Jason Armstrong is back and ready to knock you off your feet with another web series that'll leave you an emotional wreck and wanting more. Learn more about Swerve and the three beautiful women who helped make his project a reality. And if you love his work and you're in the Toronto area, check out the screening of his feature film Inspiration and you might just recognize one of your favorite Swervers!
netTVnow: Where did the idea for Swerve come from?
Jason Armstrong: How long do you have? I've always been interested in stories about people trying to figure out who they are and taking extreme measures to do so. The idea of trying something with a quick-turnaround, the opposite of a feature film, was appealing and I immediately knew it had to be Emily (Alatalo), Sharon (Belle) and Kat (Inokai).
After a false-start writing something cool, but admittedly less inspired, I tripped on this idea and immediately sent it to Kat. She has some health struggles that I'm sure she'll share with you, so I didn't want her to do it unless she was comfortable. But it had to be her.
She had a strong and positive reaction and I immediately reached out to Em and Sharon and we were off to the races.
To say I had a checklist of things I needed to cover wouldn't be honest. I don't really write that way, for the most part. I just gave these characters situations and started writing until they played out. I always assume that sounds like crazy-talk to anyone who doesn't write fiction, but that's how it goes. Ordinary people in extra-ordinary situations. I just write down what they say and do and season it a bit.
netTVnow: As the writer, what were some things you took into consideration in writing Swerve?
JA: I've gotten to know these women pretty well over a number of projects. I wanted to play to their strengths and believe me, they have many. Some actors struggle with subtlety and nuance, but these girls all deliver that in spades. That said, they are not interchangeable. I can't imagine any of them in any of the other roles. They literally embodied their characters.
Also budget [laughs] what budget? And time, requiring limited locations, came into play. We shot this in four days in essentially two different places, hours apart and that gives it just the right amount of scope.
I'm a huge fan of “small” stories. The details. The little things. Limitations make it so much easier to keep that in focus.
I also feel strongly that media often sensationalizes and exploits marginalized people, which only further marginalizes them. I never want to do that. Whether portraying a terminally ill person, a gay person or any other unique quality that can make a person feel alienated. I just want to take those things for granted and let the character live in as realistic a version of their skin as they can and circumstance allow.
I also didn't want to explore Jen's illness. I just wanted to explore her as a person with that as part of her life. There are many degenerative, ultimately fatal illnesses and I just felt the specifics were none of our concern.
netTVnow: Similar to 9 Days with Cambria, you have opted to bring stigmatized issues to the forefront of your series. Can you share some of the issues you brought forward with Swerve? I know Elise having a personality disorder is one, and as we later find out Jen ordering her own hit is a pseudo assisted-suicide sort of issue as well.
JA: I think for Jen, the ability to choose is the only thing in her control. She has found a way to revel in the last moments, but never wavers, even when the stakes change. Maybe it's even better that it's someone you love helping you escape the pain.
I've always leaned toward female leads, likely because of the incredible women I've known, whether my mom who essentially raised me alone or my amazing wife of 18 years, both strong people who've stood toe to toe with a world that is tough and come out of the other side of battles I don't know that I could've faced.
All that to say, I wanted this to be a story about powerful women, all making hard choices, but also facing questions about who they are. Being vulnerable but also wicked-tough. Whether it's Elise struggling with her feelings for Stevie, and wrestling to read the signals, or Stevie hiding a pretty dark secret about who she really is, handling it dispassionately until worlds collide, or Jen given an opportunity to call the whole thing off and not making that choice.
netTVnow: What was your thought process in selecting Kat, Sharon and Emily for your project?
JA: Zero thought. If they weren't all in, Swerve wouldn't exist. As I mentioned, it had to be them. They are just plain awesome humans and actresses and it never occurred to me that anyone else should play Jen, Stevie or Elise.
netTVnow: Music plays a big role in the series as well, how did your music selection play a role into the ongoing themes of the series?
JA: The music really came together in post-production and as we were assembling everything it became really clear that it had to be honest and organic. I reached out to friends, acquaintances and heroes in the music world and everyone was so generous.
It felt risky at first to mix genres, EDM, Metal and lonely, lonely piano, but it just seemed so right as it all came together and that is the way my brain is wired, musically. Art has to sit right with the artist. After that, if no-one else likes it, it's ok. If you try to pander, you'll never be satisfied and all criticism will hurt. As a musician myself music is very important to me and I sent each of the girls a song to consider as they thought about their characters.
For Kat it was Twenty-One Pilots remake of My Chemical Romance's “Cancer."
For Emily it was Karma Fields w/ MORTEN feat. Juliette Lewis, “Stick Up."
For Sharon it was "Skin" by Sixx AM, which is Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue's current band. It's a powerful song that really causes my “allergies” to flare up.
netTVnow: What’s one thing you’re hoping audiences take away from Swerve?
JA: The power and importance of human interaction and connection. The need for openness.
Jen was always going to die. But she got to do it knowing she'd mattered to someone and made a difference to them. Hopelessness shouldn't overtake us as long as our words and ideas can still slip free of our bodies.
Stevie is forced to honor a commitment she may not want to. She's free-spirited, but there's a lot of weight on her soul and having to face that moment when Jen is essentially telling her she still needs her to go through with it is just powerful to me. Can we cross those kinds of chasms for people who need and love us, even if it will haunt us forever?
And Elise. She makes the choice to bolt from her regular life to something else and it almost doesn't get her anywhere, until fate brings her to Jen's attention. She is quiet and has bursts of open-ness which you see in her opening statement to Jen, and dishonesty when Jen tells Elise she thinks Stevie is interested in her. She is self-protective, but I also think she's protecting the other girls from what she knows about herself. At what point do we give up our facades and speak and act honestly? How often do we wait too long?
The relationship between Jen and Elise, a beginning and an ending sharing a few weeks of their time on this planet, just speaks to how important those connections are. We can always grow and help others grow, right to the last breath.
netTVnow: Is there something audiences haven’t picked up on yet from the series? If so, what?
JA: A day or two ago I might've said so, but now I think they've found everything. There is so much lurking in a rewatch once you have all the information and that's a testament to the phenomenal talent of the actors.
netTVnow: The series quickly gained traction, what was it like to garner that kind of reaction from folks?
JA: Incredible. The fans have been so generous in helping to spread it around. I'd love to see it keep going and reach more and more people. I think it's a good piece of work and could definitely be meaningful to people of any background or perspective. And I'm very glad to see these characters out there in the world. They are among my favourites in the SKG-verse.
netTVnow: Are there any hopes for bringing another season of Swerve to audiences?
JA: Sorry, I was driving through a tunnel. I didn't catch that...
netTVnow: Any upcoming projects we can share?
The amount of things is almost ridiculous. In the near future, Inspiration starring Emily in a knock-out performance is premiering in Toronto Sunday, November 27th.
In the pipeline we have two features coming out, The Ghost is a Lie – which features both Sharon and Kat as well as Alison Undone with another killer performance by Emily as the lead. Info about those will be everywhere pretty soon.
For anyone who's curious about our roots and forgiving of noob filmmakers, my first film, 48 Hours in Purgatory is available online to rent or buy on-demand. It's the first film Emily and I worked on together. Attentive Swerve fans might find the male lead familiar!