By Erin Rexe
Have you ever been watching a TV show that somehow speaks to your soul? Something that reflects your feelings and emotions, makes you laugh, or weep, or proclaim “THIS!” ? Believe it or not, this has only happened to me within the past few years. My experience in life is certainly not extraordinary, but as a girl growing up with incredibly funny friends, an occasionally bizarre sense of humour, and a penchant for both mischief and quiet observation, I never truly saw more than a brief glimmer of myself or my friends reflected in the female characters who dominated my TV screen.
I sat down with my dear friend Danielle Lapointe, who has created her own web series Shooting the Moon, which debuted this May on Youtube. I was very excited to ask her about bringing her ideas to life, especially in the form of a female created and fronted web series. As TV lovers, pop culture addicts, and feminists, we had a super fun discussion on what we’re watching and observing in the world of pop culture, social and digital media, and how to remain inspired in a world of constant (and instant) creation.
Erin: So Danielle, what are you watching right now?
Danielle: I’ve been watching The Mindy Project, I watch Catfish because I enjoy it, I watch Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City…oh, and Girls.
Erin: Have you watched the newest season of Broad City?
Danielle: Oh yeah.
Erin: I was talking to someone earlier about your series Shooting the Moon and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first season of Broad City, where Abbi and Ilana are just really doing their thing and navigating some hilarious and awkward social situations. Has Broad City been a source of inspiration for you?
Danielle: The cool thing is that when I was writing Shooting the Moon, it was 2014 and I was mostly watching The Mindy Project, which you had actually recommended to me–
Erin: Oh yeah, and I was totally late to the game on that one.
Danielle: …And I had heard about Broad City but my main exposure to it when I was writing the series was their 1-minute Youtube shorts. That’s how I had envisioned Shooting the Moon- these really simple Youtube videos that we could do in a week. Some of those Broad City shorts are just so good and well done, and revolve around these awkward situations created by young people being so connected to technology. So it’s totally possible they’ve influenced me– especially in the sense that our generation is becoming increasingly socially awkward because we’re online all the time, and so creators are becoming more in tune with these socially unstable situations that come from growing up in a digital era.
Erin: Yeah and I definitely think lots of things can exist at the same points in time without necessarily being aware of it, and like you said with digital culture there is this youthful awareness of what makes life hilarious and finding a way to communicate that to other people, especially peers.
Danielle: Totally, though I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people only believe that something is possible when they see it already existing—and I’ll admit that if none of these things already existed – The Mindy Project, Girls, Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, then it would have felt a lot less possible for me to make my webseries. I felt a sense that women were finally telling stories: about their bodies, periods, their sex lives, their dysfunctional job pursuits and people are watching and talking about them and we’re ready for it– women and men both. It’s crazy how this has felt like a new mainstream conversation in the past few years, but I definitely think that rubbed off on me and it made me feel like I could make a series about my life and that it wasn’t self indulgent. And I think Lena Dunham did a lot to be like “yeah, maybe it is a bit self-involved, but so what?” There are a ton of male centric comedies that revolves around a male protagonist. So it’s okay, you can make stuff about yourself and if it’s funny and it’s great quality, then people are gonna really appreciate it.
Erin: I think in general it’s kind of amazing how up until this point in time how as a young woman– a young person– how we haven’t been able to turn on the TV and actually feel it is reflective of your life or experience in the slightest, certainly sitcoms didn’t do that.
Danielle: You and I have had conversations when we were both going through breakups and you were like “you need to watch Mindy!” . That modern feeling of being heart broken has never been very well captured, or the emotions that really come with it, you know? So to me it’s not a coincidence that a woman is in charge of creating The Mindy Project, it’s important that we can watch this and be like “yeah, I totally get this.” Watching Dawson’s Creek or shows like that growing up I never felt any connection to it, or to the female characters.
Erin: Well and they’re so scripted it’s just not reflective of life at all– things just don’t happen the way things happened in Dawson’s Creek or Friends or other popular shows around that time. But to add to the point about Mindy, I think it also says something about how shows like that keep getting rescued when they’re on the chopping block of a major network, like maybe it didn’t appeal to a wide enough range of people or whatever the criteria is for keeping something on a major network, it’s not a police drama–
Danielle: Oh god, police dramas! Well and I think something they’ve clued into over the past 5 years or so is that you should forget about TV when you are considering a show’s popularity– that anyone who has cable or even owns a television is someone who is probably over 50. And therefore if you’re judging popularity of a television show by that demographic it’s like, my mom does not know who Mindy Kaling is. But if it’s me and my younger friends, they’re all streaming it online, and Netflix and other companies like that are starting to clue in that there is a huge viewership there of people who are watching it.
Erin: So you mentioned Catfish before, and now I will tell you that my shameful TV secret in my dark university days was watching The Hills and Gossip Girl.
Danielle: Oh that was a lot of people’s shameful secret!
Erin: Totally, and I think Gossip Girl was like The Young and The Restless for millennials, no one would admit to watching it but everyone knew what was happening.
Danielle: Have you ever watched or re-watched Laguna Beach or The Hills as an adult?
Erin: No, absolutely not.
Danielle: It’s pretty unwatchable. When we were teenagers and someone told me that it was a cool show to watch, and therefore I thought “this is the sort of life I should aspire to.” These 19 year old beautiful tanned Californians. They’re really nonchalant about the life they’re living, and I guess you might think that about whoever is financially a step ahead of you, but yeah…wow, I remember drinking that show down like a smooth sip of tea and now it burns like acid hahaha.
Erin: And I think it could be totally related to Keeping Up With the Kardashians in today’s world. Going back to watching kind of weird television while having a hard time in my personal experience, I watched this marathon of Keeping Up With the Kardashians while going through a breakup and I literally sat on the couch all day long and watched it because I didn’t have to think about it.
Danielle: If you ever watch a scene and take out what is actually being said, there is often no information at all. It’s a lot of speaking with no information. It’s a powerful thing and it makes it really enjoyable I think, and they’re smarter than many people give them credit for–
Erin: Oh, they are savvy business people those Kardashians, that’s for sure.
Danielle: I find Kim Kardashian really interesting– especially when it comes to her naked selfies– because it makes you wonder if she does have a feminist agenda. The sad part was that on Twitter, in front of 50 million followers or whatever, other celebrity women criticized her, and instead of her being body positive about her choice to take naked selfies, she insulted the women who criticized her, which in my opinion made it a lost opportunity for her to articulate what I suspect was in her case a bold feminist statement about owning your own body and owning your right to document and publish images of your own body.
Erin: Twitter is such an interesting tool. It’s pretty amazing how celebrities once seemed so completely untouchable or something and now with a few keystrokes you can reach out to them. Or in the case of Kim have other celebrities feud with you over a nude photo of yourself.
Danielle: Twitter is really super interesting with how it can actually turn celebrities into accessible people who will actually sometimes respond if you tweet at them. I was binge watching The People vs. OJ Simpson in a flu haze and decided I would tweet at some of the actors how great they were doing in their roles, and some of them were tweeting back at me, or maybe their social media handlers, i dont know haha. But yeah it’s a platform for giving people a microphone- and it goes both ways for positive and negative interactions with people. The negative parts of Twitter for women, and especially celebrity women is also pretty massive– Amy Schumer hit the nail on the head with a sketch in her show’s current season about a hypothetical Twitter button that says “I’m going to rape and kill you”. I won’t give too much away about it if you haven’t seen it, but watching it is a very concise and accurate depiction of what a lot of female entertainers have to deal with every single day on Twitter, and why some women like Lena Dunham or Iggy Azalea have had to step away from it.
Erin: So I wrote down only 5 questions to ask you, and most of them we have covered in a roundabout sort of way, but this one is actually my favourite: If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
Danielle: Oooh, I’ve always wanted to be an otter, I just feel a real kindred spirit with the otter. I think it’s how they go in and out of water with such ease, and I love swimming. Here I am justifying my connection with the otter, haha!
Erin: No no, you don’t have to justify it! Any animal you feel a connection with is important.
Danielle: What about you?
Erin: Well I think mine changes from year to year. For a long while it was a fox– I weirdly had never seen one before, living in the suburbs, and I went through this stage where I was staying out late at night and suddenly I was seeing them on a regular basis and it felt like it meant something. But right now I think it’s a bird of some kind, possibly a chickadee, one because they’re so darn cute and two because every time I look for a chickadee I will see one.
Danielle: Oh that’s really interesting. A young me might have said a lion. You really look to nature to signal out what your next thing is, huh?
Erin: Totally! I feel pretty driven by what I observe in the natural world, but I don’t know, maybe that’s because I can drive out to the country in 10 minutes and feel like I’m in not in a city at all anymore.
Danielle: Ugh, I miss that about Peterborough sometimes, just driving into the country and laying on the hood of my car and looking at the stars and the darkness. I don’t really think about that in my everyday life, but then I come home and do that.
Erin: Do you think you’ll stay in Montreal, and do you find the city influences you in certain ways?
Danielle: I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who can say “Oh I’ll definitely spend my whole life here” or “my home is Toronto or Peterborough or Montreal”. There are just so many different factors that come to play, so I have no idea if I will stay here or not. The farthest I can plan is for one year. But the other question is really interesting, does Montreal influence me as a person or as an artist?
Erin: Hmm, as a human being.
Danielle: I think it does, I’m just not exactly sure how. As a human being it’s so closely linked to the things I do and the things I create, and there are so many people creating things here that of course it’s inspiring but it also drives me. I see all my peers making stuff and I feel as though I’m in this environment that really fosters creativity. I think there are just so many people making really exciting things and doing exciting things that it keeps me on my toes.
Erin: I think it’s also great that you find inspiration in that too. For me, I can be a little weak willed or pacifistic or whatever and feel like too much competition could also be deterring sometimes from creating something.
Danielle: Well it can be, yeah. But that’s something I’m finding very freeing and I think it’s coming with age. Just in the past year even. I’m letting go of what this idea of success means. I was meeting people and being like “oh they have their own production company” or “oh they’re making this or that film” and that alone would make me feel jealous or lesser than or I would criticize myself. But today I can have a friend making something and be excited for them, and it could be something totally different than what I would make, and maybe this is naive or small town-ish, but I really do think there’s room for everyone. I made a comedy web series that’s lighthearted, it’s bilingual, it’s set in the indie film scene, and that isn’t going to be for everyone. Some of my friends are making experimental films or doing installations for galleries. There’s just no point in comparing because there is no comparing: everyone’s work is such a unique reflection of themselves. The only sense of competition is that we might be competing for grants or funding, and for example maybe their project gets funded and mine doesn’t, but it’s satisfying to feel finally that I’m going to make things that I feel are right and hopefully I can get money to do it, but if not I’ll find another way to make it happen because it means something to me. This mindset has only happened over the past few years, and the web series becoming reality has helped me feel more confident.
Erin: Right? Something that started off as just an idea is now a fully fleshed thing that is happening. That’s a super great point to make, not necessarily feeling a competitive edge that having so many people around you creating could have, but turning that into a drive, that is definitely something that comes with a mature viewpoint.
Danielle: Your creativity will be completely dissolved by you wanting and desiring things that other people have. The only important question to ask yourself is “What’s holding me back?”. When you’re really excited about a project and you’re going to make your best work, you need all your energy into that project alone.
Erin: It just seems like as long as you can bring an idea to life, that’s a pretty great thing.
Danielle: Absolutely, and while you wait for divine fictional inspiration to hit, there’s nothing stopping you from making a webseries about your life… Maybe we can make one about your life working at the library reference desk!
Erin: Haha, Hmm, I’ll think about that.
Danielle Lapointe is a Montreal based filmmaker whose web series Shooting the Moon is streaming now at http://www.shootingthemoon.ca
Erin Rexe is a pop-culture junkie, library lurker and worker, and freelance writer based in Peterborough, Ontario.