Racking up 3 nominations for Best International Drama, Best Directing by Julian Bittner and Best Lead Actor of Ensemble by Hélène Kuhn – Jezabel is the story of a mute musician in search of new inspiration after getting famous on the internet. 

Produced by Eric Pellegrin, the web series follows Jezabel in her travels to France and Belgium in search for both herself and her mother. Released in 2016 for viewers to watch and enjoy, it successfully scored 6 awards at Web Fests around the globe.

What was it like during the casting process and having cast members communicate with a mute?
We needed a young woman who would be a great actress, mute but not deaf, and who knows a little music. We couldn’t restrict ourselves to cast solely from the mute community, it would have taken way too much time and there are very few only-mute people… and it would have been too complicated for what was only a pilot at that time. And most of all, Hélène Kuhn showed up and was the immediate obvious choice. She’s an incredible actress and she learned sign language very quickly with her coach. The other actors simply had to learn their lines. Everybody was mostly impressed by Hélène’s abilities and she won an award for her talent.

How did you fund your series?
We managed to arrange a co-production between France and Belgium, a first for a web series ! We also had funds from various national film organisations in France (like the CNC, SACD, ADAMI…) Digital series are still complicated to fund as everybody is not ready for that kind of broadcaster and that kind of format. It’s a work in progress!

What did you want to achieve in creating this series?
We wanted to prove that it was possible! At first Jezabel was intended for French TV,  but all of the network managers we met told us that having a mute as a main character was a no-go, as was having a series about music. They basically thought it was too much of a “niche” concept. We ended up rewriting and producing, and we’re fairly proud we proved them wrong.

What was your experience with web series before creating your own?
We had no experience at all. We had watched some, but the main idea about the internet is that it isn’t formatted. We were free to do basically anything we wanted, thanks to our broadcasters who were very open-minded and story-driven. There is no “standard” web series. The only obligation is to keep things tight, short, and addictive.

What was your release strategy?
Our French (Studio 4), Belgian (RTBF), and Swiss (RTS) broadcasters had various strategies depending on their landing spaces and ways of broadcasting. RTBF has a global catch-up and web-based program player called Auvio, Studio 4 worked on their community on Youtube, RTS tried an inventive way of releasing it – and then, you advertise it on the various social medias with extracts, images, verbatims, interviews about the series. And this work really takes time!!

How did Jezabel’s mutism affect the way you wrote and shot the series?
It was fundamental for the script – because as a mute girl, music is extremely important to her to express her feelings. We wanted a character who thought music was almost everything for them. As for the shooting, Julien Bittner was mindful about frame sizes – you can’t do closeups when someone is using sign language during a dialogue. Other than that, it’s mostly about finding the right pace between actors in a scene. The fact that Jezabel uses an ipad to communicate creates disruptions in the regular flow of a written dialogue. So on set, it’s a lot about adjusting the right amount of time it takes to type and speak a phrase without having the emotion of a scene drop down. Hélène Kuhn also came up with good ideas to keep the pace steady.

What is your background as a web series creator?
We all have very different backgrounds. Julien Capron, Creator and Author of Jezabel wrote four published novels before entering the series-writing world. He also has a background in journalism. Julien Bittner, the Director, essentially made short films and advertisements. And Eric Pellegrin produced advertisements and short films. But we all loved series and the fact that you can engage your audience on the internet.

What did you learn from making this series? What would you do differently?
Production went rather smoothly, so to say, and it’s something we were familiar with, so it’s mostly the whole “web” part where learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. How to create a fanbase, advertise, communicate, tweet, snap, etc…

What was your target audience and how did you build a relationship with them?
Our target audience was 15-35 year old people, and at the beginning mostly french-speaking people. We relied solely on our distributors subscribers and personal followers. Community managing is our weakness, the relationship only lasts the length of the series. Then MWF came along – and your festival is a great opportunity to let people discover Jezabel too!

What advice would you give to emerging creators?
Try to raise awareness for your series long before you shoot, during your shoot, and advertise as much and as well as you can ! The key word here is “web” so in the writing and editing phases keep it short and tense. Shooting is like any other shoot, may it be short films or advertisement.  The big difference is when you have to “sell” your final “product” to millions around the world just by using the right words and hashtags on the right websites and find the right audience and medias they’re checking. That’s where magic happens.


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