This is the story of how three young queer filmmakers set out to create a queer web series - and actually got it done.
From crowdfunding to being picked up by a production company and having a second season funded by Dutch Public Television;
This is the story of ANNE+.
My name is Hanna van Vliet, I’m a 27 year old actress from Amsterdam and I play the lead in ANNE+.
Four years ago, Valerie Bisscheroux (director) and Maud Wiemeijer (writer) asked me to have a cup of coffee with them, because they had an idea for a web series about a lesbian girl. They thought it would be important that the lead would be played by an actress that identified as a lesbian in real life, and that the show wouldn’t focus on the “struggles of being gay”. Even though we were all young creatives, talking about a ‘small’ project for the internet, we immediately felt it was very important to us. This is where our big adventure started.
Even though The Netherlands is considered one of the most «openminded» countries in the world when it comes to being queer, for us, as lesbian teenagers, it was not easy to come out or feel comfortable with our sexualities. Just because, as you probably know, it's never easy being different. It would have helped us a lot if we would have seen some positive stories in the media about queer people, but those just didn't exist. Even today the majority of LGBTQ+ characters and storylines are problematic. During my life I have seen so many queer people on screen being deeply unhappy, abused, excluded and traumatized. And on the other hand we all know the ‘fun’ gay best friend, dressed in pink, a bit cynical and – of course – forever single. Lesbian characters portrayed without being sexualized by the male gaze are even harder to find. So, did all this contribute to me feeling weird about my sexuality? Yes. Do I – as a lesbian – have problems and thoughts in life other than the ones concerning my sexuality and do I want to see that represented on screen? Yes. Did this young director and writer feel the same way? Yes!
The idea was clear. We wanted to create a short form series about a lesbian girl and her love life. Each episode revolving around the main character Anne and a different girl she’s been with. We wanted it to be a diverse and light series with storylines that didn’t emphasize the characters being gay and struggling. We just wanted to show people, being queer, living their lives. We talked a lot about our own experiences, Maud started writing, and then we faced the biggest obstacle in the way of us realizing our project: money.
We talked to producers of cinema and television, but it was hard to get funding. We were still very young, we had very small portfolios, and mainstream media thought it was too risky to invest in a "niche" series. We decided to take matters into our own hands. We gathered a mostly queer, female cast and crew who all volunteered with creating a short teaser, put it on YouTube and started to reach out to our audience. And it worked. People were excited and started following our project on Instagram and Facebook. After that we started a crowdfunding. We collected almost 200% of our target amount. Now the media started to get interested and write about our project. In the mean time we started shooting the first episodes. We worked with a very motivated crew, all convinced of the importance of the project. This is when production company Millstreet Films became interested. We now had some promising material to show and we already proved that there was an audience for our series. Because of their investment we were able to make the rest of the series.
ANNE+ premiered on YouTube in 2018 and was immediately picked up by Dutch Public Television. We were invited all around the world to showcase our series at film festivals such as Tribeca New York, Outfest LA, MixBrasil Sao Paolo, and many more.
Even today we get so many messages from teenagers around the world, thanking us for the show, telling us their stories, sometimes even coming out for the first time (to us!). People told us they’ve watched the series with their parents and dared to come out after, teachers told us they’ve used the series in their classes. This is all heartwarming; supporting others was our main objective when creating ANNE+. At the same time, seeing all those reactions feels confrontational. The fact that there is still a serious lack of positive queer representation, and that a show like this still makes a big difference, is striking.
Also, Maud and Valerie’s idea of asking a queer actor to play the role of Anne, has proven to be a necessity. When I watch lesbian movies I look up the actors on Google to see if they are actually queer. I still feel disappointed when I find out they’re straight in real life. Naturally I consider it very possible that straight actors play queer characters, but until representation is equal or at least sufficient, it’s important to be able to choose your role models. This is the reason that I speak very openly about my sexuality, even though as an actress this can be risky. I don’t want people to always see me as ‘that lesbian actress’.
In general, this a very interesting paradox: we make this series to normalize being gay, but in order to do so we need to frame ourselves as ‘lesbian filmmakers’ in every interview we give.
Now, a year and a half since the release of ANNE+ season one, we’ve just premiered our second season. We pitched the idea for season two right after our first premiere and got the opportunity to make more and longer episodes (8 x 25 minutes) with a decent budget for Dutch public television. The first and second season have already been sold to Walter Presents and Channel 4 in the UK, and we hope we will be able to make the second season available in as many countries as possible.
This is all a dream come true. We are very proud of the series and now hope we will be able to keep contributing to a growing international queer audience. In that context, another big milestone for us was making ANNE+ season one available worldwide on YouTube, subtitled in several languages. Now anybody, anywhere on earth is able to watch it and hopefully feel a little less alone.
Watch our first season here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvltD2HcPiLUQAWo1x-K8exQBMD91TbdR
We truly hope to inspire other queer artists to not give up and keep making art, because it’s important AND possible to bring inclusive stories to a mainstream audience!