Amelia Baker and Mackenzie Munro are co-founders of LA, London and Toronto-based drama prodco Blonde Mamba, which develops and creates projects for broadcasters and platforms including Snapchat Discover and Facebook Watch.
Here, they discuss how they developed an unorthodox ‘non-writers room’ to come up with shows offering authentic storylines that appeal to younger viewers and underserved groups, in the process opening themselves up to a whole range of new ideas.
Creating fictional but authentic, fully realised worlds with characters that audiences can see themselves in is the goal of every project jumping through the hoops of the development process, being discussed in writers rooms and pitch meetings from Helsinki to Cupertino.
We started Blonde Mamba with the goal of creating genuine stories for a Gen-Z audience, but we soon realised that there’s a wider authenticity gap beyond programming aimed at a younger audience.
While there’s a refreshing show of willing by big players in the content business to create programming that includes previously underserved minority groups and audiences – inclusive of people both on screen and behind the camera who are more representative of the wide-ranging world we live in – there are still times, too often, when the people the story is meant to represent are cut out of the process, or thrown in at the last minute.
To combat this, we started The Mamba Collective, an unorthodox ‘non-writers room’ before the writers room, which ensures that projects have a baked-in authenticity way before the scripts get into the hands of crews and actors. Here are some of the key lessons we’ve learnt from the process about how to make programming genuinely representative, and using real voices for steer:
It’s never too early
Seriously. Writing a project about people with disabilities, when the first time someone with that lived experience is involved is when an actor is handed the script – that’s too late.
It’s too late when you’ve already greenlit a project, scripted story arcs, built scenes and dialogue that might not resonate. It is vital to discuss a project at the ideas stage with people whose realities and experiences – be it sex workers, fashion bloggers or refugees – are going to form the backbone of the series.
Sometimes more is more
It’s not enough to have one consultant who will spend a couple of hours looking over a script. To create a 360-degree level of authenticity you need to get a plurality of voices from different perspectives on the same topic.
For a recent comedy we worked on, which followed a woman facing a new reality after a car accident leaves her paraplegic, we didn’t just speak with people who had themselves become disabled. We spoke to carers, spouses, best friends to get a full picture of what life is like for everyone in that world.
That depth of understanding gave us the confidence to find the right tonal balance for a comedy tackling a sensitive topic with some genuine anecdotes from real life experiences, which we could weave in.
Authenticity will set you free
Rather than being a stumbling block to projects, we’ve seen this approach reignite stalling series by providing insight and ideas in an ego-free environment.
Thrashing out story ideas and character arcs in a room with predominantly non-writers is freeing and collaborative, worlds away from the often-competitive nature of some professional rooms working through story issues. Too often, any kind of diversity or inclusion requirement is met – behind closed doors – by reactions ranging from eye rolls to stress sweats.
The best way of building a project is to get the foundations and the frame right. Including authentic voices as part of the process from the very beginning gives you a stronger pitching position, reassurance you’re on the right track to resonate with your eventual audience, and often it’s the source of unexpected and valuable story ideas that can totally transform a project. Rather than being an obligatory exercise it should be seen as the creative opportunity it is.
Mackenzie Munro worked her way up from PA to AD on History Channel’s Sons Of Liberty and has been behind award-winning short film Love Coinky Dink and Blonde Malfunction, which won Best TV Original Pilot at Beverly Hills Screenplay Contest.
Amelia Baker produced Stephen King’s All You Love Will Be Carried Away before focusing on digital projects, producing seven Snapchat Discover shows with Vertical Networks and Facebook Watch’s I Have A Secret.