gemified | July 19th, 2011 - 12:00 am

An Appreciative Eye on ABM

By Gemma Jacob

I have wanted to get a fellow Brit to do the Fan Focus for a while now, and seeing as I have had many an ABM-related conversation with Rochelle Dancel, I thought it was about time we sat down and did things formally. Rochelle is not only a fan of ABM, but is also the producer of her own successful webseries, BJ Fletcher Private Eye, which is currently trying to find funding for its third season. A dilemma ABM fans are no stranger to.

Because of her work on Fletcher I knew that she would have a unique perspective on ABM and the issues that come with producing a webseries that many of us fans are unaware of. As a Brit, I wanted to know how she felt about the impact ABM has on its audience when, especially in the UK, we do have a greater representation of LGBT people on our screens – with much less fanfare.

Knowing what goes on behind the scenes and how demanding production can be only adds to the many reasons we love the show. No matter how we come to ABM, whichever perspective we view it from, it is clear that the writing and performances are what keeps us fans loyal. And, after many years, it can bring two old school friends together on a rainy Saturday afternoon to appreciate all things ABM.

ABMFans: So – Producer of BJ Fletcher, apart from looking at what everyone else was doing, why did you start watching ABM?

Rochelle: Okay, what do you mean by ‘looking at what everyone else was doing?’

ABMFans: Well, I figure as a producer and as a fan of webseries in general, you wanted to scope out the competition. Was that the only reason you started watching?

Rochelle: That’s an interesting assumption to make. When I watch other webseries, it’s rarely in the frame of mind to ‘scope out the competition.’

ABMFans: Okay maybe not so much competition, but your contemporaries.

Rochelle: Right. Like a lot of people, I discovered ABM on AfterEllen, which was home to Fletcher. I was very curious.

ABMFans: That’s where I discovered it.

Rochelle: And – like a lot of people, started watching it regularly and grew to love it. In terms of the whole ‘looking at what everyone else is doing’ thing, as a producer, I tend to look at what people are doing in terms of promoting their shows. Where they are, who they’re talking to, how they do it. Any producer will tell you that that side of the show is a constant evolution. Constant learning, observing, trying, testing, and sharing.

ABMFans: You’re in the midst of raising funds for S3 of Fletcher, what did you think about ABM’s web-a-thon idea?

Rochelle: I thought it was brilliant and original, and very relatable as a Brit. You know, we have Children In Need and Comic Relief and stuff like that. So it was quite novel.

ABMFans: Well, we do like to cart out our celebrities for a bit of fund raising.

Rochelle: Well, indeed. I think it’s an idea that worked particularly well on the web because the reach was incredible. That’s one of the things that I’ve loved about ABM’s approach to promotion, it’s almost pioneering in its originality and I have much respect for Tina and Susan for going there, and trying things that have not been done before.

ABMFans: So you think having a strong social media presence is a big part of why ABM’s proved so popular?

Rochelle: Absolutely! And I think that that ABM Fans does a great job too :).

ABMFans: Thanks! :)

Rochelle: There are few creative genres that teach you more than webseries how immediately important the fans are. They’re very vocal, very supportive, and very invested in the life of your show, both in terms of the characters and in the people that are making it.

ABMFans: They really are.

Rochelle: I always find it weird but nice when I get e-mails and messages from fans. I understand it when our cast gets stuff like that but I’m a producer – we’re not supposed to get stuff like that! But it also makes us immediately accountable.

ABMFans: Yeah I’m still trying to come to grips with the whole idea, I sometimes get stuff sent in via ABM Fans that I’ve passed on and I’m just like, ‘Wow this show is really making an impact.’

Rochelle: Absolutely. And from all over the globe too!

ABMFans: I mean, I knew it. But just to see it from other people. It gets to me most when I get things from the Philippines, I mean I know it shouldn’t but just to think this show I watch is reaching audiences there. It does blow my mind a bit. More so than from any other country because I suppose I know it.

Rochelle: I have yet to receive mail from anyone in the Philippines, but our Google Analytics map tells us that we have fans visiting our site from there!

ABMFans: I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Rochelle: Indeed :).

ABMFans: Does knowing the production issues a webseries faces help you appreciate the show more?

Rochelle: As a webseries producer, I can appreciate the work that goes into the making of the show – before, during and after production. ABM is often held up as a show with great production values, and quite rightly so – it looks great. That said, in any medium, I always think that the making of any show is a great story with great characters and, as a fan, that’s what keeps me glued to my screen.

ABMFans: What did you think of the last season?

Rochelle: In a nutshell, I’m very glad that Team Vivster came through!

ABMFans: Woo hoo!

Rochelle: The thing about a great pair of characters is that you know when they’re supposed to be together – it’s like life.

ABMFans: Thank you. And yes, they’re supposed to be together!

Rochelle: I think Rachael and Nicole do a great job. Of course, on Fletcher, part of the fun of it is having people guess which pair of characters are supposed to be together and our fans are just as vocal!

ABMFans: Well there are a few insane ABM Fans who are vocal in thinking it should be a different pairing too, but I choose to not listen to that noise.

Rochelle: It has been interesting for us because our fans have such immediate access to us and have been very vocal in pleading, begging, and demanding to see their choice of pairing at the end. It would be very remiss of us not to listen to them; that said, however, it’s like having another adviser in the room when we all come to talk about the story of the characters and Regan works her magic.

ABMFans: I would like to think that my Team Vivster campaigning and pleas of no more pain swayed Tina and Susan in their decision, although I’m sure it didn’t.

Rochelle: LOL I like to think that you have a hotline to Tina and Susan about that issue.

ABMFans: I do, it’s called Twitter! :)

Rochelle: And I thank you for whatever part you had to play in that outcome.

ABMFans: You and every other Vivster fan are very much welcome. Speaking of Twitter, do you think having people that Tweet – like Tina and Susan, and for the most part Rachael and sometimes Nicole, so accessible helps the show? I just sometimes think it must be hard because you have an instant critic. And instant praise too.

Rochelle: Let’s face it – no one wants to talk to a nameless, faceless, branded Twitter stream. I think you have to look at how our shows are put together. We’re asking our people to become our audiences, and we hope they become fans. We hope they connect with us, in amongst all the other connections they make every day. It’s easier to connect with a person than a brand, it’s easier to ask a person to help support your show.

ABMFans: I testify to that.

Rochelle: People are going to praise or critic you any way. I’d rather we were in touch with that and that we had an open conversation about it, both the good things and the negative things. I think any show that decided not to go on Twitter – or have any kind of way in which their fans could feed back – is living under a rock, and it’s impossible to create anything under those circumstances.

ABMFans: I think it also helps to have an online presence in the space between seasons to make sure people maintain interest. We can be easily distracted.

Rochelle: That’s true. But if you make a great first impression, people will come back. It would be remiss to have an ‘If you build it…’ philosophy. Good marketing is nothing without a great show and vice versa.

ABMFans: True, with the size of web just hoping people will find you is optimistic, and unrealistic. There are those who aren’t caught up in Twitter or aren’t big on Facebook that seem to find their way back to ABM. What is it about the show that keeps you coming back?

Rochelle: Great characters and a great storyline. There’s really no secret to it.

ABMFans: Who’s your favourite?

Rochelle: My favourite character would have to be Aster. It’s funny, because she’s uncompromising in a blanket sort of way; therefore, it’s interesting to see every concession she makes for her relationship with Viv.

ABMFans: How did you think she did this past season being so far from Vivian?

Rochelle: The great thing about being the age that these characters are is that they can be in a hyper state of finding out what makes themselves tick. Sometimes you have to go away to discover what’s important to you, even if it has always been staring you in the face. Ultimately, Aster came back, and was brave and honest about it. So it was all good. I have to say, though – what in hell parent lets their sixteen year old child run away to the other side of the continent all on their own!?

ABMFans: Thank you! How did you feel about her and Carey?

Rochelle: Well, as I have always been of the opinion that Aster should’ve stayed with Viv it was not possible for me to like Carey.

ABMFans: See, this is why we’re friends.

Rochelle: It’s going to be interesting to see if she comes back, though to truly test Aster on her home turf.

ABMFans: Oooh yeah I want to see that. I don’t think Vivian will be happy and it’d be interesting to see Rachael play angry.

Rochelle: That’s cruel, Gem.

ABMFans: Um…it will test Rachael’s acting abilities.

Rochelle: LOL.

ABMFans: Although I’d prefer not to see her crying again, those scenes kill me. But yes, also I think Aster wouldn’t know how to handle it and I think it would be good to see her on shaky ground, just because she is so headstrong.

Rochelle: Oh, please. You know with those two that if they did break up for years, they would still end up together.

ABMFans: That’s the beauty of Vivster :).

Rochelle: Indeed :). I’m very much looking forward to a fourth wave of ABM.

ABMFans: Me too!

Rochelle: It’s unusual for a web series to have that longevity.

ABMFans: It’s what the fans want.

Rochelle: We’re really lucky, on Fletcher, that our fans are supporting our efforts for our third season. They’re really making their presence known on our IndieGoGo page.

ABMFans: Where would you like them to take the storylines next? I’m going to start petitioning for a prom episode!

Rochelle: A prom episode would be hilarious. Or something with sports.

ABMFans: Oh man, Vivian and sports? Do we really want to see that? Well yes. But oh man. What of the other storylines, how do you feel about the whole Sophie and the older man situation?

Rochelle: I cringed, because I immediately feel for the child in that situation and grown up as Sophie is, she is still a child and there are frameworks and rules and all that stuff to safeguard against all that. I hope Sophie finds someone more suitable (and age appropriate!) in the next season.

ABMFans: Yes, as long as she keeps her lips away from Vivian I am all for Sophie finding happiness.

Rochelle: LOL.

ABMFans: As a Brit, with storylines like Christian and Syed on the BBC and also Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady with their own shows, do you still feel the magnitude of having a show like ABM with a (sometimes) happy young lesbian couple at the heart of the story?

Rochelle: That’s an interesting question.

ABMFans: I’ve been waiting for a Brit to ask it to.

Rochelle: Well, here’s a very British answer. On balance, I think in the UK, we have a lot more representations of gay – male or female – characters on TV than they do in the US.

ABMFans: I know, when I watch Eastenders and I see the Christian-Syed storyline and the current adoption story they have, it makes me so happy that there aren’t religious groups protesting outside the BBC for showing “that sort of thing” on primetime TV.

Rochelle: Although it’s great to have shows like Lip Service, I think the most significant presence of a lesbian couple has been in Coronation Street because that show has a totally different audience base. It’s the families across the country that have grown up over several generations sitting down and watching it at the same time in the evening as opposed to trendy urban folk that tune in to BBC3. We’re from London, so we’re quite privileged to be able to be in a cultural space that’s consciously uber-liberal. However, without LGBT people being seen as mainstream members of your world all the elements that are attributed to it being dangerous not to be straight – prejudice from your family, your church, your work colleagues, at school – will still abound. That’s why it’s important for people to see as many representations as possible of LGBT people – characters – in as many mediums as possible. The internet has always been the go-to for anyone looking for information on anything, rightly or wrongly, I hasten to add! Our genre in webseries is very necessary for this purpose. The e-mail and messages that touch us the most are usually from people from small towns and villages that we’ve never heard of. From people that probably have the ‘only gay in the village’ syndrome. It’s equally important for older people as well as younger people to see different representations. As with all media, a lot of it is targeted at younger people because, as a consumption group with disposable income, that’s where you want your product to be. But people all of all ages are affected by LGBT issues at various stages in life, so there has to be media that represents them too.

ABMFans: Does having characters like Gabe and Aunt Jodie help then, by showing a positive reaction to having a gay family member?

Rochelle: Absolutely! I think that, even now, the whole ‘come out to your parents and get thrown out’ is the prevailing script so as many positive representations to balance that out is wicked. I have to say, though that as a creator, the issue of responsibility is always a balancing act, especially in this genre. I think it would be impossible to write something where you come at it from an issue perspective. Stories always have to be character driven, character led. Thankfully, I have yet to be in a situation where I’ve been writing something and I’ve had altered the authenticity of a character’s handling of an event because of what I think the audience might think, or because it would be better for any kind of cause if I wrote a different outcome. But like I said, it’s a balancing act.

ABMFans: How do you think ABM handled the Vivian coming out to Aunt Jodie storyline?

Rochelle: Really nicely – I actually felt for Aunt Jodie, and she was so sweet making that video.

ABMFans: “Hello P-Flag!”

Rochelle: Yes!

ABMFans: I want to see Vivian’s mum. I think she could shake things up, or even one or both of Aster’s folks.

Rochelle: I have a feeling that I would be mad at Aster’s parents. I’m a big fan of multi-generational stuff if it’s right.

ABMFans: Well yeah I’d be mad at anyone that let their 16 year old kid travel across country by themselves for an unspecified period of time.

Rochelle: I remember when we brought George and Jenna’s mums into Fletcher and they provided us with my favourite scene ever, the infamous Pirate restaurant scene. It was comedy gold. I have the feeling that Aster’s parents would be the two CEO parents. Or else one CEO and one country club parent.

ABMFans: I think they’re doctors. But definitely of the “over-achiever” type.

Rochelle: That makes sense!

ABMFans: I think it could provide some drama to the show, and Tina and Susan are fans of the drama, so I’m trying to deflect it away from Vivster drama.

Rochelle: Whatever it takes, Gemma, whatever it takes.

ABMFans: Damn right.

Tags: ,

3 Responses to “”

  1. Thanks very much for having me :)

    And Happy 1st Birthday, ABM Fans – hope you have many more!

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply to Susan Miller