An Interview with Otessa Ghadar
Otessa Ghadar, a Washington, D.C. native, is an independent film maker and web series creator on the rise. Since 2007, she has been an acclaimed pioneer of the of the web series format. She is the creative force behind “Orange Juice in Bishops Garden (OJBG),” one of the oldest and longest running web series. The show continues to rise in popularity and has gained viewership in over 140 countries around the world. The DC Gov Office of Film named Otessa as a recent Filmmaker of the Month and her show is a Telly Award Winner, three time LA Web Fest Winner, and Webby Official Honoree. Always on the look out for fostering the ITV medium, Otessa also consults, distributes, and assists other shows whenever possible. In 2013 she launched the Washington D.C Web Series Festival.
Aaron: So where did you grow up?
Otessa: I actually grew up in D.C., Adams Morgan.
A: Adams Morgan? I used to live in Adams Morgan.
O: Oh! No kidding? You know the 7-Eleven?
O: I grew up a block from there.
A: I lived on Columbia Road.
O: Crazy! My old stomping grounds. A great place to grow up.
A: So, is it true you were named “Most Likely to Create a Web Series” in 7th grade?
O: (Laughs) You know, I perceived a show in 7th grade, but that was not it! I think I was “Most Creative Dresser.”
O: Yes. Although I don’t know if that was supposed to mean “Best Dressed” or just “Weirdest Dresser.” I never got clarification on that!
A: I could really go either way.
O: Exactlly! Could have been a good thing or a bad thing. So anyways, there was no creating of a web series, but I was definitely in on it early.
A: Where were you when you first heard the words - web series?
O: I was in grad school. Actually, I remember this very well because it was one of those light bulb / epiphany moments. Marshall Herskovitz came to give a presentation at the school. Now, for me growing up, My So-Called Life (the teen TV drama created and produced by Herskovitz) was it. When that show was I, I told my mother, if anyone calls, take a message!
O: I mean, it was like a business meeting for me. I was serious about this show. So when he came to my grad school, he spoke about “new media” and his experiences with that - which is really what did it for me. I was compelled.
A: I see.
O: I don’t know about you, but I know so many people from film school who go into debt creating one short film that they hope is going to go to Sundance and at the end of the day, what? It’s a business card. One of the most expensive business cards that could ruin the next fifteen years of your life if it doesn’t pay off. It’s terrifying.
A: For sure.
O: So with the web series format, I found a place where I could be creative, explore the things that I’m interested in, and do so in a way that’s not going to break the bank.
A: Interesting. Where did you come up with the concept of Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden?
O: It started as my thesis. I was writing a script about the 79’ Revolution in Iran, combined as a story about my parents. I don’t know if you’ve ever written a story about your parents?
A: I have not.
O: It’s a nightmare! Trying to tell the story of your parents young and in love. I mean, just don’t!
A: I can imagine.
O: So, needless to say, I was running into a lot of trouble, getting into the issue of how this was a very serious political time, and my parents left Iran barley with their lives...I mean, it’s a story that’s very interesting and I want to revisit it, but I ran into a wall with it. Besides, I didn’t have the resources to tell that kind of story.
O: So I started just writing these vignettes, things that I remember from growing up. And at the end of the day, I noticed - these all kind of come together. I have a continual story that could be told in a web series. That’s how it started.
A: So you write everything?
O: Yes, I write it, direct it and produce it. Which, I think is the case for a lot of us.
A: That great. It’s so true. You have to take the big ideas and ask, “Is this scalable?”
O: Exactly! Which is something you don’t really learn in film school. My experience is that you always run into limitations and restraints - it’s how you deal with them that is artistic and creative and even more organic I think.
A: What film’s have inspired you to become a filmmaker?
O: Three films in particular really shook me. Blow-up (Antonioni), Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby), and last, but certainly not least, Repo Man (Alex Cox).
A: You’re really leading the charge right now with Web Series in D.C.
O: That’s very nice of you to say. I remember when it was a very disreputable thing to do.
A: Oh yea?
O: People thought it was just weird and kinky and wrong.
A: Kinky? Really?
O: I’m not even joking! Some of my professors in film school thought it was a little to “off beat.”
A: Something wrong with you.
O: Yea! Well, I was in New York city for seven years, and it was great, but I have no desire to move back. Glad to be home in D.C. I mean, speaking to the film community that we have here, just so incredibly talented and wildly diverse in the types of stories that they’re making - it’s something I really feel strongly about.
A: Well, tell us about the DC Web Series Festival you’ve started.
O: I would love to build this out and do the festival year after year! For starters, it’s just about putting D.C. on the map and trying to connect the dots among the filmmakers who are here. From there, I believe we can make it something larger and more substantial.
O: There are a few web series festivals out there, but I don’t see any reason why D.C. shouldn’t lead the way. The way I see it, pound for pound, if people know how many shows and web series creators there where in D.C., they would be shocked, and see that it really is on par with New York.
A: It was great to see filmmakers utilizing the D.C. metro area. I mean, a western shot in Virginia. Makes sense.
O: The diversity is impressive.
A: So is the future of Orange Juice in Bishops Garden? And do you drink orange juice?
O: (Laughs) I hate orange juice with a fiery passion! I think it tastes disgusting with everything else you could have for breakfast! So yea, I’m anti.
A: Now we know!
O: Right! But in terms of series, we have ten or so episodes in the can which I’m excited to bring out and I want to do a major push to get it on wider platforms for the final run.
A: The show is over?
O: Well, I’d love to keep on doing it forever, but the reason I’m drawing the series to a close is that I have another show that I’m chomping at the bit to get started.
O: As you know, supporting yourself as an artist and following those dreams doesn’t leave much time. I was hoping to continue to Orange Juice while starting this other show, but it divides focus and I want to do the best job at everything.
A: Makes sense. We’ll all be on the look out for that. You’re off the hook now.
O: We’re done?
A: All done.
O: Thank you. This has been great.