Bri Castellini is an online content producing powerhouse. She has created a number of series as well as a short film, and throughout her work she makes sure to included crucial elements of representation for both the asexual community and in connection to mental health. I had the pleasure of asking her about her recent work, Sam and Pat Are Depressed, as well as some of her other work. Thank you again to Bri for chatting and I hope you enjoy some of her insights.
Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer, filmmaker, and human bulldozer based in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been a writer my whole life and a screenwriter/filmmaker since I moved to New York after college to pursue my MFA in Writing and Producing for Television. I tend to make comedies more than anything else, featuring sarcastic Type A female protagonists with platonic male best friends and a tendency to rant.
How would you describe Sam and Pat Are Depressed?
Sam and Pat Are Depressed is a show about two depressed roommates who make jokes about therapy because therapy is kind of weird, especially if it’s a part of your routine and not a temporary dalliance because of a particular trauma or event in your life. Each episode is about a different therapy observation one of the characters has that they discuss amongst themselves with a lot of profanity and best friend banter.
What inspired the concept for this series?
I like to call Chris Cherry, who plays Pat alongside my Sam, my muse, because this series literally started as a heightened transcript of a funny conversation we once had, about Chris being worried about depressing his therapist. That conversation became episode 1 of the series, and after I wrote that down the rest of the episodes just came spilling out because Chris and I have both been in therapy, were roommates, and have the exact dynamic Sam and Pat do. It’s a very easy show to write because it’s just more absurd versions of us arguing and talking about things we’ve noticed in real life about therapy and living with mental illness.
Were any of the events or situations that Sam and Pat discuss taken from true life events?
Almost 100% of this show is inspired by true events, even if Chris and I haven’t had the literal conversation like we did for the pilot episode. The details are where the fiction comes into play- Chris and I only overlapped in therapy for a few weeks, so I haven’t had the opportunity to tattle on him to my therapist (and vice versa) as much as my character does it in the show. Also, Chris’s current therapist watches the series so we have to be very careful not to be too true to life, lest she feels unfairly called out by two mean, profane fictional characters.
I love that each episode ends with Sam and Pat ordering takeout, what led you to include that element? To be honest, I think it came from my not knowing how to end the conversations. After you make jokes at each other about being depressed… what happens? In real life you’d just stop talking, but that’s awkward on film, and because I’m a sucker for structure I liked the idea of each episode ending in a similar way, so the first idea I came up with was ordering takeout and then I was too lazy to think of something better. Plus that’s a super relatable roommate moment, trying to agree on what to eat, and after you watch two people argue for two and a half minutes, getting them to agree on a small common goal feels like a resolution. Not to spoil too much, but the escalation of constantly ordering takeout leads to a really fun thing in season 2.
As Sam you do a great deal of physical comedy in the series, was that planned or did you improvise those moments?
Something I was really concerned about while writing was that these episodes were kind of visually boring, and I didn’t just want to have two people sitting on a couch talking, because that wouldn’t be fun for a director or a DP, and that wouldn’t be fun (long term) for a viewer. So after the first episode, which was literally that, I wanted to give the character who wasn’t coming home from therapy something they were doing in the apartment for the other one to interrupt, for grounding-the-story reasons as well as adding movement to the frame. I didn’t want it to be a filmed podcast, so they had to be doing something, and that something ended up getting weirder and weirder as the episodes progressed. Season 2 then escalates that further, which has been very fun to plan. As for my physical comedy, the general ideas were planned (“Sam does weird yoga/interpretive dance”) but the specifics were left up to me on the day. The one thing we did know early on was that Sam is a character who breaks the rules of continuity as she pleases, so at the script level there were notes like “each time you cut to Sam, she’s in a different weird yoga position.”
What do you hope viewers take away from the series?
My favorite reactions are when people express how relatable the series is- “oh my god, I’ve worried about small talk with my therapist before!” I like to imagine my audience is people who have been in therapy at some point in their lives, and they feel seen by how specific we get and how we’re both making fun of the concept while also recognizing how important it is. I think we don’t hear enough about the sort of banality of living with mental illness and going to regular therapy appointments- in most media, therapy is a treatment for a particular event that the character stops after that arc ends, and mental illness is only shown when the character is at rock bottom. But living with mental illness is way more boring than that- it’s just this annoying thing you have to deal with no matter what you’re doing to treat it.
Do you have any suggestions that you think will help someone looking for the right therapist?
I would say don’t feel like you have to commit to the first person you have a meeting with, especially if you’re new to therapy. It might take a few different appointments to find someone who you feel comfortable with, and that’s a pain, but that’s how it is. It isn’t like finding a normal doctor- this is someone you’ll presumably spend a few hours a month with, and someone you’re going to tell all sorts of weird secrets to, so you need to feel comfortable. More importantly, you need someone you feel comfortable telling the truth to, because lying to your therapist is a waste of everyone’s time and a waste of your money. Example: if your therapist is cute or you find yourself wanting to impress them, you’ll be less likely to want to tell them how you’re actually feeling, and thus they shouldn’t be your therapist.
There is a specific episode in Sam and Pat Are Depressed that focuses on coming out as asexual, this though is not the only time you have created a story focused on identifying as ace. What can you tell me about your short film Ace and Anxious?
It’s funny, because a lot of the initial fans of Sam and Pat actually came to the series because they’d already seen/enjoyed Ace and Anxious, therefore a huge number of our audience identifies as asexual, which I feel like isn’t common since representation of ace people is reprehensibly low. Ace and Anxious is about similar themes to Sam and Pat, in that it’s about how frustrating it is that mental illness doesn’t have a cure. You can’t cure depression, you can just treat it, and eventually some of the treatments that worked in the past stop working so you have to change and find something new, and Ace and Anxious follows an asexual woman with anxiety who’s exhausted by that pattern. She starts having panic attacks again and learns that sex has been scientifically proven to relieve stress, so she figures posting a “free sex” ad on Craigslist and auditioning potential partners to test this out would be cheaper than a new medication regiment or more therapy. Hilarity, as you might imagine, ensues.
Asexuality is very rarely represented in the media, could you share your thoughts on this lack of representation and what can be done to improve the understanding and representation of the ace community?
As with all other forms of representation, the best way to combat a lack of it is to have more people from those communities make art, and make our existing culture more open to those types of stories. It can be hard, especially with the relative smallness of the ace community, to convince people with wider audiences to care, because catering to 1% of the population seems like a waste of time that you could be targeting larger demographics. But a story doesn’t have to be about asexuality to include an ace character and go a LONG way towards making ace audience members feel seen and represented. But I do think to start, we just need to elevate talented ace people making art that represents them.
What are some of your tips for people hoping to create content and how they can include positive LGBTQIA+ representation?
A couple things here: 1, there’s a different between writing from a character’s perspective and writing about a character that can get tricky when you’re not a member of that community. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable with a non-asexual person writing a story where an ace character comes to term with their sexuality, but I would feel 100% comfortable with a non-asexual person having asexual characters in their story/as a lead. Regardless, if you are not a member of a community and you want to write, even briefly, about their experience as, say, an asexual person, TALK TO AN ASEXUAL PERSON FIRST! Better yet, talk to several! Asexuality, like so many other identities, is a massive spectrum, and hearing multiple perspectives will help genuinely inform your story and character. 2, when writing or casting, redefine what your “default” is, because for many people in traditional media, their default character seems to be white, male, cis, and straight, and that’s… not how the world works. So if a character doesn’t have to be one of those things, why not make them ace, or a person of color, or a woman? If it doesn’t matter, why would you choose the boring option we’ve seen a billion times? Having a supporting character be ace instead of straight might make a HUGE difference to a fan of that show, way more of a difference than having a character be straight. 3. I’m not an authority on any of this so please do more than read this interview before you move ahead! Representation matters, but it’s gotta be done right, and there are a lot of opinions on how that’s accomplished. I’m just one opinion in a sea of many.
In a completely different vein, you created a webseries that I enjoyed called Brains. How would you describe this series?
Brains is about a delusional narcissist neuropsychology major in college who starts YouTube vlogging again post apocalypse because she wants to get out of schoolwork and seduce a boy, but first she has to determine if the boy she’s seducing simultaneously is a zombie. God, I miss Brains. It’ll always be my first project, and still having 4 full seasons worth of scripts on my computer is kinda devastating because I’ll almost certainly never be able to make more. It’s such a specific kind of project, and so weird, and I miss those characters a lot. Sam and Alison have a lot in common, because they’re both just versions of me because I’m not very creative, but I miss Alison’s brazen confidence that she brings to everything she attempts. She takes a lot more risks (also because that show inherently takes more risks, what with all the zombies around), so that was always really exciting to play with.
How did working on a genre style series differ from your other projects?
On a production level, Brains is the most complicated thing I’ve done so far. The post apocalypse requires a lot more effort in terms of costume, location, and props, plus the cast was huge. It was really fun, but really hard to pull off- there’s a reason we weren’t able to keep making it after season 2. Brains was also kind of difficult to promote, because a lot of people don’t really get found footage series, and because it didn’t quite fit the “horror” genre but it also had too much sci-fi for traditional romance and comedy categories, so finding a niche and an audience was difficult and took a while to get any traction. Sam and Pat and Ace and Anxious had an obvious and easy thing to promote off of- asexual representation, which is almost unheard of. Those shows also, despite being as weird and wacky as Brains, had a mental health theme that made it easier to pretend like they were important pieces of art that should be taken seriously. Brains is a zombie vlog series about a delusional college student- hard to pretend it’s anything else.
You also do some work with Stareable, what can you tell me about what they do and your role with them?
So my full time day job is with Stareable, the largest community of web series creators and fans, where I’m their Community Director. For a long time I was the only full time employee of the company (other than the founder/CEO) and I’m kind of the token filmmaker on staff- I run a lot of our social media, I moderate and schedule events for our filmmaker forum, I write craft articles for our blog, manage a group of guest writers for that blog, organize and attend filmmaking events all over the world (I’m actually going to Toronto next weekend to speak at TO Webfest!), I did a lot of the promoting and programming for our web series/indie TV festival coming up in June and generally support and advocate for our community of filmmakers as the company evolves.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I have a short horror/drama film called Buy In currently in editing, which I co-wrote with my Brains co-star Colin Hinckley. I directed the film while he starred in it, and as my first totally co-created work it was a really fun experience. We also start shooting Sam and Pat season 2, with two episodes this time being written by my co-star/muse Chris Cherry. We’ll have some crowdfunding news to spread soon hopefully, so keep an eye out! We want to make this season even more aggressively weird than the first and I’m really excited.
Where can our readers find you online?
They can find me on Twitter (@BrisOwnWorld) and find out more about me on my website (BriCastellini.com), interact with me about filmmaking on the Stareable community forum (community.stareable.com), and follow my production company on Twitter (@_undeadburrito_)