Laura Kosann interview: Making a mockumentary with ‘The Social Ones’

The Social Ones

Laura Kosann expertly skewers the social media phenomenon with The Social Ones, her new comedy that explores being an influencer and how we spend too much time on our virtual selves. Not only is the movie hilarious, but it’s fun and different because it uses the mockumentary format to frame the discussion.

I spoke with Laura, who was a jack of all trades on the film (she wrote and directed it, as well as executive produced it alongside her sister Danielle Kosann and Stephanie March), about what it takes to make the perfect mockumentary and how her experiences running The New Potato influenced the movie.

Brittany Frederick: The mockumentary format has gained more popularity with the success of The Office, but it’s also difficult to do well. What made you choose that style for The Social Ones?

Laura Kosann: When I was growing up, I just loved the Christopher Guest movies. It’s such a humor that I just love so much, and it was such a great way to show a certain world and poke fun at it. When I had the original idea for The Social Ones, [which] was kind of inspired by stuff that Danielle and I had been going through, I thought that mockumentary style would be a great way of exposing this world.

I couldn’t really believe that it hadn’t been done yet for the social media set, kind of going into the minds and the lives of these kind of absurdist influencers that are very much inspired, obviously, by everything going on and what we see on social media every day. I thought that it was honestly the best format, especially chronicling the magazine shoot that [the film]’s leading up to. It was very inspired by that Christopher Guest style. Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, those were movies that I grew up with.

BF: Are there any creative changes or production challenges that came with using that format as opposed to a straightforward comedy?

LK: Oscillating between narrative and those to-camera interviews, doing it in a way that feels seamless and real, [is] definitely something that is tough to do, but also a very fun creative journey. I think that the to-camera interviews are so much fun. They’re challenging in a sense that there’s so much that you can do, especially when you’re working with this amazing ensemble cast of veteran actors and comedians. It’s so much fun to go further with it and improvise.

90 percent of what we did was scripted, but also a lot of it was me sitting next to the camera interviewing these influencers, and off-the-cuff questions that would take it even further than the script, which was very fun for me. Also, [it’s] kind of challenging in the sense of having to kind of think on your toes and direct on your toes and whatnot. That was definitely a really fun part of it.

What’s fun about to-camera interviews is also that it’s not so much challenging, but more just very interesting from a production design perspective. You get to create these really great vignettes that are very static, that you can kind of create your character against that. That also kind of let us delve deeper into the production design aspect of it.

BF: You and your sister Danielle were involved in almost every aspect of The Social Ones. Was that always your intention or did that happen more out of necessity?

LK: The whole thing was kind of based on our experience with our site, The New Potato, which is what the national influencer is loosely based on. When I had the idea to write the script, I had written and directed video shorts that we did for The New Potato that were on Access Hollywood and the Today Show. I always have written and directed; I always knew that’s what I wanted to do for this movie.

Danielle and I, we work together in our business. She’s really incredible visually. She oversaw the production design, the wardrobe and hair and makeup. That was just a very natural place for her. We wanted to produce [The Social Ones] together because we just were very determined to make it ourselves and do it on our own terms. Steph [Stephanie March] was amazing and read the script and was like, I am in. I want to do it.

Then it’s funny because Danielle and I, in the beginning we were like, let’s be in it. Let’s do it because it’s kind of loosely based on what we’ve experienced. Then when we started casting people like Richard Kind and Jackie Hoffman, we kind of looked at each other and we were like, wow. Are we really going to act in this? Are we really going to do this? Luckily, I think it worked out, because we’re just very deadpan and we’re kind of the narrators. It’s very much our humor, and everybody else kind of gets to be sort of crazy and hilarious around us. We kind of take people through the story. It’s very authentic to us.

I guess in a way it was our intention from the beginning. But we wore a lot of hats, and it was really fun to do that, but definitely challenging as well.

BF: How did that level of involvement affect you production-wise? Was the added control a plus, or did it add to your stress levels, or a combination of both?

LK: It was nice to have a crew that was so unbelievable. We had a really good crew, and everyone was so in it together, and everyone was so excited. I think that everyone found the project really funny. We just honestly had so much fun on set. Obviously we did it very independently, so we definitely were spoiled in our first project. I think that we had a lot more control than you would have for bigger projects on a normal movie set.

That part of it was so enjoyable. We shot [The Social Ones] in 15 days. There was even one day that we found ourselves with half a day where we had time to play. I wrote on set four more little scenes that are in the movie, that I was just able to create on the fly. That [would be] so hard to do on a different type of set. I was just so lucky with the crew that I had. Our cinematographer was amazing, I had an amazing producer, just a really, really good crew. It was a really good experience.

BF: Social media is such a large phenomenon, and there’s a lot that’s comedic about it. When you wrote The Social Ones, how did you decide where to start and what to focus the film on?

LK: We have been in that influencer world for a while. We’ve been going to events with these people. We’ve been covering these people. I would find that a YouTuber doing make-up tutorials would get far more engagement than when we would do a profile on Robert De Niro. I found that to be very, very funny and very interesting.

When I really thought about the script, at first I came from this place of wanting to do five very different types of influencers. Because I think what’s so funny about influencers is that they each find these niches that some of them, you’re like, wow. Why is that person famous? How did that 18-year-old kid just amass ten million followers?” Everyone’s obsessed with what he’s doing. I knew that I wanted to kind of start from the foundation of these five influencers.

That influencer couple that you see everyone can relate to, just in terms of social media being a barometer in a relationship between two people that both have big followings, which I think is very funny. Then I also wanted to tackle the mental health perspective of social media, which is where the whole therapist idea came in and was played so amazingly by Stephanie March, kind of having a therapist tasked with treating social media anxiety disorder. I started with those sort of bones, knowing that I wanted them, and then kind of just built it from there.

BF: Has making The Social Ones changed the way you use social media for your business or even personally?

LK: I think what’s so funny about the movie is that it makes fun of social media, but we want it to be all over social media. I think that we’ve really leaned into that joke. We’re constantly caught in this circle, in this almost hypocrisy of we made a movie about how ridiculous social media is, but of course we want you to share it all over social media. It’s kind of meta.

BF: Are there particular scenes or aspects of the movie that stand out to you in retrospect? Things you feel hit that commentary on the nose or that you just loved making?

LK: I think that the therapy scenes are really funny. The scene with the influencer couple where she’s upset that he stole her picture and didn’t tag her, I think that everyone can very much relate to that. It seems to be quite a fan favorite; people really just love that scene. When all the influencers are introduced at the start, I think that’s a great scene.

When Stephanie is talking about acute nostalgia disorder, that’s a really good one. The symptoms are putting posters of boy bands up in your house and trying to search for the last remaining Blockbuster Video store.

Also the scene with Jackie Hoffman. Everyone can kind of relate to trolling; we all kind of have a problem with it. Just the idea that Jackie Hoffman is this head troll that runs her trolling headquarters like a Fortune 500 company is also very funny. Again kind of poking fun at something that is an issue, but also when you’re able to laugh at something that you find issue with, it’s a very good way of exposing it.

A big thing that we really like to highlight is how the opening song is “All Star” by Smash Mouth. One big thing about this movie is that it really highlights how social media makes each and every one of us a brand, whether we like it or not. If you have social media account, you sort of feel like you have to promote yourself. That’s why for me, starting the movie with that song was so important.

There’s definitely a feeling of nostalgia with it. Nostalgia is actually a big part of the movie, because there’s a lot of nostalgia on social media, whether it’s things that we’re putting out from the 90’s or from history, or just missing a time when, as Steph says in the movie, things were slower, things were simpler. I wanted to open with this sort of selfie anthem that also was a throwback. I think that we are in this kind of selfie stick era; that’s why the movie starts with that song, which everyone gets very excited about.

The Social Ones is now available on your favorite digital media platform. For more from Laura and Danielle Kosann, visit their website The New Potato.

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