“I Can’t Think Straight”: Transforming a film into a web series:

An Interview with Shamim Sarif & Hanan Kattan
By J. Lynn Stapleton

As a lesbian in a small Canadian city, there isn’t much in the way of good lesbian-oriented films available locally on video, and even less via streaming sources (like Netflix) online. Over the years, I’ve learned to become more particular about what I want to watch and spend my money on.

The first time I saw a trailer for Shamim Sarif and Hanan Kattan’s film. “I Can’t Think Straight” I was hooked. It has a cultural aspect that are as much characters of the film as the people themselves. While the different cultures, Arab, Christian, South Asian, Muslim are a part of the movie, the characters manage to turn expectations around and challenge their senses of self, exploring who they are, who their families think they are, and who they love. It’s a beautiful love story of not giving up on who you fall in love with. Leyla is a quiet woman who works for her father’s life insurance and writes fiction on the side, but when she meets Tala, a spirited Palestinian woman, something clicks with them and it develops into something much more. Now, after a successful film, Shamim and Hanan are developing a web series based on the film.

Hanan and Shamim outside the Oslo Opera House. Enlightenment Productions. 2011.

LS: You’ve shown “I Can’t Think Straight” at film festivals around the world and it has won an audience award for Best Fiction Feature at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The reviews I’ve read have been good. What inspired you to now develop that film to a web series?

We were overwhelmed by the response to the movie. By that, I mean that daily we were getting emails from people saying it had changed their lives. The festival audiences loved it. So I think the support was there. But from a story perspective, there is a lot to work with on the ongoing journey for Tala and Leyla and their families. I like the idea of finding out more about how their stand for integrity affects their family members.

Based on the amazing support and daily e-mails from fans sharing how both our films The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight have made a difference to their lives and how they would like to see a continuation; encouraged us to explore this further. After not so positive encounters for making a TV show, we decided to instead explore the web series digital format to have more creative freedom to develop the type of work that we are passionate about versus what the TV Networks feel will sell advertising for them in a formulaic way.

LS: You recently put out a survey to fans to get an idea of support for doing this webseries and willingness to help fund good programming. What were some of the most surprising answers you received?

Most surprising to me was how much people were willing to help sponsor and spread the word, and how understanding they are that artistic integrity needs support. That, and some of the suggestions for a new Tala 🙂

How both our Films have made such a difference to so many women whether feeling more at ease with themselves as a result of the films and the books and how many have decided to come out as a result of watching I Can’t Think Straight and so many more stories of life-changing events. It was humbling really.

LS: While there can be greater financial backing with support from television networks/channels, there is often the trade-off of losing creative control, especially for non-traditional love stories. What were some of the challenges you faced in this area?

Oh we had a merry time trying to prep the series for a producer who had leverage at HBO. The direction went darker and darker, to becoming a show about two damaged people who hurt and abuse each other but still are in love. We had a problem with that and it’s not the story we want to put out there. Everyone has their issues and stresses but I like to focus more on how they can be overcome, and that what makes up more human. It could be a show but it’s not our show.

Shamim & I have walked away from deals before that do not resonnate with us. We want to focus on the projects that we are passionate about. Life is too precious to spend years making a movie and putting so much energy for something that is not a passion driven Project that we relieve in. So going the mainstream route for funding would have meant creating a series and a story that we do not wish to focus on. Hopefully with the support from fans, we can create the stories and characters with a vision that we are both passionate about

LS: The story of Tala and Leyla is a compelling one of two women of different backgrounds, falling in love amidst different familial, societal, and cultural expectations. It is obviously important to you to maintain your vision of this story. Taking that vision to a web series format presents its own challenges; deciding how to fund it, the number of episodes to go with, and figuring out length of the episodes. How do you adapt your successful film into a web series?

I ask Hanan to figure it out! Seriously, on the creative side we wanted a series on the web because of the creative freedom not to be restricted to a set structure or time limit. Of course, we will decide that but it’s based on what works for the story ongoing.

The story is very closet o our heart as it is loosely based on our story. We had enough dramas anda ll sorts of good and challenging 15 years since we have been together and since we had our two boys that it could create many many series. But of course when creating stories, one has to have some adjustments to make the flow work and that is Shamim’s department to first create great content and then to direct and to make it come to life. As for the number of episodes, that will depend on the fundraising and whether we are able to create a whole series or not

LS: There will be cast changes with the web series as Lisa Ray, though supportive of this venture, is unable to reprise her role as Tala. How will you look at casting a new Tala to fit with Sheetal’s Leyla?

It’s crucial of course. The best production in the world can’t help if the relationship is not believable. The script goes a long way but we will be really careful in casting to create a good chemistry and having a good, sensitive actor makes the difference. Lisa is a tough act to follow but I am confident we can do it and find someone to make the role of Tala her own.

We did a lot of auditons to find the right Tala and Leyla for the film and I am sure we will find the right Tala for the web series. But that will only start once the funding is in place. Plus my wife great choices in cast and her amazing directing ability will mean a wonderful selection of cast for the series.

LS: With a web series, you will also have time to develop some more familial interactions with the characters. What are some particular story ideas you would like to explore in this?

You know, I think the parents who have issues would be interesting to explore – their own restrictions and boundaries and how they get pushed. Someone who steps outside the limits you’ve prescribed can push you to think or feel differently, sometimes in an inspired way, sometimes not. So I think Leyla’s mother for instance, might be more latently open to thinking about her own marriage as a result of her daughter’s stand.

Yes, very much so. The idea is to develop the story further within the time limit that we have

LS: Without needing to go into too much detail, how much of I Can’t Think Straight is autobiographical for you and your family?

Quite a bit. 🙂 Culturally there a similarities, though my family is South African Indian for 2 generations. And the story line is obviously compressed and more dramatically arced, but it’s quite close. Hard to find actresses stunning enough to play us, but we managed…

Very much so, except Shamim did NOT have a girlfriend in the interim and I have 5 and not 4 engagements but I had broken off the last one before going out with Shamim. The rest is more or less based on our story. Actually if anything Shamim toned it down as she felt most people would not relieve the reality.

LS: As a fan (and supporter) of various web series, I’ve noticed that they seem to be free to audiences (YouTube), subscription/crowd-sourced (Venice the Series, Anyone But Me), advertising/branded funding (Koldcast arhive of web series shows), or some combination of each. For the ‘I Can’t Think Straight’ web series, why did you decide to go with crowd-sourcing route?

Funding models have changed fast in the past few years. The traditional high budgets for TV and film are not as often recouped, so I think of crowd-funding as a throwback to Renaissance-style patronage, except anyone can be part of making a creation happen, not just the Medicis 🙂

We were looking for a model where the fans would be part of the creation of the series. We might look at corporate sponsorships if they do not mean a compromise in the creative freedom to create the show we wish to create. And we want to develop TV quality content and story telling

LS: Independent and up-and-coming musicians have been featured on several different web-series and have brought people to both the series and musicians. Do you have any musicians you’d like to work with on this web series?

Leonie Casanova is the obvious answer, but I look forward to exploring other talented singer-songwriters as well.

Leonie Casanova who is an amazing human being, supporter of our work and an incredible talent will be acting in the series and performing songs.

LS: You’ve also been working on other projects, inluding adapting Shamim’s highly acclaimed novel, ‘Despite the Falling Snow’ for the screen, and writing, directing, producing ‘The House of Tomorrow’, a documentary about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that looks towards the future and finding similarities to build upon – that people can help frame their futures. What can you tell me about those projects?

Hanan convinced me I could shoot a feature documentary in 7 days, and I somehow fell for it. It was manic and insane but wonderful and I am very proud of this film and the women who made it happen, not least my wife. Despite is a very special project for me – I love that story and it will be quite an epic film of love and betrayal.

‘The House of Tomorrow’ is just completed and we are now taking it to market. The DVD we hope will be ready in time for the holidays. As for Despite the Falling Snow, we are also working on this Project for 2012 and depending on funding, we will look to go into production then

Enlightenment Productions

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Kyler England: Creating music with an Electric Hum

Interview by J. Lynn Stapleton

These days, I tend to get my interest in new music by word of mouth through local friends and social media contacts, as well as finding songs and artists that I like that show up in television or film. It was through the latter, that I became a fan of Kyler England’s, since her music started appearing in television shows that I watched, though at the time – to me – she was a relative unknown. That has since been rectified, and I’ve become very interested in her career. She’s got a new album coming out, called An Electric Hum, which is a little different in some respects to her previous albums. Recently, I asked her to do an interview and she gladly obliged. This is what happened.

Kyler England. An Electric Hum, 2011.

LS: You’ve had a successful career so far with six solo albums, and two full-length albums with The Rescues “Let Loose the Horses” and “Crazy Ever After” with fellow musicians Adrianne Gonzalez, Gabriel Mann and Rob Giles. You’ve had your solo music appear in shows such as ‘Guiding Light’, ‘Army Wives’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy, ‘One Tree Hill‘ amongst others, and the successful Emmy-winning web series, VENICE, as well as having your song “Lay It On Me” as part of the American Idols LIVE Tour 2010.
As a fan, I, and many others, first heard your music through the daytime serial, ‘Guiding Light’ as quite a number of your songs from “Simple Machine” were used in strategic moments of the show – so much that in listening to a particular song, a scene or two from the show is directly tied with it, in particular ‘Bells and Whistles’ and ‘Clean Slate’. As a matter of fact, because of hearing your music on ‘Guiding Light’, I went to iTunes and bought some of your albums (‘A Flower Grows in Stone’, ‘If the World Would Just End’, Live Wire Volume 2: The Official Bootleg/The Green Room Sessions’ and ‘Simple Machine’. I know in discussions on the ‘Big Purple Dreams’ board (a GL fanboard) while the show was on and since the show ended, there were talks of people seeking out your concert venues to support your music. What was that experience like for you?

KE: It was a really fun experience playing a concert in say Atlanta and having Guiding Light fans requesting songs they heard on the show like “Clean Slate” and “Bells and Whistles” and then hearing them sing along! And that happened all along my tour around the country. Many people are saying TV is the new radio and while I’m not sure TV will replace radio entirely in terms of exposure for new artists but it’s certainly giving radio a run for it’s money!

LS: Your song, “Bells and Whistles” was used in the second season of Crystal Chappell’s web series, VENICE. Will we be able to hear more in season 3 (filming this fall) and her other series The Grove (filming in the early new year)?

KE: I sure hope so! Would love for my music to continue to be used in Venice. There’s such a great community of fans around that show. I hadn’t heard about The Grove yet, would love to be a part of that as well, will get on it!

LS: You’ve been pretty busy touring with The Rescues for the new album Let Loose The Horses, and doing a new video, “Can’t Stand the Rain” which has a fun and unique style to it. Now you also have your solo tour coming up for Electric Hum coming up with six upcoming tour dates announced for the east coast, starting in late September (ed note: I have a ticket for the Boston show in October). How do you find the energy of the tours, sharing the music you’ve worked on?

KE: The energy of playing songs live is so different than the energy of being in the studio and writing. The later is a very introverted and reflective process. You cocoon yourself up creatively so that you can transform your ideas into something beautiful. Playing live is almost the exact opposite energy, it’s extroverted, it’s an opening up kind of energy. I’ve been working on this album all year long so I anticipate it being really rewarding to finally share these songs with people.

LS: What inspired you to start this new solo album?

KE: When the album started I didn’t even realize it, it was only in retrospect that I knew an album had begun back in January when one afternoon while I was driving home, the angle of the light hit me in just such a way that memories and emotions started flooding in and lyrics and melody were close behind. By the time I got home that day 20 minutes later, I already had the first verse lyrics and music for “Eye Of Your Storm.” That was the first song I wrote for the album. The songs just kept on coming after that.

LS: The sounds of your songs [from previous albums] have a bit of pop, some alternative beats and a some country sounds. With this new album – Electric Hum – you’ve explored and incorporated more electronica tones and sounds to them like “Take These Things to Heart”. [It actually reminds me of another favourite musician of mine, Imogen Heap, in style]. What inspired you to explore and incorporate these sounds for the new album?

KE: I’ve been doing collaborations with DJs on the side for the past couple of years (you can find them on iTunes under my name and my dance alter ego name, Relyk). With the very first one I was taken with how different my voice sounds in an electronica setting. You know how when you put blue next to orange, both colors look different and somehow more vibrant? That’s how I feel about my voice when it’s wrapped up in synth sounds, it takes on a whole different color and emotion and it inspired me a lot for this record. I wrote almost the entire record on keys and to drum loops, some of which ended up on the record.

But this isn’t a 100% electronica record. It’s still a singer-songwriter record but with a lot of electronica elements creating tension with the organic ones. I love tension between opposites. So there’s acoustic guitar and piano mixed with programmed drums and synth sounds. It’s a really fun sonic palette.

LS: “Battle Cry” is a lovely anthem song of love fighting to come ahead and living. There’s a powerful message in the lyrics:

Where there’s shadow, there is light / Love is in the battle cry / Even in the darkest night, there is shadow, there is light / Hold your heart up to the fire / Walk across the razor wire / Even in the cruelest fight / Love is in the battle cry / Love is in the battle cry / Huh ho, huh ho

I’ve been reading It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating A Life Worth Living [edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller], and the lyrics rang true to the experiences I was reading about (and to some degree experienced personally in junior high school, less in high school). What was the story behind this song as you were writing it, if there was one?

KE: Well without getting too personal, I had some upheaval in some friendships in the past year. The kind that makes you question and decide the kind of person you are and who you want to be. It’s funny, it was the last song I wrote for the record and I had written the entire song except for the title line and it was such a cathartic process but it still felt like something was missing. Then on the way to the studio on the day I was going to record the song I was singing through it in the car and the line “love is in the battle cry” came to me and instantly I knew that was the point of the whole song and even of the struggles I’d been through. It can mean many things. You only fight with the people you love so try to remember that when you’re in a bad place in a relationship. If there wasn’t a little love left you’d just walk away. The only things worth fighting for are love and the ones/things you love and believe in. When someone strikes at you, come back at them with love. I love it that you hear it as an anthem because I do too. I aspire to live by that idea more.

LS: How do you find the process of solo songwriting versus writing songs with/for The Rescues?

KE: With The Rescues there are 4 cooks in the kitchen so as you can imagine there are a ton of ideas flying around. The hardest thing about that is coming to an agreement on which idea to rally around. Writing solo it’s only my ideas which sometimes come fast and furious and other times I have to be patient and give them time to arrive, but I always know when I’ve hit on the idea that matters and could be a great song. I never have to convince myself :). So each way of writing has its pros and cons, it’s nice to be able to collaborate and work solo!

LS: I’m really enjoying many of the behind the scenes photographs, videos and music that you’ve been sharing via PledgeMusic as you work towards completing the album. Why did you decide to use PledgeMusic as a venue to promote your music as well as to fund the new album?

KE: Pledge, and other platforms like it, are really revolutionary. They connect artists directly with the people who listen at home, sing their songs in the shower and during rush hour, come to live shows with their friends, tweet about their favorite artists etc. The fundraising aspect is only half of the power of Pledge, which is really important because for instance it’s helping me fund my album and to be able to make a better album than I would have had I financed it solely by myself. But the other really powerful aspect of Pledge is the community around an artist that it fosters and taps into. Fans get to interact directly with artists they love and also get exclusive items they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. For me this part was especially important because my last solo record was 2008 so my Pledge campaign not only funded my record but it re-energized my fan base.

LS: There are many different levels of support that fans can contribute to the process from the purchase of the CD and a personally autographed copy of the CD all the way up to a ‘ST:Voyager’ Seven of Nine costume photo and a ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Scene Reenactment. That’s quite a range of things and as a sci-fi fan those last ones, while out of *my* price range, would be something fun to see. How did that all come about?

KE: I brainstormed one afternoon with some friends and some people from Pledge. I didn’t count on anyone pledging on the Seven of Nine costume, it was kind of a joke and a nod to the fact that I sometimes write nerdy astrophysics influenced lyrics. But there are still a few days left so maybe someone will pledge on it…that would be fun! As far as the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ reenactment, no explanation needed, BSG rules 🙂

LS: You released the single “Breakeven” as a free mp3 for people who sign up for your newsletter. The song is beautiful and very moving. Will that be on the album?

KE: For licensing reasons I decided not to put the cover on the album, which has 10 originals that I wrote by myself on it. But that cover will continue to be a free download for all new list sign-ups. “Breakeven” by The Script is really a perfect pop song in my mind…a profound and meaningful lyric coupled with a beautiful hooky melody…that’s what I aspire to in my writing!

LS: Now, as a cat person myself (I got my girl, Maggie at the age of 10 months old, from the SPCA – that was 10 years ago now), I see that part of the proceeds of the album will go to Kitten Rescue in LA, a no-kill shelter for cats and kittens. Why did you pick that particular charity to help support?

KE: Kitten Rescue is the organization in LA that I adopted my two dear feline friends, Sly and Eve, from. They do a really great job with adoptions and maintaining a network of people who foster kittens and cats until they can be adopted so they don’t have to be euthanized. I’m so grateful to Kitten Rescue and the foster mom that took care of Sly and Eve till the day I met and couldn’t resist adopting them. They’re a brother and sister pair and are black cats which I learned from Kitten Rescue are the last to be adopted because of superstition. I have a lot of admiration for people who work with animals because you have to say goodbye to furry friends you’ve made pretty often, hopefully most of the time because they’re going to their forever home.

Thank you for doing the interview!

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Guiding Light – The End of a Legacy

With Guiding Light ending it’s 72 year run as broadcast’s longest running daytime serial drama (radio January 25, 1937 – June 29, 1956) then television (June 30, 1956 – September 18, 2009), there have been a few tributes made to the show. A few. Certainly not enough to mark that historic legacy. Never again will you see a drama broadcast that ever marks that length of time.

Aside from the soap opera print magazines, which have been covering some of the ending of Guiding Light for a while, I was beyond saddened that the ‘leading’ soap magazine, Soap Opera Digest did not at least have a cover to mark that ending. On top of that, the Daytime Emmy Awards, aired August 30th, was slated to have a Tribute to Guiding Light, created by Michael Fairman [of The Advocate & On Air On Soaps blog]. Due to time constrictions (as the show was running over time), the length of the tribute was cut back. Fortunately, Fairman posted the entirety of the Tribute to his own soap blog and was covered by other online venues such as We Love Soaps, Daytime Confidential as well as posted around Twitter. [Michael Fairman’s GL Tribute – complete version.

On Sunday (13 September 2009), CBS Morning Show had a short segment on Guiding Light’s ending, but in my opinion it was very poorly executed, pardon the pun. I did, however, like the tribute send off that CBS’s 60 Minutes segment on GL, which was primarily filmed during the taping of the Bauer July 4th Barbeque (back in early June 2009). That I felt was deserving of the longest running show.

On Monday (14th September 2009), CNN ran a segment, Guding Light Ends Run. As much as I love them for doing this – and that a few mainstream news venues are (New York Times article and cable news networks) covering GL’s departure from the airwaves, I feel it’s too little, too late. More of this coverage should have been done back in April 2009, when CBS first announced the cancellation of the show – and kept on it.

As the show comes to it’s last days on air, there is a sadness that looms over not only the fans but the cast and crew as well. Many of the cast have been with the show for a long time. Tina Sloan, who has the most longevity of twenty-six years, Grant Aleksander, Beth Chamberlin, Frank Dicoupolis also have put in more than twenty years. That’s not including long-standing cast members of ten years and more. Crew members who’ve been with the show for many, many years. It’s a family unit when casts and crew work for that long together. Some, like Crystal Chappell (Days of Our Lives & Venice), Robert Newman (broadway) and Tina Sloan (Changing Shoes theatre show) have moved onto other projects. Crystal has some of her colleagues also involved in her Venice webseries project. But for majority, it’s the last time they’ll work together – unless by some miracle, a project comes along to pick up GL in some format or other.

The actors have begun their mourning process in that the show wrapped filming on the 11th August, however, for some it won’t begin until it goes off air. For the fans as well, as they think to tune in on Monday, 21 September and the longest running drama is no longer there.

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An Interesting Post on Coming Out in Daytime Television

An online friend of mine, ZenobiaDTC posted a very interesting blog the other day on characters coming out on daytime television with regards to how rare this topic has been broached over the many years of soap operas on tv. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Posted with permission:

Coming Out
September 9th, 2009

Something amazing happened last Friday. Something that has happened less than twenty times in all of daytime serial drama history. A regular, on-canvas character, uttered those rarest of words on a soap. No, I’m not talking about “I’m going upstairs to get my skis” or “wait, I can’t do that, we’re practically related!” No, I’m talking about those three special little words… “I am” followed by “gay” or “lesbian.”

By my admittedly not exhaustive but pretty darn dogged count, there have been fifteen characters who have said those infamous words and been on canvas for any regular length of time. There’s a list at the end of this post. Feel free to add to it. Five lesbians, ten gay men. Please note what I am saying: five lesbians, ten gay men. (Anyone wanting to hear more about the gender disparity in those numbers, stay tuned for a post later this week.)

To that number we can add one more, Guiding Light’s Doris Wolfe. Let’s re-live that moment for a second. It is after all, a moment worth celebrating!

Continue blog post

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Guiding Light, Otalia: The Journey to the End, and My Thoughts on It

These are some of the thought I’ve been having as ‘Guiding Light’ winds down with less than a month of airtime left.

As odd as it might seem, I remain optimistic about all things GL. Sure there’s been some WTF moments, but it’s also the journey to get there. And perhaps it’s I, as a long term soap viewer, that has me more forgiving of some plot points (and there’s been doozies) in daytime tv, for which GL has not been exempt. It’s why we stick around, there’s always pay-off in some form. 

Would I love a kiss amongst other expressions of love for Otalia? Hells bells, yes! Will I be disappointed if there’s not, also yes. But is it the end of the world? No. I get why many people are upset, I do. As a lesbian, sure I love to see accurate expressions of our love being given airtime on a daytime serial. However in an historical context, look at the sheer amount of screentime this story has had, depicting two women (both of whom’s pasts were only seen as being involved with men), who were rivals to start, then grudging friends, colleagues, to raising Olivia’s daughter together and gradually falling in love with each other. 

We’ve seen so much more of that groundbreaking, quietly subversive family unit for a year and a half. That’s no small measure on an ensemble show that runs 5 shows a week, year round, as opposed to about 22 eps per season. That’s more than we ever got from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘ER’, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘South of Nowhere’ or even ‘The L Word (esp last two seasons). These are also prime time shows.

Could they have done more with Otalia? Yes. And more than likely had either planned and/or filmed more but it didn’t get past Standards and Practices. And without CBS to go to bat for them (and why would they esp after their cancellation date?), GL’s writers/producers were essentially cut out of that process and had to adapt/rewrite scenes. We were never going to see the kind of love scenes out of “The L Word” (or fanfiction). As much as I would love it, we were unlikely to get any of the tame morning after scenes such as Dinah & Shayne or Remy & Christina. I wish we could have. There may have been a better chance if GL had been airing in the evening, but no one knows for sure.

And so, with all this verboseness on my behalf, I’m going to sit back and watch to see what happens with our lovely duo of Otalia, esp with the chemistry of Crystal and Jessica on my screen, along with all the other storylines. I’ll wait to see what Crystal and Jessica bring us as their suprise on Sept 19th, and enjoy Venice when it graces the web. At this point I will tune into ‘Days of Our Lives’ to see what CC brings to Carly 2.0. 🙂 

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Crystal Chappell confirmed as Gina in Venice The Series

This is news that many have been waiting to hear. Mimi Torchin broke the news in this week’s The Soapgeist column at TVGuide Canada, EXCLUSIVE BREAKING SUDS FLASH, confirming that indeed Crystal Chappell will be starring as Gina in her webseries, Venice the Series. See previous post about Venice the Series, and what it’s all about.

Among the cast so far:
Crystal Chappell as Gina, Jessica Leccia as Ani, Hillary B. Smith as Guya (Gina’s aunt), Jordan Clark as The Colonel (Gina’s father), Daniel Cosgrove as Owen (Gina’s brother), Elizabeth Keener as Lara.

Social Media links reposted (from blog post last week): The trio have created their own Facebook Venice Page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter account.

The production team: Crystal Chappell, Kimmy Turrisi and Hope Royaltey have been tweeting about this around lunchtime EDT today.


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Venice the Series

Crystal Chappell is a formidable actress and entrepreneur. One of Guiding Light’s powerhouse cast has turned an unfortunate circumstance – the cancellation of said show into a positive. Guiding Light had been given notice on 1st April 2009 by CBS that they were being cancelled, with the final air date being on 18th September. The cast, fans, production team and owners [Proctor & Gamble/Telenext; not CBS] fought a valiant fight to get the series moved to a cable network, but without success. So while her current show is working towards its end, Ms Chappell has sought work elsewhere, after the conclusion of taping their final shows (which were done on 11th August, 2009), returning to a soap opera which jump-started her career: Days of Our Lives as Carly Manning. But this won’t be the Carly of fifteen years ago. As Crystal has said in interviews and online, this will be Carly 2.0, much more aware, a bit more sarcastic, and something quite different to that of which she left.

In addition to this, Crystal Chappell, along with friends and partners, Kim Turrisi and Hope Royalty have had in mind for quite some time, and they’ve recently been developing a web series, called Venice. The story looks at different families and their relationships. One in particular is Gina, the lead, who is an out lesbian, she’s an interior designer, a go-getter, successful business woman. She’s had her heart broken a few times. Along with this have been a few other characters that have been integrated as the months have gone on. The trio of women have developed a website: http://venicetheseries.com, and for the past couple months have been putting up clues (about once a week), as to what the series is about, or additions to the cast. Thus far, they’ve added two of Crystal’s Guiding Light co-stars, Jessica Leccia ([GL’s Natalia Rivera] to play the role of Ani), and Jordan Clark ([GL’s Billy Lewis] to play the role of Gina’s father), and long time friend, Hillary B. Smith (Nora, of the soap, One Life to Live) to play the role of Gina’s aunt, Gaya. The Big Purple Dreams forum has created a subgroup for BPD – Venice The Series, and there is also a separate fan forum for the webseries: Venice The Series.

The trio have created their own Facebook Venice Page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter account.

The first entry on their YouTube channel, Crystal and Kimmy answer fan questions about the series. The first webisode is scheduled for late October/early November 09.

As well for fan interaction they’re giving the fans the opportunity to design the logo for Venice, and a chance to sumbit music and more contests.

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My Thoughts on Guiding Light and Current Storylines

In the past month or so, I’ve been curiously wondering how they were going to write Natalia out of the Guiding Light for the duration of Jessica Leccia’s maternity leave – which she wanted to cut short to optimize the remainder of GL’s time on CBS. I have to say, that while I’ve been taking peaks at the spoiler boards to see what was coming up, I have been pretty steadfastly avoiding the speculation thread section on the Big Purple Dreams board, as there has been more negativity abound.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t voice their opinions or that the GLBT community hasn’t been burned tremendously in the past by bad storytelling that has been cliched and trite at times. And I’m very much aware that there are large numbers of people that have come to Guiding Light, specifically for the Otalia storyline and haven’t been interested in the series as a whole, or have never been (and may never be) fans of soap operas. I don’t think everyone should or would go into this with rose coloured glasses on. But we do sometimes need to take a break. Look at things from a different angle. To this date, the writers and performers at Guiding Light haven’t led us any further astray than your typical soap opera fashion.

It is NOT Ellen Wheeler’s or Jill Lorie Hurst’s responsibility to re-write the misdeeds of every other television show or movie out there that has featured a same-sex love story and failed [in people’s eyes]. It is also not their responsibility to show every single aspect of a same-sex love story. It’s not every person’s story, though it is some. It is an ensemble show, not just the Otalia show. Great relationships in soap operas are told over long periods of time. The Bill & Lizzie storyline has only gotten to the really happy stage after two years. Now, I realise with the timing of GL’s cancellation on broadcast television it means that we don’t have all that luxury with Otalia (though it’s been building for more than a year already).

What it *IS*, is a love story between two women; two previously very identified heterosexual women, who as friends slowly began to fall in love with each other, and began to figure out what that means for each other and to themselves. They’ve had to learn to deal with and live with their pasts, and up until recently (April ’09), they have done that very much independently from each other. While Olivia externalizes her feelings, Natalia internalized them, so we did get to see more from Olivia’s perspective. Which sometimes made it hard to understand where Natalia was coming from. Long time viewers had ten years of seeing Olivia and the way she dealt with things. Even newer audiences could see that. Natalia only came on the scene two and a bit years ago, without any real background except she and her son were coming to Springfield to find her old love and son’s father, Nicky/Gus. We didn’t (and still don’t) know much about Natalia’s past other than the fact that she is Catholic. Presumeably from a strict hispanic Catholic background and she got pregnant when she was sixteen years old. And at the time (nineteen years ago), probably had no family support, not many friends to draw upon, and had to try to raise Rafe and support them on very little money all on her own. And more than likely was ridiculed and ostracized by her own Church. That’s a lot to put on a sixteen year old. And so she internalized a lot. Even Rafe was probably unaware of how much his own mother has dealt with while he was growing up.

When the rumour broke about a pregnancy storyline, and it was assumed to be Natalia, a flurry arose on the BPD board with people getting extremely mad that GL was going down this road with the Otalia relationship. And why must yet another lesbian story be relagated to motherhood, and thusly reduce the chances of love scenes being played out. I had to admit, personally, that I was floored by this pregnancy. But only briefly. In seeing (over the past week) how it’s being played out, I truly believe it’s a red herring, that is, something thrown in so you miss the big picture. One, I don’t believe it’s Natalia that is actually pregnant, that it is something else entirely. There are clues being thrown around left, right and centre, if people were looking for them. The OPT test is to test ovulation, not an actual pregnancy test. The fact that even if it HAD been an EPT (early pregnancy test), if ya stick it in your purse, or say leave it too long, you will get a false positive result. 🙂 The vials of blood at the hospital were not labelled. Big clue to a mix-up happening. No other questions like: when was her last period or similar. Other symptoms that could easily be something else. So, whilst Nat takes off to try to get a grip on what she believes at the moment (a pregnancy), it does give 4 weeks of time off for Jessica to have her baby. And Lord knows she needs it. I love Jessica Leccia in her commitment to the show (working up to two weeks before she gave birth) but heavens above, she looked uncomfortable, bloated, and sore. And yes, for the time being, that suited the storyline.

I think in some ways Natalia has reverted to feelings she had when she was sixteen and pregnant. And thinking she’s going to lose Olivia now like she lost Nicky/Gus then. Different circumstances, but in her head, she’s probably there. And she’s terrified. She’s got the realized love of her life, finally, and there’s this big thing that she thinks is going to threaten that. And since, as far as she knows, she is pregnant, she needs to sort things out in her head. If Olivia’s around, she can’t do that. She’d love to be able to, but she reverts to what she used to – internalizing, and unfortunately, running without giving people, namely Olivia, the benefit of the doubt. And she has people in her life who are feeding off her guilt: her own son, Rafe, her ex-fiance, Frank, and her priest, Father Ray and they’re putting it back on her. Outside of Olivia, Natalia has very few friends of her own that we’ve seen (Blake Marler is the most recent), that are supportive, of her and of her relationship with Olivia.

Think of it this way, just as Natalia is going off-screen for a while, Jessica Leccia will be back in front of the screen (at least from the taping stage) next week, July 7th. As they are about 4 weeks taping ahead, we won’t see her on our screens until late July/early Aug, we still have to wait some. But I’m looking forward to what Olivia’s story will be.

On another note, relating to the ensemble cast and the writing. Jill Lorie Hurst is knocking the scenes out of the park, whether they be full of angst or sadness, or full of humour, it’s been wonderful. Sometimes the humour is quiet and subtle, other times blatant and downright hilarious. I can’t think of anyone who’s been ‘phoning in’ their scenes. They’re having fun when and where they can, and making the best of an untenable situation. I really do enjoy the ensemble aspect of the cast. I heart them all for that.

To me, the writers are bringing things all together. The families, the drama and comedy are being interwoven in ways many soaps have rarely done without messing things up. Watching the Bauer Independence Day was a lot of fun, despite some of the characters going through some heavy sadness (Olivia, Phillip, Shayne, Reva, etc.). Phillip’s speech towards then end left me with tears in my eyes. The references to Bertie Bauer, one of the original characters, was perfect. Drawing parallels to past and present. And things being set up for the end of the line (on CBS broadcast television). As much as I dread the idea of the show ending, I’m geared up for what they’re going to show us. The future is not written in stone, but imbedded into our hearts and minds.

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GL Ladies Get Twittered

Guiding Light Ladies Get Twittered
By J. Lynn Stapleton

If you haven’t been bitten by the Twitterbug, you should. A little over a month ago (20th May), Crystal Chappell (Olivia) joined Twitter as a means to reach out to her fans and let them know what was happening and to interact with her fans. She has tweeted from location shoots such as the the day she was tweeting from filming the July 4th Bauer BBQ storyline, as well as several other times. As of this last weekend in June, Crystal had reached over 4000 followers. She’s also been making her fans aware of an up-coming web series she’s developing with Kim Turrisi.

Fellow cast members have also since joined the Twitter experience: Tina Sloan (Lillian Raines), Beth Chamberlin (Beth Raines), and Elizabeth Keifer (Blake Marler).

And for a bit of fun, there’s some internal GL character twitters:
Emma Spencer (@ESpencer007)
Olivia Spencer (@oliviaspencer)
Natalia Rivera (@TheRealNatalia)
Mayor Doris Wolfe (@MayorDorisWolfe)
Blake Marler (@blakemarler)
Dinah Marler (@dinahmarler)
Banquet Greg (@banquetgreg)

Just remember to keep in mind, be respectful.

Crystal Chappell (@crystalchappell / http://twitter.com/crystalchappell
Tina Sloan (@tinasloan/ http://twitter.com/tinasloan
Beth Chamberlin (@beth_chamberlin / http://twitter.com/beth_chamberlin
Ezlizabeth Keifer (@eikcik / http://twitter.com/eikcik
J. Lynn Stapleton

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Big Purple Dreams Reaches 4000

This is an article I wrote last week and submitted to a magazine, but haven’t heard whether or not they accepted it. But anyway, I’m going to post it here now.

Big Purple Dreams Reaches 4000
J. Lynn Stapleton

10 May, 2009

Sunday evening, the Big Purple Dreams – the Otalia Fan Forum reached 4000 members. Considering that the BPD was only opened January 10th, 2009, this is a tremendous accomplishment for a fandom that focuses not only on the developing relationship of two women, Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera, falling in love. The BPD fan forum also celebrates the overall stories of the show, Guiding Light. The show’s remarkable turn around within the past year has made for plenty of highs and lows, and has been an absolute joy to watch. The turn of the show to focus on family, relationships, redemption has made this show must-see-tv. The return of the show to telling well-written, character-driven stories is paying off, despite the April 1st cancellation notice by CBS. It is with great effort and hope within the fandom of Guiding Light that the show will find a new home elsewhere.

The extent to which the Big Purple Dreams fan forum has grown could not have come about without the dedicated persistence and talent at those behind the storylines at Guiding Light: Ellen Wheeler, Executive Producer, Jill Lorie Hurst, Co-Head-Writer, Proctor & Gamble, and TeleNext, and last but certainly not least, Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia, the cast and crew of Guiding Light.

I had the pleasure to speak with April Grant (Destini) via email to ask her what prompted her decision to start the Big Purple Dreams fan forum, where it’s come from and where it is going.

Q: Destini, you’ve been been asked this question before in previous interviews. However, with an increasingly broader fanbase joining the Otalia fan forum who may not already know, what initially made you come up with the idea to start the Big Purple Dreams fan forum?

A: The initial idea, as hard as this may be to believe, was for Mel and I to create a space where we could simply talk about the show with a few others we knew were watching. We had been doing that and a live pbp on the board of another fandom for a few months and it seemed time. I had already created the youtube channel, mainly out of a selfish need to watch their clips over and over. That is how it all started. The youtube channel birthed the site and the name sprouted out of my head because the New Years Eve episode made such an impression on me. It still does.

Q: This is not so much a question but rather a statement. There were several original members of the board who also expressed an interest in Otalia and who quite quickly jumped on board to help make this Big Purple Dreams fan forum happen. They also deserve an equal amount of support and praise for helping to create such a warm, comfortable presence online. As a leader of this Fan forum, you do get a lot of credit for that. I would also like to thank them for their continued support of the board.

A: That is so very true. We have numerous people who jumped on board right away and many who have stepped up since then from Anita, Marsha and Christi to Jess, our newest mod and Marla working on the Otalia Wikipedia page. Beyond that, we are a member-driven board. If I have become their voice then I cannot think of a better group of people to represent nor could I be more proud, honoured and humbled to be able to do so.

Q: There’s a quote from the film, A Field of Dreams, which goes, “If you build it, they will come.” I think this is very apt for the Big Purple Dreams fan forum. When you started this board, did you ever anticipate the amazing growth that the BPD has seen over the past four months?

A: Not once, no. I didn’t know if soap fans were ready for this. Hell, I didn’t even know if GLBT fans were ready for a story that truly was being told beyond labels and some I fear are still not. But for me this is what I as an activist, journalist and media consultant have been praying for and striving towards my whole career. We may not have known that this would expand beyond our initial small living room but the energy the members bring to the board really have not altered that feel. It’s just a larger living room! For many, me included, this is a life altering storyline. Seeing ourselves reflected for the very first time was bound to have an impact. I’m just glad that BPD can be here as a gathering place and a collective voice.

Q: It is so heartening to have such a welcoming positive community on the board. There’s only one other that I’ve come across (an small email list community which I’ve been part of for 15 years). Have you ever been a part of such powerful experience before?

A: I was a part of the Xena fandom from the beginning. I even met my partner through the Xena Campfire Girls list many moons ago. That fandom, too, was a very powerful experience, as was the Voyager fandom. But to answer your question, no I have never seen anything like Big Purple Dreams. The energy of the mods and admins combined with that of our members and the people from GL has created something I’m not sure that anyone has ever seen before. I am more proud of that than I can articulate.

The fact that the BPD has in fact been such a large supporter of Guiding Light’s efforts to find a new home on another network has been noticed by the powers that be amongst the cast and crew, production offices, Proctor and Gamble, and TeleNext. Members are writing letters and postcards in record numbers, calling into the Guiding Light customer response lines. We know that Proctor and Gamble are actively working on finding a home for Guiding Light.

Q: With 4000 members already, this community has grown by leaps and bounds in such a short time in unprecedented numbers. I’m being optimistic here in saying this, but when that happens and they find a new home, what do you hope to see happen with the BPD, the podcasts, etc? What do you envision for the Big Purple Dreams community in the coming months/years?

A: I have never doubted that PGP/Telenext was looking for a new home for Guiding Light. We are proud and humbled that our efforts have been noticed. I am only too happy and thrilled that we, as an active fanbase, can be a small part of that. I hope that our passion for the show can spread and bring in a legion of new fans.

I have been working on getting our portal site up and running. It will be different from BPD but still the same feel and energy. I would like to see that site expand, see the board expand and see the podcasts continue with the ability to interview a wide range of people from the GL creative team. I’d like to see our members creative efforts expand as well.

On a personal level I hope to be involved on some level in promoting GL through my efforts and those of BPD etc. This is the most gratifying fandom, board and group of people I have ever had the privilege to know. I hope to always stay connected to them.

Thank you kindly, Destini, for the interview, and I hope we can do something similar and greater when the Big Purple Dreams reaches 5000 and beyond.

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