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Meet the Creators: The Creatures of Yes, Kissing Walls, The God Phone, Angry Black Women

June 26, 2017

The Creatures of Yes

The Creatures of Yes is a new, ongoing television-style puppet show made by Jacob Graham and Co. in Brooklyn, New York. It's about people discovering the world around them and learning to appreciate each other's differences. It's a show for all ages that addresses modern, relevant topics head-on with humor and sensitivity.

It is also a time travel experiment. For this project, a late 1970s television studio was recreated in Graham's apartment with period-appropriate equipment, including cathode-ray tube video cameras, stand-alone special effects generators, analog synthesizers, antique sewing machines, fur, feathers, and very hot lights. The idea is that if the show is made exactly as it would have been in those days, who's to say when it was made? It's a blending of fantasy and reality. Who believes what?

Responses by Creatures of Yes creator Jacob Graham 

It has been said about Creatures of Yes that "each video is a sort of contemplative aesthetic object that invites viewers to deepen their sense of empathy and wonder without drawing easy conclusions.". There are no villains, there are no easy conclusions, everyone has their own particle of the truth. Characters talk and learn (or fail to learn) from each other just as one would in real life.

On finding his voice…
I've been working as a professional puppeteer my whole life, but I'd only dabbled with making my own content. I was getting older and I felt like I had something… a certain style of comedy, a vibe, I don't know what you'd call it exactly, but it was something I didn't think existed yet, and I wanted to make it. So I bought an old CRT camera from the '70s and started obsessively building puppets. Six months later I made my first video. 

On balancing decades of technology….
At first, the video technology was pretty difficult because I wanted everything to be done just as it would have been forty years ago. Luckily, I have a friend who works in art conservation for museums and he specializes in art made with obsolete technology. He helped me figure everything out in the beginning.

On building the cast… literally…
It was difficult because first I had to build them. I do most of the puppet voices, but after about five characters I felt like I'd found the limit of my vocal range. Now, my brother Caleb Graham and my friend Karen Hover round out the cast. Caleb and Karen have also been more involved in writing and directing the show, the more we go on, so it has become more collaborative and creative with each episode. 

Discovering the world of YES…..
There was a show called Zoom on PBS in the early '70s. The premise was that the show was made for and by kids. Of course, there was a grown up crew actually making the show, but all the content was really generated by kids. The whole thing was just so experimental and free-form; they would just try these random things and it was always so exciting! And that's kind of what I'm trying to do with Creatures of Yes. I don't have any agenda other than making videos that are interesting and ignite people's curiosity. 

Coming soon…
It's still in the very early, planning stages, but my collaborator, Karen, and I have a new idea for a very mystical, magical show - it would be an educational show to teach children about other dimensions. 


Kissing Walls

Kissing Walls is a romantic dramedy that follows Cameron and James as they try to navigate the 21st-century dating scene as two queer men of color.

Meet James, a man desperate for love who has just ended a long distance relationship and is forced to re-enter the dating world (cue Tinder).  Meanwhile, his roommate and best friend Cameron is hooking up with a guy, avoiding commitment wherever possible.

This intimate and relatable series takes us into the modern dating scene, where impromptu drunk speeches lead to revelations and terrible dates can lead to hope.

Responses by Kissing Walls creator Zak Payne

On diving in to the world of web series…
I was really in the mindset of: Just make something! I had written a few feature scripts with very little strategy as to how I’d get them produced. The most proactive option was to make a web series. There were a few web series that I really respected at the time; specifically The Outs and High Maintenance. They really set the bar and brought some legitimacy to the genre in my opinion. And I really felt like Kissing Walls was a show that simply didn’t exist in the mainstream. Queer people of color dating in their early 20’s? It seemed like an opportunity to write something really fresh but also personal. 

On working with friends….
There wasn’t really a formal casting. A lot of my good friends are actors, and those friends have friends that are actors as well. I was able to just write parts for them, and then prayed they agreed to be in the series when I contacted them. 

Nathaniel Tenenbaum was the first person I asked (and also the first person I told I was writing a web series). We’ve been close friends for several years after meeting in Mesa, AZ during a production of Rent. He’d never done any work in front of a camera, but at the time he was crazy popular on Vine (50k followers). He was still living in Arizona but moved to Chicago a few weeks before we began production. 

Cole Doman and I were really good acquaintances, but I was still a bit nervous about contacting him. He had just starred as the title character in the feature film Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party that was still making the festival rounds. But I sent him a Facebook message and he enthusiastically agreed to the role!

On casting himself…
I didn’t originally intend to cast myself in a main role of Cameron. But there was so much of me in that character, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to play me than me! Casting myself felt like the biggest gamble, but I think it was the right choice. 

On future seasons…
We’re filming Season 2 in August, but I’m already putting together Season 3. It’s really just a file where things I couldn’t fit into Season 2 can live until the magic moment when we get another green light.  

The ups and downs of fundraising…
I ran two failed Kickstarters– which was a bit brutal for the ego. But the lack of money was what forced me to really boil down my script to what it really needed to be. It’s a well known secret that limitations foster creativity, so I took that mentality and ran with it!


The God Phone

Preston Hogarth, a washed-up infomercial pitchman who is desperate to make his mark inherits his famous father's final invention: a phone that lets you talk to you, across the multiverse.

Responses from The God Phone creator Dean C. Marcial

A phone call from destiny….
There's a scene in Oliver Stone's The Doors where Andy Warhol gives Jim Morrison a golden telephone and claims that it lets you talk to God-- I saw it while I was in college and the idea stuck. This started out as a feature screenplay that I made into a short film (my undergrad thesis at NYU, actually) and over the years I re-cut it as a digital series, which I think is a form that accommodates all of The God Phone's weirdness. 

On the casting process…
Susan Shopmaker, our casting director, put together an incredible cast, including Peter Maloney, who was the guy they immolated in The Thing. My producers and I interned at Borderline Films when we were in school and they recommended that Brady Corbet play a tacky infomercial host alongside Forbes Riley, who is a real As-Seen-on-TV personality and the spokesperson for the SpinGym. 

Future projects…
I'm making a feature-length spaghetti western set in the Philippines called The Green Guerrillas; I'm also working on a TV show with my BFF and co-creator Brett Potter called The Midnight Service, a semi-fictional true-crime series about the unknown across America.

The ultimate creative influence…
I think everything that I do is somehow influenced by The Simpsons-- the humor, the heart, and the absurdity of a constantly expanding universe is my Bobo.


Angry Black Women

Nothing makes Black women angrier than being called “Angry Black Women.” What might make them happy is a hilarious opportunity to consider why Black women have every damn right to be angry in the first place.

Angry Black Women is a digital comedy webseries that boldly spoofs its derogatory title through the humorous, hyper-realistic tales of two Black women: an actress and a writer striving against all odds in a prejudiced, sexist industry named Hollywood… or is it society? It’s a social commentary on racial and gender bias which we all universally face. In the vein of Broad City meets Blackish, Angry Black Women stems from the real lives of its sketch comedy creators, Dahéli Hall as Angry Black Woman 1, playing an out of work actress and HaJ as Angry Black Woman 2, playing an out of work writer.

Both Angry Black women live in Los Angeles where they constantly find themselves in situations where their “Blackness” is challenged in both Hollywood and society. Even when Angry Black Woman 2 eventually moves to Atlanta a.k.a The Black Mecca a.k.a. Hollywood South, she still manages to clash with the Black culture. Both women are ironically too Black for the white world and not Black enough for the Black world. The series pokes fun at cultural stereotypes, and even defying them. At the end of the day, Angry Black Women holds a mirror up to make us think about how we all define each other and ourselves.

Responses by Angry Black Women creators Dahéli & HaJ

Channeling the anger:
We have both worked as writers and performers in the entertainment industry and god knows this is reason enough to be angry. It's not the easiest industry to flourish in, it's literally like Game of Thrones trying to survive out here in these streets. And if you're a Black woman god help you...(notice there are no Black women leads on that show. LOL) Still entertainment is alluring because stories on TV have the potential to impact the culture hence the reason we created our project. The term, 'Angry Black Women' predates our birth. It's been perpetuated historically in media and entertainment to describe Black women...without really ever taking into consideration WHY Black women might be angry in the first place. 

On finding the title….
We've been friends for a over a decade and we would often commiserate over the foolishness that we experienced making us angry not only working in Hollywood but in corporate America; the perception that Obama's election spawned a post-racial America (we never bought into that nonsense); SNL's "struggle" to find funny Black women for their show (then they suddenly got two at the same time...WOW) and the slew of projects and roles that we've auditioned for that are mostly limited to the angry TSA agent, the angry DMV lady, the angry judge and of course the slave. Enough was enough! We had to say something about it. So we did. We began by creating short Skype chat sessions where we would talk and joke about the bizarre racial incidents that we personally experienced, which you can watch on Tickles.TV. Angry Black Women as a title for our comedy series made the most sense even though we knew it might be controversial. However tackling the controversy boldly and unapologetically is the point of the show. 

We've each been working in comedy for years, notably Dahéli was a cast member and writer on MADtv and HaJ wrote and directed sketches for theater, digital videos and television. Before adapting Angry Black Women into a half hour comedy, we knew that we were both interested in exploring narratives from the perspective of Black women who don't necessarily fit into a social construct of what it means to be Black in America while dissecting and spinning the 'Angry Black Women' stereotype on its head. It was important for us to do this through comedy and satire, a genre rarely used to explore the humanity of women of color on screen.

On breaking the mold….
…..executives often assume that just because a project stars "Black" characters means it is only meant for "Black" people. This is simply not true. When we first began to develop the series on Tickles.TV our fan base was all kind of folks from different cultural backgrounds including Black, Asian, Latino, Persian, Jewish and yes "white woke" folks too. 

On casting….
We are both writer performers and the project derives from our voice and experience so it only made sense that we would cast ourselves as Angry Black Woman 1 (Dahéli) and Angry Black Woman 2 (HaJ). We also found some great guest stars like Zeyne Guzeldereli who plays White Jewish Josh and Shukri Abdi as Normal Slave Actress. The stories are personal as hell, which is why we want to make sure to poke fun at ourselves including questioning our self righteousness in our performance and writing. 

Between knowing when not to pull out the "race card" and when it's valid to do so, being Black in America today is a complicated experience. The Angry Black Women series not only brings to light real prejudices but self-inflicted ones, and questions whether our main characters, two Black women, are also responsible for their demise.  

On working with a budget…
We know how to make a dollar out of 15 cents...and 15 cents was basically the budget we had to make our webisodes. Therefore when someone who we were introduced to came on board the project and created a budget that was more than what both of us made last year combined ...boy did we have a laugh. We had to go 'full hustle mode,' while keeping it legal. Luckily, all of those years being angry working in the entertainment industry as content creators we know how to make a tuna fish budget look like Nobu sushi on screen. Not to mention we were fortunate to collaborate with some amazingly talented people including our cast and crew. Most of our department heads, director, cinematographer, costume and production designer, were all women and came on board just because they believed in the project. 

Spotlighting The future of entertainment consumption is becoming more niche. Gone are they days where everyone is going to be watching the same show en masse and that's a good thing. Entertainment is a funnel for information that can help develop empathetic views for people and stories that are different from your own. 

We're hoping Angry Black Women will expose folks to narratives currently missing in film and TV creating new kinds of understanding and connectivity for diverse relationships.

Next steps for Angry Black Women…
…. a half billion dollar project that's been greenlit. Nah, that's not true, we just wanted to be the first Black women to say that!  For real though, we are looking to start shopping our half hour version of Angry Black Women.  In the meantime, we'll be launching a podcast..there is just too much in the news for us to talk about and certainly enough to stay angry.