Production of online television is at an all-time high thanks to the freedom of the internet, which offers complete control over creativity without the usual pesky constraints of traditional networks and cable. With the explosion, the net has attracted award-winning producers, writers, directors, and actors, who relish the ability to tell their stories the way they want. Hundreds flock to various fundraising sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, tapping their audiences to become involved in making the shows they love so much. Unlike network or cable television, the online arena is unique in that fans can actually see where their money goes and be a part of the production.
One such webseries banking on their fan base to ensure another season in an “all or nothing” proposition is Nikki & Nora: The N&N Files. I spoke to the Executive Producer and writer of this ground breaking series, award-winning Nancylee Myatt and series star, All My Children veteran Liz Vassey.
Though the series was initially produced for UPN (now The CW) in 2004, after the pilot did not get picked up, Myatt decided to take her vision to the web. In 2013 Myatt launched an Indiegogo Campaign with a goal of $50K. To her shock, fans responded in a frenzy and exceeded the initial ask raising $65K! Myatt hopes to do this again for season two. Last year upon dropping the first season of The N&N Files, it spread across social media platforms like wildfire as fans embraced the series with fervor.
What is the series about and why does it resonate with fans so well? The N&N Files takes place in New Orleans where Nikki Beaumont (Liz Vassey) and her life partner Nora Delaney (Christina Cox) work as Private Investigators. While the original pilot had a darker feel as a procedural series, this version is much lighter, with two intriguing characters who take their work as seriously as their relationship. Myatt explains that at the time UPN chose her script to produce the pilot, the network had their ideas of what they wanted to do with it in an attempt to make it fit for a certain demographic. Although it was clear that Nikki and Nora were in a relationship, the network attempted to water it down so-to-speak for an audience that (in 2004) wasn’t quite ready to accept a full-blown lesbian relationship on network television. This is one of the reasons that Myatt was excited to put it on the net and produce the vision she had for the series. In my estimation the gamble paid off!
One of the most important aspects of casting a series like this, is finding the right actors who have chemistry. Interestingly, Myatt describes Vassey was one of the last actors they screen tested with Cox after several attempts to find the right “Nikki.” The two met in the hallway at CBS Studios and immediately hit it off. Both were excited about the project and if you’ve seen the series, their performances speak for themselves.
For The Young and Restless veteran Vassey the road to this webseries was one that sort of kept coming back around.
She explains that in 2004 her agent asked her to audition for the original Nikki & Nora which was to air on The CW. Newly married, she really didn’t want to move to New Orleans if the pilot was picked up; however, fate had other plans! She had been auditioning for several shows during pilot season and, as each script seemed to run into the next, when she read for Nikki & Nora the characters were so unique and kick ass, it stuck with her. Although the pilot never aired, when Myatt approached her about making it into a webseries, Vassey jumped at the opportunity.
Being an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, she felt it was an important role and project to do. Has it been a challenge for her playing such a multi-faceted lesbian character? Vassey had no reservations about the role or her co-star Cox, “Love is love whether it’s with a man or woman.” She laughs because ironically her chemistry with Cox is better than some of the men she’s been paired up with!
When I saw the series was filmed in New Orleans, I thought it was a great back drop to this sort of “cloak and dagger” type series. Myatt is native to the area and clearly has love for her city.
Numerous shows are currently produced in New Orleans, most with big money backing them. Because a webseries is independently created, Myatt doesn’t have the luxury or ability to shut down an entire street or business to film. How does she accomplish this in the heart of such an iconic, historic town? One of the great things about living in the area is the fact she has several locations at her disposal thanks to friends, family, and colleagues who help out whenever they can and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want their business featured in a cool webseries?
She went on to describe the tour guide shoot from the first episode and reveals they were able to shoot out on the street in downtown New Orleans without blocking off the area by acting like a real tour, which allowed for the scene to be more authentic as they rolled their cameras. Of course, one must be ready for anything, especially in the heart of the city where drinking is pretty much like breathing! Apparently as they were shooting a highly inebriated guy brought filming to a standstill, swooning over the beautiful duo, Vassey and Cox! Luckily the impromptu disruption didn’t cause too much delay as police handled the situation.
Best known for her work on South of Nowhere and with years of experience, first as a writer on the hit sitcom Night Court, then working with her mentor Norman Lear on The Powers That Be and producing NAACP Image Award-winning Living Single (among many other productions), Myatt knows how to craft a story well to bring a sense of reality to her characters.
This series is well planned and executed with each season following one case that Nikki and Nora work to solve. Personally, I like this format because it’s easy to follow and tells one story at a time versus trying to have multiple storylines or cases in one season. Myatt reveals she basically writes what would be considered a 70-85 minute television episode, then cuts it down into several ten-minute or less episodes which keeps the flow of the series at a good pace, suitable for online viewership.
The cast is amazing. Myatt reveals that when she wrote the script, she tapped several actors she knew so was able to write the characters to fit them accordingly. They all stepped up as friends of hers or Cox to help make this series happen, bringing their own fan-bases in tow, which didn’t hurt!
There are several familiar faces including Janina Gavankar (Lea Sadina), Aasha Davis (Violet Craig), and Armin Shimerman (J. Hewitt). I was thrilled to see Supernatural alum Jim Beaver (Arliss Fontenot) in the series and Myatt explains she was best friends with his wife, who was involved in the original project. Sadly she passed away before the pilot was completed. His passion for the project remained with such strong ties to the series that he gladly joined the cast. Every cast member brings a freshness to the show that compliments Vassey and Cox, enriching their characters.
So what does Myatt have in store for season two? Pirates, Artists, and Tiki-bums,oh my! Nikki and Nora will be involved in a mystery caper that takes down a high-end art forgery ring. In addition, the audience will see more of Crescent City and, although they haven’t announced exactly who, there are a few special guests tapped to appear.
Sounds pretty exciting but it won’t happen without your help! How can you be a part of this amazing production? Go to their Indiegogo Campaign and donate for some great perks, like a special shout out on twitter, a copy of the digital script, a signed picture from season one, a chance to go to the screening party in LA or an Associate Producer credit! While not everyone can afford to give much, every penny helps and with only a few days left Myatt is asking fans to ensure the story can continue!
Myatt is grateful for the opportunities she’s had, the doors that have opened leading her to South of Nowhere, where she met lifelong friends. Thanks to this, she was afforded the opportunity to write and produce the original Nikki and Nora, which led her to creating this incredible series. She adds it was “very important that this project give the community visibility within an industry that is difficult to carve out.”
Myatt’s message to everyone involved in the project and the fans? “The gratitude I have about this project and South of Nowhere is huge. From a personal note, I’d like to thank everyone that cares about this as much as I do and I hope I’ve delivered the best I can for this audience and I want to keep doing it. That’s one of the reasons the second season is important to me. I want to keep doing what you really want and be able to tell more of the story. I’m hearing you and what everybody loves about it, what they care about. Having [fans] invested in this process makes everybody even more of a family and united. It really is for the people, by the people. If I can help facilitate another season that brings joy, visibility, comfort and everybody just sort of seeing themselves in a normal way, I want to do it. But I can’t do it without everyone’s help.”
Vassey likewise thanks all the fans for their support and is amazed at the outpouring of love they have for a series. “Thank you for bringing us back. It’s the first time that a pilot has turned into a webseries. We appreciate all the support we’ve been given and we get that its hard particularly in this day and age to part with dollars, we understand. We’re very grateful we had the first season of the webseries, we feel the love and truly, truly appreciate it. If we get to make more, we’re pleased as hell and if we don’t, we are very grateful for what we got to do.”
It’s clear this series is definitely a labor of love for all involved. It’s a playful, scintillating, sexy, yet moving series with layered characters that will keep you wanting more. Be sure to check out their Indiegogo Campaign, watch this series on their website and follow them on twitter @NikkiandNora for the latest news on the new season!