During the summer before my senior year of college, I was living in an apartment in LA with some of my closest friends. In the most daunting times of the pandemic, our household was absolute chaos as we juggled our theatre classes with bizarre quarantine activities, treading lightly above our landlord's apartment so as to not evoke his wrath.
My journey with "Aspiring" began with the first ten pages I had written for an introductory screenwriting class at UCLA. The story followed Amy, a kindergarten teacher who was ready to give up on love after a series of painfully awkward first dates. She meets a variety of pompous, gross, and disturbed men at the same coffee shop, where her best friend works. Though this concept excited me, producing a full-length rom-com anytime soon was beyond my reach and resources.
In an effort to continue to name characters after my roommate and dear friend, Amy Lyn Williams, I began combining storylines I'd written into a piece about me, her, and my other roommate, Lauren. In a time of isolation, all of us lamented our loneliness, longing, and sexual frustration--and no one was more vocal about this than me. The night that set "Aspiring" into motion was a real event that ultimately became the closing scene of the pilot.
"Aspiring" is a very personal project about the people in my life, but it is also a romanticized version of what I saw in our futures. Julia is based on me (surprise!); she is a writer who is developing a stand-up set and the courage to perform it. Amy is the lead singer of an alt-rock band, who waits tables at the cafe where Julia meets her horrendous first dates. Lauren's character works as an intimacy director, though she hopes to spearhead her own projects. My roommate, Lauren, is one of the most talented and intelligent directors I've had the chance to work with, so writing for her character was one of the less challenging aspects of developing the show. I specifically wanted to feature intimacy work in this series because it is a niche (but quickly growing) profession in the entertainment industry that is so important. My mentor at UCLA, Carly Weckstein, is the one who sparked my interest in intimacy work and how it creates crucial communication between actors, directors, and the creative team.
At the time, Lauren, Amy, and I were getting ready to move into a new apartment, which is where we meet our three other roommates: Emma, Kay, and Marisa. Emma Aaronson and I had talked about working on a project like this in the past--a comedy series that mirrored our lives as an apartment of six musical theatre majors. She became my primary collaborator on the pilot, and we wound up co-producing it through the UCLA Capstone Initiative during our senior year. Throughout the process, Emma was my rock. After discussing our project with TFT faculty members Judy Moreland and Marilyn Fox, we took it upon ourselves to completely self-produce this pilot.
Shoot Day 1 (11.14.21)
First Table Read (9.19.21)
Shoot Day 2 (11.22.21)
Emma found our Director of Photography, Ziggy Koeverden, an extremely gifted cinematographer who has worked on set for a long list of mainstream TV shows and music videos. Ziggy introduced us to our second camera operator and gaffer, the wonderful Jake Tillis who has an eye for cinematography that could "make you weep." The rest of our crew was made up of film students, theatre majors, and others we begged to for free labor.
A few days before we were scheduled to shoot, our sound operator tested positive for COVID-19. Throughout the process, the pandemic posed a number of challenges and restrictions. We were able to navigate most of these limitations safely, but this threw a wrench in our plans. I remember sitting in a hot car, pulled over on some busy street in Burbank, crying to Ziggy as we tried to find a sound guy and collect all of our equipment.
Then the clouds opened up, and Eric Sarich appeared. We found Eric through ShareGrid and he cleared his schedule to come record sound for us the next day. Eric was with us for our first two shoot days, and then Brock Geselius joined our team later on. Brock and Eric were professional, prepared, and a joy to work with.
We filmed the pilot over six shooting days, from November-December of 2021. Emma and I have never worked harder in our lives, but the experience was nothing short of rewarding. Emma took on directing, with very little prior experience, and exhibited incredible leadership and grace. I am proud of this project and what it stands for, but most of all, I treasure the experience of being her collaborator.
I also am forever indebted to the actors that breathed life into my words. I am thankful for my roommates, Emma, Kay, Marisa, Lauren, and Amy, who are the heart, spirit, and wings of this story. However, my deepest gratitude goes out to the actors and crew members who stepped up when we needed them most: Luca Filiz, who stepped into the role of Miles only hours before coming to set, Anne Millhauser who embodied Janet on such short notice, and our extras who dropped what they were doing to help out.
And of course, we could not have produced this without the generous support of my parents, Jordi and Laura Ribas, the Aaronson Family, the Stevens Family, the Williams Family, and others who believed in this project and gave us the means to bring it to fruition.
The pilot is now in post-production, thanks to our editor and close friend Charlie Finley, our gifted colorist Willow Cai, and brilliant composor Luca Filiz. Aspiring will premiere on September 18th, 2022, almost exactly a year after our first table read.
For me and Emma, "Aspiring" is our pride and joy, our baby. It highlights some of the most powerful and talented women I've known in my career thus far, but also tackles issues surrounding adulthood, friendship, sexuality, racial identity, queerness, social media, spirituality, artistry, and female empowerment. More than anything, "Aspiring" validates the experiences of artists who've been told that they're not enough until they've made a name for themselves. Being an aspiring writer, actor, and creator is thrilling-- it drives me forward, it motivates and energizes me. Comedy has the power to open up essential conversations about the world we live in, and I hope to continue to use laughter as catalyst for change.
DISCLAIMERS & CONTENT WARNINGS
This section is inspired by my mother's eternal plea that anything I produce should be clean and holy in the eyes of my childhood parish priest. Father Nagel, if you're seeing this, I'm sorry. This pilot addresses sex and sexuality, includes foul language (I say the f-word), and includes a number of foot fetish jokes.
This was also a piece I wrote a year ago, and my humor has since developed (it's gotten worse). I could not have foreseen the death of Queen Elizabeth shaking the internet a week before we released the pilot -- so please forgive the tasteless joke at her expense.
So much has changed in a year. I've grown as a writer, as an artist, and as a collaborator with the help of everyone involved in Aspiring, as well as the other projects I've produced and written since graduating from UCLA. There are moments of Aspiring that still resonate with me, but others that I look back on fondly as they capture a time when I had so much to learn. With all this being said, I hope this pilot brings you a giggle, or a new insight on life, or maybe it'll just make you horny. Who knows.
Thank you for supporting this project and for caring enough to read this self-indulgent blabber. Last but not least, I want to especially thank my parents, Jordi and Laura Ribas for their love and immense contributions to this pilot. They've never stopped believing in me, even when I've given them every reason to (I majored in theatre). What they've given to me I can never repay--I can only hope that my work will make them proud. Whether my work passes the "Father Nagel Test" or not, I intend to continue sparking positivity and laughter through my art.