Sat10252014

Community

Startup culture takes center screen in locally produced Web series


Brock

An acting class bonded three friends, but it took a round of drinks to metabolize the trio’s vision into a unique Web series.

Tired of the stereotypical film roles for women – catty girlfriends and salacious secretaries who play second fiddle to a dominant male – Los Altos Hills resident Taylor Brock and her fellow co-producers Anne Hallinan and Lisa-Marie Newton are switching things up.

Inspired by their own observations of the male-dominated technology sector, “NEXT” – the team’s satirical comedy about women leaders navigating the complex workplace culture of a Silicon Valley startup – exposes some of the ironies that characterize other workplace films. Instead of bikinis and office romances, characters working at Connext Inc., the series’ fictitious startup, wear power suits and talk tech gadgets and gizmos.

“It’s about a company created and run by women having to survive a competitive environment to get a groundbreaking product to market,” Brock said. “They’re under so much pressure, they hire The Startup Whisperer.”

According to Hallinan, the series revolves around the launch of a new voice-activated personal-assistant device, named the “Yes Dear,” that she characterizes as the Apple iPhone’s “Siri on crack.” Succumbing to the break-it or make-it ethos of debuting their new device, the leaders of Connext call in The Startup Whisperer to bring their dysfunctional team together. Hallinan, who also plays The Startup Whisperer, said the anxiety is high as the team waits to see what happens next for Connext.

While the plot speaks to the lack of female startup founders – The Kaufman Foundation reported that women led only 3 percent of startups in 2011 – the stressful situations and obstacles the characters in the “NEXT” series face are universal.

“One of our goals was to create a story that’s just a good story,” Newton said. “The fact that we are women is great, but we want to make it so that it’s not just a women’s story.”

Unlike many productions that cast women in roles after the script is finalized, the producers of “NEXT” viewed their endeavor as an opportunity to influence the direction of a script from start to finish.

After soliciting proposals for a writer, the women invited young screenwriter Serena Shulman to join the team. Shulman collaborated with Brock, Hallinan and Newton at every pivotal point in the editing process to craft roles that were tailor-made for the three women.

“We wanted to create our own work rather then be at someone else’s behest. … It’s great to have that little bit of control. As an actor, that’s rare,” Newton said.

Although the co-producers of “NEXT” have invested funds to hire a director of photography and cast more than a dozen actors in roles for the series, the team is searching for a few more patrons to support their $8,000-$10,000 project. They launched a Kickstarter campain this month to generate the remaining funds needed to produce and film the first season of the series. While the trio is reaching out to female startup executives who may relate to the theme of their show, they believe that the series will appeal to anyone with a good sense of humor about what it means to make it in Silicon Valley.

With three of the five first-season episodes completed, the women plan to recommence filming in late August. Supporters of “NEXT” will have access to the first episode in early November, before it is screened at the Scary Cow indie film co-op in San Francisco. To bring the series closer to home, Brock also plans to host a December fundraising party and screening in Los Altos. After its premiere, the show will be distributed online for free viewing.

If “NEXT” is syndicated by a larger outlet, the women said they would be thrilled. But in the end, they’ll be happy with a show that keeps the audience entertained and coming back for episode after episode.

For more information, visit kck.st/1oXA7gm or Facebook and search for “NEXT the webseries.”

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