This week, we picked the brain of writer-director-producer Katie Tibaldion her web series SEEKING SUBLET, about two roommates in New York City in search of the perfect third roommate. We've known Katie since college and in addition to being a kickass friend and all around amazing person, Katie's worked on shows from SNL to NURSE JACKIE and is also currently producing a documentary (STREET FIGHTING MAN) in her home stage of Michigan. We're pretty sure she never sleeps, which is why we're even more excited that this talented writer is taking her work into her own, very capable hands.
A lot of writers fantasize about directing or producing their own material but very few actually make it happen. What inspired you to take the plunge?
Katie Tibaldi: Though writing is my first love, directing and producing are also pursuits I have always been very interested in and studied as well. I used to perform as an actor and singer, so I have an enormous amount of respect for what actors go through to bring characters to life and, much like with writing, how much they are asked to make themselves vulnerable for the work.
I stopped acting in college to concentrate on writing and filmmaking, but continued to enjoy working with actors a great deal and found this to be a real strength as a director. Having an improv background, I firmly believe in creating a collaborative environment on set where actors, writers and crew feel comfortable to try things and bring ideas, especially in comedy. I was disappointed that more directors I encountered didn’t feel the same or seize that opportunity. Whether writing or directing, I find that having my scripts and shot list as tight as possible ahead of time, but also being open to things happening in the moment, creates the best work. I think this also comes from working on a lot of live shows and documentaries; I’ve repeatedly seen that truth in action.
Similarly, with producing, the more films and shows and gigs I worked on, the more I realized I really wanted to be a part of helping work I believe in get made – my own, and that of others I am inspired by. Which may seem really basic, but in this business it’s easy to lose sight of that. My ability to multi-task, get a lot of different personalities to work well together, and roll with the punches are assets I have as a producer. But seeing projects through from start to finish is painstaking and time consuming. It can take years of your life and I still have to take on additional work at times to help pay the bills. But, through the projects I’ve produced, like SEEKING SUBLET or the feature documentary STREET FIGHTING MAN by director Andrew James (which is currently in post-production), I’ve realized that there are projects to be made that make all the sacrifices worth it. Because life is just too short!
Most writers want to direct and produce so that we can have more control and say in our work. But what has especially motivated me in the past few years is learning to put more trust in the full potential of my capabilities and just go for it, no matter what the obstacles are. Because if you don’t believe in your work enough to make it happen, why should anyone else?
Where did the idea for Seeking Sublet come from and what was the most challenging part of your writing process?
KT: The idea for SEEKING SUBLET is one of those ideas that wouldn’t go away. As time went on, I didn’t get tired of it and kept thinking of more story and character possibilities – exactly what you want for a series. Between college, grad school and living in NYC for over 10 years, I’ve had some wonderful roommates, who became like family, but also ones I still have haunting flashbacks of to this day. In fact, sometimes when we’re filming on set, if it’s a storyline that was inspired by a particularly bad experience from my own life, I’ll have a moment where I truly feel like I’m reliving it as I’m directing the scene. Which is a bit trippy, but also like free therapy!
Filling a three-bedroom apartment is no joke – especially in a big city like New York where people are coming and going all the time and rent is so expensive. Between Craigslist nightmares, random subletters, and friends who turn out to be terrible to live with, there is infinite inspiration from life and so much fodder for comedy. Plus, once I began talking to people about the idea, including my producing partners on the series, I realized it is an incredibly relatable topic. At some point nearly everyone has had a bad roommate or roommate problems.
As far as the most challenging part of my writing process, I knew from the start that it was definitely a story best told as a series. So I had that in mind when I started to flesh out the main characters and think about the pilot episode. I also believed, and still do, that it could easily be a half-hour show, and it was especially hard to turn away from that format after we cast our full ensemble of characters.
We auditioned nearly 200 actors and each performed improvs with myself or other actors. This inspired so much material that it was tempting to write the pilot and show as full half-hour episodes. There was so much material and character possibilities that we liked. However, I had to adjust and work with my producing partners to find a way for the stories to work as 5 to 10-minute web episodes. And a way to introduce our full cast and larger story arcs over time. Which can be a challenge, especially in the edit room, as I still like to improv a lot with the actors on set, but a challenge I’m really enjoying so far!
The Internet can feel like the Wild West to someone with no idea how web series work. Were there any business or creative models you followed or did you create your own?
KT: It can definitely be daunting, especially as a web series that wants to make people laugh a lot and really develop characters, not just make sketch comedy shorts. Not that I don’t love those too – it’s just not what we are interested in doing with this particular idea. Luckily for us, these days, there are all kinds of amazing web series online. Thanks to YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo, Above Average, Funny or Die, College Humor, Official Comedy and so many others, watching entertainment online, including series, is becoming very standard. Even networks like Comedy Central, CW Seed and Fox have digital shows now. People are much more familiar and open to watching and following series online than they use to be. It also helps that there are web series we are huge fans of, including some created by friends, which we can learn a lot from. As with anything, part of it is learning as you go!
Many writers are terrified to leave their computers, much less talk to actors and run a set. What was the directing process like for you?
KT: When I’m directing I try to surround myself with the absolute best people I can work with, from cast to crew. I think that makes the whole experience a lot more rewarding and less terrifying. I firmly believe collaboration creates the best work, and I try to be very open about that when I’m working, so I think that helps everyone to relax a little and just be excited about the work.
I also really enjoy directing. I love being on set and coming up with things in the moment to try and make scenes from my script even better, working with actors and crew in a very hands-on way throughout the process, finding new talent and helping craft an environment that is both pleasant and inspiring to create in. These are things that genuinely make me very happy.
Directing is something I would really like to do more regularly – it’s just an extremely male dominated field, though many of us are working hard to change that! It’s also exciting, albeit more expensive, to take your ideas off of the computer screen and make it happen. When you direct and produce your ideas to life there are always obstacles, even with independent projects. Which is one of the things I love most about writing – the biggest thing holding you back is you! But I’m trying to think that way more about directing too, because I do really love it.
While working on the series, you've probably heard lots of terrible roommate stories. What was the absolute worst?
KT: Oh man, we’ve heard so, so many. Again, almost everyone has a bad roommate story. In fact, as part of the audition process, we asked each actor to share a few of his or her worst roommate stories. So that was rather eye opening and hilarious. But the worst we’ve heard and not experienced ourselves? I think that depends on what your biggest trigger is, because that’s the thing about roommates – everyone has his own version of what’s “normal” and what’s “crazy.” One person had to physically move out his roommate’s stuff while the roommate was at work because he refused to move and hadn’t paid rent in five months. He found all these disturbing items in his roommate’s room while moving stuff, things he had been hoarding and screwing.
Then there was another story of a person looking for a sublet in Brooklyn off of Craigslist. When she got to the apartment, the person subletting told her about the “TNR” community service she does, or “Trap, Neuter, Release.” Apparently there is a trend where non-professional “animal caretakers” will catch stray cats, neuter the cats in their apartment, and then release the cats back into the city. We filmed a confessional about that situation and will hopefully do a full episode about that in Season 2. I love animals, but that’s a little much.
You've already shot four episodes, but you're in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign right now to complete Season 1. Where can people learn more about the project & get involved?
KT: People can learn a lot more about our series at our website www.seekingsublet.com, by following us across social media (we’re on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram, with links to all of those on our website!) and by checking out all 10 of our teaser videos (with more coming until the end of our campaign!) on our project Kickstarter page.
Our actors are incredibly talented, we hope you will find the series funny and relatable – and if you do, please consider backing our campaign today! We have self-funded as much of Season One as possible and we can’t wait to shoot the rest with your help. Be sure to read about our Kickstarter prizes, which include, among others, a personalized voicemail we’ll leave for your roommate, a visit to set and a chance to have one of your worst roommate experiences filmed with our actors. We look forward to sharing all of Season One with you before the end of the year!
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