Creator of The Other F Word, Caytha Jentis, shares her journey of creating and collaborating on her web series as well as the challenges of fundraising and self promotion.
What strikes me about Caytha Jentis, as I sit with her on a café patio on a cool and unusually rainy L.A. morning, is her undying energy for her vision. Even with what sounds like a cold, she’s busting at the seams to tell me all about her web series, The Other F Word. She has a clear vision, believes in her concept and herself, and will stop at nothing to see her dreams accomplished. Her passion doesn’t surprise me. It’s like when your kid, who has endlessly practiced diving on small boards, declares she’s going to try the 10-meter-high diving board… and does it. No fear (that’s the first ‘F’ word, by the way, actually screamed by one of the characters in the series’ Pilot episode–“No fear, bitches!”).
That is Caytha. Fearless. What is also compelling is that her vision is not just a show idea, it’s a whole new understanding of what life is from her particular vantage point—the ever-changing terrain that is a women’s life. She acknowledges and presents it in such a way as to validate the experiences of women getting older, maturing, in an ever-present cynical world that often invalidates this specific demographic. That is, to me, as compelling as it would be for a young girl to get a doll that looks like her. As it is with most invisible demographics, older woman have been delegated to the sidelines long enough. It is time to see ourselves reflected in media—as we are, warts and all, as they say, with no fear.
Caytha is very forthcoming—I admire her self-reflection. “I wanted to challenge myself. Find a new story to tell. Find the Universal story.”
Caytha has been working on her web series, The Other F Word for almost three years now, “I realized, with some introspection, this new phase, this chapter of my life—mid-life, empty nest—this is the new story to tell.”
So she set about writing, producing, shooting, marketing, and launching this coming-of-age story—this Rite of Passage as someone like Joseph Campbell would call it. “We, as women, have no choice but to go through it.”
That hit me like a tablet from the heavens—an indisputable truth of what it is like to be a woman. This is a story that needs to be told so it can stand in the space between blockbusters and stories about guys who can’t seem to grow up.
Like a one-woman show, Caytha created the first two seasons of The Other F Word and plans a third. She quickly points out she’s using it as a proof of concept. But it’s not a one-woman show, she stresses, “At its core, it’s very collaborative…people volunteered their time. I crowdfunded, and a college provided equipment, location, crew and a DP.”
By her own admission, she would not have been able to pull it off without the people she worked with. She feels it’s not unusual for women to be collaborative, but it’s the competition they’re used to. “We’re now realizing that we need each other. We need each other to get things done,” Caytha says, now hoarse from the misty air blanketing Santa Monica. “We are the only ones who will do that for each other.”
Caytha stops talking. Her throat hurts. I run and get some hot water and an abundance of honey. I watch her as she drinks a little.
Caytha has three films under her belt, and while they could be considered “suburban, mom stories,” they opened up a whole new realm of stories for her. “Women, more so than men, live their lives in chapters,” she says. Which made her realize there was a demographic that hasn’t been written about, and it is truly an under-served audience—women over 40. “I’m told this is a tough demographic.” There’s pain behind her eyes as she says this—it hits like an insult. And it’s so untrue.
Leaning forward, Caytha drives home a salient point, “It’s the time; it’s relevant; it’s universal; people can relate to it.” She’s also received validation from producers. “They say, I’m onto something.”
What one should recognize about her focus and about the woman she is and the demographic she’s representing is that—without snubbing the mom thing–women are so much more than what they have been represented to be. “I know women who have traveled the world, invented things, who can shed light on aspects of the world as yet unseen, good or bad—women who are heroic in their everyday lives; i.e. the bloggers I came across.”
These are the stories that are waiting to be told. “These are the universal experiences we all share,” and Caytha is one person who is determined to tell them.
“My next question was, how do I test my concept?” Caytha talks quickly, between sips of her hot water with honey. “And I got validation! There are these great stories from bloggers with huge followings. It’s a niche market. And recognizing your niche market is a great way to succeed. It’s a vertical market with buying power…and one of the best validations? More than a million views on Amazon.”
These stories are about women who have lived—there are war wounds, and a complexity of spirit, waiting to be recognized. Not waiting anymore, if Caytha can help it. “We need to get back to the RomComs of Nora Ephron—smart, female stories.” The authentic messiness when boy meets girl. The simple situations that are bound to arise, and finding the humor in that. “I get my humor out of the real situations in this life chapter.” Like, when in the second season of The Other F Word, women howled at the place when one character, who had put having children aside, realizes she can’t have kids anymore, and after the shock of the realization, she went to the health food store, bought the resolutely effective hormone boosting and equalizing supplements, and downed them sitting at a bar with shots of tequila. “It’s something we all get!”
Caytha points out, “If you want to know how to write a really good screenplay, just look at the structure of a woman’s life.” There are definite twists and plot points, beats where things turn on their head and can easily send one reeling. And at each beat, there is an individual response, a way of getting through it that is shared universally. Caytha is determined to document it, with the help of other women.
“I want The Other F Word to become a traditional series—to give the stories time, breadth, space. It’s not easy to get the nuances of the lives of the characters into the six or seven minutes I have right now.” And then she says something really exciting, “I want to have a writers room that invites all sorts of input from women who have stories to tell…something like what Jill Soloway did for Transparent. Jill was a pioneer in how she formed her writing room—it was filled with consultants who shared their unique perspective on the subjects/experiences that is the Transparent show.” (Jill Soloway workshopped with Joan Schekel, an inspirational teacher and founder of the Film Labs—who also worked with Jane Champion. She teaches a revolutionary way to approach filmmaking, directing, writing, and acting.) Caytha’s excitement to form a similar writers room is palpable. This needs to happen. This can happen.
Caytha, in her undying energy, has embraced her ‘F’ words: Fearless, Friendship, Forgiveness, and especially Flexibility. Caytha explains that she has to seek out new partners and collaborators all the time. “Grass roots marketing is a full-time job! Having a successful web series is great. I set out to do a traditional show, realized I needed to do something to prove that it was viable, and I did. So if I can get funding in the meantime to continue the web series, I’ll take it.”
There is no one way here, there is no marked out, ready-made, delineated through-line—not for this new kind of thing—but that doesn’t stop Caytha from taking everything she’s learned and plowing through to make a new road, leading the way.
“Wish me luck!” Caytha says, as she races to see if she’s received a parking ticket. “I’m meeting people who may be interested in funding some of the third season—it’s not a directly related source, but I think it might be a good fit.”
“Good luck,” I call back, thinking no one ever gets tickets in the rain, and even if she did, it would never dampen Caytha’s fearless focus.