Writer: Rachel Kay Barclay & Fern Lim
Director: Kayla Conroy
Reviewer/Interviewer: Adrienne Sowers
Times are tough for twenty-somethings in New York City. With rents rising and jobs that require five years’ experience for entry-level positions, more and more Millennials are turning to unorthodox methods and the sharing economy to pad their coffers. Springboarding off of this cultural moment, the team behind the web series Human Telegraphs brings charm and humor to the NYC hustle.
Creators and lead actors Fern Lim, Kayla Conroy, and Rachel Kay Barclay explore the gig economy with a clever concept. The human telegraphs referenced in the show’s title deliver sensitive personal messages to total strangers in exchange for money. Some are sent with threats, others with relationship milestones, some with breakups, others with good news. The relationship dynamics with each recipient drive tightly driven mini-arcs, and the business overall drives the story of the three protagonists.
The series itself has the vibe of a well-run hustle. Lim, Conroy, and Barclay are clearly adept at their crafts, as each wear multiple hats in production. There is a hopeful, momentum-building energy to the series. Some of the performances and writing could use refinement and grounding, but overall the piece is fun and shows tremendous promise for growth and development.
Adrienne Sowers chatted with the creators of the show to talk about inspiration, development, and producing in New York City. The following interview has been edited for length.
The sharing economy and the online freelance assistant business are booming right now. How much of an influence have services like TaskRabbit and Fiverr had upon the development of the series?
RKB: The series was inspired by questions of how we communicate and form relationships in this digitally saturated time. While the sharing economy wasn’t something consciously considered when creating the series, I’m sure it has colored the show in subtle ways just because it exists and has tremendously impacted the way disparate businesses, freelancers, ideas, and individuals connect.
What was your journey as a creative team, coming together and developing the pilot?
KC: First off, the universe brought us together as best friends and like-minded creative soul-sisters in NYC! Then, after knowing each other for about a year, it became clear we would make an excellent creative team, and, as it turns out, fabulous business partners. Developing the pilot, and Human Telegraphs as a whole, has been very strategic. We put our whole hearts into every single part of the process, so when we were looking for our cast and crew for the pilot, we interviewed every person who would be on set with us, so we knew all our energies and visions aligned. No part of producing is easy, but it can be more seamless when you have the right people to support you. I would describe the overall journey of HT as one day at a time, very thorough, and wondrous, because when the three of us collaborate, we have so much fun bouncing ideas off each other. We definitely inspire each other and have a special electric energy. Hence, “THREE BRIGHT LIGHTS PRODUCTIONS,” as our production company name.
Have there been any surprising hurdles producing a web series in NYC?
KC: We have been so fortunate! I can’t think of any hurdles we haven’t been able to train to jump over. Yet. Ask me again after we shoot seven more episodes in September!
What’s the strangest job each of you have had prior to starting the series?
KC: How do I choose ONE?! It would be a tie between the brief period when I was on TaskRabbit when it first began — I found myself doing a lot of random deliveries/errands, such as purchasing a dozen doughnuts for someone from Doughnut Plant and FedEx-ing them to California, and one time, ironing a large IKEA bag of button-up shirts in a very beautiful Greenwich Village apartment — and being an Uber bike messenger, where I rode all over NYC delivering everything from huge wardrobe bags during fashion week to a small envelope with a key in it from Manhattan to a realtor in Brooklyn before an apartment viewing. Or the time I was a costumed character! I was a giant cat in an amusement park who had her own show in Kiddieland, with choreography and the whole bit.
RKB: I don’t know if it’s a particularly strange job, but the most interesting job I’ve had prior to working on Human Telegraphs was working as a freelance ghostwriter for a ghostwriting business. I ended up writing a lot of non-fiction books on both mundane and bizarre subjects in which I had very little expertise before meeting with the clients, and I also ended up writing a murder mystery novel series, which is a genre I never actually read or appreciated before writing the books.
FL: High noon in the middle of an observatory with a research-grade telescope next to my professor/mentor and coworker/classmate, all on our hands and knees crowding around an apparatus casting a shadow on a specific point of the floor, with pencils in our hands to mark the exact trajectory of that shadow at high noon. By now I’ve completely forgotten what we were trying to measure or determine, but being an astronomy research assistant for multiple summers definitely had its share of strange moments!
What are your hopes for the future of the series?
KC: We definitely have hopes to have HT picked up to share with a wider audience such as a streaming platform or a network! We are so inspired by amazing content like Broad City and High Maintenance, both of which started out on the web, and have grown tremendously! I have much respect for those artists doing their thing, putting their ideas out there for the world, and being trailblazers!
Would you personally ever work as a human telegraph?
KC: I could totally see myself adding this to my list of weird jobs!
RKB: Maybe for a day. I’m more of an introvert, so delivering possibility inflammatory messages all day to strangers and being intertwined in their intimate affairs sounds tantalizingly interesting, yet exhausting.
FL: I love talking to strangers, wandering new neighborhoods and hamming it up, so yes! With the caveat that I’d want to know that there was a system in place to ensure that the person and place we deliver to won’t cause us physical harm.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with your audience?
KC: If you enjoy the pilot, we would love your support to create the rest of season one! We have seven more hilarious episodes written and you can help us make them by following us at htelly.com, and if you can, making a pledge!
I hope to inspire others who are thinking of producing their own content to take the leap. You can do it!
Episode 1 now available to stream.