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Catching up with 2012 Subway Fresh Artists finalist Sarah Streicher from “The Ultimates”

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Corporate sponsorship can be a tricky thing to take on for a struggling artist; there’s always a quandary whether the opportunities some one will have because of it are worth the credibility that it might cost him or her. But Sarah Streicher came up with a terrifically inventive way to, pun intended, incorporate that idea into a web series that was itself sponsored by a major company.

For her SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series entry, “The Ultimates,” Streicher created the story of a struggling ultimate frisbee team who lures a star player from one of their opponents with the promise of backing by none other than Subway Restaurants – which turns out to be a lie. But while it remains to be seen whether her comedy series prevails in the company’s annual competition, Streicher was kind enough to speak with IFC about the process of assembling the show, and then discuss how working on it has helped her achieve her own goals within the industry.

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Watch the rest of “The Ultimates” and learn more about the SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series by clicking here.


IFC: Just to get started, talks about how you heard about the competition and how you came up with the idea of “The Ultimates” for it?

STREICHER: Sure. Well, they had the informational meeting night at USC and I had also heard about the filmmakers who worked on their projects last year, so there was a lot of word of mouth at school. I was kind of so inundated with my own work, because being in the program, we’re just kind of always under it, but my roommate was the director on “The Ultimates” and she brought the project to me and she was like, “What are you up to? What are you doing? Do you want to kind of try to go out for this?” And so we did, and she was actually the one who brought the actual concept of [ultimate Frisbee] to me, because I guess they had stressed that they wanted to promote breakfast for Subway. Alexis has this idea to do something that was sort of fit and stressed activity and teamwork and that often took place in the morning, so she thought of some sort of a sport, but something sort of left of center, so she thought about ultimate because that’s sort of a weird sort of fringy sport that has practice in the morning. So that’s what we went with, and then we just kind of generated ideas for the actual stories together.

IFC: To you is there anything meaningful about the competition being between an East Coast school and a West Coast school, or if it had only been between USC and UCLA, the competition would have been the same?

STREICHER: There are I think significant differences in how the two teams sort of approached it, because first of all, I think they’re more autonomous — like they don’t report to faculty. They only report to the ad agency and to Subway, so they didn’t really have a middleman whereas we did. We did have to report to faculty, and so we kind of got the pros and cons of that. I had to take notes from the faculty, but also the faculty were on our side. We could go to them with any problems or concerns, whereas I’m under the understanding that NYU was sort of on their own. They were out there doing it sort of rogue a little bit, and so I think that those both have pros and cons, but also I think it was great that it gave different textures to the project. The New York ones are very New York — I mean, they took advantage of that sort of the East Coast skyline. And I really like the way it brought a few different textures to the table.

IFC: When you had this idea were you thinking about it individually as an idea for this competition, or was this at all something that you could or would want to sort of propel forward as a longer series?

STREICHER: Like I said, Alexis sort of originally tailored it to what they were looking for in a promotional series, but when we got down to crafting stories, we definitely wanted to just focus on character and to create characters that would be vivid enough to live on beyond Subway and so that was we definitely had that in mind. And then I carried the characters sort of in my heart a little bit, as goofy as they were, and I definitely like to put them in play again, whether it be in this series or another series.

IFC: What is your creative process like in coming up with these episodes?

STREICHER: I worked with Alexis and we talked a lot about like different teams that we’ve been on and all those sort of weirdoes or strange birds that we tried to nuance with real personalities. And then in terms of the three episode arc, I thought yes, we do need a journey, but beyond that I was like we’ll need the coming-together episode, and then we’ll need sort of the punctuating tournament episode. It was basically sort of a sports-story structure, but in that middle episode I got to play around a little bit because that was more of what they call in television a non-premise episode. It was just these characters kind of playing around so I thought about what they could be doing.

IFC: What are your ambitions going forward in terms of how the ideas in this or the process of doing this feeds into where you would like your professional career to go?

STREICHER: It came actually at a really good time because I sort of had one foot in features and the other foot in television, but I’m really just trying to get going. My interests were in features and television, but I’ve always sensed that I’m more of a short-form person — I really enjoy living with characters for a long time and learning new ways to take their stories. So because we were sort of rewarded with this opportunity, I got the experience to do it. I mean, I’m very settled on trying to make it in television, to get into a writer’s room on a sitcom. And having that vision clarified through this has been so wonderful and now I just feel like doubly motivated to go after it.

IFC: Because you’re given a budget that’s more than you’re probably accustomed to working with, how did that affect the process?

STREICHER: Actually, I was a little overwhelmed by the money. I didn’t work with the budget, because as the writer I didn’t see the numbers, but in the writing process I did feel that freedom like, oh my God — I can write in this. At one point I had written in a Segway because there is a cheating sequence in the second episode and I wanted them to ride on a Segway, and I went to the producers and I was like I really want this Segway — and it turned out the only reason we couldn’t get it was because the fields had restrictions at USC. They didn’t want us to run over the nice intramural field with a Segway, but otherwise we totally could have done it. And I’ve never really had that freedom because the only other things that I’ve had produced, I’ve basically done myself and when I do things myself I have to be ultra-conscious of budget; anything that I buy I usually have to carefully repackage and take back to Target and lie to them and tell them that I actually bought the wrong thing or something, so they’ll give me a refund. So it was exceptionally freeing, I think. Oh, and the dog; I totally wouldn’t have been able to write in the dog if we hadn’t had the extra funds, because the dog was the most expensive thing on the project.

IFC: What have you done since then, and have you been showing this to people as an example of the kind of work that you want to do now?

STREICHER: Yeah — actually on the heels of this I got a manager, so I’m really excited about that. I’m also I’m interning right now at “90210,” which is a teen soap, and I’ve been showing it to the people there and they’re really excited for me. It’s part of sort of the networking strategy that I have going, and being someone who wants to work in episodic television sitcoms in particular, it’s nice to have sort of done a mini version of that. I feel very fortunate.

IFC: What through this process do you feel like you really learned? Were there any unexpected surprises from the production that you feel like you will take with you?

STREICHER: I learned a lot about collaboration. That’s kind of like a stock response, but I mean I didn’t just learn teamwork and diplomacy. I also learned when to speak up, and to trust my own voice, because there were certain moments when I knew that something wasn’t going right, but there was sort of a diffusion of responsibility and no one was really stepping up to the plate. And because I was sort of listening to what I truly felt, I was able to raise my hand, and even though I sometimes have trouble expressing myself about creativity, I was able to say I really need to be assertive right now and request that we do this or that or make this decision. And usually when I did that, I was rewarded with a better result, and so I just I learned to trust myself. And also I learned to look more closely at opportunities for female narratives, because after watching these series — even mine — they’re all male-driven. And after watching them all, I just think next time around I hope that someone maybe tells a female story. We’re in the era of “Bridesmaids,” so why not? Not that I have any regrets about what I chose, but there are a lot of wonderful female stories to be told.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.