You might not know Julie Ann Emery. In fact, when you look up Emery on IMDb, a user-generated list appears on the side titled, “The Best TV Actresses Whose Faces You Know But Names You Might Not.” Perhaps most often recognized for her supporting role in Hitch, Emery has been consistently working in film and television for a decade and has a career many actresses would envy.
But like so many independent web show creators before her, Emery had an itch to go beyond her acting roots into writing and directing. Noticing many of her talented actor friends were out of work, the New York-based Emery started to write Then We Got Help, a series about four couples who collectively — and comedically — attend weekly therapy sessions to work through their problems. Each week Emily (Emery) shoots videos of the sessions, and the show is filmed docu-style, which has helped the show’s reputation as organic and honest.
“I specifically shot us for the Internet,” Emery said in an interview. “I like where our limited budget led creatively. I like that Emily’s an amateur documentarian. I like that aspect of it. I think it lends a certain of charm for us.”
Then We Got Help concluded its (generously) fan-supported second season last month and recently screened at the International Television Festival. Emery is currently exploring options to keep it going.
The show is a collective effort in more ways than one. Shot in her living in Queens, Emery and her cast film on a hectic schedule that has her bedrooms transformed into dressing rooms and her mom running craft services. “She cooks like its Christmas all day long. It’s amazing — and she stays under-budget,” she said.
The filmmaking process — roughly three episodes and forty pages a day — is tightly organized by Emery and her husband, actor Kevin Earley (Kenny, on the show). Each couple on the show rehearses with Emery before each shoot, even via iChat if necessary, to get the cues and emotional tones right. Then We Got Help relies heavily on its realistic and constantly overlapping dialogue, whose successful execution rests firmly on the actors’ shoulders and requires the right combination of planning and spontaneity from the director.
“I tend to chase the moment,” Emery said of her shooting style. “I tend to throw myself under the bus as a filmmaker for the moment…I’m an actor myself, so of course I’m going to approach it from that point of view.”
A lot of the show, Emery noted, is “dirty.” The sound is dirty in that the dialogue overlaps, a style Emery borrowed from Rod Lurie, with whom she worked on the short-lived series, Line of Fire. Their visuals are dirty, too, its roving images captured on a Canon FS20, the camera Emery’s character shoots on in the show. The sound in particular makes the editing process harder on her, but it also adds to the show’s realism.
“There are people that perhaps criticize that aspect of it, but that’s a different generation. I’m in my thirties, and I think people my age are more used to a cacophony of sound,” said Emery. “I started to trust that more as an editor…I knew it could be done. It just can’t be done in a classic editing way. You can’t go: line, line, line.”
As Hollywood remains a difficult place for female directors and showrunners, Emery hopes the web will remain fertile ground for breeding a new, more diverse generation of artists.
“I feel the Internet is creating an opportunity for women and minority voices, to be perfectly honest, that maybe have a harder time getting those early opportunities in their careers. They’re starting to be noticed. I hope that never changes,” she said.
“Web television is going to change a lot in the next five years,” she added. “I hope we don’t lose this aspect of web television where you can come in without a ton of money and still a story that’s important to you.”