“Human Telegraphs” is a quirky female-driven webseries capturing the magic of strangers caught in unexpected intimate collisions in the big city.
Check out our Q & A with Kayla, Rachel and Fern!
Congratulations on the season! How does it feel now that it’s complete and people will get to see it soon?
Kayla: Thank you! It feels surreal and I don’t think I’ve fully processed it yet…we’ve been immersed in creating content for our social channels and festival submissions since wrapping post-production, to promote the upcoming YouTube release; it probably won’t hit me that it’s actually happening until we are sitting in the audience at our world premiere at the Big Apple Film Festival on November 5th!…I have a feeling that energy is going to be very special and I cannot wait to celebrate the release of the season with everyone in such a cool way.
Fern: Yeah, we’ve been immersed in this world for so long at every stage that it’s a delightful jolt to remember that all of these episodes are completely new to everyone else. I’ve got excited jitters thinking about how people are finally going to see it all!
How did this collaboration begin? Did you know each other before “Human Telegraphs?”
Rachel: I met Kayla and Fern during the same week but at different events. Kayla and I met at a hot yoga class in Midtown and I met Fern a few blocks away from that location at an event called, “Being Fearless in 2015.” We all had a theater background, me as a playwright, and Fern and Kayla as actors, and we eventually decided to work together.
Kayla: Yeah, whenever Rachel and I hung out, we would always end up talking about ideas for web series concepts. We were both in a place of wanting to create our own opportunities for projects, and one night we were out to dinner and decided we were going to commit to creating a series together. I think she texted Fern at that moment asking her to produce with us. And so Three Bright Lights Productions was formed and the planning began!
What inspired this story and series?
Rachel: Well, the three main characters we play, Trisha, Lily, and Margot — are heightened versions of ourselves in a lot of ways, so I had a lot of material and inspiration to work with when crafting them.
The world of “Human Telegraphs” is a heightened, bubbly, almost-cartoonish version of NYC, as are a lot of the characters, which probably speaks to my theater background, as well as the kinds of shows I watched growing up.
The show itself is really about human connection and following one’s unique path, even if it seems outlandish to others — all themes that were really prevalent for the three of us while working on the show and living in NYC.
What does it take to put on a production like this?
Fern: Teamwork, community support, and straight up grit! I honestly think that all of us being fairly new to producing, especially at this scale, helped in a strange backwards way because we didn’t entirely know what we were getting ourselves into. I am immensely proud of us for persevering through to this point!
Kayla: Blood, sweat, tears, love, a really stellar team of humans. Support from family, friends, and community…and following big dreams.
Was COVID a challenge?
Fern: We were in post-production when COVID hit, and by that time, all three of us were living in separate cities. So, we were already working remotely! It was a challenge in that all three of us and our post-production crew were putting so much energy towards processing the global and societal and personal changes going on, that the pace of post-production necessarily slowed down to accommodate.
How much of yourselves do you bring to your characters?
Rachel: We definitely brought some of the quirks that we share with our characters to the filmmaking process and amplified them by ten! We also brought our dreams, drive, and innate optimism, which each of the characters also possess, and which they often use as fuel to keep going when things get tough.
You want to “defy the traditional female character tropes,” what sparked this mission?
Rachel: I think just the experience of being women and noting the tremendous disparity between the kinds of female characters we generally see on the screen and their experiences juxtaposed against our own, as well as the experiences of women we know. We would love to see more realistic portrayals of women on the screen, and so we sought to do that with “Human Telegraphs” — in our own quirky way, of course.
Also, we realize that storytelling and having a voice is a privilege and we want to empower young girls and women by telling stories in which they feel invested, seen, and heard. Our goal is to portray women who are multifaceted and complex; who are ambitious, assertive, vulnerable, flawed, who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, who have desires beyond their appearance or relationship status, and who are …well, human.
Your characters are human messengers, which in this day and age is a bit strange given the technology, how did you settle on this as their job?
Rachel: I knew I wanted the three protagonists to be women entrepreneurs, because so much of the show is about following your dreams, and the grit it takes to keep going when your career path is unstructured. As with many artistic or entrepreneurial undertakings, there’s no logical step 1, step 2, step 3 for Trisha, Lily, and Margot that will guarantee them success. They just have to wing it a lot of times and hope that all works out in the end, and that ultimately, the freedom of pursuing a calling that’s unique to their talents and desires makes them happy, fulfilled, and (hopefully) successful!
The business idea for “Human Telegraphs” was inspired by a podcast episode I listened to one night on the subway back in 2015 probably. I can’t remember the name of the podcast, but the show was interviewing a guy who lived in NYC and worked at a local bookstore. He told the story of how a short, stocky, balding man — a complete stranger — came into the store and announced in front of everyone that he was this girl the guy working in the bookstore knew, and that she was in love with him. He was delivering the message through an app. I thought that was really interesting and what if someone’s actual job was to deliver intimate messages to strangers in the city? What if someone’s livelihood and her ability to live in the city was dependent on her ability to perform these messages and keep customers happy? And how is this any different than the actual experience of living in NYC and overhearing intimate conversations in the subway or while walking down the street, because there are so many people packed into every square mile, you really do end up in each other’s space?
So that’s how the business idea came to be!
Do you have any favorite moments from filming the show?
Fern: Our martini shot brings me so much joy! Kayla’s character bursts onto the sidewalk with a very loud exuberant declaration and runs down the sidewalk with joy. It startled every passerby and was the absolute perfect energy to end our shoot on!
Kayla: That’s my favorite moment too! Like Fern said, it was our final shot of the entire production…I was running down the street at night in the East Village yelling Margot’s lines: “I MADE IT! I MADE IT!…Margot Bonner, you’re going to be a STAR!!”…and then hearing our AD Samantha Winter yell: “THAT’S A WRAP ON HUMAN TELEGRAPHS!”, and immediately huddling into a huge hug with Rachel and Fern and the Powerpuff Girls prop blanket. That was a magical feeling.
Fern: I was definitely crying tears of joy in that huddle hug!
Do you have any funny stories from filming the season?
Fern: There’s a scene where my character is on a date at a swanky bar. I’m running lines pre-shoot with my scene partner, Jordan. Wardrobe had to take his shirt to do some last-minute ironing, so there I am, trying to focus on running lines with this beautiful ripped shirtless actor in front of me. It was like, “Focus on his eyes, Fern! His EYES!” So there’s a photo of us conversing in character with me all dolled up for the date, and him leaning casually against the bar, topless. Out of context, it definitely raised some eyebrows about exactly what genre we were shooting. The next shoot day that we had together, Jordan walks in and finds the complete opposite of a glammed up scene partner: I was dressed up in an oversized renaissance outfit, complete with a fake beard!
Kayla: One of my favorite stories from the set of “Human Telegraphs” was shooting the scene where we needed a tumbleweed to “blow” across the boardwalk in Coney Island. Usually it’s windy by the beach so we hoped we could just give it a toss for it to roll, but alas, the weather was not working in our favor that day! We came up with the idea to ask someone fishing off the pier if they would mind cutting some of their fishing line for us to use. We wrapped it around the tumbleweed so we could tug it to unravel and roll…I wanted that perfect rolling tumbleweed from the old western movies. Every time I reset the tumbleweed for a new take, I had to coil the fishing line around the tumbleweed in a yarn-ball-like fashion, and wear our gaffer’s gloves because it was a “real” tumbleweed (that we ordered off the internet to be delivered to Manhattan) with very spiky thorns. It was a very triumphant effort on everyone’s part. I am still very thankful to the fishers for letting us use their line!!…we would not have gotten our tumbleweed shot to look as cool without it.
Were there any moments that were challenging?
Fern: Oh, where do I even start. On the morning of the second shoot day, I called my boyfriend at the time—it was 2am for him, 5am for me!—crying in my Lyft on the way to set about how I didn’t know how I’d be able to get through two weeks of this! I am not great at multitasking and switching between “modes” of acting, art directing, and producing. But that’s exactly what we needed to be able to do constantly through the entire shoot. Like on our very first shoot day: I had my phone in one hand calling our SAG-AFTRA representative to clarify contracts for background actors, a bag of art supplies in my left hand so that I could use any spare moment to keep making props, all while sitting in a chair getting hair and makeup done for a scene I was in later!
Kayla: Yes, many challenging moments. One funny one that comes to mind was we had a hoverboard that I really wanted one of our characters, Kale, to be able to ride across the screen, and the battery kept dying on us, but we were losing daylight for the shot so we were up against the clock to shoot the scene! On top of that, it was Halloween day in real life, so there were trick or treaters that kept walking into frame on the sidewalk…we had a lot of obstacles shooting that scene, but we finally charged the hoverboard long enough to get the shot before the sun went down! And no trick or treaters were run-over in the making.
What are you very excited for viewers to see?
Kayla: The “world of Human Telegraphs” as a whole…I am excited for people to be introduced to the imaginary world we created and hope they enjoy it, feel a part of it, and have some laughs.
Fern: Plus you know how you’ll quote lines from TV shows randomly in daily life? Like “Football is LIFE!” from Ted Lasso? Well, I’ll sometimes spout a line from “Human Telegraphs,” forgetting that this world I’ve been immersed in is not something anyone else has seen. So I’m looking forward to people in my life finally getting the context!
Any word on a season 2?
Rachel: Here’s hoping! We would love to transition the show to 30-minute episodes on a major streaming platform, so fingers crossed!
What’s up next for you?
Kayla: Releasing “Human Telegraphs” on our YouTube channel and celebrating on the festival circuit; being as present as possible during our release these next couple months…we’ve journeyed so far to get to this point and been so involved in every step of the process, starting with shooting our pilot episode on a shoestring budget in 2017. It’s been a reflective time, feeling grateful for the adventure and realizing this incredible point we have gotten to with “Human Telegraphs;” I’m taking in being here and now in this magical moment.
Fern: We’re taking everything one magical step at a time!
Is there anything else you’d like to add about “Human Telegraphs?”
Kayla: If you are looking for a fun new show to binge, join us on our YouTube channel and “subscribe” for updates. We plan to host live remote events during the release of seven more episodes starting in November, and to share more stories of creating the show with our audience. It would be awesome to see you there.