Describing her band’s path to success, Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst ’01 once said, “The road is long, but it is narrow.”
That sentiment certainly rings true for Darielle Deigan ’11 and Montgomery Mauro ’13.
These one-time Theatre 220 board compatriates are part of a growing entertainment revolution happening outside traditional Hollywood studio lots. More and more actors, writers and directors are shedding their dependence on conventional filmmaking avenues, and instead creating their own opportunities with the rise of the web series.
“My friends and I joke that a web series is the equivalent of eating popcorn; they’re so easy to binge watch,” says Mauro.
And like most binge-worthy stories, Deigan’s and Mauro’s each began with an ambitious dream and the goal to get there.
Deigan went first. After four years dedicated to studying theatre and gracing the stage at the College’s Simons Center for the Arts, she decided to wholly pursue acting. So, she packed up her life and said goodbye to the state she’d always called home to head west with a theatre degree, a well-loved car and just the right amount of optimism. Among the other things she carried with her was her sense of preparedness. Deigan is a planner – she always has been.
“For a theatre major, I’m definitely very Type A in that sense – I like to have things organized,” she says. “I like to know what I’m getting myself into. That’s, in many ways, why acting is such an exciting challenge for me. I really have to push myself.”
So when it came time to move to Los Angeles and pursue an acting career, the Myrtle Beach native was only as starry eyed as she needed to be to actually make the move. Deigan had a demo reel (of mostly College productions), professional headshots and a degree of self-possession that would set her apart as she auditioned for what she expected would be traditional roles: short films, TV pilots, police procedurals and so on.
But things in entertainment were changing. The web series had arrived, and some were finding incredible success. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City hit it big with their web series after it became a ratings goldmine on Comedy Central. Husband-and-wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfield followed suit when HBO picked up their web series, High Maintenance.
In 2013, shortly after she moved to California, Deigan decided to join the movement, making her first foray into the web series world as the co-star of My Roomate: The Pregnant Teen.
Her interest in the medium piqued, Deigan called her old friend (and also Hollywood-based) Baker Chase Powell ’12 to brainstorm how they could capitalize on the growing popularity of the web series genre.
“We said, ‘OK, let’s make a web series; let’s show off our stuff,’” Deigan remembers. “It’s fun when you can work with your friends and make something you care about.”
In 2014, the two joined forces to create and star in their own web series, Dating Pains, about, well, dating pains – specifically those unique to millennials and Southern Californians.
Dating Pains was indeed a labor of love. Deigan and Powell worked with a friend who edited the footage, and they counted on other friends and acting hopefuls to fill in any extra roles.
“It was all out of pocket for Baker and me,” Deigan says. “We just kind of said, ‘We can’t pay you right now, but this is a project we’re really passionate about, and you can use it in your reel and on your résumé and you’ll get IMDB credits.’”
Following Dating Pains, Deigan and a network of fellow Cougars created a second web series titled Standardized Patience, a mockumentary-style web series that follows three quirky standardized patients as they awkwardly work with medical students as “practice patients.”
As Deigan’s journey into web series production took shape, Mauro was settling into his life in the New York City acting world. And, like his old CofC theatre buddy, he found himself wanting to do more than wait for his big break.
Mauro, along with his brother, launched No2Mauro, a small film-production company, in 2015. He often doubles as both an actor and a screenwriter. And, he occasionally directs and edits projects, too. The Mauro brothers have developed a number of projects under their company’s mantle, including several web-based short films and a web series called The Show, a mockumentary-style show about producing a low-budget play.
“I took a lot of experiences from working off Broadway, as well as things I learned from growing up doing theater and studying at the College,” says Mauro.
Each of The Show’s six episodes lasts about 10 minutes, an intentional choice, Mauro says, to make them easily “snackable” for potential casting directors, agents or producers who may watch.
If Deigan’s success is any indication, Mauro should have high hopes that his web series will open new doors (so far it’s been accepted to three festivals, and Mauro is waiting to hear from the remaining 10 to which he submitted The Show). Deigan has continued to land roles in other web series, TV series and short films. In 2016 the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Project recognized Deigan as best actress for her role as Mary, a woman who can’t remember how she ended up on a strange man’s couch following a wild New Year’s Eve party, in the short film Three Point Tony.
And that’s the beauty of creating your own content – you have a tangible way to market yourself without waiting for a call from a casting agent.
“I know a lot more about the process of creating a series and also of what to do with it once you’ve produced it,” says Deigan. “For example, you can shop your show to YouTube or submit them for festivals.”
Plus, with so much media competing for the viewers’ attention these days, there’s something to be said for offering quick-hit shows that offer maximum entertainment in a minimal amount of time.
“I think saying that you have a complete web series is much less intimidating than saying, ‘I have this feature film I want you to watch,’” Mauro says. “For a viewer who doesn’t know your stuff, that’s a big ask. But saying, ‘Please sit down and watch six 10-minute episodes’: It’s much easier to commit to that.”
Even the pickiest viewer can make that commitment. So tune in. It’ll be worth it.
Photos by Leslie McKellar.