How It All Began…
I began writing “Conversations in L.A.” shortly after reading Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play, “Love and Information.” The loose structure of her brilliant and unusual compilation of seven sections of one-to-five-minute scenes inspired me to write my own series of vignettes.
At first I wrote scenes for the stage. The first story, originally called “Theo and Chloe” – about a man and a woman sitting in the waiting room of a veterinary office in New York City talking about having to euthanize their pets, years later evolved into Gus and Michelle (the main characters in “Conversations in L.A.”) talking about their pets that died while waiting for the Expo subway train in Los Angeles.
The biggest change however, was that Gus and Michelle’s story developed into a story for television, or a web series; something completely new for me, but thrilling nonetheless as it brought my experiences from photography, to design, to directing, acting, and writing…all together.
“Conversations in L.A.” is a story that focuses mainly on Michelle Macabee, a 48-year-old woman whose dog of 15 years, Petra, has just died – the catalyst that forces her to forfeit her financial security and quit her decade-old customer service relations job at Amazon so that she can figure out what she really wants to do with the rest of her life.
Like many women in and around the vicinity of 48, Michelle is experiencing menopause. This adds to the severity of what she’s going through with hot flashes, mood swings, an unpredictable sex drive, and an overall feeling of disenchantment. But when Michelle meets Gus Borrego, a curious and brazen young Hispanic man who makes a living bartending and cutting hair, he reminds Michelle what it means to feel alive, despite their dramatic age difference.
As many of you will probably remember, the 1967 film, “The Graduate,” introduced us to an older woman/younger man dynamic – a story about a young man’s affair with a married woman where she coerces him into jumping in the sack with her. Since then, it’s a story we’ve seen played out many times.
“Conversations in L.A.” however, is a modern-day story about a young Hispanic man, who’s already had a fair amount of sexual experience and is genuinely searching for a meaningful relationship. While Michelle’s age is something Gus grapples with, for a time, it’s Michelle who’s torn between her desire to just have sex with the young Gus versus be in a loving, committed relationship with him.
Michelle turns to her pet loss therapist for help and her two close friends, Alex and Nicole (in the midst of denying their own mid-life crisis’), witness Michelle’s transformation and become obsessed with redirecting her life down a path they deem acceptable and “normal.”
On the surface, “Conversations in L.A.” is about finding what makes us feel alive, whatever stage of life we’re in, but beneath that, it’s a story about self discovery and finding who we are without the influences of those around us.
As Michelle discovers…her life isn’t her own if she cares what other people think. So the question for her, and for anyone watching Season One, becomes…am I following what my friends and society have dictated is right for me? Or, am I stepping away from all that into a new adventure where I am truly and blissfully happy?
About This Style…
The episodes for “Conversations in L.A.” (mostly 15 minutes in length) are filmed as single shots. The decision to shoot this way was not only because I thought it would support the intensity and progression of the characters’ journey’s in any given scene, but because the very nature of conversations are continuous and every flowing. In other words, why break up the conversation in editing or by the way we shoot? The absolute last thing I wanted to do was interrupt the flow of a heated conversation – for the actors and for those watching the work.
But filming single shots posed its own set of issues – how to make the cinematography interesting. Our answer to that became…with a lot of work. Actor rehearsals, camera rehearsals, more camera rehearsals, and finding the right cameras to shoot with. Sometimes our shoot days were half rehearsal days, and sometimes our shoot days became rehearsal days for a better shoot day. Overall, everything was choreographed and everyone had to come together like a group of dancers moving across a stage.
Now midway into our process something interesting happened…we found the structure for the series which meant re-shooting the first half of the season all over again. I wasn’t surprised to find ourselves in this position. Creating a series is a lot like any other art form; the writer goes through many drafts, the editor edits over and over again, the actors rehearse and have several takes. Wouldn’t a team of artists then need more than one try to find the structure, the pace, and the look and feel of the first season of a series?
To give you a little background as to how things unfolded…when we first starting shooting, we filmed only the single shot scenes for each episode. Then, by the middle of shooting the season, I began writing intros and outros for each scene/episode.
The first intros and outros that Sebastian Heinrich filmed, were character driven (footage of what the characters were doing before and after the scene). But mid way, I found another direction for the intros and outros – footage that reflects the various neighborhoods in L.A. (if the scene takes place in Burbank, the intro and outro footage is of the streets, the buildings, and life in Burbank).
At the end of the day, the general consensus was that people liked both so we incorporated the two styles of intros and outros for each scene/episode as were shot the first half of Season One. Shortly after that, thanks to an amazing group of artists whom I was very fortunate to work with, “Conversations in L.A.” was born.
~ Anne Marie Cummings
Creator, Writer, and Director of CONVERSATIONS IN L.A.