Ingrid Jungermann became a member of the WGAE with her acclaimed web series, F TO 7TH, which was recently picked up by Showtime to be developed into a television series. Soft spoken and precise, Ingrid translates her feelings of being an outsider into stories that are celebrated for writing that is inquisitorial, efficient and well-decorated with wry humor.
Ingrid’s first feature film, WOMEN WHO KILL, was named Tribeca Film Festival’s 2016 Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film.
At a WGAE Digital Caucus event, Ingrid spoke with OnWriting about how she began her career as a professional writer and filmmaker.
How did you come to create your web series THE SLOPE and F TO 7TH?
Desiree Akhavan and I didn’t know what a web series was when we made a short film for her class project. That short film became THE SLOPE. I had the same class the following year and Desiree and I made another short film. We started to see that we could make a few of these shorts.
I don’t know how we had heard about web series. Not a lot of people were making them. Issa Rae already made THE MIS-ADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL and it was doing quite well.
We kept shooting THE SLOPE on weekends and did it really cheap. We had one camera person, who also did the sound.
We did two seasons of THE SLOPE. It got some nice traction and then we broke up. Desiree wanted to make a film. I wanted to make more web series. THE SLOPE was more about a couple. F TO 7TH allowed me to get into a person who felt alone both within the LGBT community and outside of it.
Can you talk about your writing process?
The first two episodes of THE SLOPE were short films that we edited. The first season we would write whenever we could. It wasn’t all that structured. The second season became more structured. We wrote all the episodes at once and shot them all at once, which is what I prefer to do.
I continued to do that with F TO 7TH. That first season was more like LOUIE, which has self-contained episodes. You don’t necessarily have to watch them in order. I pushed myself with writing and directing on the second season of F TO 7TH. I developed some sort of through-line. It started with the mother character asking me if I’ll try men again. My character listens to her and tries to date men again, thereby going back in the closet and figuring out that process. It’s a really silly idea.
How do you edit your writing on each episode of F TO 7TH? I feel like you’re good at letting go of the story at the right moment.
It’s rewriting and rewriting. I kept the scripts short. An episode would be four to six minutes. I was more interested in erring on the short side. When you have a four to six page script, you should be able to rewrite that a bunch.
Going back to the beginning of THE SLOPE, and if you’re going to back to the beginning F TO 7TH, what would you have done differently in the beginning for each series?
With each season, I did things that I didn’t do before. THE SLOPE was really off the cuff and it felt visceral. I think that people responded to its honesty and lo-fi quality. I wanted to improve upon that with F TO 7TH. I wanted F TO 7TH to look and sound better, but still hold on to that authentic personal quality.
What I would change? It’s always nice to have more money. We shot each season of F TO 7TH for ten grand. At this point, you’re getting budgets of $350,000 for that kind of stuff. You want people to volunteer their help, but there’s a certain point where you can’t ask for anymore favors. I want to be able to employ people. That’s what I try to do. I try to improve upon that with each project.
What do you think is important to consider when you have minimal resources to produce a web series?
The main thing that is so exciting about web series is that it’s your personal story. If you start thinking about web series as a way to get a TV show, then you have your goals set. It’s always going to come back to if you are being your most authentic self. This medium is where people are finding new voices. You don’t have to go crazy with locations. You don’t have to go crazy with budget. You do have to focus on making your character really yours, and that’s free.
I’m not saying this because this is the WGAE, but it goes back to the script. You have to know your voice and focus on what you have access to. All my episodes are pretty much two people talking in one location. Going into it and realizing I only had access to certain amount of money didn’t hurt the writing or quality of the show.
Was your goal to make web series or were you looking to get into television? If F TO 7TH wasn’t picked up by Showtime, would you create a third season?
I probably would have, although instead of making a third season, I focused on making my film WOMEN WHO KILL.
I actually sold another web series that I plan to make. I want to make them all; films, TV and web series.
I love short form. It’s fun. It reminds you that you don’t have to be precious about everything. Making a feature was a monster compared to these little vignettes. I think it’s a way to practice and become a better writer and director. It informs any other work you’re doing.
Do you have a favorite episode of F TO 7TH? Was it your favorite in the process or was it your favorite once it was shot?
My favorite is probably the Amy Sedaris episode, because she’s a genius. Hearing her say my words and watching her work was really inspiring. In that episode, my character goes on this lunch date with my aunt, played by Amy Sedaris. Her character is really closeted, based on somebody I know who attacks me for being gay and how I always want to talk about it. She’s really trying to figure out why I would even bother wanting to be a lesbian, but then she shows all the signs of being a lesbian herself. All the stereotypical signs of being gay. She drives a Subaru and all that.
Script-wise, there’s another episode where I’m in this kind of dirty G-chat. In it, I correct myself. I was going to say, “I’d like to fuck you from behind,” but I erase it and I say “I want to respect you from behind.” I think correcting a dirty chat because you’re too polite is funny. That was fun to write.
How did you personally engage your audience and was that pivotal for growth?
For THE SLOPE, we made a spreadsheet. We looked into who was covering web series. We knew that we’d have a niche audience with the LGBT community, so we looked at LGBT blogs. We started really small and built support within niche audiences. We got covered on the blog After Ellen, which was a big thing because you get a lot of viewership from there.
Critics started to notice the coverage, and then they’d cover it. It grew from a very grassroots approach. I did the same thing for my first season of F TO 7TH.
For the second season of F TO 7TH, I hired a publicist, but I don’t think it really changed that much. Our viewership is decent but it’s not viral by any means. When you’re doing narrative short form content that’s LGBT based, the expectation of going viral is not realistic. We had the right views and critical response, which was really good. It’s about building a network and continuing to reach out to people.
Do you like doing that?
I don’t like to do it now, but you learn a lot through it. I like spreadsheets. It was definitely a crossover between the two shows. Some people followed me from THE SLOPE to F TO 7TH, but I was surprised how many people did not. I had to start from scratch. Again, it was really the critical success that helped us out and got people to watch it. IndieWire was really supportive and The Guardian and Huffington Post did some great stuff. You want to build relationships with these people.
Are there obvious mistakes that you look back at and cringe when you think about how you started either show?
It’s all a mistake. I wake up every morning thinking I’m a failure. It’s the understanding that that’s part of it. Failures are where all these stories come from, not through success. Through feeling like an outsider and feeling lonely and like I don’t belong. It’s thinking 2PM sounds like a good time for a glass of wine.
You know how it feels when you write? It’s awful. It’s an awful feeling. Taking that in and realizing that we’re all in this together. Everybody feels this stuff. I don’t think there’s an arrival to any of it. I think that there’s just continuing to do work. Especially when you’re queer or a person of color or you’re not 25. People aren’t really knocking on our door. You keep doing your work, because that’s all you can really do.
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