Monday, October 14, 2013

Conversation with Writer/Director Leena Pendharkar - Psst...Our Series Overly Attached Andy Premieres Tomorrow!

As you all know, I have partnered with Leena Pendharkar on a new Web series called Overly Attached Andy. The series premieres tomorrow October 15th on our So Natural TV YouTube channel here: www.youtube.com/sonaturaltv. We also have a fun Tumblr blog for the series where you can see Andy Rants and get a sense for what kind of person he really is (cat images included): overlyattachedandy.tumblr.com.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can also watch the trailer for Overly Attached Andy here: 




Let's get on with the conversation! I thought it would be fun to talk with Leena about what inspired her to want to create Overly Attached AndyLeena is a writer/director who grew up in Raleigh, NC but doesn't consider herself Southern, although she could definitely use some Bojangle's sweet tea right about now. For a more serious bio (who wants to be serious?), you can check out her Web site here.


Tell us about Overly Attached Andy, the new Web series you wrote and directed and we both produced. What inspired you to develop this story?
I was inspired to tell this story because of the wacky and weird dating stories I've heard out there! Also, I wanted to explore the idea of a guy who is really genuine and just truly wants to find love but is maybe approaching it with a little too much honesty. Too much honesty isn't always a great thing, you know?

Overly Attached Andy will be the first Web series on our YouTube Channel So Natural TV. Why did you decide to start the YouTube Channel So Natural TV? What are your hopes for the channel?
I started the channel with a series of sketches called So Natural, about four wacky hipster moms. These sketches were based on some flash fiction/short stories I had been writing, and I thought one day, hey these might make good short films. I was always writing these kind of short comedic pieces for fun for years. I probably have over a hundred of them just sitting on my computer and never really thought there was much to do with them. I was mostly focused on writing features, had made some short films and was obsessed with the idea of making an indie film. 

I spent about five years making my indie film Raspberry Magic, and after, I was feeling like, what am I going to do next? I won a development grant for my second feature, A Day with Dandekar, through Tribeca All Access, but I knew it would be a long journey to making that, and didn't want to sit idle again for years and years.

At the time, I was really inspired by a lot of the work online, and thought I should experiment and make my own material so I made the So Natural sketches. I was really surprised at how many opportunities came about because of those sketches. Just even little things like being curated on sites like Funny or Die and Fail Blog felt really awesome. 

With the So Natural sketches, I also pushed my writing style a little more. Prior to those, my features were always more dramedy. But I took a lot of the weird comedic ideas in my flash fiction and built them into the short films, something I was always really nervous about. I had been taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade, and it helped me gain some confidence and feel ok with pushing myself. From there, I just fell in love with working online, and have been developing more material. I just want to keep working with great people and making more content and shows.  

Had you ever worked online before? What was your background in media?
I was involved with new media for a long time, starting back in the late 1990s. In college, I wrote for newspapers and a friend of mine started one of "the first" online newspapers at UNC-Chapel Hill. I got involved and got really hooked. I got into making graphics, writing for the web and even designing web pages. I got pretty good at that stuff, and after college worked for Congressman Bob Filner (yes that guy) being a junior legislative aide, and doing a lot of media for the web. Plus, I freelanced for many web publications, some fun women's sites and made a decent amount of money doing it. This was back when web sites actually paid for content :) 

But then I went to graduate school, got a Master's in Documentary film production, and got very good at making videos + design + graphics for the web and had a small business doing that for clients. At the same time, I was crewing on movie sets and writing screenplays. Having my own business was fun and I learned a lot, but I got a little burnt out cranking our graphics for clients. I knew I wanted to focus on making movies, so I started focusing on making an indie feature off a script a lot of people had really responded to. So for a while, I stopped working in the online space but I found that I really missed it.  

What do you like about creating videos for the Web? How does it compare to independent film?
I actually really like short form content. I think it's a very different skill than writing a longer, more involved story as for a feature. I like both, it just depends on the story you want to tell. The nice thing about the web space is that there is definitely more creative control, and the budgets are smaller so you can do a lot with little. Distribution is always a challenge, though, and a lot of the work on online media is constant/nonstop social media and PR. But it all kind of ties in with the way that a show is created and can be fun.

You were an independent filmmaker first. Tell us about your experience making your independent film Raspberry Magic - the good, the bad, the ugly - and why you feel the Web is where you need to be right now? And will you still make independent films?

I grew up admiring independent film, especially the work of Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, then later small personal movies like those of the French/Italian neo-realists. I really love the work of the Duplass brothers and others like them doing these kinds of small, character-driven movies. So, I still love indie film, and definitely will continue to make independent films. 

As a storyteller, I think certain stories are better for the web, and certain stories are better for movies. Of course, the distribution model for the kind of small, character-driven movies I love seems to be falling apart which is really disappointing. It seems like that sort of writing and storytelling is really now only on TV or the web. 

As for being independent, I always say, being an indie filmmaker is not for the faint of heart. It's a labor of love and you do it because you love it, but it's not easy. I think in making Raspberry Magic, the raising of the money and some of the organizational aspects started to really bog me down. I worked with some great people, but it felt like we climbed a mountain. I definitely am/will keep working on features, but I'd like to find innovative ways to distribute them. Raspberry Magic is currently on Starz, plus it played on a number of other platforms like Hulu and Amazon, but really we didn't see any money on that. But also, making features is a slow process. It takes a long time to get a screenplay right. I am still working on re-writes for A Day with Dandekar

When I was younger, I was impatient just to do something. Now, I would wait for all of the right elements to come together before doing it. I want to get it right. With the web, it's true as well, but at least with shorter content that doesn't need a big budget, you can make things more quickly.

What are your future plans for Web series and the So Natural TV channel overall?
I would like to do a series that is more involved, like our "Mom" project (Leena and I are developing a new Web series involving urban moms - so stay tuned!). I'd like to have longer episodes, more story and deeper audience engagement. I love the web because there are so many amazing things you can do on the interactive side, almost like a video game. The technology is always growing and changing and I think we are going to see series that do incredible things, so I'd like to get into that on the directing side.

What advice would you give new filmmakers as they figure out what kind of media (Web series, films, television shows etc) to explore?
I think its important to constantly "make things" and stay creative. The other thing is to find people you really enjoy working with. Whether its web series or film, this is a highly collaborative medium and it's only as fun as the people you surround yourself with. But taking control of your own career, being entrepreneurial and making your own road map is key.

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