It’s the kind of thing people whisper about even though it’s becoming more and more common. It’s a relationship style that, when portrayed in the media, is often sensationalized or demonized. It’s a way of loving that, in its depiction, often excludes PoCs. Polyamory. But not in Jackie Stone’s new web series Compersion. If you visit Enchant TV’s website, you can watch all of Season One’s thirteen episodes. If you’re like me, you can binge watch every single one of the 10 – 15 minute episodes in one day.
The website describes the show as “a provocative drama [that] explores a married couple’s journey from monogamy to polyamory” and that’s an accurate description. What that description doesn’t say is how authentic the writing is, how all of it seems so reasonable. Keena and Josh, the couple the series follows, could be your neighbors, friends, or relatives. The unflinching eye that Stone is able to use to bring this story to life is a result of her training as a filmmaker; while this is her first web series, it’ not her first successful project. Her short films If I Leap and Baby Steps are available to be viewed JackieJStone.com.
Black Nerd Problems: What was the impulse behind branching out into new media?
Jackie Stone: I have a real desire to create original content. When I first thought of this story, I really wanted to do it for TV, but no one came knocking at my door. And when I thought of this idea it was maybe a decade or so ago. It was really before the internet blew up. There wasn’t really any other avenues to distribute content. A few years ago I saw this revolution happening and you know a very inexpensive way to distribute content and I thought well maybe this could be the answer so I don’t have to wait for anyone to greenlight me, I can greenlight my own content.
BNP:Where did the idea come from?
JS: In my youth I was on Match.com and I met a man who wanted to date me who was in a polyamorous relationship and that was the first time I’d ever heard of this concept and I was like poly-what? What is that? What the hell are you talking about? You’re married but you’re out here trying to date? But him and his wife had a very successful polyamorous marriage. And me, as a writer/director, was like ‘hmmmm’ how interesting. It was a different take on a romance and love. I’d never heard of anything like that and, fast-forward a decade or so later, it’s part of the lexicon now, and I really would like to do a family drama about a couple opening up their marriage.
BNP:Do you consider it a love story? Do you consider it a drama? All of the above?
JS:At the heart, for me Compersion is a family drama. With some romance and love in there, right? I really want to take the idea of a family and a husband and wife shifting from a monogamous to a polyamorous relationship. But they still are family so all the things in that come into play. Being a family I want to be part of the show because I don’t want it to be only a show that is about polyamory because I think so many people who are involved in polyamorous relationship, you don’t get to see that side, that dynamic. I really wanted to take the I think exoticism out of it and make it, for lack of a better word mundane. Very every day.
BNP:My next question is one of definition. Where are you making the distinction between polyamory and open? Are they a polyamorous couple? Are they open? Are those synonymous an interchangeable?
JS:Keena wants to have a polyamorous. Josh, at the moment is not there, but the goal is to have a polyamorous relationship: that they’re open about the love that they’re having with other people and they’re engaging in actual relationships.
BNP: This is not a fluff series that says ‘look at open and happy we are’. You tackle a lot of really tough issues that come up–or maybe don’t come up–when people are often talking about polyamory? How did that come about?
JS:I didn’t want to do a fairytale. I really wanted to deal with the journey of what it would look like, looking at people that I know who are “very traditional” and very monogamous, what it would look like if they decided to make this journey. For me, I’m more interested in seeing how people overcome conflicts and obstacles and grow. So the show is going to be a nice long journey to compersion. Nothing that’s overnight. It’s going to take work because I think that if you are someone who’s been in a relationship or a marriage for 15 years and your spouse comes to you and says I want to see other men or other women I don’t always think it’s going to be a ‘OK let’s do it’ or ‘that’s great’ so I really wanted to get to the nitty-gritty and the meat and bones of what that may look like for this particular couple.
BNP: Can you tell me about Season Two? What does it look like? When it is it happening?
JS:I’m going to be back writing [in March] and trying to figure out what the season is going to look like. We had an indiegogo campaign and we’ll still be fund-raising after the campaign. I’m trying to figure out, depending on how much more money comes in, what the season will look like because it’s not a cheap show to do. We use skilled labor. We rent lenses and cameras because we really want the show to be an aesthetically beautiful tv quality series, so it takes a little bit of money. Right now I’m plotting out different scenarios of what season two would look like depending on how much funding were able to raise. But it’s definitely in the works. I’m very excited I can’t wait to get back behind the camera and see how the story is going to unfold.
BNP: What is your process for creation look like?
JS:In my mind I have up until till season five right now where I see it going, in broad strokes. Like I know this is going to happen and I know this is going to happen and it’s all about figuring out how to get there so it involves a lot of scribbling and outlining and writing and rewriting. Here’s the thing I love my audience they’re so opinionated and I love how invested they are. They want the series to go a certain way and it’s about not being overly persuaded by outside influences because I know there’s a certain way I want the series to go, s I have to be very mindful of that when I go back and start actually right planning it out in writing.
BNP: So if you’re a filmmaker moving from film to digital media and YouTube specifically, how do you deal with that as an artist? Because “don’t read the comments” that’s The axiom, right?
JS: Right now we’ve been very lucky because we’ve had a largely positive response to Compersion. But I try not to embrace them too tightly because the work is going to speak to some people and it’s not going to speak to others. As Erykah Badu says I’m an artist and were sensitive about our shit.
But it’s YouTube some people are just like [snaps fingers] it doesn’t matter, there’s no filter. They say what they want to say. They don’t have regards to you as an artist or to the hard work so it’s really about balancing so if you like it, I’m glad you like it and if you don’t, you don’t. You keep it moving.
It’s really about not embracing the comments because if you pick it up when everybody loves you you got to pick it up when everybody hates you so I try to just be mindful of what I want to do, what I want to put out there, the type of stories I want to tell and do that. If people love it, great I’m happy that you’re looking at my baby and saying she’s cute. It’s great but I can’t get married to those things because because once they start hating me I’ll be in the corner crying “oh they hate me” so it’s balance.
BNP:So I did read the comments and I noticed that you’re getting a lot of support from people who are active in the “poly community” did you expect that?
JS: No. No. I didn’t. I did not expect such a strong response to the polyamory community. What I thought was going to happen, I thought that more monogamous people would find the series and hate it because of the ideals explored in the series. So even though I reached out to a couple different polyamory community – particularly black and poly because there’s not a lot of media that really has black characters exploring this particular love style but most of my audience right now is definitely polyamorous people. I’m hoping to get some more monogamous people in there because I really love seeing the interaction of people. One thing about the comments I really love the different ideas, the conversation that happens amongst the viewers and so I would love to get more people who are totally against the idea to have a conversation.
Compersion is very safe it’s not a lot of debauchery happening it’s a very safe series but because of the ideals explored A lot of people even if they’re black and poly who watch it won’t share it or won’t really talk talk about it because the subject matter is taboo so a lot of the conversations happen in these private forums where they really– we want to get them to our public forums , to our channels but they really go in privately because they feel safe because not a lot of people are out and poly.
BNP: So you have a lot of closet fans?
BNP: That’s an unexpected challenges a creator. People love the thing you’re creating but because of societal norms….
JS: Absolutely and that I didn’t expect because to me the series is very safe. A friend of mine refuses to subscribe because he didn’t want people to see that he subscribed to the network. He said the content was almost like soft porn because it’s so taboo. And so a lot of people will share inside these private groups but will not share publicly you don’t have to be polyamorous to watch the show of course it’s the stigma attached to it which has been a real challenge.
One of my cousins she goes to church every Sunday and she loves the show and she won’t share it because it’s dealing with polyamory. She says “I can’t share that on my page” I said “ you hypocrite. You can’t share it but you watch it all the time.” It’s a show. I don’t understand people watch Scandal and there’s murder and there’s infidelity and all these great dramatic elements and they share that all day long. Are people having their spines ripped out of their backs?
We share it all day long But just the idea of saying I want to be committed to you but I also want to be able to love someone else it’s just too much for people to share which hurts me. I’m like please share the people are still sharing they are sharing. The polyamorous community have been awesome with that and those who are out with I’m like please share the people are still sharing they are sharin and talking and engaging with the series. Which is been nice but I really would love also to expose it to more monogamous people, people who are interested in family drama. That, is my goal to keep expanding the audience.
BNP: Compersion is an unusual name if you’re not familiar with polyamory; how did you settle on that name?
JS:I thought if you don’t know what that word means then you’re going to immediately try to find out what that word means because everything is google you’re going to type it into see what it means. because everything is google you’re going to type it into see in the first season we don’t order that word at all there’s no explanation of that and the series is about the journey to compersion. I thought it was a strong title because people would go out and try to figure out what it meant and then come to the series with peaked curiosity.
BNP: So compersion doesn’t come into play in the first season at all?
JS: No it’s not there. And people who watch the show and who are polyamorous are saying “where’s the compersion? Is there going to be any compersion?” and I was like “ absolutely” but you’re going to have to wait and the characters are going to have to work to get to that point. The goal is for Josh and Keena to experience compersion but it’s work- for these two anyway.
BNP: This is a family drama so Josh and Tina have children which is maybe a little less than expected in a show called Compersion. Can we expect to see their daughter more in the upcoming seasons?
JS: That family aspect complicates many many things and I love that because it’s more real to me. It’s different when you’re single and you don’t have any children and you don’t have bills in common to be like we want to do this let’s try this relationship but when you’re 15 years in and you have all these things that can make that shift challenging. So definitely the girls are going to come into play that’s her teacher. It’s going to be interesting and I love that and they have their own personal stories outside of their parents. I want to develop that more.
BNP: There’s a democratization of filmmaking that you said you saw since you started making films in the early 2000’s. The Internet blew up and change the way the people were doing things? . Has that shift of the opportunities available to you as an artist? Your formal training is in filmmaking but we also have people with no formal training in for making making films and web series and being very successful. How has that changed the landscape for you as an artist?
JS: For me the digital model has empowered me to create and put things out. The old days you make a film and if you don’t have distribution your film just sits there. You can go to film festivals or you can rent out a theater And that’s it if you don’t have a major company behind you distributing your project. And so now with the internet some people are shooting with these small tiny cameras or with their iPhones.
You have a lot of people creating content and putting it out. And now you have a situation where there’s just so much content it’s just trying to fight through the noise of all of it you find an audience because now it’s just kind of content content contents I definitely think it’s empowering for people who want to get their voice out who want to be heard. I mean it definitely levels the playing field.
BNP: In the first season your entire cast is African-American how important to you was that?
JS:One of the reasons why I wanted to direct Was because I wanted to create a Home place for women of the African Diaspora. Basically were black women to be multi dimensional characters with a full life and so a lot of my work features black women and black people. So it wasn’t anything like “it has to be black” but these are the characters and the story I want to tell.
I think as the show evolves there will be people of other ethnicities.
But because this dynamic with centering around this family and this was the make up of the family; they are a middle class Black family in South LA. I like to see beautiful black people in screen. I’ve never seen a couple that was black and polyamorous on the web or on TV. I’m interested in seeing black people in different ways.
BNP: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming or aspiring filmmaker is particularly people of color?
JS:Yes. Shoot and I think a lot of people out now who don’t have formal training may not have an interest in learning so I would say for anyone who is interested in creating content any filmmakers even if you don’t have formal training watch a lot of films read a lot of scripts. And since there’s iPhones and GH4s. There’s all these little cameras just go out there and shoot something. Just go out there and do it but also be a student and learn how to improve. Your craft because you can be A much stronger storyteller if you study.
I think a lot of people are going out there without any Concept of how to tell a story they’re just like let’s just turn on a camera and go but I think if we had a nice little balance of those proactive people who go out and shoot but also took some time and studied films and great television shows it would make their work that much stronger . But there’s no reason not to do it. There’s no reason There’s so much stuff. We have access to many things that when I started in film school the cameras were huge you had to have insurance it was film it was far more complicated but now you can pick up your phone and shoot something.
Let’s assume that you want to binge this series now, too. Start here: