by Lorie Lewis Ham
During the pandemic many new web series have been popping up as they can often be filmed while maintaining social distancing–and often from the actors own homes. Companies that have already made web series in the past are also coming up with new ideas. I was recently approached by Yuri Baranovsky of Happy Little Guillotine Studios about a new web series that they have produced during the pandemic called Binge: How to Lose Weight in the Apocalypse. The series is produced by Happy Little Guillotine Studios, Angela Gulner and Daniela DiIorio. We recently chatted with Yuri and Angela about the Binge.
KRL: Please tell us what Binge is about.
Angela: Binge is a dark comedy about bulimia, inspired by my personal story. I mean, not entirely.
Yuri: She didn’t have a therapist she fell in love with named Frodo.
Angela: No, my therapists were all amazing and very professional. But for the most part, it’s close to what happened to me.
Yuri: The very quick story of the show’s inception is that, in late 2016, after pitching the script but not getting bites, our team decided to shoot an independently produced pilot episode and release it on our YouTube channel, which had like 2,000 subscribers at the time. And it blew up
Angela: We thought it would offend everyone — it’s my story, you know, but it’s honest, dark, funny… we set out to make something as true to my experience as possible but we still sorta thought people would hate us for it. Y: The episode, as it currently stands, has over 1.6 million views and it lead to a really successful IndieGoGo campaign where we raised 45K. A: We asked for 30. It was really amazing. One of the biggest successes of this project is that it connected us to a wonderful community of individuals supporting each other through their recoveries.
Yuri: Yeah. It also led to a development deal with MGM. We pitched the show around this last fall and unfortunately, while people really seemed to like it, we got passes. There’s this misconception that eating disorders are niche
Angela: But there’s literally over 30 million people in the US alone struggling with them. 10 million are men. So… not niche at all. But you know, we kept at it. We created a short film prequel called The Blind Girl, released a series of Bingerviews with folks in recovery for eating disorders, and most recently, we’ve released a three-part mini-series in the Binge universe called How To Lose Weight in the Apocalypse.
Yuri: Early this year we were starting to write a feature film version but then… Covid.
KRL: How did you come up with the idea for Binge: How to Lose Weight in the Apocalypse?
Angela: These are hard times. COVID and it’s extremely necessary quarantine are incredibly painful for all of us for a variety of complex reasons. But for those struggling from eating disorders, it’s an absolute hellscape.
Yuri: The worst kind of scape.
Angela: It’s a whole mess, you know? Boredom, anxiety, food shortages, food stocking… not to mention the constant stream of pandemic workouts and wellness mumbo-jumbo… for people with eating disorders, there is no escaping the constant barrage of pain.
Yuri: So — in addition to the weekly Sunday Support Livestream that Angela runs on HLG’s YouTube Channel — our team decided we wanted to make something. For our fans. For us. I think, as artists, we needed some way to channel the world’s madness into something and this was our way. We’re exceedingly proud of what we’ve come up with. What is the premise?
Angela: We pick up with our central characters — Angela, Kate, Frodo, and Amete — and examine how their already challenging lives are made more complicated in quarantine. The three part series loosely follows the Stages of Grief (Ep. 1: Denial, Ep. 2: Anger and Depression, Ep. 3 Bargaining and Acceptance)
Yuri: Everything is shot in isolation. We used a mix of FaceTime and a bunch of other fun elements (YouTube vlogs, a lost phone camera, etc.) to tell the story. We tried to approach this project as something specifically made for the time, using the restrictions to our benefit, rather than as a hurdle we had to overcome. It was tough but ultimately, I think really fun and an interesting experience. Why did you feel this was important?
Angela: Eating disorders are incredibly dangerous illnesses that often feeds off shame, secrecy, and lack of control. We saw our audience struggling on social media — and we felt the forces of diet culture in our own lives as well (fear of the Quarantine 15, obsessive work-outs, influencers giving tips on how to come out of quarantine looking “better than ever”) — and it all just felt so toxic. We wanted to reach out to our audience via narrative — through these characters that they know and love — to show them that if they are struggling, they are not alone! And we’ve been supplementing our narrative content with weekly Sunday Support live streams and meal support on Instagram — these times are hard, but community is POWERFUL. Together we are stronger!
Yuri: Also, we’ve come up with a bunch of new mugs — which is kind of a thing in the series — so you know, if all else fails, hey, a cool mug.
KRL: How did you go about filming and putting this together during lockdown?
Angela: Most everything was shot via iPhone or computer — Yuri and Justin would call in and stage and light the scene using what we, the actors, had, and then we’d go for it.
Yuri: One of the trickiest things is that, to get the best quality, we essentially had the actors record a video of themselves in selfie mode, while using a laptop or another phone to hear one another — they never actually got to look at each other during the scene. So, rehearsal was really key.
Angela: We have a really amazing team — I mean, we’re all close friends, which helps — and we constantly tried to push the envelope of how we wanted to tell this story. There were hurdles — like my terrible wifi.
Yuri: And laptop from 1992.
Angela: Yeah… but we figured it out! We didn’t want this to be a show of Zoom calls, so, as Yuri said, there’s a lot of variety in how we show things happening.
Yuri: Yeah, I’d even edit with Dashiell (Reinhardt, the editor and one of the producers) over Zoom screenshare. It was a trip.
KRL: How did you do casting?
Yuri: I like to say that we are rich in talent. We’ve got an amazing group of friends who are insanely good actors and who have always been down to work with us in any capacity.
Angela: It’s basically a theater troupe.
Yuri: Yeah! If it wasn’t for these actors, this show would’ve never worked. We’ve been really lucky.
KRL: How many episodes are there and will there be more?
Angela: There are three total episodes for this Covid-based miniseries, along with six supplementary video pieces where Angela calls her exes.
Yuri: All told, it’s about a feature length films worth of material, in fact, we’re planning on cutting this all together into a feature film shortly.
KRL: Where can people watch them?
Angela: On HLG Studios YouTube — be sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss out!
Yuri: And here’s the link to the playlist for this miniseries: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyiriQxmTdg49e3zx69PEmauFMrxY1A6P
KRL: Can you tell us about daily IG LIVE Meal Support and the Sunday Support Livestreams?
Yuri: We’re continuing to supplement the series with daily IG LIVE Meal Support (“Eat Lunch with Us” on @bingetheseries) and weekly Sunday Support Livestreams — to “put our money where my mouth is”, if you will, and offer community in addition to laughs.
Angela: In addition to providing dark comedy narrative content, we wanted to support our audience in a more earnest way. I personally volunteer with ProjectHEAL and am in recovery myself and I lead these support sessions on YouTube (every Sunday — though now it’s on Friday!) and on Instagram (check them out on IGTV) to provide some added, real-time community to folks struggling with their recovery.
KRL: What have you learned from this experience? Not only about recovery but also about how comedy can help?
Angela: Comedy is powerful. Authenticity is powerful. And there is an audience hungry for authentic content about eating disorders. We keep learning these lessons time and time again, with each new piece of content we launch. The BINGE fans inspire us, truly.
Yuri: Comedy protects our psyche, you know? It gives us light in the darkness, it makes us feel sane when we’re spiraling. I think, in some ways, comedies — or dramedies, I guess — can be far more powerful than straight up dramas.
KRL: Where can people follow you on social media?
Yuri: INSTAGRAM: @bingetheseries @angelagulner @Yuri Baranovsky @hlgstudios
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Angela: Watch the show!
Yuri: Please… please watch the show?