Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Happy Cancer Chick - The Women Behind the Web Series - Part 2 of 3

As the creator of the web series and social network HomeGirl.TV, I know firsthand that producing a web series is not as easy as it appears. And I had a simple concept.  Take on a serious issue that touches millions like cancer, and your project inherits multiple layers of complexity.  Using true stories about finding light in an experience people still talk about with dread and whispers…. who dares to do that?

The women behind the Happy Cancer Chick did. Not just once but twice. Read the second installment of my 3-part Q&A with creator Linda Nieves-Powell and co-producer Jenny L. Saldaña after watching the following webisode from Season 2.

SQ:  How was producing HCC different from your video Shit Girls Say to Girls with Breast Cancer?

JLS:  Well, the obvious is that we shot that in one day over two hours, and that’s it. I think people now know that Shit Girls Say is so much deeper than it seems on the surface. I actually now show it to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients as a guide to what to expect. Producing HCC was completely different. Even for season one I had to dig down low into some parts of me I wasn't ready to revisit. With season two, I knew I was asking other women to do the same. For some it was rough. One woman told me she had filed all those feelings away until I brought them back with our interview.

SQ:  And what did each of you bring to the production of HCC?

JLS:  Linda is the brain. She came up with the concept and execution. There would be no HCC without her. She even coined the phrase. I'm the cancer expert and resource. I have a lot of connections in the cancer world so was able to get the doctor on board as well as some sponsors. I'm a good schmoozer.

LNP:  I have 15 years of experience in writing and about 10 years in directing and producing.  Although most of this experience was in theater and some film, it transfers well. 

SQ: Given how unfortunately prevalent cancer has become, a series like this could develop a major following. Yet with so much "noise" on the internet, it can be hard to break through. What are you plans for increasing the likelihood that HCC will do just that?

JLS:  Linda might better answer this, but I think that social media is our biggest friend as well as enemy. All we can do is chat it up and hope the conversation continues.

LNP:  I agree with Jenny.  The web is a hangout.  You can't predict what will happen next.  Trends come and go very quickly here.  Attentions spans are super short.   People are not themselves a hundred percent on the web.  It will take time before we see a webseries compete with an HBO show.  A long time. Maybe the web is great just to try new ideas before they hit TV. Folks are getting noticed here.  When I created this show, I didn't expect anything but to reach the women I felt would benefit from this message.  That's all.  I didn't have any great expectations.  I just always want to do a good job.  Period.

The very happy Happy Cancer Chick production team

SQ:  How have you changed and grown as a result of producing HHC?

JLS:  I've learned a lot from this process. I had never been on the production side of a series before. I've learned that, for the most part, if you ask, people will acquiesce. We got a lot of free stuff!

LNP: Oh my.  I am a tech geek and I just got geekier.  Really.  I love this stuff!  Love camera patches and hacks!  I can work a mean hack on my Canon. Learned about photography.  I try to stay on top of technology like the newest 2k or 4k cameras, the lenses, the editing software, all of that good stuff.  It helps to know these things in the event you have to step into a job or when you go to hire someone, you know exactly what you need. 

Working on Happy Cancer Chick afforded me a great experience.  I became a SAG and WGA signatory producer.  This means when I'm ready to work on the next idea, my production company, Odd Girl In Entertainment is already set up with both unions.

The more I work on productions, the more I learn about the craft of storytelling. I am writer.  My writing informs my other skills. 

Things are really opening up on the web.  If you browse YouTube and Vimeo, kids, actual teens and younger are doing amazing things on their own.  They shoot, produce and edit their own films now. It's really a new and exciting time.  

Mia Valour prepares Antonia Marrero to play cancer survivor Evelyn Reyes 
SQ: Jenny, as THE Happy Cancer Chick, do you ever hear from cancer survivors who feel pressured to "bright-side" their experience? Others have criticized "pink ribbon culture" for putting a happy face on breast cancer, arguing that it actually makes it difficult to demand a cure. What’s your take on all this?

JLS: Cancer SUCKS!! Everything about it SUCKS. It's scary, painful, and everything you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Even though I've tried to remain positive throughout my journey I've had many a blue day. I HATED talking to survivors! I felt like, "Who the hell are you? You graduated already. Of course, you're happy!" So I know that now that I'm on this end, some may feel the same about me. Every cancer journey is different and all must come to grips with how they want to deal with it. I do think that having a positive outlook makes the journey a little less 'sucky,' but you're allowed to hate every minute of every thing that's happening to you.

About pink… we have pink overload in our society to the point that it's more business than anything else. However, I have found a way to use pink to my advantage. I have a pink ribbon on every coat I own. I want to mark or brand myself as a breast cancer survivor to let others know that I’m a safe haven and will always help. Humor helped me get to the other end of the tunnel. To "graduate" and to lead the way for others. My way doesn't have to work for you. It just had to work for me.

SQ:  You know I have to ask you about Lance Armstrong….

JLS: To millions of cancer survivors – yours truly included – Lance Armstrong will always be a hero. He beat cancer three times and took that to create a wonderful organization that is bigger than him. Yes, he's a failed jock. His ego got bigger than the person, but the organization that will live long after we're gone is going to continue to help and inspire cancer patients. Livestrong inspires, educates and helps which is what we wanted to do with HCC.

Stay tuned next week for Part III of my Q & A with the fierce women behind Happy Cancer Chick. In the meantime, you can read Part I here, watch all five webisodes on YouTube and connect with the producers on Facebook. And by all means, comment and share! 

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