Wednesday, December 4, 2013

INTERVIEW: Lauralee Bell Web Series 'mI promise' Looks at Living Life Versus Texting It

Lauralee Bell - Photo Credit:
Longtime THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS star Lauralee Bell has been making a name for herself the past few years in the indie web series scene with FAMILY DINNER and JUST OFF RODEO, not only as an actress but as a writer, producer and director. Her latest project, mI promise, premiered this week and, based on the first two episodes, it's her best work yet.

mI promise follows Riley (Cassidy Ann Shaffer, who recurs as Kimmy on Disney Channel's AUSTIN AND ALLY) on her 16th birthday, full of life and wonder, on the cusp of first love and her first car. The first episode begins with sweetness and light but things dramatically change after Riley chooses to send a text message while driving. The show then dives into that subject matter offering kids two paths to follow while never feeling like a PSA. Bell plays Riley's mom in the show in addition to her duties behind the camera.

We Love Soaps spoke with Bell about mI promise to find out more. Read our exclusive interview below:

WE LOVE SOAPS: I'm really excited about this web series. I think this is the best thing you've done.
LAURALEE BELL: I had my fun so I said now I have to do something that matters. I'm trying to approach this subject by saying you can do things this way or this way but you can still choose. How do we expect kids not to hold their devices when they're driving when sometimes the adults do it? These days they are just born with it in their hand. I often tell my kids I'm on my phone because I'm at home and I can get a lot of business done and not have to go to an actual office. I feel like it's helpful in some ways but the reality is what they're seeing is that I'm looking down at something. You are disconnected from people when you're half listening and half writing.

WE LOVE SOAPS: I like to watch the first episode of a web series before I read all the press material so my first thought was, "Oh, it's a teen drama, or maybe a dramedy." And then things got very serious in a hurry.
LAURALEE BELL: The first episode is the only one that has a lot of lightness to it. As soon as teens feel like they're being preached to they will turn it off. There are constant comments from Riley as the episodes go along like, "Oh God, Mom," as kids would say it. My goal in Episode One was to do something my parents taught me and that's to get the audience behind this girl quick. You have to care about her because in a second something bad is going to happen and if they don't care, you're done.

When I first met Cassidy, who plays Riley, she was perfect, likable, and America's Sweet 16 girl next door. I wanted to get into her life as much as possible so we see her potential boyfriend, her best friend, and her family. She thinks her family is annoying which all kids do. It was a lot to put into that short time but I felt like you have to make them quick in today's society because kids will click off you faster than they give you a chance. And Jack Allocco came in with the most incredible music throughout all of this.

I was going to hand over the directing because I thought once we get into more emotional stuff I don't know if I want to be looking at shots right before we have to tape. But I saw this so clearly in my brain that it would have just been a waste of time to pass on the job because I knew exactly what I wanted to see. There's a lot of editing coming up and a lot happens.

WE LOVE SOAPS: It's funny that you mentioned your parents because after I watched the first episode and read all the press material, I felt you were following in your father's footsteps in a different way, by telling a very topical story and not being preachy.
LAURALEE BELL: Cricket [on Y&R] was the queen of message storylines and I fought it for a long time because of this exact fear. Are the kids going to watch the two teenagers making out on this show or are they going to watch us saying "It's Okay To Say No" on our show? Well, my dad was always right. Even with the abstinence and all that we were still very high-rated that summer. I think it is about how you handle it and how you establish the characters. If they care about you, they'll listen to you. And especially for kids today, I want to give them a face that this happens to that they can think of when they're going to make a decision.

Lauralee Bell in mI promise
WE LOVE SOAPS: What was the casting process like for Riley? Cassidy Ann Shaffer is perfect.
LAURALEE BELL: It was like a meant to be thing. I needed someone who could be my daughter, someone who was great, and could do a fair amount of dialogue in three days of shooting. As soon as I saw her take, I knew. The son in the show happens to be her real-life brother. I emailed her mother and she wrote back saying she had just had a big talk with her daughters about missing out on life because in so many of your situations they were writing it and not living it. Our tag lines are "Live your life, don't write it" and "Live your life, don't text it." We were immediately on the same page.

WE LOVE SOAPS: The best web series are able to tell a significant amount of story in a short amount of time. You pulled that off brilliantly with the premiere. It's 3:19 but feels like a very complete story.
LAURALEE BELL: It was because I didn't feel it needed to be any longer. I also knew if we're trying to get a teen kid to say to teen kid, "I want you to watch this because I care about you and I don't want this to happen to you so I'm sending this on," with their attention span and how they're being trained to watch things now you can't give them much longer. It needs to be quick, to the point, and let them see it so they can decide on their own. Here are your choices: live your life how you're doing it or this is also an option.

WE LOVE SOAPS: It's too early to tell but is it safe to say this family is a bit more functional than the one on your web series FAMILY DINNER?
LAURALEE BELL: Yes, but I love them both just the same. We don't really get into what they were like before. You can tell she's a normal teen who would rather hang out with her friends than sit at home and chill with her parents. But you clearly know they're a unit and if one's not there this isn't going to work for them.

WE LOVE SOAPS: What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from making your first two web series that you applied to MI PROMISE?
LAURALEE BELL: I love them all in different ways. I needed to do FAMILY DINNER because I still think to this day that people love to watch the cast of characters that come to a family dinner table. You have all extremes and all ages, on different medications or number of cocktails, so I had super fun with that. The business person in me found that JUST OFF RODEO was something I needed to do, adding in the clothing element. Those were fun, and this was fun for me, but this show means something and isn't for a specific audience.

I'm having mothers saying they like watching it as much as their 14-year-old daughter. Even though there's a teen girl talking we can all relate to her, or we have that fear it could be our kid. When they go out and say they are driving here or there, you don't know what they're doing. We know if another friend is in the car they are going to say, "Turn up the radio, change the channel, turn here..." There are already so many elements of that car ride as there is. The next element we can't put in there is typing.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can watch the first two episodes of mI promise at The next episodes will air December 6, 9, 11 and 13.

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. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series such as IMAGINARY BITCHES, and produces the annual Indie Series Awards. He served as a producer on the first two seasons of Emmy-nominated THE BAY, and is executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals. He appeared in FRANCOPRHENIA in 2012 and the documentary SOAP LIFE, out on DVD in 2013.

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