Steph’s LA Weekly Feature Series – Melinda Hill’s Romantic Encounters

This week, I featured stand-up comedian, actress and writer Melinda Hill’s awkwardly wonderful web series Romantic Encounters on My Damn Channel.  Hill and her frequent collaborator Adam Scott Franklin made three episodes of the episodic series independently and released them on Funny or Die. They then ran a kickstarter campaign to raise additional funds and ultimately had Meetinghouse Productions come on board to co-executive produce and fund the rest of the project.  Check out my LA Weekly review of the show HERE. And read my full interview with the multi-talented Melinda Hill below.  Watch Romantic Encounters HERE.

When did you first have the idea of translating stories from your stand-up into a web series?

It was just the organic next step. In stand up I was performing these scenes and playing all the characters, which later converted easily into episodes of the series. Then I teamed up with director Adam Scott Franklin and brilliant comedians like TJ Miller, Kirk Fox and Dana Gould and they took it to the next level.

It could’ve also been a movie, but I feel we found a good compromise by making a web series that looks like a movie. Adam and I are a good team because we’re both workaholics who attack the material from different angles in a complimentary yin-yang. One day we mapped out the whole series over the course of 12 hours, just moving from restaurant to restaurant every 2 hours to switch it up. By the end of the day we had our entire season.

Performing the material first gives you a distinct advantage because the material gets worked out and honed with a live audience. I have a pretty good idea of what works and what to lose and where the laughs will be before shooting it.

What are your hopes for the future of the series?

The series has brought amazing opportunities to collaborate with some really exciting people on cool projects so we’re super busy right now, but ultimately we’d love to do a TV series like Louie. I have an hour comedy special that’s ready to be shot and I’ve also just written a TV pilot and a romantic comedy screenplay I’d love to make in the next year. Would also love to do a book. So basically I just want to continue to do more of the same on bigger and better levels.

L-R: Brick Patrick and Zach Smith and Melinda Hill.

L-R: Brick Patrick and Zach Smith and Melinda Hill.

Can you tell us a little about your character Melinda in the show?  Is she strictly you? What are her main issues with finding love?

The character Melinda in the series and the stand up is an alter ego/ persona of an oblivious optimist. She really wants to connect romantically to the point of glossing over blatant red flags. The character is heightened and fictional. That said, it’s always easiest to write what you know. I’d say the kernel that resonates for me is that I grew up with a bipolar dad who fluctuated between extreme moods and consequently we moved 27 times before I was a senior in high school.That combined with the fact that I’m an optimist and just need to believe that people are truly good underneath it all sometimes makes it difficult for me to identify unacceptable behavior.  I’d say that nugget has provided a lot of comedy for the series.

What I personally love about it is that we’re not trying to make any blanket statements like “men are terrible.” The character Melinda is a deeply flawed sort of anti-hero who’s constantly getting herself into ridiculous situations as a result of her own out of control behavior i.e. drunkenly changing her facebook status to “engaged” and lying to everyone about having a fiancé, or going on a second date with a guy who yells at her for not giving handjobs on the first.

Dana Gould, Scott Shriner of Weezer & Jillian Lauren -- photo by Zach Smith

Dana Gould, Scott Shriner of Weezer & Jillian Lauren — photo by Zach Smith

What scenarios for funding production and handing distribution did you consider/try?

Initially a company wanted to finance the series but they changed execs and didn’t want to move forward with it. At that point I decided to just shoot it on my own. I raised funds through a Kickstarter and then Meetinghouse Productions came on board to help make it happen and we got to make the series we wanted with no executive interference, which was a delight.

I was absolutely blown away by the massive amount of people who supported us on the Kickstarter. We gave this production everything we had and sometimes it was hard to keep going, like when at one point it looked like we wouldn’t make the kickstarter goal or the time my iphone fell in a toilet or the time my house (which we were using as a set) caught on fire. I don’t think anything has been better for me as an artist than to stop waiting on someone to give me permission to create.

Can you tell me more about Meetinghouse and how they became involved?

Meetinghouse Productions is run by Jason Cilo. We love working with Jason and the company definitely helped us to accomplish our creative vision.  I knew them because they hired me to write/ act on a few of their TV projects: A couple pilots and “Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest.” Jason Cilo is a smart and savvy guy who I’d enjoyed working for in the past.
In my Kickstarter I was offering people producer credits if they could provide a certain amount of funding and I think that’s how the idea may have initially occurred to Jason. Meetinghouse came on board as co-executive producers after the Kickstarter was over and are also currently co-executive producing/ financing our other series that we just wrapped called “All Growz Up.”

What do you think the benefits to the web series as a storytelling form are?

It’s TV for the current ADD attention span.

Do you watch web series? If so, which ones do you like?

I love everything Maria Bamford does and I’m a big fan of  Burning LoveFirst Dates with Toby Harris, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and of course Derek Waters’s Drunk History.

What is your writing process like?

I generally write 2 hours a day, whether it’s my huffpost column or series or whatever else I’m working on. I find 2 hours can accomplish a lot and still allows me to have a life. Plus my brain is of course still writing the rest of the day, delivering me ideas as I do my errands and whatnot. During pre-production, sometimes I met with Adam, my co-producer and we’d do 8 hours of hammering stuff out. But generally I clock in for 2 hours no matter what.  If I don’t do my 2 hours I feel kind of empty.

What advice do you have for people who want to write/produce a web series — especially actors or stand-up comedians who want to create a vehicle for themselves to act in?

I’d say just do it, nothing is more gratifying! And fortune favors the brave! It will open doors for you even if the door is to the end of your career j/k. but seriously, learn how to be a twerker.

Where do you think media consumption is headed?

 A lot of people I know are just performing and watching solely on the web now. Television is great but you have more freedom to experiment and develop your voice on the web. And of course there’s a huge future in puppet shows and renaissance fairs.

What other projects are you working on?

We just shot 20 episodes of a new series called “All Growz Up” with Meetinghouse Productions featuring comedians like Maria Bamford, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jon Dore, Kyle Kinane and more.

I’m also currently doing a scripted web series I created and wrote with comedian Maria Bamford, will be performing an hour show of stand up and stories at Soho House in West Hollywood August 27th, and have a new comedy single coming out july 16 on itunes through Stand Up! Records label called “Six Ways to Bomb on America’s Got Talent.”

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