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Human Telegraphs at Your Door!
Interview by Valentina Steiner
Human Telegraphs is a female-driven web series uncovering the lives of three roommates living in New York City: Trisha, Margot, and Lily. The three girls are trying to pursue their dreams, but end up in financial trouble, leading them to open a ‘Human Telegraph’ business where they deliver others’ messages in exchange for money.
The web series was created by Three Bright Lights: a production company made up of Kayla Conroy, Rachel Barclay, and Fern Lim. The three of them granted Quail Bell an interview to discuss the web series more in-depth.
Where did the idea for Human Telegraphs stem from?
Rachel: The show idea is inspired by the many personalities and relationships that create the colorful, romantic chaos we know and love as New York City. It’s also inspired by the idea of personal space in a crowded city --- do we even have any or is it our everyday plight to be entangled in strangers’ arguments and juicy lives because we’re jammed up against them on crowded subways or we’re stuck in long lines with them while they’re breaking their hearts open and yelling into their cell phones. Lastly, Human Telegraphs is inspired by the way we communicate in the 21st century. Is there much of a difference between breaking up with someone via a text or Facebook message than there is with breaking up with someone via a real-life human messenger?
What are the struggles of working with three creators? What are the benefits?
Fern: It’s been fascinating to see our different perspectives, priorities, and working styles come into play throughout the creation process. Disagreements and frustrations inevitably rise from those differences, and we’re learning to grow through them by communicating honestly and listening openly.
Rachel: There are so many benefits of working with two other producers to bring a show to life, especially brilliant and ambitious ones, like Fern and Kayla! Although I created the series concept and wrote the episodes, what you see on-screen is a world and a show that’s equal parts, Kayla, Fern, and Rachel. We each have complementary talents that went into producing this show. As artistic director, Fern established the bright and cartoonish visual aesthetic of Human Telegraphs while Kayla gave the show breath and endowed it with a heightened comedic texture through her role as director. It definitely helped that we’ve been on the same page with the show’s tone, comedic sensibility, and overall vision. This allowed our collaborative process to be excitingly harmonious and rich --- we love building off of each other and creating a complex, nuanced visual narrative together!
Fern: Our differences are also incredibly helpful, not only from an artistic standpoint as Rachel mentioned, but a logistical one as well: Rachel is amazing at seeing the big picture and keeping our spirits buoyant; Kayla is a phenomenal leader who rallies the troops and creates momentum; and between my marketing background and love of spreadsheets, I’m great at strategy and numbers!
In the marketing for Human Telegraphs, it states the web series “takes viewers behind New Yorkers’ closed doors to reveal the secret and authentic humans of New York”. I think this is important since there are always stereotypes when dealing with a popular city like New York. How authentic do these messages get? Was there research done to fulfill this authenticity? Did any of the message ideas come from personal experiences?
Rachel: This is a great question. All of the characters in Human Telegraphs are fictional, but I tend to pull a lot of varying qualities and personality quirks from random people I meet, or from very intimate relationships, into my writing --- whether I’m conscious of it or not. My main goal with Human Telegraphs is to show a variety of personalities and interactions, because living in NYC, you meet a variety of unique individuals. Stylistically, the show’s comedic sensibility is heightened and almost cartoonish -- if 30 Rock had a love child with Arrested Development they’d name it Human Telegraphs -- so many of these characters are heightened, over-top-versions of people I’ve met in NYC, or even of us creators.
How did you come up with the character traits of the three main character? Are they similar to each of your personalities?
Rachel: I used our personalities as inspiration for each of the three protagonists, and while there are definitely some personality traits that are very Kayla-ish, Fern-ish, or Rachel-ish, the characters took on a life of their own as the show was written and developed.
Fern: Even so, I think they took a U-turn and ended up being far more similar to our actual selves than Rachel ever intended! The worry-wart, systematic, and grounded sensibilities of my character Trisha are actually very close to how I function day-to-day, even though people in real life associate me with buoyant excitable grins!
Within the pilot, you can tell the background story of the characters and their struggles are important, but the scenes where actual messages are delivered are what make the story unique and personal. How much importance has to be placed on these scenes in comparison to other scenes?
Rachel: The pilot episode emphasis is definitely on the actual message-deliveries and the girls trying their hand at this bizarre line of work. In episodes 2 - 8 though, viewers definitely get to know each protagonist intimately. Trisha, Margot, and Lily each have individual character arcs brimming with personal struggles, longings, and of course, some bizarre comedy. One of my greatest enjoyments while writing the first season was developing each of the character’s journeys and their unique friendship with each other, which is an important form of stability and intimacy for each of them, while also, like any relationship, being challenging at times.
Fern: What I really enjoy about future episodes is how our three protagonists are personally affected by the people they deliver messages to as well. None of us exist in a silo, especially in a city as densely packed as NYC. We can’t help but be impacted by the strangers we encounter in our daily lives, and I think that’s a beautiful part of what we explore in Human Telegraphs.
How would you react if you received a Human Telegraph?
Rachel: I’d ask the messenger if this was a joke!
Fern: I’d be pretty delighted! At first at least. My full reaction would depend on the message.
Kayla: I would probably be a little in shock and very intrigued. Like Fern said, of course it would depend on the content of the message, but overall, I think I would probably enjoy the comedy of it and thank the deliverer for being awesome and brave.
I read that as the creators of Human Telegraphs you are “committed to defying traditional female character tropes and creating lead roles for women”. Why do you think this belief is so important with what is going on in society right now? Does this belief transcribe into your show? How do you think fortifying your belief will help make a statement and how do you plan on furthering it?
Rachel: I love this question! I think that establishing women’s narratives as equally important to men’s by giving them equal representation, as well as conveying strong and complex female characters that are driven leaders, intellectuals, fighters, innovators, and dreamers is paramount in today’s social and political climates. According to San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women made up only 7% of directors, 13% writers, 17% executive producers, and 5% cinematographers of the top 250 grossing films in 2016. That’s just sad. We’re still waiting for our first female president. According to the Huffington Post, only 7% of CEO’s in the US are women. All of this has to change and we’re committed to being a force for gender parity through hiring women on-set, writing women-centric narratives, and conveying powerful, independent, ambitious women on-screen. Season 1 incorporates career-minded female characters and entrepreneurs, a powerful female CEO, and a completely female-centric narrative that’s centered around the journeys of Margot, Lily, and Trisha.
How does the theme of the show dabble into today’s struggle with technology and the idea that it is taking over our social life?
Fern: We communicate so much via text, and we pepper that text with emoji and ‘lol’s in lieu of nonverbals and tone of voice. What happens when we take that text and deliver it through another human being with their own tone of voice and nonverbals? It adds the human element back into the distance—and also adds additional layers of [mis-?] interpretation, not only through the human telegraph’s delivery, but through their own personal opinions, fears, and dreams as well. At the same time, as Rachel said earlier, is there a difference between breaking up with someone via Facebook Messenger versus breaking up with someone via a real-life human messenger? Technology has given us access to such a wide swath of relationships from our past and present, but in doing so, has it made our relationships shallower? Does it give us the illusion of connection while allowing us to hide from actual connection? And again, is there a difference between hiding behind text messenger versus hiding behind a human messenger?
Now that you have reached 97% of the funding and can begin filming the rest of the web series what should we expect? When will the full season be available and where can people watch it?
Fern: Lots of awesome behind-the-scenes peeks into both our pre-production and production process! (*cough* Insert plug here to sign up for our very well-designed newsletter on our website and to follow us on all our very engaging social media channels on @humantelegraphs. *cough*) We’ll be taking Tellygraphers (the Human Telegraphs family!) along with us on the journey through auditions, location scouts, and more! The full season will be available next year, and people can watch it on our website at www.humantelegraphs.com.