At some point you have to quit talking about doing something and just go out and do it! That’s exactly the point reached by Sharon Belle (Carmilla, Swerve, Couple-ish) and Maddy Foley, two actresses who met less than a year ago on the set of the digital series Allie and Lara Make a Horror Movie. The two became fast friends and realized they had a great chemistry working together and decided to use that to their advantage. Together they created the Canadian sketch comedy webseries Step Sisters. Released on April 3rd on You Tube,
Using only $500 of their own money to finance it and shot over four days in Toronto, Step Sisters is a story focused on two friends that “sit on a set of steps and talk about stuff.” Belle and Foley not only star in the series, but they also wrote, directed and produced it. While the main characters of the series are named Maddy and Sharon, it’s not autobiographical, and episodes cover a wide variety of topics from Tinder, to pink eye to the girls just getting in a fight. The TV Junkies recently spoke with Foley and Belle about the project and how it came together, as well as the decision to create it with all their own resources.
The TV Junkies: How did you two come together to work on Step Sisters?
Sharon Belle: Maddy and I met on the set of Allie and Lara Make a Horror Movie, and we just had this weird comedic chemistry right from the start. Everyone was always joking with us and saying we should team up and make something. We’d laugh at them but then two months later we did!
TTVJ: So “sitting on the steps talking about stuff” sounds like a pretty simple concept, but then you actually have to sit down and do it for 17 episodes! How did you decide or come up with the topics you were going to cover in the episodes?
Maddy Foley: Sharon and I didn’t really have anything planned or lined up for the writing meetings or schedule the season. We’d just get together and talk to each other and sometimes we’d find a joke within conversations we were having, or we’d have notes we had thought about during the week. We compiled all these jokes and moments that we found and make an episode around those. The more episodes we made, the better idea of the characters we got and that built into a season arc. It was very much a snowball effect.
TTVJ: Did I hear right that you improvised while shooting a lot of the episodes?
MF: Yes, the episodes are probably 80 per cent improv. We’d establish a loose plot walkthrough where we knew as performers that we had to get to different points and then it was done. The rest of the stuff in between was improvised either on the day or just between takes.
SB: It was pretty important to us to have a lot of improvised material. Early on we talked about whether or not we should even write a script, but we didn’t want to waste too much time on set. We only teamed up together a few months ago for the first time, so it was just really about learning to be confident with one another. I think the show itself though really needed to be improvised.
TTVJ: How close are the Sharon and Maddy in the series to the both of you in real life?
MF: Maddy in the show is an exaggerated version of myself, plus ridiculous plots and situations that I’ve imagined being brought to life. So it’s a little bit of exaggerating, but also pulling from things that haven’t happened to me, but I’ve thought about them happening to me.
SB: I just think Sharon in the show is me times one thousand! It’s the dark, twisted, even mean things that you think, but never say.
TTVJ: You’ve both worked on some other web series that have went the crowdfunding route and applied for other funding. Why did you choose not to go that route here and fund it all yourself?
SB: I’ve been in about four shows that have been crowdfunded and I’m so tired of asking people for money. You have an audience and following and think that you can tap into it, but you can’t just keep doing that. At some point you think ‘I have to just make this!’ We just needed to do this ourselves. Crowdfunding is so great for so many projects getting off the ground, it is.
MF: I would’ve just felt bad too because of how simple the concept was to ask people to fund this. That just seemed weird to me.
SB: Also, the whole time we were writing it and getting ready to shoot it we kept saying ‘I don’t even think we’re funny. What are we doing?’ How could we ask people for money for that?
MF: It helped overall though because then we just did it and didn’t feel like we owed anything to anyone.
SB: With crowdfunding you definitely feel like you owe a product that is good and we just didn’t know with this.
TTVJ: Something I really enjoy about shows that are on a smaller budget is that people are forced to get creative in other ways or really focus on the story. Did you find any ways that having the super tight budget actually helped?
SB: Yes! The thing I found the most fun was the set dec for every episode. In every episode we had eight beer cans, a shovel, a wooden box and a glass vase. Those were just things we found on the porch when we got there and thought ‘Oh crap! We need to make every day look different.’ So we’d move the shovel two feet or move the box from step to step, and it’s not that noticeable but makes such a difference. It’s funny to see people then notice little things with the shovel and it adds to the comedy.
MF: Going into something and knowing what you’re budget is, knowing what you can and can’t spend, meant we knew exactly what we could do when we wrote the episodes. So it didn’t slow us down because all we could afford was to sit and talk. So you really just play in that space instead of trying to exert yourself and do more.
TTVJ: You guys did everything on this series: wrote, directed, produced and starred in it. What was that like and which role did you prefer the most?
SB: I made my own short film a couple years ago as well and tried my hand at directing, and I don’t think I’d do that again unless I had to. For me, acting is still my favorite thing to do, but something I was really glad to be in charge of was some of the producing stuff like finding locations and organizing. I’ve been on sets where things aren’t organized, and the schedule isn’t realistic, and everything goes downhill the minute you walk on set. That’s something I was really happy to be in charge of and Maddy and I’s strengths balance each other out. Producing is just something I’ve found I really like because I like being in control of things.
MF: I love acting and performing first, but as a writer, having this put out there and have people laugh at it gives you extra confidence. It makes you feel like you’re validated as a writer. There’s a lot of people, myself included, that write something and it doesn’t go anywhere, so you never know if it’s good or bad or that you’re the only person who will like it. So to have your stuff made and received by an audience was a very validating experience.
TTVJ: If people check out Step Sisters and then want to see more from you are there any other projects you have we should know about or that are coming up?
SB: Allie and Lara Make a Horror Movie still has episodes coming out and things are going to get super weird on that show. You can check us both out there. At ClexaCon a couple of months ago, myself and my Swerve team just announced that we’re going to be making Season 3. That’s going to be filming in a couple months and is my main project.
TTVJ: I just think it’s so cool that you guys just met and were able to collaborate and create this whole series together.
SB: We met less than a year ago so it’s a total fluke that this worked! [laughs]
MF: It was love at first sight though.
SB: I’m a very persevering person and like to finish projects, but it seems like I always need a partner to do it and be brave. So having Maddy there just made me brave enough to say ‘Let’s do this!’
Are you planning on checking out Step Sisters? Add your thoughts below!
Step Sisters’ first half of the season is available now on You Tube.
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.