Katie Carpenter is the creator, as well as an actor, producer, and director, on the Atlanta-based web series, Maid to Order. We sat down with Katie to talk about the creative process, challenges, and best parts of producing your own content.
The Moment Before: How did you come up with the idea for “Maid to Order”?
Katie Carpenter: I graduated college about four years ago and I have a theatre degree – super helpful in the real world now – so I worked in a restaurant upon graduating and slowly I started building up a gig-based job where I would do all kinds of random things. On Mondays I might sell wine in Walgreens and then on Saturdays I might dress up as a princess for children’s birthday parties, literally crazy stuff. I moved to Atlanta and turned to Craig’s list for some jobs and I did them. So that’s kind of how the idea came to be. Based on my real life, really.
TMB: What is it about the series that appeals to masses?
KC: I think the biggest concept about it is the whole being a dreamer thing and living in a gig-based economy is something a ton of people my age, younger, and older can relate to. So that ingenuity, that creativity, and that hustle, I think people can relate to. Plus they’re going to laugh! It’s eccentric situations. And then something that we really tried to do that I don’t think a lot of shows and films have really shown well is Atlanta. I haven’t lived here very long, but I had a crash course in Atlanta last year when I moved to Bankhead last year. It was urban Atlanta and it was like a whole new world coming from a tiny country town. So I think we really tried to show off the culture and the life that’s here in a way that not a lot of people have. But as with any city, you get all kinds of crazy characters.
TMB: So what was your first step toward making “Maid to Order” a reality?
KC: The first step was the pilot script, so I had a meeting with one of my friends who I’d just met that year who was a fellow actress, and my boyfriend and we talked about doing a project and I told them about this idea and they thought it was cool and so I wrote a 5 or 6 page pilot script that we actually ended up shooting in November of 2015. We got everyone together, for free, for a Saturday shoot and, yeah, we made it happen.
TMB: Once you had your pilot ready, did you start showing it to people right away or did you keep it under wraps for a little while?
KC: We did a Kickstarter with a clip from the pilot and we raised some money. Kickstarter is pretty difficult without a real fan base. We raised a good amount and we also borrowed money to reach our goal. So we had a moderately successful kickstarter. We were fully funded, but it was such a difficult experience because every day I would worry about it, but I was very happy when it was over and then after that came the process of getting writers. I wrote the pilot, but wanted to run it like a real tv show with a writers’ room kind of thing and also, I realized that stretching myself too thin was something that I didn’t like to do if I could avoid it. So we got two writers, Eryk Pruitt, and Karen Felix. We got the two of them together, and we decided to have five episodes and they just took that and ran with it.
TMB: Once you had your team and your funding in place, was it difficult to stay within the budget that you set for each episode?
KC: Yeah, totally! We had some executive producers come out and help us out a little bit with our budget. But it was super hard. Things cost money. Everything costs money from food to equipment to locations. We ended up paying everyone who worked on it last season, which was pretty cool to do.
TMB: Did you release the episodes all at once, or was it staggered?
KC: We wanted to kind of mimic a tv show so we had a lofty goal of releasing the first one on June 15th and then they would be released on Wednesdays at 9 pm during the summer. The issue we found with that is editing can take longer than anticipated and even though it seemed like enough time, sometimes it wasn’t so we were crammed to the wire some days, but we did it. I would definitely choose to do it different the next time because we got a lot of really awesome reception at the beginning, but then it kind of tapered off a little bit at the end.
TMB: In terms of the length of the episodes, was there a lot of deliberation about that, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to keep them short and sweet?
KC: We definitely wanted to keep them pretty short and last season we were trying to cram a lot into a small amount of time. We did learn through analytics and all that people had even less of an attention span than we thought so I think the longest episode might have been 4-5 minutes max, but again, lessons to be learned. We actually had the idea for the same amount of episodes this season, but what we decided to do, halfway through writing it, was to double the amount of episodes, but cut in half the length to make them even shorter.
TMB: How did you make the connection with Rhavynn Drummer for her to come on as a director?
KC: It’s weird turn of events how it all happened. Her casting assistants, Morgan Landers and Michael Gillespie actually were huge fans of the show. I met Rhavynn at a workshop and a month or so later, I got called into my first audition at Tyler Perry Studios with Rhavynn and Morgan and Michael. It was great to seem them and they gave me such great energy and I actually ended up booking a role there! So it was pretty cool. After that, it was easy to reach out to her this time around. Morgan and Michael expressed lots of interest in being involved so Michael actually helped with wardrobe and Morgan actually cast it for us this season.
TMB: Are there any other guest directors we should look out for this season?
KC: Yes! Ryan Monolopolus was one of our other directors, and then another director was Tutul Rahmen. I directed one, as did Kevin Welch, and Eryk Pruitt.
TMB: Did you have open casting calls for this season?
KC: We have *spoiler alert* a couple of returning actors from last season and then there were a couple of people that we wrote roles for, but then for the 20+ other roles that we had open, we actually put it on ActorsAccess. We went SAG, so we’re a SAG web series now and listed the project as a SAG project. From there, Morgan put sides together, asked for taped submissions, and then we reviewed them and we picked the ones we liked. There were so many – it was great!
TMB: Was it a challenge to cast over 20 roles this season?
KC: Not at all because, I think, people were able to see what we did last season and they really wanted to be a part of it. It would have been much more challenging to get people in it last season. We still didn’t have too much difficulty, because we had something to show for ourselves, but especially if you’re asking people to donate their time and it doesn’t look high quality or it doesn’t look like it’s going to add to your life experience in any way, it is hard to get actors or people to believe in it. But literally everyone was super excited to be involved.
TMB: After producing, directing, acting and the other hats you’ve worn for this project, which aspect would you say you’re the most passionate about?
KC: I’m very drawn to lots of different things. I work in costume design as well as acting to help pay my bills, so that’s been really fun. But then, I think I really do like producing a lot. More than maybe some people would because of the pressure associated with it. But I think I’ve always been the type of person that enjoys getting groups together and putting puzzle pieces into place and I think that’s something I excel at and I enjoy doing. It was really cool to find so many people that were interested in being involved because then I could place them in our little family. And then we shoot and we have so much fun and everyone works all day long, but they would still leave with a smile on their face, which was rewarding and also cool! Because people are coming out to help you with your passion project, but they’re excited about it. We treated them right! Great crafty, great food – everything they needed we were there.
TMB: A lot of industry professionals will say that it’s important for actors to get out there and create their own content because there are so many people that are using different websites and apps as a platform to get their talent out there and showcase themselves. How has creating this content benefited you as an actor?
KC: I don’t think I knew the answer to this question until recently, but they say, as an actor you have an essence. Something that makes you unique, something that makes you, you. So with this whole project, comedy wasn’t a thing I really did growing up, so I kind of leapt into this new world and I realized that I’ve got a certain quirk to me that has helped me strengthen my auditions and strengthened my knowing myself and what I’m good at. Because of that, I’ve booked roles on other projects. On “House of Cards” I was kind of a quirky girl and then on “Devious Maids”, again, I was the same kind of thing. And then the Tyler Perry project that I worked on was also a similar kind of vibe that I didn’t know existed before. So I think it’s kind of cool. No one else would have cast me in this kind of role before, as ballsy as Margot is, so it’s a chance to flex your muscles and also get to know yourself in a way you might not get to, especially if you’re just reading a few lines.
TMB: Is Season Two complete?
KC: Yes! I’m happy to say we have wrapped filming.
TMB: When will it be released?
KC: We’re saying summer. June is looking like a good month, but we haven’t decided yet.
TMB: What can we expect for Margot and June in Season Two?
KC: Well I can say that there may have been a separation between the two main characters and the show takes place in two cities this season – Atlanta and Los Angeles. And we do have a couple of returning characters from last season.
TMB: What would you say to someone who is considering stepping out on faith and launching their own project?
KC: I would say, absolutely do it! But also know that you can’t do it alone. You’re going to need a strong team to support you. Also – give as much as you take, because again, if it’s your project, you’re going to have to encourage people to get involved, but also give back to them in a way that is beneficial to them. That’s what brings everyone up.