Pond5 was pleased to recently host the official premiere party for Other People’s Kids, a new web series by NYC-based filmmakers Emelia Benoit-Lavelle and Ben Ruffman-Cohen, at our headquarters in New York. Emelia and Ben screened the first episode of the show for those in attendance — including many of the people who helped bring the project to life — and we took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the show, how they got the idea behind it, and what was involved in making it a reality. Watch the first episode for yourself below, then read on to get more insight into how you can get your own ideas off the ground and overcome any obstacles in the way.
What’s the backstory behind this project? How long has it been in the works?
Ben: We both have worked extensively in childcare and love kids. I think we saw the babysitter/family dynamic as an interesting way to plug into a narrative. Caretaking is one of the only jobs where you’re intimately involved with people, in their homes, while they’re most vulnerable. You’re strangely removed from the situation, you’re getting paid, and you go home at the end of the day. We thought there was a lot of potential for interesting stories there, and with the possibilities for unconventional short narratives that the online format allows, we knew we could have the freedom to move between different characters, create mini-storylines, etc.
Emelia: We started brainstorming episode ideas about two years ago, and the project has shifted plots a few times since then.
You have a lot of backers listed in the credits. What kind of campaign did you run for support? How difficult was it to rally people?
Emelia: We used Indiegogo to fund the first three episodes. It was helpful to have the two of us as creators, because it opened our audience up to twice as many people. We did the usual social-media push and emailed people directly. Because this project has been in the works for a few years, most people in our communities already knew about it and were excited to see it get started. We focused on telling stories we haven’t seen on screen before, so there was a drive for them to get made and seen.
What were your biggest challenges in getting started? What advice would you give to other young filmmakers trying to get personal projects off the ground?
Ben: I think the biggest thing is just to get the ball rolling. There are always a million little obstacles — not the least of which are your own personal fears and doubts — that stand in the way of your project existing. It helps to hold yourself accountable by getting others involved. Once we got our DP on board and started fundraising, we really gained momentum, because the project no longer existed in a vacuum.
It also helps to comport yourself with a sense of professionalism and belief in your project — even if it’s the lowest of low-budget shoots — both in terms of keeping yourself grounded and being a good leader to your cast and crew (many of whom will probably be working hard for free). It can be daunting, especially knowing how much work is involved, to go into making a film, but the most important part is not to be afraid — or more specifically, not to let that fear rule you and inhibit you from making choices.
Emelia: Once we knew our crew, we were able to create a realistic budget. Once we had our Indiegogo project up, we had our community on board excited to see the final product. It’s helpful to have so many people holding you accountable and supporting you.
How many episodes are you planning to make for your first run? Are you thinking of this in terms of “seasons” or just as an ongoing project?
Ben: It’s an ongoing project. I think, because of the nature of the episodes ,the only real defining break between releases will be how many we are able to fund at a time. We have lots of ideas in the works.
Emelia and Ben at the Other People’s Kids premiere party at Pond5
Will the stories be connected in any way? Can we expect to see any recurring characters?
Ben: Right now, we’re interested in shifting focus around, really trying to diversify the perspectives and situations we explore. But it’s possible that characters will find their way back into other stories in the future. Though the episodes stand alone, the stories occur in basically the same universe, which I think gives us the opportunity to play around with intertextuality — or I guess intratextuality, since the series is a cohesive entity.
Emelia: We’re planning to establish the stand-alone episode story idea before we reintroduce characters. We hope to make at least six or seven episodes in the first cycle.
How do you go about casting and location scouting?
Ben: We’re very community-based in our approach to casting, and really all aspects of production. Since we both have acting backgrounds and lots of people in our community are actors, we didn’t have to go far to find talent.
Emelia: Though for the kids, we had to hold auditions, which were lots of fun. We like to work with kids who are open to direction and can roll with the punches. For some episodes, we had kids as little as five auditioning, which was adorable.
Ben: The same goes for location scouting. We try to explore options through our network of friends and co-creators, or we reach out to community spaces.
Emelia: Location rentals in New York can be so expensive! We needed to shoot a chess tournament scene, so we reached out to a bunch of places around the city. NYChessKids totally came through for us; they were amazing. They’re also just a bunch of passionate folks who want to reach people. We got a lot of help by offering what we could and finding likeminded folks.
What’s your approach to using stock media in your productions
Ben: Because we’re an indie production, we don’t always have access to certain equipment or technology to realize specific creative needs, especially when it comes to sound. Stock media comes in handy by providing an array of materials to choose from, with enough variety that we can get pretty close to what we envisioned.
Emelia: We have a great sound mixer, but there were instances when we didn’t have the time or tools to create the exact sound we might have needed (a car skidding, a soda exploding, background conversations, etc). A Pond5 playlist for us includes a lot of sound effects. Sound (even a small detail) can alter a scene drastically: The sound of birds for a park scene; a crowd for ambient noise, to make a scene feel more natural; church bells. There’s a clip of a couple arguing in the apartment next door. I’d love to use that sometime. Sounds like that create such setting; imagine a babysitter waiting for the parents to come home and sitting through a neighbors’ awkward argument.
Check out more photos from the Other People’s Kids premiere party below!