It hurts. Ending a project when you feel there is so much left to say and so much left to achieve. I have won awards and travelled abroad promoting Dear Jesus, but I can’t eat awards. I can’t take my Screen Nation Award to the corner shop and use it to top up my Oyster Card. And whose fault is that? Who is to blame for the fact that so far while producing my web series, I have not made a return on my financial investments? I cannot blame any one of the systems of oppression set up to work against my efforts- I mean look at the examples creatives out there who are using social media platforms to transform their lives and achieve their dreams. Despite the odds, they have achieved greatness. The blame must then lie at my feet. I mean why else would a series that has starred 63 actors, spanned 6 seasons, comprising of 42 episodes fail to garner mainstream attention? It can’t be the content. It must be me. I am the problem. I don’t have the business acumen, the connections, the know-how to make this work.
LOL. Rational me knows this is nonsense. It’s not my fault. There actually is no fault. I am not a failure. I have achieved great things with my series. That being said, I will no longer produce scripted content for YouTube. There won’t be a Dear Jesus Season 5 or The Alexis Show Season 3. For four years now, I’ve been unsuccessful in attracting sponsors, other than contributions from Dean Russell and Tilsa Wright, therefore I have paid for everything. While the costs have been minimal in the grand scheme of productions, when you’re a waitress anything you spend making a web series is too much. I tried Crowd Funding- we raised £75. It was demoralising, this hinterland between where I was and where I wanted to be. This place where people were telling me they loved the show but wouldn’t give me the money to produce it, but asked me everyday when a new series was coming out.
And it tested my faith. I love God so much and couldn’t understand why I had this show, which I felt glorified Him but was struggling. Consistently we had a half, maybe a third, sometimes a quarter of the viewing figures our peers had. Yes! I checked and compared every fucking day. And I cried. I wailed. My heart was not able to understand what the problem was, why despite what I thought were strong storylines and stellar performances we couldn’t get those views or those subscribers. The quality of production and the title of the show were problems for the viewers. They let us know loud and clear in the comments every time there was something or someone they weren’t happy with.
I was at the end of my tether. I literally thought I was losing my mind. Just before I completely gave up, Genna, a dear friend of mine introduced me to her boss Ed and before I knew it, based on the tenacity I showed in creating the show I had a new job- in television. It wasn’t the job I wanted, it was the one I needed. I was a post-production coordinator working for a super-independent company. I had no business having that job, but Genna and Ed believed in me. I felt it was a sign God wanted me to keep going, that the dream I had of having Dear Jesus commissioned for television or even a VOD service was coming to fruition. I was around decision makers and I made my presence known. I got back to it, writing, directing and producing Dear Jesus Season 4. And this time it was going to be bigger than ever. I planned a World Premiere event in Atlanta. It nearly killed me. From January to September last year I worked harder than I ever had. We sold out a venue in the West End. It all went well, actually- it was amazing! My cast and crew, we all had the time of our lives that night. Then came the online premiere. And the viewing figures were less than half of what they had been for season 3. I was crushed. Devastated. And broke. After all the pomp and circumstance of promoting the show here and in Atlanta, I was in a bad way financially. Surely God hated me. After everything that I put into the show, how was this happening? I slowly started to slip into a fog of depression.
Then came the 6 Screen Nation Digital Is Award Nominations. I needed them. All 6 of them. I needed to get dressed up with my cast and crew who had sacrificed so much to follow me to Atlanta and back. We needed to win that award. We needed it as a team, something to let us know our hard work and dedication wasn’t in vain. As 2015 made way for the New Year, I felt uncertainty curling itself around my toes, crawling up legs, determined to suffocate me. What was I going to do? My boss, who I love and cherish so dearly told me straight, no chaser, there was nowhere for me to grow to in post production and that I should start looking for creative opportunities. My friends thought it was unfair, but I knew it was an unadulterated act of kindness. Finally! Someone was telling me not settle for comfort and to push for what I wanted. The only problem was my CV. All it read was Dear Jesus and post-production coordinator. I was both under and overqualified for the creative TV positions I was going for. I have an inbox full of rejection emails to prove it. It was debilitating. I felt numb. I wanted it to end. I’m 27 years and all I have to show for my 6 years since graduation is this struggling web series. I can’t even drive. I live at home. I can touch both walls in my room at the same time. The ledge outside my window at work started looking mighty attractive. I started calculating how much damage it would cause if I jumped. The door out onto the balcony was just down the hall. Fuck everything and everyone.
My best friend Florie called me and told me to stop with the shit. She didn’t invalidate my feelings, she encouraged me to stop treating myself so poorly and reminded me a poor attitude can hold up blessings. She scolded me and pointed out that I was leaning on my understanding and not relying on the goodness of God. How could she expect me to rely on the goodness of the Lord when everything I could see was telling me there was no goodness to be had? That's the thing- it's not logical, it's spiritual. Christianity and all religions ask us to look inwards rather than outwards, upwards rather than downwards even when that's the last thing you feel like doing.
I had to get back to my positive outlook. I had to remember my faith. I had to do the things that made me happy again. I had to start writing- not a 5th season of Dear Jesus. Something else, new ideas. At first I felt like a quitter. How could I turn my back on something that I fought so hard for? Slowly, I realised Dear Jesus was not this insurmountable burden- it was amazing, it got me meetings and dinner with the kind of people I wanted to work with and for. An epiphany bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness- in order to be who I know I am destined to become (The Beyonce of TV, Shonda Rhimes Jnr if you will) I have to learn to let go and not fear the unknown. See, I loved making Dear Jesus because it was comfortable, I know those characters inside out but Beyonce didn’t make Dangerously In Love and keep making it over and over, stubbornly demanding people had to bend to her will. The first show Shonda Rhimes made with Betsey Beers didn’t even make it to pilot stage. It’s time to take all my eggs out of this one basket and try something new- something that frightens me the way Dear Jesus did when I first started.
Do I think this is the end of Dear Jesus entirely? No. But I know that it’s the end of this chapter. If I hold onto this and don’t let go, however will I ever make space to hold onto the even bigger opportunities coming my way?
I know I need counselling- it is not normal to fantasise about swan diving off a fifth floor balcony. But I’m happy to share that I start a new job in two weeks. I’ll be working as a development assistant in drama and comedy. I am so thankful to the women in TV who saw potential in me. Janine, Sara and Andrea who continued the work Genna and Ed started in helping me into a career in TV in which I can grow and become the best me. This isn’t how I wanted the journey to pan out. I know there are going to be more challenges along the way, but I’ve learned to have a good attitude and that nothing happens the way you plan it to- sometimes it’s even better. Don’t be afraid to turn the page- nothing that is for you will pass you by.