Web Series Spotlight: ’12 Steps’ Creator on Financing, Producing Independent Black Stories

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual

If you pay attention to web shows by and about people of color, you probably have come across 12 Steps to Recovery, a romantic comedy series about Parrish Diaz, a jingle composer and actor dealing with a hard break-up. In the show, Parrish’s friends decide the only way he’ll get over his ex is to do a romantic “12 step” program: go on dates with 12 different women.

From Hitch and Knocked Up to The Best Man and (500) Days of Summer, romantic comedies about men have always been popular, if less so than female-driven ones. Producers see them as a good way to get a more balanced male-to-female ratio in your audience.

What makes 12 Steps to Recovery a little different is its use of Parrish’s story to showcase different kinds of women. Viewers end up learning more about the girls than the leading man. Each episode features a new date with a different kind of stock female trope, from transwomen to Southern belles. “Not all of us women are carrying baggage,” Parrish’s friend Dani says in one episode.

The series, which has a bunch of episodes released but is still in post-production for the remaining few, re-launched on KoldCast last month.

“I wanted the launch on Koldcast to be something different, something special,” series creator Tony Clomax said, noting how he re-cut a few episodes for the release.

Clomax said his goal as a producer, director and editor is to raise the bar for black independent content, getting away from the mediocrity he sees on the web. “I’m not going to put something out there that hasn’t been through a sound mix,” he said. ”We’re getting away from our traditions…Don’t just do something to get by.”

Still he believes the web is overall positive for content creators, especially in the black market. It reveals how the likes of Tyler Perry do not represent the full extent of the culture.

“It helps filmmakers build their brand and build an audience,” he said. “That’s been the cry: we want to see ourselves, we want to see our stories.”

12 Steps is sleek, beautifully lit and appropriately paced for a rom-com, though some of its story lines, particularly the plots for the first two dates, might shock and rankle some viewers — it’s on the scandalous side of things. This seems like a strategy to get viewers talking, which might have been a smart move. On the web, the producer never gets the final word, and it’s better if your audience feels compelled to blog or tweet about the latest episode.

Meanwhile, Clomax is staying busy with a number of projects, including directing a series called Disciplinary Actions, a Law & Order-type series on labor and unions (that seems timely!). He has a number of features in the works, including a possible campaign to turn 12 Steps into one, and two others, a documentary called You Only Live Twice about a former gang member who decided to change his life, and a narrative film called Harlem Boils.

The most interesting aspect of 12 Steps for me has been its financing model. Instead of seeking sponsorship from large, corporate brands like many independent web series, Clomax and co-producer Stuart Films, run by Emelyn Stuart, approached smaller national brands and crafted commercials and placements for them. The series initially ran on BBN, the Black Broadcasting Network, giving those companies TV exposure they otherwise couldn’t afford.

12 Steps is also on numerous websites. Many users might find them on YouTube, where they’ve been viewed over 70,000 times. On Blip TV, however, it’s been viewed 800,000 times. Clomax is particularly proud of its deal with a new distributor, Zora TV, which targets black women.

In the end Clomax thinks creators spend too much time angling to get on TV and not enough time exploiting the plethora of opportunities the web has offered.

“There are so many ways of monetizing…instead of waiting for television to say ‘we’re going to give you an opportunity,’” he said.

I’ll end with posting the episode with one of my favorite performances from 12 Steps‘ many actresses, Malikha Mallette, who hilariously caricatures the Southern woman Bernadette in her impromptu blind date with Parrish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Onthelevel-Nofoolin/100000429118051 Onthelevel Nofoolin

    The transphobia is a bit much for me. I could even get past ep 3.

  • BluMaterial

    Sorry for the spoiler…I’m not trans, but the transwoman he dated seemed to forgive him a little too easily for blowing his top when he found out she was born a man.  It seems that would be a pretty painful experience to go through in such a public place, and I find it really hard to believe that afterwards she’d be all “sure I’ll be your friend”, let alone allow him to walk her home at night.  Also, the bartender apparently knew and yet didn’t step in to defend her?  Were any trans people consulted in that ep?

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  • JT

    To ask the further question that my girlfriend posited; why do Black writers get away with flat representations of Black  people? We claim we want to see ourselves but if we laude praise on people who continue to misrepresent, no matter their space on the entertainment ladder, then we will continue to see ourselves given these same stock treatments inside and outside of hollywood. I understand praising the financings model. I appreciate this, but the writing and treatments are so far below what I expect out of a series of any kind;web or otherwise. Awakward Black Girl, The Guild, Legend of Neil, these are webseries that actual invest in character development. That is all I ask and I will be a loyal viewer and donor.

  • JT

    I agree with mamabraxas comment but it seem to be something deeper in the show. From the three episodes I’ve seen so far it is not well written. The Women and Men in the show so far are poor black stock characters that aren’t given much dimenision. It is the irony that if this guy was white and with a big studio you’d be shredding him for the way black folks are represented in this show but because he is an independent he get a pass. We need to hold all our entertainment to the same standards for representing us. I’m sorry but I do not think I will continue watching after episode three.

  • mamabraxas

    Holy crap, Episode 2 of 12 Steps was filmed at my local up the street from the crib!  I don’t care for the transphobia-for-laughs in that episode, but yeah it is a good independent effort.  I’ll defiitely check it out.