A couple of Ditmas Park residents (one of them born here) have decided to tackle the minor, easily addressed, not-at-all-controversial issue of national healthcare by creating a new web series called AmericanMD. Writer/Producer Hillary Miller and Co-Producer/lead actress Tracy Hazas filmed their first episode mostly at one of our beloved neighborhood spots, Salud on Avenue H. I asked Hillary a few questions about herself and the series. Read her answers below to find out more (including how you can help).
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how your web series came about.
I’m a Ditmas Park-born writer and I teach script analysis, public speaking, and theater history. Tracy Hazas is an actor and movement instructor, and she also lives in the neighborhood, though occasionally her Louisville twang slips out. The idea for AmericanMD first came about when Tracy and I were in a workshop session with a group of actors on a previous project. The discussion veered towards health insurance — at that time, it was the waiting period before the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.
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People were expressing a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, and a lot of confusion about the delivery and reality of health care, in their lives and in the country. Many of the people in the room that day were actors with day jobs working in cafes and offices. The majority were working at least 40 hours a week, and almost none had health care coverage. It didn’t so much matter that it was a room full of actors, and no one was talking about Democrats or Republicans. They were just sharing the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with this situation; most felt like they were going in circles when it came to trying to achieve more security in their lives.
Our talk that day ballooned into a much larger discussion about freelancer’s insurance, medical needs, and preventative measures, quality of care, and on and on. From there, we took a leap and decided to give it a go. We wrote a treatment for a web series on the topic, and it evolved from the original idea to focus the narrative on one small business owner and her friends. We pitched the project to Jason Bruffy, the director and co-producer, who felt connected to the concept.
You and Tracy both live in the neighborhood. Even though you were born here, how did you wind up coming back?
I grew up on East 18th Street. About two years ago, I was living elsewhere in Brooklyn, and I needed to find a new apartment. A friend told me that an apartment was opening up where he lived — when I found out it was in Ditmas Park, blocks from where I used to wait for the bus to the PS 139 Annex and scarf down zeppolis at San Remo. I was tickled at the circular nature of it all. And very grateful to find a great place to live.
Salud features prominently in the pilot. How did that come about? Did you always intend to shoot in the neighborhood or was it a matter of convenience?
It was a combination of the two. During pre-production, our director, Jason Bruffy, was also living close by, near the Church Avenue F stop. (He’s since moved a little further– but not by much!) We often met up on Cortelyou Road to talk shop, and we had been scouting out locations in the neighborhood for some exterior scenes. On a deeper level, we really wanted to make this show have a very relatable look and feel; we liked the idea of shooting in DP not for the Victorian houses, but because there are so many exteriors that showcase the diversity and warm pedestrian quality of any neighborhood.
It was purely luck that on my way to Midwood Martial Arts one evening I saw the good folks from Salud closing the cafe for the night, and it struck me as the perfect match on a few levels, both aesthetically and philosophically in terms of the community-oriented feel of the space and the business. We spoke to Salud about the possibility of bombarding them with a film crew on a few Sundays and they were open to the idea — they’re closed on Sundays, which is a very rare for the brunch-ified borough.
Since we’re talking about Salud, what’s your favorite thing to eat there?
I go for the drinks and smoothies, most of the time. I can’t get enough of the Salud Specialty — something about the Alfalfá is the perfect blend with pineapple. And the Amazin’ Grilled Cheese, in my experience, lives up to its name. By now it’s common knowledge, but the hot chocolate is the best in the five boroughs.
What other DP locations might appear in future episodes?
Keep your eyes peeled for a lot of street scenes — we wandered a bit more towards Midwood proper in future episodes, and at one point we were right near my high school, Edward R. Murrow. Not quite DP, but viewers will, I think, enjoy some of the vistas that we used. Also, the pilot episode has a scene shot in Greenfield Chemists on Cortelyou Road, and we’ve had a lot of people asking us about the location for that drugstore scene.
What are your hopes for the series? In other words, what would you want to happen in order to consider it a success?
From the beginning, we wanted to flex our muscles in a new medium. All three of us (the principal actor, director, and I) have had more experience in theater than in film projects, but there was something about the nature of Cristina’s story and the issues we wanted to explore that seemed well suited to a series format that viewers could follow online. We were also all interested in linking social media possibilities and creative advocacy with storytelling in this project. On a basic level, we’re looking to create something that people enjoy.
But it was very important to the three of us to use a comedic narrative structure for this topic, to be able to tell the story of a small business owner, the health care debate, and the lived realities of both. We’ve just begun the long road of spreading the word about the series, and we’re hopeful that viewers will respond to the story and its characters — so clicks and hits and likes and comments are a great marker of success, too. Speaking of which, Episode 2 is on its way, and we’re currently fundraising for Episode 4, so if anyone is moved to support future episodes, I encourage them to visit our fundraising page, at Fractured Atlas. Thanks very much for watching, too!