Daytime soap opera fans know Lauralee Bell as an actress from her many years playing Christine on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. But the daughter of the legendary Bill and Lee Philip Bell has also proven to be an accomplished producer and director as well over the past few years. Her first web series, FAMILY DINNER, won rave reviews and multiple Indie Soap Award nominations. She's now produced, written and directed a new show, JUST OFF RODEO, about three fashion forward twenty something's who work together in a boutique just off the infamous Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Fans can watch the show and then buy clothes or jewelry the characters wore in the episode, and have them delivered in a matter of days to their homes, all one one web page.
In this new exclusive interview, Bell talks with WE LOVE SOAPS TV about her web projects, her father, and what's ahead in her career.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I've done research on a soap character in the past and stumbled upon a Wikipedia page which has the name of the writer who created the character. So many times I see the name Bill Bell. He made such a huge impact with historical characters on many of the soaps.
Lauralee Bell: When I was growing up [in Chicago], I would hide thermometers around the house that were set to 100 or a little bit over so I could fake being sick and stay home and sit with my father. My favorite part of the day was watching YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS with him. Then he would do his call to California about what was right and wasn't right with the show. I felt I learned so much about that from him.
He would sometimes redo the scenes in the character's voices like, "I wanted her to do this!" He would say it in the character's voice like Katherine Chancellor and Victor Newman. It was so funny. But it was riveting. I would think, "This is so much better than school!"
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Let's talk about your new show, JUST OFF RODEO. It seems like this idea was a long time coming.
Lauralee Bell: Forever ago. If it had gone several years ago before the internet, there would have been a big hiccup in the plan. TV networks said, "We like this idea, but how do you marry together a TV show with a clothing line and a manufacturing company? We don't know how to do that. Thank you very much but go figure it out." It's almost as if the time was necessary. With the internet now and the way people are watching TV, the time is almost perfect for this concept.
I'm a huge fan of television so I was thinking if this were to ever go a little bit further with all the characters I intend to bring in, it would have the dynamic of the makeover. So many women love to watch the awards show to see how the celebrities show up on the red carpet. I want to do that with the girls every episode, and have them look completely different. And to then add this fun element like an AMERICAN IDOL, where instead of voting after the show, people are racing to purchase the item from the episode and have it in their home in three days.
As a fan of the show, I would want to get excited for each one, see what the item was, and how the characters were developing. We're trying to make it so simple so they can see the frame of the show and see the item right underneath and know that is the exact same thing the girl is wearing. It's not something that looks like it or takes you to another fashion site where you have to search for it. It's simple.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I remember even as a kid people who wrote into magazines asking the editors what someone was wearing on a TV show. It was more complicated then because you would had to mail a letter [laughs]. Then you had to hope they answered it and by then it's months later.
Lauralee Bell: Right. And by then the season is over. What they had on the show was filmed six months prior. Or it's crazy expensive. So we're trying to bring price lines that are reality and we brought in an existing company for Episode 3. Jessica Elliot has an existing jewelry line so we wanted to show that if you have an existing line and make one piece that's exclusive for JUST OFF RODEO, we can mention them in the episode and have everyone wear it. And when you do your PR for that episode, that designer gets press. It's a new way of incorporating advertisers.
We went to Jessica Elliot who was one of our great jewelry people when I had my clothing store. She sold jewelry for us then and would always come up with great ideas. I told her we needed a low price point, something colorful, and I always liked wood or some sort of earthy element so she came back with these wood, colorful bracelets. I've worn two at a time and it looks super cool. It's just kind of a colorful, summer episode. With each one we'll try to bring something completely different from the last.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How many episodes are you planning on making?
Lauralee Bell: We've been in talks with some people recently about them ordering some for distribution. So we've been holding a bit to see if that's going to happen. I would think we'll make a minimum of three a year. I'd like to make eight and if they order eight we'll go crazy.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What would your father say about JUST OFF RODEO?
Lauralee Bell: I wrote the first script for this in 1999 and I have it red-lined. He's known for his legendary red felt pen. He went through the whole thing and edited it. He thought it was a great idea, but he envisioned it as just a show, not thinking about the whole clothing thing. It was my brother that I talked to in 2000, because he's so business minded, who said it could be huge. He said it was a great idea and that I didn't have to be the first.
As the years who went by, my husband's friends would tell me to do it. And then friends would send me an article saying it was kind of getting close to the JUST OFF RODEO idea. Once we had our FAMILY DINNER group, I decided it was silly to not do this one and it wouldn't cost too much, so I decided to just put it out there.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We're starting to see more movement in the web series space with BET online adding shows and a zombie web series (813) was just picked up to be aired on a new horror network.
Lauralee Bell: Are these 5 minute shows?
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: 5-10 minutes usually.
Lauralee Bell: I think it's a good idea. Even if people have the time, I just don't think they're willing to give what they used to give, so five minutes is a very real time frame.
My kids are on their computers all the time. It's just different from how we grew up. So many people I talk to watch THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS on their computers. I would never think to do that if I had a TV set in the same house.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We wrote an article recently explaining how to hook up your laptop to your TV. Nearly everything I watch is off from my laptop connected to my 52-inch TV.
Lauralee Bell: And that's what people were saying to me. With Apple TV coming out and what you're saying, I feel like this kind of show has a really good extra bonus. With so much out there and so much to choose from, to have extra elements, like buying what you see have it to your home that quick, will only help you be singled out a little bit.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you ever spoken to Charles Shaughnessy about his product, Hyperspots?
Lauralee Bell: Yes. It's a great idea. He approached me on it for JUST OFF RODEO. For that show, we don't want to leave our site so it doesn't work. We don't want to go to the Sunglass Hut, for example, if you like the sunglasses. We want to manufacture them. But for FAMILY DINNER, we have a dining room table with glasses. The sky's the limit.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I've also seen bar codes on some shows where people scan them with their cell phone to buy something or go to a website.
Lauralee Bell: The future of FAMILY DINNER may be more like, "Sponsored by Kraft," speaking hypothetically. But I always want the show to come first. I don't want it to be where an item is being forced and anyone is holding up a product saying, "Oh, I love this bracelet." With JUST OFF RODEO, it's totally conducive to what these girls do everyday. They're all about fashion. Other than, "Cute shirt," it will never be more than that. I can't stand that. It will always have to be subtle. I want them to come back for the show. It's the characters that keep you coming back.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You acted in JUST OFF RODEO for a brief moment. It was hard to tell it was you.
Lauralee Bell: I played a fashion model and I literally did that for production costs. I tried to make me almost unrecognizable. I directed from 9 in the morning until whenever and then was shot in makeup for 20 minutes. I shot myself last.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was it easier for you as a director to not be one of the primary actors?
Lauralee Bell: At FAMILY DINNER it was always hard because not only was I in it and directing it, I was always overly aware of the guest, whether it be Cloris Leachman or Phyllis Diller or Shirley Jones, and meeting them, being in awe of them doing it, and making sure of the timeline and all that. It was a little complicated wearing all hats. It's fun with JUST OFF RODEO wearing a baseball cap and a tshirt and walking into work. Seeing Karen Fay, who did my hair and make-up for years and continues to, walking by makeup and checking on everyone and not have to sit down in that chair.
Do I want to still act in my life? Yes. Am I starting to audition again all the time? Yes. I really enjoy all of it. I love once we shoot an episode going into the editing room. I loved cutting the montage of them together with the beach balls. I love the whole process.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You did a great job with FAMILY DINNER pulling off all those roles.
Lauralee Bell: The fun thing about FAMILY DINNER is that it's sort of this web series team that we've been set up with for a couple of years. Dan Cortese is one of our best friends. We're super tight with Aaron Lustig. The kids are so grateful to be there. I don't feel any pressure other than with the guests. Shirley Jones mentioned that I was in the makeup chair longer than I was at the dinner table. We shot everybody else and then sat her down and did closeups and two shots and were done in an hour and 20 minutes. That show is more conducive to that.
With JUST OFF RODEO, I want to see as much beauty and background and change their looks as much as I can so that will always take a little bit more time.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You co-wrote JUST OFF RODEO with Matt Martin.
Lauralee Bell: He's my husband's step brother. He's this young amazing guy in Chicago who's gone through comedy school and has done some showcases and written some shorts that have gone through film festivals and won. My kids love him. He's so on the cusp of the lingo and always researching new stuff so he was a natural one for me to go to. I would twist him in a bit of a different direction and he would get it immediately. I want to stay young and fresh in terms of the creativity of this.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You're husband (Scott Martin) is also from Chicago?
Lauralee Bell: Yes. We went to high school together. He just redid a massive production space in Culver City with beautiful offices. It's always great to collaborate with him on these web series because he looks at the frame differently. He'll notice something in the foreground or background that will make the shot cooler. It's fun to be working together every few months because we're in such a kid mode at home we don't ever get to talk about the angle of a shot [laughs].
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Will you only be making clothes and jewelry for this or might you expand to other products?
Lauralee Bell: With the character of Rodrigo it could be any kind of hair product or makeup line. So who knows? We have a lot of different opportunities. But I think we'll stay in a very simple, universal kind of appeal for the next little bit.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What do you see for the future? Could this play on TV?
Lauralee Bell: I feel like it could go to TV. I have a whole other group of characters floating in my brain. I feel like people could watch it and then go to their computers and buy the item. As long as it's made very simple. For all those people who are computer savvy, there's a percentage of people who are not.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Maybe you could do something similar to a book signing or DVD signing with JUST OFF RODEO, and sell the products at locations you go visit.
Lauralee Bell: You're right. At the Y&R Fan Club event, we gave away some of our bandanas, and it did create a buzz.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You always seem to have unlimited ideas. Do you have any other projects in the works?
Lauralee Bell: You're very sweet. I do have one drama idea as well that I think would be popular. That's one just waiting there in the right side of my brain. I'd like to make one of them to put it out there. I just don't want to spread myself too thin. The drama would be a hundred percent concentrated on characters. That's what I spent years watching my parents do. But I feel like I have to have FAMILY DINNER as well to balance that out because I need something silly and quirky.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you going to do any more Y&R in the near future?
Lauralee Bell: I'm sure I will before the end of the year. Maria and I touch base every once in a while. I'd probably like to take the next couple of months and audition a bit but if she calls and says, "Can you do 3 or 4 for a couple of weeks?" I'm happy to.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How have things changed since you first started? It was already considered the fastest medium then, but now it's done at light speed.
Lauralee Bell: Doug [Davidson] warned me, "If you haven't used your memory muscles in a while it kind of slows down." And I was like, "Come on." But then I got there and thought, "Oh my God."
I'm torn because I always felt like first or second takes were sometimes people's better ones. But for me it's too fast. And it's gotta be said right. You can't move on if it's only close enough. It's hard to hear people say, "It'll be fine." No, it won't. You can't change the fact that I didn't say it right. It's hard after being there 10 years ago or ever 5 years ago. You have to still maintain the quality. Obviously you have to come in completely prepared. That's the way it is and I can't change that. But as a protective person of the show, our fans are extremely loyal and you can't pull anything over on them. So if it's an extra 30 seconds to get one line right, that really needs to be done.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Would you ever direct Y&R?
Lauralee Bell: If it were one episode, I might. I have to say I'd really hate not being in it.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What is your dream role?
Lauralee Bell: You'll laugh but it's Elaine on SEINFELD. My husband and I watch it at night. I could work with John O'Hurley again! When I saw him on SEINFELD I said, "Oh come on, I would do anything to be on that!" [Laughs]
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Since we spoke last ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE were canceled and ALL MY CHILDREN is close to airing its final episode on ABC. But they've both been picked up by Prospect Park. They've said they want to air them on the web at the same length and quality. What do you think of that?
Lauralee Bell: Just knowing the cameras we used, visually it could look as good. Having the actors signing up to do it would be the biggest concern from me. And a lot of our fan base is a bit older so I want them to be able to watch it.
I think of my father and when computers came out. I truly believe if he was here to this day he would have fought and been the only man still typing on a typewriter. If the fans are willing to completely switch how they watch, it will be a no-brainer. I do believe it can look as good, so it's just a matter of if the fans can make the switch, and I'm hoping yes.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Any last words on JUST OFF RODEO?
Lauralee Bell: I hope people give it a chance. I think it's fun. I just need one friend to tell another about it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to watch JUST OFF RODEO. Click here to watch FAMILY DINNER.
- FAMILY DINNER Time For Lauralee Bell
- INTERVIEW: FAMILY DINNER's Lauralee Bell
- FLASHBACK: He's (Bill Bell) Wed to a Celebrity 1958
Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps and is currently a producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals.