Most of us (myself included) are in a semi-constant state of phone scroll, especially when it comes to Instagram. Between friends’ vacation pictures and influencer style posts, I was excited to find something unique when Paper Year showed up in my feed. Shot with the slickness of longer-format projects, but within the 1-minute per video Instagram requirement, the project is a series of quick episodes chronicling the first year of a young couple’s marriage. The whole season can be watched in one short sitting, and its a great example of finding a creative way to utilize social media to reach audiences with new and interesting stories.
I was very intrigued by the format, which combined with a high production value packs a real punch, as well as the honest storytelling employed here. Newly (and not-so-newly) marrieds will likely see a lot of their own experiences in Paper Year. I interviewed the show’s creator, Mikaela Izquierdo, who wrote, produced, and stars in the project. Mikaela has some great insight into creating content in the new media landscape.
I love the idea of an “instaseries.” What made you want to use this medium for Paper Year?
Honestly? I love a challenge. There was a fledgling thought somewhere in my brain that it was interesting that no one had created any sort of narrative content for this very, very popular platform. Then I read some article about how Instagram videos could only be a minute long (this was before IGTV), and I thought to myself, “Oh. That must be why.” That thought was quickly followed by the question of whether a person could write a series that felt complete, with three dimensional characters, an arc, some empathy, and have each episode clock in at under a minute. So I set out to really just see if it could be done, almost as an experiment. And now here we are!
What were the advantages and challenges of this specific format?
It was fun working in a space where there were very few examples of this incredibly short form–so I really was able to envision what I thought it could be, and then do that. There is an advantage to making it up as you go along! And the challenges were numerous. Instagram is made for photos, and so their video capabilities are…limited. We had to decide how we were going to shoot very early on- vertical? In a square? How do you frame for that? Is it worth it? We ended up going for a traditional look, but then had to deal with video quality downgrading. Sound was another tricky thing- IG only has the ability to handle mono sound, but we didn’t know that until we uploaded the first test episode after we had already mixed pretty much the entire season. So my husband Michael went through each episode and adjusted all the levels by hand, making sure nothing peaked. We also knew it was important for us to caption, not only to make it accessible, which I think everything should be without question, but also so that people could watch without sound if they wanted, as they were scrolling. The traditional closed captioning that you can do in the edit was too small on IG though, so we had to go through and put titles on every frame. We love a challenge though! These were all fun problems to solve- it felt like a big puzzle.
One of the big things that stands out to me is what great production value the project has. Would love to hear about how you put the team who helped create this together.
That means the world to me! I’m so glad. One of the main goals was to make sure the viewer felt like they were watching a great quality tv show that just happened
to have very short episodes. I’m very lucky to be married to a true renaissance man who also has a production company, so he has fantastic people to draw on and a lot of experience making things on a small budget. Our cinematographer, Eliana, is actually mostly a documentary DP, so she brought a unique twist to our vision. And actually, both she and our 1st AD Monica had been hired by Michael’s frequent collaborator Craig from ProductionHub.com
for a different project, and then we just continued working with them because they’re amazing. I’m usually a little wary of the internet (ironic, for sure) so that was a wonderful and happy surprise. And our dear friend Scott Burkhardt is an amazing director, and was able to translate what was in my head and Michael’s head into reality.
You wrote this, and acted in it opposite your real-life husband, so I’m sure it feels very personal to you. I love the nuanced portrayal of that transitional period at the beginning of marriage. What inspired you to sit down and start writing initially?
I really struggled in the first months of being married–it was both exactly what I thought it would be and completely the opposite of everything I was promised. It was simultaneously so much better, and also so much worse. Marriage is so weird. Right? It just is. It’s so mythologized in our culture, especially through the medium of film and TV. I love a rom-com, but I felt like they always took us up to the wedding, and then dropped us off to imagine the rest of the story. Or they picked up much later, with a married couple who were established, and now dealing with some other challenge of married life (kids, school, affairs, mortgages, etc.) But there were very few (none?) that really dealt with the immediate aftermath of the wedding, where everything is suddenly very real. This is your person forever. That’s a big idea to grapple with–maybe too big, so I wanted to express the minutiae that, for me at least, really drove home this mix of huge, heady love, a little anxiety, and the struggle of truly joining your life with another person. Not just saying it in front of all of your nearest and dearest, but the crazy stuff that’s less pretty, and more nerve wracking. Like taxes!
I was in a play at the time and had a couple of long moments backstage, and one day I just started writing. The episodes were short, so I could focus for a short amount of time and do a couple, and then revisit them later to streamline and edit. It also felt much less daunting that way–small bites, and then I had to run back onstage into a totally different world.
Any plans for a second season?
Well, we have a baby now. And that’s just insanity so, yes. Cotton Year is coming. And it’s filled with diapers and 4 am meltdowns. I’m kidding! (Fully not kidding, that’s absolutely what it is.)
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Laura Hunter Drago is a producer, writer, and actress living in Los Angeles, California. Laura is a proud SAG-AFTRA member, is the assistant editor-in-chief of Ms. in the Biz, and is the co-founder of New Girl Pictures. She also likes baking, obsessing over Olympic ice dancers, and having long conversations with her dog Buffy. She dislikes being bored. Most recently, Laura just completed her first feature film as a producer, To The New Girl, which will screen at festivals in 2020.