We’ve all had those days when nothing seems to go right, no matter what we do. Even if such moments don’t happen to us personally, we’ve all seen others have to endure similar moments of pure embarrassment. Yet, no matter how often we fall on our faces, how we bounce back from those moments matters the most – especially if we can laugh about them.
Now in its third season, the hit comedy web series HOT MESS features a wide assortment of hilarious (and true) stories of women who find themselves in some very awkward situations, and who somehow always manage to take those uncomfortable moments in stride. Created by and co-starring Amy Kersten, the series debuted in 2009 and is currently streaming on its official web site and Youtube page (see links below).
Along with each episode, there’s also supplemental content that gives viewers further insight on the real stories each episode of HOT MESS was based on, and also provides viewers a chance to submit (via the show’s web site) their own real life stories of “hot messes” they experienced. (More on both later).
30 episodes have been produced for the series’ run, as of this writing. The sheer volume of content that HOT MESS has delivered throughout its first 2 seasons is stunning, even for series co-star Julia Granacki, who says: “Saying that out loud is actually shocking me. I have shock face right now. I can’t believe we’ve cranked so many out by such modest means. I’m so proud!”
The series stars Kersten as Amy, a young woman who always seems to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sometimes in the emergency room thanks to the myriad of accidents and mishaps she experiences throughout the series.
The show’s ensemble cast also features Cheri Paige Fogleman as Amy’s cousin Jeanine, a beautiful fitness model and personal trainer who often bends over backwards to make a good first impression with people – and makes herself look silly as a result. Granacki plays Jules, Amy and Jeanine’s straight talking, chain smoking best friend who’ll say anything – even if it’s not necessarily nice.
Mary Catherine Green also stars as Cate, Amy’s fun loving roommate who’s always the life of the party, even if it means waking up the next morning with no memory of all the stupid decisions she made the night before.
Miranda Childs plays the offbeat Celia, Amy’s friend. Celia spends her time making hats at a local boutique, but often falls flat on her face when trying to exchange in witty banter with people and while trying to impress the guys.
Joining the cast in season 3 are Molly Anne Coogan as Jeanine’s friend Molly, an actress and personal assistant who always ends up trying to clean up other people’s messes, and Yasha Jackson as Nicole, Cate’s overtly moralistic friend who’s always bound to lecture everyone she meets about their failings as human beings.
HOT MESS’ episodic content is based on some hilariously true real life stories about real women who, in one way or another, find themselves caught in some of life’s most humiliating moments. Whether it’s finding gum stuck on one’s heels, being spit on by a homeless man while walking down the street, or any other mishap that ends up badly, every episode of HOT MESS depicts moments that we all wish we could forget – but often learn from and look back on with a laugh.
Best of all, every story in every episode of HOT MESS is absolutely true, and each story came to the show’s producers through their social media outreach, thus making it a prime example of a ‘crowdsourced’ web series where viewers can contribute distinctive episodic content. “Each episode is based on a story sourced through us, friends or sometimes strangers on social media. We’ve had one or two episodes submitted to us on Facebook,” says Granacki. Viewers can also submit their real life “hot mess” stories to the “submit stories” section of its official web site.
Created by Kersten as a way for her and her team to remain active in a business where waiting for callbacks can often be longer than expected, HOT MESS grew out of some truly sticky situations and bizarre occurrences that she experienced in her own life, much of which were depicted throughout the series’ first season.
“Well, Amy has always been a HOT MESS! So many ridiculous things happen to her; she always found herself being asked to “tell the one about the homeless man spitting in your face,” or “tell the one about burning off your eyelashes and bangs.” So, she decided (after seeing how a few other web series were doing it) to DO IT,” Granacki says.
Granacki and her production team “did it” by developing each episode based on those real life stories of personal humiliation that she, Kersten and her cast experienced in their own lives. “We start with the main story, then we decide which “Mess” it would most likely happen to. For example, Grandma Spoon was originally slated to star (HOT MESS creator) Amy Kersten, but after some further thought, we realized Miranda Childs’ ethereal, off kilter blonde character, Celia, would be more suited for the role. Then we fill in story gaps with other bits of truth,” says Granacki.
“When we cast Damian Shembel as her date in that episode, we learned he spoke Ukrainian and therefore it made sense to make the character of the Grandmother Ukrainian, speaking very little English. This just added one more comedic layer to the situation and we were quite pleased with the results!”
“I had just been introduced to HOT MESS during the filming of Season 1, so my opinion is more from a viewer’s perspective. It was definitely more low-budget. That said, it’s still hilarious! It happens to have 2 of my favorite episodes – Robbed (introducing Mary Catherine Green) and Dog Day Afternoon (which I contributed the story for),” she recalls.
While the storytelling format and style grew over time, HOT MESS’ production style and scope also increased. “Season 1 mostly revolved around Amy’s character because she was basically doing this all on her own. Plots are simpler as well as settings; locations were kept to a minimum,” she says. That all changed as HOT MESS’ ensemble cast grew along with the show itself.
“With season 2, the cast grew to include Miranda Childs and more supporting characters. We definitely became more ambitious with our shooting, culminating in the season finale, Fruit Flies; there were several locations, it included all of the cast and about 30 different extras and supporting characters,” Granacki remembers.
All in all, the task of bringing to life all the wacky moments depicted in each episode of HOT MESS proved to be a rewarding and memorable one despite the difficulties Granacki and her team encountered.
“(It was) FUN. Challenging, but not without a laugh. Fast and extremely collaborative. We usually have a finite amount of time to work with and we all have some kind of day job, so shooting is usually limited to nights and weekends. Plus Amy was in grad school for part of it, so Season 3 was filmed during the summer. We don’t usually direct episodes that we are in, but that’s really the only rule.”
For Granacki, the show’s cast and crew, teamwork and their DIY (do it yourself) spirit showed throughout the filming of HOT MESS. Combined, their talents would be on full display in a variety of ways in several episodes, even though it sometimes meant that Granacki and a few cast members found themselves taking charge behind the camera. Granacki produced and directed several episodes of the series, while Kersten wrote, directed, produced and edited HOT MESS (under a pen name). “…So much of what we do is collaborative and we take on different roles for different segments of filming.”
Adds Granacki: “Cheri Paige Fogleman acts in, directs and produces, is amazing at set dressing and is our PR guru who single-handedly organized our Season 3 screening at the Norwood, in Manhattan! I produce, direct and act in a few episodes, but most importantly, I brought my 1st AD skills to the table, so I like to think that my presence has made the entire process run a bit more smoothly. Without each other I think we’d be dead in a ditch somewhere in Jersey…but from the grave, Amy would write a joke about it, Cheri would try to get a reporter there to cover it and I would create a map and schedule for everyone to get there. It just works!”
Along with each episode of HOT MESS, Fogleman and Kersten also include a series of interviews that shed light on the inspiration for much of the “hot messes” featured in each episode, and bring viewers the real stories (and people) behind those awkward moments.
“Cheri and Amy had the brilliant idea of pairing an accompanying interview with each episode. We call it, Talking MESS. In these interviews, we explain the source of our material and/or have an actual conversation with the person who provided the content. This has given us a great opportunity to talk about our process and allow fans to find out the story behind the story, because quite a few of our stories are crowd sourced,” Granacki adds.
Through great comedy and sidesplittingly funny (and true) stories of women who find themselves in some of life’s most embarrassing moments, HOT MESS also seeks to shatter a common myth about women in general; one that’s been far too prominent in today’s media and culture. “Women are told from early on to strive for perfection: perfect skin, perfect hair, the perfect outfit, perfect organization, perfect make-up, perfectly in shape, be able to cook the perfect meal, able to balance the perfect ratio of work to family to social time. The media is focused on this theme of perfection in one way or another and it’s just NOT possible,” Granacki says.
“We are hoping to empower woman to realize that our society’s idea of female perfection is going to BLOW UP (every once in a while, at least)–and it’s OK. And furthermore, it’s OK to share it and laugh about it–to CELEBRATE yourself as a flawed human being!”
HOT MESS proves that no matter how hard life can get or how things can often go horribly wrong, it’s how you bounce back from those setbacks that counts the most – and especially if you can look back on them and laugh!” Granacki says.
Adds Granacki: “HOT MESS celebrates the BLOW UP, the meltdown, the falling down and picking yourself back up again! We find it empowering to be able to laugh at our mistakes and, because HOT MESS reenacts true stories, chances are, audiences can relate to these situations! Laughing puts things in perspective: scratches will heal, insurance pays for the damage, and that guy probably wasn’t worth it, anyway. What lasts is a damn good story.”
Note: Regarding closed captioning, Granacki says: “No (it’s not closed captioned), but it probably should be – especially b/c when we started in 2009, we were a bit shorthanded in the sound mixer department and closed caption might have been real helpful for the hearing AND hearing impaired alike!” she says.
“Incidentally, we have since gone back to Season 1, re-edited, re-mixed the sound, and re-released all those episodes. With Season 3 we think we have it figured out, but we are always learning!”
ON THE WEB: www.shesamess.com