VLOG 55: BEACON HILL
Beacon Hill, the lesbian-themed web series from executive producer Crystal Chappell, is back with a second season after a long hiatus. We're here to review and discuss!
And after you watch the vlog, scroll down for the full transcript of our email interview with show co-creator and writer, Jessica Hill.
Watch Beacon Hill S2 on Vimeo. Catch up with S1 and other content from women creators on the Reel Women's Network. Visit the Beacon Hill website.
Interview with Jessica Hill:
LPT: We've noticed the episodes have been written by you and Linda Hill. Any relation?
JH: Yes that’s my wife. We are partners in life and business.
LPT: We also noticed neither of you had anything listed on your IMDB besides Beacon Hill. We're curious to know what your background is and how did you come to making this show?
JH: Beacon Hill is our first venture into the world of film/tv/webseries productions. We come at it from a world of storytelling. We are first and foremost book publishers. We are the owners of Bella Books and Distribution, one of the largest lgbtq book publishing company in the world. And a few years ago, we started thinking about two things. How to expand the reach of our content to a different audience, and one of the thoughts that kept coming up was the possibility of adapting Bella’s own books into tv movies or webseries. And second we are huge soap drama fans (daytime and prime time) and we were missing the big sweeping family dramas of earlier years. Why not create our own? Beacon Hill was our first attempt. Our proof of concept in a way. And we are really thrilled with how it’s turning out.
LPT: What caused the large gap between seasons?
JH: Not by choice. We were always hoping to come back sooner. But there were a couple of reasons that delayed S2. The first was we were really trying to find a wider distribution outlet for the show. We had many meetings but unfortunately we couldn’t’ make it happen. The second reason was a financial one. We self-funded S1. And Beacon Hill is an expensive show to film. We have a large cast. We film on location in and around Boston. We have to fly half of the cast from the west coast, the other from New York. We have to put them and the crew in hotels for over a week. And we try to follow SAG and union rules for crew and cast. We have to feed them etc. All that cost money. The finished product looks amazing and looks like it belongs on a network and we are really proud of that. But that is challenging when trying to fund it. We finally opted for a crowd sourcing approach for s2 and with the help of our generous fans were able to fund a portion of the filming with it.
LPT: Could you tell us a bit about the recasting process? Can you tell us why the original actresses couldn't come back for season 2? How did you go about finding their replacements?
JH: Again not our choice. This was a difficult challenge. How do you go on when you lose your two leads? First Sarah Brown decided when we were finalizing the S2 production timelines etc that she wanted to take a break from acting at that time. She has been in the business a long time and needed to walk away from it for a while. We can’t fault her for putting herself first. But it was a blow. How do you replace a lead? We certainly considered looking for other daytime actresses but part of us also wanted to try a different approach. Perhaps someone coming at it from a whole different world would bring a different expectation, a different freshness to the role. Someone recommended we take a look at Marem Hassler who had done a webseries called Riley Parra. And we were hooked. Besides being gorgeous there was something about her on screen. The camera loves her. There is such honesty in what she portrays on screen that we thought yes. This could work. She got the screenplay and was immediately on board and after chatting with her, we knew we had our new Katherine.
Then literally ten days before we were to start filming, Alicia had some personal stuff that came up unexpectedly and she was unable to join us. We were all so disappointed. But at that point it was too late to even consider rescheduling. We had crew and cast booked. Flights and hotels. Locations. Nadia Bjorlin was already on board to play the character of Susan. And being a Days of our Lives fan, we knew what she could do. And with it being so last minute we needed an actor who could learn lines quickly and go with the flow. Daytime actors are pros at that. We reached out to her to see if she would consider taking on a bigger role, the role of Sara. And we were so lucky that she was game. And she has just been amazing in her scenes. But now we needed someone to play Susan. And who better than Jessica Leccia? Because it was so close to New York where she is based and was only a few days work for her, she generously agreed to join us.
All in all we are so very happy with our cast this year. Happy accidents all around and I think this season turned out amazing. Is it ideal to deal with last minute cast changes? No. Sarah and Alicia had been amazing in S1. But what could we do? The show must go on. We were just lucky that it turned out so well.
LPT: What can you tell us about the decision to make a show centered around lesbians?
JH: We wanted to tell a story that featured characters that reflect who we are. Strong independent and successful women making their way through life who also happen to be lesbians. It’s not the central focus of who they are because being gay is not our central focus. We have lives, careers, relationships and yes we are also gay and that is what we wanted to show. We wanted to show fully fleshed out characters living and struggling with their every day life. Their families. Their relationships. A show that represents us and the women we know.
LPT: How did you come up with the concept for the show? What made you decide to make the show about politics?
JH: We were actually sitting around in our home outside Boston one summer and started talking about what we wanted to see in a show if we were in charge. And the idea of a politician in love with a reporter, jumped out at us. Because of the ready made conflicts. Add that they are part of two families at opposite side of the political spectrum, it was really appealing and interesting to us as writers. So much to play with. The possibilities are endless. I’m sure people are sick of politics right now. But our show is really about relationships and how power can corrupt. And it’s about these two women who love but can’t trust each other for obvious reasons. And they keep coming up against the fact that there is a lot of unfished business between them. That’s delicious for a writer to play with.
LPT: We are, of course, very familiar with Venice the series. Tell us about collaborating with Crystal Chappell behind the scenes.
JH: Crystal is amazing. She is such a force when it comes to acting and producing. We were fans of Venice of course and the fact that she agreed to be part of our show was huge. She brought along this whole company of actors who are all so very amazing and talented and kind. Ready to work. Ready to play. We are very lucky. She brought the role of Claire to life and how thrilled are we with that? Watching her and Hillary B Smith direct this season was so much fun and we have learned so much from them. We are lucky. I was also very fortunate to be asked by Crystal to write the script for season six of Venice and we had a lot of fun creating an homage to the Guiding Light actors. So meeting and getting a chance to work with Crystal has been a very happy accident.
We thank Jessica for talking to us and for her candor. We hope you enjoy Beacon Hill as much as we did!
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