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Interview

Starting 'Stop'

Starting 'Stop'
Jill Bennett and Cathy DeBuono have something in common with Angelina Jolie. Just as "Salt" was originally written for a man, Bennett and DeBuono's Web series, "We Have to Stop Now," was initially written for a heterosexual couple. Bennett and DeBuono, together in real life for more than two and a half years, say they turned to the Web when projects for out lesbians seemed to be drying up. The series, written by theater veteran Ann Noble, is about a couple of therapists who write a book on marriage. It's currently airing its second season, with Season 1 having recently secured distribution through Wolfe Video on DVD.

Back Stage caught up with Bennett and DeBuono to discuss creating content when all else fails, balancing acting with producing a Web series, and advice for out actors and couples who work together.

Back Stage:
What prompted you to turn to the Web for "We Have to Stop Now"?

Cathy DeBuono: It's the most accessible for do-it-yourself productions; it's instant distribution. You can cut out the middleman, and you don't need a network, you don't need someone else to say yes. You say yes and you make it happen.

Back Stage: Was it challenging to get the show started?

Jill Bennett:
We spent less than $3,000 on our first season. We went to a couple friends and said, "We want to do something. Would you help us out?" We originally had $1,100 to work with, and it went over, as every budget does. We spent about $2,500 on it. Both Cathy and I had been going to the gay networks pitching shows, trying to get something made, and we ran into a lot of resistance. Even with the gay networks not wanting to do scripted programming, not wanting to spend the money specifically on lesbian programming. So we said, "Screw it; why are we trying to get something made when we can just do it ourselves?"

Back Stage: Jill, how did you and Ann Noble come up with the story?

Bennett: Ann actually had this idea in her head. She worked with a writing partner a few years back, and this was one of the concepts that they came up with, but it was originally written for a heterosexual couple. I had been trying to work with Ann for a while; we actually created a pilot presentation together that never got off the ground, and we've been looking for something to do. Ann came over and said something about, "I have this story about a couple that are both therapists who write a book on marriage," and Cathy said, "Well, I'm a therapist in real life." Ann was like, "This is perfect, let's do it." We got to craft a little more of the story and tailor it to Jill and Cathy and certain aspects of characters that we wanted to play.

Back Stage:
What prompted the switch to a pay model for Season 2?

DeBuono: After we did Season 1, we fell in love with the characters and we knew what stories we wanted to play out, but we didn't know how to monetize the show. We were trying to come up with creative ways to monetize the show, and we were getting emails from folks saying that they wanted to donate money to do a Season 2 and asking how to do that. So we put up a PayPal donate button, and this actually helped to make back the $2,500 we spent on Season 1. Within months, we had five times that in donations: We had about $10,000 from people donating. Then Jill and I were in San Francisco for Frameline for [a screening of our film] "And Then Came Lola." Two women came in who were a couple from Tampa and were "We Have to Stop Now" fans. They sat us down and said they wanted to invest in Season 2. And we were off and running. During that same trip, Wolfe Video had been watching Season 1, and they came to us and said they wanted to distribute it on DVD. So Season 1 just opened a whole bunch of doors for us that we didn't even imagine possible. We forged ahead with Season 2 and decided that if people were generous enough to donate that much because they liked the show and what we were doing, perhaps there was a way to monetize it to get our investors' money back and to see how far we could go—if possibly there was a Season 3 in the mix. So we went subscription-based and started digging through books learning how to do that: what kind of technology do we need, how to protect the digital media from getting stolen, etc. It was a ton of work, but we're really glad we did it.

Back Stage: Is there going to be a Season 3?

DeBuono: We would love for there to be a Season 3. We need to continue to have people buy Season 2 and keep making our money back for Season 2. It's doing pretty well, but we're not there yet.

Back Stage:
How much of "We Have to Stop Now" comes from experiences within your real-life relationship?

DeBuono: I wouldn't say that there are actual scenarios that are the same; none of the content is from anything real—Ann Noble writes these stories. But what we did do when we created the characters was we sat with Ann and she said, "The world is your oyster, what do you want to do? How do you want this to be? What characters do you want to play?" Jill and I both wanted to play something that we aren't likely to get cast in, that we aren't likely to have the opportunity to play characters with certain qualities. We swapped each other's core personalities. Dyna has a lot of real-life Jill qualities, and Kit has a lot of Cathy qualities, although we're definitely not playing each other. These characters are very different from who we are.

Back Stage: With everything you do on "We Have to Stop Now," what's the most challenging aspect?

Bennett: Before this show, we had been primarily actors, and we have now turned into showrunners, producers, executive producers, post supervisors, music supervisors, PR—we're literally every aspect of this production because we can't pay people to do it. The acting for us is the fun and easy part of it. It's everything else that we've had to learn how to do ourselves that's been a challenge. On top of that, we're exploring a new model of distribution, which is subscription-based, without the help of any Web guru or Internet whiz; it's all just us trying to figure it out on our own.

DeBuono: We're sort of blasting the rock out of the way as we go along.

Back Stage: What advice do you have for other acting couples who work together?

DeBuono: You have to draw clear boundaries for yourselves for when you're going to take your downtime and remember that you're a couple and being with each other in that capacity. It's really hard to turn that off and do that, especially when you have a passion for what it is that you're working on together. The best thing we were able to do for ourselves was to allow those boundaries to become stronger so that when we're done working for the day, we're done working and really shift gears back into that personal time with each other.

Back Stage: How has the series impacted other work? Has it helped you get other projects?

Bennett: This has been our world for the last two years, and we obviously have learned a lot, and both of us at this point, especially when it comes to anything that's LGBT-related or for the LGBT audience, I don't want to just be an actor on anything anymore. Now that I've done it, I want to be behind the scenes; I want to be a producer on it because I have very strong opinions on what works and what doesn't, and it's going to be really difficult for me—especially if I continue to do stuff for this community, which I hope to do—to just be an actor on it. I have a good grasp on what the audience wants to see and what I want to see as a gay person myself. We have a lot of projects in the works right now: We have a TV reality show, we have film—just about every genre in development right now that we're trying to get made. Getting a distribution deal from Wolfe legitimized the project. Given that it was literally a $2,500 budget, to get a distribution offer and to be playing in film festivals overwhelmed by $250,000 to $1 million films definitely legitimizes the series. It's been really good for us. It's my hope to continue to do stuff behind the scenes as well as acting in front of the camera.

DeBuono:
I have to agree. If someone were to talk to me about their project, I have more questions for them now because I've learned so much. Where there's knowledge, you know what questions to ask, what rocks to turn over and look and see what you're getting involved with and if there's a solid foundation there. I feel a whole lot more prepared for anything.

Back Stage: What advice do you have for other out actors who may be struggling to find roles?

Bennett: Make your own. Especially if you're a woman, you have to make your own. I really hope things change, but by and large, any mainstream representation that the LGBT community has is men. You don't see a lot of lesbian characters on TV. We're watching the "Rizzoli & Isles" effect right now: These women aren't even lesbians. But because there's undertones of lesbians flirting, women are losing their minds. That goes to show you that we are desperate for our stories or some sort of representation. Unless there's something going on that I'm not aware of, I don't see anything coming our way in that direction. So make your own content. The Internet is there for you.

DeBuono: And send Jill and I your résumé and headshot. Because if there is a Season 3, we want to talk to you. 

Check out Season 2 of "We Have to Stop Now" at www.wehavetostopnow.tv.

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