an intersectional lens & continue the important conversation happening right here and now in 2019.

I had the privilege of seeing the first four episodes of FEM 101 (the first three episodes were shown last Fall) and this series is SO hilarious!! The writing is top notch with fun characters. I laughed so hard watching them, but each episode made you think about stuff you sometimes take for granted. I think humor can be tricky but even as someone who didn’t grow up in the US, I find it to be hilarious and an absolute hoot to watch. I think it’s a brilliant web series that’s hugely entertaining, but also offers up an important, timely message about what what it means to respect women and why women deserve to be treated equally.

Check out the trailer:

The first three episodes can be streamed on seeka.tv


Interview with director Carrie Bush +
screenwriter Wenonah Wilms

Q: Carrie – is this the first web series you’ve worked on? How’s the experience different from other directing roles you’ve done?

Carrie: ​Yes! Fem101 is the first web series I’ve worked on. Even though each individual episode is the same as a short film, with six episodes the characters have more time to arc so overall the length is a different experience for me.

Carrie Bush (right) directing Erin Roberts

Q: So Wenonah, you and Jeremy have won the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship award. How was the experience with Jeremy as producer? Have you worked with him before?

Wenonah: I’m honored to share the title of Nicholl Winner with Jeremy, he’s an amazing writer and a good friend. This was the first time we’ve worked together and with his producer hat on he really took charge at a high level and allowed the rest of the team the freedom to do what we do best. It was so fun both in the pre-production and production stages (which a writer doesn’t get to be a part of typically.) He had a lot of great ideas from the start but he really let me take the reigns as show-runner, which I know is hard when you’re also a writer to give over the project so I’m grateful he had that trust in me even though we had very little professional experience together. I would work with him again in a heartbeat.

Q: What’s been the most challenging process in getting this FEM 101 project off the ground?

Carrie: Honestly, this was one the easiest indie/no money projects to get off the ground that I’ve ever worked on. We had a dedicated, core team of people that came together from concept and writing to preproduction, production and post. To give perspective, on my last short film I wrote, directed, got permits, bought craft service, etc. To have a team so invested in the project and to see it though fruition is pretty amazing. The collaborative process is one of my favorite things about storytelling.

Wenonah: Casting was definitely challenging to some extent simply because its an ensemble of character that need to work together on screen. We all had our favorites and some of us had to give them up to make sure the right combination of actors came together. At the end I think we made the perfect choices and I can’t imagine the FEM101 cast any other way. This was also a very prop heavy production and we all rolled up our sleeves to make sure everyone got what they needed to make the joke work. Of course any indie project has its challenges when it comes to money, locations, time and equipment but our film community rallied and the dedication and professionalism really shows.

Wenonah Wilms on set with two of the makeup artists, Lexi Tyrell + Melissa Martin

Q: Has the initial idea evolved since its inception to the final product? Where do you get the inspiration for a feminism class to a bunch of misfits?

Wenonah: The idea was actually Jeremy’s, I was pulled in after concept and helped organize how the writers room would work. The execution was really a team effort as far as characters, story lines and tone, and evolved over time through brainstorms, table reads and rehearsals. We were all willing to make changes to make the project as a whole stronger and better – seriously, the egos were checked at the door. My job was to keep the six screenplays on track, make sure that the characters sounded the same, the comedy was consistent and that as a whole the web series flowed from one episode to the next. It was a cool, fun process and I was happy how well we all worked together to get this off the ground and running.

Q: I love the first four episodes! It’s a comedy but also has plenty of educational substance about women, feminism and of course sexual relations. Given he subject matter there seems to be a danger of being vulgar or even exploitative/gratuitous. How do you balance that in the writing process?

Carrie: We had a lot of conversations about this in the writing room. For me, it really came down to trusting the people in that room. We wanted FEM to be edgy and to explore different issues that are not openly discussed in our mainstream society. I think we need to be open and talk about the things that are considered taboo in a tasteful, productive and honest way. Hopefully if we talk about some of these issues more, they will create more understanding.

Wenonah: This was something I was a bit nervous about at first. Comedy is very subjective and hard to do without the pressure of making a comedy about a very sensitive and important subject but I always think of comedy like a Trojan horse to be able to deliver a message without being on a soapbox or sound preachy. It’s an absurd premise with a serious message.

There were lots of women involved in every step of the process and we were very aware of what might offend someone and willing to dial it back or come at it differently if we felt something wasn’t landing right or could be taken the wrong way. We poked fun at the people, not the cause. We definitely took risks but I don’t believe anything we did was outrageous or in poor taste or offensive. It’s not going to be for everyone but that’s okay. That’s part of making art.

Q: So Carrie, you filmed all 6 episodes in 4 days! Wow! Tell us a memorable filming moment that stood out to you.

Carrie: It’s all such a blur I cannot remember anything! 🙂 But seriously, the thing that stands out to me the most is the laughter that was heard from cast and crew every time CUT was called.


Interview with actress Erin Roberts

Q: Is this your first experience working in webisodes? If so how was that compared to your previous acting jobs?

Erin: This is my first experience working on a web series, or having a recurring character in ANY kind of series. It was REALLY fun to get to look at the arc of a character and see HOW she changes over this implied six weeks of time. Of course you do this in a play or movie too, BUT it was an exciting challenge to try and address this when filming all six episodes in only 4 days-and in a little more than a week. It was definitely a collaboration with writing, costume/HAM consulting and making some personal choices in how my character was evolving along the way. It was fast and furious and VERY fun!

Q: You’ve been acting for a long time and you’re also an acting teacher. How’s your experience help you with this role?

Erin: Teaching is a lot like performing. There is something extremely exciting AND nerve-wracking about standing in front of people. You have to keep people’s attention, help facilitate their learning, while also entertaining them. I think this is why actors make great teachers. We’re people people! We love to communicate. I also think that being the teacher gave me the role of rallying the troops on and off screen and that’s something I love to do!

Q: What do you like most about playing Miss Kat?

Erin: I was very lucky because, thanks to Jeremy’s idea, the character of Kat was essentially pattern after, and created, for me! Not a lot of actors can say that and I canNOT thank him (and the other talented writers) enough for this opportunity. I feel very blessed. SO, what’s great about her is that I get to have a lot of my own characteristics punched up in a more comedic extreme!

She is very passionate about people and her feminists cause and she is bound and determined to successfully connect with her students. That said I think she’s a little naive and therefore struggles with understanding WHY some people might not agree with her. She’s very empathetic and motivated and might be in over her head-regardless she’s not going down without a fight! I can totally relate to these challenges in my life! Sometimes life throws curve balls and, like Kat, I do my best to stay proactive and positive.

Q: Would you share about the casting process for this? I know you’ve worked with Jeremy before of 100,000 Miles A Second short.

Erin: I was on board from the beginning (lucky lucky actor me), so I got to be part of creating the other characters and consequently, casting the rest of the ensemble. While in the writing room with Jeremy, Wenonah, Carrie and Janet, actors we knew came to mind while we riffed. We were able to put together a list pf folks we wanted to have come in and read. We have SO many awesome actors in The Cities, and we saw a bunch of talented people, but I’m happy to say we got everyone on board that we made first offers to. This group was made for this show!

Some of the colorful students of FEM 101

Q: How was the experience working with this team and cast? How collaborative was the process?

Erin: The process was extremely collaborative. From the writing room to the set, I think there was a very open atmosphere to ask questions, play with characters, and tweak. Everyone was in it to WIN it, from craft services to writers, to sound and HAM, from producing to set direction…we were all working on a shoestring budget. People were clearly very committed to the project and generously gave up their time and energy (and even finances) to make this all happen! Congrats to everyone!!!

Q: Any favorite scene that stood out to you during filming? Please share if there’s a memorable snafu that happened.

Erin: Considering the quick turn around on everything, I’m actually surprised that no major disaster happened! I think that the universe wants this puppy to have some legs because we were extremely lucky with pretty much everything! That said, wait til you see the sculptures that Wenonah made for the homework assignment in Episode 4. A definite favorite and total surprise!

Q: Lastly, anything you are most excited about in episode 4?

Erin: Episode 4 is exciting because we are introduced to our first “special guest.” Kat brings in a friend/colleague to help talk to her students about sex… I will leave it at that 😉



Interview with Producer Jeremy Bandow

Q: How did this idea of FEM 101 come about? Did you always intend it to be for a web series?

The idea for Fem 101… It’s kind of a perfect storm of events that brought this show to creation … First, it was March of ’18. The Me Too movement had just been making some headlines, and I wanted to do something to be a part of that, to help combat the injustice and inequality women face (still, yes today, in 2019). I knew something like Fem 101 wouldn’t be much but it could maybe start a conversation, and at least be a step in the right direction.

One day I got Minneapolis’ Community Ed catalog in the mail. Paging through that, I noticed all sorts of odd, nearly comical classes. I thought, there should be a class for feminism! That could be funny, and ~ *gasp* ~ educational? Voilá, the idea was born! I texted Erin about it, asked if she were interested in playing the teacher, Miss Kat. She heartily said yes. This got the ball rolling. Wenonah too, was all in. I sat down with my WheeI·House partner Adam Olson, who also has been on board since Day 1, and before we knew it we were headfirst into development and pre-production.

We did always see it as a web series. There are no limitations, and you have instant, free, and worldwide distribution. What more could one ask for? (Don’t say money 🙂 )

The stellar team of FEM 101

Q: So Jeremy, you and Wenonah have both won the Nichols Screenwriting Fellowship award. How was the experience with Wenonah as the showrunner?

We do always joke about being the only two Nicholl Fellows from Minnesota. Quite an honor. I never had worked with Wenonah before. I think we both feel lucky and happy to have gotten the chance to work together on this. Wenonah is a brilliant writer. While all of us were involved creatively, we leaned on her written words throughout this process. Having Wenonah as a showrunner was especially helpful, as she took multiple writing passes at the entire season to make sure all the episodes flowed together seamlessly. Due to her work in this capacity, we have characters who arc, plants in early episodes that pay off in later episodes, storylines that develop, build and resolve, etc…

Q: Jeremy, you’ve had experience as a writer and director, but why did you take a producer role for this one? Perhaps you can also talk about the process of working with Carrie as director?

I actually like producing! But no, I understand the question. It felt terribly antithetical to even consider directing the show, so I never did. I did have a seat in the writer’s room. Wenonah brought Carrie on board very early on to direct. Immediately there was amazing creative synergy, and we instantly fell in love with the vision Carrie developed for the show. When you watch the episodes, it shows how masterfully she brought her vision to life. I cannot overstate how tirelessly Carrie has worked on this project, from developing shot lists and storyboards, to working with camera and art and all the various departments, to working with the actors and getting the performances, now these last months in post-production, and more…

As the producer, my job was to give Carrie everything she needed to bring the show to life, and to try and limit unforeseen challenges, which are always bound to happen in a film production because there are so many variables at play.

Q: What’s the plan for future episodes? Please tell us more about Seeka TV and how people can watch Fem 101.

Seeka TV is a-mazing! It is a streaming platform for independently produced web series, dedicated to bringing great content to audiences around the globe. The first half of our season is now streaming at watch.seeka.tv/fem-101 – and we are planning on releasing the 2nd half of the season early spring, in just a few weeks from now. If you haven’t already – check out Seeka TV and Fem 101!


Thanks so much Jeremy, Wenonah, Carrie & Erin
for the insightful interview!


UPCOMING LIVE SCREENING

FilmNorth February Cinema Lounge
Wednesday at 7 PM – 10 PM
Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater
810 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

MN Short Film Spotlight: 100,000 Miles A Second + Interview w/ filmmakers/cast

As I have mentioned on the TCFF page, it’s time for another Minnesota Shorts Showcase, sponsored by Twin Cities Film Fest! Last week I had the privilege of chatting with the writer, producer and leading lady of one of the short films screening this Saturday… the highly acclaimed 100,000 Miles A Second (which I think is a pretty darn cool title!)

A woman with multiple sclerosis has a conversation with a homeless street musician about how fast we travel through the universe, realizing her thoughts about herself are the real issue in her life.

Director: Jeremy Bandow
Writer: Patricia Fox
Producer: Kelly Lamphear-Dash
Cast: Erin Roberts, Sean Emery

Despite its brief running time (only 7 minutes long), this film packs a punch. Both narratively speaking as well as emotionally. For the most part we only see a woman (a terrific Erin Roberts) in the car, basically having a nervous breakdown. We get a glimpse of what she is going through but it’s never explicitly-said what she’s suffering from. And that’s the beauty of Fox’s script, that what the protagonist is going through is something we could all relate to. A lot of our frustration, anguish, rage, etc. are internal struggles, something we feel so intensely more so than something we physically experience.

I always admire stories that deals with heavy subject matter without making it too heavy-handed. There is a lightness to the way the story unfolds, especially in the key scene where the woman interacts with the homeless street musician (Sean Emery). Both actors are so great in their roles and were memorable in conveying the emotions of their respective characters. I love the music too, which adds so much to the uplifting tone of the movie. Director Jeremy Bandow did a wonderful job telling this story beautifully. The use of special effects to emphasize the theme of ‘speed’ gets the point across in a fun and efficient manner. Kudos to the filmmakers involved in making this a memorable short that’s both inspiring and entertaining.

Last Thursday I had the privilege of chatting with three of the women behind this wonderful short film.

Interview with screenwriter
Patricia Fox

1. When I watched the film, I felt like this is personal story that’s perhaps based on a real-life experience. Is that the case? Can you tell me what’s the inspiration behind this story?

​Yes, this really happened to me. It happened 10 or so years ago and I’ve told the story to people and it always gets a strong response from people, so I sure it had emotional power. When I received free classes at FilmNorth (formerly IFP), I took one in writing film short form and when we pitched our ideas for a short film in class, the instructor said THIS is a short and encouraged me to do it. I already knew I wanted to do it but this confirmed my instincts about it.

2. How did the short film come to be? Did you know the director, Jeremy Bandow, before you collaborated on this film? 

I actually went to graduate school with Jeremy and we’ve always had the same aesthetics, a similar taste, in film. As a finalist for a grant, I got to take this class in web series/short film at IFP for free. And since I had this idea for a while, because the story of this film actually happened to me word for word, I pitched this idea to the class. I got encouragement from that class that my idea is perfect for a short. The teacher said it’s the kind of stuff festival programmers are looking for, where there’s something at the end of it, it’s like a ‘punch to the stomach’ so to speak, that opens your mind to think of something in a different way.

3. I love that the film opens with John Milton’s quote ‘The mind is its own place.’ How did you come up with that quote that’s so perfect for this story?

​I’ve been sort of obsessed with that quote for years. I first encountered it in book of daily inspirational readings called Pocket Full of Miracles by Joan Boasanko. It is from Paradise Lost by John Milton. The quote completely encapsulates our protagonist’s issue in the film. The “problem” is merely how she’s choosing to “think” about it.

4. I’m also curious about the intriguing title ‘100,000 Miles a Second.’ What’s the significance of that title for you?

The homeless guy I had this encounter with said that’s how fast we are traveling in the universe. It turns out, that speed is about half the speed of light. I thought it was a powerful title that would get people’s attention.

5. Despite the serious subject matter, there’s a lightness to the way the film unfolds, and there’s such cheerfulness in the way the street musician interacts with the woman. Is that a deliberate tone that you and the director agree on?

​Yes, it was deliberate. I want the message to be positive and give people the room to make up their own minds about what it all means. A lot of it has to do with the actor we cast, he’s extremely engaging, he is a performer, and we wanted to use his strengths as an actor to help us spin this tale.

6. Tell me a little bit about the music in the film, which somehow fits perfectly and adds such richness to the story. 

The real street musician I encountered at the Co-op was playing a fiddle and he was playing Bluegrass music. So I knew I wanted the same type of sound for the film. Just so happen that the actor, Sean Emery, knows how to play the instrument and this type of music. It’s in the call sheet when we’re casting that it’d help if the actor has a musical sense and can play music. He actually performs at the State Fair and he had taken class with our casting director Cynthia Uhrich, so he turned up to audition for this role. He ended up writing the song in the end credits, apparently he wrote it a while ago and never did anything with it. He played it for us and we thought it’d be perfect for this movie.

7. Since you also produced this film, what’s the process like in finding the right producer and cast to bring your story to life?

Kelly asked to be part of the project, which I gratefully agreed. Once I asked Jeremy Bandow to direct, he brought the shooting crew with him. They work together a lot. We knew all all the extras personally. We found the other people we needed to bring in during post production, like the sound designer. Since we were working on a hot set in the form of a busy, urban store open for business, but we also wanted to play with sound during the speed up and slow down of motion sections in the film.

Interview with lead actress
Erin Roberts

1. How’s the experience making this film different from your theater experience and other acting jobs you’ve done in the past?

In my experience film is very different from theater because you don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. I kept checking in with writer Patricia and director Jeremey and reminding them that they needed to tell me if I wasn’t giving them what they needed on camera. It’s hard as an actor, (and as a control freak), to hand over that power to someone else therefore The trust level must be very high and I learned that quickly. Luckily I had such amazing collaborators. Specifically with film, after the shoot, the final product is completely out of our hands as actors. The film, the TV show, the video, is all made in post production. So the actor needs to Step back knowing,!and hoping, that they did their job, then let it go. It’s very very different work for me.

2. How did you prepare for the role of  The Woman who suffers from MS?

In prepping for this role playing Patricia, an actual person living with multiple sclerosis, I just wanted to talk to her… A lot. I wanted to hear her thoughts and feelings and experiences now, and during the onset of the disease, which is when this short film is set. The film is so relatable because it’s not just specifically about MS but about people going through personal and very difficult times in their lives. I was less worried about imitating Patricia and more focused on bringing the essence of her experience to the screen. As per the physicality, she struggled with issues in her left foot which caused her to feel uncomfortable on that side while she walked.

As an actor it’s important to me that I don’t pretend that something is bothering me- that will just show a “ quality”but not specific realism or reality. For me I needed something real to remind me that that left side was trouble. In preparing for the role I walked around with a rock in my shoe as a physical reminder that there was something that’s bothering me. Ironically on the day of the shoot I walked outside and saw one of my neighbors nephews Lego blocks on the street, a bright color red, which was a color Patricia and I had talked a lot about for this character, and I knew that would be My “rock”. I taped it to the ball of my foot and the rest of the day walked around with it sticking into my foot as I walked. It worked like a charm. It hurt like hell. And I think did the trick. I have that Lego block on my desk as a reminder.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the set

 

Interview with Producer
Kelly Lamplear-Dash

1. How did you come across this project? Have you and Patricia collaborated before?

I’ve known Patricia for many years. We met in a screenwriting class and have been part of a writing group ever since. I had been encouraging her to produce something since she has so many wonderful scripts. This was actually a new script; however, it immediately had interest and momentum to being done. It made logical sense that this would be the one to get produced.

2. What have been the most challenging part in making this film?

Securing the location, finding the talent, getting the crew together all fell into place extremely easily. The challenging part was the weather on the day of the shoot, which was all outdoors. We had to cut it short. Then we had a time delay of a few weeks to be able to go back and re-shoot due to the talent’s schedule. It’s a challenge to make sure everything looks seamless. Added to that was the issue of the green screen for the little bit of special effects that were used. Again, in post trying to make it look seamless.

Oh and on the first day of the shoot, there was the major the solar eclipse! It was August 21st, and I remember we almost called it off. But I felt like, considering the storyline and themes on this film, astrologically, things had to get started that day! The weather did get the better of us that day, so we had to wrap things early, but yeah the first day of shoot was indeed when the solar eclipse happened!

3. I know you’ve produced several documentaries before. Is this the first narrative short you produced? How’s that different in terms of process with producing documentaries?

Yes, actually it was. The main differences are related to the size of the production. In documentary, you usually have a skeleton crew and a single or couple for the interview subject. In narrative, there is a much more detailed crew to handle all the various aspects, especially about lighting, plus tech for maneuvers like dolly shots, etc. For talent, you have to have makeup and wardrobe, plus set design, props, etc. Of course, you have the talent, which can be anywhere from one person to one hundred. Even though this story centers around the two main characters, there was still a fair amount of extras, plus we were at a real co-op that had customers coming in and out that we had to control. The biggest shift is that in documentary you have to capture what is interesting in the real world that applies to your story versus in narrative you are altering your surroundings to create the world of the story.


Check out a clip from 100, 000 Miles A Second:


 

Thanks so much Patricia, Erin and Kelly
for this fun interview!