In an industry where creators are setting playing by their own rules comes 9 Days with Cambria, a web series that is setting the bar and attracting newcomers to the web series world. Co-created and co-directed by Jason Armstrong and Mike Klassen, 9 Days with Cambria gives a first-hand look at what it's like living and dealing with mental illness. In a unique approach at storytelling, the nine-episode series follows our lead actress Cambria, portrayed by nine different actors! We had the pleasure of chatting with Jason on web series, his series and more. Check it out and meet Cambria.
netTVnow: Can you tell us about your background in the industry?
Jason Armstrong: I've been writing stories and shooting camcorder adventures since I was a kid. In my teens, my attention shifted to music and I toured and recorded music for a long time. I kind of stumbled into film as an extension of an album project. Out of that my first feature film, 48 Hours in Purgatory was born. Since then I've written and/or directed several films, an unusual number of which come out over the next 12 months.
netTVnow: Was 9 Days with Cambria your first web series?
JA: Yes, 9 Days with Cambria was the first web series I've been involved with.
netTVnow: Where did the concept for the series come from?
JA: My friend Mike (Klassen) was scheduled to shoot a documentary with a young woman this past spring. She's had a complex and difficult experience in her relatively few years on the planet and the plan was that she would discuss her real-life struggles over the course of nine separate interviews, in nine different locations, on nine different days.
The night before, the project fell-through, but something still needed to be made. Mike called me and we hashed out some ideas and came to conclusion that her story, while complicated, wasn't uncommon and that there a lot of difficult issues facing people today that get swept under the rug. The biggest theme was how not black and white things are, something a lot of voices on the internet and in the media would have us believe.
We wanted to create this character who could talk through these and other tough issues. It just felt right that such a complex person, as we all are, really, should be portrayed by several different actors – one for each day. Every single actress we called jumped in right away and they all did such an incredible job giving us a complete character.
netTVnow: Was the series adapted with the idea of having 9 different actresses portraying Cambria? It was a brilliant idea!
JA: It started off as a matter of how much time we had to pull it off – it would be a lot to ask one actress to prep all those monologues in the short time from casting to going to camera. Then it occurred to us that it would be cooler that way because each actress could focus on just the subject matter at hand without reading the other experiences into what they were saying.
Ultimately, we asked them not to confer, the only minor exception being that days 2-3 got to see each other's scripts. The very interesting thing is how there is a sense of everyone being aware of Cambria's whole story, even though they weren't at the time of shooting.
netTVnow: Why did you decide to shoot the story as a web series and not something like a short?
JA: Honestly, it just felt like an episodic thing. Each monologue has some heavy undercurrents and I think each one warrants it's own discussion. Something like 9 Days with Cambria just felt like it needed pauses for breath, and the episodic approach is perfect for that.
netTVnow: You cover some very dark topics in the series, from emotional, sexual abuse, mental illness, etc., and you very much attacked the stigmas we see in traditional media and showed another side to it. What was the importance of that for you?
JA: I can only speak for my take, but I think there's a bullying problem in the arena of abuse and mental illness. Like victims are expected to think and feel a certain way about their abusers, their illness or their empowerment. I spent a long time as a youth worker and adding to that my own complicated childhood, I know things are not as clear-cut as we'd like them to be. So I don't think it was about dismembering stigmas as much as empowering humans to embrace the feelings they feel. There's too much “steering the story” in the public handling of private lives. We're all very complex and should be respected as such.
netTVnow: What’s something about the series that you’d like audiences to know?
JA: Just that while Cambria isn't a real person, per se, she represents the minds and hearts of a lot of very real people. I hope this series urges viewers to see those around them through a lens of empathy. You never know what the stranger beside you is going through. How you treat them is of great importance.
netTVnow: What was it like co-directing/co-writing with Mike Klassen?
JA: Mike and I go back a long way and it's always awesome working together. We have different approaches to filmmaking, but when we work together it just clicks in a great way. We hope to do a project or two together every year. Keeps us on our toes.
In this case, it just flowed very well. No power-struggle, just a combined effort along with the actresses to uncover Cambria's story as powerfully a possible.
netTVnow: Since this is a site on web series, what are some of your favorite web series?
JA: Does Netflix count? I've actually only recently started watching web series, but I liked the initial run of High Maintenance and I'm currently playing catch-up on Carmilla and Haunted or Hoax, as friends of mine have worked on them.
netTVnow: Why do you think web series are so popular and where do you see the industry going in the next few years?
JA: I think the web series explosion is a lot like the, showing my age alert, indie band scene in the 90's. People felt empowered to strap on guitars, play simple, low-tech rock and sing about stuff that really mattered to them. Web series offer creators a non-corporate, affordable way to say what's important to them to a potentially huge audience. And maybe audience size doesn't matter as much as the people who need the connection most being able to make it. I love that.
I think the industry will grow and production values will jump. I think corporate sponsors will get involved, which can be great for production, but I really hope creators stay on message, whatever theirs happens to be, as a priority.
netTVnow: Any upcoming projects or anything else to add?
JA: So many! My psychological thriller, Inspiration is coming out shortly and The Ghost is a Lie, is in post-production.
Super exciting right now is that we're in production on a new web series called Swerve with three of the phenomenal actresses from 9 Days with Cambria: Sharon Belle, Kat Inokai and Emily Alatalo.
Thanks so much for helping us get 9 Days with Cambria out there and in touch with the people who have found that connection to her important.
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