Psychodrama is a new web series created by and starring Kimmy Foskett, Liza Renzulli, and Luisa Fidalgo. The series will run for 5 episodes, with episode 4 (“Motivation”) due to launch on Monday, September 2nd. I chatted with Renzulli and Foskett about not only the show itself, but how they managed to get it looking so glossy for the amazingly low-budget of just under $5,000.

The premise of the show is that three friends, trying to making it as actresses in Brooklyn, are each separately recommended by their acting teacher to start seeing a therapist. They each take up the offer, but later find out that they have all been telling the exact same therapist their problems. There is a heavy dose of reality in this set up, as this is exactly what happened to the three writers / producers / actors, even down to each being referred to the same therapist.

“Every scene in the series is based on a true story,” said Renzulli, Our motivation was to create something that accurately portrayed the ridiculous and sometimes awkward / heinous situations that happen in our real lives.  So we decided to take a true (and truly ridiculous) circumstance–three friends seeing the same therapist– and use it to frame a bunch of true stories.  Everything in Psychodrama really happened to either one of us, or a close friend, although we do not always play out our stories (our parents are watching). 

I asked how Psychodrama differs from other shows about young wannabe actors in their 20s going through life’s trials and tribulations, such as the hit HBO show, ‘GIRLS’. Foskett replied, If anyone thinks of GIRLS, we are beyond flattered! Yes, Psychodrama is Brooklyn-based and about twenty-somethings, and yes, Lena Dunham’s filmmaking inspired us in a big, big way, but Psychodrama was an original creation by a group of young artists, independently created for under $5,000.” She went on to explain that they each play exaggerated versions of themselves. “Kimmy is the ball of nervous energy and frenetic passion; [I’m] the intellectual misanthrope bogged down by neuroses; and Luisa is a tres-cool European transplant who wants to experience every crazy thing New York has to offer.” (Fidalgo is currently based in Lisbon and is starring in another show which she also created, called The Coffee Shop Series; it is a series of short moments of the surreal things ‘Carol’ experiences in coffee shops, and it is airing on SIC Radical, a national TV channel in Portugal.)

Yes, under $5,000. A very impressive feat. Psychodrama was mostly financed by a successful Indiegogo campaign which set a goal of just $3,500 but closed on a respectable $4,261. Fidalgo, Renzulli and Foskett added their own funds to the pot in order to raise the final production budget to a, comparatively tiny, $4,750 for a five day shoot. Renzulli and Foskett explain that they are ‘actors with very low-key day jobs’ and that the unexpected success with crowd funding ‘gave [them] the opportunity to create our own work’.

Psychodrama does look good. It looks very good. Renzulli, Foskett and Fidalgo’s decision to hire a professional Director of Photography (more on this below) has really paid dividends because everything oozes a professional gorgeousness; be it the clever use of lighting adding flavour to each set; the crispness of the shoot quality; or the sharpness of the resolution. It’s a pleasure to watch.

I also enjoyed the show as much for its writing and performances as its cinematography. The performances are wonderfully engaging and the situations suitably embarrassing, yet real enough to have the extra tinge needed to make them relatable. Fidalgo’s knowing but slightly out-of-place persona is fun, and Foskett’s over-sensitivity is a lovely comedy exaggeration. I particularly enjoy Renzulli’s performance. Her constant eye-rolling and stunned ‘we all realise this is stupid, yeah?’ attitude has me chuckling to myself whenever she is on camera; a particular treat being the ‘oh my god’ faces she pulls when talking to her therapist. This is a series that slaps you with several vignettes of truth, allowing the viewer to revel in moral superiority over the bad choices being made on-screen.

So how do you put together such a professional looking web series for under $5,000? Renzulli and Foskett have this advice for aspiring creators:-

Call in as many favours as you can – every penny counts!

When it comes to putting together a web series, tough decisions need to be made. How to best allocate money hard-won from crowd funding? Every single penny counts and Renzulli and Foskett are full of praise for the local acting scene that helped make their vision come to life. “We have had people work for free simply because they want a chance to create and they like what we are doing,” they said. “The support from these people (actors, grips, production assistants, designers, musicians, male models… it goes on and on…) was the only reason we were able to get this thing together! There were definite bumps in the road and angsty three AM phone calls, but overall it’s reinforced that with a strong community of artists, you can really get stuff done. “ 

Choose your locations wisely

Although many web series can save money by just having one set, a show like Psychodrama, which focuses on the lives of young city-based women, needs a bit of outdoor pizzazz to sell the atmosphere.  Renzulli and Foskett said, “Two of us were locals to Greenpoint, Brooklyn where they film all of the major networks’ TV shows– Boardwalk, Blue Bloods, more– and they can pay major money for locations, so it was worrisome. In the end, somehow, through a combination of connections, amazing friends, magic, and the unique community vibe/pride our neighborhood has, we were able to pull in some favours and secure some great local spots. We loved the idea of recognizing real bars and streets people could recognize from their own lives.”

Plan everything well in advance

“I think our experience as first time producers made us semi-paranoid and forced us to take extra time to make sure everything was planned out as perfectly as it could be,” said Renzulli. This is essential to ensure that budgets are not overrun and that time can be organised such that when hiccups invariably happen, they don’t bring the whole production crashing down like a house of cards. Psychodrama had its fair share of problems, as Renzulli went on to tell me. “Of course there was a day it rained,” she said, “and a day of pick-ups, but we didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, especially when we had so many actors and crew members working as volunteers, so we “over-planned”. We also used Luisa’s experiences in Portugal with her show “The Coffee Shop Series”, which airs on national television there, as a model in the planning stages.”

Know what works best for your chosen format

The web series world is endlessly flexible. You can make 2 minute shorts or full 30 minute narrative led episodes. However, with a small budget the important thing to work out is ‘what is going to work best for getting YOUR message out there?’ How can you ensure the show is as accessible as possible to your intended audience? Foskett explainedBecause we knew we wanted bite-size, consumable content, we decided to make the series non-narrative.  There are no complicated storylines or plot twists; just short moments of quirky neuroticism, underlining the absurdity of being in your twenties. These moments are grouped together by themes that might come up in therapy, so there is an undercurrent of self-examination throughout the series. And our stories are true. Every last one of ‘em!”

Ensure you hire at least one person who really knows what they are doing!

Some things simply can’t be done without proper professional knowhow and so picking the right job to spend some of your money on is essential. For Psychodrama, as the emphasis was to make as professional looking a show as possible, Fidalgo, Renzulli and Foskett decided to hire a skilled Director of Photography. Renzulli and Foskett explained this decision to me by saying, “We know DIY web series are not a new thing, so we also wanted to do it right.  We found a rockstar Director of Photography, Joe Bearese. We approached Joe because we knew him through one of our best friends from the acting program we did together and we liked his work. He was also very into our concept and happy to work at a “friend-rate”…he’s professional and we knew he wouldn’t let us cut any corners. Joe was an amazing mentor to us as first time “filmmakers” (we were clueless). He has a great network of indie film guys who love working on collaborative projects in their spare time as well. Joe also directed and cut the show… so there’s that…”

Decide which jobs are a priority and work the budget to pay for them

With a wide support group of people helping out when they could, I asked Renzulli and Foskett who actually got paid in the production of Psychodrama. ”Our DP [Joe Bearese]; our gaffer (Paul Wallace– who is an excellent actor, the friend who introduced us to Joe, the smoker in the Intro episode); our hair and makeup (Joe sold us on this one, and he was right, the camera gets right up in your business), and of course, a sound mixer/boom operator.”

They went on to sincerely thank everyone else who contributed their time for free. “Everyone else was one of Joe’s amazing network of indie film buddies who volunteered on days off, or our amazing actor friends willing to participate for free no matter where they were at in their career (including a major model and a friend who was fresh off “Dead Man Down” with Colin Farrell) because they liked the project. We couldn’t thank these people enough. Ever.”

Decide beforehand where and who you are going to sell your show to

The series is being hosted on Vimeo and Foskett explained this decision by saying, “We did a lot of thinking and talking with Joe [Bearese] about the look of the series. We had awesome locations and art direction/lighting help, and when we saw how great everything looked we decided to use Vimeo.” Renzulli added, “We knew that the production value of our series was special.  Also, we thought the Vimeo audience were the type of people who would be into our content. And Vimeo just looks so freaking pretty!”

Aside from choosing a large volume hosting site to ensure your show is accessible to as wide an audience as possible, it is also very important to ensure that this audience know to look for you in the first place! Festival submissions are therefore useful tools in spreading the message, but entering festivals costs money: so ensure you budget for this. “The festivals do add up in terms of cost, but we’ll do some extra babysitting and make it happen, we love this project so spending money trying to get it out there is okay by us!” said Renzulli and Foskett.

What does the future hold for Psychodrama? “We’d love any chance to develop Psychodrama further,” said Renzulli. “We want to spend the fall building our viewership, entering festivals, making bad choices for the very professional purpose of developing story ideas for Season Two, and then we hope to start our fundraising efforts to make more episodes!”

Both Renzulli and Foskett told me that when everything is boiled down, what they want to do is ‘work’, ‘tell silly stories’, ‘make great looking content’, and ‘develop [their] voices as writers.’ Psychodrama is an impressive achievement and it is great to see such dedication in bringing an idea from fruition through to reality. I wish them all the luck in the world and offer my congratulations for setting an example for other aspiring web series creators out there!

Psychodrama is available on Vimeo, and the Psychodrama website, but you can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. Episode 4, “Motivation”, will be released on Monday, 2nd September and the final episode, “Communication”, will go live on Monday, September 16th.

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