April 25, 2013

SCA Family Stories: Susie Yankou

Student Talks About Her DIY Web Series

By Valerie Turpin

High school can be a tough time for many teenagers, but it helps when someone else can relate. This is precisely what Susie Yankou ’15 wanted to accomplish when she started a DIY web series called 101 Ways to Get Rejected to chronicle the not-so glamorous blunders of an average high school student.

Writing student Yankou recently sat down with SCA to discuss the making of her web series, how her time at SCA has helped her build a collaborative team and advice for students looking to follow the DIY web series path.

Check out the season finale airing tonight at http://www.youtube.com/user/101waystogetrejected?feature=watch

Let’s start with your name, major and graduation year.
I’m Susie Yankou; I’m a sophomore BFA Screenwriting major graduating in 2015.

Susie Yankou '15

So tell me a little bit about 101 Ways to Get Rejected. How did it start out?
It was around this time last year, and I had no idea what I was going to do in the summer. I really wanted to do my own project where I could write and act, and also put something out there as a calling card. I thought about this idea I had for a web series from a long time ago, and I brought it to my friend Mike Effenberger, who’s a Production major, and he really liked it. He said, “Yeah, we should do this!” So I talked to a few professors because I wasn’t sure about the whole web series thing and I was new to that world, and then my professors said to move forward with it as a really cool way to start my career.

What’s the main premise?
The story of the show is basically about these three misunderstood “loser” types, played by Taylor Dearden, David Mandell and myself. It’s about their day-to-day life in high school, getting involved with the popular kids and dealing with the rejections of high school, between romance and having crappy minimum wage jobs and things like that.

What’s been your involvement on it?
I created and produced the show. And I wrote all the episodes with the help of our story editor (and my roommate) Morgan Lutich, who’s also a Screenwriting major here. She helped me plan out the arc of the season since it’s not episodic; it’s very serialized for a comedy. Once Morgan and I figured out the plot points, I just started writing the scripts. I had to juggle writing and acting because not all of the writing was done while we were shooting, so I would literally go to set and act then go home and write scripts for the following days.

What made you want to pursue this storyline?
I don’t know; I feel like in high school, a lot of the stories that are told are about the beautiful, successful people, and that wasn’t my high school experience at all [laughs]. I was very normal in high school and went under the radar and had a weird friend group where we all had an offbeat sense of humor and did our own thing. And I felt like there were a lot of “no’s” in high school and I don’t know why. 

Exploring the stories of the weird kids who heard a lot of “no’s” was much more interesting to me than the typical teen-show stuff where everyone’s really pretty and popular.

How has your time at SCA helped to prepare you to take on this project?
Having a year of just writing constantly definitely made me better. I look back on the stuff I did before the program and cringe [laughs]. In a few years I’ll probably look back and cringe on what I’m doing now.

Were there any teachers who made a particular impact for you?
Yes, definitely. Mark Shepherd, my screenwriting professor from my very first semester of freshman year, had a huge impact on this production especially. I kept in touch with him even after I finished his class, so when I was starting this web series last summer, I contacted him to see what he thought about it. He said it was a good idea, so I moved forward with it. And then halfway through the summer, when we were two weeks away from shooting and I only had three full episodes written and I was freaking out, I emailed him again. I was in so far over my head and I was ready to quit at that point, but he told me to keep going, so I did. And I am so so glad that I listened to him.

Once you had the idea and the scripts, how did you go about making it a reality?
Once I had the pilot written, I approached my friend Mike Effenberger about directing. I didn’t know him that well but I had seen some of his work before and I knew he’d be great for this project. Mike liked the idea, so he was the first one to sign on. From there, our friends Sara Monge, Kirsten Jakob and Dylan Visvikis all signed on as producers. That was the core group at the beginning. So basically between the five of us, we had to scout locations, cast actors and find equipment on absolutely no budget. Sara found us a high school for free (which is much harder than you would think) and we ended up finding a diner to film at for very cheap and just paid for it out-of-pocket. And luckily Mike had a camera and all of the basic equipment we needed to film.

But honestly, none of the money stuff really mattered. Everyone involved was just very passionate about getting this project made, so we used all of the resources we had and got it done. That was a big takeaway for me from this project.

On set for episode five

Where do you hope this project will go?
Honestly, I started this series just to have a real project under my belt and have a fun time making something with my friends last summer. We had such a great time making it and everyone involved became so close—I think everyone involved just wants as many people to see it as possible.

I’ve actually had a number of complete strangers (with no affiliation to 101 Ways) who found the show and poured their hearts out, saying, “I can relate to these characters too, we have so much in common, this is a great show, I love this,” things like that. It’s weird and amazing.

We’ve had a decent amount of press for the project, like LA Magazine, newspaper stuff and a few YouTube musicians who took notice of us. One of the musicians heard about us through one of our editors, Zach Siegel, and she commented and subscribed, which led to reactions from some other big YouTube singers. Plus some other web series creators who have pretty solid followings of their own have seen the series, which led to an even bigger response from the online community. It’s just really cool knowing it’s getting out there. 

Regardless of career stuff, as much as I’m sure everyone would love for this to be a career launching pad, hearing the stories from the people who’ve found this show and who’ve actually been impacted by it is just crazy rewarding. I know everyone says that, but that’s because it is [laughs]. Definitely hearing stories from different high school girls saying that the main character, Sam, is so relatable to them, or that Becky (played by the amazing Alyssa Overbeck) is their favorite—it’s the coolest part about this.

Is the web series solely on YouTube, or do you have a main site for it?
We do have a website but we’re hosting all the videos through YouTube. It’s a ten-episode season and we have nine episodes out now, and they’re airing every week until our finale on April 25th.

Is there a season two in the works?
We are definitely talking about it—I’ve talked to a lot of the crew and actors and everyone seems up to doing it again, it’s just a matter of plans this summer depending on who’s working or interning. We’d love to continue and step it up even more production-wise now that we have the first season to show for ourselves and have had a pretty positive reaction. It’s a definite possibility.

And you’re currently taking 290 [CTPR-290: Cinematic Communication], correct?
Yes I am.

Do you see your skills from being behind the camera in 290 affecting how you would tackle season two then?
I’m not actually sure. I’d never seen myself as a director, mostly because of the technical stuff, which I’m no good at, but I definitely like working with actors, probably because of my acting background. Our director Mike does a pretty darn good job already, so I don’t think I’d want to take on the director’s seat.

I think this web series helped so much with 290, because everything we’re doing there, I basically have learned already from doing this web series. So when we were going over names for different angles and shot lists and how a set works and how auditions work, I just thought, “I went through all of this over the summer!”

The crew has a laugh on set

Do you have any other projects you’re considering working on other than a second season?
Now that this has come out, a few friends of mine have approached me about collaborating on some shorts this summer, or possibly writing something longer; so I definitely want to keep my options open. But if I could do another project this summer, I would love to have season two in the works—I don’t think I’m quite finished with this show yet.

Do you have any advice you want to impart to other students looking towards the do-it-yourself path?
Yeah, get out there and do it! We go to the best film school and there are so many talented people around; take advantage of it and allow other people to make up for your weaknesses. If you don’t know how to direct, get a director. You don’t have to do it all yourself—assemble a team of really talented people with different strengths. It’s available here, and anything’s possible.

Be sure to check out 101 Ways to Get Rejected on YouTube at  http://www.youtube.com/user/101waystogetrejected
As well as the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/101WaysToGetRejected