Icing: We Talk to The Women Behind The Dramedy Web Series AFTER PLUTO
We are still knee-deep in the traditional pilot season, so of course, Comedy Cake receives a generous share of videos for review. I recently viewed the first episode pilot of a new web series from A Right Forever Productions. Not only was the title captivating (astronomy nerd here!) and the plot alluring, but I learned the series was created, produced, written, direct, and edited by women. Now that’s something to smile about! Did I mention the series has a 2/3 majority female cast with a diverse makeup? Of course, I had to watch! Well, my instincts did not fail me. AFTER PLUTO is the story of best-selling author Truman Welles, played by Lane Allison, who is entering a new chapter in her life after she experiences a tragic accident in which 10 years are erased from her memory. The half-hour ensemble-based dramedy was shot in just four days on a negligible budget, but you wouldn’t know it. We talked to the co-creators/co-producers/actors Lane Allison and Sara Lafferty to discuss the thought-provoking journey the female protagonist must take, the interesting relationships between the characters, the future of women in the industry, as well as where the series is headed. Watch episode one and get to know the women behind After Pluto. You KNOW you want to find out why that title is so important!
COMEDY CAKE: Congratulations on creating such a funny and impactful first episode pilot! During the writing process, did you set out to unleash so many life altering events on the main character so quickly?
Lane Allison: Thank you! Yes, we absolutely set out to put our audience right in the thick of things with Truman from the start. I have always been a fan of getting to know characters as they are in the process of taking a few punches (particularly if you can sprinkle in some public humiliation), and seeing how they get back up.
Sara Lafferty: I agree with Lane. I think it helps to grab the audience’s attention quickly and makes them want to see what will happen next.
CAKE: How and when was the idea for the script sparked? Did you always plan on Truman being a female character?
Lane: Well, Sara and I had worked on a couple of projects together and had started a script for a whole different show, which greatly hinged on filming in the apartment building she was living in at the time. When she moved (for the wonderful reason of having recently gotten married), we had to rethink enough of our script that we thought it best to start fresh for the most part. So it was 2015 and after seeing the new house, which is a duplex we would have full access to and was such a beautiful setting we’d get to play in, I was inspired thinking about how we could use the space to its fullest potential. This, coupled with my grandmother who at the time was quickly approaching the final moments of her life and suffering from dementia, had me pondering the fragility of memory. So, one night it just kind of hit me: What if a younger person lost a chunk of their memory? How would that affect a family differently than what we expect with an older person? I brought it to Sara and she liked it as a jumping-off point and we started brainstorming and building from there. As for Truman, yes, she was always a female character. It was extremely important to us that our protagonist be a woman.
Sara: Yeah, it definitely was an idea that evolved over time. We had so many other directions in which the story was going to go, but in the end this ended up being the best one.
CAKE: How much of Truman’s story is based on real world experiences?
Lane: The accident and characters are fictional, but there are parts of our lives that get infused into the story. I have a real fondness for Pluto and did feel a strange sadness for it when it was downgraded from a planet. There are certainly pieces of my husband in the better parts of Ian. Charlie is inspired, in part, by my sister who is a photographer and has a very unique style. I certainly have people that, if I woke up thinking it was 2006 and was told it was 2016, I would be shocked to find I was no longer in contact with, and others I had once been in contact with and would be surprised to find out I had reconnected with in the last decade.
CAKE: I was captured by the relationship between Truman and Ian. The two characters are so well developed early on which lends to their story being so relatable. What is the most difficult part of making two characters, who don’t necessarily belong together, slowly grow closer?
Lane: Well, I think the fact that at one time they both felt they were meant to be, regardless of the circumstances that lead up to the accident, is the key. That they then kind of get a clean, but twisted, slate that could, obstacles pending, bring them back together is just so fun for me as a writer. The only real difficulty I face when writing for those two is how fast I can type!
Sara: I think also that in real life, relationships can be very complicated. Two people who may seem like they shouldn’t be together to everyone else may have such a strong inner connection and they just can’t let go of each other. I think in most shows and movies, relationships sort of follow a certain formula, where if one of them does something wrong, then they have to redeem themselves in some way to prove that they are worthy. That doesn’t always happen in real life, and I think Truman and Ian’s relationship falls a little more in the real life category (even with the twist of the memory loss) that people can actually relate to.
CAKE: In the first episode we learn that Truman is a famous writer, which really plays into some of the best comedic moments. Did you ever think of giving this character a different profession?
Lane: Once we locked in the basic idea for the script, the idea of her being someone important to a wide net of people seemed like a great problem to throw in the mix, and then the thought of her being an author came almost in the same moment. Just the idea that Stephenie Meyer couldn’t tell us if Bella chose Edward, or if J. K. Rowling couldn’t get us to the Deathly Hallows and know if Voldemort could be defeated, or if Tolkien couldn’t tell us what happens to the One Ring after Gollum leads Frodo to Shelob’s lair — it would be bedlam and tragically hilarious. When I broached the topic with Sara, I had a few other options as backups. But Truman being an author was what I hoped she’d gravitate toward, though we’re usually on the same page (pun intended), and this was no exception.
Sara: Yeah, we rolled around a few other professions, but found that it was really best for her to be an author.
CAKE: What advice would you give to content creators working on a shoe-string budget?
Lane: Prep! Which starts by creating a team you connect with comfortably, and then really take the time to build a common language with them. One of the things that draws me in as a director is figuring out each person’s (whether cast or crew) communication style and learning what makes them tick creatively, and then being the person, equipped with that knowledge, who should adjust and pivot in the moment depending on who you’re working with and in what aspect. If you have put the time into building your team and encouraging them to be fluid communicators from the beginning, later when shit starts flying (and being that you are low budget, the shit WILL most certainly fly in a myriad of unexpected ways) and you start to panic, your team will be there to remind you that the original goal was to, in fact, throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. So, maybe you’re not as far off the mark as you fear.
Sara: The most important advice I can give is: if you can’t pay your cast and crew, make sure you feed them well! Good food goes a long way and people will really appreciate it and will work harder. It’s totally true!
CAKE: This series is created, produced, written, directed, and edited by women and includes a diverse cast of female characters. It seems that mature roles for actresses still seem to be lacking in the industry. It feels like the demand for such characters and their stories isn’t lacking, so why do you think we are aren’t seeing even more such roles?
Lane: I think as a modern society we like to hope we have come farther than we have, but sexism and ageism are still so prevalent in the industry and in the world at large. I think there are more opportunities now than ever before, but I believe they get discussed and highlighted a fraction of what they should be, given that females comprise over half the population and that people are living longer. Art should reflect the human condition, and that condition is lush with diversity, but because we are still so trapped in a male driven society and, therefore, industry, the reflection is vastly skewed. However, I think that is why new media is so exciting. It gives the underdog — in this case, two women wanting their time on the proverbial mic — a chance to be heard in new ways on a more publicly run platform. And hopefully it sparks a seed inside others who need or want to grab the mic for themselves.
Sara: I think for the simple reason that society is stuck on the idea that “sex sells.” Older women’s roles aren’t sexy enough and so, therefore, they are only added if necessary to move the story along. I’d like to think that it should be about the story that you want to tell, and that a good story should prevail no matter who or what age your characters are. With “After Pluto” we just want to tell this amazing story, and again, show it in a more realistic light because, in real life, the people that surround you are all types of ages, genders, and body types.
CAKE: I really enjoyed the Vlogs with the cast behind the scenes. It was especially touching to hear what moments would be most heart breaking to lose should a cast member experience an abrupt memory loss like Truman. Erasing 10 years of memories from one’s life is quite significant, but, from the writer’s perspective, seems like a treasure trove of potential plot ideas. Can you cue us in on your thoughts for upcoming episodes? Will Truman see Ian in a whole new light as she learns more about him from a new vantage point?
Lane: Of course, one of the important aspects of the show is Truman’s adjustment and, hopefully, road to recovery. But equally important is how everyone else who surrounds her reacts and adjusts (or in some cases, doesn’t), which gives us quite a bag of tricks to pull from. Where the pilot leaves off, we know Wes and Truman are becoming roommates with Ian remaining in close proximity. This will cause a not-so-surprising uproar from Jaqueline’s (Truman’s mom’s) side of the family, as Ian, who has been shut out a lot of late, now gains a more even playing field that I’m really looking forward to fleshing out. We’ll also reveal a bit of what went on during the 6 weeks between the accident and us landing in the mediation office. As for Truman and Ian, they have a long, complicated road to travel. After Truman’s accident, the whole world is in a new light. The people she knew before 2006 aren’t the same — because we all change, especially over a decade — and those she only knew after 2006 are now strangers to her, including Ian. They will both, in different ways, have to battle through a lot of other people’s opinions and perspectives to find their new truth as individuals and discover how that translates to the future of their relationship. One obstacle we can tease, and are very excited about, is: in the pilot Ian argues that his booze-fueled infidelity was a direct response to Truman actually having been the one to have feelings for someone else first…and we will meet that other person in the near future.
CAKE: I’m sure you’ve heard that there’s potential for Pluto to be upgraded back to planet status. Do you think, if Pluto becomes a planet again, you’d be willing to work such an event into a future “After Pluto” script?
Sara: For sure! It could, in a way, make our story come full circle.
CAKE: What plans do you have for the series in the future?
Lane: We did the pilot with a completely self-funded budget and while it was amazingly satisfying, that’s not something we can maintain. We are hoping to reach as many viewers as possible on YouTube while also seeking a distribution deal so we can make the rest of season one. If that path isn’t meant to be, we will switch gears to a public fundraising campaign.
Sara: Exactly what Lane said. We hope to gain enough intrigue for our story that people just have to know what happens next! And maybe that will lead to funding for the rest of the season.