Let’s face it. Most of us spend an exorbitant amount of time searching for the illustrious ‘one’ – that person who is supposed to complete us, support us, understand us and love us in all of our successes and failings, for better or worse. It’s the ideal that every jewelry store, every Valentine’s Day advertisement, and every rom-com tries to sell us, and we’re all made to believe that without finding that ‘one’, we will lead miserable, half-lives.
But what if that person – that significant other – isn’t the person you’re sleeping with?
Sweet Nothings is a new web series about two women who come across each other after a bad date and develop a bond far more fulfilling than the one they’ve been searching for. Serial relationshipper Mel (Taylor Mallory) decides to pursue casual sex after meeting Erin (Jane Kim), a sexy, confident, no-nonsense woman who is all too happy to impart her wisdom. The two navigate their smitten friendship while facing the oft-embarrassing challenges of traditional romance in a world too fast changing to keep up with.
I sat down with director Alissa Goldberg, and writer/actress Taylor Mallory (from the Shadowhunters’ writers’ room) to pick their brains about the series, their views on the pressures of being a woman in the dating world and what they hope will resonate with the audience. Read their very fun, candid interview below!
I know a little bit about Taylor and what her background is but I don’t know a lot about Alissa. What has influenced your work? Was directing what you wanted to do?
AG: When I think about content that’s made a really big impact on my life, I think about movies like Thirteen, or Degrassi the TV show. As I’ve also spent a lot of time tutoring I’m really passionate about topics like anti-bullying and creating positive images. So, a huge goal with this show was to show that there’s women of all kinds that really do want to be in relationships, that really do want to have casual sex. And both of them are okay! [Positive self-image] does fall in line with what I want to do. I studied film at Wesleyan College in Connecticut, and then I moved out to LA to see what the film community was like out here.
So how did this all come about?
TM: Alissa’s best friend from Wesleyan also works on Shadowhunters, and she connected us at a party, and then we kind of hit it off. It’s like the girl romance behind the girl romance of the show! We brought in our third partner, this producer who went to college with me, named Matt [Marder]. He brought in the chops of going to AFI (American Film institute) so he had a lot of production experience and was able to get us in touch with crew and help with the managerial side. He was vital to making this look good.
Is this web series a first for both of you? Have you done something like this before or is this the first time you’ve done something to this extent?
TM: In high school I did these series of videos for the big school assemblies that were parodies of popular shows at the time. That was my first time seeing people reacting to my writing, and it was really nice. That was just a taste of it. Serializing this thing was kind of a late decision, we were going to make this very episodic.
AG: Originally we were going to make Sweet Nothings three-minute episodes — just something funny that had happened to one of us when we had tried dating in LA or something like that. Then we wanted to have a range of different characters with different perspectives. As we were diving in we just fell in love with the characters and it turned into an overall story instead of an episodic structure which, I think, was a really fun process. It wasn’t what we were originally planning at all and it kind of just happened based on the characters that we created.
TM: We always liked the idea of a love story between the girls but we found it harder to establish that in episodic form. I mean, Broad City does it really well, but I liked the idea of a romantic arc for girls. I also love the show Wicked, which is a big example of where the guys play background to the girls.
Yeah, that doesn’t happen a lot either.
AG: It was really important to us that all the guys we meet are all very realistic people. Yeah, maybe they hurt our girls in some way, but it’s never purposeful, it’s just life getting in the way. It’s supposed to be a romance show for girls, but the guys are real people and they still have their own feelings.
TM: The guy Erin goes out with, Collin (Todd Harrison) could so easily be the bad guy because he breaks up with her ambiguously a month later or so after they’ve been dating.
AG: It was really important to us that he was just not actually in the right place in his life to date somebody. And that can be so hurtful even though he, of course, has no intentions of ever hurting her.
TM: The original structure was that there would be one relatable thing per episode. The first three were more Mel and the second three happen through Erin’s point of view a little more. I’m hoping if we do get a second season, we can keep pulling in relatable ideas.
How long did it take to film?
AG: We pretty much spent the whole summer filming. The plan was to try and hit about one episode per weekend. Most of us were working weekdays so we could only shoot on weekends, which really lengthened the process a lot. Of course various production things came up so we ended up starting the last weekend of May and finishing in August. There were a few weekends where we had one night for four hours.
TM: It was brutal.
AG: Yeah, the majority of episode six was shot in one day.
I understand that behind the scenes there were mostly women working on set, which is pretty kickass. And with the nature of the series I imagine that produced some interesting conversations, perhaps. What was the vibe like?
AG: It was a goal of ours to have someone in middle school be able to watch this. We didn’t want nudity because we wanted the themes to get through without explicitly showing a lot of sex.
TM: During the montage at the beginning of episode three when I’m making out with a bunch of guys, it definitely helped to have a girl crew.
I imagine. The beige spanx were such a good look.
TM: The beige spanx!
AG: It was a goal of ours to have someone in middle school be able to watch this. We didn’t want nudity because we wanted the themes to get through without explicitly showing a lot of sex. That was a big goal.
TM: No one needs to see me naked.
Speaking of naked, I’ve gotta ask. Is Dokan real? And where can I find him?
TM: We cast this guy Alex [Rich], who is a buddy of mine. He’s such a gorgeous man and such a genuinely sweet and charismatic guy. As far as the character he’s based on, he’s a combination of guys I went on Tinder dates with.
AG: We had script meetings in between her dating this vegan guy and it was a complete coincidence. We were editing a Dokan scene and she’d say ‘oh my god, this happened on my date last night’.
I actually really liked the entire cast. There wasn’t a weak performer among them. Mel’s sister in particular, she was great.
TM: Mary Lou is phenomenal. She was actually on the Nickelodeon channel when she was a kid. She was the nerdy kid on Unfabulous. She’s one of the funniest people ever. Oh my god.
AG: Yeah she was amazing to work with. Honestly, it was amazing to work with [Mary Lou and Taylor] together, because they get along really well. While filming episode four, I was sitting by the monitor during the dinner table scene laughing behind this wall the whole time. And then that kitchen scene is the emotional part of the episode which, basically blew me away.
TM: I hate saying this because I hear it a lot in TV and in books, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get along with girls. [Growing up] I think I was just a socially awkward, very boisterous girl. I had mostly guy friends and went through a tomboy phase and then I went to having serial boyfriends like Mel, but since I’ve been in LA I haven’t had a serious relationship. I haven’t found a guy that I’m passionate about, but I’ve found all of these women that I’m passionate about and this show is kind of a love letter to a lot of those relationships. One of those relationships is with my sister, a little like Mary Lou’s character. The tension between someone who is married and settled, and people who are going through this dating slog is interesting. I think a lot of people in their 20s relate to that when dealing with the family they love who just can’t relate the same way. I wanted my sister to be represented in the show because that relationship is really important to me, and I think that just because they don’t understand and they can’t give you that feedback you need…they’re still contributing, they still care.
AG: I also have a sister and I think that sister relationship is so unique. Each relationship is so complicated and so different and it’s the one relationship where you can literally scream and say some of the most hurtful things you can think of but you still know that there’s this overriding love and you still respect them. It was really, really important to make that complex relationship in our show, too.
TM: I think it’s just having siblings at all. You get that constant perspective on your own life through their eyes.
Exactly. So which of the characters on-screen ended up being the closest to how you originally had in mind?
TM: Ooh. That’s a good question. I think Erin. Mel and Erin are kind of two halves of my personality, I like to think. And when I auditioned, I auditioned for both parts with all the actresses that came in which was really cool, and we got Jane Kim for Erin and she’s—
TM: She’s so great. She’s a professional actress who came in because of this casting call I think because she liked the idea of the show. She brought her own thing of course but watching her deliver the lines was like, oh man. She took it one step further. I had this thing in mind and she amplified it while still embodying what I had envisioned. I love what she did. Her and PJ.
AG: And PJ! Christian Schneider was the actor and he was actually my first roommate out in LA. We went to Wesleyan together.
TM: He’s so handsome! PJ is a TV version of one of my very best friends. Together we’re like those love-sick people who complain a lot and when we find people who actually want to date us we’re like ‘Hmmm, maybe not’.
I really loved PJ, actually. I think, surprisingly, he was my favorite.
In the beginning he was this douche-bag on a date.
AG & TM: Right.
And then he ends up being that friend that gives you advice and he’s there for you when you least expect it, like ‘come in, let’s wear onesies and drink some wine. You’ve done something stupid. Let’s be stupid together.’ I thought he was fucking cool. He was one of my favorites.
AG: PJ’s not really self-aware but is very empathetic, so he doesn’t totally understand how his signals are being read but can actually read other people’s signals and then be like, ‘okay, let me help you out’. I think Christian really nailed that character.
TM: What I really liked about having him on the show is that you don’t expect him to slide into friendship mode . Like you were saying, he comes off as a douche-bag but he ends up being a friend. I’m really interested in showing guy/girl platonic friendships. That ultimately fascinates me and sometimes on shows my favorite relationships are friendships that grow into that. Sometimes when you go on a date with someone and the chemistry is just not there, it’s a nice launching platform for friendship.
I did vaguely think for a little bit there ‘what if’. Call it societal conditioning but it did enter my mind as something that was possible.
TM: Did you have an episode that you liked the most?
Probably episode two. Not just because of the hot guy but it felt the most complete and structured as a one-off. The rest had more of an ongoing thread but episode two was kind of its own story.
TM: It had a complete trajectory, yeah. We conceived the first two earlier than the rest and then we morphed into that serialization for 3, 4, 5, 6. I would love to aim for an episodic chain. I want people to like and care about these people, to enjoy a Saturday night when they’re perusing the internet and stumble upon it. But yeah, it was such a big learning experience, ultimately. This is how you learn what works in your dialogue and, of course, with a structure for a web series there are a lot fewer guidelines available for what really works in a web format.
AG: I also feel the definition of ‘web series’ is so broad at this point because all of these people have found ways to use the internet to upload little bits of a story, but they’re all so different across the board. We did some web series research and it’s all very open.
TM: We wanted to release all at once and all together it’s the length of a pilot. You can binge it all at once.
I wanted to talk a little bit about Erin because she’s kind of this sex positive fairy godmother I think every women should have, but she’s also not invulnerable and I felt like you guys were trying to say something important through her. Was that intended?
TM: Yeah, she’s definitely that guru who has sort of mastered her own self-confidence and doesn’t need other people’s opinions and advice. She’s that confident guru character that Mel needs. But our structural idea coming into the project was that Erin was going to mentor Mel into being independent, and on the flip side, Mel was going to mentor Erin into being okay with dependence.
AG: When I think of Erin’s character, it’s also important to talk about how she has that image of fairy godmother to so many people, but then what happens when she has changing feelings about herself? Can she fill another role without confusing the people around her? She’s really mastered one part of her personality but we wanted to see what it’d be like for her when she wants to explore another part of her personality, for herself.
TM: That was a turning point for Erin. She wants to be seen as more than just that character. That character is usually my favorite. I would call Isabelle that character on Shadowhunters. That incredible, sexy, strong person that doesn’t need people. But then seeing them develop relationships where they do have that need and realize that they can grow from it. That’s the rewarding part, that there is something that they can gain.
Who came up with ‘F.U.N.’?
AG: Uh… (Points at Taylor and laughs).
TM: (Puts her hand up and laughs).
Because I’m pretty sure you could write a best-selling self-help book just around that concept.
TM: Now my friends love to cite it when we’re out as well. We use it on guys we see, like ‘he’s really F.U.N.’ There’s a Spongebob episode where Spongebob learns ‘F is for Friends who do stuff together, U is you and me, N is for anywhere, anytime at all, down here in the deep blue sea’. Anyway, it’s a really great acronym and then a bad guy like me comes and corrupts it.
AG: The original plan was that we were going to get them to write it out in french fries but when we started shooting it was 5am and there were no places open that sold french fries. We thought ‘Oh whatever, there’s a McDonalds around the corner’, but then it was 5am and nothing was open so we had to go to a 24 hour grocery store to get Pretzels.
TM: It was definitely a sign of a low-budget. Someone in the industry will watch it and think ‘so, you guys couldn’t afford fries that day’.
You’ve described this show as an ‘anti-romcom’, and a lot of romcoms and society in general tells us that happy endings depend on finding that endgame romantic partner. What was your reason for going against that trend?
AG: I think part of the reason a web series or TV is the right platform for this story is because real life doesn’t have an ending. We’re certainly not experiencing an ending right now. What we’re experiencing is the process, which can be really funny. You try something and it works, or it doesn’t work, or even if it works and then it eventually doesn’t. There’s no end point.
TM: It was always our goal from the beginning that the love story structure be like our own friendships. The one constant in my life out here is not the men, but my girlfriends. They are, in many ways, exactly what I need – that support that I always looked for in boyfriends and was often very disappointed about. I found a lot of that with my girlfriends. So we came up with that tagline pretty early on. ‘Sometimes your significant other and the person you’re sleeping with are not the same person.’ It’s weird how novel that idea is but it’s the thesis of our show.
AG: With my friend significant other, we get out of work and we call each other on our drives home to download our the entire day, and that relationship keeps us afloat more so than anything that’s missing.
What did you hope to accomplish with this web series?
AG: We have lofty goals in terms of wanting to direct and write and act and this would be a step towards honing in on that craft and understanding how the process works. That’s the selfish goal. On a broader level it really is my hope that if you’re ten, if you’re twelve, you can watch this and think ‘’These women have it together. There’s no shame in pursuing what you want.’
TM: It’s pretty amazing how representation of something you’re embarrassed about can completely change the way you feel about it. Sometimes we are very quick to blame and punish ourselves for our actions, so I guess with the content of the show I wanted to give all of these ideas more exposure. With episode three, we wanted to explore that inherent embarrassment you can’t help feeling, like feeling bad after a one night stand or a sexual experience so you are afraid to tell someone about it. It just takes seeing one person talk about it with confidence or experience to realize ‘okay, I’m not alone here.’ That’s been my experience with other female-empowering shows and I just wanted to contribute.
What do you hope your audience take away from it?
TM: I’d love for people to see it and message us and say ‘If you make more of this, I’d love to see this thing represented’ or like, ‘you guys should do an episode where you talk about STDs’ or ‘bisexuality’ or something. That would be really cool. We just want to put stuff out there that people haven’t seen enough of. Maybe it’d make a good Saturday or Sunday night for somebody. Good binging! At the end of the day, we just want people to like it, to come away enjoying it.
AG: Well, I hope people laugh and I hope people see themselves mirrored in what we’re showing.I definitely want people coming away from it with more positive thoughts about themselves. And hopefully about others that may behave a little bit differently.
Sweet Nothings is available now for your binge-watching pleasure over at SweetNothingsWebSeries.com!