Brokers is created and written by Aaron Ballard and Dano Madden, directed by Talya Klein, and produced by Aaron Ballard, Dano Madden, Talya Klein, Lauren Singerman, and Elizabeth V. Newman.
Ballard is a New York City-based actor, writer, and producer originally from South Carolina. She's performed in numerous plays, including Our Town and Lonesome West, as well as appeared in independent films and new media projects, but usually works independently. Her one-woman show about Victoria Woodhull premiered at The Women in Theatre Festival in 2016, and her award-winning short, Now, That's Cute, screened at several festivals, including the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. A SAG-AFTRA and Actors' Equity Association (AEA) member, Aaron studied acting at Rutgers University where she earned a Master of Fine Arts.
Aaron Ballard: I became inspired to write Brokers after working for a Manhattan real estate company for about a year. Like [the character] Ellen, I was pretty new to the city and needed a survival job. I found this real estate company that hired me right away, and I was god awful at it. I never made any money because I only got paid on commissions and I am not much of a wheeler dealer type so I failed. But I was introduced to a very specific, and strange world that I knew I wanted to write about.
KM: Why did you decide on a web series instead of a short film? And how did you begin to put your series together?
AB: When I got the idea for Brokers, I pretty much immediately knew I wanted it to be a web series. I knew I wanted it to be character driven and to have the real estate office be the kind of nucleus for the show and then have opportunities to see the brokers in action outside of the office. I think there is so much more of the world that can be explored, and an episodic format allows for that more than a short film does. I also just really like TV, and watching stories unfold and characters develop over several seasons is something I love.
After mulling over the idea for a few months, I went to Dano Madden, my co-writer, because he is a great playwright. I have a sketch comedy writing background so I knew I wanted someone who could help ground my jokes and ideas for characters in reality. We started meeting in bars to draft outlines. We would write episodes separately, and then exchange them and edit each other’s work. We went through a bunch of drafts, and eventually we had a final script to shoot; I never really wanted to let it go, though. We were doing rewrites on set each day, which was fun because it felt like the script was living and breathing as we filmed.
KM: Have you found much web series community support or many connections with other web series creators? Is there a sense of mutual support?
AB: Yes! That’s been really fun to meet other creators and to follow them on social media and to have them acknowledge and support what we’re doing. There are a lot of web series out there, and if we can be each other’s audience and inspiration, then I think we can help each other grow. Stareable is a site that is dedicated to being a landing page for various web series, and I appreciate the support they have given us and the community they are cultivating.
Next Level Anxiety
Lauren Maul's new web series Next Level Anxiety takes a look at contemporary social anxieties, but also incorporates a world beyond this one. A hybrid web series, Next Level Anxiety crosses the genres of sci-fi, comedy, and horror. The five-episode series will be available to watch on Vimeo and the series' website on October 30.
Next Level Anxiety is written by Katie Compa, Lauren Maul, Pushy Muldowney, Andrew Marzoni, Adriane Quinlan, Missy Wilkinson, Daniel Sears, and Jason Jude Hill; produced by MaulFace, LLC and GrumpyFilms, Inc.; and created and directed by Lauren Maul.
Maul has been making art in New York since 2011, with both a variety show (Bitchcraft) and a stand-up show featuring ladies and LGBTQ folks performing comedy as straight men (Dudes Being Dudes Being Dudes) created in 2013. In 2016, she created her production company, MaulFace, which produced the web series Amazon Reviews: The Musical (named by IndieWire as one of the best 16 web series in 2016). She performs and produces shows in New York City and discussed her new web series with me during a recent interview.
Lauren Maul: After the 2016 election I was experiencing way more anxiety than usual, so I decided to channel that anxious feeling into a creative project. I’ve always been drawn to comedy, but this time I wanted to add a dash of the terror and horror I was feeling, so I included elements from the spooky things that I enjoyed as a kid, like Goosebumps and The Twilight Zone.
Since I had such a specific vision for this series I felt like I needed to direct it. Directing is the one job that allows me to combine the empathy of a performer with the vision of a writer and the gall of a producer, and I love it! Next Level Anxiety is my first time film directing, but it definitely won’t be my last.
KM: You have an inclusive cast across gender and ethnicity; was this a conscious choice to practice inclusion on screen? How did you put your cast together?
LM: My goal as an artist is to make art more accessible -- and a big part of that is making sure my projects showcase diversity in front of and behind the camera. (Also, when I watch TV or movies that consist of an all-white cast it feels kind of ominous, like, where is everybody else? I wanted the series to feel scary, but not THAT scary.)
I have three rules for casting which are: talent, diversity, and the ability to be chill enough to share a pizza with. If a person is all three of these things, I know working with them is gonna be awesome. All the actors I hired for this series are friends and acquaintances, and, magically, were the people I pictured when I first heard the scripts read out loud. This was literally my dream cast.
KM: You've stated that your series 'uses sci-fi/comedy/horror to embody the anxieties of our current social climate'. Can you describe how you've achieved this, and address what you hope viewers will come away with after watching the entire series?
LM: Next Level Anxiety includes little nuggets of real things that scare me, like apathy, global warming, and disappearing rights, but I wanted to present those things in an entertaining way. I wanted the audience to be scared, but not the whole time. I also wanted them to laugh, but not continuously. And I wanted them to have “WTF???” moments, but not be super confused. I feel like I achieved this spooky/funny/WTF? balance because when I watched the audience receive the series at the premiere, I heard them emit a variety of gasps, laughs, and “oooooh”s.
My goal with this series is to leave the audience feeling like the world is more magical/mysterious than it is scary/terrifying.