Published on November 9th, 2015 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Bitchpop Productions
The perils of acting school lend themselves to a great many opportunities for creating comedy. Three young Vancouver actresses – Tiarra Sulyk, Jessica McLeod, and Athena Russell – have taken their acting school experiences and their creative destinies into their own hands by creating their own production company – Bitchpop Productions – and their own web series, Almost Actors.
As Almost Actors enters its second season, we spoke with this talented trio about their projects and how the acting circuit is ripe for comedy.
Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about you?
To be broad, we are three best friends – who are all actors who love cats, that’s important – who got sick and tired of sitting around waiting to be cast in the fun roles, so we wrote them ourselves. Jessica McLeod has been acting since she was a child, and has amassed over 20 IMDB credits. When not on set, she works at Playland in the Haunted Mansion (where she met Tiarra) and just completed her third year of Fright Nights at the PNE. Athena Russell has been in the industry for five years now. She has completed the program at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, and the full-time intensive at SchoolCreative. She now teaches children’s acting classes at LeBlanc School of Acting, all the while auditioning and booking. Tiarra Sulyk started with community theatre from a young age, then decided to pursue a professional acting career at SchoolCreative (where she met Athena) and the everlasting partnership began! When not working on Bitchpop, we drink lots of sangria, cuddle catmigos, attend film festivals, bake lots of food, and laugh as often as possible.
What do we need to know about Almost Actors and its second season?
We created Almost Actors at the beginning of this year after a night discussing how hilarious and terrible the people you meet at acting school are. The first season focused on the people being the issue in a one-off sketch-like setting, while the second season focuses on situations and has an overall arc. You could watch the first season in any order and it wouldn’t affect anything, while the second season we follow a core cast of 9 students throughout their adventures in their second and final year of acting school. It’s a linear season that focuses not only on their studies, but on the relationships formed.
What are the benefits and challenges that you’ve noticed in developing a web series?
Fortunately, the web media world is very new which allows for a lot of exciting possibilities – unfortunately, this relatively uncharted territory brings several annoyances. We unionize our sets as we like to work with the top actors in Vancouver, but it’s difficult working with the Union at times as there is yet to be a web platform. We were very ambitious right out of the gate, and knew we wanted to produce high-quality entertainment. Such entertainment, however, comes at a price — as budding filmmakers, we do not have a lot of money. We’re also “green” producers, learning as we go. It’s been exciting, however we’ve definitely made plenty of mistakes. For example, we’ve learned to love a good contract; we had never before truly appreciated the value of a signature.
Where do you find inspiration for comedy?
Everywhere – weirdos at work, frenemies in the audition waiting room, current events, the baddest bitches in the biz (Amy P, Tina, Amy S, Mindy, Lena, Kristen, et cetera)… we can draw inspiration from all sources. For Almost Actors, we write what we know, and that is the acting world.
What are the keys to creating an effective comedy scene?
Honestly, we’re learning as we go. There’s a lot of metaphorical spaghetti being thrown at walls to see what sticks. Thankfully, all three of us have very different styles of comedy, so our episodes have the ability to speak to several audiences. Our jokes are fine-tuned by three people before they ever hit the page. Also, read-throughs are very important! When you write with friends, sometimes you write a joke that only you guys will get, and you think the punch line will kill at the read-through, which of course puts you right back in your place. There’s nothing like being able to hear a pin drop when you’re expecting a full laugh track.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
“Just create shit.” “Do it until it’s not fun anymore.” “Work with your friends.” All of us have met actors and artists who have ideas, scripts, dreams… but never follow through. It’s so easy to pick up a camera and just make stuff. If we could pass along some advice, it would be to avoid going pro out the gate like we did!
What books and authors have been influential in your career so far?
If you can’t tell already, we’re very inspired by female comedians. If you check our bookshelves you’ll find Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, Lady Parts by Andrea Martin… Need we say more?
What other projects are you involved with?
Bitchpop Productions (the company behind Almost Actors) was created to be a comedy hub by women. We are constantly working on evolving, and filming. We have other series: SHOTS (our sketch comedy channel), Tea Time with T&A (an interview segment), and we are currently in pre-production for a few new webseries. We’re also working actors, auditioning regularly. Jessica McLeod just wrapped filming a new feature called Hollow in the Land, starring Dianna Agron. We’ve begun our world domination! We’ll be bitchpoppin’ up everywhere. Just you wait and see!
Where can we find out more about you?
Insert shameless promotion here: you can find out more about us on our website: BitchpopProductions.com, our Facebook, Twitter, or see more of our videos on YouTube. IMDB is also a great resource to learn about all the cast and crew of our productions!
Our thanks to Tiarra Sulyk, Jessica McLeod, and Athena Russell for speaking with us!
Not That Kind of Girl