Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 01/14/22

The eight-episode second season of Freelancers, the breakout family-friendly crowdfunded sitcom that has garnered almost 8 million views on YouTube, is now available for free on the Angel Studios app (also home of  The Chosen, Tuttle Twins  and The Wingfeather Saga)

The show employs a sort of Marx Brothers, meets Airplane! meets The Office style to spin frenetic, absurd yet relatable comedic tales about five off-kilter best friends trying to make it as filmmakers, one terrible freelance job at a time. The show is a production of JK! Studios, a company co-founded by executive producer Natalie Madsen and other veterans of BYUtv‘s Studio C comedy ensemble.

I first spoke with her as Season 1 was launching and just chatted with her again about what fans can look forward to in Season 2. The season premiere (introduced by Natalie and cast member/writer Stacey Harkey) follows our conversation.

JWK: How is Season 2 different from Season 1?

Natalie Madsen: Before even Season 2 existed, our audience (many of whom are crowdfund investors) has been a lot more in (on) the process which is really, really cool (and) a very cool experience for us…We have almost 3000 investors (for) the second season. There’s something really magical about crowdfunding. You really automatically have this little army of 300o marketers that are so excited for something that doesn’t even exist yet and want to tell people about it. So, really to be able to activate our fan base has been just cool. It’s been a really call experience.

JWK: What was it like filming during the pandemic? It seems to me – given that the show is about a small film production company – that could actually be basis for a funny episode.

NM: In fact, it’s funny you mention it. We do have an episode (like that) this season. It’s not quite a pandemic episode but there is an episode where they all get sick and they need to stay home and they try to keep each other entertained and they try to care for each other. It’s not with COVID but it is (where) they all get sick and they kinda have consequences of being sick.

As far as the pandemic goes with filming, of course production was affected. If you weren’t in front of a camera, you had on an N95 mask and we had testing and all that kind of stuff. We filmed in April and May of 2021. That was right around when vaccines were coming out. That was helpful but, honestly, it was just a lot of testing and a lot of mask wearing. We were so lucky that we didn’t have an outbreak and we didn’t have to shut down. I can’t say the same for other productions in Utah so really lucked out. We did try to be as safe and healthy as we possibly could be and we were able to make it.

JWK: You’re the executive producer of the show but in the first season you did a little acting as well. Any more of that for Season 2?

NM: You know what? My character does come back in the season finale. I was able to put on the coat and be kind of a bad guy again which was fun but the majority of my work for the season was all behind the scenes. I was in more of a producer role, helping to just develop the show, (handling) the fussing and working with Angel (Studios).

JWK: When we spoke last time you said your comic influences and sensibilities veered toward classics like The Carol Burnett Show and Monty Python.

NM: Yes! I was raised on that stuff!

JWK: How about right now? Are there any current sitcoms – that you’re not producing – that really make you laugh?

NM: That’s a good question. It’s not on currently but – with streaming – it kinda is. I’ve always loved Parks and Rec. It’s such a feel-good show. The one I’ve actually been hooked on most recently is Ted Lasso. It’s not family friendly. There’s swearing and stuff in it but I love the character development and the comedy there. I think it’s just kind of a genius show. I will always watch The Office.

JWK: What are the elements that make for a good sitcom in your mind?

NM: When you can see yourself in the characters and the storyline – or you feel kind of part the community. I love Parks and Rec because you feel like you’re part of this town and you’re part of the Parks and Rec department. Something we really try to go for in Freelancers is – and something we honestly try to do in all of our content as JK! Studios – is to be inclusive and to make people laugh. You don’t have to be 35 to get a certain joke. You can be 10 or you can be 65 and you can still think it’s funny. We really value watching it together as a family (or) as a group. We don’t to exclude anybody from the laugh. We want to encourage the audience to feel like they’re part of the family. With Freelancers that what we really try to do. It’s about five best friends but we want to audience to feel like the sixth best friend – basically to (be there) with them, understand what they’re going through and love the characters.

JWK: While Freelancers has universal themes that people can easily relate to, it definitely leans into the Airplane!-style absurdist genre of comedy – which I love  –  but I’m wondering if JK! Studios would have any interest in producing a show that is more grounded in reality, say something along the lines of a Frasier?

NM: You know, I’ll say never say never. We come from a sketch background and, of course, in sketch comedy you have three-minute scenes that go from maybe a somewhat grounded place to an absolutely insane place. That’s really how every sketch goes so I think that’s always going to be our comedic instinct to take things pretty far and absurd but I’ll just say never say never, you know? I’m sure we would love to create all sorts of things in the future.

JWK: Have any traditional networks or streamers gotten wind of this show and approached you about it?

NM: Not specifically with Season 2. Before Season 2 and after we created Season 1, we had pitch meetings with several streaming services. What’s kind of a common roadblock that we’re finding…is you go to Hollywood, you pitch some ideas and Hollywood will say ” There’s no need for a family-friendly sitcom” or “We’re not really doing that brand of comedy” or “We don’t really get it.” This is part of why Angel Studios really exists. Instead of taking a traditional pitching model, Angel has decided “Okay, well let’s let the people fund what they want to watch. Let’s kind of cut out the middleman and go directly to the audience.”

As far as Season 2, we haven’t been approached by a streaming service yet. We’d love to get it on a streaming service if it means more eyeballs but, as of right now, we’re just hoping to expand more to the Angel audience and then even more from there.

JWK: Does essentially pitching straight to the audience – as opposed to going through a gatekeeper – change the end product at all?

NM: I think it probably protects the end product, if I’m guessing. There’s no studio executive looking over our shoulder while we’re writing or giving notes on scripts. It really truly is just the show we wanted to make (and) the episodes the creators wanted to make. So, if anything, I think it might honestly keep the content closer to what the writers and creators originally intended.

JWK: Do you think Angel Studios is revolutionizing the business? Are we going to see a different entertainment industry five or ten years from now because of what they’re doing?

NM: I wish I could tell you the future but I do think it’s not something that will stop growing. I think it’s only going to keep becoming more and more common – just with social media and the internet. There’s that kind of line that used to be drawn between what gets made and who consumes it. It’s just getting better and better. It really is. So, I hope so. I hope that they continue to kinda change the landscape. They certainly have over the last two years and I don’t see that stopping any time soon. There’s nothing but growth for them. So, we’ll see.

JWK: You’re currently doing eight episodes a season. Traditionally hit network shows like a Taxi would do over 20 and rack-up  a hundred or more episodes over their runs. How long would you like to see Freelancers go?

NM: I mean sitcoms like that also have quite a large budget and staff. We’re still very much an indie sitcom. We would very much like to do two more seasons, maybe even a movie with the characters, but we’ll see. Like I said, it just kind of depends on how the audience responds and what kind of growth we can get (will) kind of determine our future but we definitely have more Freelancers ideas in our heads that we’d love to make.

JWK: By the way, where’d you get the name JK! Studios? I assume it’s not named after me. If it is, I thank you – but how’d the name come about?

NM: You know, it was mainly just we knew we needed to kind of organize as creators, we knew we would always do comedy and we knew we wanted to make lots of different shows, web series and videos. So, “Studios” made sense just because it’s a place where you can create all sorts of things and “JK” because it comedy. JK – Just Kidding.

JWK: So, where do you see the company in five or ten years?

NM: We’re hoping to just kinda continue on the path we’re on but level it up. We’re hoping to make more shows. We would love to do more sketch comedy. We would love to do more movies. We would love to just make more and more. We have no shortage of ideas for things to make – and mainly just hoping to take what we’ve made so far (and) grow it so that we can make more and more. 

JWK: And, given your name – Just Kidding! – I assume you plan to stay in the comedy lane.

NM: I think in our heart of hearts we’ll always really just want to make people laugh. I think that’s always the goal. We want to make connections to people through laughter. I really truly think comedy is the great connector. I always say you can be on either side politically but everybody thinks The Office is funny. There’s something universal about a funny situation and everybody laughing.

JWK: And the way politics is right now, that’s hard to come by.

NM: Yes, exactly. I think comedy will always be in what we make even if what we’re making may look and feel a little different tonally. I certainly doubt we could ever resist writing a joke into a script – even if it’s a drama. So, I’m sure we’ll continue with comedy.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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