By Marzy Hart
Every year, NYWIFT awards a platinum membership to an Outstanding Female Content Creator at the New York Television Festival (NYTVF). This year, there were two: Katie Gibson and Alex Trow. I am a huge fan of their web series Inappropriate Jane Austen so I jumped at the chance to interview them.
The logline says it all: “A gaggle of Regency ladies explore what Jane Austen left out about female friendship, engagements, motherhood and anal sex. If Jane Austen hadn’t been so appropriate, she’d have been… Inappropriate Jane Austen.”
If you haven’t seen the show, then I suggest you watch it this very instant. The bite-sized episodes are everything you didn’t know you were missing.
How did you start working together? What is your collaboration process?
Katie Gibson: We met a few years ago performing in the Off-Broadway revival of London Wall at the Mint Theater. We had plenty of backstage time and our mutual appreciation for one another was solidified. Soon after, we became roommates, closely followed by the next stage in our friendship, production partners. Both of us worked day jobs in corporate offices and felt creatively starved, so we set out to make a project we were in charge of. Alex led the way with the writing and I was the bossy one who pushed us to make it. We had never done anything like this before, so our collaboration process was rather improvised. We both wore many hats and helped one another to learn where our skills were best utilized and we’re still learning what works for us.
What inspired the project? Were you Jane Austen fans to begin with?
Alex Trow: I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. Not to go full English nerd, but I remember reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in college, in which Woolf writes “[Jane Austen] was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote.” And I was so impressed with that idea – Jane Austen was a lady writing without a chip on her shoulder even though life for women was pretty darn restricted and polite and unfair. And I think that probably was the seed that made me start thinking: what did she leave out? Could we make something funny out of things she left out that women probably were thinking about, if not writing about? Also I think fart jokes are funny. So.
What were the challenges you faced?
KG: Time and money were the two biggest hurdles we faced. We were independent, first-time filmmakers, which spells out the challenge right there for you. However, I have to say that the beauty of not knowing what you’re doing leads to a certain naivety and optimistic outlook that comes with the unknown. We were fortunate enough to have wonderful friends who were happy to do favors for us – from the actors, to the crew, to securing a venue, we were super lucky. We had one day to shoot, so we had an extremely tight timeline. It was the post-production demands that definitely took us by surprise – many sleepless nights going over all the footage with our editor to get everything perfect. Turns out launching a web series is a full-time job within itself, so finding time to focus on it on top of survival jobs was definitely very stressful, and I think we aged 5 years in the process.
What was your goal with Inappropriate Jane Austen? Build a fanbase, get distribution, use footage for your reel, etc.?
KG: We wanted to make a project together as we would often lament over our audition stories and just felt increasingly frustrated with the status of quo of booking an acting job. It is so hard to get in the room no matter how many times you ask your manager or agent or how right you know you are for a role. Alex is a brilliant writer and had a play put up a few years back in NYC, and it was about time she made the leap to get something on a screen. I wanted something for my reel (or at least that’s how it started), but it soon became much bigger than that. It wasn’t really ever about getting a fanbase or building our audience, but rather focused on us owning our own work, calling the shots to see where that would take us.
AT: I will also say that for me, the initial goal was to actually follow through – soup to nuts – on an idea. And it felt so, so good to be the boss, and to be working. There is no cure for sadness or frustration like making work – and for me, having a partner to encourage and push me was vital.
NYWIFT Board member Christine Bragan (VP of Corporate Marketing and Communications at AMC Networks) presents the NYWIFT Outstanding Female Content Creator award to Katie Gibson at the NYTVF 2016 Awards reception. (Photo Credit: Lauren Caulk.)
Why did you choose to submit to NYFTVF?
Katie & Alex: We heard really positive feedback on NYTVF. We had friends who entered the competition the year before and won some awards, and it opened up great opportunities for them. It was also the highest recommended festival for independent TV pilots, and welcomed our micro-short web series, which is a fairly niche format. Surprisingly, a lot of festivals are yet to hop on board the web series train, and we could tell NYTVF was eager to champion this type of work. We will say that deciding which film festivals to enter is a fairly arduous task, and you have to be sure you’re targeting the right type of event to showcase your work. One other note – we were thrilled to find such a great festival so close to home – the connections we made in person feel significant, and we didn’t have to break the bank to travel, because we were already here! To sum up: we felt positive about putting some of our designated post-production money towards the NYTVF submission, and it really paid off.
What was it like being at the screening of your show and the festival over all?
KG: We both had fantastic takeaways from the festival. We met so many insightful and inspiring filmmakers and creators, and the NYTVF staff were nothing short of brilliant. NYTVF gave us opportunities to meet with industry folk ranging from producers to networks to writers: we had a chance to pitch a new idea to a network (something we’d never done before), and got exposure to all sorts of different facets of the filmmaking world. Plus that awesome feeling that happens when you attend the screening of your work and your body temperature instantly rises three degrees and you get real sweaty, and then suddenly it’s over and you participate in a Q&A and hope you say something insightful and intelligent.
How do you feel you have benefited from NYTVF?
Katie & Alex: We have forged a number of important relationships with production companies and are in contact with producers who are interested in what [our company] Sparklesuit Productions will do next. More importantly, it gave us validation that the work we are making is getting noticed and bringing a smile to people’s faces. It has given us the confidence to keep going, and the realization that we need to keep making our own content if we want our voices to be heard. One project is not enough, everyone always wants to know what else you have lined up.
What’s next for you/the project?
Katie & Alex: We’re working on a long form series of Inappropriate Jane Austen and hoping to make some more short sketches before the end of the year.
Did you rely on social media for building your audience?
Katie & Alex: Absolutely. We asked all our friends to share it and like our pages. We still have a way to go learning more about how social media can be utilized to the fullest. Neither myself nor Alex are social media gurus, and there are still plenty of gaps in our sharing/publicizing knowledge. This will definitely be one of the major takeaways to learn from and improve for our next project.
What is your favorite form of social media?
Katie & Alex: Facebook took the crown for this one. It was the most user-friendly and easiest in terms of sharing the content and getting friends to help pass along the message.
Katie Gibson accepts the NYWIFT Outstanding Female Content Creator Award at the NYTVF 2016 Awards Reception. (Photo Credit: Lauren Caulk.)
What inspires you?
KG: I’m really inspired by the people who have become masters of their own career. Look at Broad City and High Maintenance. The world of the internet has presented such unique opportunities that gives individuals the chance to forge one’s own path in the TV and film world that were not there 5 years ago. When I left drama school, I honestly believed the only way to become a success in this industry was to know someone or have an agent and this is all changing now.
AT: Also, right now, I’m inspired to action by this election nightmare situation we’ve found ourselves in. I want to make work that does good, in the broad sense of that word. Because there is a lot of good that needs to be done to help combat all this bad.
How do you think Jane Austen would feel about your work?
AT: I think to our faces she’d be so, so, so nice about it, as positive as she could be, and then, in a private letter to a close friend, would excoriate it in gorgeously-worded, kindly-intentioned, hopeful prose. Which is the only way I’d have it go down, frankly.
What is the best advice you ever received on following your dreams/make your own work?
AT: I’ve heard this same idea in different ways from lots of people, but I think it is best summed up by something someone at one of the NYTVF panels said, which was advice given to him years ago: “Writers write, assholes talk about it.” Basically: do the work. Just shut up and do it. Right now. Get off Facebook and do it. Do it.