TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray (and others), designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
NYTVF Development Download: Alumni Q&A
For our latest Development Download, the NYTVF sat down with Hannah Cheesman and Julian De Zotti, the creators of the hit web series, Whatever Linda. The project, which was an Official Selection in the 2014 New York Television Festival, secured distribution with Fullscreen, the YouTube network co-financed by Chernin Entertainment and AT&T that is "first media company for the connected generation." You can check out the series at whateverlinda.com as well as the ThisIsDrama YouTube channel today.
NYTVF: Your series, Whatever Linda, premiered last week on Fullscreen's ThisIsDrama channel. Tell us about getting the deal.
HC + JDZ: Linda's production company, Secret Location - leveraged a relationship they had with Fullscreen who had signed This Is Drama to a output deal and we'd be the first program they tried it on. What attracted us to the deal was Fullscreen's offer to market the show through their 40,000 channels and enlisting the help of talent agency Gleam to promote Linda and help it find an audience.
NYTVF: How was your series developed? Did you have a clear idea in mind from the beginning, or did it evolve over time?
HC: Sitting where we are right now with Linda a completed piece, it’s crazy to think that from all of the hundreds of ideas we brought to the table, this or that one made the distance. So for me, I see Linda as a real evolution. Though we came together with a real-world story that was the basis of our concept, we began with a litany of TV/pop culture/tonal references, and slowly whittled those down until only the best ones remained.
We always tried to stay true to a few essential things: this was a woman-led, female anti-hero piece; comedy was as important as drama; and we would never compromise to do the very best we could. But ultimately it was a very responsive process. For instance, the title started as a bit of a joke — it sounded cheeky, contemporary, and we could relate to that feeling: being passed over. Turns out we have Google supremacy with that name — we’re the only ‘Whatever, Linda’ on the web. We didn’t know that at the time, we simply loved the title; but when we realized this, we knew we had to stick with it.
JDZ: A bit of both. We always had a clear idea about the concept and that we would mostly follow Linda. We had a rough idea that we would do one serialized story over 9 episodes, inspired by a group of women who worked on Madoff's Ponzi floor near the beginning. As we wrote it, and as the rest of the creative team weighed in, we knew we would have to grab the viewer's immediately off the top because of the medium we were in. We became conscious of drawing people in really quickly and then getting them to need to watch the whole thing in one sitting. Therefore we had a real killer cold-open and our first and last episodes were book-ended so the audience would have to find out how our characters got there and ultimately be compelling enough for them to want to see what finally happens.
NYTVF: Did you set out to tell a strong, female-led story?
HC: Yes, absolutely. Besides wanting to work with the many talented women we know, this was also the crux of the story: ‘woman does bad to make her life good’. It’s compelling to see women placed in morally difficult situations, because so often it’s a male character who finds himself in that position. We wanted to mess with the traditional and see how that would pan out, story-wise.
JDZ: Yes. That was definitely a priority. This all started as an excuse for Hannah and I to work together and to bring on our other talented female friends into the fold. We just liked the idea of this group of women working in a dead end part of this business, in that time period. There was so much potential for drama and we were excited we could make a great story borne out of a somewhat wallflower of a female who becomes a striking complex anti-heroine.
NYTVF: You're working with a very specific time period yet telling a completely original story. How important to you was it to stay historically accurate, and how much did you play around with anachronistic elements?
HC: We worked really hard to stay as true as possible not only to the era and topical historical events, but to the financial world as well. We also used historical events as jumping off points for conversation between the women, and wanted Linda’s challenges (eg. male-centric Wall Street in the ‘70s) to be very real ones. Couching this story in something that is believable and true to the time meant we could make larger leaps of imagination in other ways — Linda’s ‘dream’ life, for instance.
JDZ: It was two fold: we tried to stay very authentic to the period within our story (especially Wall Street practices), how the environment and the social-political climate played into the characters lives and the drama of our show (everything from closeted homosexuality to a woman of colour having a co-workers baby). We wanted the period to play against our characters, inform their struggle. BUT, we were also conscious of our set design, costumes, and music - we needed these things to be accurate but not saturated or suffocated in the period. We tried to bring a modern sensibility and outlook to the late 70's that would make it interesting for a 2015 audience to watch.
NYTVF: Fullscreen has made a huge push towards original content. What has it been like working with such an exciting company?
JDZ + HC: The relationship is very new. We are excited to see what this relationship will bring as we try to attract an audience to the show.
NYTVF: You premiered a number of episodes of Whatever, Linda at the New York Television Festival and attended the week of events. What was that like, and with what did you come away from the experience?
JDZ + HC: The event was a whirlwind. We met some great friends and contacts who we still keep in touch with and hope to collaborate with in the near future. The experience was incredibly exciting - to screen in New York City for such a prestigious group at the Tribeca Cinemas was definitely a highlight. It also gave us some valuable face to face pitch time that allowed us to hone the best elements of our show and take stock of what was compelling for buyers and distributors and what we could improve upon. We also learned which episodes worked best as screeners for an audience - specifically the serialized nature of our show and how it was imperative to screen our episodes in order.
NYTVF: You came to Fullscreen with an entire first season shot and completed. When shopping your series, did you find it helpful to have so much of the work already completed?
JDZ + HC: Yes. It is so hard to get people to read a script or listen to a pitch. Plus, having done all the work, we had more of the control when it came time to finding the right partner to help distribute it. They could see that we had made something special and we could ask for more in terms of retaining ownership because the show was finished.
NYTVF: Without getting into spoilers, what's next for the world of Whatever, Linda? What's next for you as creators?
JDZ+ HC: SEASON TWO. We need to pick up where we left off and tie up some loose ends. It's also time we broaden the world and meet the whole BLIS team, including Barney Lahnar himself. Whatever platform Linda lands on, we can't wait to dive into this world and into the lives of the ladies again. We have so many places we want to take them and think we left season 1 pretty open ended so we would have the chance to take the audience on a long, fulfilling journey.
JDZ: I’ve also got a few film scripts and a TV pilot I'm pitching at the moment, hopefully that will gain some traction if Linda proves successful.
HC: Indeed, me as well. It’s interesting to see how things can foment and spark interest in other places when you’ve created something that speaks to people. Still, I think the whole team behind our show wants to continue to work on Linda — there’s so much left to explore.
Check out previous downloads here:
Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/27/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/19/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/6/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/30/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/24/14 | Rory Covey of My Damn Channel's Honchos - 4/10/14 | Drama advice from Siobhan Byrne O'Connor - 4/3/14 | NYTVF Alum Danny Abrahms - 3/21/14 | Drama Advice - 3/13/14 | Advice from Chicago - 3/10/14 | Unscripted LA Panel - 2/25/14 | Drama Development - 2/20/14 | MSN Development - 2/12/14 | Casting - 2/5/14 | The Network Development Process - 1/29/14 | History Development - 1/15/14 | Comedy Formats - 3/18/13 | A&E Pipeline - 4/3/13| Fox Script Contest - 4/10/13 | From Film to TV - 5/17/13 | Lifetime Unscripted - 9/4/13