February 6, 2023
Alumni Spotlight: Fiona Pestana '21
By Olivia Kuhn
Fiona Pestana (Annenberg ’21) is an associate podcast producer at Crooked Media. They are a Bay Area native and studied journalism and music industry at USC. Outside of audio storytelling, Fiona writes: a newsletter, comics, poems, and more. They can often be found dancing at concerts, camping in the woods, or meowing with their cat, Lucky. Fiona joins us today to discuss their contributions to Wishy Washy, a new web series helmed by writer-director Sam Rosenberg, and their experience working with the production team.
What experiences during your time at USC inspired you as a filmmaker?
My time at USC was one full of creative collaboration, which inspired me to make art in any form! Everything I did in college, from working in teams to tell stories in the Annenberg Media Center, to seeing the way art brings people together when throwing concerts in my friends' backyard, showed me that any creative goal is possible if you gather a group of likeminded people who are driven, committed, and talented. I took a break from filmmaking in college (with the exception of video journalism and filming a video for the QUASA drag show my senior year), so I'm happy I was able to take my variety of experiences from school and apply them to a familiar and long-loved format.
How did you become attached to Wishy Washy? What appealed to you as a storyteller?
I met Wishy Washy's director and writer Sam Rosenberg last summer through a mutual friend (they both went to University of Michigan together). Upon meeting, we instantly knew we had a lot in common: we're both writers, we have a very similar taste in music—we met at a MUNA performance at the Hollywood Amoeba Records—and we both love indie art projects. When I learned that Sam had a web series, I told him: if you ever need help with producing, let me know; I would love to work on more film and TV projects. Later in 2022, Sam messaged me and said he'd take me up on my offer, since the Wishy Washy team was ready to fundraise so that they could finish filming the series.
Here's the logline: A bisexual twentysomething is unable to make any decisions due to the gay angel and straight devil on his shoulders telling him what to do. The series appealed to me because of its nuanced depiction of bisexuality (I'm bi), its humorous and accurate representation of what it's like to be queer in Los Angeles, and its dedicated, talented team.
What role(s) do you have on and off set?
I have not yet been on set with this crew—I wasn't there when they filmed the pilot, and we're going to keep filming the rest of it March 2023—but to my knowledge, I'll just be helping out the director and the other producer with whatever they need. Kind of like a production assistant, I guess!
Off set, I've been responsible for fundraising, from making and amplifying the Seed&Spark campaign—including making the Bi Mutual Aid + Resource Guide incentive—to planning our fundraising event this past fall.
From your perspective, what makes a story authentic? How does your team collaborate to foster an atmosphere of authenticity?
So far, the team has fostered authenticity by 1. keeping the team small and, thus, able to consider everyone's input, 2. keeping the team almost all queer (at the very least, Sam, Emma Puglia, and I are all bi, and we're the lead producers) so we all personally relate to the material at hand, and 3. keeping the energy on the casual side. This is a passion project, not one that any of us are getting paid for, so we're here to learn things and have fun!
To me, a story is authentic when its storytellers are coming from and connecting to their life experience, their emotional experience, or a combination of the two.
What was the process like for fundraising the production phases? What made the biggest impact?
Emma and Sam were able to tap into the University of Michigan alumni network very easily, so their support helped a lot. The other things that made major impacts were directly reaching out to family and friends one on one, as well as hosting a live event.
Have you encountered any difficulties while working on the series? How did you troubleshoot?
Fundraising was so difficult! Being young and asking friends, family, and strangers to trust us to make something good with their money proved to be a marathon of a task. But, we paced ourselves, reached out to lots of potential donors, and used social media, email marketing, and a community-centric event to eventually reach our monetary goal.
What do you hope viewers take away from Wishy Washy?
I hope they laugh at LA tropes, have fun, empathize more with queer people (especially bisexuals), and find more love for themselves.
How do you see Wishy Washy developing in the future?
Hopefully, Wishy Washy will go to more festivals and be seen as a proof-of-concept for something that can be developed into a better-funded, wider-reaching TV show.
What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers and to recent graduates like yourself?
Make art with your friends! Learning doesn't stop when school ends, just try things, be patient, and see what happens. You might make something great!