Julie Lake – Mental
By: Lisa Steinberg
Q) You have been busy with your own web series “Mental.” Talk about the premise and how it came about.
A) The premise is these two best friends who struggle with mental illness (set as a comedy) and I created it with my best friend from high school, Shirin Najafi. We also did another web series together called “George and Julie.” It was something though that we’ve been working on for years. We wanted to make something, but we weren’t sure what it was and we didn’t like writing. So, we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. Now that I have my shit together a little more and we’re both medicated we were like, “This is what it is!” [laughs] We were like, “It’s not people who struggle with total mental instability.” So, we did a Kickstarter and we raised $15,000. Now, we’re doing five episodes and we’re in the middle of filming now. I wrote and am directing a bunch of them and editing themselves and acting in them. It’s just been so much fun to have the opportunity to get to direct. It’s something I’ve never gotten to do before and I’m loving it. I’ll be shadowing some directors on “Orange Is The New Black” and trying to get more into directing.
Q) It’s great to see women as these strong vulnerable characters rather than seeing them take the blame or lifting someone else up. It’s great to see a web series with strong female characters to look towards is amazing.
A) That is part of why we made the series. I also feel we need more roles for women in the entertainment industry and I also feel we need more female voices, creators and stories. So, I felt like instead of waiting around for and hoping for another great project like “Orange” where they see someone like me I would create my own thing. I pitched a show recently that was an ensemble female comedy. We kind of got another project that is an hour long dramedy about women in their 30’s. I don’t know if these projects are going to sell, but my goal this year has been to write and create.
Q) Is it almost like laughter is the best medicine?
A) I think my friend Shirin and I share this weird sense of humor and we both understand each other because we’ve both struggled. And when you think about it I have a lot of anxiety and when you think a lot about what makes me anxious it is so irrational that when you look at it from the outside you can take it from a comedic place once you are out of the pain of it. That’s a lot of what our show is, but we also see the real struggles of the characters as well.
Q) What was the most challenging position in juggling all of these different hats?
A) Emily Althaus was in an episode and she plays Kukudio on “Orange Is The New Black.” She is kind of like the leading character of this one episode and it was a really long episode. It was a party scene where we have tons of extras playing partygoers. We had to move really, really quickly and part of what I found challenging about that was that because I was acting as well. I also had to set up the shots so we had to do one or two shots and then just like pray that it all came together and camel out. I was also directing at the time so I couldn’t watch everything. I just had to feel if it felt right. I feel like for my own projects in the future I won’t direct and act at the same time unless they have a super big budget so I can make sure I’m getting what I want. I have ability while I’m in a scene to sort of act and also keep my eye on assessing what happens to see if it is what I want or not. I looked at the footage and it looks great. We had a fantastic actor, Emily, as the lead of the episode and she just killed. Shirin and I are basically playing ourselves so we know how to do that. I think it will be wonderful. There is always uncertainty when you are creating something. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.
Q) Who did you seek out advice from when taking on this project as a director?
A) To be fair we have a producer, Samantha Simon, who is amazing and organizing all the shoots and doing all of these logistical things that I wouldn’t have the capacity to do while acting and directing. I think being on the set of “Orange Is The New Black” helped a lot. I think if I hadn’t been on the set of “Orange” I wouldn’t know what I was doing. Just being on a show, you know how the set runs and how to get your basic coverage. You see how all that works and that’s why I think a lot of actors become directors because you just get to watch and learn. I felt like I could really visualize the episodes and saw them shot for shot. So, I felt like I could communicate that, do my best and see what happens. I think that’s what is great about doing a Kickstarter. There are stakes for me because I really want the show to be amazing, but in a way if it is terrible and I mess it up the people who gave us money are friends, family and fans that are showing an immense amount of love. I don’t feel like we’re going to let them down. It’s really an opportunity for us to learn and grow and put the best thing out there that we can without studios and investors who have a lot riding on this. So, that’s been great and I’m really so grateful to everyone who helped us out with our Kickstarter.
Q) What made you pick Kickstarter over GoFundMe?
A) With Kickstarter, if you don’t raise enough money for the project then you don’t get any at all. So, that seemed really scary to us, but at the same time it really incentizes people to donate and incentivizes you as the creator to push to ask for help because I’m personally mortified to ask people for money or almost anything. That causes me an extreme amount of anxiety to do that, but because it was this do or die scenario where if you don’t get it we can’t do our project. We were really emailing everyone. I emailed everyone in my address book and constantly posting on Facebook and Twitter and reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in forever. I would never have done that if I knew we got to keep whatever amount of money we raised. Then, we ended up raising our goal within a week. We were in a position where we thought we weren’t going to be able to raise that much. I think it was the right choice with our friends knowing if we didn’t get enough money then we wouldn’t get anything at all. It means a lot to me and we have a lot of hopes and dreams riding on this project so I really hope it is going to turn out well. I think the stuff we have already is fantastic and we’ll see. Our goal that was always in mind was to sell it as a thirty minute show to HBO or somewhere. That’s our big dream! So, once we have the episodes we feel like our sense of humor and dynamic was so different that it made more sense to create what we are going for than to try to sell it with a pitch. It’s a very quirky show and certain things that on the page may not seem as funny as they are. For example, our first episode Palm Springs is about Shirin and I trying to fall asleep in the same hotel room and various things are making it impossible for the other one to sleep. That on the page wasn’t laugh on loud funny or interesting. We showed it to some people and they were like, “What?” They gave us a lot of notes that we didn’t pay attention to and just created our own thing. And then people really liked it and related to it. So, with the writing, we’re just kind of going with our gut with what we think is funny. If we think it is funny, visualize and see it then we are going for it. We’re just trusting ourselves that we know what our vision is and what we want then let’s just do it. We’re going for it.
Q) What have taken away from this experience of learning about mental illness?
A) The mental stuff is stuff Shirin and I have dealt with all of our lives so we didn’t really learn anything new from the project. We were more just expressing more of what was going on since we were kids. Really what I’m learning is that my whole life I wanted to create my own stuff. I’ve been really too scared to do it. I always thought what I wrote was stupid and always found some reason it wasn’t good enough to just put out there. So, really what I’ve learned form this is that I have the courage to do something like this and I have the ability to do it. I just need to be doing it. I think that is the best lesson and I just want to keep doing it. I really enjoy it and have so much fun.
Q) Where will people be able to check out the series?
A) I’m not exactly sure just yet. I think we’ll be posting it on Vimeo and it will definitely be on Facebook, but we don’t have it all set up yet. I’ll be blasting it all over the internet once it is out so fans will be able to find it.
Q) Last season on “Orange Is The New Black” saw a divide between Leanne and Angie. Are things repaired?
A) I’m not allowed to give anything away, but I think Angie and Leanne (Emma Myles) are like Bosom Buddies. I think Angie is the only one who can put up with Leanne being a bit of a bully and be okay with it. Angie just needs a friend so desperately. Deep down I think they just love each other and are best friends. We’re going to get more of the dynamic duo in Season Four.
Q) Angie last season accidentally was released, but she ended up coming back because she had nowhere to go, which was heartbreaking. It was like who is she without her friends?
A) I felt like Angie didn’t have anywhere to go. She had developed such a family in the prison (especially with Norma). I think the with the whole Norma (Annie Golden) thing, that was the most anyone had ever paid attention to Angie and the most love anyone has ever shown her. When Norma looks Angie in the eyes, I think for Angie she feels like the first time the love of a mother figure. Then, she has Leanne who is like her sister. She just didn’t have anything at home waiting for her, which was really sad. But it’s nice she has her little prison family.
Q) We didn’t get to see Angie’s backstory, but we have a bit of where will she go. Have you created some backstory for her?
A) I created a backstory for her when I got the part just because I had no information other than the lines on the page, which were only a few for more. So, I’ve always had a story in my mind and that’s kind of fueled me throughout the process. I do that with any character if there is very little information about someone I’m playing. I do that to make sure they are a full person and have more to grab from for where the person is coming from and what they want.
Q) Also what is interesting about “Orange Is The New Black” that there are so many unlikely friendships that occur each season. That’s what prison life is like. You never know who you are going to meet until you meet them. Can you talk about any unlikely friendships?
A) There are going to be a lot of new relationships this season. There are going to be more characters and more insanity. There will definitely be some more Angie and Leanne with some new friends. A lot happens this season. I’m curious to see what the fans think of all of it because it is going to be pretty dramatic.
Q) The theme this season is new blood.
A) There are a lot of characters and everything gets turned upside down. There are lots of new enemies and potential new friends.
Q) What are some moments you are most looking forward to fans seeing this season?
A) I’m really curious to see how fans react this season. I can’t give anything away, but I think it is for sure going to be the most talked about season yet. We’ll see if the fans love it or riot in the streets. [laughs]
Q) What are your thoughts on the finale from Season Three?
A) I loved the finale from last season. The lake was the most fun scene to film of all time. It was like we were at Camp Orange playing in the water and splashing around. I had so much fun that I felt like so much fun that I felt like a little kid. Then, after we played in the water we would sit in the tent and drink hot chocolate and coffee. We all felt very free, but we don’t get away with that. We have to live with the consequences of our actions. You’ll see what goes down in Season Four!
Q) How does the budget and cutbacks at the prison have an effect this season?
A) Financial issues are driving everything. The prison is completely overcrowded this season because they are trying to make more money. That’s a lot of what causes the conflict of Season Four.
Q) What else do you want to be sure fans know about working on “Orange Is The New Black?”
A) I do feel really fortunate to be on the show. I feel it is such an amazing show. It’s such great writing with incredible roles for women. It’s a huge ensemble cast that is just inspiring. And on top of it, we all get along. We hear various sets where there are divas and mean girls with bad eggs making it miserable. We don’t have that on “Orange Is The New Black.” It’s really one big family. I feel really, really lucky and at the end of this month we begin shooting. So, I’m excited to go back and start filming Season Five. I will be there for Season Five.