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Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Talking to 'Very Mary-Kate' Creator Elaine Carroll About the Appeal of the Olsens and the Secret to a Great Web Series

It's easy to make fun of celebrities; just look at how many TV shows and Twitter feeds are devoted to nothing else. But it's a skill to spoof celebrity culture beyond the obvious one-liners and bitchy asides. Web series Very Mary-Kate imagines the world of the former Full House star filled with prescription pills, endless blimps, and an over-accommodating bodyguard (known only as Bodyguard). But the show's charm lies in its firm grasp of this alternative universe and the engaging, if eccentric, relationships at the heart of it, making the series as intriguing as it is hysterical.

The CollegeHumor series begins its new season this afternoon with an episode entitled "SoHobo" (see below), which sees our titular heroine giving her own TED talk on, what else, fashion. I recently got the chance to chat with the series' creator and star, Elaine Carroll, about the new season, her fascination with the Olsens, and the real Mary-Kate's "Very Mary-Kate" homewares.

The first episode of this new season is considerably longer than past episode, and bit more elaborate. Is that something that we'll see more of in season three?

Yeah, it is a little bit longer than the other episodes. This season, our longest episode is maybe four and half, five minutes and the shortest episodes is 90 seconds. We're experimenting with longer things. And we're working with bigger ideas and trying to expand what the world of Very Mary-Kate can be, so why not have a TED talk episode, for instance.

Can you tell me a little bit about what else is planned for this season?

Oh my gosh, yeah sure. We have a new character we'll be introducing, who is Mary-Kate's boyfriend, based on her real-life boyfriend, Olivier Sarkozy [played by Brandon Scott Jones]. There's one episode that's in French, there's another episode that's a music video parody. We're branching out.

Looking back at the second season, it seemed like we spent a lot more time with secondary characters like Woody Allen and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Why did you decide to expand to include more characters?

I just wanted to see what else we could do with the world, and kind of get Mary-Kate out of her apartment. Get her into different scenarios and see who else could be around, so that it wouldn't just be Mary-Kate and Ashley talking to each other episode after episode. I just thought it would be funny for her to have some sort of interaction with other people, like Woody Allen and an NYU professor, and maybe some friends as well, not just her bodyguard and her sister.

The first season was really all about her moving out. Is there any overaching theme to the season?

I would say no. There is more attention on her love life this season than ever before. But yeah, the first season was more about her moving on and trying to create her own separate identity. There were a bunch of episodes about her trying to have a baby. This is a continuation of her world.

When you started the show, what was it about Mary-Kate Olsen that really appealed to you as a character?

She's just sort of like vaguely fascinating for me. I've always been a fan of the Olsen twins, having grown up with Full House and all of their straight-to-VHS tapes. I just feel like I have grown up with them. Picking Mary-Kate was really kind of arbitrary, it was sort of like a toss of the coin as to who I would focus on. I think she maybe has been more in the media. I know that her sister is focusing on fashion and Mary-Kate is still acting, for instance. But I think it was really just a childhood obsession that kind of blossomed into something else. And then, having performed the Olsen twin impression various times for Lorne Michaels and at UCB, it had always gone over really well, and so I  tried to make something of it, to write a web series about this impression that I loved to do.

You mentioned there's a character based on her current boyfriend. How much of the real life Mary-Kate or the Olsens do you look to for inspiration, or do you just think of them as totally separate characters at this point?

Yeah, at this point, I think that it's much more of a charicture of the Olsen twins than anything real. I look to them for ideas, certainly. If they happen to be in the spotlight for anything in particular, I'll certainly pull from that, but it's all based on my imagination, not on reality. So for instance, Olivier Sarkozy, I know absolutely nothing about him in real life. I think maybe I've seen one YouTube video of him speaking, but our characterization of Olivier Sarkozy is far-fetched.

Do you have favorite episode or type of episode to put together? Either to write or to play?

Oh gosh. Yeah, I really like episodes that have Mary-Kate and Ashley together. They're really actually kind of hard to do, playing both parts, but I like the way that they come together in post. I really like presentation episodes. I like taking Mary-Kate to school, that's fun for me. Uh, Bodyguard episodes are always so great. I don't think I have a favorite, is the long answer to your question. Can I say all of them?

Absolutely. I particularly love the college episodes — I was year behind the Olsens at NYU, and for my first a year and half, I couldn't tell anyone you went to NYU without them asking if I knew the Olsen twins.

Oh my God, haha. Did you ever interact with them at all?

No. My freshman I'd always hear stories from people had seen a bodyguard standing outside of a classroom, but I never saw them.

You know, I've never run into them. I really wish I had but I don't know. I think they avoid me.

Do you think they know about the show?

I totally think they know about it. First of all, they must have a Google alert on their names. I have heard that Mary-Kate has in her apartment — and I've heard this from a friend of a friend of a friend, I don't really know it, of course — but that she has coasters of my face in her apartment. So I think somebody might have like gifted of her Very Mary-Kate coasters.

That's awesome.

Totally, totally awesome. I hope that's true! I love knowing that. I've also heard that that it is as if I have like a secret video camera into their lives, for whatever reason, like it's that close.

I also really love Will Hines as Fat Professor.

Yeah, he's great. He's so great. That character of Fat Professor is so fun to write, because when Sam and I are writing it, we just try to do our best Will Hines impression, to have him say anything snarky and dry.

You write all the episodes with your husband [Sam Reich, who also directs the episodes and is CollegeHumor’s President of Original Content]. What's your writing process like?

Sam and I will sort of decide, I guess the broad strokes of what we want a series to look like, and then we'll kind of put the skeleton of that together and then add jokes to it. And then as far as the actual writing, it'll be him at the computer and I'll be up and down pacing, and then I'll take a turn at the keyboard and then he'll be pacing around the room. It's pretty fun, writing with him is great.

And your background is in sketch comedy, right?

Yeah, yeah. I've been performing sketch comedy since college.

Do you find that writing a web series is similar to writing a sketch?

I would say it's comparable to writing a sketch. The UCB teaches to focus on game, and to have the jokes thematically play back to what the game of the sketch or the episode. So I feel like all of my sketch training has definitely lent itself to making this series easier, so that it just doesn't go off the rails.

Because the episodes are so short, it seems like a very particular type of writing, unlike a sitcom where you have lots of ebb and flow. Here you a lot to get in in 90 seconds, so its just punch, punch, punch.

Yeah, that's really what we're trying to do. For sitcom writing, you have to consider plots for instance, and if I'm writing a web video that's gonna be 90 seconds, trim out of all of the fat and just try to make it as funny as possible, because there's not a lot of attention span on the web. So we just try to cater to that and remember that. Like, let's just have a joke every line or have a setup to a joke every line, so then it's just go, go, go, go, go.

I have to admit that when someone says they have a web series, my stomach sinks a bit. Maybe it's just me.

No, sure. You're like, "Ooh, okay. Your web series. Great."

But yours is so good, I was wondering if had any thoughts on or advice for people other people making web videos?

I would say focus on making it look as good as possible. You know when you're dealing with a box as small as the box that you're gonna watch on your laptop or your phone, try to keep the quality as good as possible. Also remember that a web series doesn't have to be super long. And the writing is really important. And you know, it took me a long time to figure out it out, obviously. I certainly made a lot of web series that didn't really rise above a few hundred views on YouTube, but I think over time you kind of figure out how to do this. So keep it short, write jokes, make sure that you comb through your scripts before you launch into filming it, and focus on the quality. Make it look as good as possible, keep the editing short and tight. That's my advice.

New episodes of Very Mary-Kate premiere every Thursday on CollegeHumor.

Elise Czajkowski is a freelance writer in New York City who very much enjoys Twitter.

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  • loedan77

    'The Olsens' is one of my favorite shows and I really like the girls' fashion sense. I think Man Alive had a collection inspired by them.