MAKE YOUR SHOW: theCreators
Filmmakers Kelsey Rauber and Christina Raia

Kelsey Rauber is a New York-based screenwriter/producer and co-Owner of CongestedCat Productions. Kelsey's writing has won multiple awards, including the first place prize in the New York City Screenwriting Festival (Comedy division) for her feature screenplay "About a Donkey". Following her win, Kelsey was inspired to pursue writing more seriously and this led to her co-creating the hit web series "Kelsey". The series became a critical and viral success leading to a successful crowdfunding campaign, where 120% of the original funding goal was raised. Under the CongestedCat umbrella, Kelsey has gone on to write and produce the award-winning shorts "We Had Plans" and "Not Our Living Room" as well as the pilot "Two Gays and a Girl." Her most recent short "Affliction" has won several awards, including Best Screenplay. Currently, Kelsey is working on two new feature scripts that explore her new found love for horror. You can find more about Kelsey at congestedcat.com and follow her on all platforms @kelseyshows. 

Christina Raia is a New York City based Writer/Director and the Founder of CongestedCat Productions. She focuses on character-driven narrative projects that explore social issues through humor and horror. Her work, consisting of over a dozen short films, a web series, and two feature films, has screened at film festivals around the world with coverage on press outlets such as Indiewire and BuzzFeed.

 

Through a desire to support other filmmakers, she teaches workshops on crowdfunding and creative distribution methods, empowering creators to build their audience and get their work made and seen.

  

christinaraia.com - congestedcat.com

@Craia9 /@CongestedCat 

John:

Kelsey and Christina, it's very nice to meet both of you. Thanks for talking to us.

 

Jason Cicci:

Welcome and thank you for spending some time with us.  We really want to inspire people to continue to create even though they might be feeling a little discouraged so we thought you two would be the perfect people to chat with as you're movers and shakers and constantly making things and figuring out how to make things.  And, of course, Christina with you working at Seed and Spark, we might ask a little bit about how crowdfunding happens now and how it might be steered.

 

John:

How did you two meet?

 

Christina:

We met in college in a TV writing class a little over 10 years ago.  We just kind of connected.  We recognized talent in each other and kind of a similar sense of humor.  We both had to pitch on our very first day.  You would be given prompts and then get five minutes to come up with a pitch and I really liked what Kelsey pitched.  I remember saying that to her and I think she liked that I liked her idea.

 

Kelsey:

Christina killed at that class.  It was day one, but it was very clear that you were going to continue to be the best of the class.  So to have that person be like, “Oh, I really liked your pitch”, I was like, “Oh, me?”.

 

Jason Cicci:

Christina, had you had classes in writing before?

 

Christina:
Just an intro to screenwriting class.  I had been writing since I was a kid and I started screenwriting very early but wasn't writing them the right way.  I didn't know the format or anything. I was just writing kind of like as if it were a novel, but in my mind, it was a screenplay. It had always been there and I really love TV. I really loved the idea of show running and wanting to learn about that more so I took this class and it feels like fate, you know, that Kelsey and I met.  She wasn't studying film at that point. She wasn't really studying writing, but she was just such a good writer.  The more we got into actual assignments where we had to read each other's pages and write spec scripts, I realized she was a brilliant writer. And so we became friends, but we also recognized talent in each other and stayed in touch.  It wasn't until 2012 that I presented the idea of us working together with her as writer and me as director, and that was on our web series.  It had always been in the air that we were planning to do something together.

 

Kelsey:
The first time we worked together, actually I was her location scout.

 

Christina:
That's right. She worked at this museum that was a really good location for a short that I was making and I was like, “Hey, can you do a cameo?.”

 

Kelsey:
The acting didn't stick, but…

 

Jason:

So that first project you worked on, was that “Kelsey’?

 

Christina:

Yeah.

 

Jason:

Tell us how that came about, what the impetus was and why Kelsey didn't play Kelsey.

 

Kelsey:

You've clearly never seen me act.

 

Jason:

That's the short answer.

 

Kelsey:

Exactly.  You know, it's funny ‘cause it's been a while now.  We've done so much work since, it feels so far away, even (though) it wasn't that long ago.  We were catching up over lunch and I was newly single and ready to mingle and the dating world is out of control.  I guess it was the one story. The pilot episode is really what, what got this whole web series going.  It was an encounter with a woman who just didn't know how to kiss.  I'd been single.  I was out of a relationship and didn't really know what was weird or not.  I just remember her sucking my face and it hurt so bad, and I kept thinking, “I think this is okay? I don't know.”  So, I told Christina about that story and we laughed about it.  (She) emailed me once (she was) home, you was like, “you should write that”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina:
I was in pre-production for my first feature, but I had really started watching a lot of web series. I recently started watching “Broad City” and there really weren't many yet.  It was kind of when people were just starting to talk about them and I felt like (it was) an avenue to kind of explore TV, TV writing, build an audience, but I wasn't really thinking about what it would be.  My mind wasn't there yet because I was working on a feature but I also had always wanted to make a show about a group of friends in New York city that looked like a group of friends in New York City, not just a bunch of white people because that's what we see on TV.  Obviously “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” and just this constant repetitive group of friends that look the same way and have a certain class status. And my upbringing, I grew up mixed race.  All of my friends were these different kinds of people and queer people and that is New York to me.  So that was sort of percolating in my mind and then Kelsey told me this story and I was like, “this is really funny. This should be a short.”  Then I thought about web series and I was like, “what if you wrote this as sort of a look into the world, like New York City dating, but also we can kind of mix it with this friend idea?”  Originally Kelsey wrote a few versions of it that were talking to the computer. That was the first iteration, because that felt like maybe the easiest way, if she's just sort of video diarying.  I'm glad we didn't end up going that direction because that did sort of become a go-to with web series when a lot of people would make them.  So, we ended up going in a very different direction, which was Kelsey telling this story to her friends over and over. And what you see is different sections of the story based on who she's talking to and their reactions. And also kind of like the different way she emphasizes different parts of it based on who she's talking to, which sort of goes back to the thing that I found funny about Kelsey's story.  It was not this story in and of itself, but it was her telling it that I found really funny. And that was what I really wanted her to get at in the writing.

 

Kelsey:           

Finally, we're getting to the end, we had all the scripts or we have a lot of them and Christina's like, “you need to name your character”.  At first, her name was Charisma. That's the name I always really liked.  And (then) I was like, “what if it was just Christina?”  All Christina did is look at me.  She was like, “What if it's just Kelsey?”

Jason:

But the impetus for the show wasn't out of any sort of, “Let's make a show so that I can show my work!” or “Let's make a show to feature me as an actor!”.  It just sort of happened organically.

 

The work that we've done creatively has definitely helped me get to the career I have right now. 

- Kelsey Rauber

Christina:

We love storytelling.  We're writers and felt like (it was) a way to tell the story we wanted to tell, explore different kinds of representation that we wanted to explore and to have fun and collaborate.  At that particular time where it was “Broad City” was really low quality.  I feel like they were kind of the beginning of that wave and they were just recording stuff on their phones with okay audio. That was sort of the standard of what a web series could be.  I want(ed) to be above that. I want(ed) to go into the cinematic realm, but make it on $5,000, which is what we made it on.  It was 10 episodes, 72 minutes, total and $5,000.   We could do the indie run and gun thing that we do with shorts, but still kind of be above the current standard.

 

Jason:
Was there an educational component? Did you learn much on your feet doing that show?

 

Christina:

Oh yeah. It was a real crash course in how to schedule a shoot by location and also by the actors you need and trying to balance those two things and getting coverage.  When we would have six hours in this restaurant, three actors in this scene and want to get coverage.  We did a lot of fun camera work because depending on where we were in the story, the camera angle would change. The lens would change. There was a lot of complicated things we built into it that I'm glad we did, but it was a learning experience.  I learned a lot about working with actors.  They were all wonderful. They were all different. They had different energies. Um, and some of them were really great at like improvising and really would try and do that a lot and some not at all. So, it's was balancing those things. Also, for me as a director, always trying to stay true to Kelsey's words as the writer.  So, it was just a whole learning experience overall, I would say.

John:

That's so interesting because we're working primarily with actors and actors are told to make their own work. And so how do you do that? You're an actor. Well now you have to become a writer. You have to become a director, you have to become a producer, you have to become all these things or find somebody else that can do those things. The impetus obviously usually is to further their career as an actor, not further their career as a writer, not further their career as a director.  I'm sure you both have your primary goal, what you want to accomplish in your career.  Did you have a plan when you started making your own work for how that would help you accomplish your goal?

Christina:

It’s hard to break in.  There is a path that you can follow. You can go to Los Angeles, you can try and get into the studio system as an assistant of an assistant or a writer's assistant, or just grabbing coffee for various people and work your way up.  Then eventually maybe get you this ability to maybe be like a director, which I want to do.  But I also am very interested in TV and show running.  In the system, you have to pick one and then get to a point and then do other things, but you have to follow one track.  But who gets to really work their way up is built on bias.   It is straight, white men. That's who it's for.  Occasionally other people get to break in through a whole bunch of hustling and connections and years and years and years.  In that time, so much of their talent is given to other things that maybe they don't get credit for and maybe just gets shelved.  That just wasn't appealing to me. That didn't make sense to me.  I was in school just as the internet was becoming a way to find people who could be an audience. I was being taught one thing but seeing something very different…which is that you can find pockets of people online who really want to see what you want to make, and you can make content through them and for them ultimately.  I can build an audience and get some momentum behind my work and just keep growing, building a portfolio of work that is my voice and is my vision.  Then maybe one day, make a lateral move.  But not wait to be picked, which is what I think you're taught to do.  I find (that) so much more creativley filling than trying to work my way up in a system that just wasn't built for me.

 

John:  

Kelsey, for you, what was your primary goal coming out of school?  What was that career path that you saw?  It sounded like you didn't consider yourself a writer, you didn't have a lot of experiences as a writer, but you were a great writer.  Did you think coming out of school that you wanted to follow the path of a writer primarily?

 

Kelsey:

No.  I feel like if we hadn't met, I really don't know what I would be doing right now.  I would definitely be writing because I have always been writing.  it's a creative outlet - I think that's how most creative people feel - it's like their therapy.  I grew up in Switzerland where the arts are, at least when I grew up, kind of like looked down on. They're like, “You're never going to make money.  That's a fun hobby.”  So, my idea of a career was definitely to make money and to be creative on the side.  I think that has changed a lot throughout the years, but it's still hard.  It's hard to fully commit to this thing that brings me so much joy and just take a leap of faith.  That's not something I am very comfortable doing.  That's why it's great to have a collective.  For me, it's obviously Christina and our writing partner Ryan who continue to make me be better and ask for more.  I am creative director at a mental health nonprofit, and the work that we've done creatively has definitely helped me get to the career I have right now.

John:

That's great.  You're talking about the value of artistic expression in and of itself, not a career path necessarily.  It sounds like you'd say that there's lots of other benefits to making your own work anyway.  What would you say would be the biggest benefits for an actor who might think “that's not what I want to get involved in”?  How could you change their minds?

 

Christina:

I imagine being an actor is very much about the passion.  About playing characters and embodying a role. Um, and so one thing that I would say is like, I don't do it all on my own.  I have collaborators who are experts in specific areas. And I couldn't do it without Kelsey. We work very closely together.  Making your own work doesn't mean that you have to wear all the hats and do it all and learn all these skills that are not what you're passionate about. It means that you make connections with people who want to fill those roles and want to tell the same kind of stories that you do.  I'm not an actor, but as someone who is of mixed ethnicities, I don't look like the background that I actually am.  My mother is Indo Trinidadian and my father is Italian.  Most people think that I'm Latinx or Persian or something in that realm.  There's nothing casting me except for commercials looking for ethnically ambiguous people.  What would I do if I was an actor and how could I possibly get cast in the kind of roles that I wanted to play if I didn't make my own stuff?  Creating your own work gives you autonomy to tell the stories and play the roles that you want to play. And, and again, it doesn't have to be you doing everything from the ground up. It could start with just like, this is the role that I want to play. Uh, the story that it exists in can be someone else's, let me find a writer who has a story where I can exist in the way that I want to exist in it. Or let me find a director who wants to bring this script that I have to life because it challenges them in the ways that they want to be challenged as a director right now. But I think for me, everyone who works on a film or a series or any kind of creative project in this space should have a sense of ownership because we're all putting our talent into it.  That's how I like to work where everyone kind of puts a piece of themselves. It's not just mine, it's ours. And I think that as an actor, you have that ability to grow that from the ground up by making your own work.

 

Jason:
Absolutely. One component of our mission to help actors in normal times is assisting them in crowdfunding.  As you work at Seed and Spark, I wanted ask how Seed and Spark's mission has tried to morph or to address things that are going on right now in regard to about asking people for money at a time when it's a little precarious?

Creating your own work gives you autonomy to tell the stories and play the roles that you want to play. And, and again, it doesn't have to be you doing everything from the ground up.

- Christina Raia

Christina:

Honestly, it's hard.  Crowd funding has slowed down significantly, understandably so.  So a lot of projects that maybe you plan to make this year, you just have to prioritize paying your bills. We're not shooting anything in 2020 because we just don't feel like we could do it safely with our limited budgets. For me, what I'm seeing and what we're kind of advising filmmakers to do in the crowdfunding space is think about if you're going to crowdfund focus on paying people. So, it's like you're creating jobs for people that are out of work right now.  The main reason why anyone should be asking for money is to give people a living wage right now, if they can.  Also, if you're making anything that's like timely or responsive to the moment, that we're seeing quite a bit. And I think that, that it makes sense.  There's a way that you can navigate that space, have a story that maybe isn't responsive to the moment, but could be - maybe that's a direction to go in. But honestly, I don't recommend anyone crowdfund just because it's just, the timing is too hard. (There is) an idea that we've seen a couple of people do: let's say that you are out of work. You're a freelancer. You can't really make a living right now and you have creative ideas that you want to explore (but) you need to pay your rent.  What if you ran a campaign that is an artist residency for yourself?  So, instead of going away somewhere to concentrate on writing, you're staying in your apartment and you're getting your rent paid for so you don't have to take on jobs to pay that and worry about that.  You can use this time to focus on your art.  It's like asking people to fund that fellowship for yourself.  We've seen a few people do that and (it) actually has been very effective.

 

Jason:

I love that.  Creativity coming to aid in the ultimate creative way.  I want to ask you both about Indie Works - how it came to be and how you guys worked together on building the community that you have?

 

 

 

Christina:

I have a tendency to go to Kelsey with ideas - things that I want to do.  Then she just sort of jumps on board with me.

 

Kelsey:

Usually they're already where they need to be and I'm like, “what do you need me to do? I'm there.”

 

Jason:

You're there to say yes, do it.

 

Kelsey:

Exactly.

 

Jason:

That's important.

 

Christina:

Yeah. 2013 was a very big year for us.  We made a feature, a web series, and we started IndieWorks because I had a short that was screening at a lot of local festivals. I found that some of them were wonderful, but a lot of them were just charging a lot of the door. You're basically asking crew and friends and family to come watch these films. Some of them had a two-hour lineup of a bunch of films mashed together and then you would get on the stage and it would just be like an assembly line of, “what inspired you to make this?”  “Great, sit down.”  It wasn't like an experience.  I really missed the feeling of being in school, where you really talked about the nuances of the craft and the intentions behind each individual piece. I really loved hearing from my peers and connecting with my peers.  So, we do a screening every month (where) we screen just five films.  There's room to really talk about them and it's free to attend.  Cast and crew can come, they don't have to pay to see the movie they worked on.  It’s also a networking event because it's at a bar.  It has continued to be a space for local filmmakers to come and meet each other and see what their peers are working on.  It's a great way for us to connect with other filmmakers and actors, especially.  A lot of our recent projects we've cast through actors we've seen in films that we screened at Indie Works.  Once COVID passes, we would definitely like to get back to it.

 

John:

You guys are doing some really amazing things and are very thoughtful about it as well. it was very nice to meet both of you.

Jason:

The things you've said hopefully will be inspiring to people to keep creating. Thanks so much!

Kelsey and Christina with the administrative creators of IndieWorks