How I Make Multinational Filmmaking Work

“Friends don’t let friends make web series alone”...is what I wish somebody had said to me four years ago when I was making my first web series. Alone. I was used to being a solitary novel writer and I didn’t know how to develop story ideas with other people, or even where to find those people in the first place.

Now, my filmmaking experiments are on the internet, for better or worse, and I’m collaborating on a feature-length web series, Rational Creatures—inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion—with three women I met online.

 

I first discovered literary-inspired web series, like many people, through The Lizzie Bennet Diaries a popular modernized adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, told in a fictional vlog format. Because it’s relatively easy and cheap to create digital series in this vlog style, tons of amateur productions based on classic literature sprang up, and a tight-knit community formed around these shows. The literary-inspired web series community is a book lover’s dream, a place for storytellers to create and watch what is essentially fan fiction for the screen—what if Anne of Green Gables was a modern girl from the foster care system? What if Jane Eyre was a nanny with a video diary? What if Mary Lennox found an abandoned glade in the forest in Portland, Oregon?

I was not only inspired by the web series themselves but the creators, too. I’d always been interested in filmmaking, but I thought it was an unrealistic fantasy, something that middle-aged men could do, not me. But the people making these series that I enjoyed so much were nearly all young women, so I thought that maybe this filmmaking thing was possible after all.

After writing and producing my first series, I (timidly) began reaching out to creators online, including my future collaborators Jessamyn, Hazel, and Ayelen. As a rather socially anxious person, talking to people online was slightly easier than in person, but definitely still cringeworthy—I sent Hazel an overly enthusiastic message about a web series episode she had written. I interviewed Jessamyn for a podcast that I started as a thinly veiled attempt to chat with fellow creators, because just sending them a message was way too obvious. Ayelen and I met working on a show that Hazel was in charge of, so maybe she wasn’t as put off by my message as I had originally thought.

At first, Jessamyn, Hazel, and Ayelen were all twitter handles that I recognized. Then, they were my peers. Next, the project leaders that I reported to and worked with professionally. Now, they’re my collaborators and my friends.

Working with fellow writers and web series creators was so much fun—the brainstorming Skype calls that inevitably lead to silly tangents, figuring out how to write characters so they were consistent across everyone’s different styles, and at the end of it all, hearing actors say the words I’d written, and seeing it air every week on YouTube. Why had I been trying to do everything by myself this whole time? The projects I’d worked on as part of a team were better than the ones I’d made alone.

Working with a team of women in film was something I didn’t know I’d been longing for: since graduating college, I’d moved cross-country twice, and I have only just started building a local filmmaking community. So while we haven’t been able to be there for the production of each other’s shows, just having a built-in support system for the development and writing process, which is often riddled with self-doubt, has been so creatively nourishing for me.

It’s not always easy: crappy internet connections, conflicting schedules (time zones!!!), and the inefficiencies of online chat discussions are just a few of the obstacles we regularly work around. It would probably be easier not to work with people that live thousands of miles away from me...but my people just happen to be at the other end of the country, and in Canada, and England.

Rational Creatures (now crowdfunding on Seed & Spark!) is our third project working together, but our first series as true collaborators. A re-imagination of Persuasion—what if Anne Elliot was a young millennial woman, trying to figure out what she wants in life, but her first love comes back and makes her question everything?—it’s not only a web series, but the manifestation of what online friendship and collaboration means: multinational teamwork, the power of community on the internet, and women supporting women.

 
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Anya Steiner is a writer always waiting for a thunderstorm. Her most recent web series, Merry Maidens, was an official selection at the Minnesota Web Fest. She's currently working with three other filmmakers in three different countries to make Rational Creatures, a modern, millennial take on Jane Austen's Persuasion