The creative chemistry between creators Julie Lake and Shirin Najafi is infectious. Whether it’s the improvisational moments from their web-series, “George and Julie” to hilarious shorts like “Please Go” and “Hollywood Party”, when these two ladies are creatively on the same page — magic happens.
Najafi and Lake have now begun their passion project, “Mental”: a series of shorts that takes a funny look inside the lives of two friends and their struggles with anxiety and mental instability.
The duo have also started a Kickstarter campaign where fans can get involved and receive some interesting perks along the way.
The long time friends are both multi-talented creators in their own right. Many know Julie Lake for her role as the unstable meth-head, Angie Rice on the Netflix hit-series; “Orange is the New Black”, while Najafi has found success writing and directing comedy videos that have been featured on websites like Funny or Die.
I recently spoke with Julie and Shirin about “Mental” and more in this exclusive interview.
James Wood: How did the two of you meet?
Shirin Najafi: Julie and I met during our freshman year in high school. The concrete memory for me was the computer class we took during the summer between our freshman and sophomore year.
Julie Lake: We had to get credit for the class and I remember walking into class one day and discovering that Shirin had put porn on desktop! [laughs]. I didn’t know how to get rid of it and had to spend the entire day trying to avoid the teacher walking by with it as my background! [laughs].
JW: Where did the idea for “Mental” originate?
SN: Julie and I both moved to L.A. around the same time as aspiring writers, creators and performers. From just being together, we would always find ourselves laughing at the ridiculous things that we would say and do. We really wanted to channel that dynamic.
JL: We realized that a lot of what we were writing about was centered on our own struggles with depression and mental instability. So a lot of the episodes are based on things that we might have experienced during the height of our anxiety.
SN: Even some of the things from our first episode – “Palm Springs”, were based on a true story. Julie had a rain machine and I needed dead silence. I didn’t like the AC and Julie helped me tuck sheets. Later on, we had this realization that we had just gone on this relaxing vacation to Palm Springs and it turned into a series of the most neurotic things just to get to bed — although, I never threw a tantrum over the bed sheets! [laughs].
JW: One of the cool elements about the series is that it’s primarily female-driven. Was that your intention when you began the project?
JL: The idea going in was to pick the best people we could. It all happened organically. Shirin has shot lots videos and worked with a lot of D.P.’s and Kristen DiLiello is just the best. She’s so easy to collaborate with and is an amazing director of photography. Our producer, Samantha Simon, is so on top of her game and is also incredibly good at what she does.
JW: Are there any challenges you’ve encountered in the filming process?
JL: It’s challenging and nothing like being on the set of “Orange is The New Black”, but at the same time it’s really invigorating, because you have so much creative control of the project.
SN: The other thing is that when you’re working on a small budget you’re doing everything. So Julie and I are acting and directing but we’re also involved in everything from lugging equipment to stopping at the grocery store. We also both love the editing process, which was something unique we wanted to do.
JW: You have a Kickstarter campaign to help fund future episodes of “Mental”. How has the reaction been?
JL: It’s been amazing and we’re so grateful to have such great friends and fans that have helped us out. This is our dream project and something we think people are going to enjoy and will really mean something.
JW: Speaking of “OITNB”, what can fans expect from the new season, which airs in June?
JL: This is going to be a crazy season of “Orange is The New Black”. I can’t give anything away but I think the fans are going to be in shock with all that happens. There are more ridiculous Angie moments and more of the insane comedy everyone has loved from past seasons.
JW: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?
SN: I’ve been doing a lot of writing and directing videos. Now that “Mental” has started, it’s become my main focus.
JL: I’m working on a pilot with a few other writers that’s in its early stages. I’m really starting to hone in on what my real passion is – and that’s writing and creating.