School’s out for the summer, but it’s never too late for ten questions with The Outtakes
I’m a hard sell on web series in general, but I became a fan of The Outtakes after their Rome & Juliet series. This of course lead to me chatting them up on Twitter and the next thing you know, we’re having a quick email interview to ask then ten questions about why for art thou making a Romeo & Juliet web series!?
Rachel, Katrina, and Shannie are literary fans, reading everything, writing everything, and loving their cats (which if you knew mine sent the interview email to them with an incomplete first question, you’d find even funnier). Don’t let the fact that they’re young fool you. They pulled off a 50 episode web series, complete with original songs, as their first attempt.
R&J aired from January 1st through June 21 on YouTube in 2017! It follows the story of Rome and Juliet, both struggling with an age-old family feud and the challenges of growing up, yet still choosing to fight for their love
Shakespeare has a lot of plays to chose from, tragedy and romance and just fun comedy, which means you have a lot of options to pick from. But it’s also Shakespeare, and that has a lot of weight and notoriety. People know the Bard. So … why tackle that as your first go at a series?
Shannie: I was looking through Shakespeare’s plays and trying to find one with a larger female cast, because we didn’t have any male actors we could reach out to. There really wasn’t a play that would work, and I decided if we were going to gender switch a cast Romeo and Juliet would be good one. Everyone knows it, and it translates really well into the high school world. The familiarity worked well for casting in a small town – it was hard enough to get people interested in a webseries as it was, and unfamiliarity would only add to that difficulty.
Romeo & Juliet is actually one of the most popular plays to have been made into a web series. If you’d known that going in, would you have picked a different play?
Katrina: We knew in the back of our minds that R&J was a popular webseries, but our goal wasn’t to be the best. When we were writing, it was the only play that all three of us had prior experience with (we were only in tenth grade!). We also wanted to give a “new spin on a classic tale,” as cliche as it sounds.
Who wrote the screenplay and, perhaps more importantly, who wrote the music? (Rosie my dear!)
Rachel: Shannie wrote the plot outline and had the original idea. Once she’d realized it was too big of a project for one person, she enlisted the other two of us! We wrote the screenplay together on a shared Google Doc over the course of eight months.
Shannie and Katrina wrote “Rosie my Dear” on the first day of drafting (it was never edited)! I wrote “Sworn by the Moon,” and the actress for Beth did the accompaniment music and the music for the trailer.
In most productions of R&J, people focus on two big moments: the marriage and the suicide at the end. You didn’t. What inspired that change?
Katrina: For me at least, the most important part of our “spin” was that Juliet ultimately wouldn’t choose to sacrifice her life for love. We were young and just starting to figure out relationships, and for the first time, we were experiencing the end of those relationships. When plotting Rome & Juliet, we changed the choice Juliet has to make at the end of the play from “sacrifice life or love” to “sacrifice future or love”; if she chose to stay with Rome, her parents wouldn’t have let her go to film school and her dream would end there. I think a lot of the time in romance movies, people are expected to choose love. While this is a romantic end and it makes for a nice story, sometimes (especially when you’re young) you need to let go of someone you love if your relationship is hurting you or others—it was really important to me that we portrayed a character who could make that difficult choice, especially in a queer relationship. There are enough stories about LGBT people who have lost their lives because of who they love. Juliet might not have stayed with her first love forever, but she’ll go on and chase her future and she’ll undoubtedly fall in love again. That’s the story we wanted to tell.
Shannie: We also wanted to make it more relatable for high schoolers, focusing on things like college and first love rather than marriage and suicide. We also didn’t want to cover suicide because we decided it was too big of an issue to cover with our limited maturity and experience.
When I was in high school, we made a mini movie based on Star Trek (yes, I’m that kind of geek – and before you ask, I have it on VHS) — 3 weeks into filming, the student playing the captain was expelled, so our director had to rewrite the script on the fly. In the six months it took you to make the series, were there any outside forces that required surprise changes?
Shannie: We made people sign contracts so they wouldn’t disappear and kept very constant communication to ensure we were working within people’s schedules but not just putting filming off.
This was your first production and something no one you knew had ever done before. Had you done any sort of play or stage work before?
Rachel: Yes, but we had never been in the position of writer and director before. We did a terrible video project on seed dispersal in 10th grade, but that’s really it! We’d been in shows at the high school but it was a completely different thing.
How steep was your learning curve? That is, did you ever had those days where you thought it was all a terrible, terrible idea?
Katrina: Every day! We had such limited experience in editing for both the script and the final footage. We learned a lot about filming as well—in fact, Episode 41 demonstrates that perfectly. At this point, you can see a shot we filmed on one of our very first days of filming. Then you can see here a shot we filmed basically right at the end of production; it is crazy to see the difference now.
Shannie: No. It was not school affiliated, nor were our parents too keen on the project at the beginning. It was completely us.
A lot of people are thinking about making their own webseries. Do you have any advice for a newbie looking to make their own series?
Rachel: Do it! Just don’t do 50 episodes… 😂 Don’t focus too much on the end result, just focus on completing it.
Katrina: Definitely don’t worry too much about making something “professional.” We were really afraid at the beginning that people wouldn’t take us seriously if they found out how old we are—it turns out, this community isn’t all that judgmental. If you’re thinking of writing a webseries, and you do the work, the lit webseries community will welcome you with open arms.
What’s your most memorable moment in the entire production? Good, bad, silly outtake?
Shannie: The most memorable part of it all was the writing. We’d get together in our houses, at coffee shops, and even on the floor of our school hallway. It was also a really good day when we posted the first episode and people started to see what we’d been working on! It felt like everything had been dragging up to that point and suddenly it was real.