Every night in January, Cora in New York City and Patrick in L.A. have gone on a date together via Skype. Their mutual friend, actress Alison Pill (The Newsroom), thought they were perfect for each other and set them up on Jan. 1. Their screens exploded with chemistry from the get-go. How do we know this? Because every night they post their adorable, hilarious, intimate, moving, scary, sad, beautiful, four-minutes-or-less Skype date online as the web series 7p10e. Click HERE to read my full review of 7p10e for the LA Weekly. The show was created by actress Avital Ash and the story developed by writer/director Kyle McCullough as well as Sammi Cohen and co-star Chris Alvarado. Continue on to read my full interview with Ash and McCullough about making the show.
This is a fictional series that is already shot and edited, yeah? It’s hard to tell!
Avital: Mostly – not entirely. We’ve shot some episodes as others are airing, and I’m definitely still editing. Surprisingly, a lot of people – including some friends and family- think we shoot every night, which I really like.
Kyle: A lot of the mystique in the series is that the pieces are there for it to be real – even if it isn’t. Even though a few glaring issues prove how false it is, the acting and story really serve to make it seem real. We also actually shot it over Skype so all of the awkwardness and accidental cuteness that come from using a medium like that really play to the reality.
Your site is shrouded in mystery to uphold your story’s integrity. Tell me about the people involved in the show?
Avital: Chris Alvarado and I are the faces you see, primarily. Kyle McCullough plays Chris’ roommate, Cody, and handles our inevitable tech issues. He and I update the website, YouTube, and he’s become a bonafide Internet marketing expert overnight. Chris is an actor and improv vet, and Sammi Cohen’s a director who’s contributed really solid story ideas. She and Kyle offer any feedback they have for episodes as we shoot ’em, though sometimes it’s just me and Chris. The other faces you have seen or will see on the show are Lucas Neff, Lauren Lapkus, Caroline Macey (and her baby Walker!), Alison Pill, and Kyle’s parents, Marta and Phil McCullough, who play Cora’s parents.
How did you come up with the idea for the series?
Avital: I’m always looking for simple shoots – ideas that don’t require sets or budgets. I joined a volunteer program that would take me to Israel for 5 months, and really wanted to stay sharp, creatively, and maybe also just keep in touch. I pitched the idea to Chris, originally, as something to shoot with real distance between us (“Israel gives us so much production value!”) but it didn’t work out. The program was a disaster and I came back completely exhausted, but could never sleep (fun!). I think at around4am I emailed him saying we should make it a nightly series. He was in, as was Kyle and later Sammi.
What was the creative process like, mapping out when events like meeting the parents etc. would come in and writing the emails?
Avital: Half of the episodes seemed obvious and necessary, but the rest of the month was tough. We laid out index cards, filled them in, moved them around, sometimes while shooting, sometimes before.
I wing the emails and texts, mostly. Some I’ve imagined from the start, but lots of ideas come from the previous night’s episode.
Kyle: There was a lot of brainstorming before the first pre-production meeting, of which we only had one before we began shooting. Then each shoot day would be about 50% story and 50% actually shooting. We laid out 31 cards on my coffee table, and labeled the first one ‘meet’. We knew we had to start there. The rest fell into place as we thought about events a couple might go through if they were living a somewhat artificially accelerated courtship process. But we still wanted it to feel real throughout… never forced or justified. I always wanted to attempt to apply the ‘Cops’ formula to a short or a series like this… “Action, Emotion, Thought”. We sorta followed that as well. It was important that each episode could play on its own.
What balance of scripted/improv is in each episode?
Avital: We have just a rough outline – one or two points to hit. We usually only do a take or two, but when we lose an episode to an audio issue – which happens a lot – they get more refined and more scripted, in a
Kyle: What’s a script? In all seriousness, there was no script. Just the theme of the day, and at most a few important beats to hit in the scene. Either setting up for something in the future, or playing back an inside joke between the two.
Why did you want to tell this story?
Avital: I hadn’t seen it done before, in this way. Long distance romance, aided by video chat, felt like a clean way to tell a simple story. (I also love Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally, and I think that’s reflected, somewhat… You know, if those movies lived on the web and were made without any money and a different cast, different directors… So, pretty much the same…)
Kyle: It’s such a raw form to tell the classical falling in love story. It plays into 21 century technology, but it almost follows the arc of two people as if they’d met by sending letters, drawings, and pictures via pony express. It could be any two people anywhere in the world, the physical distance doesn’t apply. There is a ‘connection’ between the two people via any medium. In the wild west you’d have to wait weeks for a reply via horseback, now you get instant results. For better or worse.
What do you think the future of the ‘web series’ is as a business model and creative venture?
Avital: The beautiful thing about making a web series is that you aren’t reliant upon anyone else in terms of starting. It’s an incredible outlet for creativity that allows creators to be largely, if not entirely, self-sufficient. As for its future, I’m excited to witness it – and help shape it – as it develops.
Kyle: I think that the future of web anything is a solid business model. I think as far as creative ventures go, we may as well consider shows like ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’ to be Web Series. They may have bigger budgets then us, but they’re web distributed to a massive audience. I think more exclusive content sites with shows like that will be popping up all over the place. Viewers will pay for the streams they want instead of being blasted with 2200 channels they’ll never watch via cable.
Avital: Kyle and I make music together, have a few shorts, and have tossed movie ideas back and forth. I just finished writing a feature and am working on another and a pilot. We’re pretty much ready to roll with whatever gets catapulted to the start line next.
Kyle: That’s what we’re always thinking about. We’ve got lots of ideas for things we’ve been working on. We’ve got a few more series ideas in the works and a really cool feature that’s a modern twist on the horror film genre. Avital and I also are working on an album. We snuck one of our songs into Episode 9 of 7p. Personally, I’ve always wanted to do a straight-forward non-horror non-comedy prequel to “I Know What You Did Last Summer” – it’s called “What Are You Doing Next Summer?”. I’ve been working on the script for a while.
Are they all one long take? Are you editing together numerous takes?
Avital: They’re usually just one take, yes. And not very long, either! I’ll cut out delays and lags to keep it moving quickly, but what we shoot is usually only a couple minutes longer, max, than what makes it into the cut.
Avital: I’ve made a feature film, been in indie movies for no money, done some commercials and generally worked hard in the “biz” for almost 10 years. It amazes me that this little series, without even a camera outside of our laptops, has gotten such a positive response. It’s immensely encouraging and really exciting for all of us, and a testament to the strength of our tiny, solid, supportive team of people. Thanks for paying attention! (I hate using emoticons, but I was tempted to put a happy face here!)
Kyle: That just about covers it. I think something worth sharing is the fact that when we had this idea, we just put it on the front burner and cranked the gas up to high. It was ambitious, and very difficult to produce and do post on with such a small team. But we just went for it. We set a deadline, we spent about $82 and we made the series. It’s a testament to putting your mind to something and just making it happen. You don’t need a studio, a budget, a set, or even a video camera.