(Pictured above: Jessica Carollo and Alicia Giangrisostomi in ‘What Exit?’)
In this exclusive with The Savvy Screener, filmmaker Sophia Eptamenitis (pictured below) discusses the inspiration for her comedy web series What Exit? — now available on Amazon and Roku — and how she went about capturing the Garden State social scene. (Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
TSS: What was your inspiration for What Exit?
Eptamenitis: I always wanted to do a “slice of life” project about “Jersey Girls,” as an anti-Sex & the City. What frustrated me about S&TC was that no one I knew, or knew of, lived like that. Who dated male models and hedge fund guys? Who had the money to spend on $700 shoes? It was a great fantasy life but not based on any sort of reality (unless you were Candace Bushnell).
I wanted to show the world of more “everyday folk” living their day-to-day lives in the “less glamorous” Garden State. I think these people are much more colorful than those snobby Manhattanites anyway! I also wanted to show the contrast of Manhattan and New Jersey environments.
I always wanted to do a ‘slice of life’ project about ‘Jersey Girls,’ as an anti-Sex & the City… I also wanted to show the contrast of Manhattan and New Jersey environments.
TSS: There are lots of stereotypes about New Jersey. Name one that’s false and one that’s true.
Eptamenitis: False stereotype: toxic waste and factories everywhere. There are plenty of great suburban towns and rural areas to frolic!
True stereotype: Jersey Shore crowds during the summer! Get your tan on!
TSS: How much of What Exit? is autobiographical?
Eptamenitis: Some elements are autobiographical. I’m most like the character Lexi. She’s Greek-American, and career-oriented, and at one point I too was jobless and pondered the notion of moving back in with my parents (didn’t happen to me like it does to Lexi). Every character I wrote about in the series I had encountered in some form in my life — from the Italian family deli owners, to Lexi’s Greek Uncle Saki, to musician Evan.
TSS: Which episode is your favorite? Why?
Eptamenitis: I love them all, but probably season two, episode two: “Jersey Clubbed.” It features Tina and friends heading “down the shore” to a club, which we faked in my friend’s basement. He has a full wet bar that looked tropical and, with some creative lighting and post effects, I gave it the “active club” look. The actors (Jessica Carollo, Matthew Knowland, Lauren Klemp and Alicia Giangrisostomi) had fun with it too. When I went to edit I was actually cracking up at their antics. The last scene of the episode is a poignant conversation with Tina and Evan that hits the right tone.
You can view ‘Jersey Clubbed’ here:
TSS: What is your professional background?
Eptamenitis: I’ve been an aspiring screenwriter for years, while working in the areas of advertising, public relations, non-profits and education. Roughly 10 years ago I decided to get more “hands-on” in the filmmaking process by assisting a friend during the production of her horror feature film. That project went on to screen at a bunch of regional film festivals. I wore many hats as a production assistant, script supervisor and co-producer. I then worked on other indie projects before landing a full-time gig with a major cable news outlet in New York City. While working my “day job” and learning about the business, I wrote/produced/directed my first short film, a drama titled Invincible Summer. That story was based on my struggles as a teenager recovering from cancer treatment. The film screened at a few festivals in the New York City area. Then I went on to What Exit?
(Pictured above, l to r: Amadeo Fusca, Jessica Carollo, Gerard Adimando, Judy Bruno Bennett and Lauren Klemp)
TSS: How long was the production process? What was involved?
Eptamenitis: What Exit? was written as a feature, but I always felt it was a series of “vignettes” or “episodes.” Each episode would be short – averaging 5-7 minutes. We shot the episodes at a variety of locations in northern New Jersey and New York City, from restaurants and bars to private houses and parks. Each location had its own challenges but we, the cast and crew, made it work. Pro tip: Don’t schedule outside film shoots in the summertime!
I uploaded the episodes first to YouTube, but eventually found other platforms. The first episode debuted in late 2011 and the rest of the episodes for season one came out in 2012. After a crowdfunding campaign, I raised a bit more funds to do season two in 2015, along with extra episodes shot in the summer of 2016.
Pro tip: Don’t schedule outside film shoots in the summertime!
Eptamenitis: Through Twitter, I discovered MaddyGTV, a Roku channel that features mostly low- budget indie fare. They were looking for content and I approached them with What Exit? They liked what I had so they included it in their comedy section. MaddyGTV had been growing on Roku and got involved with Amazon Prime to stream its own shows. What Exit? was included in this deal.
TSS: Will What Exit? have a third season?
Eptamenitis: I would love for that to happen! Let’s find a sponsor!
TSS: What are some of your streaming favorites?
Eptamenitis: On Netflix: The OA, Stranger Things, The Get Down, Bloodline, Orange is the New Black. On Amazon: Transparent, old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I also enjoyed Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which was on Crackle [and will be moving to NetFlix – the editors].
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