In fact, a couple of agents told me straight out that my material "wouldn't sell" because Hollywood doesn't like to cast women in lead roles. I took what they had to say to heart, but I wasn't going to let it get me down. I went on to make Raspberry Magic, about a bright young girl's connection to nature, independently. It played at over 25 festivals and was sold to Starz, and two of its brightest stars, Alison Brie and Bella Thorne, have gone on to have prolific careers in Hollywood.
After making that film, I received a development grant to make a second feature through Tribeca All Access. But that process was slow and could take years. I wanted to keep making, but do something immediate that didn't require loads of up-front capital.
Enter the Internet. Prior to making my feature, I made web videos for clients. But while I was working on my feature, I kind of tuned out of the web world. When I re-emerged, the web had become this amazing place, a place where the voices of women were being heard loud and clear.
I had been writing a number of short stories and sketches that involved mostly women for years. I had always been a bit nervous to "put these out," but I was so inspired by all of the women in Twitter and even the likes of Internet stars like Issa Rae. They were putting it out there and people were liking it and listening. And a host of new sites like HelloGiggles and Comediva were opening up, allowing women in comedy to make a loud noise for a new generation of women wanting this kind of material.
So I jumped in headfirst and started creating short sketches for women on a YouTube channel I created called So Natural TV. I began to build an audience and thought it would be great to find a producing partner who could help me grow the channel.
Jane and I had met a few years back, and were excited to do something together. While we were working on features, we loved the idea of doing something more immediate, tapping into the zeitgeist online, especially around women in comedy. So, we joined forces.
Jane Kelly Kosek: Leena and I would try to meet up every few months and talk about our projects with the hope that we would find something to do together. About a year ago, Leena mentioned that she was creating short sketches for women on a YouTube channel she had launched. I was immediately intrigued.
For years, I had produced feature-length romantic dramas and comedies, trying desperately to provide content for the underserved female market. It was a personal journey, as I was a woman who felt there wasn't enough content being made about or for women. I found the studios were not interested in making romantic comedies or much else for the female market, so I decided to make them myself. When Leena suggested that we join forces on her YouTube channel, where we could create funny shows for and about women, I jumped at the chance.
I liked the idea of tapping into a younger audience who could grow with our channel. And while it can take a long time to build a large audience on the web, it tends to be a loyal and media-savvy group who can help you spread the word about your entire body of work. And with a web series, you can continually engage your audience weekly with new videos, which keeps you in the forefront of their minds and can even entice interest from buyers or other potential employers.
Leena and I started collaborating by creating one-off comedy sketches together. They were really fun to make, but we eventually realized that it was hard to build an audience with standalone videos. And we loved the characters we were creating in the individual sketches and thought they would make a great cast of characters for a number of web series.
We started creating a blueprint for the channel that would include shows in which our characters could weave in and out. Knowing we had limited resources, we specifically started with an idea that we could afford by keeping cast, crew and equipment needs low. We would then build our content and have proven material to help attract greater funding for new shows with bigger ideas.
Our first series, Overly Attached Andy, features an earnest guy looking for love. We chose Andy as our protagonist because we thought it would be fun for our female audience to look at dating from the guy's point of view. And for our next web series, which will be about two urban moms (a large niche audience ideal for a web show), Andy will play a part.
Our hope is for women to realize that they can find quality entertainment online on popular video platforms include YouTube, Vimeo, and Blip.tv. Right now, we're seeing the lines between traditional TV and web TV slowly blurring, and in the future we believe there is going to be much more convergence between the two.
In the meantime, audiences are supporting online artists who are taking control of their careers and creating their own opportunities instead of waiting for a studio or financier to say it's time to tell their story.
Writer/director Leena Pendharkar and producer Jane Kelly Kosek are two independent filmmakers who have decided to join hands and jump head first into the wonderful world of making web series. Their first venture is Overly Attached Andy, an eight-episode series about hipster wannabe and hopeless romantic Andy and his failed attempts to get over his ex-girlfriend Taryn. The show will air every Tuesday, starting October 15th, on the So Natural TV YouTube Channel (www.youtube.com/sonaturaltv).
Watch the trailer below: