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BWW Interview: Mike Heslin Talks Writing, Directing & Starring in New Show THE INFLUENCERS on Amazon Prime Video

The Influencers was produced by Mike Heslin and Noam Ash's company Well-Versed Entertainment, and is out today, December 28.

BWW Interview: Mike Heslin Talks Writing, Directing & Starring in New Show THE INFLUENCERS on Amazon Prime Video

Whether you spend all of your time scrolling through Tiktok, Instagram and Twitter, or you have sworn off the apps and deleted them all from your phone, everyone has an opinion about social media, and it is never far from the center of conversation. The talented Mike Heslin is delving into the ever-hot topic with a new, satirical scripted series, The Influencers, now out on Amazon Prime Video!

The show follows six social media "stars" with big personalities co-habitating in a "Big Brother" style house as they compete in a series of challenges for an exclusive brand deal with the latest millennial juice craze: Jücytox. Cameras capture the influencers in real life while their "social media personas" they show to the rest of the world through a screen begin to crumble.

Check out The Influencers HERE!

Mike Heslin produced, wrote, directed and stars in the series. We spoke with Heslin about what it was like creating the series, the impact social media has had during quarantine, and much more!

What was the initial process like of developing this show? When did you get the idea for The Influencers and when did you start work on it?

I got the idea exactly almost two years ago. It was around the holidays, Christmastime two years ago, and then January of 2019 I started to flesh it out, and by April I had written all the episodes. And I just got really fired up about it. It came from firsthand experience, I had worked for many social media agencies in the past, and I've worked with a lot of influencers, and for every one that we make fun of there's a brilliant business-savvy person out there as well. So, I had a lot of first-hand experience working for some very interesting people, and I kind of combined that with my love of reality TV. I love The Comeback and mockumentaries, and I also watch a lot of Bravo, so I meshed all of my favorite things and I was like, "I can't believe this hasn't been done before!"

I'm really jazzed about it, I just wrote for a couple of months, and May of 2019 we were pitching it in LA to some exciting people, and initially I was like, "I'm going to create a show or web series for my friends and I," because it's a hard industry, you know, make your own work, as they say. But then we started pitching it and it got such a great reception, which was very encouraging, and people were like, "This is great, we want to help you with this, you could sell this!"

Talk to me more about the reality shows that inspired The Influencers!

I get so embarrassed saying this but I just have to get over it, I really watch too much reality TV. And just for the record I also watch very good TV as well. But, I definitely was watching The Circle, Love is Blind... Also, I'm such a sucker for Big Brother, which the whole story kind of takes place in this BIG BROTHER house, these five influencers are selected to go live in this house together and compete for this brand deal. And I also watch VANDERPUMP RULES and Real Housewives, so I kind of took from all of those shows in terms of style and tone. I also really love mockumentaries, which the show is, it's a total satire. THE COMEBACK is one of my favorite shows. Best In Show I loved. Even the more recent ones like American Vandal. So, it's kind of a bit of all of those, and I swirled it together and out popped The Influencers!

The Influencers was your directorial debut, talk to me about what it is like directing, writing and starring in a show.

Yeah! It was cool, I learned a lot. I have always loved directing and creating, as a kid I would direct all the neighborhood kids in plays or skits in the back yard, and then in college I got a BFA with an emphasis in directing, granted that was for theater directing. So I've done a lot of theater directing, this was my first time directing behind a camera and it was really cool, really exciting, especially as the person who wrote and created the show because, frankly, no one was going to know the show better than I was. But it was also a challenge! I learned a lot, to be in it and to be on the other side of the camera is very, very tricky. I would say I probably won't do that again but... I'm sure I will. Honestly that was probably, if I had to pick, the most fulfilling part of the experience, being on set, directing, calling action, finding magic with the cast in the various moments. I'm very proud of how many hats I wore, but it was definitely a challenge. I learned a lot from it.

Has this time during the pandemic and in quarantine changed the way you look at social media?

Yes and no. I think what's interesting is from January, it will have been a two-year journey since I had the initial thought and started writing. Social media changes so fast that I was a little concerned, you just never know, I was like, "Well, what if Instagram is not even a thing by the time the show comes out?" I think what's interesting is that's not been the case, I think because of the pandemic social media is more prevalent than ever. I also think because of the quarantine it happens to be very good timing for the release of our show.

I think most people would agree that social media has never been more polarizing than it is now and has been through the pandemic in quarantine. People either really can't help themselves and are addicted to social media and are scrolling away every day, and I think the other half just loathes social media. The good thing is whether you hate it or love it, you'll still enjoy our show because it's aware, it has a lot of the very relevant jokes that only YouTubers will understand, it has very niche, relevant jokes, but also the whole thing is poking fun at these people, right? So, if you hate social media, you'll also laugh your way through the whole show as well. There's a little something for everyone.

Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from The Influencers?

I think I want people to take away that, we all know this, but I feel like it bares reminding, what you see online is not what you get, and that's what we see with these five characters. They live in this BIG BROTHER house and they're constantly being filmed, so when they're not in control and they can't edit the pictures and the videos, what are they actually like? I think people need a gentle reminder not to take social media so seriously, not to take themselves so seriously as well. What you see is not always what you get, don't judge a book by its cover, because you never know what's happening behind closed doors.

Last year, you established your production company, which The Influencers is produced by, as well as your recent project Boy Friends. How does it feel for you to be at the forefront of making sure that that LGTQ stories get made and told?

I'm very proud of that, and it's something I take very seriously, as does my business partner, Noam Ash, we co-founded Well-Versed Entertainment together. Boy Friends was the kind of officially first show out of that entity, and this [The Influencers] is the second. We have a couple of feature films coming up as well that we're super excited about. But, from the get-go, it's been a conversation for us for as long as I can remember. I'm really obsessed with gay Hollywood if you will, I'm always studying and researching that evolution. We've come such a long way, I have role models. My current role models I feel like didn't exist when I was younger. We have so many out gay actors nowadays. Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti are two of the most successful showrunners, they are changing everything and normalizing LGBTQ stories, which is really what is important to us, and we made sure to always have some sort of LGBTQ, not only representation, but story in all of our work.

And I think the important thing is to normalize it. It's like, we had Jack in Will & Grace, and then other ones started popping up, but I think now our task is to make it a non-issue and to normalize it, and also to show the trillion stories that could be told within our community. So, it's very important, and in our upcoming stuff as well, it tends to be very LGBTQ focused in some capacity.

Do you have any final thoughts, anything else you would like to share?

I would just say we are very proud of this, we always saw it as the little show that could and it just picked up its own momentum and became this whole other thing. So, we're very proud of it. It has come out in that perfect little window between Christmas and New Years where most people are home, so I hope that people enjoy it, let's not take ourselves so seriously, and I just hope that it gives some much needed laughs to everyone.

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From This Author Chloe Rabinowitz