SYNOPSIS: A theater major/playwright from Boise heads to the Big Apple after graduation in search of opportunity. A decade later, he is married to an actress and the two of them have settled down in Hoboken, N.J. Their chosen professions are often not fiscally fruitful so they supplement their incomes, with "regular" jobs. As if juggling work and auditions wasn't enough, our actress finds work tutoring children of the wealthy and has to deal with neurotic parents and their progeny, while finding ways to cope with her own family.
The above could be the pitch for a new sitcom. In a way it is, but like most good stories, it's seeded in real life.
Precious Cargo, a new web series that launched June 13 at preciouscargowebseries.com, follows the day-to-day struggles of two sisters living in New York City.
The focus is on uptight but grounded Lisa, played by Lauren Singerman, who along with her laissez faire sister Sandy, played by Sasha Kaye, dreams of snagging the brass ring. Until then, they're making ends meet as tutors.
Co-creators and executive producers Singerman and Kaye developed Precious Cargo as a way to "explore the extreme differences between New Yorkers who have it all and those just struggling to get by, but toiled with how we could tell that story in a new way."
To help them do that, they brought Singerman's husband, playwright Dano Madden, on board as writer and executive producer to help bring the characters to life.
Madden was born in Boise, graduated from Boise State University in 1997 and, like countless hopefuls before him, moved to New York. Where so many give in to the odds stacked against them, Madden stayed true to his passion; and though his training is in playwriting, he found writing for the screen a natural expansion of his skill set.
"Most of my writing life really has been about scriptwriting," Madden said. "I guess I did a little bit of screenwriting even when I was at Boise State. I did a little bit more in grad school [Rutgers University], in a classroom setting. I've done some screenplays I've submitted for different things and tried to get out into the world. In terms of this kind of content, though, it is kind of a new frontier for me.
"This project came about because my wife [Singerman] had this idea about wanting to create something in a shorter form ... a web series," he said.
Delivered on a weekly basis, each episode of Precious Cargo (there are seven total) is only five to seven minutes long. Because episodes are so short and because there's no cost to air them, it would be logical to assume Precious Cargo was cheap and easy. It wasn't.
Though they used crowdfunding to raise production money and filmed the series on location in and around the city and in friends' and family's homes and businesses, they couldn't crowdfund or borrow more hours in the day.
"It seemed a little bit more manageable I guess, than going out and doing something on the scale of a feature-length film," Madden said. "But I will say, what I think is important, is that the amount of material we ended up with was about half the length of a feature film. In the middle of it, we realized we were doing a pretty large project. We thought it was going to be smaller, but there ended up being ... a lot of hours and a lot of work."
No matter the cost, Madden and co. weren't willing to forgo quality.
"Our goal was to make sure Precious Cargo was of a professional caliber," Madden said.
The only way to get that quality was to have quality people on board, like director/executive producer Ben Simington, who worked in independent film distribution at Zeitgeist Films; director of photography Alex Peterson, the man behind Sundance Institute Award-winning documentary Man in the Maze; and editor Nathan Allen, who has worked on TV shows Glee, Nip/Tuck and Rizzoli & Isles.
The Cargo team also included actors Robert Prescott (Michael Clayton), Peyton Ella (The Sound of Music Live, The Late Show) and Dana Jacks (The Blacklist, The Newsroom).
Precious Cargo is centered on the rather niche livelihood and lifestyle of two tutoring sisters, but it's charming and engaging.
The quality, dialogue and acting—Singerman's in particular—bring a depth of character that transcends the unfamiliarity and makes a connection easy for any viewer who has ever had a job, a dream or a family—so, pretty much everyone.
Although getting Precious Cargo to the other small screen took a little more than Madden might have anticipated, it was worth it.
"It has been a big time investment, but the payoff has been good."