it'sa good time to be a web series creator, especially when you're Stephanie Koenig and your web series 'Stupid Idiots' just got picked up by Paramount Television and Anonymous Content. After writing, directing, producing, starring in, and editing the web version, Koenig will go on to become the executive producer, and writer, attached to star alongside long time collaborator Brian Jordan Alvarez, for the TV version.
An alumnus of Michigan State's theater program, Koenig was more than happy to share some of her journey with us, as well as impart some wisdom about creating your own work.
Stareable: When did you know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry, and how did you 'get your start'?
Stephanie Koenig: I can't remember wanting to be anything else. I guess I knew at age 4? The moment I made my mom laugh I was like, THAT's IT. How do I recreate this good feeling. How do I profit from this. Ha. I made home videos with my best friends my whole childhood and adulthood. When kids in high school were partying, my friends and I were having laughing attacks in scenes and trying to finish takes. Felt like the only way to live. Ha. How did I get my start? By making this show. I'm still starting. But I'm sick of starting, I'm ready to be giant now. I've done great acting gigs but this feels more like my calling.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give younger Stephanie as she began her performing/entertainment career?
I'd tell myself to start making my own stuff a bit earlier because I have so many ideas now. I'm just praying I have the time to get them all out of my head and onto the screen. The best advice I got from Brian Jordan Alvarez (my best friend) is, "everything is dumb until you finish it." If you finish it, it'snot dumb. Just finish and move on. Finish and move on.
Where did the idea for Stupid Idiots come from, and why did you decide to self-produce?
The idea for Stupid Idiots came from wanting a platform to express what my best friend Brian and I think is funny. He's the funniest person in the world to me. I want to be on set with him for the rest of my career. Brian and I have similar brains; we can keep up with each other and we know exactly how to get a laugh out of one another, like any best friends. Sometimes, we have to censor ourselves around other people- like, we don't want to exclude anyone out of a conversation, because usually, when we are alone, we will make a joke, and because we know the next joke and the next joke before anyone says anything, we tend to jump a couple jokes ahead. From A-D if you will. Or A-Z really, which can confuse people like any inside joke would. We make sure we take the joke far enough until it'sover. No more elevation to the joke. I wanted to see if I could take an audience on that ride with us. I self-produced it because I wanted complete control. Especially for my first project. I just wanted to film and finish it. That was the goal.
How much of Stupid Idiots is scripted versus improv?
I think the final edit ended up being like, 70 percent scripted and 30 percent improvisation. But we rely heavily on getting as many "free" improvised takes as possible. That's where the gold is to me. Especially, when you're working with someone like Brian Jordan Alvarez, or Ken Kirby, Mitch Silpa, Lucas Hazlett, Adam Slapin, Michael Strassner, Edgar Blackmon, Jon Ebeling. They are all improv performers and comedy geniuses. I want to make sure they are free to elevate the scene to wherever their wacky brain desires. I go nuts on other people's sets if they aren't asking for a free/weird take to do whatever I want. That's usually the best footage for me. Brian is basically allowed to do anything he wants in front of the camera, forever and always, he's a genius and a movie star and I trust his instincts.
Did you have to pitch to Anonymous Content, or did they discover your series on their own?
We released it online. THANKFULLY. There was a time I was being advised not to and I'm so happy I did. Release it! Just release it! If I hadn't, no one would have seen it, even if it got picked up and I still sold the show, no one would have seen my version, where I had complete control and so much fun. We had a lot of wonderful people who were interested- amazing studios and production companies who I loved. But ultimately, I met Zoe Worth at Paramount, (who's a future mogul) who works for Amy Powell (who reenergized Paramount TV) and Michael Sugar at Anonymous Content and was like, yes, I'm doing this now, with you guys. Where do I sign. I believe my amazing reps at Paradigm sent a link to Michael Sugar, and the next day I met with him, realized he's a genius, and incredibly funny and has an Oscar for a reason. He champions me as a creator and I'm excited to do Stupid Idiots with this badass team.
If you could have any career you wanted and not have to worry about money, what would that career look like?
If I had a bunch of money and I will soon, I'll always use it to create my own stuff. I'm used to making home videos...I think I'll keep doing that. I know some people say it'sstupid to use your own money, but if I do it without expecting any return, I'll be happy. I'd spend money on making a film over a designer purse or designer clothes any day. I hate shopping.
What is the best lesson you've learned while self-producing projects like Stupid Idiots, and what is your favorite thing about doing them?
it'sjust fun. If you're an actor or a creator, I would suggest filming stuff for fun on a regular basis. Just finish something. Keep finishing something.
Any advice for other creators in the web series world who want to learn from your success?
Man, I got lucky because I released it on Brian Jordan Alvarez's channel. Which was already huge from 'The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo'. I also got lucky that Matthew Lynn, our brilliant DP, was willing to work with us. Get a good DP. it'snight and day, makes a huge difference. Also, we went to Joseph Dimarco for post sound, that was important because we recorded most of the sound on our iPhones, and he did an incredible job making it sound high quality. But yeah, keep releasing stuff. You never know what's going to hit.
What are your favorite web series?