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.