Rebecca Norris interviews the team behind the quirky and original kids' web series Janny Jelly, which tackles heavy social issues in a hilarious way.
Rebecca Norris is a writer and filmmaker with her production company Freebird Entertainment. Her award-winning self-produced feature film, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, has recently been distributed on Amazon and on DVD. Rebecca also writes Writers on the Web for ScriptMag where she explores the production process of creating web series, and enjoys teaches screenwriting classes and webinars through Screenwriters University and The Writers Store. Rebecca is also a busy script analyst who has read for multiple contests and production companies. Follow Rebecca on Twitter at @beckaroohoo!
One thing I love about web series is the ability to mash together genres and themes to create unique and compelling material. (Not to mention you don’t need anybody’s permission to do so!) A fantastic example of this is the new series Janny Jelly, created by Upright Citizens Brigade comedienne, actress, and writer Allie Jennings. (She goes by Writdiantress for short.) Along with producer/actor Tommy Fleming and director/producer/actor Ryan Wagner, Allie produced and stars in the series, which tackles heavy social issues in an original and hysterical way.
In the series, main character Janny hosts a children's TV show, seemingly similar to classics like Blue's Clues or Sesame Street. Although Janny doesn’t have any real friends, her robot girlfriend, transvestite mother, carrier pigeon mailman, and array of other eclectic guests keep her plenty busy. Through time travel, magical friends, and always a song, Janny teaches children some of life's most despicable and misguided lessons.
I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with Allie, Tommy, and Ryan about their experience creating the series.
Rebecca: Janny Jelly is an inventive web series that at very first appears geared toward kids ala Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, yet tackles serious adult social issues, like politics and gender inequality, in a hilarious way. What was your inspiration for the series, and what inspired you to explore social issues in this way?
Allie: Inspiration for Janny Jelly came from a myriad of places, everywhere from characters that I was doing on my college improv team to my favorite TV show as a child, Blue’s Clues. Really, though, the biggest driving force behind the creation of Janny Jelly was that I wanted to create a platform where I could explore some of the haunting lessons I’ve learned as an adult through a lighter, more comic lens.
The issues that Janny Jelly learns about are hard for even adults to talk about, and the main reason we avoid teaching them to kids for as long as we do is because we as adults can’t quite get a grip on them either. By putting these “adult issues” in the irresponsible hands of Janny Jelly, we see the importance of discussing these issues because of how easy they are to misunderstand. Putting these adult ideas in the context of a kids’ show allows us as an audience to laugh at them and hopefully be more willing to discuss them with an open mind. We all know that old Irish saying, “An open mouth leads to an open mind.”
Rebecca: The animated backgrounds and objects add fantastic production value to the series. How did you accomplish those?
Tommy: We were all lucky enough to go to University of Southern California, where we were able to meet such extremely talented people like Katrina Sahwney (make up), Marly Hall (costumes), Monique Thomas (production design) and Jabril Mack (animation and backdrops).
We were so lucky to have so many people interested in contributing their talents due to the creative opportunities offered by the genre of this show. I think we were all scarred by nightmarish children’s television when we were growing up, so Janny was a great way for us to exorcise some demons.
Rebecca:In what kind of a budget range was your series? Did you self-finance, raise money from crowdfunding, find investors, or a combo?
Allie: Our budget was around $12,000, which we raised mostly through Kickstarter and through some good old-fashioned begging.
Tommy: If you truly believe in your idea you have to be willing to debase yourself for it.
Rebecca: What lessons did you learn from the process of creating your web series? Was anything harder than you thought it would be, or easier?
Allie: You really have to love your idea, because throughout the entire process, people will be asking you “Why?” Why should I give you my money? Why should I work on this project? Why should I lend you my cat? With Janny Jelly the "why" was easy. That’s why I think it got made.
Tommy: Also, if you’re not a patient person you better plan your ass off before you start production because you’ll run into a lot of unforeseen hurtles along the way that will slow you down, and solid planning beforehand can reduce these. Also, learn to be patient.
Rebecca: What advice would you give to prospective web series creators out there? Is there anything you recommend new web series creators do or not do, or anything you’d do differently if you had it to do all over again?
Allie: The two main pieces of advice I would give are both on a script level. Take time with your script. You want it to be the best you can be before you spend a lot of time and a lot of money making it. Your script is your best recruiter of talent if you have a low- budget project. If you have a fun script that people are excited to work on, people will bend rules, give discounts, and just put forth amazing work.
The second piece of advice is to really research to make sure there isn't already an idea like yours out there. YouTube is a saturated market, so you need to make sure that you have something unique enough that it will stand out in the sea of other web series.
Tommy: Hire a publicist. Also, with projects like these your network is very important. Even though it can be hard to manage, try to include as many people as possible. This is helpful for fundraising and promotional reasons, but it also allows you to develop a larger and more colorful world with a ton of different characters.
Also, stay open minded. Happy accidents happen and you're going to want to incorporate them rather than get frustrated. I think we created a whole bit with a tiny lamp and a dead fish because we ordered the wrong size lamp. If you cultivate this attitude, it will help you all the way through the editing process. Editing is basically your last chance to do rewrites. We cut jokes that didn't work and created new jokes with our footage. Basically, stay on your toes and brush up on your "creative Judo" moves to use whatever's thrown at you to your advantage.
Watch Janny Jelly on YouTube HERE!