We know there are hundreds of webseries, but for those of us looking for a nice, soft, queer, romcom, it can be hard to find. Thankfully there is Rational Creatures, based on Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion.
I had the opportunity to enjoy a showing of the series and sit down with two of the creators at TGIF/F – Ayelen Barrios Ruiz Pagano and Jessamyn Leigh – to talk about the series, their inspirations, talking to dogs, and how Austen is still relatable, 100 year later.
Mika: I want to talk to you about Rational Creatures, you’re crowdfunding for season two, which is really super cool, so give me the elevator pitch.
Jessamyn: It is a Jane Austen story based on [her novel] Persuasion, and it is what if it’s in modern day and much more inclusive. Almost all the characters are queer and [the story looks] at all the themes and issues that are really relevant from a work that’s a couple 100 years old.
Ayelen: It’s the cozy, queer modern Jane Austen tale you didn’t know you needed that it’s It’s a happy, queer romcom, which the world just needs more and more of.
Mika: You stated in another interview that you kept it to the spirit of modern people telling Jane Austen. Did you always want to do Austen? Or have you ever looked at anyone else like the Brontë sisters?
Ayelen: We, all of us individually, have done different shows with different authors and stories. Hazel, especially really loves the Brontë sisters, and was one of our co-creators. But this one, Jane Austen for me personally, really resonates. I fell in love with Austen first and Austen kind of exposed me to other literature so [she] always holds a special place in my heart. That’s why I wanted to tackle this one this time. But we’re not saying no to Bronte that might come in the future.
Jessamyn: I know Hazel has Brontë ideas. Amongst us, we’ve worked on a lot of literary inspired web series based on a lot of things, but I know both Anya and I started with different Austen stories. My first was Sense & Sensibility based and hers was Northanger Abbey.
Mika: I’ve seen them both.
Jessamyn: Austen is one of our faves, but obviously we’re open to doing other things as well. A big part of what started this one was just everyone who’s watched literary [based] web series is like “Where’s Persuasion? Everyone wants Persuasion.” So we were all like, “Well, we all kind of have ideas for it because everyone wants it, so obviously we think about it.” And happily it grew from there.
Mika: You said [in another interview] that one of the difficulties was getting out of Anne’s head— so much of the book is told from her internal perspective, which is why Ana has scene where she’s talking to her dog. Did you ever consider doing something like a voiceover like they do on many network series?
Ayelen: Yes and no. We wanted to step away from the blog’s style that a lot of literary inspired web series had. A voice over kind of felt, in some regards kind of vloggy. We’re not saying we won’t do that, but we wanted to challenge ourselves not to do that as screen writers. I feel like the nice thing about the traditional film cinematic style is you can tell a lot about the internal monologue through the way the camera is reacting.
Jessamyn: Especially since we were doing something away from vlog style, we wanted to work on how to do that as a way to stretch ourselves creatively and not just be like, “Well, it’s not a vlog anymore, but we’re kind of gonna convey the information in the same way.”
Ayelen: There’s there’s a scene in the end of episode two, where Ana first hears that Fred is back in town and the camera zooms in on her and we hear that the chatter in the background kind of dim away until we only hear the music. That was a cinematic way of trying to show her in her inner monologue. But like you said, there are points in the story where we do need to hear what she’s saying. And so talking to a dog was a handy tool
Jessamyn: You never know, we may use voice over in season two.
Ayelen: We’re not saying no to anything!
Jessamyn: We’re still in script revisions, so anything could happen.
Mika: One of the things I greatly enjoyed was how much of the series you left open to interpretation. You didn’t try to tell everything or even show everything gave us these these wonderful blank spots, so we didn’t get the complete picture. But that’s okay because that’s how you won’t get out of people’s lives — you get these moments. Was there going you had in mind with leaving those blank spots?
Jessamyn: It was mostly just because we wanted it to feel realistic. I know Anya has a specific pet peeve about this. And now I noticed that all the time you get annoyed when someone walks in on screen and they’re like, “Hi, my sister so-and-so. So glad that you work at that place!” You know, exposition can be done very poorly, and we tried as hard as we could to keep it to things that people would actually be saying, but also making sure the audience was gonna have enough information to not be lost.
Ayelen: It’s a challenge to show, not tell, right? It’s a huge part of our growth, as filmmakers, to really push ourselves to be showing what can be done. Those blank spaces are space for the audience to relate to our characters, for the audience to develop a relationship with the characters without being told X, Y, and Zed. Also part of it is some of those things that are left open are going to be discussed — we’re hoping are going to be discussed in season two. We don’t want to say this is how it is because we want to leave it open for ourselves, but also to see how our fans react to certain things. If there’s anything that stands out that we could work into our script.
Mika: It’s really rare in web series to have flashback episodes. I can count them on one hand right now. Was there a reason that you decided to show us Ana and Fred’s past, and have it be as a typical vlog style, instead of just having us see the card and not know what it was until he sees her walk in and goes “Oh”? Then we could make the connection. Was there a reason you wanted to show us that [particular scene]?
Jessamyn: A lot of it is because adaptations have never shown it. And even in the book, it’s pretty glossed over like, “Well, they were kind of almost engaged, and then when they weren’t because they were persuaded not to.” We wanted to be like, “Well, what happened? Like why?” And actually show that and show you a lot of how great they were — maybe not great, great, but how much they cared for each other, how into each other they were. [It] was all that much more painful to see the modern stuff. Vlog style was “Let’s do something from our roots.”
Ayelen: It’s a nod to our roots, how we became friends, how we started out as filmmakers. In 2011, which is when [the flashback] is, vlogs were huge. Vlogs are still huge.
Jessamyn: And the characters are about the same age as us. So it’s like us doing flashbacks to our own high school year. It’s painful, but also hilarious. Actually, at some point we were talking about making the show more mixed format. It was gonna have the vlogs of them. It was gonna have potentially some things that were like, “Louis is live streaming on Instagram.” And then it goes cinematic, but we ended up feeling like a lot of that just felt cluttering like we didn’t need it. But we did keep the vlogs.
Mika: How important is it you have openly queer actors playing were characters
Ayelen: Hugely important.
Jessamyn: Yeah. It wasn’t like a requirement we put in our casting call [but] it’s very encouraged. We want to cast a lot [or queer actors], not every single actor was.
Ayelen: We actually did questionnaires as a part of the casting process. Obviously they had to send in their reels and their audition, but we sent out a questionnaire just being like, you know, “Tell us a little bit more about you.” In a minute or so monologue. We don’t know a lot about them. And a huge part of that is like, “Are you gonna be a welcoming person on set?”
Jessamyn: And also “What personal connections do you have in story? Even if it’s not specific to your own character. Do you have an experience with anxiety or chronic illness or whatever is like that. What makes this story feel meaningful to you?” Because we wanted people were gonna be invested and also like, we can’t pay them that much. So they have to be — There has to be some element of passion project. Christina, who plays Ana, was actually telling us the other day that she was really excited about that form. It made her feel more like this is gonna be a project with people are invested and care, which was really cool to hear because we were just like, “this is a tool for us.” But it encouraged people who were auditioning too.
Ayelen: And acting is acting — you’re basically pretending to be someone you’re not. But if you could bring a little bit of your real life into that, that’s gonna make that performance a little bit more full. If you connect to certain parts of that character and you actually know through lived experience what they go through day to day, I think that’s gonna enrich the project. I think that makes it more realistic for our viewers.
Mika: All of your characters are your favorite. We know they’re all your favorite children. But is there specific character that you connect with more — that you felt more reflected [in]? Maybe the you from back then, or the you today, or you want to be?
Ayelen: When we were in the writing process, that was Ana. For a while I was like, “You guys I know I’m not gonna play Ana, but in my head, I’m gonna play Ana until we cast her.” Later on, especially when we were filming, there’s a lot of me and Ana. The fact that we’re both Latino women, I understand why she makes the decisions she makes. I think my heart goes to Ben, because I’ve been I’ve been the person who’s pining over someone else who clearly doesn’t see me right away. He holds a special place in my heart.
Jessamyn: I think my initial one that I, on the surface connect with, is bossy older sister, Marisol. Her personality is a lot like mine. As we dug into Ana more and more, I really get the sort of like quarter life crisis, feeling stuck and being in your twenties. “What am I doing? What I want to be doing with my life? What do I want? And am I going anywhere?” Because I’m kind of in that same position.
Ayelen: We’re the same age as the character.
Jessamyn: So even though her personality’s not a lot like me, I really understand where she’s at in life. It’s kind of cathartic to write someone else in that situation.
Mika: We watch a lot of television. Most of it is for what we’re doing on LezWatch, but we also have a lot of guilty pleasures. What are you guilty TV pleasures?
Jessamyn: I’d like to think that TV should not guilty, regardless.
Mika: I know, but I don’t know how to explain Survivor or Project Runway any other way.
Jessamyn: I do watch Project Runway. Yes.
Ayelen: Survivor! With the 40 seasons and winners!
Jessamyn: It’s amazing that Survivor is still on!
Ayelen: It was a great premiere.
Jessamyn: I watch Project Runway. I like the fashion more than the drama, but sometimes the drama is entertaining, too.
Ayelen: I really like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise. I obsess over them too much. But then I also really like teen romance-y shows. Right now I’m really into Charmed, because they has witches and other things I like.
Jessamyn: Yeah, I feel like my most trash fav was Shadowhunters. Oh, it’s a hot mess, but I just enjoy a lot.
Mika: So crowdfunding! What’s next? Where can people find out about crowdfunding? Where should they go? What do you need?
Jessamyn: Well …
Mika: Money, obviously.
Jessamyn: [laughter] Yes, we need money and we need people to share. So like, even if you don’t have money — if you do, even just a dollar will add up fast. As of this interview [Sunday Feb 16th] we’re a little less than 2500 away from our goal campaign ends on Friday morning 9am PST. We’re in our last four or five days here. The address for the campaign is https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/rationalcreatures2 — You can get to it easily from any of our social media, we are
@rationalseries on everything. Check it out. Follow it on Seed & Spark, cause then you get updates. And if we hit a certain amount of followers, we start getting some rewards from Seed & Spark. Share it, share it, share it so people know about it.
Ayelen: In our campaign, some of the pledges are really cool perks. Yeah. You can get a Polaroid photo that signed by the cast.That’s an original photo. We don’t have copies of that. You’re getting the original one. Stickers. We have a tote bag you can get. There’s lots of cool things.
Jessamyn: Even if you’re like starting at $5 you get a playlist. A little bit above that, you get secret Instagram access.
Ayelen: You can be the first to know.
Jessamyn: Even if you can’t give very much, you can still get cool stuff and support the show.
Mika: Do you have anything else that you think everybody should really know about Rational Creatures that I haven’t asked or that nobody’s asked you’ve just been dying to say?
Ayelen: I feel like we say everything all the time. You can’t get us to shut up.
Jessamyn: If you’re looking for romcom content, especially queer romcom content, this is a free show you can watch on YouTube. If you’re excited about Schitt’s Creek or “To All The Boys I Loved Before” or you want aesthetic soft romcom content, take 20 minutes to watch our show.
Ayelen: Our show kind of in a lot of ways relates a lot to our lives. We all have families that are actually our friends. They’re like our made families. Relationships with our parents that — we love our parents. But ….
Jessamyn: Then we vent to our dogs about our problems!
Mika: My cat has heard all my life problems.
Jessamyn: To write the dog scenes, I just sat there and monologued my dog for a minute and I recorded on my phone and play it back to be “Okay. How do I talk to you?”
Mika: That’s how you write monologue scenes record yourself talking to your dog.
Jessamyn: Pretty much.
Watch and Fund
You can watch season one for free right now on YouTube.
Jump on over to Seed & Spark to help fund season two, and find out what happens next!