You might remember an exclusive sneak peek to a hilarious new web series that we brought to you in 2018. IndigNation is the name of a very clever comedy dreamt up by sisters and creative duo Melissa and Marian Harkness. Melissa stars in the web series alongside real-life couple Lyssa Mandel and Philip Casale and the trio of characters go about trying their best to create a new nation after the U.S. presidential election of 2016. Unhappy with America's choice, these three very different personalities attempt to move ahead with their lives in the most perfect environment possible.
Whether you're a comedy fan or a web series creator in the making, we're sure that you're going to love learning about how this web series came to be. Please enjoy this exclusive interview!
TheTalko (TT): Was the idea for IndigNation a joint effort and how did the planning come about?
Melissa Harkness (MEH): I worked with Lyssa at a restaurant in Los Angeles and we wanted to do something together so we met up with her boyfriend, Phil and we were all just kind of talking and spitballing about ideas and we were all shocked about Trump, this was last year. I’d met up with some friends the night before and so I mentioned that they had talked about starting a revolution and starting their own country. We were like, “Oh, that’s a great idea for a show” and then Phil said, “We could call it IndigNation” and we were all thought, okay, this is actually really great. So we started thinking about ideas like how would they come up with their name, how would they come up with how they would run this, that or the other. So that’s how the idea was born and then I wrote the episodes after brainstorming a little bit more with them. And then I called Marian after the initial meeting and she said, “yeah, this is something that we have to produce.” We’ve been producing stuff together for six or seven years.”
TT: Based on the trailer, the cast seems like the perfect recipe for comedic disaster. How did you decide on Philip Casale and Lyssa Mandel for the two other main characters?
MEH: So we all sort of came up with our own separate characters. They [Phil and Lyssa] are both actors as well so we just asked who do you want to play, what do you want it to be… what commentary do you want to make - that kind of thing.
TT: What else can you tell us about Philip and Lyssa that makes them characters to watch?
MEH: Well, Lyssa has done sort of everything and knows a lot about all things spiritual.
Marian Harkness (MAH): She very much mimics her character in that aspect.
MEH: Right, I would write a line and she would say, no, she should do this because of this. She would read the script and tell me, no, but what about this? She knows about the Shipibo tribe and all these crazy things that I didn’t know about.
MAH: Right but I also think, and Melissa, I think you’ll back me up here, that Lyssa and Phil, something that really shines through in the series especially is that they have a great rapport.
MEH: They do.
MAH: They are an actual couple and they have this funny way about them that instantly kind of shines through when they’re bickering. It’s like an old married couple because they literally are a couple. It’s funny. It’s very rare to get that so quickly because obviously, this came about last year. Melissa wrote the episodes and everything came about within a couple of months. It came about within a couple of months. So to get that connection so quickly is so tough. We were lucky.
MEH: They were cracking us too with that stuff on set. It was really funny.
TT: Melissa, you write the episodes and then everyone has input on edits?
MEH: Yeah, everyone has input in the creation of it. We would brainstorm the name of the episodes and I would write the episodes from that. When we got to set… if something’s funnier at the moment, I can recognize that’s funny and do it.
MAH: And you and I went through them before and punched out stuff.
MEH: Yeah, Marian and I punched up the jokes together.
MAH: Because you don’t want so much improv. Everyone thinks it’s funny but it’s not that funny. Those 3 a.m. things that you think are so hilarious, they’re not.
MEH: The problem is that, we’ve all had some improv experience but we’re not at the level of like, somebody like Steve Carell, someone who has done it for 10 years. None of us have that kind of experience so I don’t like to leave it all up to improv.
TT: Melissa, is your personality similar to your character, the rich wine-loving housewife in any way? What makes you similar and different?
MEH: I would say we’re not very similar at all. I’m trying to think if there is any similarity.
MAH: Your love of dogs.
MEH: Yeah! We both love dogs! That’s the similarity, there it is.
TT: I noticed that in the trailer.
MEH: Yeah, that dog is great! She’s my friend’s dog. Her name is Madeline. I really wanted a good window to make a commentary on this type of person, this wealthy person who seems to have lost touch with reality. I thought the only way to really make that commentary is to have that person there. She also solves the problem of… well, it would actually be really expensive to start your own nation. The money has to come from somewhere and the land has to come from somewhere. We can have this person who… you know, this person who the other characters think, Oh, we found this person and she’s sort of drunk so we think we’re going to be able to control her and then obviously, she surprises them to some extent. Well, I’m giving away stuff but yeah… I’m not similar to her at all but I think there’s this tendency in Hollywood to cast you into characters that you’re just the same as and I don’t always like to do that. I like to play people that are different. The love of dogs is a similar thing. I don’t even like wine. I actually don’t drink. The stuff I’m drinking is diet cran-pomegranate which I highly recommend. It’s really good!
TT: Same question for Philip and Lyssa and their characters.
MEH: Lyssa is very similar in that she is very spiritual and she was concerned with being a real person and not making fun of people who are into all that stuff. She likes to dabble with tarot cards and crystals. That would be a big similarity. She’s much more in touch with reality than the character she created but she does want to be very respectful of everyone’s beliefs.
MAH: Phil, his character kind of comes off a little “boob-like” in the sense that he got fired quickly from this political campaign and Phil’s not like that, he has a great head on his shoulders. All of these characters are kind of caricature-like and that is just to make the show funny. So he’s definitely not that way but he’s funny and his character’s pretty funny. They both find the irony in things.
MEH: We wanted him to be representative of the dilettante sort of, of politics. The person who reads one article and then thinks they know it all. His character is a former political aide who thinks “I can start my own nation.”
TT: How did you come up with the character profiles for the three Bewenorians?
MEH: That was mainly just the three of us brainstorming about what we wanted to say about people. So Lyssa wanted to be the activist and Phil was the one who sort of dabbled in politics and I was representative of the wealthy Republican side who had somehow shown up at a Democratic political rally, who knows why probably because she heard it was a party.
MAH: She’s kind of misplaced. We wanted Phil to be the neutral one, Lyssa is very free love, very much the liberal side of it. And Melissa’s character is very much what we think of Republicans now. We were trying to show all sides of the puzzle and hopefully, that comes through in the show.
MEH: It is interesting because we started brainstorming on it pretty early in Trump’s presidency and as time went on, I realized that my character, Eleanor’s becoming more and more realistic in some senses because some Republicans have even become disillusioned and unhappy with him. So the idea that a Republican or a wealthy person would start their own nation is not so out of the box.
TT: Marian and Melissa, can you share with our readers some details about making a web-series that people probably don’t know about/take into consideration?
MAH: It always seems like ‘this will take X amount of money’ and it always takes so much more money than you think and time and preparation. A big issue for us was the location. The series has six episodes and even that isn’t that many episodes but it takes time to get it right so to save money and stay on budget, we borrowed a friend’s house on the east side of L.A. The neighborhood is just noisy and we didn’t factor that in. So a lot of times, we would have to wait an hour for a party to stop.
MEH: Oh yeah. Literally, everything you can think of that could happen in a neighborhood happened. Somebody was running a jackhammer and our poor sound guy was just in hell.
MAH: We did it for two weekends and of course, each weekend someone was having their quinceanera one day and then another person let their dogs and then another day they decided to listen to loud rap music. But once you’ve committed to that location, you can’t leave because they’re supposed to have started this nation in this space. We would have re-shoot everything. We did consider it, seriously, a couple of times because we just couldn’t handle the noise but we just sort of worked with the noise in a lot of ways. Paying crew is another thing. You need friends to help but even with friends, we threw them money because they were giving up other jobs to come and help us. It’s tough to say ‘Hey, can you do this for free?’ especially when we’re all in our thirties. It’s just expensive.
MEH: I would say that the other big thing that a lot of filmmakers forget is to leave enough in your budget, I would say around 50% you should leave for post. Editing is huge.
MAH: It’s crucial.
MEH: It can make or break your series. I think a lot of people forget it.
TT: Do you have any advice for our readers who are thinking about creating a web-series but might not know where to begin?
MAH: Stay simple.
MEH: My playwright professor at the University of California, Riverside always said to me that when you’re starting out the stuff you have to write is stuff that you can put on. So all of my stuff involved like a couch and a chair and that was the play. So stay simple. Don’t write a car chase scene in your web-series. It’s probably not going to happen. Don’t write an explosion… good luck with that. So just try to keep it simple and I just really encourage people to do it. This really is the day and age of making your own content and getting it out there.
MAH: But I also think that if you have strong characters and a good plot, you don’t need a lot to make it watchable. We’ve seen that in shows like Workaholics and The Office.
MEH: And Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae before she got Insecure. It’s her presence and her strength of character that makes that. That’s what shines through.
MAH: Right. It’s not the explosions.
To be continued...
Readers, our interview with these talented sisters was so in-depth and detailed that we had to halve the transcript! We will be bringing Part II to you very soon so stay tuned! In the meantime, be sure to check out IndigNation's Instagram or Twitter account. Better yet, just jump right into the series and enjoy joining the IndigNation family!