Interview: Caytha Jentis (THE OTHER F WORD)
THE OTHER F WORD (Amazon Video Direct) follows the coming-of-age adventures of a forty-something year-old mom who moves to New York City to live with her sister after her husband impulsively runs away with the Peace Corps and her youngest kid goes off to college.
Now in its second season, THE OTHER F WORD is the creation of Caytha Jentis and stars Judy Gold and Steve Guttenberg. She has written four feature films, including BAD PARENTS, which starred Janeane Garofalo, Cheri Oteri and Christopher Titus, and AND THEN CAME LOVE, which starred Vanessa Williams and Eartha Kitt. She was recently selected as one of Good Housekeeping’s 50 over 50.
OnWriting spoke with Caytha about navigating the growing indie television market, writing and producing THE OTHER F WORD and her experience being a woman over 40 working in Peak TV.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I got my start in second grade. My teacher created a “writer’s theater” where students optionally wrote and read his/her stories. I was very prolific…. I wrote my first screenplay as an undergrad at Syracuse University. Following college, I worked as a literary agent and then in development in Los Angeles prior to getting an MFA in screenwriting at UCLA. My first writing assignment was an ABC movie that never made it to air. I then pivoted to having children and moved back East.
Fifteen years ago, I started writing scripts again. The first indie feature I wrote and produced was AND THEN CAME LOVE, which starred Vanessa Williams & Eartha Kitt. It was licensed to Warner Brothers.
What was the genesis of THE OTHER F WORD and what was it like trying to sell the series?
With four indie produced features that I wrote under my belt, I was looking for the next story to tell. My children were aging, as was I. I thought this was great fodder for creative exploration – midlife and female friendship. I mused that while the GIRLS were figuring themselves out in Brooklyn, we, as their mothers, were having a similar coming-of-age crisis. The journeys of the characters I wanted to create felt more open ended than a finite three act structure feature, so I chose to write it as an episodic series.
The pilot script was very well received from the few rooms I could get myself into as an unrepresented and untested TV writer. Selling a pilot is hard for any writer, and I kept getting told that my script targeted a ‘tough demographic.’ I figured it best to ‘prove the concept’ since I didn’t have a showrunner attached. I figured a successful web series could be an added asset.
Describe your experience with THE OTHER F WORD being release through Amazon’s self-publishing platform.
I evolved my pilot script into a serialized short form series – ‘web series’ are the new frontier for indie stories and a way to find an audience – particularly a niche one that is easy to target. I chose Amazon as my platform as I knew that my key demographic shops there and are Prime customers – although my series is available to all Amazon shoppers.
Also, since Amazon Studios and self-published shows are seamlessly integrated on their site, we looked like we belonged there as our show has high-end production value and we had stars like Judy Gold, Steve Guttenberg, Alysia Reiner & Gilbert Gottfried. It has been a great platform for us. Even though the show stream for free, we make money from the views and have received bonuses from being one of their top series. Through our grassroots marketing and their algorithms that recommends the show, we’ve been able to drive over 1M unique visitors to the show and have been streamed daily since our show launched in September 2016.
What’s your writing process for the series and how has it changed from the first to second season of THE OTHER F WORD?
It took me a couple of weeks to initially lock the characters. I like to put all of them in therapy to discover their back stories and determine their journeys. For Season One – the pilot script, I worked with Jerry Perzigian, a former TV writer who works at Jacob Krueger Studios. I write much better when I have a sounding board and benefitted from the mentorship and guidance. Once I started writing, since they were real people to me and had things to work out, the stories flowed out very quickly and I wrote fast. I couldn’t stop and ended up writing an hour instead of a half of content – so technically two traditional half-hour episodes.
While marketing Season One, I met Eileen Katz, a former Comedy Central EVP, as she wrote a story on me for the Westside Rag. She loved the show and became an Executive Producer on Season Two. I wrote the second season with her guidance and it was typical of a traditional writer/network executive relationship. We made the episodes longer but I wrote Season Two even faster than Season One. I heard the voices of the actors who played the characters and their journeys were already in motion from Season One. I wanted to know as much as our audience what happened next. It was some of my best writing – and also my most rewarding writing experience.
Where do you like to do your writing?
Once a story possesses me, I can write anywhere. Being OC/D helps.
What’s a scene that you felt perfectly translated from the page to the screen and why?
I would say the Judy Gold Lyft scene. Judy is so funny and has a distinct voice that’s fun to write. When writing the ‘Lyft driver from hell’ scene, I heard her voice and knew it would be even funnier out her mouth and with her comedically building on it. It has viewers ‘peeing in their pants.’ There is nothing better than writing specifically for comedic actors. I had to write Gilbert Gottfried’s dialogue an hour before he showed up on set. That was satisfying as the gratification was instant.
What surprises you about people’s reaction to the show?
It’s not really a surprise but humility how much viewers of all ages have loved the show. One viewer posted on Facebook how the writing and the characters made her feel ‘normal’ about the crazy times in her life. Also, I’ve been touched by how much humor viewers find in my writing – the “I didn’t know that was actually funny” moment. It’s always surprising when you discover what your audience finds funny.
Can you talk about being a woman over 40 working in Peak TV?
For me, it’s been challenging. I’ve been told that my age is a hindrance as a new TV writer and that it would be unlikely that anyone would hire me even with my success, my energy and my relevant writing. But, that does not deter me. I do believe it’s changing. I am grateful for the opportunities in the DIY space, but it’s hard to monetize.
What are the challenges you come up against and what needs to change to improve this demographic’s working opportunities?
I believe that writers rooms should strive to be race/religion/sexual preference and age blind. Middle aged TV writers, especially older women writers, need to be more part of the diversity dialogue. We are living longer and aging differently. Also, mothers should not be penalized if they lean out for a little bit. Lastly, it would be nice if there was a space for this audience in digital. There are so many platforms targeted to younger demographics and in this new age of direct-to-consumer, this audience and storytellers should not be ignored.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers over 40?
Keep writing and finding new ways to tell your story. Stay relevant – things are changing daily – and don’t let anyone stand in your way as the pen is always mightier. I do believe it’s a lot easier in features and a good story will always rise to the top. Always.
What about New York City inspires you in your writing?
I love NYC and use it as the backdrop to my writing. THE OTHER F WORD is my love story to the city. The city is as much a character in the show as it is about seeing the city through the eyes of someone who lived there in her twenties and returned in her forties – bookending both coming-of-age times.
What’s a line of dialogue from THE OTHER F WORD that embodies the spirit of the show and why?
“No fear, bitches.” One of the benefits of age is not caring as much about what others think of you and not letting anything stand in your way as it’s now or never. No fear, no regrets.
We are resilient. We don’t give up and our stories are better as a result. The show is still in the game and being taken out for pitch season in the new year.
Follow THE OTHER F WORD on Twitter at @TOFWseries.
- January 16, 2018: Interview: Caytha Jentis (THE OTHER F WORD)
- November 13, 2017: Interview: Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicsan (LAST FLAG FLYING)
- October 30, 2017: Essay: Ian Olympio on Produced By: New York 2017
- October 12, 2017: Essay: Alexis Fedor on The Writer's Profit Plan
- October 4, 2017: Interview: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK)
- August 7, 2017: Interview: John Chernin & Dave Chernin (THE MICK)
- July 31, 2017: Interview: Julie Rudd (FUN MOM DINNER)
- July 25, 2017: PODCAST: Horror & Suspense Screenwriter's Panel w/ Ted Tally, Chris Sparling, Ingrid Jungermann & Jeremy Saulnier
- July 12, 2017: OnWriting: Brian Knappenberger on Net Neutrality
- May 15, 2017: Interview: Tracey Wigfield (GREAT NEWS)
- Issue 1: A Conversation with Terry George and Tony Gilroy
- Issue 2: Reflections on Adaptation: Israel Horovitz, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Doug McGrath, Richard Wesley, Richard Vetere
- Issue 3: The Writers Room: Robert Carlock, John Markus, Meredith Scardino
- Issue 4: From Broadway to the Back Lot: John Guare, David Lindsay-Abaire, Donald Margulies