Wendy Jo Carlton, a writer and director, is right in the middle of producing her latest project, Easy Abby. She took a moment from her very busy schedule to sit down and talk to me about the series, what it means to her, as well as its importance to our community at large. This fun, romantic comedy is being released October 25th and is sure to become a fast favorite!
Tina: Thanks for joining me.
Wendy Jo: It’s lovely to be here. I’m Wendy Jo Carlton and I’m the writer/director of Easy Abby, which is a new lesbian web series shot here in Chicago. My last project was a feature project called Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together and before that I directed the feature film Hannah Free.
Tina: I’m glad you mention that, actually, because the work that you’ve done previously is short film then full feature films. I’m kind of curious, why did you decide to move to a web series?
Wendy Jo: Well […] there are a few reasons. One is my mind tends to gravitate towards short form anyway. I love to write Haikus. I love to write and read short stories, poetry and photography. I think that what you can try to do in a five-minute episode of the Easy Abby web series is a condensed emotional arc. The challenge of that is also kind of like a post card. I’ve always been a post card lover. The web series format is especially [like that] because we’re choosing for it to be no longer than 5 or 6 minutes each episode. It has that sense of dropping in; you can drop in on it. You can watch it on your phone, you can watch it on your way to work, or at work and not get in trouble, because each episode is going to be over before you know it. You probably want to re-watch it because it will be funny, it’ll be sexy, it’ll have a lot of fantastic character actors in it. People you relate to.
Tina: Were there any challenges going from the film format to the web series, or did it feel kind of similar?
Wendy Jo: Each episode is really just a couple scenes from a screenplay. The freedom that the web series format is giving me [means] I don’t need to be consistent structurally between episode to episode and I don’t need to have to worry as much about time being contained and time making sense. I’m just enjoying the challenge of trying to play out an emotional premise or a problem that Abby’s experiencing within six minutes and then leave you wanting more. Hopefully [people will] want to purchase a download, because they’re now invested in the characters. I have an evil plan (we both laugh)!
Tina: Well, it’s not an evil plan; it’s a smart plan. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about Easy Abby and what it’s like? The trailer gives a little bit away (Wendy Jo interjects: True) but tell us more.
Wendy Jo: As Lisa Cordileone and I have been developing the story and the character Abby, I now see that what I want it to be about is what it’s becoming. It’s both humorous, situational comedy and it’s sex comedy.
As you continue watching the first season there’s an arc involved and it’s about Abby realizing that she’s never really been in love. Although she has had a lot of lovers and likes to have a lot of lovers and she’s a very good lover (meaning that she can kinda zone in), she’s very compartmentalized. We’re going to see in this first season her realizing how compartmentalized she’s become. She’s not sure it’s that big a problem until she’s challenged by a friend and meets a woman who makes her feel a way she’s never really felt before. [She] makes her want to feel a little safer being more vulnerable. There’s a lot of depth and poetry interwoven in each episode that’s about Abby’s growth as a person and as a lover.
Her mother is – and I don’t talk about this much because I know it doesn’t sound like romantic comedy, but it will be revealed that Abby’s mother is in a psychiatric facility. The dad has been kind of off the scene for a while now but he’s still alive but not involved. She’s the primary family member who visits her mom. Her mom’s ok, but so there’s also things going on in this, it’s not just about sex farce, or how to meet a girl. It’s certainly about how to meet a girl and how not to get a girl […]. It’s about how to have better sex, which is in my opinion, communication related. So the whole thing always keeps coming back to communication and lack of communication, fear of saying what you really want, fear of saying I’m sorry, fear of being vulnerable. It’s about all those things backed up into a working class perspective, ‘cause Abby has two or three jobs and I’m interested in that as well.
Tina: That is a lot of ground to cover, a lot of layers, a lot of layers. I commend you for trying to fit all this and also condensing it into – you said five minutes?
Wendy Jo: Yeah, yeah.
Tina: So, how many episodes do you anticipate in the first season, or do you not quite know that yet?
Wendy Jo: 14 episodes.
Tina: 14 episodes. You’re condensing all these different layers into 14 five-minute episodes.
Wendy Jo: I’d like to think that the talented cast that we have and with crisp subtle writing […] it’s like peeling an onion. It’s like I’m trying to peel an onion and each episode is just kind of a different layer or a different part. The characters around her, her best friend Sarah for example, she plays an ongoing role. We get to see how different they are but also how intimate they are as friends.
Just like in Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together, I’m very interested in that experience of women being close. Whether you have been a lover, whether you’re former lovers, whether you’re about to be [a lover], whether you’d like to be [a lover], or one of you wanted to but it never happened – it’s those grey areas that shift a lot, especially between queer women. But not always, it can be two straight women, it can be a lesbian and a straight woman. There’s a lot of richness there and that’s where I find hope; in how people relate to one another.
Tina: Now, you mentioned Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together and I read previously in one of your interviews that it was a little bit rushed with time and rushed with budget, so this being a shorter series but it being a web series (I know you have the IndieGoGo campaign going on), talk a little bit about your feelings about that and obviously mention your campaign. Do you feel like that is as much of an impact this time around?
Wendy Jo: Good question. When I finished directing Hannah Free, I was promising myself that with my
next feature film project I’d have more prep time, more production time, and we would be able to take more time to get more investors, more financial backing. But I can talk like that all day, but as soon as I’m hot on an idea, I don’t want to wait around for a year for all the perfect ideal elements to come into play. I love to collaborate with people and I just want to keep making things happen. And there’s all these collateral things that are positive that can happen with a community of the crew, the actors, the technicians, and everyone getting on board. It’s very exhilarating. If you can bring all that together it’s a lot of work but it’s also worth it.
I guess that’s the long way of saying after Hannah free I swore I would take more time, then I got the idea for Jamie and Jessie and met the two lead actors and it seemed right. [I] put it all together and didn’t have much time to waste because one of them was moving out of Chicago. Then, since Jamie and Jessie, I thought, ok, I have two or three other screen plays that I’m writing and working on so I was actually working on a feature film screen play to try to shoot next year when I got this idea for this web series for Easy Abby. Lisa and I started meeting and talking and writing and I just started developing it, I got that hot feeling in my chest. A sense of ‘lets go, lets do it, why not?’ I’m not one who thinks that if you have very little money that you can’t write or produce quality or original material. I guess there’s a part of me that feels like an underdog and I want to prove that yeah we can do that. We’re doing it. In Chicago.
Tina: It’s funny that you feel like an underdog because your last two features have done very well. You won an award for Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together.
Wendy Jo: I’m not making money off of it. I’m not wealthy from it.
(we both laugh)
Wendy Jo: That’s my goal.
Tina: Isn’t that all of our goals? To make money off of what we feel passionate about?
Wendy Jo: I know at some point hopefully we can get some sponsors and advertisers ‘cause that’s all we’re trying to do. We’re trying to just get in the black. We’ll get there but for now it’s like that “if you build it they will come” premise. I also feel motivated.
No matter where I am in my life and my career, coming out so long ago, I don’t need to do, or need to see, or am not that drawn to coming out stories. I do know that there’s new people young people all the time, and even if they’re older – it could be a middle aged married woman in a country where your husband doesn’t even let you look at the internet. Even if I don’t make money off it, that makes me super happy because it’s about visibility, it’s about representation. Just like Jamie and Jessie, no one in that film even says gay/lesbian, they’re just being people.
Tina: So, the first thing that occurred to me while you were talking about this, and you said it a couple of times, it seems like it’s very important to you that you’re not focusing on the aspect of coming out. And I think that so many – not just movies, not just web series, but pretty much anything to do with lesbians is really focused on that coming out aspect, so tell me why in a lot of the things that you do (Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together, Easy Abby), why is that something that’s really important to you?
Wendy Jo: I like to follow my interests and my interests now aren’t about telling a coming out story. So obviously if I’m writing more what I’m obsessed with, or bothered by, or passionate about, that’s the motivation I need to do the hard work to try to get a fun read. I also feel that there’s a need for that, so I think that the work I’m doing right now is to fill that niche, to fill that need for people who want to be engaged and entertained and moved emotionally. The plot line and the theme is not about [coming out] because that is not an issue for them. I think that there’s plenty of material already available for LGBT folks in terms of Movies and TVs and Documentaries for the folks who are looking for those coming out stories, so I feel like that ground is covered.
Tina: Well I think that is important. I mean – dear God, if I see another coming out story…ugh.
Wendy Jo: Right, right! And there’s a lot of great women characters now, in the past several years, that are available on HBO and Showtime and cable. Those are big Hollywood budgets; those are all these people already have their systems in place.
The thing with the IndieGoGo campaign – it’s hard to convey the feelings I have about the content of the film. I think if I could do that better in front of the camera it might get more people wanting to jump on board. The IndieGoGo trailer had almost 10,000 views in a week. 10,000 views, but it’s not translating, people are not giving 10 dollars. If we had one dollar, we’d already make our campaign. One dollar, from those 10,000. If we had five dollars from 2,000 of them. I’m like, OK, come on people!
Tina: It’s just a dollar! I mean, even fifty cents!
(Lisa, the lead actress and co-producer of Easy Abby, walks to the table, and reminds Wendy Jo of a sound recording for the series they’re nearly late for)
Wendy Jo: OK, we gotta go. Do you have any other questions?
Tina: No, thank you. I really appreciate you taking the time with me today.
Wendy Jo: No, I really appreciate it.
To watch the trailer or DONATE (closes on Oct 1): http://www.indiegogo.com/easyabby
To “like” them on Facebook and stay up to date: https://www.facebook.com/easyabby
For info on Wendy Jo and her other works: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0138238/
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A transplant from the snow and mountains of Upstate NY (why, yes, there IS an entire state above NYC!), Tina moved to Chicago in 2005. Since then, she’s taken full advantage of Chicago’s sports scene, participating in rugby, volleyball, and hockey – just to name a few. Her first love, however, is soccer. She's proud to have participated in both the 2006 and 2010 Gay Games as well as the 2009 Out Games. In addition to sports, Tina enjoys traveling (she tries to cross the atlantic at least once a year). Tina is a ‘Jackie of all trades’, so prepare for the unexpected!