Many observers consider the current entertainment era as the “Golden Age” of television. While the 70-year-old medium of TV may have hit an artistic acme, it’s another forum that is combining the creativity of writing, acting, and visual production without oversight and control of the corporate system. Independent filmmakers have taken advantage of the unrestricted space provided by the Internet to spawn innovative original content.
House Of June is one of the promising production houses that has embraced programming via the web. The Atlanta-based company was started by Ebony Blanding (“the pen”) and Amber Bournett (“the lens”) with a mission to “create cinematography with original narratives for those seeking diverse cultural experiences.” Along with TV and film projects, Blanding and Bournett use cyberspace to host their dramedy series The Shrink In B6 starring Shayla Love Washington.
Washington plays psychology school dropout and fired waitress Nadia West. As a twenty-something trying to navigate her way through a quarter-life crisis, West is forced to use her psych “skills” the best way she can, because her best friend and roommate Farrah (Tabby Molapo) has given her an ultimatum: get it together or get out.
DZI: The Voice connected with Blanding and Bournett to discuss The Shrink In B6, how the two artisans view the current portrayal of African American women on television, and what the future holds for House Of June.
Yohance Kyles: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Amber Bournett: First grade, we had a coloring competition in my private school. I believe it was a scene from the story of Esther. I discovered shading by bleeding my black Crayola at the edge of the other colors. I didn’t win, some type of coloring outside of the lines technicality. Anyway, I thought it was a masterpiece and invoked some type of deep meaning that only my six-year-old mind could appreciate.
Ebony Blanding: This is a hard question for me to answer, because I feel as if I am still doing so. However, I feel as if I knew I was an artist and had a voice when I would have writing assignments in school and went above and beyond the required criteria of the assignment to complete the work. Early on, I wanted the reader to “see” the story… to feel every word.
YK: How did you two first meet each other?
AB: We met in lighting class, while we were waiting for ﬁlm equipment.
EB: We met in a lighting class at Georgia State University about three years ago while we were picking up equipment for our individual assignments. “What do you do?” she asks. “I write and direct,” I said. I then asked her the same question, and she said she directed and acted as cinematographer.
YK: What inspired the concept for The Shrink In B6?
EB: Essentially, The Shrink in B6 was inspired by our (House Of June’s) need to create consistent content for the medium of web. We wanted in the rather-new world of creating web series content.
The concept of the series was inspired by sitting in my living room talking to people about the usual shit of the day: how much we hate working 9 to 5’s, issues with lovers, being starving artists… It felt like a counseling session. It felt like therapy of some sort was happening between me and whoever was in the “Big Rattan Chair.”
YK: Nadia and Farrah seem like the complete opposites as far as their personalities go, reminiscent of a modern-day Odd Couple. Will the audience get to find out more about how they became best friends?
EB: The Shrink in B6 uses flashbacks to convey history and back story. Nadia and Farrah’s friendship will most definitely be explored more through the use of flashbacks. We think it’s important to show why their present temperaments for each other and life in general have formed as they are now.
YK: There is a scene in episode two that flashbacks to the main characters in 2007 where Farrah is twerking right alongside Nadia. It suggests she wasn’t always so uptight. What in her back story made her into the person she is now?
AB: I think Farrah is someone who is just tired and at her wit’s end. You get more of a peek into her back story in episode 3. But she’s just fed up with having to take care of everything.
EB: I strongly believe that the Farrah the audience now sees is in parts the result of someone who has been directly impacted by Nadia’s life decisions. Farrah has always been the responsible one; she has always caught Nadia before she fell or cleaned up the many messes of her falling. In turn, I believe her uptightness is due to not having the “safe space” for levity.
YK: The “fuck Miley Cyrus” rant in the first episode was hilarious. Was that sentiment the screenwriter sharing her thoughts on the pop singer vicariously through Nadia?
EB: Everything that makes it to the screen in some parts is a closeted sentiment of mine. The “fuck Miley Cyrus” rant was something I had been venting to anyone who would listen about when her “twerking sensation” became “news.” But, I must admit, she kinda got me with “Wrecking Ball.” That’s my shit.
YK: In episode 2, Nadia begins her counseling sessions with a new client, but it appears it’s more of a self-examination. Will Nadia’s self-discovery through her counseling be a running theme in the series?
AB: Yes, this whole series is based on self-examination and ﬁnding who you really are.
EB: In developing the series, we volleyed ideas back and forth on how to approach the structure of story for the web series. We took into consideration that a web series typically doesn’t run over 13 minutes. We also took into consideration that we could only release one new episode each month till December for the series. Ideally, we would have liked to revisit patients.
However, for the breadth of the series we decided to have a different patient each session. This approach allows us to introduce varied story lines but also limits how much we delve into really “shrinking” each person. In saying that, the show largely becomes about the self-discovery of Nadia and Farrah in different phases of their lives. The counseling sessions are vehicles to introduce and show the development of Nadia, Farrah and their friendship.
YK: Can you talk about your other project Bzzz.?
AB: Bzzz. is a commentary on intimacy and female sexuality.
EB: HOJ’s first short film project Bzzz. is a story of an eccentric 20-something who regrettably tosses her vibrator away and is left in a quandary regarding intimacy and singledom. It will premiere at the 2014 Bronze Lens Film Festival. It may or may not be based on real life events.
YK: There has been significant discussion in the media about how a lot African-American women on television are either portrayed as the “side-chick” on scripted shows like on Scandal and Being Mary Jane or “ratchet” on reality shows like Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives. What’s your take on that?
AB: It’s soooooooo true. Even though, I love Scandal; I’m not a fan of Being Mary Jane. I think Gabrielle Union plays the same character in every production she has been on. Anyway, I think these are very shallow characterizations of the black woman in ﬁlm.
But, let’s be honest with ourselves, they are the most popular. Twitter isn’t a buzzing among “us” over Nicole Beharie’s role in Sleepy Hollow, and I think she does a damn good job. I think culturally we praise the harlot, due to us being in an “anyway we can get it” mentally when it comes to seeing black women on screen. It’s a catch-22.
Yes, I want Kerry Washington and Tika Sumpter to lead a primetime show, but damn their characters have to screw married men to do it. I think we just want them present and it doesn’t matter how they are. Once we get a black chick leading in a science ﬁction/ fantasy, thriller, or horror; then Olivia won’t be Fitz’s black mistress; she’ll just be a mistress that happens to be black.
EB: I don’t like to speak about the portrayal of black women in “reality” television in the same vein as scripted network television. It isn’t the same. Unfortunately, reality television portrayals of the “real life of black women” spill over to people’s perceptions of black women entirely, but I think that way of thinking speaks to a larger social quagmire.
I watch Being Mary Jane and not Scandal. B.M.J feels less like a soap opera to me so I enjoy the pace and nature of the show more. I enjoy watching whole portrayals of women in all mediums. I relish in watching women on screen be vulnerable and assured—confident in the process to find self. Now, as in life, finding self is complicated. If it entails a woman choosing to be a mistress, then as a director, writer and viewer I am open to seeing her inner struggles if they move her narrative along to a point of self-discovery and not merely being there for pleasure principle or woman in distress.
YK: What are some of your favorite programs?
AB: Man, I was hard pressed on Spartacus. House of Cards, Being Human; UK and American versions are equally dope. There are soooo many.
EB: I have so many shows I adore. This is not a fair question. So, I’ll just name some relatively “new shows” I admire. I really dig HBO’s Getting On and Enlightened. I’m late to Newsroom, but I love it. And House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and American Horror Story make me want to lie in bed all day in a Snuggie eating gelato watching in marathon mode.
YK: What’s next for House Of June?
AB: We start ﬁlming our last short this summer, then planning for our 2014 feature. Then I guess take over the world.
EB: We have a really dope short we are doing this summer about two chicks who sell hash out of an ice cream truck as their last summer job before graduation. After that, we will start committing all of our time and efforts to materializing all that needs to be in place to begin production on our first indie feature. And as Amber stated, we’re always in full pursuit of taking over the world.
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Check out the first two episodes of The Shrink In B6: