Some of the best ideas for TV shows come from real, lived experiences. After playing for years on different team sports, director and cinematographer J Stevens realized that they were sitting on the idea for the perfect comedy series. With all the drama, relationships, and variety of characters that play sports, it wasn’t a far leap for Stevens to get the foundations for the new series Slo Pitch. Available now on OUTtv in Canada and KindaTV in the U.S., Slo Pitch is a mockumentary comedy that follows the Brovaries, a queer Slo-pitch team, as they try to make their way all the way to the beer league championships.
Stevens, a Calgary-born, Toronto-based filmmaker, created Slo Pitch with K Knox and Gwenlyn Cumyn, creators of BARBELLE. They recently spoke with The TV Junkies about their background directing and making content that they want to see on screen, and how Slo Pitch offered a chance to tell a story that featured a diverse set of women and non-binary characters.
The TV Junkies: Have you always wanted to be a director and interested in making TV? Can you share a little about your background with us?
J Stevens: I was always interested in film growing up and always the kid with the camera filming events. I took a gap year after high school because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do and volunteered at the local TV station. It wasn’t the most thrilling content that they were filming, but it involved a skill set in my brain I really, really liked. I went to school then out in B.C. for two years before returning to Calgary. I was doing some corporate work and had my own company that did everything for corporate videos. I also assisted on feature films that were in Calgary.
It was when I moved to Toronto 3 years ago now that I started getting involved in independent projects that I was shooting or directing myself. It felt like a slow build where I directed a short film, then a music video, and then becoming friends with Gwen and Knox and creating this show.
TTVJ: We always hear how hard it is for people who aren’t men to get into directing. What’s your experience with that been like?
JS: Honestly, I’ve had a lot of really good experiences. I am someone who likes to create my own work and have no desire to direct something I don’t feel passionate about. So I’m not trying to get people to hire me as a director as much as I just want to keep creating content and the stuff I want to see on screen. But I do find that perhaps that drive did come from, ‘If I’m not getting offered the projects or experiences I want, then why not create them myself?’ That’s always been my mentality, but honestly, I feel that I’ve had a very fortunate career. I’ve had some amazing male mentors who have given me extremely great opportunities. I feel very lucky and supported, but do know that often resources and funding is disproportionate with male counterparts.
TTVJ: You became friends with Gwen and Knox, but how did Slo Pitch come about? I hear you may be the one responsible for the athletic side of it all?
JS: Yes, they are not the most athletic people but I love them very much. [laughs] I’ve had this concept for a quite a long time, dating back to when I was in Calgary, but didn’t know who would watch or care if I made it. So I never pursued further than just an idea for a mockumentary about a queer women’s sports team. It came from the fact that I have always played on team sports. The first year of the sport is always so nice, and then people start dating each other, they break up, it’s awkward, and the drama starts. I always thought it deserved to be a TV show and that’s where the initial concept came from. I love shows like Parks & Rec and The Office so thought the mockumentary would work well.
I then met Knox and Gwen, did some photos for BARBELLE, and enjoyed spending time with them. I pitched them the show and they definitely brought a whole new level to it. I’m so happy to be working with them.
TTVJ: The Slo Pitch cast is really great. Can you talk a little about what it was like to work with them?
JS: Our cast was incredible and it was so much fun as a director to work with them. Everyone was so good at adapting and hilarious. I purposefully left a lot of room for people to improvise because we had so many hilarious people. They were all so open and giving and receptive to any direction I would give them. I felt very fortunate and casting makes such a big difference. I feel like we got the Dream Team.
TTVJ: Knox and Gwen were really proud of different aspects of Slo Pitch. What do you love most about it or what made you proud?
JS: I’m the most proud about the number of opportunities we were able to give to non-cis males in our cast and crew. In front of the camera there are a lot of women and non-binary people, and behind the camera it was just the same. It was so cool going to work every day and seeing a bunch of badasses rocking it and making a show.
I bought pronoun pins that I put on the craft services table. I asked all the crew to wear them because we had a few non-binary actors and I wanted people checked in for pronouns. It was nice because I bought the same amount of “she/her” and “he/him” pins, and ran out of “she/her” and still to this day have lots of “he/him” pins in my bedroom. That was a pretty cool representation of it.
TTVJ: That’d be a great thing to see implemented on sets across the industry as well.
JS: What I loved is that Shaftesbury after asked me where I got them from and I think they’ve started to do it more on sets. It would be something that would be nice if it was universally adopted. I’ve worked with some of the same crew members since and they still wear their pins on set. That makes me really happy.
TTVJ: Were there any particular challenges involved with Slo Pitch?
JS: The biggest challenge was the amount of days we could shoot because of our budget. We had 7 shoot days and one extra day for the minisode shoot. It just meant that we were shooting so much content for the 10 episodes, especially on field days. When you’re trying to coordinate people hitting or not hitting the ball, or catching or not catching the ball, it’s stuff that takes time. You can say you only want to do it once, but you have to do it until you get the shot you need. So a couple extra days of shooting would’ve been good.
Honestly, the crew worked so well and the cast was always so well prepared. I was really worried about the day we shot the music video. We were doing it as a oner and if people didn’t know the words, and Lane Webber had to play the guitar, but everyone came to set so prepared. That really helped. Also, we shot in October and somehow whenever we were outside it was sunny and whenever we were inside it was rainy. I felt very fortunate to be working with the people we were.
TTVJ: Is there anything else about Slo Pitch we really should look out for?
JS: I’m excited for the world to see Kirsten Rasmussen as Joanne. She is someone who is big in the improv and sketch comedy scene, but hasn’t done a ton as far as TV or web series, and I just think she’s one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. I can’t wait for people to see her in the show. I also served as cinematographer on this and so I was the person holding the camera. There’s a few shots where the camera was shaking extra whenever she was making me laugh with her improvisations. I ruined a few takes by laughing.
TTVJ: Are there any other projects you have coming up that we should look out for?
JS: I was the cinematographer for a feature film called Hazy Little Thing. It got into the Canadian Film Fest, which originally was postponed, but Super Channel is now doing a virtual film fest. It’ll premiere as part of that and people can watch it that way. Everything else is on hold for now.
TTVJ: Hopefully an expanded Slo Pitch series or Season 2 then, right?
JS: I would love that! If I could have this be my job I would be very, very happy.
Slo Pitch is available on OUTtv in Canada and on KindaTV‘s YouTube channel in the U.S.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.