Montreal millennial girls on the small screen

Mistakes Were Made creator Shanna Roberts Salée on the challenge of mounting a local anglo webseries.


Christina Kelly, Shanna Roberts Salée and Émilie Carbonneau in Mistakes Were Made. Photo by KarlJessy Photograph

“There’s so much noise out there,” says Shanna Roberts Salée, writer, creator and lead actress of the Montreal-shot webseries Mistakes Were Made, the second season of which drops this weekend. “Webseries are a dime-a-dozen; webseries about girls are a dime-a-dozen. Webseries about millennial girls are a dime-a-dozen! But the difference is that ours is set in Montreal and it really shows Montreal. I’ve looked around and I haven’t seen a webseries or really any sort of TV content that speaks to me as a girl in my 20s in Montreal. I really like Féminin/Féminin but it’s a lot more dramatic. Mistakes Were Made is really a comment on us: our generation, our age group.”

The series follows Clara (Roberts Salée), April (Christina Kelly) and Lizzie (Émilie Carbonneau), three 20-something Montrealers navigating the thorny waters of love, sex and relationships. Suffice to say that if you have a Girls-sized hole in your heart created by the recent ending of that series, Mistakes Were Made is here to fill it.

As it turns out, the webseries format was also one born partially out of necessity. “It started as a feature,” she says. “I had written it as a feature and started shopping it around to production companies, started toying with the idea of asking SODEC or Téléfilm for funding, but the problem is I had nothing to my name. It’s impossible. I was an AD, I did this sort of mentorship program with Léa Pool and I thought that would help me out, but, you know… If you haven’t done anything concrete, it’s not worth it.

“After months of trying different things and seeing that the opportunities were basically zero, I decided to break it down into more manageable pieces and see what would happen,” she continues. “We just started shooting right away because there’s nothing stopping us.”

It’s harder out there for webseries in English, no doubt. While they can certainly travel easier than their French-language counterparts, they’re also fighting for a slice of the pie alongside hundreds and thousands of other productions while homegrown French productions have a better chance of reaching a larger percentage of an admittedly smaller global audience. For Roberts Salée, however, there was never any question.

“Part of the reason why it spoke to me more to do it in English is because I grew up in the West Island. I am francophone, but I grew up in an anglo neighbourhood and a lot of my jokes, my sense of humour and the way I see things are more English at this point than they are French. And, you know, there isn’t that much English Montreal webseries content, which goes hand-in-hand with not having much of a platform to show it.”

Roberts Salée makes no bones about it: the first season was a trial run, and the second season is bigger, bolder and more ambitious. The episodes are longer, more elaborate and visually slicker. With a crew culled from Montreal film professionals (Roberts Salée works as an assistant director on film sets when not wearing all of the MWM hats), the second season of Mistakes Were Made is the real deal.

“The first season is representative in the sense that it’s the same characters,” she explains. “But we shot the first season with a 5D camera, me and two friends. It was really low-budget, and you can tell in the images and the sound. It’s not great. But we just did it kind of as an experiment to figure out whether or not we could do it, what we could with it and where it could go. (…) We just kinda put it out there and watched to see what would come out the other end.

“The episodes are also a lot longer,” she continues. “The first season’s episodes were about four to give minutes and now they’re about 10 minutes, which allows us to incorporate new characters and new storylines. The first season is only really three girls and one guy – a guy whose roommate she sleeps with, who she has a conversation with on the couch — and now it’s the three girls, their boyfriends (played by Hamza Haq, Jacob Reardon and Matt Langton), a friend (Chris Palucci), her sister (played by Alarey Alsip) and Sebastien Teller returns as a fuck buddy… so a lot more is going on.”

Like many projects of its ilk, Mistakes Were Made made use of a crowdfunding platform to get off the ground. “We did a crowdfunding campaign last year and raised almost $11,000,” explains Roberts Salée. “The campaign lasted a month, and it was basically me calling every producer, actor… everyone I know, basically, and asking them if they wanted to help out. We managed to pull it together and I got some friends together — I’m in the industry, so I have a lot of friends who have lots of experience and are willing and interested. For example, the director of photography (Thierry Leblanc); it’s his first experience as a DP, but he has over 20 years of experience as a focus puller. He’s worked with some of the best DPs in Canada.”

Even with a crowdfunding campaign to soften the blow, Mistakes Were Made’s cast and crew went pro bono for the gig, which shot in two periods separated by six months.

“The money went to feeding the crew,” she laughs. “On any given day, we were about 15. So, yeah: feeding 15 people for 12 days! And then the video equipment, which I got from Video MTL, and post-production as well. $11k goes really, really fast, especially when you consider… If you’re shooting a short and you shoot for three days, fine, but 12 days over six months?!”

On top of writing, directing, editing and producing the show, Roberts Salée also stars in it — acting being perhaps the task she was the least acquainted with before taking on the project.

“Basically, how it started is that when we did the first season, I didn’t think anyone would commit to doing everything the way that I would,” she explains. “I thought, you know, ‘I know the characters — I wrote them! If we can do this, I think I can pull it off.’ Now I look back at the first season, I’m like ‘Ohhhhh’… (…) But the other two actresses (Kelly and Carbonneau) are both trained actresses so, you know, they help me and I feed off them. But working on set, working with actors and directors has really helped me learn how to direct actors and see what works and doesn’t work. All that has helped me pull it together.”

If the second season is leaps-and-bounds from season one, what can we expect from Mistakes Were Made in the future?

“I started writing a season three last week,” she says. “People have been asking me that, and I just wanted to get through season two first. I was editing last week and I got this idea for season three, so I started writing an outline for that season. I would like to have a third season, but if it were to happen, it would have to be with a network backing me. I think that, at this point, I’ve used up… not used up all the goodwill, but I don’t think I have another crowdfunding campaign in me. Obviously, I had a lot of help from friends, but wearing so many hats becomes detrimental to the work that you do at some point.” ■

Season two of Mistakes Were Made drops on YouTube and on Sunday, April 23. The launch party and public screening happens at Chez Serge (5301 St-Laurent) this Friday, April 21. Watch the trailer here: