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Actress, singer, and writer Lindsey McDowell is the mastermind behind the cult web hit MisSpelled, whose flawless casting, quirky premise, and laugh-out-loud hilarious script garnered an army of fans overnight.
It was the utmost honor to complete this interview with her October 16, 2014.
Lindsey McDowell, it’s amazing to have you At the Bar. What are you sippin’ on?
In addition to being a writer, you’re a singer and an actress. How did your family respond to your desire to study and pursue that?
They had a very different reaction when I was fresh out of my freshman year at Howard VS. being 3-14. It was a lot of 'cute' and keep practicing at those ages. I don't think even I got super serious about acting until I was 18. When I was 18 they were supportive and I was in shock. My parents are so conventional when it comes to academics and 'the sure route' in life. My sister left the nest for LA too. She loves films and making films and I think they were comforted that I'd be living on her couch while I was in acting school.
Tell me about your writing. How did you get into that and what motivates your work?
I started at a young age. I must have heard my mom talking about Maya Angelou and how she expressed herself through poetry. Even today at my house (back home in NY) I could find probably 75 sheets of paper with really sad poems and haikus from a super sad and overweight 10-year-old. Actually...you can probably find that today looking through my computer from the same. Just 23, haha! It's important to grow and express yourself. Even if no one sees it.
Your voice is beautiful. Have you had any formal training? How do you describe your style?
YOU LISTENED TO MY SINGING STUFF? Oh man. Thank you! I have had a few lessons last year and the year before. They helped immensely with my confidence. Your voice really is an instrument and a muscle. You have to learn to practice and stretch to meet your full potential. I don't have a style. I love to sing the most really dramatic love songs. And show tunes. =)
Let me come right out and state that I’m envious you get to see your work come to life. I understand MisSpelled is not your first project, so tell us about Echo and Nellie.
I know I am lucky. I remember I was helping a friend casting a short promo for a larger script some guy was working on and I was talking about how frustrated I was that Echo and Nellie took me a 8-12 months to decide to find the crew to put together. The writer looked at me incredulously. He was like "I've shelved this project since 1994!". I just remember looking at him like "I was three when you wrote this?". My boyfriend told me the other day that every web series I've ever sat down to write gets made. That's an AMAZING statistic. One that I need to thank God for more often. BUT Yes! Echo and Nellie. I was 20. I missed Nickelodeon. I wanted to write something that was like Clarissa Explains it All meets Mean Girls. We didn't get to finish the season. Surprisingly, money plays such a large role in finishing projects in Los Angeles! Echo and Nellie is the story of two very unpopular girls who are in love with a member of an unpopular boy band. Their favorite member lives in their city and they decide to stalk him from there on out. They deal with reality by way of girls in their grade. We didn't get a chance to film a lot of what I' m talking about here. But you can let me know what you think of it. It's really random lol.
Who and what would you say inspires your writing style?
Hmmm...growing up and trying to make people laugh so that they wouldn't pick on me anymore. The group of strong black women I was raised by. My friends. My experiences cheer-leading. Growing up in the suburbs of New York and being a part of a crowd of kids that weren't your high school 'anythings' really. Trying to fit in. Trying to blend in so that I wouldn't have any problems and trying to stay out of the spotlight of being harassed. I feel like I grew up in the generation RIGHT before worldstarhiphop.com. It was hilarious to do cruel things to people for the people's PRESENT enjoyment. My friends and I were horrible to people (on lesser levels than worldstar obviously). I think about HS and like...sitting at the lunch table ragging on every one of your friends. And everyone on the cheerleading team. And everyone that walks by. Pranking one another. Trying not to cry the whole time, LOL. This sounds terrible but I promise it has made me a better writer. I got to see things from both sides. I like being an outsider sometimes because being on the inside can be boring. People have expectations of you. No one is ever as funny as you and your friends were in the cafeteria at school.
Now let’s get to the juicy. How did you come up with the premise of MisSpelled?
I honestly was trying to figure out a way that me and my friends could all exist together in a world. Witches in community college made the most sense. I wanted to see my friends play certain things I've either never seen them play or that I know they're good at. I knew Carina, Chelsea and Gaby from school/other projects I've worked on. Carina Perez is hilarious. I wanted to put her in a role where she would just crack me up for my own enjoyment. You rarely get to see girls that look like us as the LEADS of a series so that was important to me in picking out wardrobe and furthering her character. Gabriela Banus is also hilarious to me. She doesn't know it though. I thought she would play an amazing type A-control freak. And what do you do to a control freak? Take control away. I want to watch her squirm as it's taken away from her. SPOILER ALERT? It's funny to see Gaby lose it to me because she is one of my best friends. Chelsea Jones is just...the best. I can't deal with her talent. If you saw the scenes she put on in school you would sob from the amount of herself she puts into roles. I hope we are able to showcase more of each of these women! Vyvy Nguyen we cast and it's the best decision we ever made. She is also hilarious. I had written this character as a brat. She was trouble to write though. I didn't know how to make her 3D. At callbacks I wanted to reach over the table and be Emma's friend. She plays Emma like a real person. If I got that role as an audition I feel like it could EASILY become a caricature of a bratty person. But I get why Emma is frustrated. I get why she's self-obsessed and over these girls when I watch Vyvy play her. She makes me want to be her.
The casting floored me. You're all so hot! How did you manage to assemble all these awesome ladies?
Oh gosh. I kind of jumped the gun with my last answer =( When I see someone say that we are hot I have a hard time making sense of the idea that I am included in a cast of five women and collectively people think we are attractive. I'm waiting for someone to be like, "Well...everyone is great but the black one really could lose a few or get a face transplant." Because I'm so used to thinking 'Who HATES Beyonce?' and then going to the comment section of something and being like "Oh. So. Everyone?" BUT THANK YOU! We floored you?! That's so flattering! Thank you!
Were you expecting MisSpelled to become the instant cult favorite that it is? You’ve amassed an amazing fandom!
LOL, CULT FAVORITE? You are really so sweet! When I think Cult Favorite I think Donnie Darko! Can't believe you'd even consider MisSpelled a cult favorite, thank you! But definitely not. I was expecting for two things to happen. A) No one would watch it. B) Some blogger would see it and the next morning there'd be a post titled "Lindsey McDowell is what is wrong with today's youth". So I am very happy that people are watching it. Even more over-the-moon that they actually like it and want to see more!
The supplemental videos are profound. The video in which you ladies discuss casting in Hollywood is particularly powerful. What obstacles have you personally experienced as an actress?
Thank You. I was having an Oprah moment when we were planning the Kickstarter video. I really have gotten to know these girls and myself in the process and I wanted to dive into some harder questions. So much you guys haven't seen from that shoot but what we edited together was probably the best! Thank ou everyone who was a part of it and especially Gehrig for cutting all the footage together!!! MEOW! (inside joke)
Here’s something I noticed about the premise of MisSpelled. For one, the series itself draws comparisons to films like The Craft and shows like Charmed. Unlike The Craft, the girls haven’t done a ton of (rather obsessive) research prior to the formation of their circle. Unlike Charmed, they don’t obtain their Book of Shadows until after the manifestation of their powers. In other words, are we to understand that these ladies really have ZERO clue as to what they’re doing?
You are 1000% correct. I wanted to make our show standout. I didn't realize it already was doing so by having an all women of color cast at first because...well, I hadn't cast everyone while I was writing it but I remember thinking, "What would you do if you were a witch?" And I realized every witchy show or movie has about 7 minutes of them like, "OMG WHAT DO I DO?" and then they just HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! Even with our Book of Shadows it's not going to give us answers. I wanted the girls to fall into themselves much like they will with magic. So much of paganism and Wiccan teachings are about exercising caution and doing what you feel is right. And I wanted to incorporate that into the story and test those boundaries as much as possible. I hope I do anyway. =/
And speaking of the Book of Shadows on this show, the ladies of MisSpelled are given the Book of Heka. Tell us about the term "Heka".
When creating the series I wanted for it to be loosely based on magic from another time. I wanted to take a world that already exists and make it my own. Like...this magical place where people once traveled to for goods and education. I started reading up on magic in Egypt. If you look in Hammurabi's Code, there are laws that govern witches and some of the ways they were to practice. "Heka" is the Egyptian word for magic.
What made you decide to go with the traditional TV procedure rather than the less expensive web format? The music, the photography, the special effects – stunning!
Because when you half-ass one thing you half-ass everything. So many of us moved to Los Angeles to live out our dreams of telling stories. There are these gatekeepers who are in charge of letting you do that. They are in charge of whether or not you 'make the cut' for this paying gig. A lot of people wait for them. Hell! I know I will be for the rest of my life. Being in the entertainment industry is largely freelance until you get on a network show and then when that's over or cancelled, you're back to waiting for another call. At the beginning of this year I got to the place where I didn't want to wait for them. I wanted to give myself the 'yes'. MisSpelled employs so many amazing artists. We are so lucky to have found them all. I wanted everyone to tell this witchy story at their full potential. "Live the life" they dream of today. Don't wait. Feed your soul.
How did you put such a kick-ass production team together? I mean, Joseph Ruggieri is one hell of a director!
And we would be nowhere without Joseph Ruggieri!! Him and his brother Casey McBeath (our cinematographer) were totally in charge in taking the script and bringing it's elements together with our Art Team Courtney Johnson and Ari Laden. I went to school for acting and am very passionate about it. It was crazy to me that people were just as passionate about lighting and decorating a corner of a house. It's their life! They breathe it! It's important to hire people that are smarter than you and that are passionate about what they are doing. We all exist only to elevate one another's work. Film is a collaborative process and can be very beautiful. You can run into a bunch of not fun, overworked, never worked, jaded individuals out there but luckily we were able to weed them out quickly.
How’s the fundraiser going? Do you feel things are moving apace? And how are the proceeds from your merchandise?
We don't have a storefront at the moment. Although, I hope we will soon. (T-Shirts are so expensive. If I told you how much you'd die!) Our IndieGogo Campaign is coming along nicely. We want to plan a live screening of it to help with marketing. It's always nice to get in front of peoples faces since so much of MisSpelled has involved internet advertising. Obviously we want to bring more of these girls stories to life! So we'd like 890 thousand dollars but we are asking for 30K and hoping to end the season if we can!
Suppose you reach your goal. What all can fans expect from the future of MisSpelled?
If we reach 30K you can expect duels, ancient bloodlines coming forward, more special effects, Emma getting terrorized by more bugs, and finally finding out what the heck Stella's power is. =D
Lindsey…it has been surreal having you here At the Bar. Thank you so much for stopping by.
I love your bar! Let's do this again sometime!