Behind Bars with the stars of ‘Kittens in a Cage’

Through the joys of modern technology we got to interrogate the talent behind the hottest, freshest webseries on the block Kittens in a Cage. Writer/Director Jillian Armenante (Barbara) and lead Rebecca Mozo (Junie) spilled the beans from behind the scenes of this wonderfully retro pastiche of a prison comedy.

Planet London (PL): How are you? I am seeing the series all over the internet at the moment
Jillian Armenante (JA): Yes, it’s starting to pop up. We ended up launching a couple of weeks sooner than planned, but now it’s building momentum and we’re starting to win film festivals, so it’s going well. We’re very proud.

PL: Why did you want to work on this project and how different is the webseries from the play it’s adapted from? (Kittens in a Cage by Kelleen Conway Blanchard)

JA: My background is in the raddy-raddy indie theatre in Seattle, where I ran away to in the early 90s, and were able to do whatever plays we wanted and be experimental. Then I moved to LA and got into TV… but I revisited Seattle and the theatre is still active 28 years on, and Kelleen had this play on, and I read the script and it made me howl, so I asked her if I could do a web series from it.

I was actively looking for scripts to make a web series, and this was the story that stood out. She didn’t want to be involved in the screenplay development herself, she let me have my way with the script… I kept a lot of the dialogue, especially about the romantic development between Junie and Vicky, which I wanted to retain and not get too campy with, but if course I had to make it a lot more visual. And I created the cameo scenes. In fact, Kelleen’s just been down to LA working with me on story ideas for the second season of the web series.

PL: So why the web series as the format?
JA: I have a lot of experience working in theatre, independent theatre, but I wanted to act and always volunteered to get involved in the independent films being made up there. I learnt a lot on the ground – you know, they’d throw me in a shopping cart with a camera down a hill, that sort of thing. Then I ended up in LA in front of the camera, trying to absorb what’s going on behind the camera.

I wanted to do a web series because I’d written a lot of screenplays that almost got made but then didn’t for whatever reasons, and I just got sick of waiting… so I thought “Fuck this, I’m gonna roll up my sleeves and seek out funding and favours from my friends and contacts and just make something, and just have fun, and do whatever the hell we want.” That’s what we set off to do.

PL: So, Rebecca, how does filming a web series differ from other fmedia?
Rebecca Mozo (RM): It didn’t feel different in terms of the actual work, but everyday going to set it felt like being part of this amazing project. A lot of times when a project is really enjoyable or meaningful, you don’t realise until after…but with this it was every day going to set that felt like that.

JA: But we worked really hard… 15 hour days, but then no one would leave!
RM: Yeah, we would sweat all day and then the beers popped open and we hung out. We couldn’t get enough of each other. It felt like we were on a movie set, but with the incredible spirit of a theatre production – a band of brothers, coming together to make it work no matter what.

JA: Yeah, it was a case of “if you’re not having fun, don’t be here”. Everyone pitched in, I’d bring the bare bones and everyone else would provide the meat. I made squib packs (those blood pellets used to simulate a gun shot!) out of party poppers and red chalk dust. We had our fun.

PL: Yes, I really liked the Bugsy Malone gangster-esque, fun styling. How did you do the production?
JA: We shot over 16 days plus an additional day for exeteriors running around the gangster tunnels of LA. Over long weekends. We got to regroup on the Tuesday to Thursday.
RM: Well I was doing theatre, Shaw, during the week, proper and British. Then I’d come to set and relax and play all Jersey.

PL: What was the stand out moment to shoot? (Although it all sounds great fun!)
RM: Definitely the opportunity to feel like a badass and go for it on stage with Black Savage, pure rock and roll. I even broke one of the expensive mics really going for it.
JA: And we got some fantastic cameo appearances as well.

PL: So how did you pull all that together? How did you fund the production and keep it so stylised and
different from other potentially comparible series?
JA: We got the script and started fundraising via KickStarter – and some old friends really dug deep and supported us which was mindblowing. I have always been a fan of prison genres, shows like Cell Block H – there’s something about women in a cage – and the fifties genre, which we used more as a theme rather than a period piece – but I started working on this before Netflix produced OITNB.
RM: Yes! I nearly auditioned for that, (until Laura Prepon came on) and I read the script and I thought “You’re kidding, this is like our series”!
JA: However, OITNB have been great about supporting us on social media. And I haven’t watched it yet, so I can’t be influenced. We have a micro budget, we made what we could.

PL: Your styling is so strong and disctinct and striking, though, and not typical of an indie-micro budget project. I don’t think audiences should compare the two. Or three if you include Wentworth.
JA: We have been out drinking with some of the cast of Wentworth.

PL: Rebecca, what drew you to the role of Junie and how did you think about playing the character?
RM: She kind of just came out… Jill sent me the script, we’d worked together previously, and Junie is different from the period and corsety roles I usually play, and when I read it I thought this character contains everything I’d wanted to play.
JA: When we did the first reading round the table, everyone was just balling with laughter. It took ages to get through that reading.
RM: And then the cast stayed on after that reading and hung out (JA: they won’t go away!) and there was great chemistry. We still hang out.
JA: And my kids too, who are also in the series. They play the younger versions of the characters. That’s how I managed to get those kids to do those crazy stunts. Fifteen times over.

PL: And how was playing the non speaking, cannibal Barbara?
JA: Well as I had so many other roles on set, it was nice not to have to learn any lines for her, and do just my bit on camera then get back behind it. I wanted to concentrate on the Directing as well.
RM: And she is a great character. Those were the scenes I broke the most. When she cauterised her finger with a cigarette, or shoved her boob tattoo in my face.

JA: That was twelve takes and we could not stop laughing. I kept shouting at her “You’re weak”. The other moment you didn’t know was coming, but held focus on, was when the matron was stroking your hair with her hook and it got caught on a knot. That was unplanned but worked great.
RM: We were steeling ourselves not to break.
JA: There are outtakes I’ll release in a few weeks online.

PL: So what’s next?
JA: We’ve got more promotion, working the PR and social media. We’ll try and be creative and then start fundraising for season 2 to be bigger and better.
RM: I don’t even know what’s planned for season 2! Maybe we could get caught in London!

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