I recently had a chance to talk with Amanda Taylor, founder of Apple Juice Productions, a Utah-based company that produces web-based entertainment for women, written and directed by women. You can check them out here. Their Facebook page is here and they have been featured in this article. Their work is written and directed by women with content for women, designed to give women a voice.

Recently, Carolyn at By Common Consent did a great article explaining why feminist romance novels are so valuable in helping women feel empowered and seeing healthy relationships (based on respect and consent) modeled. The work done by Apple Juice Productions seeks to provide more information on how female friendships develop as well as how respectful romantic relationships evolve.

Me: What drove your decision to start this business?

Amanda: I always think of it more as a creative endeavor than an entrepreneurial one – I love watching TV and wanted to make it! The event and popularization of web series made this possible for me, and I started writing screenplays after years of being a journalist and a secret actress. I put together a team to producer our first series (The Cate Morland Chronicles) [1] under the name Apple Juice Productions after another friend and collaborator pitched me a great script that just needed to become a show. My passion for the industry and interest in how it works is a lifelong love, and I worked almost primarily as an entertainment journalist before making this transition.

Me: What project that your business has completed are you most proud of?

Amanda: Our series based on The Baby-sitters Club, Stoneybrook Revisited, is my favorite thing we’ve done. It was a 100% female crew working behind the scenes and we had only 2 male cast members. The whole shoot went so smoothly it was almost boring! I was able to write a script about characters I’d grown up loving and give them a bit more depth and interest as adults, ultimately telling a story of how your oldest friends can be your best friends. It’s very sweet and on-brand for our mission. I wrote and directed the show (and had a small cameo).

Me: Who is your target audience?

Amanda: Women from 18-35, but really anyone who wants to see nice stories about friendship and romance!

Me: You refer to your work as “refreshing narrative content for women, by women.” What did you observe about content for women that was either stale or not really from a woman’s perspective?

Amanda: I saw the film “20th Century Women” and said “that would’ve been absolutely perfect if it were directed by a woman.” Sometimes it’s downright depressing looking at the sheer numbers of female directors and writers making mainstream Hollywood movies and television. It’s all changing, of course. But something else that sets us apart is that we do tell really sweet and hopeful and positive stories. They’re all rooted in Good, rather than grittiness or realism – because we have had pretty good lives, all told. We want to put some more goodness into the world.

Me: What do you think men and women misunderstand about the work you do?

Amanda: Mostly because we host our shows on YouTube there’s a feeling that we are “YouTubers” which is quite a different job than writing scripted content and shooting it in a narrative style that could be considered TV. The misunderstanding is delineated more by age group than by gender, though more women are familiar with web series that I’ve run into, because they tend to be created by women and marginalized groups and telling stories that are targeted to those people that the mainstream doesn’t focus on as much.

Me: Are you feminists? How do you find the feminist label helps or hurts your company mission?

Amanda: Absolutely 100% yes. I am a vocal, vehement feminist. It helps us find like-minded people to declare that loud and proud. Locally (in Utah) it has been a hard sell with press especially because it’s not something I think has been embraced by mouthpieces in town.

Me: How do you run your business and what is the team culture?

Amanda: I work closely with my technical director and creative partner (and roommate!), Kailee Brown, on running the rest of our temporary team. We have producers and marketing experts as well as cast and crew that work with us per project, and they’re all recruited through word of mouth or postings on industry groups and boards. We really try to work with people who come to us and want to be a part of the project rather than opening doors for people – it’s always better when it’s earned! I really try to let people do what they were hired for, and have a hands-off approach to being in charge. The trouble arises when things aren’t being done, and we have definitely had some interesting moments while working with friends and trying to navigate being their “boss”. We’ve been lucky to work with incredible writers, producers, publicists, actors and crew members who have all been a huge part of the end products – but the company itself is Kailee and I. She’s an absolute rockstar.

Me: How do find the acting talent for your shows?

Amanda: We post open casting calls and have also cast on recommendations (or previous casting calls). Since we publish our shows on the internet, we have made an effort to include racial diversity especially in our casting. Although Utah may be predominantly white, we don’t let ourselves off the hook! The casting decisions are made by the executive producers and the director, and those people have always been very committed to showing diversity. 

Me: What about this business has been different than you expected?

Amanda: It’s certainly more emotional than I would’ve predicted. I become invested in the show, the people making it, the audience experience – I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it a good thing for everyone it might ever possibly touch. In the process, it has made me re-think my own self care or lack thereof. It’s rare that I put pressure on myself to make it a good experience for ME.

Me: What has been your biggest frustration in this venture?

Amanda: Definitely the lack of funding! We have built such a socialist structure for art in a massively capitalist country – we all need money to survive but can’t seem to get paid for our skills, which is deeply frustrating and disheartening. People expect and demand free content (and then want it to be high quality) because that’s what they’ve become accustomed to. If we want to continue having good art, we need to figure out a way to support the artists. I’ve never been able to make this my full-time focus, and I would love to be able to do that.

Me: What mistakes did you learn from starting up this type of company?

Amanda: Don’t give people too many chances, especially when they’re volunteers or your friends. If there are people not taking it as seriously as you are, remove them. You’ll find the right people and feel supported eventually. 

Me: What advice would you give others trying to break into this industry?

Amanda: Come work with us! We did the hard part – which is starting.

Given that they are producing clean content that is uplifting, I was surprised to hear there was cultural push-back against their brand of feminism in their native Utah. These are women seeking to promote entertainment that will appeal to women and employing women’s actual voices in the process. The stories are clean cut and romantic. What could be more appealing to Utah viewers than that?

Discuss.

[1] Article highlighting the Cate Morland chronicles which modernizes Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey heroine as a fangirl and geek.