Benefits with Friends

A comedy pilot about health care, girlfriends, and spandex

Benefits with Friends is a TV/digital pilot telling the story of a trio of female friends thrown into a peculiar situation when marriage becomes an answer to health care. An official selection in the 2017 New York Television Festival's Independent Pilot Competition.

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SYNOPSIS

Best friends Wendy and Jillian welcome newcomer Tina into their friendship circle, and not a moment too soon. When Wendy gets diagnosed with cancer and loses her health insurance, Tina saves the day by agreeing to marry her, leaving Jillian in a lurch. This dynamic trio must navigate the porous boundaries of platonic love, as life throws its own unpredictable challenges their way. Benefits with Friends is an exploration of the lasting bonds of friendship between three women determined to have it all with each other.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

On screen and in life, romantic relationships take priority. But it's been proven to me time and again that friendship is what makes us happy, whether in a platonic relationship, or as the bedrock in a romantic partnership. I want to celebrate friendship, but I also want to question it. I want to subject it to the same tests of loyalty and compassion that romantic love undergoes and often fails. Taking inspiration from my real-life friends, and real-life health issues, I created a tenuous “love” triangle between the main characters Jillian, Tina, and Wendy. Set against the backdrop of a failing healthcare system and the historic milestone of same-sex marriage, how does their three-way friendship ooze into the corners of the oddly shaped container they have created?

 

I knew this production had to be female-driven for two reasons: first, because the story resonates so clearly with women who value a strong support network; and secondly, because I want to see women in the television & film industry have more chances to grow and succeed. Fortunately, I found two people eager to tell this story with me, director Shaina Feinberg and producer J. Faye Yuan - matches made in heaven. In addition to instantly connecting with the script and characters, they brought their A-game in making it a reality. Shaina is a director who allows the characters to speak for themselves, embracing the lovable weirdness in an actor which translates into a richer and more human portrait on screen. As a producer, Faye is always thinking of how to share this story with as wide an audience as possible, while remaining grounded in the nuts and bolts of production.

 

Coming from the world of NYC improv, I know so many hugely talented actors. Shaina, Faye, and I collaborated closely on handpicking an ensemble cast that would serve equally the story, the characters, and Shaina’s improv-based directorial style. I was very fortunate to bring noted playwright, poet, and performer Edgar Oliver on one of my productions once again, in a cameo appearance in the dance rehearsal scene. Edgar previously appeared in my short film “The Skull”, along with Shaina, who played my sister. And in another mirror of “The Skull”, which my mom appeared in, Shaina’s mom Mary makes an appearance in Benefits with Friends.

 

The cinematographer was my husband Christopher Webb. Chris and Shaina were very excited to work together, having bonded over their mutual admiration for legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis’s work with Woody Allen. Benefits with Friends was shot on a RED Weapon 6K, generously provided by our colleague Dave Brickley. Chris and Shaina decided to operate the camera on a precision gear head (as Willis often did), mounted on a carefully restored vintage Cricket Pedestal dolly. An MYT Works 3' Glider was then mounted on the dolly as well. This allowed for smooth, classic camera movement while keeping the tightly scheduled production on track. Chris kept the lensing to a pair of Canon Cine Zooms thus contributing to a fast-moving set.

 

As much as this show is about female friendship, husband-and-wife teams played a big role. The pilot was edited by Chris Manley, Shaina’s husband and partner in their production companies, Bankrukt and Short Bits. Shaina’s close working relationship with Chris was advantageous on set, since she knew what shots he’d be looking for as an editor. She was able to sit with him as he edited, providing for a fast turnaround that was due as much to proximity as to being artistically simpatico.

 

Benefits with Friends is an ode to friendship. The very making of it is a testament to the success of partnerships - whether it’s a husband and wife working together, or two cast members bonding in a rehearsal studio - that are based on mutual respect, mutual support, and mutual silliness. I hope everyone finds their person, whether it’s a friend or something more.