Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with writer/actor Ally Iseman, to hear her story of how her “silly’ side project, Flip the Script, went from being an idea to a huge career opportunity. This month is the second part of that article discussing the in’s and outs’ of the production process for Women In Film’s first digital series, Flip the Script.
Once Women in Film was on board were you a little stunned thinking okay now what do I do? Did they partner you with someone to help you through the process?
Iseman: Well we had to get the budget approved. We are working with Tessa Bell who is our EP (executive producer) and has been Meredith’s (Meredith Riley Stewart) mentor for a bit. She is also on the board and runs the PSA program at Women In Film. Tessa has been guiding us along the journey and has been such a champion. She was definitely our liaison, because at the time I wasn’t a member of Women in Film so I didn’t know how it all worked. I just thought, oh wow! I just got my first series green lit okay…. Luckily, I have produced before and am the type of person that even if I don’t know I will figure it out.
Were you nervous to work with a partner for the process?
Iseman: Meredith (Stewart) and I really partner well together. If you are going to work in a partnership, finding the right partnership, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, their strength and weaknesses and where you each should pick up and drop off that is the most important part of starting that journey.
What was the casting process like for the series? Or did you do straight offers? Did your director have a say?
Iseman: Well, we didn’t do casting we did straight offers. This is through the PSA program so we had different directors, each episode. Every director had two episodes and for one episode we actually had a directing team. The directors also had a mentor which was a much more established experienced TV director. So we worked with our directors throwing around cast ideas and encouraged them to name their dream team, because we are Women in Film and we can reach out. We established those lists and started doing some outreach and then Jami Rudofsky the Casting Director, came on board just to help us out making calls. She (Jami Rudofsky) has been just an angel.
Was it easier or harder than you thought it would be having all of this support from Women in Film?
Iseman: It was a really interesting process because definitely in my naiveté I thought it was going to be easy. I would just pick up the phone say we are with Women in Film and they would jump on board, we’d be done in 5 days. Naive. (smiles) No, it’s a process. People’s schedules have to line up, we are coming up on the holidays, things are a little more complicated. You have to deal with representation… there are a lot of layers that are involved; asking for favors, then the politics behind that. We haven’t proven ourselves yet, we’re in the midst of doing that so people aren’t necessarily going to go out and ask for a favor yet. I have full confidence that that will be different after we release these four episodes and I’m very excited for that. But it was a lot more challenging than we originally expected.
Did you think or want to add yourself as a character?
Iseman: I am in one (episode). Originally, I had written them (episodes) so that Meredith and I were the sketch group and then each sketch would have a featured star with us. These episodes were really built to have name talent. It’s an anthology so each sketch/episode is its own thing with its own star. But along that journey there was the thought that it would be odd if only two characters are always repeating and it would muddy the message. That was one of the tough decisions you have to make when you are moving forward with a project and you are not the only one involved. When you are making your own work and financing it you get to call all of the shots. But, when you are working with a studio, or a network, or a prestigious organization you have partners where a lot of other things are in play and there are going to be things that will have to give.
Were you disappointed that you couldn’t be in every episode?
Iseman: I saw their (Women in Film’s) point. I did understand how the message would get muddied if everybody and everything changed per episode but those two people. If it doesn’t serve the message it’s not necessary. The message is the most important thing. This is not the only thing I will be doing, my writing supports my acting. Everything I do will grow together and this is just one of them.
That being said, you did get some amazing name talent and crew for your first episode.
Iseman: We had the incredible, wonderful, generous Lake Bell for our first episode. She is actually a board member of Women in Film as well. She was just an angel and really helped out with bringing in some of her friends to cast like Rob Huebel, who I’m not going to lie, I nerded out with. I nerded out hard. Although I think I kept my composure on set and he didn’t have a clue. I was like, I used to watch you at UCB and now you are saying my words. It was awesome, he was lovely. It was really a group effort, and very indie feeling in that way. We had an incredible DP (director of photography), Cynthia Pusheck, who just shot Good Girls Revolt. Talent aside, she is a wonderful person and brought so much to the project as well. We have also had a lot of crew who love what Women in Film are about and came on for a fraction of their rate. Because we are all passionate people and to all share and get behind the same message makes it all work it, even when things are not working. But it all comes together.
Since each episode is a stand alone episode how many episodes will be in the first season?
Iseman: Well I pitched 12 or 13 episodes, and I have the scripts for 12-13 out of the 40 stories. We only really shared with them 2, because we did readings with a few (scripts) and then they green lit us for 4 (episodes).
Throughout this whole process you haven’t put acting on the back burner. You were recently featured on American Housewife. What’s the balancing act like to being a Showrunner for your digital series but also going to auditions?
Iseman: I’m going to give a visual. I was given a great piece of advice and that changed a lot of things for me when it comes to what we are talking about. Balance isn’t this, (Ally raises her right arm so that it is bent and is parallel to the table). Balance is this, (Ally does the same motion with her arm but moves it to mimic a wave). So you fluctuate. You go in and out finding the rhythm for you that keeps you able to not tip all of the way over, that’s balance. You find what works for you. You make boundaries that you discovered are important to you, self care, family, whatever it is and you stick to those but still going for what you want. Once you establish those specific kind of foundational things everything else is fluid. I am constantly learning new ways of stream lining how to use my time efficiently for everything.
Has having a partner helped with the balance?
Iseman: I think finding the right partner is key. Meredith is an actor/dancer so when we have auditions come up that’s priority. If I have a meeting with an executive about a series I tell my agents hey I’m booked out for these hours. You have to be smart about it, and be really good about keeping your team informed about whats going on. Communication is huge when you have a lot of different things going on.
Do you feel working as a writer has colored or changed your acting?
Iseman: The great thing about writing is you are not waiting for a phone call for someone to invite you into a room. You don’t have to pay to go into a class. I feel so much more empowered. If I don’t book an audition I’m still making this series and that could lead to who knows where. It has freed me up in a way in the room (casting room) as an actor, at events I feel like I’m bringing something, it changes the energy which in turn changes everything. I see the script differently. I know how to break down the script as an actor, character arc, development, ad everything else. But now, having written quite a few (projects) I see things in the writing that I didn’t use to. I see things that the writer is saying that I didn’t use to see as just an actor, like having a clearer understanding of the purpose of certain scenes or what they are inferring to with another character. It’s freed me in the room a lot because I know what that process is. It has nothing to do with me as an actor, just go in and do the work and interpret it through my filter. Because thats all we are filters-human beings with filters and perspectives. And either my interpretation is going to work for the team or it’s not.
What’s the difference between how you view writing now and when you first started?
Iseman: For me it’s a release, you are telling a story. It’s so neat as a writer since I don’t have to just be this one person, I can slip in and out of all of these different people who see whatever issue I’m dealing with differently. Honestly when I was writing the pilot with my partner I found myself missing the women that we created, and being really excited to go visit them when I blocked out time to write. That doesn’t mean there weren’t days that it was like painful to sit down and nothing was coming. I learned that I really love writing. It’s a release, It’s freeing, It’s empowering, It’s clarifying.
What’s it like to know your work that you poured your heart and soul into is going to get seen by people all over the country because of the organization that’s supporting it?
Iseman: I’ve been lucky enough to show up to many sets in my life, it’s my favorite place, my happy place. This was the first set where I showed up where things that were living in my brain for nine months were standing right in front of me, and that these people that I admire and respect were saying words that until that point were in my head. Everything had been in my head and was now in front of me, so I had to take a few moments and be like is everyone else seeing this? Between set ups I would just get the most ridiculous goofy grin on my face and be like this is happening! I feel very privileged that the project is a social cause. This is real and going to be out there and public. I feel uplifted and very lucky that this is happening when it’s happening.
If you would give a piece of advice to other actors or creators now after having this experience what would that be?
Iseman: Make sure that you have spent a good chunk of time being quiet with yourself to find out why you are doing what you are doing. Really spend time with that truth, where in your body that is, and how that feels, because I think the why is the most important thing. There is nothing to prove. It can’t be about anyone else or getting anything because you cant make anyone give you anything. It all has to be from you. When you are really clear with that purpose those challenges are just challenges, not road blocks, not dead ends. You know where you are going. You have made agreements with yourself, and you understand yourself and your choices. Part of the hustle is stopping and being quiet with yourself on a regular basis and checking in and it’s real uncomfortable sometimes, but its real important. With that clarity you will be able to say yes in a different way and say no-which is also really powerful.
“Well behaved women, seldom make history”. – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
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(photos courtesy of Ally Iseman and Women in Film)