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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

“Just Super” – Mixing Superheroes with Wine While Fighting Sexism

{Image Credit: Cupcakes & Wine Productions}

{Image Credit: Cupcakes & Wine Productions}

Last year, acclaimed director and writer Joss Whedon didn’t hold back with his frustration towards the film industry’s treatment of female superheroes. In an interview with Digital Spy, the filmmaker spoke out about how sexism has prevented production of female-led superhero movies, saying how “there is genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned quiet misogyny that goes on.”

It’s an evident fact that many have noticed for years, whether it be through films or comic books, that the superhero culture has been plagued by sexism and menaced by outdated attitudes. But that all changes this Spring as three New York-based filmmakers set out to shift such perspectives in the best way they know how with their empowering female-led web series, Just Super.

With the evolution of web entertainment expanding into different mediums, the web series phenomenon has exploded onto the digital platform, giving worldwide audiences the chance to connect and enjoy creative and original content. Co-written by New York Times best-selling author, Alan Kistler and the Southeastern Theatre Conference nominated playwright, Mary Beth Walsh, Just Super explores and embraces the deeply-rooted and trendy comic book culture, asking and relating to audiences in the form of, “Why can’t I be ‘super’?”

Executive produced by Rebecca Kopec, Jesi Mullins, and Adam Carpenter of Cupcakes & Wine Productions, the web series which is set to hit production this Spring, aims to empower and fortify the image of everyday women who might not feel like they can be “super” in their average and ordinary lives. Through buddy-comedy scenarios, mysteriously granted superpowers and wine, the three filmmakers break out onto the scene with their debut project that is creating quite the buzz.

With the integration of social media, crowd-funding in these past few years has skyrocketed and played an important part in backing creative and artistic content. Though sponsored by the non-profit arts organization, Fractured Atlas that helps to raise money for artistic endeavors, Just Super started their own indiegogo campaign this past February hoping to raise $10,000 for production, and presently reaching 37% of their goal.

As the three are currently in the middle of raising funds for their online sitcom, I had a chance to catch up with the producing partners and chat about what it’s like producing a web series in beautiful New York City, the film-making process, and everything ‘super’.

Behind the scenes of Just Super. {Image Credit: Cupcakes & Wine Productions}

The Hudsucker: Just Super is a super-powered buddy comedy about Emer who becomes a superhero, discovers a dangerous destiny lies ahead of her, and her friends are eager to help figure it all out. What else can you tell audiences about your online sitcom?

Rebecca Kopec: One of the things we wanted to focus on initially is the unexpected. When you look at a character like Emer—the character I play—you don’t expect that she’s the type of person who can save the world. You don’t expect someone as seemingly superficial as Stacy—played by Karen Bray—to be not only fierce, but have the most heart. You don’t expect someone as tough as Danny—played by Jesi Mullins [here]—to have this deep vulnerability. We wanted to create multifaceted characters for women, not just one dimensional stereotypes. Real people who are more than just The Girlfriend, The Mother, The Best Friend, The Love Interest. Also it’s fun—it’s a buddy comedy.

Jesi Mullins: For me, this series is all about taking your first assumption about someone and turning that on its head. Every character you meet in our show defies the stereotype you initially think them to be. That’s exciting not just as a creator but as a performer.

The Hudsucker: This web-series has been in creation for nearly two years now, and you’re all finally getting the chance to develop it. How did the idea first come to be?

Kopec: I was out to dinner with a good friend and we were discussing our careers. She asked me to picture where I was at the apex of my career. What was I doing? TV. What kind of show would I be on? A dramedy-comedy with heart. What kind of character would I play? A lovable Bridget Jones-type. I then mentioned how I’d love to play a super hero, but no one would ever cast me in a role like that. She then turned to me and said, “So do it yourself.” Wiser words have never been spoken. I knew that as much as I could do it myself, I couldn’t do it alone, so I called on my friend Jesi. Together, over a meal of grilled cheese sandwiches, we hammered out the basic ideas for the characters and the series. By this time we were head over heels in love with the project.

Mullins: It all started with Rebecca. She had this idea for a character she wanted to play but knew wasn’t out there at the moment for her. Then she brought that idea to me and we spent about 5 hours over [that] grilled cheese coming up with our dream project. At that point, we knew the most important thing for our show was to not ruin it by writing it ourselves. Enter Alan and Mary Beth.

The Hudsucker: Tell me about Alan Kistler and Mary Beth Walsh. 

Kopec: While we both have written [scripts], we knew we were way too close to this project and needed to call in the “Big Guns” so it could be as awesome as we imagined in our heads. Our first call was to our friend Alan. Not only is Alan an incredibly talented writer, but he also happens to be a comic book historian. You can’t ask for a better writer of a super hero series than that! We then approached our friend Mary Beth. Since Just Super was so female-centric, we wanted to have a woman’s voice on the writing team [and] Mary Beth is a beautiful playwright who is particularly adept at writing female relationships. We absolutely had to have her on board.

Mullins: [And] Alan was a clear choice for us. He has single-handedly created a career for himself as a writer and comic book historian. He has a grasp of mythos and origins stories that [are] outstanding. Mary Beth is a talented playwright and incredibly skilled with writing compelling relationships between her characters. It was also imperative that at least one of our writers bring a female point of view to the table.

The Hudsucker: As the three creators behind Just Super, what have you all noticed through the production process either as benefits or drawbacks in creating a web-series?

Kopec: For me, there was no other option. I knew I wanted to tell the story. I knew I wanted to tell the story in a serialized fashion. We all come from a theatre background so I suppose the benefit of creating a web series—or online sitcom as we call it—would be that so many more people can experience it. With theatre, it lives a short life and unless you happen to be in town during the run, you miss it [but] with a web series, the Internet is forever. Which can be a good or bad thing. [smiles]

Mullins: I think the greatest benefit is the opportunity of full creative control. We’re not jumping through the hoops of a major studio and don’t have to worry about the censorship of network television. The greatest drawback I find to be the over-saturation of online content at the moment. It’s gone from the casual YouTube channel to a legitimately competitive market. You have to have your act together.

Adam Carpenter: But I also think the competitive market is also raising the profile for these types of projects and bringing them even more legitimacy. Take Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk who just launched their own indiegogo for their own webseries this week. We’re in the same market space, and that is kind of thrilling in its own right.

Trenchcoat Woman and Trenchcoat Man (Allison Moody and Paul Guyet) carry on a covert discussion in a behind-the-scenes look. {Image Credit: Cupcakes & Wine Productions}

The Hudsucker: In these past few years, there’s been a huge explosion in the production of web entertainment through podcasts and of course, web series and online sitcoms. Why do you think web entertainment will be so important to audiences in the next few years?

Mullins: It’s just so convenient, isn’t it? Not only can we watch it when we have time, but then we can also watch it on so many different devices. And with networks now taking in the numbers not just from our television activity, but also our streaming of media, you can see that web content is only in its infancy.

Kopec: People lead very busy lives. They like to be able to view their entertainment on their own time. Another benefit is that most episodes are only 5-8 minutes long. Bite sized entertainment for the person on the go?  They can even be viewed on a phone.

Carpenter: Creators of web content are also not beholden to any network, nor any regulatory agency. Web content isn’t rated as of yet. YouTube does have some decency rules, but we’re not going to go crazy now. There’s no major overseer, so we can put out the content the way we want to put it out there.

The Hudsucker: How many episodes and seasons are planned?

Carpenter: Eight episodes in the first season—we’re growing a universe that could be seen [into] a second season or beyond.

Mullins: Definitely. We are looking big picture here [and] the reason we have waited three years to make this thing is because we want to make it right and we’re building a whole story, not just a single season.

Kopec: Yeah, right now we have [those] episodes written, with an idea of the direction [that] the second season will take.

The Hudsucker: Has anything gone differently than the way you planned through this production process, or better than expected?

Mullins: What hasn’t gone differently?! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this process is that you always need a contingency plan. We’ve had cast changes, adjustments in how we wanted to approach funding, even our writers have moved to states [or] coasts! The one thing that never changes is our love of the project.

Kopec: [nods] The end game has always stayed constant, but there has been a lot of course correction along the way. I do feel that we needed to wait for the timing to be right and now it finally is.

The Hudsucker: Rebecca, you play Emer, a strong woman who has now become a superhero of sorts. How do you get into character to play this sort of individual?

Kopec: It certainly helped that I initially created the character and then the writers took that outline and wrote it specifically for me. A lot of the lines are things I would have or actually have said in real life. For example, in the trailer, Stacy mentions that Emer’s pants are on backwards. That [has] actually happened to me. [laughs] As a whole, though, I’d like to think I have my life a little more put together than Emer does [but] I definitely have more direction. You mention that Emer is strong, and while we know she is, she doesn’t quite see that in herself.

The Hudsucker: Jesi, you play Emer’s best friend Danny, a comic book store clerk. Did any research go into this role, or are you naturally a comic-book fan?

Mullins: Oh, my calendar practically revolves around Comic Con. [laughs] Research was basically just my excuse to read more of the comics I hadn’t gotten to yet.

The Hudsucker: That sounds like incredibly fun research! So, how much of the character you play is really you?

Mullins: Let’s see. Danny is a deadpan she-nerd who hides her vulnerable heart behind a snarky veneer. She’s a complete mystery to me. [laughs] I can practically feel Rebecca and Adam giving me side-eye right now. Sarcasm aside, there is a lot of me in Danny. I do wish I was as ballsy as her though. That gal doesn’t let anyone stop her! Also, she gets to work in a comic book shop, which I’m just plain jealous of.

The Hudsucker: Adam, as producer, what do you believe will set this series apart from others on the web?

Carpenter: A fully realized, female-led, “every-woman” comedic superhero project as a concept hasn’t been done before. It’s a new space, and one that’s desperately needed. I think in some ways we’re carrying the torch of Joss Whedon and his lead females from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse, etcetera, and bringing that often ignored archetype—and yet fully realized character—to a new generation in their new media outlet—streaming on the internet. 

The Hudsucker: How does this producing partnership with Rebecca and Jesi impact the overall project for you?

Carpenter: I think it’s been beneficial that I was brought in at a later stage. I wasn’t with the project at its inception. I came to the project from a place of friendship and mutual respect for Jesi and Rebecca, their vision, and their work. It allows the relationship to still be familiar and comfortable, but I’m also able to have an outside eye, ask harder questions, and hopefully synthesize an overall stronger product.

The cast in their first read-through for season one of Just Super. {Image Credit: Just Super/Facebook}

The Hudsucker: You each have theatre backgrounds with comedy chops. Though there is a script, has there been room for improv comedy, or do you follow the script as is?

Mullins: So far we have planned on being faithful to the script when filming, but you’re right. We have a lot of theatrical and comedic performers—you never know what could happen once we get on set.

Carpenter: We’re looking at some rewrites to the script and some new moments and ideas have come out of conversations with the writers where we do start to toss out new ideas, bits of dialogue. It’s great that there’s been such solid framework of these eight episodes for a while now, that we’re able to play within that framework and craft stronger scripts by being open to new ideas as well.

The Hudsucker: What have you learned about yourselves and the production of a web-series with filming Just Super and working through the marketing of it?

Mullins: Bull-headed commitment to a project is the number one trick to getting it made. It is so easy to get busy and drop the ball, especially here in [New York City]. When I think about all the times Rebecca and I could have just given up on this before 2015—I’m flabbergasted. Stay stubborn, creators.

Carpenter: I don’t know if it’s something I’ve learned, but I’ve definitely gained an appreciation for people who produce day in and day out on any major television or film production. It’s not easy, and I can’t imagine doing it day in and day out if I didn’t believe in the project itself. Luckily with Just Super, I do.

Kopec: Before this project, I never imagined I would want to produce anything let alone follow through. I love feeling like I’m in control of my career. I’m not wilting around for someone to hand me my dream role, I’m making it happen for myself. It’s also shown me how much others believe in me. It was beyond amazing to see people laugh and react and fall in love with our trailer the way we fell in love with it.

The Hudsucker: How has producing a web series been different than your previous projects? 

Kopec: First and foremost, it’s my first time producing [and] I’m used to just being an actor. I could just show up, do my job, and go home. I love that with this I’m actually able to shape the whole picture. I’m incredibly invested in it. It’s already been such a rewarding experience [and] I can’t even begin to imagine what it’ll feel like when it’s complete.

Carpenter: I think taking into account that it takes specialized professionals to pull off this kind of work. In the theatre you can sometimes say, “Oh my friend so and so can do lights. He’ll do.” Or “We don’t really need a stage manager, do we?” You always do. But with film, you will need the professionals to come in and do what they are masters of. You need the DP, the Sound Guy, the Lighting Guy. You can’t wing that. You can’t fudge that. It needs to be done right.

Mullins: I’ve been at the helm of theatrical productions and collaborated on films, but creating a series is daunting! It is a much larger beast than anything else I’ve ever produced because we must always keep in mind the larger scope of the series. It’s a lot and I’ve learned it’s definitely a process I could never do on my own. Talk about humbling.

The Hudsucker: Why should audiences tune into Just Super and support the project on indiegogo?

Producing partners, Adam Carpenter, Jesi Mullins, and Rebecca Kopec at the Season 1 launch party of Just Super. {Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey}

Mullins: It’s all about the combination of a woman-led project in this particular genre. I grew up a loud and proud she-nerd. My heroes were scientists, warriors, world leaders, mages—and all of them female. I love and believe in this genre because of the empowerment it gave me as a woman.

Carpenter: Just Super is for all those people who don’t feel super in their day to day lives. It’s for people who are tired of hyper-sexualized and under-utilized female superheroes. It’s for those who want to see more entertainment pass the Bechdel test. We hope to inspire those who don’t feel super and show them, by nature of our small production with big dreams, that anything is possible. If you can get behind those ideas, you can get behind our indiegogo.

Kopec: It’s legitimately good quality [too]. The writing is sharp and funny. But more than that, it’s important. It features three strong female characters, one of which happens to be bisexual. It gives underrepresented types a voice, a chance for them to be heroes and in doing so shows viewers that it’s possible for them to be heroes in their own lives.

The Hudsucker: For years, the superhero and comic book culture has been afflicted by sexism and archaic attitudes. With a female-led cast at the helm of Just Super, how important is it for all of you to be part of that type of change and shift perspectives through the medium you’re utilizing? 

Kopec: While with the wild success of movies like The Hunger Games, it may seem like women are shining in film, the opposite is unfortunately true. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that only 12% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014 were women [and] that is a 3% drop from 2013, and 4% drop from 2002. The state of women in film is [actually] getting worse, not better. As we learned from the Sony hack, even those at the highest echelon of Hollywood aren’t immune and are making less than men doing the same jobs. Instead of sitting around and complaining about it, we’re taking matters into our own hands [with Just Super]. We want to show the world that women can be defined by who their are, not just their relationships to other people, and that woman can be funny—and that women’s stories are just as universal as men’s. Just because the series was created by and stars women, doesn’t mean men can’t find just as much enjoyment in it.

Mullins: The goal of having women in leadership roles, both in front of and behind the camera, is at the very core of this production. We don’t want to be the women in the industry simply complaining about the discrepancy. We want to be the ones changing the dialogue.

The Hudsucker: So why do you think comic books and graphic novels still exhibit degrees of sexism?

Mullins: As someone who loves comic books and graphic novels, the sexism within is a complicated issue. I think it comes from a combination of the boys’ club calling the shots and us also not giving credit to and lifting the creators—male and female—who do present complicated and interesting female models.

Kopec: Unfortunately, they’re not completely to blame. It’s a larger cultural issue at play.

The Hudsucker: What do you think makes a hero?

Kopec: To me, a hero is someone who keeps fighting for something despite all obstacles and naysayers.

Mullins: [Heroes are] someone who sees the world as larger than themselves and wants to be a part of making it better where and when they can. This could be something dynamic—like saving a life. It could also be as simple as looking up on the subway and noticing that someone else could use the seat more in that moment.

The Hudsucker: Let’s be real here now. The tagline says it’s a “super-powered buddy comedy—with wine.” Inquiring minds want to know: How much wine went into this production and did you ever drink while working? 

Kopec: [laughs] Oooh, girl. We’re big fans of delicious wine and of course the production meetings involved a glass or two. We even gave each other wine-related nicknames. I’m Côtes du Rhône since I’ve been drinking a lot of it lately.

Mullins: We actually have a joke that each producer has a wine “code name.” [Like,] Rebecca “Côtes du Rhône” Kopec, Jesi “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo” Mullins, [and] Adam “Gelber Muskateller” Carpenter. Because we’re fancy. [smiles]

* * * * *

With funds from the Indiegogo campaign going into the actual production of the series and crew, producing an online sitcom isn’t easy but it’s worth the pinch for this empowering project. With Kopec, Mullins, and Carpenter hoping to bust stereotypes and shake up nerd culture, donating to this artful project is worth every dollar, especially when it means stepping up to the plate and putting strong, female characters front and center with quality writing and stories.

You can learn more about Just Super from visiting their official website, and donate to their indiegogo campaign from now until March 31.

See the first official trailer from the series below:

If you donate to Just Super before March 31, the team promises a whole bunch of perks that will not disappoint. Starting from March 14 until the 24th (Jesi Mullins’ birthday), for every donation of $25 or more, the donor will not only get a Spark ID card, but the three will each take a pie to the face. In addition, if they raise $7,500 in time, they will slime Jesi, 90s Nickelodeon-style. Who wouldn’t want to see a bit of yesteryear nostalgia?

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  1. “Just Super” – Mixing Superheroes with Wine While Fighting Sexism | westlifebunny - March 30, 2015

    […] Continue reading… […]

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