Failing Upwards with Michelle Bonilla
The ALMA award-winning actor chats about finding the hilarity in unemployment and what's next for the web series.
It’s no secret that the economic recession currently has people all over the United States scrambling for jobs. From coast to coast men and women, regardless of gender and sexuality, are finding themselves unemployed when they least expect it. Sometimes, while lost and desperate for money, people turn to the oddest of jobs just to keep the cash coming in. This is the exact reason that ALMA award-winning actor Michelle Bonilla and her friend, fellow actor Matt Crabtree created the hilarious web series, Failing Upwards.
“Matt and I wanted to keep creating and we were thinking of any way to do a web series based on all the funny odd jobs that we’ve had as an actor to sustain ourselves,” Bonilla says. “But we can’t stand ourselves as it is, so I said let’s make it about ordinary people, thirty-something’s around our age that get together and fill out unemployment forms every week and then go out and get these odd jobs. So then of course we came up with all these funny ideas and we said that we have to do this and create this series.”
Failing Upwards follows a group of four unlikely friends as they find themselves going through the trials and tribulations of unemployment. Of course, the series also highlights the humor that comes with finding and taking on extremely odd jobs. Bonilla’s character, Celena, is a Harvard grad that thinks because she’s Latina she’s not getting a fair shake in the job market. Crabtree’s character, Charlie, has a ‘wife’ and a family that no one ever sees and a very interesting attraction to men. Deidra Edwards plays Annabelle, a Jewish woman who never wants to lift a finger to help the rest of them when they’re on the job. Pip Lilly plays Pip, the token stoner who spits random words of wisdom at his friends. The characters form an odd group, which lends to the comedy of the situations they get involved in. The jobs the group gets wrapped up are strangely relatable. From weird employers to dodging the law, Failing Upwards has got it covered.
“We tried to make it very relatable. I’m not going to feel sorry for some 20-year-old right out of college ‘trying’ to find a job,” Bonilla says. “I can’t relate to that situation. We wanted to adhere the series to everyday thirty-something people who are in this demographic that is getting beat up by the recession. It’s not the CEOs that are getting fired, it’s the middle people who have been there for a while that get let go. It’s a very relevant, very real topic.”
The series was created to mimic real situations; they weren’t created just from imagination. As it turns out, Bonilla is quite the handywoman and has worked her own share of odd jobs over the years.
“I’ve done everything. What’s really funny is that I started doing standup, and I created my act around everything that I have done. I’ll let you know that it’s absolutely true. I’ve re-roofed roofs, installed garage doors, tiled showers, even yesterday I just got done installing a toilet! I’ve done all these handy woman things,” she says. “It’s hysterical. I love working with electric; I love installing sprinklers! I mean, give me a Donna Karan dress any day of the week, thank God, I love it! Give me a pair of heels, I’m happy. But there’s something about me having my toolbox that I really love as well.”
Out of a job and feeling a little lost? Through the Failing Upwards website, there’s a Human Resources page that can give you a little guidance.
“We did create the human resources page to help our viewers that are looking for jobs. We’re trying to make it relevant and give people an opportunity to laugh at themselves while they’re going through these rough times in their lives, trying to look for jobs.”
When asked her opinion of how the recession is affecting the LGBT community, she says, “It affects the LGBT community in the same way. We’re all affected by it. I’d even say, women more than men. That’s the way it’s always been, hasn’t it? Men are always the most hired and women experience this glass ceiling, even though we’ve been making strides here and there.”
The most recent episode debuted on Nov. 12, bringing the end to the six-episode season. What are the plans for the future? A new season?
“We were really happy to have gotten the funding for our first season from our friends and fans that love us and want to support us,” Bonilla says. “The real reality of the fact, isn’t it ironic, is that you have to have money to create a series about unemployment! We rely on donations. People seem to really be enjoying the series, but before we can move forward to a second season, we sort of have to have financial backing. Of course I’d love to have some sponsorship in our series, and that would help things along. My wish is to get Monster.com to sponsor it. I think it’s great. We have all these ideas ready to go, we just need that backing.”
On the Failing Upwards website, there’s a PayPal link where you can donate as much as you’d like to keep the series going.
But all of that doesn’t mean they haven’t moved “upwards”.
“We’ve had a lot of good press about it,” she says. “We’re very happy about the positive feedback that people relating to our series. At the same time, after all that’s been said and done, they have something to go to with our Human Resources page so they can get some tangible ideas of what can they do to be proactive. That’s what Matt Crabtree and I are all about. We want to give back to the community.”
Bonilla is also busy gearing up for the digital release of her widely acclaimed short lesbian film, Slip Away (slipawaythemovie.com), which she wrote, produced and starred in. The film won countless awards at film festivals across the country last year, and now is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video. Soon, it will be on iTunes as well.
“I don’t want to wait around for people to call me,” she says. “I have to keep creating. I have to. I wake up in the morning and I’m thinking of what I can do and who I can collaborate with. I love to create. I can’t describe it any other way than that.” (failingupwardstheseries.com)