A new web series for the modern woman and the adventurous gentleman.
By Sharlene Chiu
Coming out is the insanely hilarious web-series, Terrific Women, directed by Nasty Gal favorite Ally Pankiw, who had also lent her cheeky directing chops for our beloved Singles Awareness Day video. Terrific Women follows Linda Davis, a pill-popping, two-time divorcée and life-of-every-party, and Joy Johansen, a good-natured, naïve woman, who is perpetually eight months pregnant, played by Sara Hennessey and Stephanie Kaliner, respectively, in 1974… which means they tackle everything from the fiery Women’s Lib, sweaty disco, and sketchy key parties. Fun times! It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of Ally Pankiw, who got her filmmaking start doing music videos for artists such as Janelle Monáe and Lil Jon. To celebrate the release of Terrific Women, we caught up with our old pal, Ally to chat about the crazy parallels of women’s issues of the 70s to our disturbingly similar challenges today, breaking ground as a badass female filmmaker, and all the fun shenanigans that happened on-set with Sara and Stephanie.
How did the web-series for Terrific Women come about?
It was created by two really hilarious women from Toronto—Sara Hennessy and Stephanie Kaliner—and I’ve been fans of their stand-up and their writing for many years. They actually started Terrific Women as a live show and decided that they wanted to create a serialized program around these characters, Joy and Linda, and they asked me to come on board to direct it! I actually think it’s fun that it’s coming out in the summer because it’s boozey and swinging, but I’m also excited for it to come out because, although it’s set in the 70s—1974—a lot of the things the series touches on are still issues that we as women, especially in the last year, have been discussing and dealing with. So I think it’s like strangely topical for being a period piece.
It’s crazy how the same issues still carry on. It’s like one step forward, two steps back?
Yeah, it’s like my favorite protest sign, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit,” from someone who has marched for women’s rights since the 60s and 70s, and still had to show up for the women’s march this year. But obviously, we’re looking at things through the lens of comedy, you know these gregarious, outrageous characters, but we are talking about real things too, which is always fun to walk that line.
Sara and Steph are so funny – how did you first find out about them?
They had filmed a few of these food recipe videos many years ago, where their characters made these disgusting Jell-O creations and like ham salad things. So I had really fallen in love with the characters and was really excited to help expand this world with them. This crazy 1970’s world.
You can tell that Sara and Steph are friends in real life.
What I really love about this series is the character work between them and the relationship they crafted between these two women, because they are good friends and colleagues that work together all the time… you can see at the core of the arc of the actual series, it’s truly about female friendship, and working through things together and the dynamics of their friendship. Even though the show is sketch and goes to bold places, and there are gags and all of that fun stuff, their relationship is always grounded and very real.
What were some other themes you wanted to convey?
It’s been talked about a lot recently, this idea of like really wanting to get behind a cause but maybe not knowing why you want to or knowing everything about it. Like this trend of getting behind a movement and the trendiness aspect of it because the characters of Linda and Joy are both very well meaning but really misinformed, new feminists who really think that the Women’s Lib movement is cool, and I think that that’s kind of, there’s a bit of that parallel with what we’re seeing today.
You’re either going to be attacked for not supporting a cause and not being aggressively vocal about your support, or you’re going to be attacked for not supporting it “properly.”
Yeah! There’s this idea of what is a good feminist and what is a bad feminist, and what I really like about this show is that you can learn as you go, and Linda and Joy are great examples of as long as you’re tolerant and open-minded, yeah you might get things wrong sometimes but you’re going to make progress.
Visually, where did you draw inspiration from for Terrific Women?
What we wanted to do was ground the world in as much reality as we could, like the wardrobe is all actually from the 70s. We had an amazing costume designer and nothing was made today to look like it was from the 70s, they were all authentic pieces. All of the wigs were lace-front wigs, they weren’t those sketch comedy wigs, it was very much true to the era. Steph who plays Joy even got her real hair cut in that terrible shape.
It’s like a mullet with those two pieces that flip to the back! Apparently it was the most popular haircut in 1974, just so hilarious. After the last shot when we wrapped, we did a ceremonial cutting of the little rat tail. That’s the best thing of working with comedians, especially Sara and Steph, is that they’re so dedicated to making it as great as possible. They’ll do anything as ridiculous as it may be to make it work.
Did she keep the rat tail?
Haha, I don’t think so!
Why was the 70s the ideal time period to set Terrific Women to?
In the 70s, it was this new thing that you could rally behind, like women’s lib and the civil rights movement… and I think wanting to bring that vibe to discussing similar issues that we’re having today, like bringing back that enthusiasm and “we can do it” attitude.
THAT fire is so important to imbue these people in this day and age. Because it is tiring. We have been asking for the same things, we have been marching for the last 30, 40 years for the same things and so that can get tiring, and so I think this show is special because it’s like bringing that initial enthusiasm back to the same issues we’ve been talking about for many, many years.
The current landscape can seem depressing AF and a lot of people are starting to shut off the news and escape to comedy, which Terrific Women perfectly satisfies.
Terrific Women is definitely 75% escapism and comedy, and 25% let’s talk about important stuff. We wanted to create a world that viewers would want to come back to episode after episode. The format of the show is that Linda and Joy have their own late night cable program and they do that because they want to inform women of the issues of their time, and so each episode has a special guest who they interview about a different topic. It feels like Ab Fab, Broad City-esque…somewhere in the middle of that… in the 1970s.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a young female filmmaker?
I think the hardest thing is that you don’t see yourself in the industry. So, you can’t imagine yourself in the industry. There aren’t a ton of really successful female film directors and so you can’t look to all these examples of women who have already done it and be like, “I can see myself there.” So the issue of visibility has been the biggest challenge. But once you do get started, you go, “Yeah, I’m just as good as the men in my peer group.”
Advice for young female filmmakers?
You just have to keep fighting for every opportunity, and surrounding yourself with other young female creatives who want to achieve similar goals to you. I always work with the same female production designer when I can, who I met many, many years ago on smaller projects. And just start making stuff, start writing your own stuff, if you want your own opportunity to direct. I got to make my first two narrative films because I applied for and got a grant.
Just got for it.
Yeah! Put yourself out there, ask people to read your stuff, watch the stuff you’ve made. It is definitely an uphill battle but it’s such a fun world to work in and such a fun gig, and I think women are such great storytellers—not that men aren’t—but I do think women have such an amazing perspective and interesting way into character. We need to see more of the female gaze – in commercials, films, TV shows, and web-series that we see out there because that could change everything from entertainment to politics.
I think we’ve seen recently, quite blatantly, what happens with the ignorance that comes from not sharing enough stories and perspectives. We need to learn more about each other.
And when you only see a protagonist of a particular demographic, like traditionally, straight white males, that can warp your idea of who you think should win and who should be successful in real life, because that’s all you see.
Which makes for a very messed up perspective!
Exactly! It’s worth the fight.
Check out the hilarious Terrific Women on CBC Comedy!
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