by writer, director and producer, Roxanne Messina Captor
Originally published, June 15, 2020 on MessinaCaptorFilms.com
Digital series… web series…this new format has been produced, reviewed and explored since 2000. Quibi is making them popular. The Emmys® have recognized them since 2011. My series “The Salon,“ finished during the COVID-19 pandemic, joins the ranks of a 2020 digital series for your consideration for the category: “Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama” Emmy® Award for 2020.
My learning curve
I need to say that this format is new to me as a filmmaker. I have produced and directed Emmy®-nominated MOW’s and Independent film. At the college and universities at which I teach, I head the short form documentary programs and web series development and production. I was trained by Francis Ford Coppola and come from a classical dance and theatre background. But, this was a new experience for me- life in the digital world!
Harry Shearer and Kate Linder convinced me we should take our award-winning Cannes Short Film Corner film “A Couple of White Chicks at the Hairdresser” to series, this was the perfect format to use. After all, with all the new steaming platforms, there was renewed interest in “White Chicks.” It had been the Movie of the Week pick for Shorts International Network on Direct TV and Frontier and the Oscar pick for Largo’s streaming service , SOFYTV.
I had been talking about taking the film to series for years. Well the “time has come the Walrus said.” Being who I am, having the push from the actors who promised to recreate their roles in the series, was all I needed. The Messina Captor producing machine went into full force.
I have found that for studio features, independent films, short form or series, the process for producing projects remains the same. The only difference is budget. The lower the budget, the more creative and enterprising one needs to be. As Sam Rubin, KTLA’s Entertainment Reporter who has a cameo role in “The Salon”, remarked, “The story here is how you pulled on every avenue of your life to get this series made.”
First… you need a script!
First, I needed to get the script written and finished. We knew we wanted to try for an Emmy® nomination, so we needed six episodes not any longer than 15 minutes each.
I had ideas on paper but it always helps to toss them around with a friend. Over coffee with my Social Media PR woman, Louise Sattler, we riffed. Louise went into “work mode” and had a web site constructed in her head and on paper before our coffee was over.
Reality is …
This is where I need to say, we were on a TIGHT budget. Let’s just say NO budget.
I always believe in hiring great, talented people and giving them credits that takes them to the next level. My classes from Santa Monica College (SMC) became my mother lode. I was writing, directing and producing, but I knew I would need help. The producers, Lori Glascow and Anthony Nex, who came from my class, are professionals in other fields. Louise also took on a producing role. Other key positions also were SMC advanced students from my classes or from my classes at Emerson LA or UCLA.
Location! Location! Location!
The script is finished and we needed a location and a timetable. Our first location is a new salon in El Segundo, Ca. It was perfect. We worked out times we could shoot there when they were closed. As a new salon, Louise was going to give them the much-needed PR in exchange for using the location. This is very important…low budget means barter, barter, barter.
Lori and Anthony were working on permits and parking for cast and crew. The city and Film LA issue permits. It is a paper-heavy process and can be expensive and time consuming.
Challenges of Casting
I focused on casting. How does this happen when you cannot afford a casting director? You call every actor you know that would be right for the roles. Remember, we have NO budget, so the actors were working on a SAG deferred payment contract. Some actors passed for this reason. Others said yes and then closer to production time said, “No”. It happens. Actors fall in and out of projects. In the long, laborious casting process, it is always this way. In the end I got the best of the best for this ensemble cast.
I did have the help of famed casting director Risa Bramon Garcia. I had not seen or talked to Risa since she produced a series of one act plays for Showtime for which I directed Hal Linden in the Vincent Canby play “After All.” That was in the late 90’s.
The internet is a glorious thing. I found Risa. Talked to her and without missing a step found two of my wonderful and talented actors, Akende Munalula and Chala Savino.
I knew Jeanette Connor from the Television Academy receptions. She is a wonderful actress and offers Screenwork workshop for actors to get their work in front of casting directors. I had met her in the late 80’s when I performed at her workshop. Jeanette came on board as an actress and casting consultant. She found our salon ladies, Gail Beardon and Jennifer Lee Weaver.
Diversity was key
I knew I wanted a diverse cast. Louise suggested a Deaf actor, Eddie Buck. I was very impressed with his work. Eddie became a member of the ensemble and I wrote this part for a Deaf actor. When someone is a good actor, it does not matter if there is a communication challenge. I found myself directing Eddie many times without using the ASL Interpreter. Simply, he became “actor Eddie” with my forgetting he was deaf.
It was important that the ensemble cast were all “A List” actors who had been on prime-time television. I met Luis Jose Lopez when we both had films in the San Pedro Film Festival. Luis was in. He introduced me to Vanessa Garcia. She said “yes.”
Louise recommended social media influencer Candy Washington. I met Derek Warburton at a lunch. We hit it off immediately. I told him we were in pre- production on the series and he offered help. Help! Great! But I want you in the series. Be yourself. Derek introduced me to Mason Grammer and we were off. Sam Rubin was an acquaintance. I contacted him, he read the script and said “YES!”
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