They said we couldn't make a whole web series in one week. We did it anyway.
This might come as a surprise, but we shot a six-episode series in seven days and had boobs the whole time! We’re here to tell you it’s possible. They won’t fall off.
Wow, we started talking about our heaving breasts before we even introduced ourselves. How rude of us!
We are Jamie Linn Watson, Rachel Horwitz, Mahayla Laurence, Chloe Troast, and Liz Demmon. We all met at the hospital where Anne Hathaway was born, NYU Tisch, and have been performing improv and sketch together for five years. A while back, a few of us were together watching an improv show when something life-changing occurred. A fellow female improviser took the stage and performed in a kitten heel.
We had never seen anything like this. As women who do comedy, our usual dress code is supposed to be the classic gender-neutral jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers, so we don’t confuse the audience. God forbid we do a sweep edit with our dainty ankles showing!
Well, according to that improv set, you can improvise in a kitten heel. And if we can perform in a kitten heel, why can’t we perform in a mini skirt or even just a shirt with a neckline that dips below our collarbones? Why is it that we can’t stop sexualizing the cis-female body even when it’s doing legally the least sexy thing imaginable (improvised comedy)?
Look up “improv” in the Legal Dictionary, there’s probably something there.
There’s a sort of freedom that comes to you, as a performer, when you ask yourself that question. So we started to ask ourselves, “What would that kind of freedom look like for—and we say this with love—even the most hyper-feminized basic bitches among us?”
Our early audiences ended up being really drawn to that as well. So, Jamie, Rachel, Mahayla, Chloe, and Liz became MJ, Becka, Maegaen, Tiggy, and Kendyll Lyndsay, respectively, and we started performing as Slutprov. We were mainly doing shows with one of the sketch teams we are involved with, LISA, and after improvising as these characters for about a year, we realized it would make a great series.
After we got in touch with fellow NYU comedians MC Plaschke and Ryan Beggs to direct and produce, Liz took on the role of executive producer. The five of us, with MC and Ryan’s guidance, each wrote an episode centering around our characters, co-wrote the finale, renamed it The Basics, and we were off!
Now that our Charles Dickens-level backstory is over, here’s the trailer:
How We Made It
After assembling our team, we put together a budget that would allow us to properly pay our crew, rent equipment, and keep everyone fed and hydrated. Our budget was $13,000, and we raised the entirety of it on Kickstarter.
We shot over the course of three consecutive weekends, and due to budget constraints and favor availability, we used a different camera each weekend. We used the Arri Amira, Arri Alexa Mini, and the Canon C300 and matched them in color. Our DP Armaan Virani owns a camera company, which was incredibly useful in sourcing equipment. Additional cinematography was provided by Julia Kupiec. We also used a GoPro to shoot Episode 5 (Tiggy’s freaky ode to skate videos).
But we know what you’re really thinking, the clickbait of it all: how did we shoot six episodes in seven days? What is our secret?
Well, it’s a combination of a few things: iced coffee, good moisturizer, and the intelligence and talents of Ryan, MC, and Liz.
We knew early on that if we didn’t shoot this series within a quick time frame, we would probably never get it done at all. Rentals gotta be returned! Crew members got other gigs! So we squished as much as we could into three weekends from the end of October to the beginning of November (2019, when we could all breathe in the same space). We kept the crew relatively small, about six to 10 people depending on the shoot day, which majorly contributed to how quickly we could break down our set and move from location to location on our big days.
To be clear, there were, of course, some Big Ass Hurdles (the clinical term) along the way. The night before our first day of shooting, our bachelorette party location had a burst pipe.
Luckily, after a few hours of frantic scrambling, we got ahold of Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick and they graciously let us rent the space for the next morning. Later in the shoot, a separate location switched up on us, leading to a 4 a.m. call time. But all in all, some other minuscule bumps aside, we stuck to our schedule and got it done with absolutely no reshoots. Not one reshoot! We all got matching tattoos that say “no reshoots.”
How We Made It Funny™
Who better to describe style and tone choices than our co-directors, Ryan and MC?
“Stylistically, we wanted to get away from the idea that comedy has to be either ‘vertical Twitter comedy video’ or ‘Wes Anderson style overload.' There is so much in between! We think there is a huge range of visual things you can do with comedy that are rarely explored. For The Basics, we relied a lot on improvised performance as well as improvised zooms/camera moves which made everything feel fresh and in-the-moment. The one danger of doing a series about improv is that on-camera improvisation… isn’t that funny. The magic is often lost when you don’t have the stakes of it being live. To get the feeling of spontaneity, much like you would at a live show, we used snap zooms and jump cuts, as well as slow-motion effects and music overlays over the actual improv. We wanted the goofy, improvised nature of the comedy to juxtapose with a very professional look in our cinematography. For these characters, improv is life and death, and we wanted the style to reflect that, pulling from comedic shows like Search Party and Glee.”
Our co-director and producer Ryan Beggs said, “As an actor, improviser, and dear friend of this group of girls, I knew that a bulk of the jokes were going to happen in the moment. While the scripts were hilar [hilarious], nothing compares to Mahayla, Jamie, Rachel, Chloe, and Liz’s banter—so we made sure to build in time for improvised takes. We really reaped the benefits of that process because most of the more 'laugh out loud' moments in the series are, dare I say, improvised. Since each character had been significantly developed, directing them was made easy. The structure, motivation, and general ethos was there, so we got to focus on the fun parts of punching up every joke and sharpening the tone.”
We also assembled a supporting cast of fellow NYC comedians and created a powerful, all-star squad that even Taylor Swift circa 2014 would be jealous of.
Our series includes hilarious performances from comedians like Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby), Moss Perricone (Patriot Act), and Alex Song-Xia (The Week Of). Not to mention the entirety of sketch group Please Don’t Destroy (John Higgins, Ben Marshall, and Martin Herlihy) and a special appearance by commercial titan Paul Marcarelli.
Lastly, because this series was borne from an improv set performed at a sketch show, almost everyone involved in The Basics production team has improvised together, which allowed us to be on the same page about style and timing (including our talented editors, William Kenton and Steve Raia).
How You Can Watch (A Tale of Two Platforms)
Go ahead and clock our second Dickens reference!
Initially, our intention with our pilot was to submit to festivals big and small, and network through those platforms. We applied to a handful of festivals, but 2020 quickly started going downhill, and all became virtual! We were an official selection of the New York Lift-Off Film Festival, where we received the most audience votes in our category. Since then, we’ve decided to put the festival circuit on the backburner and take advantage of this time where everyone is home and on their phones!
We tripled our Instagram followers organically in the week before launching our trailer on IGTV, which led us to a greater reach and more interest for the launch of the series. When it came to our official release, we put on our CEO of distribution hats (think Sheryl Sandberg behind a big bedazzled Netflix desk) to discuss the age-old question: to binge or not to binge?
As we all know from experience, we live in a binging culture. We are Total Media Gluttons™. But at the same time, articles like this one about Stranger Things got us thinking about how binging can be detrimental to the excitement and build up around a series. We want everyone to watch the series, but we also want it to be shared on our audience’s feeds for longer than just a few days.
So we decided to do both! On Jan. 15 we released several episodes to binge on Vimeo, and at the same time, we are working with a more “traditional” model by releasing episodes weekly on IGTV.
We found it crucial to take advantage of Instagram’s shareability and convenience, and we are really excited to see how the analytics may differ between the two platforms. It could turn out to be the kind of experimental audience data that scientists and companies are clamoring for (we’ll let you know, Sheryl). But most importantly, we are just a bunch of comedians who want you to watch the show, regardless of how you do it.
The bottom line: as funnygorls who grew up in an age where white cis-het femininity ranked supreme (still does, but if 2020 taught us anything it’s that We Are Always Going To Be Working On It!), there's a lot we assume about ourselves and the world that we are constantly working to unpack. Even in figuring how to talk about this thing we made, we are learning more about what it taught us. We think this is the first time that all of us have been at a stage in our lives where we actually have the means to ask for what we want in a lot of new ways, and that is so thrilling. As basic bitches, qt queers, whoever we are.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to indulge in this idea and collaborate with some of our funniest and most talented friends and peers. The Basics really is a fun watch (not to toot our own tits… oops, here we go, talking about our boobs again).
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