***The Thursday Interview is a showcase for creators, innovators and troublemakers to share news and insight about the creative impetus & inspirations behind their latest projects. This week, Regina Taufen, the woman behind The Kitty Landers Show, a live action show for children will share what inspired her to create the show and more.
**Check out Lisa’s Advice, a comedic web series written, produced, co-directed by (and starring) Anna Christopher and Regina Taufen.
Name: Regina Taufen
Motto: “Use Whatch’ya Got, Not Whatch’ya Not!”
The Kitty Landers Show is…..
An independently produced live action program for children.
I got the idea for the show….
While babysitting two sisters named Sophie and Tess (they were 7 and 4 at the time). I played make-believe with them, creating stories that would go on for hours (kids are experts at long form improvisation). After a while I had a string of whacky characters that lived down the street from each other – all within this imaginary landscape. Sophie and Tess pretended they were a camera team and I pretended I was a diva named Kitty Landers, always calling ‘cut’ or being overly dramatic when we were ‘rolling.’ They loved being in control of how things should go, and I was amazed at how savvy they were behind an imaginary lens. They understood all too well how people acted both in front and behind the camera – and it was VERY funny to them.
I started imagining a television program for kids that broke the fourth wall, one that showed the ‘behind the scenes’ into a fantastical world filled with creative and vibrant personalities (the kind of characters I remember from The Electric Company, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, The Muppets and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse). I couldn’t stop thinking about it and realized that if I could make something really good, I’d showcase my abilities as a performer but also have a calling card as a writer/producer. At first I thought of playing all the characters myself, but as I began to develop the script with Chris Potocki, we realized how delicious the parts would be for the right actors. It would be a sit-com for kids, where each character represented a different artistic discipline, and could drop by unannounced to help Kitty Landers navigate her latest misadventure.
The production process for the show from idea to web cast is…
We never intended to make a web series.
Initially, we produced a 30-page television pilot script with a cast of 12 actors, shooting on location for five days (four days of principal photography in Laurel Canyon and one day of exterior shots in Venice Beach). Our production budget was $10,000, with the largest portions going to location insurance, renting equipment (lighting, sound and camera), and compensating our ‘name talent.’ Department heads, crew and most of the cast worked for peanuts (our costume designer’s entire budget, for 12 characters, was $200!). “Use whatch’ya got, not whatch’ya not” (Kitty Landers’ motto) became a mantra amongst cast and crew alike — from start to finish. Our production values were excellent across the board as everyone believed they were part of something that had the potential to take off (be bought by a studio or network).
Through a connection at 20th Century Fox Music, I was introduced to a composer named Jared Faber who scored the entire pilot for free (as well as co-writing the theme song with me and recording it in his studio). Even though this saved us thousands, the post-production process was three times as expensive as our shooting budget! We used two editors for two different versions of the show (a 31 minute version and a 22 minute version that screened at The New York ). Editorial fees, coupled with ADR sessions, sound design, and color correction added up to an additional $30,000 – making the entire production budget $40,000. Festival
During the New York Television Festival, we were happily surprised when Adam Berkowitz and Tom Young of CAA arranged for us to meet them for a cocktail at the top of the Gramercy Park Hotel (they even sent a cab)..
They loved the show and wanted to know how it came about, as well as what else we might be working on. When we returned to Los Angeles, we also received accolades from established agents at WME, and soon had meetings at Nickelodeon (on both coasts) and Warner Brothers Television. It felt as though we’d be selling Kitty any day.
But as anyone in the television industry will tell you, selling a TV show is hard for name talent and established production companies – let alone independent producers. Today, there is more content than ever vying for a quantifiable number of eyeballs, and the initial buzz of our success was quickly becoming yesterday’s news. I was at a crossroads for how to proceed.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, which definitely explains how Kitty Landers came to live on the web. I realized I needed a suitable platform (or website) that could house the pilot as webisodes (the 31 minute version) while enabling me to create and release more content, grass roots style. I met a website designer named Jordan Kolasinski, and spent over a year crafting a site for kids to explore the home-grown world of Kitty and all of her friends. We made a cardboard TV with three channels (made from dice), a dial to adjust the volume (made from a master lock) and a switch to flip for black and white. It was very important that the television feel like something a kid made with found objects (since it was the literal framework for every video clip that would live there). The channels were built with YouTube embedding, making it easy to upload and place new material. We also included a blog (tumblr feed), a characters page that implements twelve Twitter feeds (representing twelve very different artistic voices), and a Fun & Games page where kids can take photos with their favorite character and download original illustrations for coloring.
As the design of the website took shape, I became reinvigorated by the idea of creating content that’s not available on network TV. A fresh, ‘how it’s made’ approach in a mock-reality world that never talks down to kids but rather prizes the ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality for everything under the sun. A world where the person in front of the camera is just as interesting as the person behind it.
I needed to shoot new material for the site (a site intro, channel identifiers and a dozen of Sergio’s Fortunes of the Week) so I wrote new pages, storyboarded the shots, and enlisted a seasoned DP named John Dabrowski for a two-day shoot in January (I paid John in Umami burgers). Around this time I met an editor named Sean Murphy willing to work for free based on a referral, and by late February I had the content uploaded to my YouTube channel.
On the advice of a friend well-versed in utilizing social media to promote content, I’ve begun to release Sergio’s Fortunes each Wednesday (Sergio is Kitty’s Fortune Cookie Tree). My current challenge is to thematically link each fortune with something that is both timely and universal (i.e.: Earth Day) while reaching as many people as possible via Facebook, Twitter and my own growing email distribution list. Kitty calls Sergio’s Fortunes “chewable vitamins for your soul,” and that’s exactly what they’re meant to be: quirky, on-the-go snippets for parents and kids alike.
My favorite Kitty Landers memory is….
Winning “Best Actress,” at The New York Television Festival was such a surprise and a huge milestone for me professionally. Then, moments later, winning “Best Family Pilot,” was even sweeter. I felt like I was being rewarded at every level, along with everyone who worked so tirelessly on the show. One of my other favorite moments was in pre-production. My director and fellow producer Anna Christopher had come to Venice for a meeting with Chris Potocki and me. We discussed concerns over production design, and were worried about creating a realistic bohemian home studio for Kitty on such a limited budget. Soon after Anna left, she texted an image of a huge silkscreen she found alongside Venice Boulevard. It was a blown up photograph of a lake, with trees in the foreground and rippling water stretching to a shore beyond. Since Kitty’s character is always finding treasures in the trash and repurposing them, it really felt like life imitating art! We used the silkscreen on the set, and it worked perfectly.
There were so many moments like this — where things came together in a very specific, magical way. Another highlight was my cousin Rob emailing me to say that The Kitty Landers Show had beat out Ratatouille for the evening’s entertainment – again. And then of course every time anyone emailed or told me in person how much their kids love the show. That for me is probably one of the main reasons I’ve kept going. Imagining my nieces, nephew or any kid watching Kitty and being genuinely entertained.
I would love for The Kitty Landers Show to…
Become the next great program for kids ages 4-8! I want to build an audience of smart parents who remember mix tapes and the sound of vinyl, and kids curious about the world around them who dig being shown the great and all-powerful ‘woman behind the curtain.’ I want to showcase the variety of artists who make this world a better place with the love they put into their respective crafts. I would love for The Kitty Landers Show to become a household name.
My goal within the next three months is to find a like-minded brand sponsor that aligns with the philosophies of Kitty Landers (re-use, re-purpose, recycle and always ‘Use Whatch’ya Got, Not Whatch’ya Not!’). The company could be as big as Ben & Jerry’s or as localized as Cheryl Fudge Boutique (a do-it-yourself shop where kids and adults can repurpose old clothes to make new creations). Once I’ve found the right sponsor willing to cover the cost of production and my time, I would pitch, write and produce a 3-5 minute webisode that creatively interweaves the sponsoring product or brand into the world of Kitty and her friends. I would also schedule and shoot a 2-3 minute interview with an artist (i.e.: a clothing designer if the sponsor was Cheryl Fudge) and interview them as Kitty, discovering what they do, and how they do it. I would then deliver both the webisode and the artist interview to the brand sponsor one month after our initial production agreement, and concurrently release the material on my website.
Six months from now, with my first brand sponsored content making the internet rounds, I plan to approach other brand sponsors and deliver similar packages, all while building the world of Kitty and expanding her network of artistically minded friends (friends that will ideally link to the website).
9 months from now, with new content and increased eyeballs (via the audiences from at least two successful brand collaborations and new friends on the web), my goal is to find a brand, production company, or media service provider (like Yahoo or Amazon) to finance a 12 episode series to be released on the web as well as on DVD (ideally with subtitled versions to be released in foreign territories including Germany, France and Japan).
Once I have shot a full season of The Kitty Landers Show (either animated or live action), replete with fantastical plot lines and funny scenarios – I would love to write and produce a full length feature (i.e.: “Kitty and Fumiko Sail to Japan!”).
And someday…I want to create a Kitty Landers game, as well as companion books for each one of the twelve characters. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Kitty Landers make it to Broadway – before ultimately putting the entire show on ice!
Shout outs to …
Sign up here for Sergio’s Fortunes of the Week!
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