Real talk: when you're the News Editor at an entertainment website, people send you stuff - all kinds of stuff - for coverage consideration. Screenplays, short films, fan art, bootleg posters, images of mash-up t-shirts, trailer montages. These things arrive at a rate that can best be described as "impossible to keep up with", so (if you're anything like me), at a certain point, you just keep your head down, plow through, and do your best to filter through the noise. Do that, and every once in awhile and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Such was the case with Kate Of The Damned, directed by Ben Mekler, Jason Nguyen, and Andrew Bowser and starring the crazy-talented Megan Amram. The show's first episode (a proof-of-concept clip, really) showed up in my inbox over the weekend, and I confess that I almost skipped right over it. The involvement of Amram and Mekler - who spent a few years directing some seriously impressive videos for Nerdist - convinced me to give it a whirl.
I'm glad I did, because Kate Of The Damned is excellent.
After watching this, I had questions, and Mekler was gracious enough to answer them for me. Here's what he had to say for himself:
BMD: So, tell us exactly what we're looking at here. What's your elevator pitch for this show?
Director Ben Mekler: What you’re looking at is a proof-of-concept for a show called Kate of the Damned, created by three extremely cool and nice boys named Ben Mekler, Jason Nguyen, and Andrew Bowser. The pitch we’ve been having the best luck with so far: it’s Broad City by way of Anne Rice, a vampiric comedy about a burnout twentysomething who becomes the Queen of all vampires. It’s worth noting that in the world of the show, being a vampire is fucking awful.
This isn't a short, this isn't a pilot, but it kind of is, right?
This is more like a proof-of-concept, the closest indication we could give of what a series might look and feel like on a tight budget and with a short runtime. We made it as part of New Form’s Incubator program, meaning they helped us develop the project and funded this short.
How long would the average episode of Kate Of The Damned be?
In a perfect world, Kate of the Damned is a TV show with 10,000 ninety-minute episodes. I’m talking some Ingmar Bergman shit. That said, I think, ultimately, we’ll just roll with your standard 22 mins. Still gunning for 10,000 of them.
Right on. Tell us a little about how the concept came together.
Jason, Andrew, and I had been writing, producing, and directing videos together at Nerdist for a few years. We were having a blast creating goofy shit together, so we thought we’d see if there was anything meatier and more personal we could team up on. We sat down to brainstorm one weekend and had enough material for ten seasons of Kate of the Damned within about an hour. It just clicked for all of us, immediately. We were looking for something that felt like it could be outrageous and inane one moment, and really emotional and human the next. We wanted to tell a story about the good and bad that can come with putting the wrong person in power. We wanted monsters and blood. Kate was it.
Since it was a passion project, we spent a good while trying to find somewhere we could make the show the way we wanted. Eventually, I left Nerdist to write on Final Space (coming to TBS in 2018, sunglasses emoji), which had also started out as a New Form Incubator project. We got KOTD in front of one of the New Form producers, pitched the show, and they just immediately got it and wanted make an uncompromised version. I really can’t say enough about how great New Form was to work with. Extremely supportive the whole way through. Our producer at New Form, Laura Schwartz, specifically asked that we make this “as dirty as possible”.
Is this your first time working with Megan? And hopefully people are reading this after they watched the clip, but that was Jim O'Heir there at the end, right?
Andrew and Jason had worked with Megan on her show Science for Her, for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. I just knew Megan socially, thanks to Twitter, and around the time that Kate started to come together, she and I had started to develop a live musical thing. We never considered anybody else for Kate. Megan just had the right vibe, and we wrote it with her in mind. She was the first call we made when we started actually moving toward production. Megan is a comedic genius and a literal angel and a karaoke goddess.
That is indeed Jim O’Heir as Yon-Trovolto. We had all worked with him before on different projects. I believe Andrew and Jason met Jim on a Nerdist shoot, but the way that I met him was insane. I was shooting another proof-of-concept completely on spec, for absolutely no money. I was operating entirely on favors and was looking for someone cool that might be willing to make a quick cameo as a news reporter. Someone gave me Jim’s cell phone number and told me to text him. This was, like, while the last season of Parks and Rec was running. I figured he’d either not answer or respond “who the fuck is this”, but Jim immediately said “sounds fun!”, borrowed some wardrobe from the sitcom set he was on, and met me in a random Burbank suburb. Nicest man I have ever met and he delivers gold take after take after take. Jim rules.
I'm sure you don't wanna tip your hand too early, plot-wise, but could you give us a loose idea of where you'd like the show to go?
It’s a well-worn line but we love these characters and this world so much. We have a really big bible for the show because we’re idiots and can’t stop coming up with disgusting things for Kate to do and horrible creatures for Kate to meet. If you see her again, you’ll meet disfigured homunculi, rogue phlebotomists, militaristic vampire hunters, Vacilius, the bloodtraitor who stole Kinslave’s missing fang, and at least one Real Estate Twin. Also, Dracula is in the public domain.
All of this sounds great to us. And while we're on the topic: New Form's Incubator Gold Mine, as mentioned by Mekler above, is actually pretty interesting. Here's some further info, via press release:
"New Form’s Incubator showcases a slate from talented storytellers that are mentored and funded by NF as they develop and produce their original shorts from concept to pilot. These commissioned concepts serve to inspire an eventual digital series to debut on a variety of platforms.
Each of the seven pilots has either been created by or features women in lead roles, while the storylines take on several social issues including undocumented immigrants, interracial dating and female empowerment. Incubator “Gold Mine” is a focused effort from New Form to represent diverse perspectives in their programming."
“People in the marketplace are often surprised by the kinds of pilots that we greenlight; the odd, the risky, the black sheep,” said Kathleen Grace, CEO at New Form. “But we do this because we have the audaciousness to believe in people and different kinds of stories, that’s what Incubator is all about. We regularly engage with creators who represent all perspectives and could not be more thrilled to share this with our audiences.”
We're totally onboard with what New Form's doing here, and we're certainly excited to see some of their other projects. In the meantime, we'll be over here rooting for the success of Kate Of The Damned, which really needs to be greenlit as soon as humanly possible (we want much more of that, thank you very much).
Stay tuned for more on Kate Of The Damned as it (hopefully) becomes available. In the meantime, sound off with your thoughts on Mekler, Nguyen, Bowser and Amram's new series in the comments below. You guys as into this as we are?