Rebecca Norris interviews screenwriters Brad Riddell and Anna Maria Hozian about their hilarious web series about insane parents, Other People's Children.
Chances are, at some point along the way, you’ve either witnessed a crazy parent, experienced a crazy parent, or, worst of all…been a crazy parent. (I admit nothing!) If so, then you’ll be sure to appreciate the hilarious new web series Other People’s Children, written and produced by screenwriters Brad Riddell (American Pie: Band Camp, Crooked Arrows, Ten More, films in Road Trip and Slap Shot franchises) and Anna Maria Hozian (almuna of Meryl Streep’s New York Women in Film & Television Writers Lab; Gold Award for Drama, Page International Screenwriting Awards).
In addition to being working screenwriters, Brad and Anna are screenwriting professors at DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts in Chicago, as well as parents who have kids in the same school district. Their observations of parents and their love for teachers sparked the idea for the series, which focuses on Margot Antler, a rookie second-grade teacher who dreams of becoming a renowned novelist with a three-book deal and a summer house in Ghent. Reality check: she’s about to experience the insanity of parent/teacher conferences for the first time, and slowly realize that it’s not her students who have problems: it’s their parents.
The series had a fantastic run on the web festival circuit, picking up awards at D.C. Web Fest, Pilot Light TV Festival, International Online Web Fest, South Florida Web Fest, and Baltimore New Media Web Fest, and nominations at many others, including Vancouver Web Fest, Minnesota Web Fest, and Melbourne Web Series Festival. The series was also a Staff Pick on Stareable.
I was excited to have the opportunity to interview Brad and Anna about their experience creating Other People’s Children, and discuss their process, why they decided to produce the series themselves, and what advice they have for other writers who are thinking of producing their own work.
Rebecca: Other People’s Children hilariously explores parent-teacher conferences from the teacher’s point of view. As both teachers and parents yourselves, was there a particular experience in your lives that inspired the series?
Brad & Anna: The initial inspiration came from a conversation with Anna’s friend, who is an after-school teacher. She relayed a story about her interaction with a child and parent, where it was clear that the most difficult part of her teaching children was dealing with the parents, not the kids themselves. We are both parents in the suburbs, so we ran with this idea.
Adults, with their children’s best interests at heart, act in ways they never would have before becoming parents. We have a line in the script, “…when the sperm hits the egg – bam! – instant nut jobs.” It’s so true. We, ourselves, have misbehaved at times out of this place of just wanting what we think is best for our children. And the people who suffer the most are the other adults who have to deal with the parents – first and foremost, teachers. Honestly, we could have had a never-ending supply of episodes with parents acting badly. We still receive ideas from people who say, “Take a look at what this parent did.”
Rebecca: What was your writing process like for the series?
Brad & Anna: First, we brainstormed a list of potential episodes and chose the ones that stood out to both of us, that we could dramatize and make funny, keeping in mind how many we felt would make a full web series season. Then, sitting across from one another, we outlined every episode, literally both typing into a Google Doc as we talked. Once we finished outlining, we each chose the episodes that resonated most with us and took a pass. Then we traded episodes to see if we could punch them up, make them better. We went back and forth a bit after that, “This works, that doesn’t,” etc. Luckily, we trusted and respected each other’s voices and screenwriting abilities. Then, we had a a handful of readers who gave us notes.
It took from start to finish about five months for the nine episodes. The best part was making ourselves laugh in the process. The writing itself was a ball. And when we began casting the series, we learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t from seeing performances during auditions.
Rebecca: You’re both working screenwriters—what inspired you to write and produce this series yourselves versus just writing the scripts?
Brad & Anna: A few reasons, really. In addition to being screenwriters, we’re professors at DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts, and web series are a fairly new platform that allows our students to showcase their work in a more practical way. They can write, direct, edit, and distribute. We now have a web series-focused BFA in Showrunning that teaches them to work through all phases of producing a series. So, as their teachers, we need to understand this format of storytelling, as all formats have their unique structures, and there’s no better way to learn than to do it yourself.
Additionally, the future is becoming more and more DIY, and nothing is stopping anyone from creating content these days. Equipment is literally at our fingertips with our smartphones. Additionally, as writers, we trusted our ability to create a fantastic script, which is the key to any successful production.
Rebecca: What did you learn from writing, producing, marketing, and ultimately finding distribution for your series? Did you enjoy being at the helm for the entire creative process?
Brad & Anna: That you have to be as much of an entrepreneur as you are a creator. And that the sooner you start on the business side of things, the better. A social media presence and finding the right distribution partner is vital to the success of a web series. Determining your niche early, before production, is essential, as you then can create all of your marketing materials at the same time as shooting the series. You have your actors, you have your locations, but you also need to know your audience and have a marketing plan so you can create promotional material during production.
Ideally, if we were to do this again, we would bring on a social media partner at the outset. On the creative side, directing and producing Other People’s Children ignited a strong desire in both of us to be at the helm of more of our own future projects.
Rebecca: What made you decide to make this project into a web series vs. a short film or feature?
Brad & Anna: Every story has an ideal format, depending on how you as the creator see it. Some are short films, others are features, more are full TV series, limited series, anthologies. It all depends on how you frame it, how big or complex the world is, if the story wraps up neatly, etc. In this case, knowing we wanted to create a web series, we knew it had to be episodic in nature. And each episode needed to be short. A beginning, middle, and end in a snippet of time. Anna’s fourteen-year-old daughter actually said to her, “No one will watch it if it’s over six minutes.” That was scary for us as feature writers. But what is exhilarating about this form is that it continues to evolve, and anyone can have a voice in it. Breaking new ground challenged us as storytellers.
Rebecca: How did you go about financing the series? Investors, self-funding, crowdfunding, or a combination thereof?
Brad & Anna: We were fortunate that DePaul funded half of the project through two small research grants, and then we funded the other half ourselves. And Brad is a mean cook, so we fed our cast and crew very well. Now that we have one season that has done well in festivals around the world, I believe raising money for a second season would by much easier if we chose to go down that road. Having a successful proof of concept, always helps the funding process.
Rebecca: Other People’s Children was recently acquired by the website Bored Teachers. How did the deal come about?
Brad & Anna: We found Bored Teachers after we had finished the production. We were traveling the festival circuit, looking for our niche, and learning week by week that teachers really resonated with our show. Bored Teachers is a funny platform that originated on Facebook to bring humor to teachers’ everyday lives. Our connection with them was symbiotic from the get-go. That said, we are still looking to bring OPC to a larger network, possibly for a full series development. There is certainly a place for a teacher-friendly, heart-felt workplace comedy in a school, and we think we fit the bill.
Rebecca: What advice would you give to other writers who are thinking about producing their own content?
Brad & Anna: First of all, put on your Nikes and just do it. Writers are content creators, and content is king. Find a team of artists you trust and let them do their work. Our crew, from our DP, Brian Zahm, to our Head of Sound, Travis Duffield, to our team of Editors, Susanne Suffredin, Ron, Eltanal, and Savvas Paritsis, were absolutely priceless and made immeasurable impact in the show.
Just as you cannot have a great production without a great script, you cannot find success without great actors. Brad always says that in Hollywood, “Scripts are actor bait, plain and simple.” Learn to write great parts that actors can’t wait to play. Learn how they think and how they look at material. Anna says that some of the greatest training she had for directing was going to acting school. In our view, at least for a web series, directing is less about camera angles and production value than it is great characters and great story. One result of doing the show is we continue to collaborate with our cast. Anna has worked with two of our actors on another short, and a number of the OPC team is collaborating on a short film she will be directing this summer.