Have you ever longed to see yourselves and your friends on-screen? Have you ever thought that the stories you usually tell anecdotally down the pub as well as the wild “what if” scenarios that run through your head at 3am would make fantastic viewing? Some of us may have had these fantasies in an idle daydream, but female film collective Sorta Kinda Maybe Yeah have turned the dream into reality. The grassroots “can-do” trio of Aya Arden-Clarke, Charlotte Lowdell and Laura Kirwan-Ashman launched their web series just over a year ago – all shot whilst the three of them held down jobs – and have since made a short as part of the 48 Hour Film Project, worked on a short that Laura directed as an entry for the EyeWantChange competition, and are currently developing a new project through the Modern Tales initiative… busy ladies to say the least.
Their aforementioned web series, made up of 6 episodes, will have you alternating between thinking “I can’t believe they stole this from my life” and “I can’t believe this really happened in their lives”. Alternating between highs and lows such as stalking your ex on social media, hair dye-sasters, a passionate love of Jennifer Lopez, and owning up to your lousy mental health, SKMY gives us a well-rounded, sweet and satirical view of millennial life.
As one of the UK’s very best web series, it’s no wonder that the collective are now considering web series aficionados. Teaming up with LOCO, a weekend-long comedy festival taking place at a host of venues including BFI Southbank, they’ve curated an event called On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Clown, highlighting of some of the biggest and best names in web series right now, including Brown Girls and The Slope. Ahead of the event on Sunday 7th May, I caught up with Sorta Kinda Maybe Yeah to talk about what makes them laugh, why they love web series so much, the joys of working in a collective, and their money no object ideas for season 2. Oh, and of course, Jennifer Lopez.
What makes you laugh?
Anything that makes us go, “OMG, same”, so mostly vaguely depressing memes/gifs/short vids about how your life is a hot mess but you’re still fabulous. Standouts in the past year have been women-centric comedy like Chewing Gum, Fleabag, Luisa Omielan and web series Brown Girls which we’re showing at our LOCO event.
Can you tell me a bit about your LOCO panel – how did it get its name and what’s it about?
The name was actually chosen by LOCO. We think maybe it’s from that meme about dogs? But we are a bunch of clowns ourselves, riffing on memes… it could’ve been a hashtag on one of Laura’s photos.
Laura has been working with LOCO on her TV pilot as part of the Betty Box and Peter Rogers Comedy Writing Programme and they approached us about curating an online comedy programme which they haven’t done before. We love shouting about what other rad collectives/writers/filmmakers are doing so jumped at the chance.
Can you talk a bit about the web series you selected for the event and why you chose them?
We always try to put female-centric, people of colour, and other marginalised voices at the forefront of what we do, so that informed our choices but they were all series that we were fans of already as well. There’s a great mix of stuff that deals with the feminine experience, race, and queerness and above all, it’s all really clever and really funny. We also wanted to show series that were made with a range of budgets from zero/completely DIY to those with some money behind them to prove that you can make something with nothing but also to show what you can achieve with a bit of backing.
What is it about web series format that interest you all?
The internet is a very freeing space and when you’re making something completely off your own back, you’re not beholden to anyone so you can create the content you want to with no filter or dilution. It was a very accessible / doable format, we could’ve done it with a phone. It’s a great way to experiment with your craft, test material with audiences, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. You don’t have to be tech, you just have to have some ideas and elbow grease and self-belief. And no judgement. We always say that making our web series was a ‘vertical learning curve’.
Where would you like to see the format going in the next few years?
We’d like to see more opportunities coming from the industry for funding and development in web series. They’re relatively low-cost if you’re smart, and a little money can go a long way. Risk aversion is a major barrier for the industry when it comes to why they’re so tentative in terms of new talent, diverse stories – despite all the talk and panels and goals, there’s very little affirmative action. Web series and short-form online content seems like a great way to invest in new talent and allow them to show what they can do without the risk involved in big budget film and TV projects.
Do you think that web series are more or less diverse than the current climate of TV and film?
It’s an important format for those wishing to tell stories that are lacking in mainstream media, which is why the internet has been so important for grassroots and DIY movements in every shape and form and the web series that we’ve come across really reflect that. People are looking at TV and film and saying, ‘Well, I don’t feel like that represents me/my peers/experiences so why don’t I do it myself?’ Also they’re not bound by marketing and genre stuff – you make what you want to see without a worry of it being locked in development waiting for a climate deemed suitable by other people.
Can you speak a little about your experiences as non-white/female filmmakers?
We have the usual stories of being on set and men assuming we’re the runner when we’re actually producing, for example, and also the egos and microaggressions that come with navigating male dominated and predominantly white spaces. Every woman and person of colour working in these kinds of industries has these experiences, it’s been well documented and the statistics in terms of gender/race percentages have been abysmal forever.
But it feels like we’re heading to a tipping point where womxn and PoC have really had enough and aren’t being quiet about it any longer and the industry can’t ignore it anymore – they know what needs to change but the process is so slow. It really does feel like waiting for the dinosaurs to die most of the time.
And what have your experiences been like working as a collective as opposed to separately?
When we work together it can be amazing, all this creativity flowing, and it’s amazing to hear what comes out of each other’s brains. A collective provides a constant support system, people who will always have your back or shoulder the load when someone is busy/having a hard time. We have faith that we can do it and we can finish because if someone drops the ball then someone else picks it up, and we look out for each other in that way and accept that that’s how this will work.
Obviously all filmmaking is collaborative but it allows you to build up a relationship and sense of trust over time, so you can delegate and share work without having to worry in the same way as when you’re working with unknown quantities – it’s why people in this industry work with the same people so often. Once you’ve found your tribe you tend to stick with them – the problem with that is that for so long there have been very selective kinds of tribes.
Who are some of your favourite non-white/women comedians?
Lolly Adefope, Sindhu Vee, Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams of 2 Dope Queens, Michaela Coel (obvs), Mae Martin, Luisa Omielan, Sharon Hogan, Roll Safe, Lolly Adefope (because she’s our fav twice), the cast of Community, Ali Wong, Richard Ayoade, Chelsea Peretti, Aziz Ansari, Key & Peele, Ava Vidal.
What’s your dream SKMY series two plotline if money was no object?
Laura: Aya finally flies out to LA to stalk J-Lo and eventually tracks her down, of course, before getting a restraining order filed against her. Laura and Char tag along because Char has decided to pursue an acting career, cue awful Hollywood parties and a string of hilariously disastrous auditions – like La La Land but, y’know, not terrible in every way – and then auditions for America’s Got Talent and absolutely smashes it.
Laura accidentally takes acid and ends up on one of P.Diddy’s yachts with every hip hop and R’n’B star under the sun and is adopted by Beyoncé (soz Laura’s folks, it was real but if you love someone you gotta set them free)…
Charlotte: This is great but I feel like Aya would at least get to be a backing dancer in the video, and she goes on a date with Ben Affleck (for research purposes) and calls him “Papi”… Grace is lurking somewhere filming the whole thing (as she has somehow wound up in season 2).
Aya: Nope. You’re all wrong. Second season is just going to be every J-LO music vid ever (one per ep) – but performed as a duet by J-lo and Aya… Charlotte and Laura can be love interests.
You can put the BAFTA on the table when you leave, thanks.