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Meet Trailblazer Megan Mead and Rachel Malasig

Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Mead and Rachel Malasig.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Rachel and I’s story really starts back in film school. We met our freshman year at Biola University, 2012, where we’d been placed in the same honor’s cohort together. Instantly, we recognized one another as formidable adversaries, and became super competitive, constantly trying to one up each other. If she had been on nine sets, I needed to be on 10. As our reputations grew in the film department, we both became stand out freshmen and were getting recruited on senior projects, but all the while we were increasingly jealous of each other’s abilities. All of this was unspoken between the two of us, and it wasn’t until the winter interim that year that we realized we’d both made each other our unnamed rival. Like an Ash Ketchem and Gary Oak situation, minus the hostility.

Rather than continue being rivals, we decided to team up. That summer, Rachel stayed with me and my family up in Sonoma County. She and I worked at my folk’s restaurant to save money, and every week, we made a short film. We’d write, direct, shoot, edit, and score each project. They were shoddy, they were mediocre, but they set the foundation for our working relationship together. In those short two months, we made 8 or 9 short films.

Over the next few years, Rachel and I continued to work together, but on other people’s projects. Because of her prowess with logistics, Rachel got pigeonholed into producing, meanwhile I was pigeonholed into art department. We proceeded to work in those avenues for years, gaining hundreds of hours of set experience, but straying away from what we both had entered into film to do: tell stories.

Rachel and I had our “a ha” moments at different times. But both have to do with being “banished to Florida” as we like to joke about it.

In summer 2015, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, it would’ve been the beginning of my senior year. I dropped school to move in with him and my stepmom Kathy in order to help take care of him. Those months would proceed to be some of the hardest in my life, feeling absolutely isolated in this small town, meanwhile taking care of dad, who due to the brain tumor, was acting less and less like his usual self as his health deteriorated. Losing him later that winter made me realize how short life was and gave me a new sense of resolve and focus to work on the projects that I really felt were important to me.

Rachel, who’s husband is in the military, also had her own Florida experience the summer of 2016, when her and Gabe had to move there for his basic training. Similar to me, Rachel was isolated and struggled to make art on her own while suffering from a severe bought of depression. She and Gabe were there for an entire year until he was restationed in Oklahoma City.

But our separate times in Florida did something very similar for us: we both started writing again. We each began creating scripts, outlining series, and storyboarding concepts independent of each other, and we’re sharing our newfound lifeline over hours long skype conversations. In 2017, Rachel and I raised over 20,000 dollars to create our first short under the Pranksters Ink name: Sugardaddy. The story, taken from the time I spent with Dad, is about the day he and I got into a fistfight over a cupcake. It was the first short that Rachel and I co-produced together, and the first one that we were able to hire people, employing around 30 of our incredibly supportive and talented friends. It was messy, and it was stressful, but we did it, Rachel working remotely from OKC, and me doing the groundwork in Los Angeles. We premiered it the following year in 2018 at the Chinese Theater at the Hollywood Comedy Shorts Film Festival. It was possibly the strangest dark comedy block I’d ever seen, but we were so grateful. Angela Jaymes, who was our lead actress and came out to support the film said: “That was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced”, as our little film about bittersweet Father/Daughter drama was sandwiched between shorts about Furries and a craigslist bdsm couple. It goes to show you, you can never be too precious with your own story.

Since then, Rachel caught a well-deserved break while working in OKC, landing a job with a 2nd unit team with the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a gig that lea her back to Los Angeles working on a studio film called “Covers”, as well as the an upcoming Blumhouse film. Now reunited in the same city, Rachel and I have gotten our own little studio space in Chinatown area, where we’ve been creating stopmotion shorts and developing several live-action projects, our latest one being a horror short titled: “Every Corner” slated to be released in early in the new year.

Next up on the horizon for us is a feature thriller with the working title “A Town Up North,” set in Minnesota (think Midsommer meets Fargo) and loosely inspired by Jeff Adams (Rachel’s Father’s) radio play, “The Thing on the Ice.” We’re currently in the development process and will be moving on to the funding stage come the spring.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Rachel and I have both had our independent struggles along the way, both on and offset.

Prior to catching her break with the Mrs. Maisel team, Rachel had worked on a hellish indie feature that nearly ended in her quitting the show, after several cases of child endangerment and crew safety issues went unresolved by the leadership on set. She eventually did stay because she was worried people would continue to be mistreated if she weren’t there to stand up for them.

As for me, I’ve had my fair share of nightmarish sets or “war stories” as we like to call them. The one that actually changed the trajectory of my career happened very soon after my dad passed away and I was working in California again. I was production designer for a straight to web video (nonunion gig) and was windexing a window when one above me fell open over my head and shattered upon impact. I was wearing the window frame like some kind of Lady Gaga necklace pre 2009. Somehow, I was not cut from the window and only suffered a concussion, but I’ll never forget. Since the producer was not there when the incident happened, I was forced to pay for the window replacement out of my own money, which was more than I was paid for that entire gig.

From our own experiences on set, Rachel and I have realized how disposable the film industry can treat people, and particularly how disposable it can treat the women who are working in it. It’s from these so called “shit shows” that we’ve learned how important it is to take care of your crew and to put them before everything else. Because of this, we work our hardest to make sure everyone on set is a priority. It’s only when each crew member is treated with the value and respect they deserve that I believe a project is an actual success. Rachel and I both approach everything we do with this in the forefront of our minds.

One of my biggest regrets in regards to our time spent in film school is that we did not prioritize our own projects. While we learned a lot working on other people’s sets, I believe we downplayed ourselves, due to a tendency as female creatives to question our own “readiness”. Alison Mann, the Vice President of Creative/Strategy at Sony Pictures Animation told me in a meeting several years back that younger female creatives are much more likely to experience Imposter syndrome than their male counterparts. As women, we are conditioned to second guess ourselves and are more likely to diminish our accomplishments. Alison had told me in that meeting, “Don’t let doubt stop you. Do it. Make the film. Fucking make something.” That meeting changed everything for me. I went home and wrote Sugardaddy that day.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Pranksters Ink Productions – what should we know?
Rachel and I’s work is about as eclectic as you can get. We’ve written everything from horror to comedy, southern Gothic dramas to animation. Over the years, our style has never been able to be pigeonholed into a singular genre, and I think that is both our strength and our weakness. In today’s market, having a singular “brand” definitely helps you sell yourself, but I also love that people never know what to expect from a Pranksters Ink film. Our two most recent projects: A parody safe sex PSA starring Slowy the Christmas Sloth, hits the more zany and lighthearted side of our work, meanwhile “Every Corner”, a horror short where the monster is a personification of depression, hits the darker spectrum of our creative range.

Our company’s motto is “Whimsy is not for the Weak of Heart”, because from our experience, maintaining positivity and imagination in a darkening world is both difficult and absolutely necessary. We aim to make movies that we hope will help people to survive and thrive in it.

Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
We’ve both been storytellers from the very beginning. I can remember attempting to write my first chapter books when I was 5, starring animal personifications of me and my group of friends. That morphed into creating superhero comic books in middle school and then attempting to write musicals in high school. I can remember wishing I could project what was in my head onto a wall for people to see. For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me that that’s literally what movies are until I was around 16. I made my first films as a part of my job as the community outreach coordinator to get kids interested in community service at the school. The simple videos became more and more elaborate every year with full-on story and character arcs that required casting from the student body. Soon a simple “Operation Christmas Child” video became a full-blown secret agent trilogy with multiple locations, scripts, and kids getting out of class to make movies.

Rachel comes from a creative household, where her Dad, Jeff Adams, runs a radio show called Ice Box Theater up in International Falls, Minnesota. From the time she was four years old, she would perform as a voice actor on Jeff’s radio theater productions, one show particularly was written with her at the center: Rachel Kitty Detective, where yes, she was commissioned to search for missing cats in the neighborhood. It was adorable. Rachel continued to aid her father in the sound engineering on the show for years and became a writer herself. Her mom, Diane Adams, is a Librarian and kept Rachel saturated in literature, inspiring in her a love for reading and well-crafted stories. Performing in Speech and Debate for four years, she’d write and perform her own original monologues, particularly specializing in characters undergoing deep psychosis. She also began filming in high school, creating videos for local bands in the area, as well as creating her own individual shorts.

Neither of our schools had great art or film programs, and in lieu of that, we both attempted to pursue storytelling in any way that we could, largely relying on self-taught methods.

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Image Credit:
Sugardaddy photos courtesy of Amanda Darouie

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