How ASMR Inspired a Web Series

The roots of this upcoming web series came about in quite an untraditional way. After a series of previous necessity-driven living situations and an all night binge of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos, writer and director of this 2017 series, Jason Hood created Pair of Normals. Hood gives us all a look into the woes of crowdfunding, writing and directing a series that is tackling the stigmatization of mental health. To learn more about the series check out Jason's contribution below and visit the series' website!

Inspiration from Insomnia

I started watching ASMR videos shortly after moving to New York, six years ago. At the time, I was living with two roommates in a one-bedroom Bushwick railroad apartment, and my “room” was a twin bed wedged in a corner between the kitchen and the bathroom. Looking for some relaxation help before falling asleep, I stumbled upon the early stages of the ASMR community on YouTube, before it even had a name - most of the videos were just called “relaxation” or “meditation” before the term ASMR, or “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response,” started to catch on.

About four years and seven apartments later, I’m living in my own studio apartment. Since then I’d had a brief job in the fine art world and then ventured into freelance film production and editing, and had directed a short web series on a roughly $3500 budget. And I still watch ASMR videos to fall asleep, the genre having grown to its own niche prominence, with articles about it in Vice an Huffington Post, and a roster of more popular “ASMR-tists” getting millions of views. A video from ASMRrequests inspired Iris and Betty, the two main characters of Pair of Normals, whose story eventually evolved into a retelling of one of those aforementioned seven living situations: Iris (Lucy Cottrell) and Betty (Megan Reilly) are two almost-strangers in a low point in both their lives, who help each other out by moving in together to regroup and put their lives back together.

Screenwriting Catharsis

I wrote 10 episodes of Pair of Normals and workshopped it with The Filmshop, a New York-based film collective of which I am a member. The story evolved into one about mental health, anxiety, death, real life vs your internet persona, finding your place in the city, that dark seedy neon-tinted 3 AM energy, and #horsecore, a sub-genre of EDM with digital horse noises. I wrote it while going through a breakup and dealing with my own ongoing anxiety issues - it was honestly a really cathartic experience. That’s also a big part of why neither of the main characters prioritize romance, they have more important things to worry about.

Clearing Hurdles with Producers and Casting

It’s also through the Filmshop that I met all 3 producers of Pair of Normals. The series definitely would not have been possible without them - the producers OR Filmshop. Because I had written the story through the eyes of female protagonists I definitely wanted strong female voices behind the camera as well, and Stacey Maltin, Vicki Negri and Marzy Hart really rose to the occasion in both the funding and production stages. 

In mid-2015 I had hit a wall. I had all the scripts written out but had no idea how to move forward. I knew I needed money but how would I get it? Money wouldn’t come until late 2016 but a big push forward came in casting the leads Iris, Betty, and another major character Xööüëë. Casting is my favorite part of preproduction, and I was able to find the perfect actors by reaching out to New York’s many improv theaters and their pool of talent.

After that it was time to start creating content. We did a photoshoot and a series of vignettes, and I built a website on Squarespace. I also wrote and directed a short film to function as episode 0 of the series, and with all these materials we spent the summer of 2016 preparing to crowd fund and casting a few more roles. I worked with the actors and created some vlogs and ASMR videos to release alongside the campaign.

Crowdfunding: Not Just a Scramble for Cash

We launched as part of Seed&Spark’s New Voice Rally and the following month was some of the hardest work I had done. With the previous series I directed, we had raised a fraction of our goal on Indiegogo, so I was determined to succeed but also cautious. I reached out to everyone I knew, and was often surprised by who contributed, and who didn’t. The biggest contribution came from bartering some work with a client. We got a bit of press as well, but that was more thanks to the producers, as reaching out for press is really not something I’m familiar or comfortable with (#anxiety). There really wasn’t any particular approach that “worked” better than any other, it was all just persistence. I had to work past a lot of my own anxieties, but I didn’t get a “negative” response until the second to last day of the campaign. After a month of work, worrying, and some measure of success, it didn’t really phase me.

Everything between the campaign and production was more or less a blur. The producers all worked so well together in getting everything ready that there wasn’t much for me to do. I had one more character to cast, and picked an excellent production designer and director of photography. I did get a bit stressed out in the last couple days before the shoot when my credit card was compromised right when I needed it for the equipment reservation, but everything worked out. 

The Smoothest Shoot I’ve Ever Done

I was definitely nervous in the lead up to the shoot, but it ended up being unfounded. Thanks to shot-listing beat by beat with the visionary cinematographer Blake, and the excellent producing skills of the team of producers (who all had their own acting roles!), the shoot went fantastically well. I also credit having low-key rehearsal the night before the shoot, a chance for the actors to play with their characters, get to know each other, and ask questions. 

We were a bit crunched for time on the first day, as filming in December meant that daylight was a highly valuable resource, but the crew and actors pulled through and I found myself constantly in awe of the shots. Morale was great on set, as was our catered lunches, which were above and beyond the standard-issue pizza: eggplant parmesan, fresh salads, and barbecue chicken were among the favorites. It also didn’t hurt morale to have 3 friendly dogs hanging out with everyone in the holding area. 

Day 2 went even smoother, impressive considering that was the day that involved coordinating about a dozen extras, multiple speaking roles and some fairly complex blocking. Our DP, camera crew, production designer, sound, producers, and cast were on top of everything to make the shoot not just successful, but an exciting and enjoyable experience. As director I felt extremely lucky to work with everyone.

Meet the Author
Jason Hood is a filmmaker from Texas currently based in Brooklyn, New York. With experience in television, narrative film, documentary and web series, Jason now specializes in directing, editing and writing for web. He's inspired by brownstones in Brooklyn, self-aware cartoons and surreal artifacts from the corners of the Internet. He spends his free time blogging loudly and drinking David Lynchian levels of coffee. You can find Jason on Twitter.